Andalusian Gazpacho with Grilled Corn

Today’s post is about more than good food. It’s also about some good news, and giving you a little preview into what you can expect from The Stout Sprout in the coming year… and it’s a big year! This fall our Stout Sprouts are entering Pre-K and 1st grade, respectively, and I’m now working in a new position that has me commuting in to Manhattan regularly.

Kitchen time and writing time is now more limited than it has been in prior months, but we’ve been making the most of the time we do have together, visiting farmer’s markets, playing at the Jersey shore, and eking as much time out of our weekends together as we possibly can. Our crunched schedule also means that in addition to focusing on seasonal, kid-friendly dishes, we’re also focusing on convenient meals. Things we can make together and enjoy together without a crazy investment of time or ingredients.

Fresh Jersey corn - nothing better

Fresh Jersey corn – nothing better

What this also means is that we have a backlog of easy weekend and weeknight recipes that make excellent use of the riot of fresh produce that summer has delivered. And while the farms and gardens are churning out juicy, ripe tomatoes, sweet summer corn, crisp bell peppers and cooling cucumbers, we’re busy putting it all to good use.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite summer suppers: gazpacho.

This creamy gazpacho with grilled corn is amazing

This creamy gazpacho with grilled corn is amazing

Gazpacho is the kind of dish that uses all that market bounty. Refreshing and cooling, it’s vegetarian and vegan and, when served with a slice of hearty grilled bread, is still as satisfying as any protein-packed main dish. It comes together quickly and can be made hours in advance of mealtime. There is little real cooking required – just a bunch of chopping and a little blending (and in our case, a little bit of grilling).

Click here for my favorite summer recipe – Aldalusian Gazpacho!

Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Roasted Red Peppers

Eat or be eaten. Yes, it’s one of the cardinal laws of the wild, but to the regular potluck supper attendee it means something else entirely. Who among us hasn’t arrived late to one of these get-togethers only to find two or three platters which have been scraped clean (our minds begin playing tricks on us as we imagine the mouth-watering dishes these must have been) as well as a bag or two of stale chips, some canned salsa, and a bowl of potato salad that may or may not have been sitting out in the sun too long.

The potluck connoisseur knows to arrive early to stake out the best dishes because, inevitably, there will only be one or two buzz-worthy contenders. For the home cook and regular potluck chef, the pressure is on to select and prepare something falling into that category. Many of us simply punt and load up on deli counter offerings (hey, I’m not judging…I’ve been there). It’s a great strategy if you’re short on time, but that same deli counter offers options that, with just a little advance planning, will have you effortlessly throwing together one of those buzz-worthy dishes the next time you’re invited to a potluck.

Here’s our buzz-worthy recipe for Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Sun-dried tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers

Cucumber and Lemon Zest Tea Sandwiches

Let’s face it. Sick days are no fun. Especially when you’re three, and at home with a tummy ache.

Daughter 2 may have preferred following me around today to being at daycare, but sick is sick. She’s usually a good eater but I could tell nothing sounded good today. So when, after nap, she asked if we could have a little tea party I wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. Tea sandwiches (a sneaky way of getting food into the child) and a little watered-down orange juice were just the ticket.

Can we have a tea party? Can we?

Can we have a tea party? Can we?

We kept it simple but added a lemony twist. “I love lemon!” she told me as we made these.

Sick or not, our cucumber and lemon zest tea sandwiches are just the thing for a quick pick-me-up. And when made with a garden cucumber that has chilled in the refrigerator they really do taste like summer!

Assembling our sandwiches

Assembling our sandwiches

Serve on their own, or with some other quick sweet and savory goodies for a real tea party tower of treats.

Cucumber and Lemon Zest Tea Sandwiches

8 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed if you wish
2 – 3 tablespoons salted butter
Zest from 1 large lemon
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

Spread a thin coating of butter on one side of each bread slice. Zest the lemon over 4 bread slices so the zest is evenly distributed among the 4 slices. Arrange the cumber slices evenly among the other 4 bread slices and sprinkle with salt to taste. Pair one lemon-zest bread slice with a cumber-covered bread slice to make a sandwich. Cut diagonally to make 2 triangles, and then cut those triangles diagonally again so that each sandwich ends up in 4 triangles. (Hey — you can cut yours any way you’d like…squares, rectangles, or leave ’em whole!)

So summery

So summery

The real art is in the presentation. Daughter 2 asked for them on a pretty platter we use for tea parties and I was more than happy to oblige.

Serves: 4

A platter of cucumber and lemon zest tea sandwiches

A platter of cucumber and lemon zest tea sandwiches

Kid rating: four stars. The first bites were heaven, for daughter 2 and for me. But in the end her lack of appetite won out and she only ended up eating about half a sandwich. Daughter 1 will likely be jealous when she gets home though!
Parent rating: four stars. My idea of tea party fare leans toward smoked salmon (which would have been FANTASTIC on these, with a little dill!) or curried chicken. But these were just so fresh, and nibble-able, that I kind of wished we had reasons for tea parties more often.

