The heat of July can feel oppressive and overwhelming. I forget what it’s like to be cold. Even on the cooler days the humidity drenches us with sweat. July feels like a month to get through. But, we’re at the end of it. We did it.
August has always felt gentler, the breeze cooler and more refreshing. Less like hot breath, more like a cool caress.
The past two weekends have been hot hot hot. All fans on all the day, move as little as possible, ice cubes melt in minutes. The only good thing about it is that the tomatoes and basil like it. The arugula that I grew way too much of doesn’t seem to care either way. It survived winter, it’s thriving in summer, what doesn’t it like?!
I tried to grow Butter Lettuce. Not a single seed sprouted. What even am I doing wrong?! The thing I want to grow won’t, the thing I don’t is so abundant that it’s choking out other plants. That feels very 2020 of it.
Tim has declared that he hates arugula. I’m trying to trick myself into liking it. If I eat it often enough will I start to enjoy it? My friend, Madie, eats it from the garden while we stand six feet apart and chat in the sun.
Arugula is ok when it’s well balanced. As I was eating this salad the other day I could taste the earthiness of the beet greens, the spice from the arugula, and sharpness from the pickled onions. It was smoothed out by sweetness from raisins and balsamic vinegar, finished by smooth peppery olive oil and salty almonds. Some leftover salmon elevated it to a filling meal.
Some things are my best enjoyed on their own: chocolate ice cream, crispy bacon, cherry tomatoes still warm from the sun. They’re great as food pals, but they don’t need any help from anyone. Arugula isn’t there yet. But, Madie, I’ll always have some plain arugula growing in my garden just for you. You can have that while I enjoy my ice cream. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Arugula Salad with Raisins and Salmon
arugula, spinach, beet greens, and baby kale, torn into bite sized pieces
chopped roasted and salted almonds
cooked salmon (or crispy tofu)
Toss the greens. Top with pickled onions, raisins, almonds, and salmon. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Serve with crusty bread that’s been toasted and slathered with butter and jam and a glass of rosé if you’re feeling those summer vibes.
There’s a little more time to think these days. Sometimes my brain gets overrun with thoughts about the what-ifs, the economy, the future. This is weird. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s the only thing we want to talk about. For good reason. I’ve been trying to distract myself with cookbook writing, furniture rearranging, and, as our supplies dwindle a bit, using what we have well, and returning to a lifestyle where we’re making things from scratch again.
We usually have a well stocked pantry. I rely on things like beans and tuna and pasta. I love having jars of homemade jam, dilly beans, and dill pickles to get us through winter. And I almost always have at least one extra jar of Sir Kensington’s Chipotle or Sriracha mayo on hand. A few weeks before COVID-19 became a pandemic we stocked up a little more. We set aside some food in a plastic bin that we can grab and take with us in an emergency. There isn’t a can opener in there, so we have no way to eat it. But, it’s there if we need it. And between the pantry and what’s in cold storage, I think we could eat for two or three months using just what we have on hand. I think many people have done the same. Our pantries are stocked. We’re ready to ride this thing out at home. But, what to do with all those supplies now that we’re here… There’s the open can, eat with spoon option. Provided you didn’t forget the can opener. But, maybe we could try something a little more fun?
Today, we had Black Bean and Cheese Quesadillas. They could be eaten as a very basic quesadilla. Beans, cheese, tortilla, and something to dip them in. Great. But, you could also make them into something more.
To start, Tim made the flour tortillas from scratch. We are ruined. We should never buy store bought tortillas again. You can use corn tortillas too. Either way you’re winning.
We mashed up some black beans with some taco seasoning (Tim makes this from scratch too) and a pinch of salt. Easy. You could switch it up and use pinto or cannellini beans or even chickpeas.
We added colby and cheddar cheese. You could use queso fresco or try a great vegan cheese if you like. I like colby for the meltyness and cheddar for the taste. If we had pepper jack I’d add that for some spice.
Leftover chicken, pork, or beef? Add it. Some crispy bacon left from BLTs? Perfect. I wanted leftover chicken in these quesadillas. But, we didn’t have any. Next time.
Jarred roasted bell peppers? Good idea. Scallions that are getting a little wilty in the fridge. Do it. Onions and fresh bell peps? Sauté and add.
Leftover rice from dinner last night? Reheat it and mix it in with the beans. Oh! You made chili for dinner? Plomp it onto the tortilla and top it with cheese. Save the cans of beans for another time. Fold. Heat. Done.
