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Flank Steak, Mushroom, Arugula Pasta

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My favorite thing about being finished with the Whole30 is being able to cook in bulk, a few times a week, instead of an ongoing rotation of chopping and dishwashing. So far what that’s meant for me and my husband Padraic has been pasta salads full of veggies and protein. Tonight I tried a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Pasta that’s a real keeper. Tasty, filling, healthy… Here it is, adapted by yours truly:

Flank Steak Pasta

  • Mince 1 large clove garlic and mix it with 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence. 
  • Sprinkle this mixture on both sides of 1 lb flank steak and let the steak sit at room temp while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
  • Chop a bunch of arugula into 2 cups. 
  • Chop 1 lb of mushrooms into small pieces. (Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel — if you rinse them under running water they’ll become rubbery).
  • Whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup julienned basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 3/4 cup olive oil. Set aside.
  • Slice the flank steak into 1/2-inch slices. 
  • Coat a large skillet with olive oil and warm over medium heat.
  • Cook several slices of flank steak at a time, about 4 min on each side. 
  • Bring salted water to a boil in a big pot.
  • Cook 1 lb penne pasta for about 9 minutes (al dente) and drain in a colander, reserving some of the pasta water in a bowl underneath the colander.
  • Add some more olive oil to the skillet, add the mushroom pieces, sprinkle with salt, and cook for 4-5 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, cut the flank steak strips into bite-sized pieces.
  • Dump the cooked pasta into a large bowl. Add the arugula, the cooked mushrooms, the steak pieces, the dressing, and a generous pour of the pasta water. Mix thoroughly with a spatula.

Enjoy!

 

Eating The Veggies: Two More Recipes

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Green beans aren’t my favorite vegetable, so I’m always grateful when I find a recipe that makes them more flavorful. This Ina Garten recipe combining chunks of red onion and colored bell peppers with the beans manages that, as does the following recipe adapted from the Whole30 cookbook. In Eating The Veggies I posted a few too many potato recipes, in my opinion, so here’s some good ole green stuff:

Green Beans with Onions, Mushrooms, and Peppers

  • Heat a large pot with water and 2 tablespoons Kosher salt over high heat. Meanwhile, prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl and stick it in the fridge to keep it cool.
  • Once the water boils, blanche 1 pound green beans for 20 seconds, then immediately plunge them into the ice water bath for about 1 minute, and then drain in a colander.
  • Heat some cooking fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat — I used a combination ghee butter and olive oil (disclaimer — cooking with olive oil is technically against the Whole30. Oh well.) Fill the skillet with 1/2 to 1 onion, red or yellow, sliced into thick rings. Let the onions soften and become translucent, maybe caramelize a little.
  • Add 8 oz sliced mushrooms and start to soften them, adding more olive oil if necessary.
  • As the mushrooms continue to soften, add 1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips and let it soften with the mushrooms.
  • Add the green beans to the skillet for a few seconds and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Oh, and this celery salad

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Eating The Veggies

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As I mentioned in Chicken with Coconut Curry, I’ve been more or less on the Whole30  for the past 21 days. I’m still putting off the post when I explain my take-aways from the book It Starts With Food and the documentary Fed Up. It’s just easier and less overwhelming to share my favorite recipes with you.

But first…

On Day 21, let me say this… one of my cheats is that I’ve weighed myself regularly on my Whole30. I’ve only lost 3.5 pounds across 3 weeks. I lost all of it the first week and then plateaued. This majorly underwhelms me. It disappoints me. It discourages me. But Whole30 emphasizes “Non Scale Victories,” and I’ve experienced many of these: Increased energy. An increased feeling of control over food, that I’m not merely subject to my sugar or junk food cravings. Feeling better in my clothes. Less inflammation — my wedding ring slips off easy when I take a shower or wash the dishes or sink my hands into yet another bowl of ground meat, because lord knows, we’re eating a lot of it… The pleasure and discipline of cooking a lot, and cooking clean… The pleasure of a “clean full” feeling… The pleasure that comes from shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and presenting your checker with piles of produce… Which helps with the evolving notion that I am not only “trying to healthy,” but in fact, I am a “healthy eater,” that healthy eating habits aren’t just something I do, but in theory, a growing part of my identity, a concept that Melissa Hartwig shares in this fascinating video about how her struggles with drug addiction have helped shape the outlook that defines the Whole30. Enjoying how sweet fruit tastes…

So it’s been… productive. On the flip side, my husband, who actually needs to gain  weight, has effortlessly shed five pounds, even though he eats an extra helping of white potatoes every meal. So I’m wondering if this is the healthiest thing for him…

Bringing it back to the veggies… Here are a few veggie recipes that I will definitely keep making post-Whole30 because they are delish and doable. I hope you will give all of these recipes a try:

Roasted Onions & Cauliflower

  • To make this Whole30 compliant, I omitted the Parmesan cheese and substituted ghee butter for olive oil (which I would probably still do, post Whole30, because of butter’s rich flavor. If you use butter to flavor the veggies, I don’t really think you need the cheese).

