How to Have Your Jack-o-lantern and Eat It Too


When I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones and Butter a few years ago, one passage that resonated with me concerned a technique she learned about getting every last ounce of egg white out of the shell by swiping it with her thumb. It’s a frugal maneuver. Fail to wipe the shell clean, and you’re wasting food.

I store just-about-empty bottles of salad dressing upside down and take a silicon spatula to the sides of mayonnaise jars to get every last bit, behavior that my husband Andy points to as proof of my New-Englandness. So I have always had mixed feelings about Jack-o-lanterns.  Continue reading

The Freshest Salsa


I’m sure I ate pico de gallo before the mid-1990s. But I always associate it with the Mexican restaurant my husband and I frequented when we were living in Silver Spring, Md. We had bottomless pico and chips to soak up the margaritas while we waited way too long for our enchiladas.

We moved away, and I made my own pico. It’s sort of a no-brainer. This recipe makes about 3 cups.

Salsa Like It’s 1995

2 lbs tomatoes (you can use any tomatoes, but plum tomatoes are the least watery)
1/2 to 3/4 lb white onions
1 or 2 jalapeños or more, depending on how hot you want it
salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
optional: a lime, and a bunch of cilantro

Peel the onions and cut into large chunks. Cut the jalapeños into chunks (remove ribs and seeds to reduce the heat). Slice the tomatoes in half, remove the seeds and cut the halves into a few more chunks.

Put the onions and jalapeños in the food processor and pulse four or five times. Add the tomatoes, cilantro leaves (if using) and salt, and pulse until everything is chopped fine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Adjust the salt. Eat it right away or let the favors meld for a bit.

The classic pico de gallo recipes also calls for lime juice. If you don’t have a fresh lime, it won’t ruin the salsa to leave it out. But if you do have one, it’s better.  Squeeze in the juice from half once you transfer the salsa to the bowl, stir, and taste before you decide whether to add more salt or the juice from the other half of the lime

Bonus: if you seed the tomatoes over a bowl, you can catch the juice and strain it into a glass to drink. You may only get enough for a sip or two. But still.

Sneaky Tacos


Our CSA gives us lots of greens: Swiss chard, collards, spinach, several varieties of kale. But the people who live in my house do not love greens unconditionally the way I do. Fortunately, we agree on tacos (and taco toppings). Last summer, I found a  recipe on that cleverly sneaks Tuscan kale into bean tacos. This recipe also works with chard, and I will probably try it with collards at some point. The beans and spices tame the assertive flavor of the greens. Wrap the filling and toppings inside flour tortillas with cooked rice to make burritos instead.

Black Bean and Greens Tacos


3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups Tuscan kale or Swiss chard, stems removed, sliced into ribbons (remove the stems and ribs first)
2 cups cooked black beans (or a 15 oz can)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 corn tortillas

For the toppings: Sliced scallions or diced red onions, avocado slices, chopped cilantro, hot sauce or salsa, grated cheese.

Heat the oil in a pan over low heat. Add garlic and greens. Stir briefly to combine.

Cover the pan for 1-3 minutes, or until the greens wilt and turn bright green  (Swiss chard will take less time than kale).

Add beans, spices, 1/2 cup water, and sea salt. Turn up the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until the moisture has mostly evaporated and the beans are soft and sizzling.

While the filling is cooking, warm the tortillas: wrap them in a clean, damp towel and microwave on high for 20-30  seconds. Keep wrapped until ready to serve.

When the filling is cooked, put it in a bowl next to the tortillas and toppings so people can fix their own.

Inspiration From the Pantry


I recently finished reading My Pantry by Alice Waters. I picked it up because I was curious about what she keeps on hand. It gives me a little thrill that we stock some of the same things—beans, tahini, yogurt, spice mixes (including za’atar, which I love sprinkled on fried eggs and greens).

It’s unlikely that I’ll start saving apple cores as she does to make my own apple cider vinegar. But after my first season having a vegetable CSA last year, I’ve been collecting ideas for preserving, as well as for using stems and peels and scraps. I made pickles (cucumbers, using Bon Appetit’s brine recipe, and watermelon rind, which is surprisingly good with cheese on whole-grain crackers, and daikon radish). Also sauerkraut. There’s a gallon bag of carrot peels, leek greens, mushroom stems, and those leafy celery tops in my freezer that I’ve been using for stock. I owe it to myself to try Waters’ recipe for salt-preserved kumquats.