Have a little leftover cream cheese and no bagels to eat it with? Smear it on the tortilla before you top it with the beans. Add a little sprinkle of garlic powder for good measure.
There are a million ways to quesadilla. And a zillion ways to use your pantry treasures for good. Oh, and if you feel like you may have over bought, our local food banks are hurting right now. So, grab some sanitizer wipes, clean those cans, find your local food bank, and drop them off (while you know, social distancing) and help someone in need.
I’ve got lots more ways to use those pantry items creatively. If you want help, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always love to talk about menu planning.
Black Bean and Cheese Quesadillas
8 (8-inch) cooked flour or corn tortillas (for ours, Tim used the recipe for flour tortillas from America’s Test Kitchen’s Bread Illustrated cookbook. There’s an almost identical recipe here.)
1 1/4 cups mashed black beans
1 1/2 teaspoons taco seasoning
1/8 teaspoon salt (Morton’s Kosher)
1/2 cup grated colby or pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
additional goodies: meat, rice, roasted bell peppers, scallions, green chiles, rice, cream cheese etc…
Re-heat anything that needs to be very hot (like meat and rice), or cook any fresh veggies or meat that you want to add. Set it aside.
Mix the black beans with taco seasoning and salt. Heat it over low until it’s hot, and then mash well. Divide the beans and the cheese between the tortillas. Top half of a tortilla with the black bean mixture and top with a bit of each type of cheese. Add any of the additional goodies, then fold the un-topped side of the tortilla over the topped side.
Heat a skillet over medium. Add the quesadillas and cook, flipping once, until the tortillas are browned and a bit blistered, the filling is hot, and the cheese is melted.
A great paring for these quesadillas is corn chips with some homemade guacamole, made with avocados that you bought last week and forgot about.
You ever have one of those nights when you’re all ready to make dinner and then you realize that you’re missing one of the key ingredients? I know I have. Just today I realized that I don’t have enough beans to make the Enchilada Casserole and the Mac and Cheese with Pinto Beans that I have planned for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. So, I’ll improvise. The mac and cheese will likely end up with garbonzo beans. It may even end up as a better dish.
This happens to me with pasta sometimes. For all of the planning and organizing that I do, I still miss things. Or, something changes and I need an easy dish. Pasta’s a great one for that. But, when I’m out? Well, now that doesn’t matter so much. I have a solution.
Veggie scraps and stems don’t usually go to waste in our home, because I use them to make stock and then they’re composted. But, what if they could be used for eating?! I mean, there’s a ton of goodness that is being wasted, even if it is going towards the garden.
I sliced off the tough outer peel. Then, with a vegetable peeler (a mandolin would work here too), I sliced, or peeled them super thin.
Then they steamed for about 10 minutes. And, much to my delight, had the consistency and texture of fresh homemade cooked pasta.
The stems cooked up while some brussels sprouts roasted. I know that some don’t think they like brussels. I didn’t until a few years ago either. I suspect because I’d never had them roasted. For me, pretty much any veggie roasted will be a hit.
I tossed them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Super simple.
I thought that, rather than getting a baking sheet dirty, I might as well use an oven proof skillet and roast them in there. They turned out just perfect!
And then it all came together. A bit of butter, some olive oil, dijon mustard, and some seasonings were added to the pan. They didn’t have long to cook.
I took it off the heat, added those cooked “pasta” stems, and a good squeeze of lemon.
A handful of fresh parsley from the garden completed things.
It would be great topped with a fried egg, alongside a freshly baked baguette, or, as I ate it, just on it’s own, topped with parmesan and crunchy almonds.
I ate my portion and then picked out the rest of the brussels sprouts and ate them. Sometimes I have a hard time sharing.
2 1/2 - 3 C broccoli and cauliflower stems, thinly sliced or shaved (a veggie peeler works great)
3 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 t fresh rosemary (or 1/2 t dried), chopped
1/4 t dried thyme (or 1/2 t fresh)
to taste salt
to taste pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t dijon mustard
1-2 T fresh parsley, chopped
2 T lemon juice
1-2 T parmesan, shaved
2-4 T almonds, chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Toss brussels sprouts with 1 t olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in an oven proof skillet cut side down. Roast for 10 minutes, flip carefully to the other cut side, and roast for 7-10 minutes more.