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

  • Again, substitute ghee for olive oil if you want. I also recommend washing the sweet potatoes but not peeling them. I think they get a little crispier that way. These are especially delicious when dipped in some Dijon mustard.

Padraic’s Potatoes

  • Cube some Yukon gold potatoes.
  • Boil the bite-sized cubes for 10 minutes.
  • Roast with some cooking fat, salt, pepper and fresh or dried herbs of your choice for 40 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside 🙂

Vegetable Hash, School Night

  • Add some cooking fat to a frying pan over medium high heat.
  • Let 1 yellow onion, chopped and 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cubed into bite-sized pieces sauté until the potatoes are golden brown and soft, about 12 minutes.
  • Add 2 cloves garlic, minced and cook about 2 minutes longer.
  • Transfer the contents of the frying pan to a bowl.
  • Do not wipe the pan clean; add more cooking fat. Over medium-high heat, cook 1/2 lb mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper. This takes about 4 minutes — you want the mushrooms to be soft and deep in color. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to the same bowl with the other ingredients.
  • Again, do not wipe the pan clean; add some more cooking fat and add 2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper. This takes about 4 minutes — you want the vegetables to soften. Add this batch to the bowl-in-waiting and season with 3 tablespoons fresh thyme and a little extra salt and pepper.

 

 

Two Flank Steak Suppers

Still putting off a more substantive post on the Whole30 program and all that I’m learning about health, habits, and, let’s be real, expensive grocery bills, because I’m too impatient to share the delicious food that we’re enjoying. Both of these recipes come from Williams-Sonoma School  Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week but they are Whole30 compliant, with a few tweaks.

Both of these meals are elegant in their simplicity, but most importantly, incredibly healthy for you. Here goes:

Flank Steak Salad with Grilled Peaches and Red Onions

  • Make a marinade for 1 lb of flank steak: Whisk 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1 large minced garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Dump your flank steak into a gallon Ziploc bag, followed by the marinade and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  • Make the dressing: in a liquid measuring cup, whisk together 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add 4 tablespoons olive oil and mix to emulsify. Set aside.
  • Tear a head of romaine lettuce (or whatever kind of lettuce you like) into a salad spinner; wash and dry.
  • Slice 2 red onions into half rings. Pit 3 peaches and cut them into thick slices. Mix 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Brush the onions and the peaches with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.
  • Heat a grill and grill the onions and the peaches. (Or, if you’re feeling lazy, like me today, omit the peaches and caramelize the onions in a big frying pan over low heat with the same olive oil/vinegar mixture, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper).
  • Cook the flank steak: remove from the Ziploc and slice into inch thick slices. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and fill the skillet with some cooking fat (I used ghee butter). Add as many slices as you can without crowding the pan and cook on each side for 5 minutes, turning with metal tongs. Reduce the heat to medium or medium low as necessary.
  • Assemble your salad and if you’re not following Whole30, add some blue cheese or feta crumbles.

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My nephew and chef-in-the-making grilled all the onions and peaches on a puny little Panini Press! And sported my “onion goggles” in the process. We all enjoyed the fruit of his labor:

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Flank Steak with Avocado & Tomatoes

This is an even simpler recipe than the salad above. The cookbook version actually calls for skirt steak, which is essentially a little beefier and tougher than flank steak, but very similar, according to What’s the Difference Between Flank Steak and Skirt Steak? To make:

  • Cut 1 1/2 lbs skirt or flank steak into 1-inch or 1/2-inch slices, season with salt and pepper, and leave the slices to rest at room temp for 15 minutes.
  • Heat a frying pan over high heat and add some cooking fat (I used ghee butter, but you could use olive oil or coconut oil, or…??) Add the steak and cook until medium rare, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the steak to a cutting board or a plate, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Fill a bowl with 1 1/2 cups (9 oz) halved cherry tomatoes, 2 cubed avocados, 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, and the juice of 1/2 lime. Enjoy 🙂

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Chicken with Coconut Curry

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All right, food lovers… I have a confession to make… I’m on Day 12 of the Whole30 program. I’m working on a more substantive post about the documentary Fed Up which finally lit a fire under me to swap out The Things They Carried with Fast Food Nation for my American Lit II class, as well as the big ideas I gleaned in Whole30 founders Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s manifesto of sorts, It All Starts with Food, plus the dilemma I now find myself in when it comes to Ina Garten, whom I love, adore, and cook from, butter, SUGAR, and all.

