Category Archives: Lunch

Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

I really wish I could have invented silly bands or rainbow looms, but alas, I only invent things like Chickpea Salad. And even then, I didn’t really invent it, of course. But today, I had the idea to make a mashed chickpea salad in the exact same style as my favorite chicken salad — with grapes and nuts/seeds and chickpeas instead of chicken. Because I sort of hate chicken and I can’t stand handling it. I much prefer legumes to chicken — with the exceptions of a good local, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy or a real fried chicken. Otherwise I find that it takes too much seasoning and work and sauce to make it good. Bacon and filet mignon do not have this problem. I will add that I don’t really like the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner that much either. Even after brining and doing dances to the moist and flavorful turkey gods, give me the sides and the gravy and I’m happy.

So, today I present Chickpea Salad. Have it on a sandwich. Or have it with a salad. Or eat it out of the bowl. And feel free to send me royalty checks.

Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

Makes about 3-4 cups of sandwich or salad filling

1 can of chickpeas (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
3-4 T mayonnaise (more or less depending on how you like it)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup red grapes, quartered or chopped
2 T pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds)
1 T lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lightly toasted bread

1. In a medium bowl, mash chickpeas with a potato masher. Leave some mixed consistency, but not whole chickpeas.

2. Stir in mayo and remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if desired.

3. Serve on lightly toasted bread or place a scoop on a plate with a lightly dressed salad.

 

Velvety Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric, Sunflower Seeds, and Truffle Oil

This summer was not kind to my waist line. Or to my hip line, ass line, and stomach line, for that matter. Packing and moving meant pizza and beer on many more nights than I’d care to admit. And if unpacking one spice bottle from twenty sheets of packing paper burned a lot of calories, I’d be in my pre-baby jeans. But no one would want to see me in those 12 year old things anyway — including me — so let’s just skip it. Bottom line is that I am trying to get back to normal eating before the holidays crush me all over again.

A friend was telling me about her success with a twice a day shake/smoothie plan, but instantly said, “Oh, you couldn’t do it because you love food and flavor too much.” True enough, but I did consider it for a moment. It couldn’t be as bad as the cabbage soup diet. Remember that shit?

No, any healthy eating plan for me needs to include real food and flavor and cooking. And now that we are back on our weekly farm share plan in our new area, I feel like the vegetables are calling me and nagging me from the fridge. “You aren’t seriously going to let us go bad, are you? Come on, you lazy piece of shit, cook us!” Maybe your vegetables (as I like to call my inner voice these days) are kinder than mine, but I do feel incredibly more guilty if I don’t use my farm share vegetables as opposed to my grocery store vegetables. You know how when you were a kid, you felt sorry for the last banana going brown because you were worried it felt unwanted? OK, maybe that was just me, but I am quick to personify produce and the hard work of the individual farmers who grew it is a much stronger cooking motivator than some unknown factory farm.

I digress. Can you see why my husband is a good man to put up with me and the constant over-analysis of even my produce drawer?

But even with my farm share love, there are things that get abandoned in the back of the fridge. Cauliflower is one of them. I like it, but no one else in the family does. They hate it, in fact. So when the vegetables were talking to me before lunch today, I had a moment of clarity that I could make something with them for me! Just for me. For lunch even. So this is what I made. It was delightful and rich and healthy and I will probably eat it for lunch all week. And even though the heavy cream in the fridge was screaming to be included in this soup, my hips told her to STFU.

Velvety Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric, Sunflower Seeds, and Truffle Oil

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 large onion, chopped
2 t turmeric powder
1 t curry powder
1 T olive oil
3/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds (or other nuts or seeds)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
Juice of one lemon
2 t salt (to taste, less if using full sodium broth)
Fresh ground pepper
Chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, or chives would all be good)
White Truffle Oil or Good Olive Oil

1. In a large soup or stock pot, sauté onion, turmeric, and curry in 1 T of olive oil until softened. Add cauliflower and sauté for about five minutes until the cauliflower begins to soften.

2. Add stock, wine, water, 2 t salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until cauliflower is falling apart and very soft.

3. While soup is cooking, chop the sunflower seeds very finely in a food processor or small chopper until they are the consistency of corn meal. Reserve a few tablespoons for garnish and set the rest aside.

