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
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
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).
Normally, I’m not quite so smug. Because normally, whatever it is that I’m being smug about has a way of coming back to bite me. And this may yet. But, for now you’ll all have to indulge my happy dance because, well, my child* ate lentils.
Lentils are not only one of the oldest food sources on the planet, but also one of the healthiest. They are protein-packed, iron-rich and have plenty of vitamin B1, folate, and fiber. And for those of you whose lentil knowledge begins and ends at the failed casseroles Neil cooked on the British sitcom The Young Ones (please tell me I’m not the only one who gets that 1980s reference), I’m here to change your mind…and hopefully your supper plans, too.
A perfect vegetarian brunch, lunch or dinner – French Lentils with Poached Eggs
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
This year’s crop of famous — and some might say infamous — Jersey corn is still only about waist-high, but those fledgling stalks already have me dreaming of all things corn. We probably have another month to wait until the early ears hit the farmer’s markets and I’m counting down the days.
Same with summer’s bounty of cherry tomatoes. And even though I know I’ll be rewarded if I wait it out, I couldn’t help picking up a pint of grape tomatoes at the grocery store recently to roast with the ultra-convenient frozen corn we nearly always have on hand.
Corn — or maize, as it’s known in many countries — is an ancient grain which is believed to have originated in Mexico. It quickly spread along trade routes into the Americas and Europe — and beyond — due largely to its ability to thrive in extremely diverse climates. The Americas are still responsible for the majority of corn production, both the sweet corn that we prefer to eat and the feed corn that is grown for livestock. Since I’m a believer, as I’ve said before, in the maxim that “things that grow together go together,” it’s little wonder that we’ve paired tomatoes with corn in this dish. Tomatoes, too, originated in Mexico and followed similar exploration and trade routes to become the world-wide crop they are today.
Before the roasting: corn, tomatoes, thyme leaves, olive oil and salt
This dish qualifies as super simple — a side that comes together so quickly you hardly have to think about it. It’s succotash’s more kid-friendly cousin (nary a lima bean in sight), roasted in the oven to give it a sweeter, slightly more smoky flavor. It’s vegetarian, vegan, and one of those dishes where the quality of the produce really stands out. For those of you concerned about genetically modified ingredients, seek out non-GMO corn and tomatoes and make sure your olive oil is non-GMO too. In my opinion, purchasing produce that hasn’t had its genes played around with means you’ll get the real deal — juicer tomatoes, cornier corn (though perhaps a bit less sweet, but more flavorful!), and olive oil that tastes like the olives from which it was pressed.
Isn’t this a pretty dish to set before…well…anyone? Roasted corn and tomatoes with basil.
We’ll keep things short and sweet today, which seems appropriate considering that we’re writing about Pineapple Coconut Smoothies. Simple ingredient list (three, including ice cubes); simple steps (put ingredients into the blender and purée). But we deserve simple because today is the first day of The Stout Sprout’s summer vacation.
The last day of the 2013-2014 school year was this past Tuesday and both our Sprouts are treating this first day of summer break like Christmas morning. No alarm clock, no lunches to pack, no backpacks to load up. Ah, the life…at least until summer camp begins.
What better way to celebrate the day than with a tropical treat combining fresh, sweet pineapple with creamy coconut milk. Thrown in the blender with some ice cubes and the resulting smoothie is a G-rated drink reminiscent of a piña colada but specifically tailored to the under-21 crowd.
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
Potatoes. America’s #1 vegetable crop according to the USDA, with over 90% of the potatoes we eat being planted in the spring for fall harvest. How, then, did potato salad become the appointed side dish of summer?
Maybe it has something to do with the long shelf life of many potato varieties, or the economics of feeding large crowds with relatively inexpensive ingredients. However it happened, I’m glad that it did.
Early-season new potatoes are the sweetest of all, perfect, in my opinion, for potato salads. These little guys are simply young potatoes that haven’t matured into larger, starchier spuds. With thin, papery skins and ultra-creamy, moist interiors, new potatoes cook up quickly and make for great bite-sized noshing.
A great side dish for summer entertaining: new potato and green bean salad with bacon-shallot dressing
New potatoes are readily available in the spring and summer months so there is no reason not to use them as often as you can. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets and road-side stands all offer up wonderful varieties while the weather is hot. For this recipe you’ll want to choose either a waxy variety, like most fingerling potatoes, or an all-purpose variety, like Yukon Gold or Red Gold. Starchy varieties, like Russets, will also work but tend to fall apart more easily after they have been boiled.
Another great farmer’s market find this time of year are green beans. Call them what you will — pole beans, string beans, runner beans, snap beans — these beauties are best when small and freshly harvested. Just-picked green beans are sweet and vegetal and are one of my favorite crops when it comes to pick-your-own. They grow prolifically on their vines which makes them a great crop for kids to help harvest. Teach them to pinch the beans off at the stem (don’t pull!) and they will fill your bag or basket in a matter of minutes.