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!

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!

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!

Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta

Here’s what I want to know: whose idea was it to put magic wands in the hands of today’s little princes and princesses? Scepters I can understand, but no royal dress-up costume is complete these days without a magic wand. Maybe that’s just part of the expanding job description: “must be able to perform such royal duties as knighting brave squires, kissing frogs, and using a magic wand to zap the bejesus out of any inanimate object that must be transformed into a royal coach.”

Thank goodness we can put those magic wands to better use in the kitchen to conjure up a quick meal like Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta. It’s just the kind of thing Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother would have whipped up for the ball. Great dish for a roomful of nobility, but an equally good weeknight dinner that comes together so quickly that you’ll hardly have time to say “bibbidy, bobbidy, boo” before it’s on the table.

Satisfying and easy: it's rigatoni with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, olives and feta in a tomato base

Satisfying and easy: it’s rigatoni with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, olives and feta in a tomato base

It isn’t just the quick prep that makes this meal magical. If you’ve already purchased ingredients for our Savory Bread Pudding or our Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad or the Roasted Beet, Cucumber and Feta Salad or the Quick Greek Salad, this is an extra dish you can add into rotation later in the week with very little advance warning. Having several dishes planned in the course of a week that use the same ingredients in different ways is one of my favorite tricks, and is certainly both resourceful and a time-saver.

The pan sauce comes together...next step is adding the pasta

The pan sauce comes together…next step is adding the pasta

This rigatoni dish has a wonderful medley of Mediterranean flavors that some kids might at first shy away from, but serve it with familiar pasta noodles and it is both comforting and approachable. We’re lucky that our Stout Sprouts (aka the little women with the wands) like spinach. Using it as a supporting ingredient here — and not a main ingredient — makes this all the more child-friendly. This is also the first dish in which we were able to get Daughter 2 to try mushrooms, and I’m hopeful it’s not the last. (Is there a magic spell for that?)

Get out your wands and keep reading for our Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta recipe!

Quick Tortilla Soup

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone. We’ve made it to Ocho de Mayo — a date that is arguably more significant to Mexican-American relations than the margarita-fest that May 5th has become. May 8th is the day in 1846 on which the Battle of Palo Alto — the first battle in the Mexican-American War — was fought outside of what is now Brownsville, TX.

The Battle of Palo Alto is a more somber — and potentially more divisive — battle than that of the Mexican army defeating French forces in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican-American War that it precipitated still strikes a raw nerve in Mexico and the southwestern United States alike. Indeed, the losses suffered by Mexico following the two-year-long war eventually led the Mexican president to suspend debt payments to other countries for a period of two years, during which time the French, among other countries, sent forces to Mexico to demand that existing debts be paid…leading, eventually, to the Battle of Puebla.

That it took this political turmoil — both in 1846, and in 1862 — to set culinary wheels in motion is somewhat ironic. Mexico ceded over half of its national territory to the United States in the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War, but that territory — land now located in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California — retained and evolved its Mexican culinary origins. These are the places that gave rise to such dishes at nachos, chimichangas, chili, and the modern burrito — none of which are native to Mexico, but which have evolved in the United Sates from Mexican origins.

If all this is a little much to wrap your head around on a food blog, I suggest pondering it over a bowl of what is, actually, a true Mexican dish, but which has itself evolved once north of the border: Tortilla soup.

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup -- don't forget the avocados

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup — don’t forget the avocados

In addition to being a microcosm of Mexican cooking in a bowl, Tortilla soup is a great dish to put on the menu following Cinco de Mayo because it helps any thrifty chef use ingredients left on hand. It’s easy to prepare (this version, at least), packed with flavor and complexity, and a crowd-pleaser. Definitionally, this may be a “Leftover Soup,” but it’s another one that disguises itself as a “Showstopper Soup.” (See our post on Split Pea Soup for an explanation on what we mean by that!)

The Mexican ingredients in Tortilla Soup come together quickly in this satisfying meal. Keep reading for our recipe and more.

Spicy Braised Kale with White Beans, Garlic, Tomatoes and Capers

Let’s just begin by agreeing that kale Kool-aid would be a terrible thing. But, I’ve drunk it. Figuratively, that is, not literally. That would be gross. Whereas I once overlooked this leafy green, I now look forward to grabbing a bunch at the grocery store and absolutely can’t wait for the farmer’s market season to begin so we can get first crack at some just-picked leaves.

Leaving the visual image of kale Kool-aid behind, I’ve said before that I’m surprised it took me so long to warm up to this superfood. It had its moment and I ignored it. But that moment lasted so long that I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.

Click through for more on our Spicy Braised Kale with White Beans recipe.

Super Simple Vegetable Soup

We are in love with the carrots from Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington, NJ. I’ve mentioned them in our posts before but think I’m becoming a bit of a junkie. We give them a starring role in many of our recipes and I start getting nervous when our supply runs low. Raw, they are like candy. Cooked, they are sweet and rich and so much more “carroty” than our regular grocery store carrots. I’m not sure how farmer Jess Niederer does it, but these truly are the best carrots ever.

One Thursday in mid March I happily stumbled on the winter Princeton Farmer’s Market that occurs once a month during the colder months at the Princeton Public Library. Of all the wonderful winter produce set up on the Chickadee Creek table — and, with several varieties of greens, heads of garlic, daikon radishes and more there was a surprising amount of it! — I made a beeline for the carrots. The supply in our crisper drawer was nearly depleted and I giddily jumped at the chance to replenish our stock.

Carrots are the star in this simple vegetable soup – get the recipe here.