Roasted Beet, Cucumber, and Feta Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing

All days of the week are not created equal. Especially in summer. Saturday and Sunday have their obvious merits, and nobody can disagree that making it to 5:00 pm on a Friday shouldn’t somehow be celebrated. But one of my favorite days of the week is CSA day. That’s the day we pick up fresh produce from Cherry Grove Organic Farm, a local community-supported agricultural farm outside of Princeton, NJ.

Swallowtail Butterfly at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

Swallowtail Butterfly at Cherry Grove Organic Farm

I’m not working this summer which makes CSA pick-up day even better. Instead of flying out of the office and sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Turnpike to get to the farm before gates close at 7:00 pm, I have the luxury of picking up the girls in the afternoon from daycare and taking them with me. They love it and I love that they love it. It’s a love fest, which somehow is just what the produce deserves.

This week's bounty

This week’s bounty

Look mom, it's cabbage

Look mom, it’s cabbage

Produce and flowers ready for the farmers market on Saturday

Produce and flowers ready for the farmers market on Saturday

This week it was HOT at the farm, but the goodies we brought home now have me planning menus days in advance. Our five-year-old even asked to make a salad and came up with a dressing recipe that included sugar, salt, and jalapeños. Hmmm. We’ll have to work on the proportions, but I applaud the creativity! She later confessed that she wanted to make the salad for me and her dad…but then I put together a little something that she and her little sister agreed to try, with predictably mixed results. My husband and I, however, endorse this one!

Salad ingredients:
3 roasted beets, peeled and cubed (to roast, rub with olive oil and roast in tightly-sealed tinfoil with some thyme sprigs at 400 degrees for one hour)
1 cucumber, peeled and cubed
About 4 ounces of feta cheese, cubed (add more if you like feta)
1 cup walnuts, toasted on the stove top in a frying pan until fragrant, cooled and then roughly chopped
Small bunch of fresh arugula

For dressing (with homage to Jamie Oliver’s Honey & lemon juice dressing…it seemed just right when I searched on lemon/olive oil/honey…gotta love Kismet):
1 ounce fresh lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
2 ounces olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey or to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly-ground pepper

Whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined. Set aside.

Combine the beets, cucumber, feta and walnuts and toss with enough dressing to flavor. You may have a little dressing left over…I did. Won’t go to waste.

Place several (5 or 6) arugula leaves on each serving plate and mound salad on top. Finish with additional sprinkle of salt and freshly-ground pepper.

It's a layering thing

It’s a layering thing

A salad makes a plate a meal

A salad makes a plate a meal


I served this with pulled chicken sandwiches made from the left-over hickory-smoked chicken thighs and breasts earlier this week. But that, my friends, is a post for another day!

Serves 8 as a side, or 4 as a main dish.

Parent rating: four stars. I would have given it at least four-and-a-half stars if the beets didn’t bleed so much after combining the salad. An elegant presentation, but leftovers looked a little pink…which, if you’re a five-year-old little girl, might not be that bad!
Kid rating: three stars. Beets were downright vetoed by both girls, leading to a squishing episode that we won’t discuss further. Daughter 1 ate all the cucumber and feta and TRIED the beets. Daughter 2 ate cucumber and walnuts, thought the feta was an unknown veggie and rejected it, and squished the beets. Enough said.

Cold Soba Noodle “Nests” with Dipping Sauce

I’ll be the first to admit that our pantry probably isn’t what you’d call typical. Though it took some cajoling, my daughters now know that when they want a quick snack of seasoned seaweed we more than likely have it on hand. Asian ingredients are a huge inspiration in our kitchen. And while you may not have four different kinds of soy sauce floating around (I’m a little funny that way), I’m willing to bet that you can pretty easily get — or already have — most of what you need for this very simple supper.

Why soba? Because it’s easy to prepare, it’s cool and refreshing, nothing on the plate is intimidating, and the ingredients aren’t “mixed together” so much that they will offend my five-year-old’s still developing palate. Plus, it’s a kind-of elegant presentation that uses a lot of seasonal fare. And by that I mean a lot of the produce from our farm share that will spoil if not used within the week…before getting more on the next pick-up date.

One of the things I liked most about this meal was actually engaging the kids in a discussion about how we were going to make it. I’d been able to prep the veggies and dipping sauce in the afternoon so during the car ride home from day care we talked about the buckwheat noodles, and the five-year-old actually got excited about the opportunity to put carrots and cucumbers on her “nests.” But the prep for this meal is so simple that you only need about 30 minutes from getting in the door to putting food on the table.