But for now… a REALLY good recipe from the cookbook The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to TOTAL HEALTH and FOOD FREEDOM. 

And I’ll say this… one benefit of taking the Whole30 challenge is learning to cook with new ingredients and discovering that you love them. I am developing quite an affection for coconut milk, which I confess I had never used before this “total health” endeavor.

I’m also finding ghee butter handy — clarified butter (milk solids, aka sugar, removed) in a jar. If you’ve ever made clarified butter you can appreciate buying it in a jar. It’s a process. Clarified, or ghee butter can be used to cook at higher temperatures, imparting delicious butter flavor to a wider variety of dishes. Ghee butter runs for about $6.99 a jar at my local grocery store, so make of that what you will. Some grocery stores don’t have it…

I’ve made this chicken recipe twice now, once on the grill and once baked in the oven. If you have the means, the texture and flavor of grilled chicken is just better, in my opinion. But the curry sauce is so decadent, baked chicken is convenient and tasty too. I’ve made it with thighs and breasts — both are good — but bone-in, skin-on is key. (And cheaper!)

Serves 4

  1. First things first: put 2 cans of coconut milk in the fridge for at least an hour. The cream will rise to the top of the can, which is what you’re using, and what makes this curry sauce so decadent.
  2. Make the curry sauce: melt some ghee butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and…swirl to coat… of course 🙂 Add diced onion (half a medium onion) and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds. Throw in 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir for a good 15 to 20 seconds, then add 1 cup of crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and simmer to thicken, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer to another bowl, and let everything cool. (The cookbook calls for you to blend the sauce in a blender at this point. I didn’t bother with this step and let the onions and garlic provide a little texture). Use your can opener to measure 1/2 cup of coconut cream out of your can of coconut milk. Measure out 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper  and once the mixture has cooled, stir in the coconut cream, salt, and pepper. (If don’t let the mixture cool, the coconut cream will curdle).
  3. Pour some of the curry sauce into a separate bowl and brush it on your chicken breasts or thighs. (Pat the chicken dry first). (This way if you end up with extra curry sauce, you’re not contaminating the entire bowl as you prepare the chicken. I ended up with extra curry sauce both times. You can re-use the sauce for other things… more meat, a fried egg…)
  4. Grill or bake your chicken and then serve with extra warmed curry sauce. (I baked the chicken at 375 Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes and then cut into it to see if it needed more time).

Now, in advance — I’ll quote Kathleen O’Toole, a relative I recently met on my travels in Ireland, after she served me carrot cake and apple pie around midnight, seized my hands with a twinkle in her eye, and declared, I’m delighted you liked it!!!!

Festive Summer Supper

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Check out this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook called School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week. “Mediterranean Shrimp with Feta, Olives, &  Oregano” has a few things going for it:

  • Healthy.
  • Good for company, good for the fam.
  • Mostly assembly and one dish, plus a sauce pan of couscous.
  • Shrimp! Olives! Feta! Yum!
  • Fresh herbs! But dried oregano works too.
  • I made it for my dad on Father’s Day. Good vibes. Make it for someone you love.

Materials

  • Colander
  • Sheet pan
  • Paper towels or cling wrap
  • Medium saucepan
  • Fork (for fluffing couscous)
  • Deep casserole dish
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Serving bowls

Ingredients

  • Box of couscous
  • Butter and kosher salt
  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen shrimp
  • Pitted kalamata olives, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried oregano

Instructions

  • Thaw frozen shrimp in the fridge for a few hours in a colander on a sheet pan with cling wrap or paper towels draped over the top. Bring them to room temp and get rid of any ice crystals by running the colander under warm water at intervals and patting the shrimp dry as you make the couscous.
  • Make a box of couscous, following the directions on the package. I went ahead with a pad of butter and several pinches of salt, as called for my box. (The cookbook calls for Israeli couscous rather than the instant kind. I confess I’ve never made Israeli couscous, so you’ll have to comment if I’m missing out. The instant kind was yummy too).
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinse, dry, and chop the tomatoes, placing them in the bottom of your casserole dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well with your hands.
  • Bake for 8 minutes, until the tomatoes release their juices.
  • Check to make sure the shrimp is thawed. (The cookbook calls for raw, deveined shrimp but medium frozen ones cooked at the same temperature for the same time worked just as well).
  • Layer the cooked tomatoes with shrimp, olives, feta, and oregano. (The cookbook recipe calls for a half cup of both olives and feta, but I recommend more of each. Serve the remaining olives as an hors d’oeurve, or nibble while you’re cooking. Point is — jar should be consumed, some way or another.)
  • Bake 12 minutes. Drizzle the cooked casserole dish with olive oil and serve atop the warm couscous.

