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Cold Zucchini Soup with Buttermilk – Too Much Zucchini, part III

Cold Zucchini Buttermilk Soup title

We have a zucchini plant in our garden this year.  Just one, as we have learned from years past that zucchini quickly becomes overwhelming.  Fried zucchini blossoms are one of our favorite summer treats, and one of the most cost-effective ways to get our hands on them is to plant our own zucchini plant.

Apparently, though, there is something mysterious in our soil because that one zucchini plant has grown to monstrous proportions.  It’s the tomacco of zucchini plants – each leaf is the size of a cocktail table.
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We are diligent about seeking out the zucchini and picking them when they’re either still flowers or at a reasonable size, and we’ve been eating a lot of zucchini fritters and zucchini bread this summer.   However, occasionally one will escape our notice, hiding under a massive leaf, until one day we discover this Godzilla-zucchini, and have to figure out what to do with it.  They’re more watery and less flavorful than the little ones, and the seeds are enormous, too.

Giant Zucchini

 

Staring at these enormous zucchini this weekend, I was struck with inspiration.  What do you do with any excess vegetables?  Make soup.  But since it is July, and it is going to be 101 degrees at my house tomorrow, chilled soup is the game.

Continue reading Cold Zucchini Soup with Buttermilk – Too Much Zucchini, part III

Pasta with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Cashel Blue Cheese

Spinach Pasta>

I have resisted pasta for many years. Other people can’t get enough of it – I could take it or leave it. But life in our household has been pretty crazy lately, and I have been embracing pasta as a way to get dinner on the table relatively quickly instead of having to resort to eating crackers. (It’s happened.)

I think the problem is I’m not really a fan of traditional spaghetti sauce. My husband has taken to complaining that we never have a jar of spaghetti sauce in the house (he asked if we could make a bid for normalcy and just have a jar of Prego), while I’ve never felt the lack. Once I started to move away from the tomato sauces, pasta got a lot more interesting.
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This one was inspired by  a gorgeous wheel of Irish Cashel Blue cheese that the kind folks at Kerrygold USA sent me.   I’ve been a fan of their grass fed butter for years, but I won a year’s supply of butter and cheese at the Big Traveling Potluck and that has made be a convert to their amazing Irish cheeses.  They have several cheddar and cheddar type cheeses that are amazing, but my favorite is probably the Cashel Blue.  I shared the wheel with family members but immediately regretted it – I wanted more blue cheese for myself!  Even my mom, who has been a diehard French Roquefort snob for years said this is her new favorite blue.

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Garlic Butter Mushroom Sliders

Mushroom Sliders

The Super Bowl, oddly enough, seems to be one of the biggest food holidays of the year.  I don’t know why it’s more food-centric than the Fourth of July, or Easter, or Cinco de Mayo, but there you have it.  I myself am not a huge fan of professional football (LA hasn’t had an NFL team since I was in elementary school, which lessens the thrill somewhat) but I can always get behind a party.  Especially a party that involves those semi-junky foods that you always want to eat but usually don’t because they are not good for you.  Foods like buffalo wings, potato chips with onion dip, and jalapeno poppers.

Mushroom Sliders Ingredients

This year, however, I am trying to eat more vegetables, and last time I checked, buffalo wings are not vegetables.  In the past, I have scoffed at “healthy” Superbowl recipes. The whole point of Superbowl food is that it’s unhealthy.  Nobody wants to eat kale chips while watching men pummel each other in freezing cold weather.   This year, though, I saw my vegetable challenge as a Super bowl challenge too – could I come up with a healthi-ER recipe that doesn’t feel like a compromise?  Something that’s so delicious you want to eat it MORE than the meaty alternative?