The book, along with a comment from a friend about cooking through the odd jars in her pantry, sent me to take inventory. For a week, I based dinner on at least one pantry (or freezer) ingredient. Here’s a list, and the dishes that included them:

  • Panko crumbs: Pan-fried chicken cutlets breaded with panko crumbs. It occurred to me after I made this that it is similar to the chicken schnitzel my mother used to make. Make cutlets from two large chicken breasts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Beat an egg. Dip each cutlet into the egg, then dredge with panko crumbs. Fry in a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, turning once. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
  • Potato rolls, chiles: Lucky Peach Lamb Burgers. In the fall, the CSA put out the last of the chile harvest in a “take all you want” bin. So I did. After a few months in a vacuum-sealed bag in the freezer, they’re too fragile to use raw, but they’re still perfect for cooking. I had the ground lamb in the freezer, too.
  • Red lentils: Masoor Dal with rice. Half the recipe feeds 4-6. It’s less complicated than it looks. And it goes pretty quickly once you’ve made it a couple of times. I served it this time with the pickled watermelon rind in place of chutney.
  • Pesto: Pesto Orechiette with Chicken Sausage. I can never find orechiette, but this recipe is good with any short pasta, (medium shells work well). Also with any Italian-style sausage. I used bulk turkey sausage. The ground meat isn’t pre-cooked, so I sauté it in step 2. This dish nearly finished off the stash of pesto that I made and froze back in September with basil from the CSA.

If you have some extra red lentils, they’re great over a baked potato for lunch. (In fact, the first time I had Masoor Dal, before I knew what it was called, may have been at SpudULike, the British potato restaurant, when I was in college). If you have pesto leftover, spread some on top of a slice of cheese pizza.





The Great Tzatziki


It started in the spring, with snap peas. Raw. Dipped in tzatziki. I couldn’t get enough.

I love how the earthy, grassy crunch of the pods gives way to the sweet peas, possibly better than I like the peas by themselves (also, I’m usually too lazy to shell them). I also love fresh dill and always struggled a bit to use up the huge bunches from the store. Tzatziki, made with strained (Greek) yogurt and flavored with dill, also includes ingredients I usually have on hand–cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt.

It’s just a little bit magical: put a bowl of tzatziki next to a plate of raw vegetables–peas, celery, carrot sticks, sliced peppers, broccoli, whatever–and watch those vegetables disappear. You can also use it as a sauce for kebabs or fish or dip bread in it. When my daughter had some friends over recently, I put out vegetables along with tzatziki and some ranch dressing. I don’t think anyone touched the ranch dressing.

My recipe is adapted from one by The Shiksa in the Kitchen.

The Great Tzatziki

1-2 c plain Greek yogurt (I prefer full fat, but use low fat if you like it better). To make your own Greek yogurt, instead of paying a premium for it, strain regular yogurt. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and let it sit over a bowl in the refrigerator for a few hours.
1 medium cucumber, or half an English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped
1-2 tbl chopped fresh dill
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed in a press
1 tbl lemon juice
3 tbl olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

Wrap the chopped cucumber in cheesecloth or a couple of layered paper towels and squeeze out as much water as you can. Mix everything together in a bowl. Taste to adjust seasonings. You may like it more or less garlicky, or lemony, or salty. This version is fairly thick and chunky. To make it a little thinner,  add some regular (unstrained) yogurt. To make it less chunky, dial back the cucumber.

Red Applesauce and Fried Green Tomatoes


I love September because it’s apple season, but tomato season isn’t over yet.

Apple-picking has been a fall ritual for me since I was a kid, climbing the trees and sneaking fruit to eat right there. There’s a small orchard about 10 minutes from where I live now, and if I can get over there, I’ll pick a variety to eat fresh and for cooking or baking.

Last fall, near mid-October, one of the vendors at the farmer’s market was unloading what remained of his crop of McIntosh in 20-pound boxes. I took an afternoon and made several quarts of applesauce–red because I cooked it with the skin on–then froze it in quart-sized jars to eat all year. There’s no grocery-store applesauce that comes close to homemade, either in texture or flavor. I’ve made apple butter, too, but that takes longer, and is a bit fussier.

If you have a well-positioned garden plot–and it isn’t too gray and rainy–tomatoes will keep growing here into September. My own garden loses the afternoon light pretty quickly after Labor Day, however, and any fruit still on the vine usually fails to ripen. So I harvest it and put it in a basket on the counter. Green tomatoes keep at least a couple of weeks that way (they may ripen slightly), and I slice up a few at a time to dredge in cornmeal and fry as a side dish (they’re not bad on sandwiches, either).