Bring 1" water to a boil in a pot with a steamer basket and lid. Place shaved stems in the steamer basket and cover. Steam for 5-10 minutes, or until tender.
Remove skillet with brussels sprouts from the oven. Place on the stove top (being careful of the handle which will be very hot). Add butter through dijon, and cook over medium-low heat for about a minute, stirring often. Remove from heat. Add parsley, lemon juice, and steamed stems. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
It makes me super happy when I’ve made something that’s loaded with veggies, and Tim, unprompted, tells me how much he likes it. What a guy! Good thing he liked it so much (even the tofu!), because I am sold.
First of all, tofu is a cheap way to get some protein into a dish. I know, I know, not everyone is crazy about soy. So, if you’re not a tofu fanatic, that’s awesome too! Be who you are, right?! If you’d like, add some chicken instead, Tempeh is great too (but also a soybean product), beef and pork would also be super yum. Or, go totally vegetarian and add some more nuts (even a scoop of peanut or almond butter mixed into the sauce would be great).
See how easy that was?! Substitution central over here. This is one where there’s something for everyone.
Oh yeah, and if you’re vegan, omit the fish sauce. (No duh, Rachel. You knew that… We taught our 2 year old niece to say, “No duh, Uncle Tim” over the holidays. It was one of the highlights of the trip. Especially when she started saying it to Oma too.) I’d planned to make this a vegan dish. I was going to add some honey, then remembered that some vegans don’t eat honey. I finished cooking and realized that fish sauce is obviously not vegan. Eye roll and shrug of the shoulders. I can’t expect my brain to work perfectly all the time. 😉
This is my go-to stir fry sauce. It’s simple. Soy sauce (or a gluten-free version, which tastes remarkably similar), fish sauce, and rice vinegar. Sometimes I use cornstarch and water, to act as a thickener. Either way, we think it tastes great.
Stir Fry is one of those awesome meals for using up whatever veggies are hanging out in the fridge. It’s also a way to pack in many many veggies, but can also be great if you’ve just got broccoli and an onion left at the end of the week. My goal, this time, was to find a way to use the red choi. The rest of the veggies are kinda just a bonus. Plus, it’s a great dish for cabbage using up. And, tastes great with an Asian slaw on the side. Yep, do it, get your cabbage on!
Anoooooother reason I love Stir Fry, it’s so incredibly quick to prepare. Veggies cook over higher heat, so they cook fast and retain their bright color. A friend gave me a wok, so now I don’t throw veggies all over the stove.
Don’t forget, keep those veggies moving. High heat means they’re gonna burn if you leave them unattended.
Once the veggies are cooked (see how greeeeeeeen they are still!?), sauce goes in, cooks for like 2 minutes more, and then you’re done!
You could stand there and eat it out of the wok. Totally fine with me.
But, maybe a better option is to scoop some rice onto a plate, slide some tofu next to it, and pile on those veggies.
If you’ve already eaten 5 pieces of the crispy tofu, I understand. I may have done the same.
1 C brown rice (rice noodles, quinoa, or bulgur wheat would also be great)
2 C water
1 block firm tofu, sliced about 1/8" to 1/4" thick
to taste salt
2 t olive oil, divided
1 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1/4 C cold water
1 T cornstarch
2 T olive oil
1/4 C carrots or celery, thinly sliced
1-2 C broccoli or cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
2-4 T radish, thinly sliced
1 C cabbage (or collard greens or kale), chopped
1 head red choi stems, chopped
(could also add: snap peas, bean sprouts, green beans, summer squash, butternut squash)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head red choi leaves, chopped
2 T almonds, chopped, for serving
While rice cooks, sprinkle both sides of the tofu with salt, cayenne, and ginger. Heat skillet over medium to medium-high heat, add 1 t olive oil, when it's hot add tofu, working in batches so the pan isn't overcrowded, cook for about 2-3 minutes per side (or until sides are browned and crispy), adding more oil as needed. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel lined plate.
Whisk together soy sauce through ginger. Set aside.
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 T olive oil. When oil is hot, add carrots through salt. Cook, stirring constantly (picking veggies up with tongs and moving them around works best for me), for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red choi leaves and cook for about 2 minutes more.
Stir in sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes (or until sauce has thickened).
Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Serve over rice, topped with chopped almonds.
If it's not essential for this to be vegetarian, 1 t fish sauce is a good addition to the sauce.