Serve with this simple, healthy Rachel Ray tomato, cucumber, red onion chopped salad if you want to round out the plate.

And finally, to end your summer meal, a berry pie. I adapted Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie by substituting a pound of blueberries for the rhubarb, since zero out of three of my local grocery stores were selling rhubarb in June. (Wha??)

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I also substituted half the lemon juice for orange juice, and added some orange zest and lemon zest to the filling.

Instead of pecans, I used store bought roasted, salted almonds for the crumb topping. But don’t make my mistake — thoroughly mix the butter with the flour, and this is key — before you add the nuts — otherwise you’ll end up with sections of raw, unbrowned flour on the top of your pie.

As for the crust, cold ingredients are key — dice the butter and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and keep the buttermilk refrigerated until you use it. This hand-mixed, buttermilk-congealed pie crust is one of the easiest I’ve ever made. The buttermilk really helps things come together to form a smooth dough.

I made two pies — for Clark, and for Patrick, my father and my father-in-law — and I learned these helpful hints about freezing a pie from The Kitchn. Long story short, if you tightly wrap and freeze an unbaked pie, the juices from the berries won’t make the crust soggy when you eventually bake it. So freeze pies unbaked. Enjoy 🙂

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Goat Cheese and Onions Part 2

I recently read an article (in Epicurous, I think) about the oft-neglected merits of something certain foodies consider super uncool: boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Unexciting, perhaps, but I’m a firm believer that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are indispensable. See this recipe for chicken and veggie quesadillas by Ree Drummond that has sustained the two of us for at least a week’s worth of dinners… a sprinkle of taco seasoning lends the diced chicken a bit of kick, and you can prepare it ahead, along with the sautéed onions and bell peppers, and throw together a quesadilla whenever you’re feeling hungry. Then, mix the extra diced chicken with romaine lettuce, shredded Mexican cheese, tomato slices, and this rich, basil and scallion-loaded green goddess dressing, and you’ve got lunch. Or (I digress) the dressing is so rich you may just want a plateful of lettuce and tomato, like so:

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But anyway. Boneless skinless chicken breasts. Yes.

That being said, I’m also aboard the bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh trend. Which brings me to goat cheese and onions. Here’s how I adapted Ina Garten’s Chicken with Goat Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato a few weeks ago:

  • Chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. In my experience, thigh meat tends to be fattier and more succulent than breast meat, and I feel I can justify the treat because thighs are smaller than breasts.
  • Her recipe calls for herbed goat cheese – I had plain in my fridge, from my aforementioned experiment with goat cheese caramelized onion bruschetta, so I added a fresh basil leaf under the skin instead. (If you have an herb garden, you could always mash in your own fresh herbs and an improvise your own herbed goat cheese. Right now my chives are out of control, so maybe I should have done that. Aw shucks, I suppose I’ll have to buy another log of goat cheese and start all over again… 🙂 )
  • I also did not have sun-dried tomatoes on hand, so I put a roasted red pepper (that came in a jar) under the skin. (Another reason to buy these jarred, roasted red peppers is that they layer sweetly on your standard, homemade grilled cheese sandwich and add nice, vinegary notes to salads. If you happen to have fresh bell peppers lying around, plus olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and a little fresh garlic (optional), you can make your own. See another, goat-cheese centric Ina Garten recipe (this one I haven’t made) for more specific instructions on how to pickle peppers.

Onions, you say?

I’ve made this Ina Garten recipe for herb roasted onions a few times, say, if I’m cooking meat and I have no vegetables or salad ingredients on hand to go with. It’s something of a revelation to me that onions are a vegetable that can be roasted like anything else, and stand on their own. Quarter and separate a few onions – mix them with olive oil, mustard, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper – roast them on a sheet pan, and voila: a cheap and surprisingly delicious side dish. (This time I made the recipe with yellow onions only, because that’s what I had – but I think adding a red onion to the mix is really worth it. Adds extra sweetness).

