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!

Crostini with Ricotta and Assorted Veggie Toppings

These little toasts have a lot going for them, starting with their name. As if “crostini” weren’t inviting enough — roll that “r” and you’ll even sound Italian — few kids I know would pass up toast. And little toasts…well, I hardly have to say more.

Anyone who has ordered a bruschetta appetizer is familiar with this concept: toast up a slice of bread and top it with something yummy. True peasant fare, which is probably how these tidbits became popular in the first place. Economizing with meat or vegetables piled on leftover toasted bread in the absence of elaborate place settings. In the middle ages, after all, you were lucky if you owned a fork and knife, let alone a bowl or plate.

Suffice it to say that the concept of crostini have been around for a very long time. I, however, credit the Italians for elevating this dish by improving upon the toppings (see the afore-mentioned bruschetta as an example) and serving it, frequently enough, with a glass or two of wine.

Now, the kids in the house will have to substitute their favorite non-alcoholic beverage for that wine, but they can easily partake in both the crostini making and eating. And here’s an observation: you may even persuade a non-veggie eater to try something new if you pile it on top of toasted bread smeared with a healthy dollop of creamy ricotta cheese.

The ricotta is a star ingredient, and this ricotta from Fulper Family Farmstead is fresh and fantastic

The ricotta is a star ingredient, and this ricotta from Fulper Family Farmstead is fresh and fantastic

You can’t go wrong with ricotta! Keep reading for our recipe for Crostini with Ricotta and Assorted Vegetables….

Beef, Bacon And Chocolate Chili

I had begun mourning the absence of chili in our household. Sure, my husband and I would occasionally make a batch, but it had become a strictly grown-up indulgence relegated to a cold fall or winter weekend when the kids were invited out to a birthday party or had other away-from-home plans. Chili — our chili, at least — was always “too hot” or “too spicy” or “too…beany” for them.

If we were lucky — and the pot of chili was a particularly mild one — we could convince them to have a little over nachos as long as we also loaded them up with cheese and sour cream. But I puzzled a bit over this considering that black beans cowboy style got a green light, and chili wasn’t much of a departure from that familiar dish.

But with Father’s Day coming up we took on the challenge of retooling our chili to make it both flavorful and kid-friendly. We’re lucky that our Stout Sprouts show a growing interest in helping in the kitchen — that made this experiment a little easier since they got to measure, stir, cook and eat. And, did I mention the chocolate? And the bacon? Yea…pretty much a winner out of the gate.

This Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili is great with sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges and...of course...tortilla chips

This Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili is great with sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges and…of course…tortilla chips

It’s a special treat for any deserving dad on Father’s Day or any day – get our Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili recipe here!

Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken Breasts

The Memorial Day weekend in the United States is the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the weekend that grills across the nation — having lain dormant under feet of winter snow — get dusted off, cleaned out and fired up. If you’re on the hunt for an easy grilling recipe that is both adult and kid-friendly, raises the bar over traditional hamburger and hot dog fare, and takes no more than five minutes to cook once it hits the flame, this is the recipe for you.

Marinating meat does several things to it by adding flavor and tenderizing the meat fibers. But be careful: not all marinades are created equal. Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way that you’ll need to be aware of when marinating meat (check out the subscription site Cook’s Illustrated for great scientific explanations of what happens during the marinating process):

  • Acids: break apart the meat and collagen fibers on the meat surface which allows it to better retain moisture. But if you use too much acid in a marinade, or marinate the meat for too long in an acidic marinade, the meat will become mushy as the meat fibers break even further apart.
  • Oil: carries oil-soluable flavors and coats the surface meat fibers in the flavoring agent (in this case, lemon and garlic).
  • Salt/high-sodium ingredients: add flavor, but also work as a brining agent to pull moisture from the marinade into the meat.
  • Flavoring agents like garlic and herbs: once the acids and salts have worked their magic on the meat and collagen fibers, these flavors combine with the oil to penetrate the outermost surface of the meat and add complex and complementary tastes.

