It’s for those times when something exciting happens–Germany wins the World Cup AND you now own a couch AND a patio table, all in one weekend. Or, it’s for those times when it’s too hot to cook and you just want, no, need, something light and cool on your table, something quick but filling, and full of good-for-you things.
Four months in, our apartment is almost a home now, in time for both our families to visit in the next few weeks. Having a couch makes the living room feel like it should, though, I’ll admit, I’ve still been cuddling with pup on her dog couch/futon mattress, especially as she recovers from anesthesia and a tooth extraction. We purchased the IKEA Ektorp sofa in black because of the dog hair, but also because the fabric was on clearance so the couch was significantly cheaper. Have you ever wondered what a couch from IKEA looks like before it’s assembled?
A quick search online will yield an overwhelming number of strawberry spinach salads. Some have cheese, some slivered onions. But I think this one is best.
It’s one my mom pulled from the Washington Post ages ago, but I haven’t been able to find it on their website. The salad is quick to pull together, yet impressive enough for parties, where my mom has served it, several times. Share it with a few friends at a pool party, or just enjoy for a weekday lunch.
A tangy-sweet dressing, specked with poppy and sesame seeds clings to the spinach leaves. Almond slivers add a crunch, and the strawberries, of course, offer a sweet and colorful bite.
Books are piling up on the shelf and beside my bed again this summer. It’s nice–I’ve missed them. Many are related to food, others are thriftstore finds, and two are quick picks meant to fill the hours on my recent cross-country flight to visit my family for the Fourth.
My favorites so far–and if you’ve read them, you’ll understand–are Molly Wizenberg’sA HomemadeLife and the just-published Delancey, which chronicles the birth of their Seattle pizza restaurant. Recipes mix with stories of family, love, challenges and of course, food. So many pages are now dogeared, but the first recipe I tried was a simple one, a mealtime salad, one that reaffirms that salad shouldn’t be a swear word. “It’s handsome, delicious, and a little messy, like most good things in this life.”
Today is going to be a long day. Snow that’s slowly approaching on the radar may change my schedule for work–a 10 a.m. ceremony is already canceled, so keep your fingers crossed for meetings at noon, 1:30, 3 and 7 p.m., phew!–but either way, my meals are packed and prepped. Covering government meetings makes every other Tuesday challenging. I don’t particularly mind sitting in the board chambers, or listening to local elected officials volley ideas back and forth. There’s always something new to learn, and I feel so very fortunate to be a journalist. [Update: No meetings today!]
But honestly, if I can let you in on a little secret, what most concerns me is what I’m going to eat. With no microwave or refrigerator or even a table, what to pack for a lunch and/or dinner calls for creativity. I typically leave my lunch bag in my car for a few hours too, meaning nothing should be prone to spoilage. Peanut butter and jelly or banana is always a safe choice, but sometimes, I want some more vegetables, more flavor, more variety.
Rushing through a trip to the grocery store, I didn’t pay close attention to which bag of grapes I picked up–just selecting one in the front with giant red-purple grapes. A new episode of “How I Met Your Mother” was waiting on my DVR at home, so obviously, I had to get back quickly. Into the cart went the grapes, then the shopping bag, and then the fridge, and onto the couch I plopped.
The next night, rinsing off a few to eat discreetly during a late meeting, I popped one in my mouth to be sure they were sweet. And they were. But yikes–seeds! Who actually buys seeded grapes? They seem to be a danger to the casual grape-snacker who likes the convenience of the bite-size fruits. No snack bag was packed in my purse for that meeting, but the challenge was on–I knew I had to find some other way to use up the grapes aside from just tossing them back, and I certainly didn’t want them to go to waste.
Tomatoes picked from my parents’ garden weren’t the last of the year. Fittingly, with this summer-like heat hitting the East Coast this past weekend, Roberto’s stand at the farmers market had a stunning display of cherry tomatoes. Pints of yellow, pink, purple and red tomatoes–some round, some oblong, all beautiful–covered one of the tables.
I wasn’t the only one trying to cling to summer (despite having a bag full of apples, pears and acorn squash from Clyde), and one woman said that her kids would eat the tomatoes like candy. That’s encouraging to hear–especially since I didn’t like tomatoes until a few years back, despite promising my mother, at the age of three, “I’ll like tomatoes when I’m four!” It’s a running joke in my family, but now, when tomatoes are good, they’re GOOD. And the rest of the year, they’re best avoided. Continue reading “Tomato, chickpea and feta salad with za’atar”→
My kitchen counters are covered with so much produce that my roommate finally said something to me this morning. I know, I know — I have too many overly ambitious kitchen projects going on right now. And every time I walk to the farmers’ market, I pick up a few new things, such as a cantaloupe and a neon yellow canary melon that are just taking up more space. They smell so good, but what single gal really needs two melons? Well, maybe just me.