4. Remove soup from the heat and purée with an immersion blender until soup is velvety smooth. (You can use a regular blender, but obviously leave the lid partially off and do it in small batches so you don’t have an explosion of hot soup.) Stir in chopped sunflower seeds (reserving the others for garnish) and lemon juice and puree for a few more seconds to incorporate. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

5. To serve, ladle soup into a bowl, sprinkle with reserved ground sunflower seeds and fresh herbs, and drizzle with truffle oil or olive oil.

 

 

Sunny Side Up Egg, Prosciutto, and Caramelized Onion Pizza

I had a little birthday party for my husband a few weeks ago and decided I wanted to make a bunch of pizzas. This is usually a real pain, not because it’s difficult, but because you run out of space for the multiple pans, dough, and ingredients required to do this for a crowd. And I like to have everything ready to go ahead of time, so I can have an adult beverage enjoy my guests. This meant four pre-cooked dough rectangles, which tend to take up a lot of space.

I happened to remember a rack that stacks trays and decided to get one. Thankfully Amazon had it here in a day and it worked beautifully. All of the doughs were pre-baked and stacked up in a corner of the kitchen and I pulled as needed when I was ready to bake. The toppings were ready to go, so I could easily make the pizzas and serve them hot as needed. I would definitely recommend getting one of these racks as it folds away flat and takes up no space at all. I think it will be really handy for parties and holiday baking.

So this was my favorite pizza: dippy eggs broken all over top prosciutto and caramelized onions with a bit of parmesan and gouda. I’m just not sure it can get any better.

Sunny Side Up Egg, Prosciutto, and Caramelized Onion Pizza

1 pound fresh pizza dough (I used Trader Joe’s dough, which I think is great)
2 onions, thinly sliced
Chopped Proscuitto or Bacon (cooked), about 3/4 cup
Shredded Parmesan and/or Gouda (or TJ’s parm/gouda blend), about 1 cup
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste
6 eggs
Salt and Pepper
Fresh basil or parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.

2. Sauté onions in a bit of olive oil or butter over medium low heat. It will take at least 30-45 minutes to caramelize them decently. I cook them until they are reduced by a great deal and a nice caramel color.  Stir them every so often, season with salt and pepper, and add a bit of water if they start to stick.

2. Meanwhile, roll pizza dough out until very thin. This is personal preference, but I like mine as thin as I can possibly get it. I do this directly on a large sheet pan and it ends up being about a 12 inch by 15 inch rectangle. But do it how you like — on a sheet pan or pizza stone. (Little tip: if doing on a sheet pan and pizza dough keeps springing back, put a dab of water under each corner before you bake. This adheres the corners to the pan.)

3. Take about two spoonfuls of your olive oil mixture and spread over pizza dough. Put dough in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes until just pre-baked and not brown at all.

4. When onions are done, spread them over pre-baked dough. Sprinkle prosciutto or bacon on top of that. Sprinkle cheese over top onions and ham/bacon. Make 6 little “wells” equally spaced around the pizza (that is where the eggs go). Drizzle whole pizza with more of the olive oil mixture. Crack eggs into your 6 wells. Season entire pizza with salt and pepper.

5. Bake pizza for about 10-15 minutes until eggs are just set. Watch it carefully because the eggs go from being not set to fully cooked (and not dippy) very quickly. If you want an over-easy egg, broil for a minute. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh basil or parsley. When ready to serve, break open the eggs and let yolk run over pizza.

Fried Egg, Sriracha, Cream Cheese, and Spinach on Ciabatta

Two of my Facebook friends (and actual real life friends!) were virtually bantering back and forth about a sandwich a few months ago. I am uncertain if they made it up or got the idea from someone else, but as soon as I saw their pictures I knew I had to try it. (Who says pictures of what you are eating for dinner are annoying? Not me. As an aside, I think people who complain about the things other people post online are way more annoying. If people bug you that easily, unfriend or unfollow. You are probably not real life friends.)

Their take on the sandwich was slightly different, but I used what I had on hand and was immediately hooked. I believe they used a hearty, whole grain bread and raw spinach which I think would be equally delicious. So Carolyne and Stephanie, if you are reading, tell us the origins and give yourselves or someone else credit! Because this one is a winner. I could eat it every night.

