So many thoughts running through my head as I make a quick lunch. The first one: I am usually pleasantly surprised at what I can whip up into a full and satisfying meal from what is already in my pantry, fridge and freezer. Here’s what I am pulling together today:
- Corn tortilla quesadilla with goat ricotta salata
- Spicy cranberry beans
- Green salad
Related to this is the idea that it pays to shop and store strategically. I’m able to whip up a pan of Mexican-inspired beans because I had a small portion of cooked but unflavored cranberry beans in my freezer. Cooking beans is not always convenient and it requires planning time for proper soaking. But, if you soak and cook double – or even triple – what a recipe calls for, you can save the rest in individual servings in your freezer. They keep really well and they defrost quickly by rinsing them with warm water.
I added the beans to a sauteed garlic/salt mash that makes almost anything taste good. For seasoning, I used some harissa that I’d made awhile ago, also stored in the freezer and used only as needed, cilantro (already in the fridge from an earlier shopping trip) and a dash of ground cumin.
Likewise, I’d bought some corn tortillas the other day, used two and put the rest in the freezer so I’m able to use the rest when I need them. The cheese was a bit of an impulse buy earlier this week because I am a sucker for ricotta salata and have been nibbling on it ever since. To be honest, it’s not the best cheese for a quesadilla because it doesn’t really melt…
The green salad is from a box of pre-washed greens from the health food store, the kind that should last 3-5 days, depending on when you buy it.
Today, I was having a hard time getting motivated at my desk so I decided to take a walk and accomplish two things at once: 1. visit Dekalb Market and 2. have a late lunch.
Dekalb Market, if you’re not familiar with it, is an outdoor market on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, a new haven for locavores. It was started by Eldon Scott, the originator of the seasonal markets at Grand Central Station and Union Square, among others. For this project, he got himself access to the site of the old Albee Square Mall and filled it with discarded freight train cars which were renovated into storefronts for local food producers, artists and artisans. It’s pretty cool looking.
I’d walked past the market at night, when it was closed, and had promised myself to make a visit. I even put it on my to-do list. Alas, I will need to wait a few months before having he satisfaction of both visiting the market and crossing it off my list: the market is closed for the season…
So, I walked down the block to the Brooklyn icon, Junior’s.
It wasn’t where I wanted to end up but, as I tucked into a bowl of matzoh ball soup, I realized that it was a happy accident. My expectations were low because Junior’s has become a bit of a tourist destination so they may not need to rely on good food the way they used to (there was a girl at the counter with me sipping a shake and looking through her tourist guide). All they need to do is maintain the kitsch.
But, luckily, my expectations were wrong. The soup was wonderful. The broth was flavorful and just salty enough. The matzoh balls were light yet rich. They were perfect.
Junior’s is a funny place. Yes, it’s almost a caricature of itself. But, somewhat reassuringly, it’s still a place where regular people from the neighborhood go for a solid (and I mean solid) meal at a pretty good price. At 2:30pm on a Friday, it also seemed to get a handful of elderly folks, this likely being their big outing for the day. Junior’s staff was gracious and welcoming to them. After all, they’re regulars, even if they only order a cup of coffee.
And, while I didn’t get to experience the Dekalb Market except from outside the closed gates, Junior’s presents an interesting counterpoint to its newer, hipper neighbor.
Over the winter, my friend Tria and I had this great idea about starting a blog to report on all the wonderful farm stand and farmer’s markets activities on the South Fork of Long Island. It seemed like a great outlet for our unbridled enthusiasm for fresh, locally grown produce, not to mention local cheeses, baked goods and wine.
It’s late May and we’ve not done much to further our vision. So this is a symbolic start. We’ll see where the summer takes us.
Yesterday was the first official day of the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market and the turn-out was great: I got mizuna and fresh bamboo shoots from Dale and Bette from Sag Harbor, bok choy from Regina of Regina’s farmstand in East Hampton, fresh eggs from Dave “the mushroom guy”, the most wonderful fresh milk from the Ludlow’s of Mecox Bay Dairy, and rhubarb from Marilee Foster. Paul was manning Marilee’s stand and I also got from him several hugs, a deep conversation that probably distracted him from his other customers, and a chance to say “hello” to his funny little dog Penny.
I was pretty excited about the rhubarb. My mother made stewed rhubarb when I was a kid – rhubarb was cheap and plentiful in the spring. Now it’s become a bit fashionable, I guess, because it seems to be fairly costly in most grocery stores. Paul gave me a second big bunch as a bonus to the bunch I’d already purchased, so I went home with enough to enjoy this weekend as well as freeze for another time.
Stewed rhubarb is impossibly easy. Here’s how to do it:
- Slice the rhubarb into 1/4 or 1/2 pieces
- Combine rhubarb with granulated sugar in a pot big enough to hold it all – my rule of thumb is 1/2 cup sugar for each pound of rhubarb
- Put on low heat and stir the mixture frequently until the rhubarb starts to release some liquid – 5-10 minutes
- Then let it simmer until the rhubarb is soft and the liquid is syrupy
I also add a piece of ginger into my mixture, finely diced. I’m also wondering what a bit of high-quality balsamic might do…
Pour stewed rhubarb over ice cream and you’ve got dessert. Or, do what I did this morning and dollop it on top of granola and milk.
It’s raining cats and dogs out there so what better night to venture out all the way to Williamsburg to get some supper. And I’m solo, no less.