I rounded out the roasted chicken and roasted onions with some roasted carrots – really simple — olive oil, salt and pepper, and in my case, copious amounts of fresh dill.

Here’s how dinner ended up (I forgot to mention that crisp (cheap) white wine is always an important factor in the goat cheese and onion equation, but perhaps that just goes unsaid…)

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To goat cheese, to onions, to alfresco dining, to life, to life, l’chaim….

A Different Kind of Recipe

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Ah, teaching…and summer’s off. If you’ve been reading recently, I hope I’ve conveyed my gratitude for the time to spend with family, read, cook, travel, and write. Summer’s off are such a beautiful thing. But I think many teachers would agree that summer’s off are also, in many ways, summer’s “off.” The teaching must go on, come August or September, and so there is curriculum to be written, errands and doctor’s appointments to be scratched off the personal to-do list, and resources to be gathered.

The resources to be gathered part…

I’m trying crowd funding for the first time. I spend plenty of my own money on resources for my classroom — last school year, having shared classrooms for four years, I had to start from scratch when it came to decorating my own room. Also, my projector didn’t work, something I use everyday, so I was left with no choice but to buy my own, justifying it as an investment in my teaching career. When I tried to get creative, scissors and glue sticks and graph paper and construction paper were all on me, which added up. I had to scrounge for my own pencil sharpener, replace my own dying markers, provide lotion, and sometimes buy my own kleenex. Then I purchased graduation gifts for a some of my seniors. This is the norm in teaching.

And another norm in teaching: asking people you know — family, friends, readers of your blog — to fund resources that your school cannot provide. In some ways it’s a beautiful movement, and in some ways, it’s a very sad reflection on the lack of funding in schools, especially when schools have such high expectations for their students and their teachers. But I’m asking all the same.

Here is my site, Chromebooks for Writing Classes with a video of me talking about how chromebooks — even a few — would help my students and help me do more as a teacher. Things like project-based learning, in-class research, increased student engagement. In the video I focus on how these chromebooks would benefit my classroom, specifically, but I would share them with my colleagues, and so, in reality, they would benefit an entire English department. If you can give, thank you. If you can share on social media, thank you. If you can click on the link and give it some of your attention, thank you.

As I share in the video, here’s “a different kind of recipe,” written by my student Kumari, a sweet reflection on what it takes to write a good essay:

The Perfect Essay

Ingredients

4 cups of sole-purposed brain power
4 teaspoons of creativity
4 cups of dedicated research
2 cups of MLA format sourcing
5 tablespoons of brainstorming
4 cups of editing

Directions

  • Place brainstorming in bowl. Let it sit for a few hours. Then, when it feels right to YOU, add in the dedicated research and stir.
  • When the mixture is smooth, begin adding in the sole-purposed brain power and the creativity alternately, while stirring.
  • When both are in the bowl, grab a blender and blend until the mixture is fluffy and smooth.
  • Then add in the editing and MLA format sourcing, alternately until both are in. Stir.
  • Next, put the mixture in the fridge and take it out everyday and mix it for one to two hours until the mixture is absolutely perfect.
  • Then give the mixture to your teacher, get her opinion on it, and with her advice, polish and add ingredients as you see fit. Put the mixture into the oven and wait until it is golden brown.
  • Take it out and enjoy it, a steaming sweet taste of success 🙂

I’d argue that as technology is increasingly a part of the workplace and our personal life, the only thing missing from this recipe is technology. It has a prominent place in our world, and it deserves a prominent place in our classrooms. So consider this “ask” a recipe in the works for better learning, better writing, better teaching. Thanks for considering.

 

“Healthy Dish of the Day”

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.56.45 AMA cheesy frittata packed with spinach, a pea salad dotted with pieces of feta and mint — two of my favorite dishes from “Healthy Dish of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year,” a Williams Sonoma cookbook by Kate McMillan. It’s a book for celebrating the seasons, for embracing the variety and abundance of seasonal produce and the color and vibrance of healthy cooking.