I’ve been busy trying to use up all the produce the past few days — by canning pickled dilly green beans and a spicy peach salsa, and mixing together cool tomato gazpacho for lunches and a lemon blueberry cake that I’ll likely freeze. I have plans to can a sweet pepper zucchini relish tonight, and hopefully I can make a tomato and cheese galette for dinner, since fruit flies are starting to attack the excess tomatoes on the cluttered counter.
Yes, I’m crazy. I’m absolutely loving the summer produce and want to make the most of it. One simple salad that takes advantage of this bounty is Green Beans with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Almonds, from Southern Living. It’s quick to toss together, and incredibly healthy too. I’ll eat it as a main dish, but it could also be a great side. And I imagine you could add other veggies that are taking up space, if desired.
Green Beans with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Almonds
1/2 c. sliced almonds
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
3 T. sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 T. fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/3 c. olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 (4-oz.) goat cheese log, crumbled
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.
Cook green beans in boiling salted water to cover 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge beans into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain.
Whisk together vinegar and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl; add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended and smooth. Add cherry tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and green beans; toss to coat.
Top green bean mixture with crumbled goat cheese and toasted almonds.
Too often, I plan to do too much during my lunch break. I should probably only be gone about half an hour, but usually that half-hour turns into one hour-oh-I-need-to-go-back-to-work! By the time I walk to my house, make up my standard veggie quesadilla or omelet, water my garden, read the rest of the paper, empty the dishwasher—then I don’t know where the time has gone. I’m lucky that I only live a few blocks away!
Last week, I realized I needed to make something for our New York-themed potluck at work. Pizza is easy, cheap and very “New York,” so I figured I could crank two pies out pretty fast. Before work, I mixed up some dough in my food processor with this recipe, and let it rise a few hours. At lunch, I would just roll the dough into two circles, top with jarred tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, and throw them in the oven. But of course my oven took forever to preheat, and then the pizzas didn’t want to cook, and I burned my arm, and I still had to make something for lunch for myself because the potluck wasn’t for another five hours and I couldn’t go without eating that long. Phew. The pizza of course took a little longer than I anticipated, but I made it back to work within a reasonable amount of time.
Fortunately, it helped that I had all the makings for a simple roasted beet and goat cheese salad. It couldn’t be easier, and I’ve been eating it the last few days for lunch, as beets are plentiful at the farmers market right now. For about $2, you can get a nice bunch of beets, enough to make at least 2-3 meals. If you roast them ahead of time and just have them sitting in the fridge, lunch will be even easier, and you can pack the salad to go.
Roasted beets are like candy. They’re sweet and soft and brightly colored. But yet, they’re extremely healthy for you. Just be sure to keep the beets away from anything that you don’t want to get accidental purple spots. I’ve been wearing an apron whenever I mess with them. They’re dangerous! But mixed with tangy goat cheese, earthy and crunchy nuts, and just a tad of oil, beets can be a perfect, light meal.
To roast: Cut the tops and stems off, and wash the beets. Place the beets on a piece of foil, and wrap them all together. Stick them in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, at about 375 degrees. The time and temperature could vary, depending on the size of the beets. To see if they’re done, stick a fork or knife in the beets, and if they are soft and the utensil easily slides in, then they’re done. After they’re cool enough to handle, the peels will just come right off. Be sure to wash your hands well when you’re done!
Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Nuts (This recipe isn’t so much of a “recipe” as it is a rough template.)
Slice the roasted beets (1-3, depending on their size and how hungry you are) into cubes.
Add a good scoop of goat cheese, crumbled.
Top with a few toasted nuts that you’ve broken into bite-sized pieces. I have pecans on hand right now, but walnuts or almonds would also be great.
Drizzle on a tiny amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (I looked up some other roasted beet salad recipes, as well. Here’s an idea for two dressings: a honey-dijon vinaigrette or a lemon vinaigrette.)
Enjoy! This would be great on top of some salad greens as well, if you have those on hand. Serve alongside a nice baguette or whole wheat roll.