Fried Egg, Sriracha, Cream Cheese, and Spinach on Ciabatta

Makes 2 sandwiches

2 Ciabatta Rolls
2 Eggs
1 Bag of Spinach, rinsed
1 Clove of Garlic, sliced
Cream Cheese
Sriracha
Olive Oil/Butter
Salt and Pepper

1. Split ciabatta rolls and drizzle with olive oil. Place cut side down in a sauté pan and grill slightly, until just lightly toasted. Remove rolls to a plate and set aside. (You can keep them warm if you like.)

2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a sauté pan and toast garlic lightly. Add spinach and cook until completely wilted and any residual water has cooked off. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Set aside.

3. Heat a bit of butter in the sauté pan that you grilled rolls in (just to save another pan). Fry eggs until your desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper. (I like mine just slightly over easy with a very runny yolk.)

4. To assemble the sandwiches: Spread cream cheese on bottom roll. Top with Sriracha.(As much or as little as you like. I like a lot.) Place a pile of sautéed spinach on top of that. Top with fried egg and then the top roll. Devour it and make it three nights in a row.

 

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

I read this article in the New York Times yesterday (Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries).  Here’s a little quote to blow your mind:

For example, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable, Mr. Balzer said. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does.)

Truthfully, I am not surprised by this.  With busy schedules, it does seem difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables.  There are plenty of nights in my house when I ask my husband, “Do we really need a salad tonight?”  I am often hoping for a response that goes something like this:  “No.”  It’s just that washing the lettuce and spinning it dry and making dressing and then washing the salad spinner and washing the salad bowl sometimes seems like an insurmountable task.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but I am pretty sure ours isn’t the only household where this happens.  (And yes, I know I should wash all of my salad greens the minute I bring them home and store them in a bag with a paper towel and then magically use as needed while wearing a Mary Poppins costume.  But I don’t generally do that, OK?)

What did surprise me about this quote is how the study authors defined a “vegetable.”  A single piece of lettuce on a hamburger apparently qualifies as eating a vegetable.  One piece.  A piece that is probably a wilted up scrap of iceberg with more water than nutrients.  If only 23% of meals contain a vegetable serving with those pathetic standards, we are in trouble.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t think putting baby carrots in a vending machine with super cool graphics is the answer.  First of all, the junk food they are competing against is so loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and chemical flavor enhancers that the carrots are just not going to win.  They’re just not.  Beyond, a super sweet vegetable like a carrot is not the flavor profile we need to develop in kids (and obviously adults too).  We need to get children eating the non-sweet, non-starchy vegetables — things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and zucchini.  When we start our babies out with sweet and starchy things like sweet potatoes and peas, do we really expect them to develop a taste for broccoli as two year olds?

In my entirely unscientific opinion, I think we need to begin training our children’s palates as soon as they begin solid food.  That means pureeing some zucchini or broccoli and as the infants get older, maybe even adding in some spices or a bit of garlic.  If we constantly train them to expect sweetness (in their vegetables, in their snacks, in their yogurt, etc.), I am just not sure how they will ever develop an appreciation for the other wonderful flavors that exist.

Beyond, here are a few ideas for the older ones … My kids have learned to love sauteed garlicky greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc.) and they especially enjoy the fact that they can eat a tablespoon or two and that equals about 2 cups of fresh greens.  Another idea is roasting vegetables.  This works well with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans.  Simply roast at about 425 degrees Fahrenheit after tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper.  The veggies get crispy on the edges and are delicious.  A soup like this is also a wonderful way to integrate a lot of vegetables with different flavors or textures.  You could puree it for the most finicky, but I do think that if we always hide vegetables or puree them away, it is harder for kids to learn to like anything in its normal form.

So, make some vegetable soup and be truly Un-American.  You are not limited by the vegetables that I have used here.  This is what I needed to use up and you can certainly add or substitute based on what is languishing in the back of your crisper.  And by the standard of one-piece-of-lettuce-equals-a-serving, you should be good on nutrients for about a month and a half.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

Serves 6-8 with leftovers

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, chopped
8 cups of broth (I used homemade beef broth)*
24 oz. pureed tomatoes (I used the Bionature Brand in glass)**
1/2 cup of red wine
2 cups of green or yellow beans, stemmed and in bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups of edamame (cooked and shelled soybeans) or peas, limas, etc.
1 cup of pasta or rice (your choice, I used penne)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Olive Oil

Pistou:
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 t salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  In a large stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil.  Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until just softened.  Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine and cook until reduced slightly.