I don’t mean to brag, but I think I’ve accomplished just that.   Little sliders (fun to eat!, finger food that one can eat on the couch while watching the TV), made from mushroom caps (We’ll ignore the fact that for purposes of the challenge, mushrooms aren’t exactly Vegetables.  They are like vegetables.) oozing with garlic butter and melted cheese.  Forget the Super Bowl.  I want to eat these EVERY day.  (And I could, too- they do contain butter and cheese, but it’s not excessive.)  They’re so good that nobody will notice they’re eating healthi(er) food because they’ll be too busy licking their fingers and asking for more.

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Squash Stuffed with Delicious Things

Stuffed Kabocha Squash

Part of my focus on vegetables for this year is going to involve salads and side dishes – things to add to my standard meat and potatoes fare (though in actuality, we rarely eat potatoes). But I’m also looking for main dishes in which vegetables play a starring role. Ideally I’m looking for something which won’t cause my five year old to reject it out of hand. I’ve tried to tell her that nothing mommy makes is yucky, and I don’t ever want her to say yuck, though she may politely express that this is not her favorite dish. Of course, only dessert is her favorite dish, not for any lack of trying on my part. And ham sandwiches. And since I refuse to subsist on a diet of ham sandwiches and ice cream, we are at something of an impasse. Bacon helps.

This recipe, which is adapted from Dorie Greenspan, may not pass the five year old test (until she TRIES it) but it is one of my favorites. Dorie calls it “Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good” and it really is stuffed with, if not everything good, many good things. Things like bread and cheese and bacon and cream and garlic, and just to up the vegetal quotient, I added red chard, which only added instead of detracted. Since it’s nearly impossible to find an edible pumpkin outside the months of October and November, I make it with Kabocha Squash, which I prefer to pumpkin anyway. This dish also looks better in person than it does in photographs, and tastes better than it looks (I must convince the five year old of this). (As an aside – raw vegetables are BEAUTIFUL to photograph, but the second they’re cooked they look far less appealing. C’est la vie.)  You can also omit the bacon the make it vegetarian, but please don’t leave out the cheese.
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Top 25 Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Dry Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

Halloween is over, and we’ve all recovered from our sugar highs (theoretically). Now is the home stretch for home cooks – less than three weeks until Thanksgiving, and then the sprint through the December holidays into New Year, when we all collapse in a faint of exhaustion. I know you’re already planning your Thanksgiving menu, so to make it easy, I collected the The Domestic Front Thanksgiving recipes into one easy place. The best, most foolproof, most delicious, juicy, crisp-skinned roast turkey? We’ve got that. Instructions on making your own pie crust (with a bonus recipe for silky smooth, perfectly spiced pumpkin pie)? You’ll find that here. In the next few weeks I’ve got a few exciting new recipes coming up — another savory sweet potato dish, a refreshing fall salad, and new twists on old favorites like stuffing and cranberry sauce, but in the meantime, here’s the roundup of Thanksgiving recipes for your inspiration:

Turkey:
Easy, Dry-Brined Roast Turkey

You’re serving vegetarians?
Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
Kale and Cabbage Gratin
Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gratin
Onion Tarte Tatin

Your favorite thing is, of course, stuffing:
Old School Sage Stuffing

What vegetable side should you make this year? (see also, cooking for vegetarians, above)
Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts with Cream
Creamed Kale
Creamed Spinach with Jalapenos
Slow Cooked Green Beans
Creamy, Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin

It’s not Thanksgiving without pie:
Maple Walnut Pie
Vegetarian Mincemeat Pie
Nesselrode Pie
Perfect Pumpkin Pie, and a tutorial on homemade pie crust
Rice Pudding Pie

You don’t like Pie:
Cranberry Pecan Upside Down Cake

You’re stuck with the cranberry sauce but you still want a chance to shine:
Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Oranges and Pecans

You’re on Salad Duty:
Arugula Salad with Persimmons and Gouda
Homemade Salad Dressing

You’re keeping the relatives happy (aka mixing drinks):
The Perfect Manhattan
Champagne Cocktail

Aunt Helen won’t let you set foot in the kitchen, but you still want to help:
Polishing Silver
Five Easy DIY Holiday Centerpieces

You’re panicking:
Last Minute Tips on Hosting Thanksgiving

Japanese Ramen Salad

Japanese Ramen Salad

It’s far too cold in Los Angeles this week to even think of having a picnic, or eating a salad. We’ve had rain and fog and nighttime temperatures in the 40’s. I’ve been digging out my thick sweaters and my boots and thinking of building a fire in the fireplace. It’s MAY, people! I live in Los Angeles! Apparently Mother Nature didn’t get the message.