Veggie prep - radishes, carrots and cucumber

Veggie prep – radishes, carrots and cucumber

We were lucky enough to have some leftover grilled strip steak in the refrigerator which I sliced thinly and served alongside, but you can substitute anything…or be a traditionalist and stick with just the noodles and veg. Grilled chicken, a couple of seared scallops, fried tofu: they would all make a nice protein option to round out the meal.

One last comment about our pantry staples. This recipe calls for dashi, a simple broth made from konbu (kelp) and bonito flakes. And yes, I actually have both kelp and bonito flakes in the pantry. But I also have instant dashi packets with no MSG that I picked up at the Asian market one town over. You can find instant dashi on Amazon (though I recommend you try to find one without MSG if you can), or even kelp and bonito flakes if you’re so inclined — it’s quite easy to make dashi. Dashi is pretty nuanced and I recommend it for this recipe but if you need a substitute try a vegetable broth or light fish stock. You’ll also need mirin, which is a cooking wine that you can find in the Asian section of most grocery stores.

Pantry "staples"

Pantry “staples”

Finally, it’s worth noting that when it came time to make the dipping sauce I turned to my copy of “The Japanese Kitchen” by Kimiko Barber. There are lots of dipping sauce recipes out there, but I’m a bit of a traditionalist and like the simple, very Japanese version that is featured in the zaru soba recipe.

Here’s how I made our “nests.”

For the noodles:
4 portions (approx. 12 oz) of dried buckwheat soba noodles
3 carrots, peeled and julienned into three-inch-long strips and, if you wish, cooked slightly to soften in boiling water (I like crisp, but my oldest daughter likes cooked carrots)
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned into three-inch-long strips
1 radish, thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced (wait to slice until just about ready to serve or your scallion may taste a little soapy)

For the dipping sauce:
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 1/2 tablespoons mirin
2 1/2 cups dashi broth

For serving:
Wasabi paste or fresh grated wasabi, if you wish

Mix together the dipping sauce ingredients (soy, mirin and dashi) in a medium bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add salt (1 teaspoon or to taste…you’re just seasoning the water) and cook noodles until just tender. Do not over cook. Drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse well under cold water to both remove the extra starch and cool the noodles.

Arrange noodle “nests” on plates topped with carrots, cucumbers, radishes and scallions. Serve with individual portions of dipping sauce on the side. Float some scallion in the dipping sauce if you wish. Include a small amount of wasabi on each plate to eat — sparingly — along with the noodles or stirred into the dipping sauce.

Trying everything on the plate

Trying everything on the plate

Serves 4 as a main with a small portion of protein (we had some sliced steak with our noodles).

Mom rating: five stars. I love this summertime dish. I love leftovers for lunch the next day too. No need to heat anything up.
Kid rating: four and a half stars. BOTH girls cleaned their plates, though I served the five-year-old’s meal without radish and scallion knowing that just wouldn’t play. She also told me “Mom, I’m not crazy about the dipping sauce.” The three-year-old ate everything but a couple of radishes and even drank the dipping sauce (not that I encouraged it). No wasabi for the kids. They just aren’t ready and I don’t want the meal to end the second after someone eats something that is “too spicy!”

A clean plate!

A clean plate!

Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime…Calls For A Quick Greek Salad

It’s July. It’s hot. The kind of hot where the air shimmers and the wrens roost deep in the dense forsythia all afternoon. Too hot to weed the garden (though that is just this week’s excuse…last week it was too rainy). Too hot to do much but think about salads. Veggies, cool and crisp, mixed and dressed. If you’re lucky, you can ask your kids to harvest a couple of ingredients from your garden. My garden is under-producing on cucumbers and the cherry tomatoes are still green, so we had to dig deep into the crisper drawer (ahhhh) to assemble this salad.

1 cucumber, diced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Half a can of chickpeas (15.5 oz), rinsed and drained
4 oz feta cheese, cubed
10 Kalamata olives, halved
1/8 cup finely chopped parsley
Juice from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
6 teaspoons olive oil

Combine diced cucumber, cherry tomato halves, chickpeas, feta, olives and parsley in a medium bowl. Mix lemon juice and sherry vinegar in small bowl and whisk in olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper and adjust seasoning by adding more vinegar if desired. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Some diced radish would be a great addition to this salad as well.

Serves 2 as a small main, or 4 as a side. Or, 1 particularly greedy mommy for both lunch and dinner (which is what happened in my house).

Mom rating: five stars – couldn’t eat it fast enough.
Kid rating: unknown. Mom scarfed it down before anyone got any! Vinegar in dressing might have been a little much for daughter 1, but daughter 2 would have eaten tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas quite happily.