In addition to “seasonal vegetables,” the introduction proclaims an emphasis on “lean proteins… whole grains and good fats…” Each month’s recipes start with a calendar of meals, accompanied by a brief explanation of reoccurring themes and ingredients for the season. In my view, the calendar would be far more useful if it was organized around using up ingredients in successive recipes. Instead, it’s a way to whet your appetite at a glance, with each day’s dish calling for its own separate set of fresh, aka expensive ingredients. Take the first and second of March — a “spicy vegetable hash” calling for both sweet and Yukon gold potatoes, jalapeño pepper, plain yogurt, lime wedges and fresh cilantro, among other things, right next to “stir-fried pork and sugar snaps with soba noodles,” requiring Asian sauces/vinegars/oils, green onions and fresh ginger in addition to the title ingredients. Especially with the emphasis on fresh ingredients, you’d think Ms. McMillan would repeat more of them and organize the meal plan accordingly. Then again, it does bear the Williams Sonoma brand, so frugality may not be a fair expectation 🙂

That said, the monthly calendars can just as easily be used as a source of inspiration for ingredients to try. Say you’re visiting your local farmer’s market in March. A quick peek at the March spread might nudge you toward more generous helpings of swiss chard or fava beans, as opposed to that helpless feeling when confronted with large quantities of fleeting, seasonal produce. The large amount of recipes — it’s practically a tome — means that every five or six suppers receive their own full page photograph, which makes perfect sense but is still a little disappointing, in this digital age where food blogs display ten or twelve process photos for a single recipe. You can’t help but gravitate toward the dishes that are photographed. On the plus side, each recipe is accompanied by a note that either summarizes the essence of the dish — “fluffy ricotta-and-artichoke-stuffed ravioli sit in a pool of light, fragrant vegetable broth” — expounds on its nutritional value, provides historical context or suggested variations.

Here’s a brief sampling of each month’s themes and ingredients:

January

The emphasis is on root vegetables and “warming spices, such as turmeric, cayenne, curry paste and red pepper flakes.” Traditional comfort foods are made healthier with alternate cooking techniques, such as pan-searing instead of frying, and the abundant use of rich and creamy vegetables. As you might imagine, stews and soups are a natural way to create healthy food out of comfort food: A version of minestrone uses extra vegetables and low-sodium chicken broth, and “Asian-Style Chicken Soup” transforms your basic chicken noodle into something greener, spicier and more piquant. A vegetarian cassoulet replaces the traditional pork and breadcrumb mixture with meaty mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, beans, celery, carrots and potatoes.

February

McMillan encourages the reader to infuse winter dishes with color and fresh produce, and to pay attention to the flavor enhancing properties of sauces and garnishes. Winter’s inclination toward meat and potatoes is acknowledged, but the protein and carbs are lean — scallops, salmon, lentils eggs, quinoa, barley and whole-wheat penne. I’m especially keen to try the “Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa” and the “Roasted Salmon with Avocado-Grapefruit Salsa.” Oh, and “Broccoli Rabe and Olive Pizza.” Oh, and “Cauliflower Steaks with Caper-Anchovy-Garlic Sauce.” Okay, I’ll leave it at that.

March

The March dishes place spring’s green produce center stage — asparagus, snow peas, arugula…the list goes on. A platter of grilled endive and asparagus, boiled fava beans and orange slices tossed with orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper is an unusual, textured take on a spring salad. On March 31st, McMillan tosses blanched asparagus, baby carrots and sugar snap peas with angel hair pasta, tomatoes, fava beans and Parmesan cheese.

April

The emphasis on green, seasonal produce continues, alongside grilled meats and spring herbs like dill and chives. “Roasted Asparagus Farrotto” takes the nutty, magnesium-rich grain farro and cooks it (with olive oil and balsamic vinegar roasted asparagus) in the style of risotto. Here’s the pea salad whose praises I was singing earlier:

 Pea, Feta & Mint Salad

3 cups shelled English peas
2 T. olive oil
2 T. minced fresh mint
Salt and pepper
1 T. red wine vinegar
3 oz crumbled Feta cheese

1) Blanch the peas for 1-2 minutes in a pot of rapidly boiling, lightly salted water. Immediately transfer them to an ice water bath. Drain and pat them dry.

2) Toss the blanched peas with the olive oil, mint, 1/2 tsp. salt and a crackling of pepper. Just before serving add the vinegar and the cheese.

May

May celebrates lighter, al fresco dining — think salads, fish, grilled pizzas. Polenta is also frequently used as a foil for spring veggies: on May 1st, McMillan braises artichokes and serves them with shallots, peas and fresh herbs over a bed of polenta. On the 29th, she roasts asparagus and cherry tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese, accompanied by wedges of grilled polenta. Apparently polenta contains “cartenoids,” which is good for your eyes and heart.

June

June presents simple combinations of fresh summer vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. I’m into the June 15th salad that mixes roasted peppers, eggplant and zucchini with goat cheese and crisp red leaf lettuce. And the idea of grilling whole wheat pizza dough and topping it with nothing more than a simple salad of mixed greens, sliced plum tomatoes and parmesan shavings. Or on June 27th, brining pork chops in cider vinegar, brown sugar, berries and red pepper flakes and serving it with grilled plums, peaches and nectarines.