Regardless of the weather, Memorial Day is around the corner! Which means PICNICS! And POTLUCKS! Or mayonnaise slowly congealing in the hot sun until it becomes liquid death, and “I’m a vegetarian/lactose intolerant/in a neurotic relationship with pasta.” Well, given these parameters, have I got the dish for you. I got it from my friend Corrine (of the apparently departed casavillecooking) who deals with dairy and egg allergies in her family, and is therefore a great source of vegan and dairy-free recipes. This dish is a perfect potluck dish — it’s vegan (or not, depending on your additions), dairy-free, egg-free, and not too starchy. You can make it gluten-free by replacing the ramen noodles with rice noodles fried in a little oil. It’s also easy and quick to make, can be scaled up or down, and can be adapted to suit your tastes and your audience. With no mayonnaise, it will hold for a few hours without refrigeration (it also makes a great brown bag lunch dish). And did I mention it’s delicious? Flavorful, kid friendly — it even features healthy vegetables!
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Corn and Tomato Pie — Summer in a Crust

Tomato Pie 1

Somehow I blinked and it’s mid August. Labor Day is in sniffing distance, the days are getting shorter, the stores are full of sweaters, and I seem to have missed summer. Every year I have a mental list of things that I will do in the summer. Swimming in a cold pool, then lying in the sun until my swimsuit is dry, then jumping back in. Going on the ferris wheel at the pier. Sitting in my garden as the sun gets low, drinking Pimm’s Cups and chatting with good friends. And here it is nearly September and there are so many things still on my list.

Tomato Pie 3

But one thing I have done is enjoyed the summer produce. I love the berries and the peaches, the watermelon and the plums. But nothing screams summer quite like corn and tomatoes. These vegetables, so anemic and disappointing if you venture to eat them fresh during any other time of the year, bust out into full, sweet glory in the summertime. More than anything else, summer is eating corn, spread with butter, each sweet juicy kernel bursting in your mouth. And summer is the smell of red, ripe tomatoes, the juices dripping down your chin.

Tomato Pie 5

This pie is summer. I saw the recipe last year, when it was printed in the dear, departed pages of Gourmet, and filed it for later. Later is now, because this pie is phenomenal. Sweet crisp corn and juicy tomatoes, bound together with creaminess and cheddar cheese, and if that wasn’t enough to tempt you, the pie crust here isn’t a regular old pie crust, but buttermilk biscuit dough, rolled thin. This pie is the taste of summer camp, of fireflies, of jumping in a cold lake and sweet months of vacation. This pie is the summer I’ve been missing.
Tomato Pie 2

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Grits and Greens Casserole – Almost Meatless Monday

Grits Casserole 1

I’ve never been tempted to be a vegetarian. I never went through that adolescent phase where I got squeamish about meat. I don’t find chickens or cows particularly cute; I will cheerfully handle raw meat; and I cook live crustaceans (I figure if I’m going to eat them, I need to be OK with cooking them). I’ve never given up red meat, or eschewed pork products, or cut down on fish. I’m an omnivore, and pretty happy with that state of affairs.

But the world has changed, or maybe my knowledge of it has, and I’m no longer happy with the meat and potatoes diet that I grew up with. The environmental consequences are too great; the agricultural practices too troubling, the implications too grave. It no longer makes sense to eat the traditional American diet — a hunk of meat and two sides. But I’m not willing to become a vegetarian. For one, I’m philosophically opposed to extremes, and I think cutting out an entire category of the human diet is a pretty extreme one. For another, I happen to like meat. Nothing says “summer” quite like a hamburger. Roast chicken is a delight of human existence. And bacon is something to live for.

