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.

Beaten and Squashed


You would think that by now I’d have a better-developed sense of time. As in, how much of it I really have. As in, I probably should not have bought either the beets last week, or the sunshine squash the week before that, because I got all the way to Friday I hadn’t had time to do anything with them despite my intentions. I did manage the beet salad yesterday, finally, after roasting the beets on Friday (that’s the salad in the not-so-wonderful photo above. My method, below). The squash was the real mistake, because I put off cooking it until it wasn’t going to be good to eat much longer. So I peeled and cubed and roasted the squash, too  to have with dinner. As a result, we didn’t eat until almost 8 pm. And we were hungry before then. Now, I have leftover squash, but not enough to serve as a standalone side dish again. It’s going in the freezer until I can figure out what to do with it. But at least you can roast multiple vegetables in the oven at the same time.

Tonight: My daughter is working on the Girl Scout “Simple Meals” badge with her troop, and the girls each have to plan and cook a meal at home. She wants to make something with chicken, and we have some chicken legs in the freezer. She’ll be figuring out what to do with them this afternoon.
Monday: Perch was the least expensive fish at the farmer’s market yesterday, so I bought about a pound and a half. We have some potatoes, so I’m going to play a bit with a Mark Bittman recipe for Roasted Monkfish with Crispy Potatoes, Olives and Bay Leaves. I’ve never actually made this dish with monkfish. I don’t currently have enough bay leaves. But I do have quite a lot of fresh dill that needs to be used up. I don’t think the dill would stand up to the heat in the oven, but might be good sprinkled on top at the end.
Tuesday: Might really  make calzones or pizza this time, after having them in the plan for a couple of weeks now. The first time I thought I’d make them, we had lots of leftover chili instead. And yesterday, instead of pizza, we had an onion extravaganza. My son found a recipe for some French-inspired onion soup, and he asked me to teach him how to make it. To go with the soup,  I (once again, blithe to the time constraints) decided to try pissaladiere, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is sort of like a pizza, but with an egg in the crust, topped with caramelized onions, stewed tomatoes, olives, anchovies and no cheese. It was delicious, but wasn’t done until about 20 minutes after everyone had finished the soup (there was also salad).
Wednesday: I am going out to dinner with a client. The family gets take out.
Thursday: There’s a recipe for broiled tofu with a couscous salad in my Simply Ming One Pot Meals book that looks promising, though I’m going to make the salad more of a winter salad somehow. If I freeze that leftover squash for a few days, I can use it as a substitute for the the summer squash, which isn’t in season right now.
Friday: I have a leg of lamb in the freezer that wants to be a stew. Maybe with prunes or apricots. And which I could make in the slow cooker . Although I need a recipe. And I’ll need to bone the lamb, which is one downside of the CSA—they don’t provide boneless cuts of anything very often.

Roasted Beet and Chevre Salad
Inspired by the Roasted Beet Salad in Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health. It’s designed to be flexible. I’ve written the ingredients list for a single serving* so you can make this just for yourself for lunch with a slice of crusty bread (I like rye bread with it), or multiply as needed.

2 large beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
a little salt and ground pepper
salad greens, about 2 cups per serving
1/3 cup of Chevre per serving, sliced into 3 or 4 pieces
a few pecans. If you’re not as lazy as I am,  toast them first.
some citrusy salad dressing. I whisked together 1/2 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.

To roast the beets: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the beets and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the cubes with oil and a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Spread the beets in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes. Stir the beets and roast for another 10-15 minutes. The cubes should be tender, not crunchy.

Let the beets cool, then toss them in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of salad dressing. Wash and dry the greens, and toss them separately with dressing. Arrange the greens on a plate, and top with a half cup to 1 cup of beets. Distribute the Chevre slices and pecans here and there around the plate.

*I bought two large beets at the market. If you are making this just for yourself, this amount provides enough beets for three or four servings. If you don’t want leftover beets, roast one medium-sized beet tossed with a teaspoon or so of oil and salt and pepper to taste, and when they’re cool, toss with a teaspoon or two of dressing.