July

Corn and tomatoes get their due in July — tomato and arugula frittatas, scallops with avocado-corn salsa, smoky grilled chicken and corn, tomato and bean salads with toasted bread crumbs… McMillan also suggests grilling traditional summer dishes to vary flavors — for example, “Ratatouille on the Grill.”

August

“Vine vegetables” are recycled throughout the month, such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. For example, eggplant is broiled and puréed with Greek yogurt, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt and pepper, then spread across grilled Naan and topped with grilled red onions. On the 22nd, zucchini and peppers are julienned and sautéed, then served with buckwheat fettuccine, melted goat cheese and fresh herbs.

September

More tomatoes and zucchini, and a transition into fall with light soups and stews. A grilled portabello burger with tomato-ginger jam and sautéed red onions looks particularly scrumptious.

October

This month’s meals emphasize the expected assortment of fall produce such as pears, apples and butternut squash showcased via more pastas and whole grains. For example, there’s a roasted butternut squash whole-wheat pizza with goat cheese, Parmesan and arugula, and a whole-wheat flat bread with caramelized shallots, Monterey jack cheese and thin slices of grilled chicken and raw apple. Here’s the recipe for the spinach frittata:

Frittata with Spinach, Roasted Peppers & Gruyère 

8 large eggs
2 T. low-fat milk
Salt and pepper
2 cups baby spinach
2 olive-oil packed roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (or a cup fresh)
1/4 cup shredded Gruyère
1 T. unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil
2 T. finely chopped yellow onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh chives
1 tsp. fresh parsley

1) Whisk together the eggs, milk, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Add the spinach, peppers and cheese.

2) Preheat the broiler. Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil in a 12-inch ovenproof frying pan. Over medium-high heat, sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes and the garlic for an additional minute.

3) Pour in the egg mixture, reduce heat to low and cook until the edges are firm, about 4-5 minutes. Lift the edges with a spatula, tilt the pan and let the uncooked eggs run beneath. Cook 4-5 minutes longer, until the eggs are almost set.

4) Broil the eggs for about 2 minutes, until the top sets and browns slightly. Transfer the baked frittata to a flat serving plate and sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temp.

November

For heartier, fall fare, more protein is mixed in during November, such as turkey, pork and lamb. Star produce items include cranberries, pumpkin and dark greens. For example, on the 29th, McMillan stir-fries lamb with broccoli and mushrooms and on the 25th, she fries chard, eggs and polenta in olive oil and tops them with a yogurt garlic sauce. But even in November, the produce has a fresh, crunchy flair, including an apple-jicama relish for “Pulled Chicken Sliders” and a pineapple-avocado salsa for Mahimahi.

December

McMillan suggests lightening the rich foods of the holidays by using olive oil as a substitute for butter and root vegetables (again) as complex carbohydrates. In addition, whole grains pepper the menu, such as “Spaghetti with Collard Greens, Hazelnuts and Caramelized Onions” and “Kale, Turkey Sausage and Barley Stew.” I’m also drawn to a dish of seared scallops garnished with shredded brussels sprouts and prosciutto.

The great thing about cooking with so many vegetables is that most of these meals can be enjoyed year round, even though it’s ideal to enjoy produce at its peak. I made the October frittata this spring. Happy eating, and healthy cooking 🙂

Saint Louis Days, Saint Louis Nights

eddiejdf a thousand forks CC BY-NC-SA 2.0It’s been 12 days and 13 nights since Padraic and I made our way from Chicago to Saint Louis. I’m taking a break from willpower talk to celebrate some of the good food we’ve enjoyed here since our wind down I-55, in full view of funnel clouds and spectacular displays of lightning, in the thick of that eery calm and loaded sky that characterizes tornado weather in the Midwest. We stick pretty resolutely to a weekend night dinner out, so no sooner had we unloaded the U-Haul, set up (temporary) house in my grandmother’s guest cottage and rid ourselves of the wet dog smell that was a byproduct of hauling boxes in thick sheets of rain, we were on the prowl for a good restaurant. And now, I’ll savor it once more by describing the stuff we ate! And I mean…in detail…thanks for indulging me in this notably privileged, comfortable business of blogging about food 🙂

Publico

This new, Latin American gastropub is located in the Delmar Loop, a strip of restaurants, shops and music venues near Washington University (and a throwback to my weekend nights in high school). We got there around 8 o’clock, so we decided to keep our small plate sampling very small: two tacos al pastor consisting of “spit roasted pork shoulder, pineapple, guajillo, crema, charred onion salsa” and an arepa, or corn pancake, topped with roasted meat. Our meal was delicious, notwithstanding the frozen margarita that I ordered because it was cheaper than the classic version. Sipping tequila in semi solid form gives me quite the brain freeze.