Applesauce the Way It Should Be
As long as you use fresh fruit, I don’t think it’s possible to mess it up

Some apples. About five pounds if you want enough to last more than a day. You can find many charts online listing apple varieties to find out which ones are best for sauce, but don’t think it really matters. Just use apples that you like to eat raw. I usually use McIntosh, because they cook down quickly, or a mix of whatever I can find.
A cinnamon stick, or other flavorings (optional)

Core the apples, peel them if you like, and cut into large chunks. Put them in a pot. Add about 1/2 cup of water per 5 pounds of apples, along with the cinnamon stick or other flavoring. Cover the pot, and using moderate heat, cook until the water starts to boil. Uncover, stir and cook until the apples turn into sauce, (about half an hour) stirring again occasionally and lowering the heat if the apples begin to spatter or burn. When it’s done, remove from the stove to cool. At this point, if you’ve peeled the apples–or you don’t mind pieces of cooked peel–the applesauce is ready to eat. I’m usually too lazy to peel them at the start, and I like the color they give the sauce. I bought a food mill so I could extract the peels after cooking. If you don’t have one, you can also push the applesauce through a strainer, though that takes more time.

Fried Green Tomatoes
I didn’t know about these until I was in my twenties, and I lived in North Carolina for two years. Southerners I know might not consider this version authentic; Southern Living has this recipe calling for egg & buttermilk batter. Mine aren’t as crunchy, but I like them this way better.

4-5 medium sized green tomatoes
1 c  cornmeal
Salt & pepper
Oil for cooking

Slice the tomatoes in 1/2-inch slices. Mix the cornmeal, salt and pepper on a plate. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot, dredge the tomato slices in the cornmeal mixture and fry until golden, turning once so each side of the tomato slices cooks evenly. Drain on paper towels and eat as soon as possible.

Time to Break Some Eggs


When I was six, my family ate breakfast together on weekend mornings, and the highlight, for me, was a soft-boiled egg, served in an egg cup with the shell still on it. I learned to slice off the top with a knife, scoop out the runny yolk, then scrape out the white. Now I sometimes think that, as long as I have eggs (OK, and chocolate), I’ll be happy.

Eggs are also great in a hurry. Recently, friends from Texas, in town to run the Boston Marathon, came for lunch. Though we knew a day ahead that they’d be over, I really only had about an hour to pull off a meal. So, eggs to the rescue: in this case a frittata with asparagus and potatoes, along with a plate of smoked salmon and some matzah (it was Passover, otherwise we’d have served bagels) and a fruit salad.

I had been making Tortilla Española for years before I realized it’s a potato frittata and started adding (or substituting) other ingredients. Asparagus this time because it’s spring, and we all like it. Plus a little smoked Gouda cheese. The exact quantities of fillings and eggs are not crucial. You want a sufficient ratio of fillings to eggs so that the fillings sort of float in the eggs with some space between the pieces and the egg binds it all together. The mixture should fill the pan, too.

Asparagus and Potato Frittata for Eight

1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used russet)
Half a bunch of asparagus, woody stem ends broken off and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces (about 10-12 spears)
1 dozen eggs
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used smoked Gouda)
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. On the stove, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a 10-inch, ovenproof skillet on medium heat Add potatoes and asparagus, and cook until potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a fork and asparagus is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent potatoes from sticking to the pan (you may need to add a bit more oil). While potatoes and asparagus are cooking, break eggs into a bowl and whisk together.

When the potatoes and asparagus are cooked, scrape any browned bits from the pan and add oil enough to coat the bottom (2 Tbl ought to do it, but use your judgement. You want enough oil so the eggs won’t stick to the bottom of the pan.). Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables, sprinkle the cheese on top and stir very gently so the fillings are spread evenly in the pan. When the edges start to set, stick a silicone spatula between the eggs and the side of the pan and lift carefully, tipping the pan so some of the uncooked egg runs underneath. Repeat in another one or two spots around the edges of the pan, as you would do when making a plain omlette. Now place the pan in the oven and cook until the top is set (it may get a little bit brown).

Remove the pan from the oven. Let it cool for a few minutes, then slice into serving pieces. I find squares are easiest to lift out without breaking.


It’s 7 pm. What’s For Dinner?