Grits Casserole 4

But what can change, and what has changed, is our approach to eating meat. We’ll still have a meat focused dinner once or twice a week (that roast chicken makes frequent appearances), but we’ll eat other meals that are either entirely vegetarian, or use meat as an accessory, rather than the main event. I call this style of cooking the “meat as condiment” approach. It’s a way to incorporate more vegetables into our diets without feeling like we’re making extra work in our busy lives. As a result, I feel like our diet and our meals are more in balance.
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Vegetarian Thanksgiving — Acorn Squash with Quinoa and Hazelnuts

Acorn Squash 1

The advent of fall is subtle here in Los Angeles. We don’t get the fire of autumn leaves, serving as a beacon, or the sudden damp and chill, requiring rainboots and peacoats. We tend to put our heads down during the fires and Santa Ana winds of September and October, keep going through day after day of sunny skies and 80 degree temperatures, until sometime in November we look up and notice that the air smells of leaf mold and woodsmoke, the nights have grown cold, the sycamore leaves have changed from golden green to golden brown, and the light seems to be filtered through a faint haze. Fall has arrived, not with bright banners and pounding drums, but quietly and unmistakeably.

Fall also brings with it a cornucopia of autumnal produce — my beloved brussels sprouts, apples, persimmons, pears, sweet potatoes, and of course, squash. Nothing quite screams autumn like winter squash – first the pumpkins for Halloween, then pumpkin pie and suddenly the creamy orange flesh is everywhere you turn.

Acorn 5

Squash are often banished to side dish status, but they can be the centerpiece of a meal. Acorn squash, in particular, makes an appealing main course — it’s perfectly sized for built-in portion control, is less sweet than butternut or kabocha squash, lending itself well to savory preparations, and it’s pretty to boot. This acorn squash, which is halved, then baked and stuffed with a mixture of squash and quinoa, is a particularly elegant preparation — hearty, savory and beautiful enough to grace a dinner table. It’s a great option if you are planning a Thanksgiving dinner with vegetarians at the table — it can be made well in advance except for a late reheating, and is substantial and lovely enough that the vegetarians don’t feel like they’ve been relegated to the status of second class citizens.
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Eat at your desk: Squash and Cauliflower Salad with Salsa Verde

I like to pack my own lunch. Yes, I’m giving up the social hour at work, but frankly the lunch offerings in my neighborhood tend to pale in comparison to what gets produced in my own kitchen. I wish I could say that it’s because I’m an amazing cook, but really it’s just that corporate lunch spots tend to be that uninspiring. Too unhealthy, too bland, too expensive, too time consuming. All I want for lunch on a work day is something to eat (at my desk, in the office kitchen or outside near the fountains) that gives me a jolt of flavor and wakes up my palate without making me want to sleep for the rest of the afternoon. And, surprise surprise, that usually comes from home.


The question then becomes what to bring. Once you’re freed from the time constraints of a one mile radius of your office, the world really becomes your oyster, with certain limitations. Not for me are the lean cuisines heated up in the communal microwave by my coworkers, the aroma of Fiesta Grilled Chicken or Oven Roasted Beef Burgundy permeating the floor. Leftovers can be nice and quick, but they’re not always available and I hate reheating for the above mentioned aromatic reasons. A sandwich only reaches its pinnacle of sandwichness when it’s freshly made, and doesn’t spend at least four hours curled up in your purse or desk drawer waiting to be eaten. What I really want is something that can be made in advance (because who has time to cook lunch every morning?), holds well (preferably at room temperature) for several hours and still tastes and looks appealing and fresh.
Continue reading Eat at your desk: Squash and Cauliflower Salad with Salsa Verde