A Fish Story


IMG_0882.JPG - Version 2During college, I worked as a marketing intern for a consultancy in Cambridge, Mass., assembling conference materials, writing direct mail promotions and stuffing envelopes. Because it was summer, and our basement space was air-conditioned more for the comfort of computers than people, we plotted where to escape for lunch and whether we could convince the office manager to take us for a spin in her vintage VW convertible.

In a city full of immigrants and students, in a neighborhood halfway between Harvard and MIT, we were minutes from whatever we craved, whether it was a chicken sandwich or felafel. I was usually up for anything. Our controller hated fish.

Up to that point, I don’t think I’d ever met anyone who wouldn’t eat anything that came from the ocean. I grew up outside of Boston, pretending to choose lobsters from the tank at the grocery store while my mother bought scrod, bluefish or scallops for dinner. Being allowed to order a whole, fresh-off-the-boat lobster in a restaurant was a rite of passage. But K. was from Indiana. What she knew of fish and seafood came mainly, she admitted, in the form of frozen sticks and days-old fillets. I couldn’t really blame her.

I like to think this beer-battered fish, made with fresh scrod, would have changed her mind. When I eat this with coleslaw, it’s summer.

Beer-Battered Scrod (serves 3-4)
Adapted from Beer-Battered Fish with Smoked Paprika Mayonnaise, Gourmet March 2006

1.5 lbs scrod fillets
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 c beer (something light–an ale or lager)
canola oil

1/2 c mayonnaise
3/4 tsp smoked paprika

Pour about 1/2 inch of oil into a large skillet and heat on medium high heat. Cut the fillets into 6-8 pieces, making sure each piece is roughly uniform in thickness so it cooks evenly. Mix together the flour and salt, and stir in the beer to make a thick batter. Don’t worry if the batter is a tiny bit lumpy. When the oil is hot, coat each piece of fish with batter and place it in the oil. Fry, turning once, until golden on each side.

Make the sauce: mix mayonnaise and smoked paprika (the original recipe includes capers, which makes it a bit like more like tartar sauce).

Serve with coleslaw or a salad of mixed greens tossed with a good vinaigrette.

Cooking Resolutions


IMG_0929Welcome to The Whole Kumquat! January isn’t over, and so I feel justified making some cooking resolutions for 2013:

1. Really plan ahead. We’re off to a busy year. Spontaneity is fun, but too much of it leads to frozen burritos for dinner. My goal is to post menus weekly. They may change, but at least I’ll have an answer when I’m asked what we’re eating.

2. Focus on local. We’re getting most of our meat from a CSA through Chestnut Farms in Hardwick, Mass. Now that the local farmers market is operating year round, I’m trying to build the weekly meal plan around what I find there. (Maybe this will satisfy my need for spontaneity, sort of.) Right now the market has mainly squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and winter greens, so I will have to supplement with some vegetables, like peppers, and all our fruit, from the supermarket. There’s a vendor at the farmers market selling locally-caught fish and shellfish as well, though I have to get there early to snag what I like. Got some lovely looking scrod yesterday and made beer-battered fish, which I served with coleslaw, the last of the buttercup squash I made last week and a lettuce/tomato/cucumber salad.

3. Get everyone involved. My husband and I have been cooking together for more than 20 years. Now that the kids are, or nearly are, teenagers, it’s time to advance their kitchen skills beyond brownies, fried eggs and toasted bagels (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those). I’d like us to do more cooking together. The other day my son asked if, instead of going to camp for the entire summer, we could spend a couple of weeks learning how to make sushi and bake things. I don’t think we necessarily need to wait.

Now, to the menu. Mainly, I’m thinking about dinners right now:

Tonight: I’m not a huge football fan. But the Patriots in the playoffs provides a good excuse to make some slow-cooked beef chili. I’m tweaking a recipe I found online and not sure of the results yet. We have some pinto beans, sour cream, cheese and onions as toppings. And some salad leftover from last night, too.
Monday: A tofu stir-fry, maybe?
Tuesday: White Bean and Chorizo Stew with Spinach  (from Bon Appetit), over rice
Wednesday: A good night for cheese quesadillas, probably. With leftover stew if there is any
Thursday: Calzones
Friday: Something with chicken

And since I found a small head of cabbage at the market, and I have a couple of beets in the fridge, I’m thinking of making some borscht that I can have  for lunch during the week.