If we lived somewhere like Spain, 7 pm would roll around, and we would have some tapas and not worry about a meal until, oh, 10. And I would have an out when I haven’t exactly planned dinner, or the day hasn’t gone as planned. Instead, I have quesadillas.

I consider quesadillas among the ultimate convenience foods, not just because they’re fast, but also because they’re a great excuse for using up little bits of leftovers; the hamburger no one ate, the deli meat that’s about to spoil, bits of vegetables, whatever. I made one of my favorite versions with left-over pulled pork mixed with a little barbecue sauce, some chopped apple and smoked gouda cheese. Really, they’re open for experiment. But if you plan to have these, as opposed to throwing them together in a starving panic, make a filling out of strips of roasted poblano peppers mixed with sauteed sliced onions.

No quesadilla of mine will ever, apparently, measure up to the ones that our afterschool babysitter used to make. This recipe, for frying them on the stove, uses her method, though. Depending on what else you’re eating with them, and how hungry you are plan on 1-2 quesadillas per person . I usually serve rice  (preferably brown) and a vegetable (something dark and leafy, like broccoli rabe, Swiss chard or kale is nice) as side dishes.

7 O’Clock Quesadillas


Fajita-sized flour tortillas
Shredded cheese. A melty variety, that complements any other fillings you have. I often default to Monterey Jack.
Other fillings if you want
Grapeseed, canola or another relatively flavorless oil
Sour cream, salsa, chopped avocado or guacamole as condiments

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet that’s big enough to fit a tortilla laid flat. When the oil is hot, lay one tortilla flat in the pan (you’ll know the pan is hot enough because the tortilla will sizzle, but it shouldn’t be so hot that the oil pops). Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of cheese on the tortilla, and top with about 1/4 cup of any additional filling on one half of the tortilla. When the cheese has started to melt and the bottom of the tortilla is starting to turn brown and crisp, use a pair of tongs to grab one edge of the tortilla and fold it in half. Remove the folded quesadilla from the pan with the tongs and put it on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

Repeat until you have enough quesadillas for everyone. Watch the pan as you go, adding more oil if necessary and lowering the heat if the tortillas start to burn.

Put bowls of sour cream, salsa and chopped avocado or guacamole for people to use as condiments. If you have good tomatoes, and a little more time, you can whip up a batch of fresh salsa instead of opening a jar.

If you want to grill the quesadillas instead, use indirect heat, and make a sandwich out of two tortillas: put one on the grill, quickly top it with your fillings and put a second tortilla on top. When the bottom tortilla starts to get crisp (this happens quickly, so don’t leave it alone), flip it carefully with a spatula and tongs, and lightly crisp the other side. Slice it into wedges before serving.

Good Meals in Small Packages


I have a thing for fillings in dough. Turnovers. Empanadas. Burritos. Cornish pasties (these a traditional lunch of Scandinavian immigrants like my great-grandfather-in law, who mined iron ore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). But calzones are my current favorite. As easy to make as pizza, but better: every bite is surrounded by crunchy-chewy crust. Also, unlike individual pizzas, I can fit four calzones in my oven, so if I want Swiss chard and roasted peppers in mine, or some cheese other than mozzarella, well, I don’t have to negotiate with anyone about it (the one in the photo is chard and ricotta). It’s also a good way to use up small quantities of leftover vegetables, meat or cold cuts.

Calzones for Everyone

Make some pizza dough. I like Mark Bittman’s (a version here). One recipe makes enough dough for 4 large or 5 medium calzones. You can mix it up in about 5 minutes in a food processor in the morning and let it rise in the refrigerator all day, and bring it to to room temperature before proceeding. (OK, use store-bought dough if you must. But try making it. You won’t be sorry.)

Preheat your oven to 475 F.

Get the fillings ready. Almost any toppings that you like to put on pizza work inside a calzone. It’s best to use cooked vegetables rather than raw, however, or crust can get soggy. We like carmelized onions, strips of roasted red pepper, greens (such as chard or spinach) sauteed with garlic, broccoli, ham, pepperoni, salami, crumbled sausage. Cut any large pieces into bite-sized chunks. If you cook the vegetables in advance, or if they’re left over from another meal, this step takes no time.

Shred, or crumble, your cheese. You can use any cheese you would like on a pizza, but I like ricotta (although it can be runny when baked), chevre or feta more than the usual mozarella.

Tear off some dough and form into a ball slightly bigger than a fist, and shape it into a circle as you would a pizza.