This particular recipe uses highly-acidic lemon juice in combination with salt to quickly tenderize and brine the outer surface of some thinly-cut chicken breasts. The olive oil and garlic, in combination with the citrus flavor of the lemon juice, then works its way into the chicken. These chicken breasts are very tender and flavorful as a result, the perfect complement to a Memorial Day spread.

A great recipe for grilling season: lemon garlic chicken breasts

A great recipe for grilling season: lemon garlic chicken breasts

Keep reading for our easy Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken Breast recipe!

Baked Tomatoes

The fruit that took over the world. No, it’s not a long-forgotten sci-fi thriller, or even some GMO experiment gone horribly wrong. It is, in fact, something you have likely eaten, in one form or another, within the past week. It’s the tomato.

I’m kind of envious of the world tour undertaken by this humble fruit (and yes, contrary to what you may have been lead to believe, the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable). Originating in the Andes Mountains in South America, it soon became a domesticated crop that was, by 500 BC,  being grown as a food source throughout the Mexican peninsula.

One of the early Spanish explorers — perhaps even the fabled Christopher Columbus — returned to Spain with the seeds of this fruit after a trip to the New World. Although initially suspicious of the fruit of any plant in the deadly nightshade family, Spaniards couldn’t resist the juicy, sweet tomato, likening it to an eggplant. Those same explorers were responsible for introducing tomatoes throughout the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean. Climates in countries like Italy were especially favorable for growing tomatoes, though the Italians in the 1500 and 1600s  used them originally as ornamental fruits, believing that they were not edible. That changed, obviously, and thank goodness it did, or we may never have gotten the opportunity to experience pizza in its many forms and permutations.

Tomatoes continued to migrate — north to France and Great Britain, south and east through the Middle East and Africa, and, eventually, made their way back across the ocean…this time to North America.

So the next time you cut one of these beauties into a salad, make a batch of salsa, or serve a simple vegetable soup, think of all the places the tomato has been. And all the passport pages it must have gotten stamped. Now, that’s a trip I want to go on!

Baked tomatoes ready for the oven: stuffed and dotted with butter

Baked tomatoes ready for the oven: stuffed and dotted with butter

Speaking of trips, the Stout Sprouts and I have a simple recipe for baked tomatoes that could take you no further than your garden, or just the produce aisle of your local grocery or farmer’s market (can’t WAIT for Jersey tomatoes to come into season here). If you’re having a big barbecue this weekend — ’tis the season, after all — this is an easy side that is a great complement to steaks or baked chicken or a hearty rice dish and takes absolutely no time at all to make.

This recipe for Baked Tomatoes is a vacation for your mouth. Check it out and remember to come home when you’re finished!

Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Call it what you will: hummus, hummous, hummos, or even حمّص بطحينة (that’s chickpeas with tahini, in Arabic, as translated by the wonderful contributors at Wikipedia). But whatever name you choose to embrace, this dish — with the addition of marinated artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers — is something you’ll want in your entertaining repertoire going forward. Trust me — we’ve made this once so far this season and have already been asked to share the recipe!

Keep reading for more about our Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, including step by step directions for making it.

Spinach-Basil Pesto

Let’s face it. Most children do not arrive in this world universally loving their veggies. Getting there can be a slow process. And for some kids (and some veggies), the process is longer than for others.

With all its natural sugar it’s not hard to warm up to the carrot. Corn, too, is an easy sell. But on the other side of the spectrum lurk broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach. Dark green vegetables contain higher amounts of certain natural compounds which many kids just don’t care for.  The bitter taste in cruciferous veggies like broccoli and kale come from what are know as glucosinolate compounds, and raw spinach contains carotenoids to which many people — although at times it seems those people fall disproportionately in the 0- to 10-year-old age group — react strongly. Indeed, scientists have identified genes that predispose certain individuals to be “supertasters” with highly-refined palates that distinguish and amplify certain flavors. (If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomena, read People Who Taste To Much by Sumathi Reddy, published in the Wall Street Journal in March, 2013.)

Supertaster or not, your child may occasionally approach their leafy greens with more aggression than anticipation. Why not harness that energy with a little invitation to, quite literally, pound their vegetables.

A spinach-basil pesto that even those supertasters can get behind. Get the recipe here.