Whiskey and Soba, Sauce Magazine, and Feast Magazine have put their collective finger on the pulse of this place, so I’ll do my best to summarize: The star of the menu, as described by Feast, is the restaurant’s “custom-made wood-burning hearth,” on prominent display towards the back of the space. As outlined by Whiskey and Soba, “the menu is split into 5 sections: crudo (raw dishes), Platos Pequenos (small dishes), Arepas (corn ‘pancakes’), Tacos, and A La Parilla (grilled).” The decor is sleek and modern, with a big, backlit bar occupying considerable space in the center and a line of brown-toned booths underlying wooden tree sculptures along the wall. We sat at the bar — the bottles grouped casually on large countertops, without fussy shelving, and cutting boards with slices of lemon, lime and other garnishes in full view. You really get to watch the bartenders do their thing. The food was served on colorful china with vintage floral patterns. The meal was at once light and rich, a welcome change from the heavy, sticky, cheesed-out feeling of so many Mexican joints. For two small plates and two drinks, I think our tab was a scant 30 bucks.

Robust Wine Bar

On our second Saturday night in town I had the chance to sample the dinner menu of this Webster Groves hot spot, alongside a flight of crisp, summery whites. A mixture of California and Oregon brands, the wine description touted notes of peach, pear, mango, honey dew and passion fruit, tasting subtle and fragrant while maintaining a desired acidity and dryness. As for food, I recommend the plate of Délice de Bourgogne cheese from France, with a moderately sized but uber creamy cheese wedge, thin slices of buttery toast, dried apricots and salted Marcona almonds. The Bresaola Carpaccio Style is also delicious: paper thin slices of salt-cured beef topped with arugula, shaved Parmesan and truffle oil. Check out their dinner menu for a full list of what’s available — next time I’ll have my eye on the Green Goddess salad with oven-roasted beets, the Shrimp & Grits and the Roasted Mushrooms, and possibly a taste of the Goat Cheese Cheesecake, you know, when I’m taking a break from my pursuit of willpower.

Robust’s wine menu is organized by wine profile, dubbed the “robust factor,” which makes the beverage selection and food-pairing process more intuitive, less painstaking for a wine novice like myself. The chef is Robert Hemp V, with a food philosophy that keeps things simple and local. As Evan Benn writes for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, he “manages to take broad cooking influences — European, American, Meditteranean and Asian elements populate Robust’s menu — and present them in ways that complement rather than compete with what’s in your glass.” A few years ago, the restaurant opened a Washington Avenue location in downtown Saint Louis that caters to a crowd of “locals, tourists…and conventioneers.” There’s also a Robust in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Meanwhile, I’ll recommend a local cookbook, titled “Saint Louis Days, Saint Louis Nights,” compiled by the Junior League of Saint Louis, to tide you over between weekend night dinners out. I’ve been making French onion soup from this book for years, requiring nothing more than a few onions, beef or chicken broth, a spoonful of flour, butter, Parmesan cheese and a sturdy, crusty loaf of bread. It also contains a notably no-fuss recipe for a whopping three loaves of pumpkin bread. In fact, all the recipes are decidedly no-fuss, one reason I gravitate towards them when I want something substantial and simple, or on the rare occasions when I’m cooking for a crowd. For a light but filling dinner series of spring dinners, try making a batch of “Scrumptious Eggs” on a Sunday afternoon. Happy eating.

Scrumptious Eggs

Tools

9×13 casserole dish
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Sauté pan
Large mixing bowl
Whisk or fork
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
3/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, plus extra for the dish
1 cup cubed ham or bacon
11 eggs, beaten
1 3/4 cups milk
3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • Butter the casserole dish and place half of the cheese on it.
  • Clean the mushrooms with a moistened paper towel and cut into slices. Chop the onion. Sauté the mushrooms and the onion in the butter until tender. Place the cooked vegetables over the cheese.
  • Cook, cool and chop the bacon, if using, then spread the ham or bacon on top of the mushroom mixture.
  • Beat together the eggs, milk, flour, parsley and salt.
  • Pour this mixture evenly over the casserole and top with the remaining half of cheese.
  • Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.
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