Place the circle on a lightly floured (and clean) counter, cutting board, or your baking pan and push the dough around to fill any holes or very thin spots.

Mound the cheese and other fillings on the bottom half of the circle, leaving some room at the edges (as you would for a pizza). The cheese and fillings blend together nicely if you mix them together first. Use about 3/4 cup filling, or as much as you can fit and still be able to close up the edges. Stretch the top half over the bottom and press the edges together to seal.

Put the calzone carefully on a baking sheet or pizza pan and continue making the remaining calzones

Place the baking pan with the calzones on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the pan around and bake for another 5-6 minutes, until the crust is golden. (Note: You can also bake these on a pizza stone, if you have one, or on the grill. If you use a pizza stone, preheat it  when you start preheating the oven, and sprinkle some cornmeal on the stone before you put the calzones on it to prevent sticking. Use tongs to rotate the calzones on the stone halfway through cooking. In the summer, I make calzones on the gas grill. Set the grill on medium–475-500 degrees. Place the calzones directly on the grill and cook for about 4 minutes, rotate with tongs and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until the crust is golden. But pay close attention the first few times you do this, because not all grills are alike. If the calzones start to burn, they’ll burn quickly.).

Serve topped with tomato sauce (or not) and a green salad.

Corn in My Freezer Equals Chili


Toward the end of October last year, I started to think about how much I’d miss corn on the cob. Nearly every Saturday morning, I’d hover over the ears splayed on a white folding table at the farmer’s market. Usually, they went straight on the grill, wrapped in foil, then rolled on a slab of butter, with a generous shake of salt and pepper.

I didn’t think of hoarding them over the winter until I overheard Darcy, at the farmer’s market, talking with another customer about freezing the cobs: Leave the husk on, she said, pack them into a freezer bag and push the air out. Instead of defrosting them first, remove the husks and drop them directly into a pot of boiling water. And, voila, corn on the cob in January.

My skill at freezing things leaves something to be desired, or else it was in the freezer too long;  the corn straight up didn’t taste that great. It works just fine, however, in a vegetarian chili recipe that I’ve been making, and tweaking, for years.

We had it tonight. Not  just because it’s quick (one of the kids was in a play; I didn’t get home to make dinner until after 6 pm). Also because it’s time to clear the bits of summer and fall produce out the freezer. In addition to the corn, I still have some basil and mint,  a few Habanero peppers, a couple of pounds of cranberries (not sure what I was thinking), half a cup of pesto, as well as some grapefruit I froze before we went away over the holidays because I didn’t want to throw it away. I’ll probably use the basil to enhance a jar of tomato sauce. I can spread the pesto on a sandwich. Some of the cranberries can go into muffins. Habaneros into salsa, or maybe chopped up on pizza. Maybe I can use the mint to flavor tea? Or make a sauce for lamb. Not sure what to do about the grapefruit yet.

Foolproof Veggie Chili (Serves 4-6)
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. The original calls for cooking the onions and garlic in 1/2 cup water for 5 mins, instead of using oil, which makes the recipe low-fat. And also does not lard it up at the end with cheese and sour cream. But this is what I like.

1 tbl canola or grapeseed oil
2  large yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbl ground cumin
1 tbl ground coriander
1 cup jarred salsa. The spiciness of the salsa will determine the spiciness of the chili
2 green bell peppers
2 15-oz cans beans, drained and rinsed. I use black, pinto, kidney or a mix of them. Really depends on what’s in the pantry.
1 28 oz can tomatoes, with juice. I’ve used whole plum tomatoes, chopped up, diced tomatoes or crushed. Any of these work, though the texture of the final dish will be different. Crushed tomatoes make it thicker than either the whole, chopped, or the diced tomatoes.
2 cups corn (frozen kernels, or 3-4 ears, shucked)
2 medium zucchini or summer squash. Or one of each. (optional)
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional).
salt & pepper to taste
hot sauce, sour cream, chopped onions, shredded cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack are good), chopped scallions and/or chopped cilantro for toppings

Heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened. Add the cumin and coriander and stir until the onions and garlic are coated, about 1 minute. Add the green bell peppers and salsa. Stir, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the beans and tomatoes with juices, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the corn and zucchini, summer squash and/or green beans, if using. Simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender.

This chili is good served over rice or pasta—especially if you have some left over from another meal. Also, tortilla chips. Leftovers make a great topping for nachos, with some cheese melted on top.