But, I’m intrepid so I’ll be putting on my rainboats, heading down to the car and making my way to Milk Bar (http://www.milkbarbrooklyn.com/) where Cathy will be hosting a “pop-up dinner” featuring a radish/strawberry salad, spare ribs and kimchee slaw, and mango rice pudding for dessert. All for 25 bucks.
Kind of wish someone was going with me – so if you’re out there and want to join me, let me know.
Working at home as I do currently has a lot of advantages. One of them is the ability to make tastier, healthier and less expensive lunches than you can get at a deli or take-out place. Today was grilled cheese and a tossed salad. As fate would have it, I read (while eating this lunch) that this month is National Grilled Cheese Month! So I felt a little like I was fulfilling a national duty.
My approach maxed the health benefits without sacrificing on deliciousness.The cheese was a goat gouda — goat’s milk has a smaller protein molecule than cow’s milk so it is easier for humans to digest. It wasn’t a gooey melty as a cheddar, but it worked. The bread was a seven grain whole wheat.
I riffed on a Reuben theme, adding a smear of Dijon mustard and a forkful of good-quality, vinegar-free, pro-biotic-rich sauerkraut. You can get this at most health food stores. The brand I have is Bubbies. Sauerkraut is an overlooked food item. Besides the pro-biotics, cabbage is chock-full of nutrients so this is a great way to slip an extra vegetable into this meal. And you can buy a jar and keep in the fridge for a couple of months.
Butter the outsides of the bread slices. Spread mustard on the inside of one slice (or both slices, if you like mustard). I sandwiched (no pun intended) the sauerkraut between two thin layers of cheese so that it had something to melt into and so it wouldn’t get the bread soggy.
Toast in a skillet. Cover and keep heat on low. It should take a 2-3 minutes on each side. Better to err towards lower heat/longer cooking time to ensure that the cheese melts before the bread burns.
I accompanied my version of a Reuben with a quick tossed salad: lettuces, radish and some new baby spinach from Dale and Bette’s organic farmstand in Sag Harbor. They’re back from their winter sojourn in Arizona and are a harbinger to all the wonderful local produce that is soon to be available to us on Long Island’s east end.
You’ll like this pasta dish. It’s a really nice combination of different flavors and all the ingredients are easy to find. Plus, it’s a pretty quick, easy recipe and perfect for a healthy dinner for two.
1 cup diced delicata squash or a similar winter squash like butternut
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper (optional)
2 generous handfuls of kale, washed and with the rib removed and cut into ribbons (I like lacinato kale because it’s a little more tender)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1-2 garlic cloves, depending on their size
1/2 box whole wheat pasta (I used linguine)
good quality sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pitted black olives, chopped
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
peccorino romano cheese for grating
(Hint – to remove the rib in the kale, hold the rib at the bottom with one hand, pinch the rib at the base of the leaf with the other hand and draw it up the rib, separating the leaf.)
Bring a pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta. Salt the water generously as you will be using some of the pasta water when you combine the vegetables and pasta.
Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.
Toast pine nuts in the oven – scatter on a non-stick cookie sheet. They will only need about 10 minutes to get brown and flavorful. Keep an eye on them because they go from toasty brown to burnt faster than you would think.
Meanwhile, peel and dice the squash. Toss in a bowl with a bit of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and the cayenne pepper.
Remove pine nuts from the oven and set aside in a bowl. Increase the temperature to 450 degrees. Spread the diced squash on the cookie sheet. When the oven has reached its new heat, put the squash in the oven — it should only be about 15 minutes (maybe less) before the squash is not only fully cooked but brown and a little caramelized. Remove the squash when done and put aside.
While squash is cooking, mash the garlic with 1/2 tsp salt in the mortar and pestle until it’s a rough paste.
At this point, put the pasta in the water and cook per package directions.
Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic/salt paste to the skillet. Just as the garlic is starting to brown (don’t let it burn), add the ribboned kale. Toss to cook, adding a tablespoon or so of water if the pan gets too dry.
Once the kale is wilted and nearly cooked, add the squash, olives and pine nuts. Toss the mixture in the pan a few more minutes. You’re going to add the pasta to the skillet – if you get to this point and the pasta isn’t done yet, just turn the skillet off until you’re ready to combine the ingredients
Before you drain the pasta, save about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta and add to the skillet with the other ingredients (turn the heat on to medium-low under the skillet if you turned it off). Toss well. If the mixture is a little dry, add pasta water as needed, stirring it in. It will make a nice gravy.
Serve in a pasta bowl, add a generous amount of peccorrino romano cheese on top.
Wow. I think I have a new food blogger girl crush. It’s Cathy Erway and her blog is “Not Eating Out in New York”. She also wrote a book, just out in paperback, called The Art of Eating In.
And, like any good crush, it’s a mix of infatuation, envy and awe. Let me count the ways she has left me so smitten:
1. She’s a Recession Girl, just like me. Her premise: don’t eat out in NYC. Make delicious food at home.
2. Her recipes seem to be a great mix of adventure, vibrant flavor and easily accessible ingredients.
3. She’s got the life I want to lead, cooking and writing, whether book or blog, about food.
4. Like me, she has little-to-no formal culinary training, proving that you don’t need a Cordon Bleu degree or a food publishing background to find success and have fun.
Looking forward to exploring her recipes and letting you know what the result is.