2.  Add broth and pureed tomatoes.  Season with 2 t. of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes (more or less depending on spice preferences).  Simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered on medium heat.

3.  Meanwhile, make the pistou.  You can chop it finely, use a food processor/chopper, or a mortar and pestle.  Simply chop up the basil and garlic, add the olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

3.  Add green/yellow beans and pasta to soup.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes until pasta and beans are done.  Add edamame, chopped rosemary, and cream.   Cook for about 5 minutes longer.   Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (You can certainly let this simmer and reduce longer if you like, but we like ours with vegetables that aren’t cooked to death.)

4.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a spoonful of the Basil Pistou on top.

*Use a simple homemade broth rather than buying it.  It’s much better for you and much cheaper. Just cover some chopped onion, garlic, a few herbs, celery if you have it, salt and pepper, etc. with water and simmer for as long as you have.  Strain out the solids and use the broth in just about anything.

**Research is showing that BPA is easily transferred to anything acidic in a can.  If you don’t have your own tomatoes to use, buy tomatoes only in glass containers if possible.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

So the school year is wrapping up  and I am firmly planting my head in the sand related to how I am going to a) keep everyone entertained all summer, b) get my paid work done and deliver a large project at the end of August, c) maintain some sanity amidst the fighting siblings and wet bathing suits and towels on the floor, d) have a house that doesn’t look like it needs an intervention, e) keep the plants thriving outside given that hoses are quite possibly the most annoying thing to use ever, and f) do grocery shopping with an entourage who likes to find every possible piece of crap and put it in my cart.

And this all with cocktail time not starting until 5:00 PM?  Can’t we push that up a little?

Oh, but I kid.  I complain a good game, but I am actually looking forward to summer.  Just the idea of relaxing mornings where we aren’t rushing around to get out the door … or the idea of making a pot of coffee and actually being able to drink a few leisurely cups… and not having to think about getting homework done every night… or throwing dinner together at a seriously uncivilized time just to get to soccer practice.  We are all ready for a little vacation.

This dinner was put together on one of those rushed evenings where we were hurrying to get to an end of the school year concert, but I think it would also be a great aprés swimming dinner when you have to divide your energy between hanging up that wet stuff, making a meal, and unpacking the pool bag. To non-parents I know this sounds like a pathetically small task — but you are wrong. Unpacking the pool bag is a terrible task filled with wet stuff, soggy snacks, water bottles, leaky sunscreen, loose change, hats, visors, goggles, Spiderman diving toys, wallets, cell phones, floaties, allergy medicine, and reading material that rarely gets read.

Ahh.  Summer.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4-6

2-3 cups of spinach, stemmed and chopped
1 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup couscous
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1-2 large green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4-5 sprigs of oregano (remove leaves from stem and chop)

Dressing:
2/3 cup canola or olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

1.  In a large sauté pan, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil with chopped (1 clove) garlic.  Sauté spinach until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

2.  In same pan, heat a bit more oil and sauté diced zucchini until lightly browned and softened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

3.  In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Add cous cous, stir, and cover pan.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for about five minutes.  Stir to fluff the cous cous and allow to cool a bit.

4.  Whisk together dressing ingredients.

5.  In a large bowl, combine cooked spinach and zucchini, cooked cous cous, toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped green onions, and chopped oregano.  Re-whisk dressing and pour about 2/3 of it over cous cous mixture, tossing well to combine all ingredients.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Salad can be served at room temperature or chilled.  Reserve remaining dressing and add to the salad before serving if necessary (if the cous cous sits in the fridge for a while it will soak up the dressing and may need more.)

No Hangover Tequila Chicken Tacos with Guacamole

Well, I guess I cannot entirely guarantee that you won’t have a hangover with these tacos.  If you are so inclined to drink the remaining tequila in the bottle after you make the marinade, then you are on your own.  And it is a lonely place to be — trust me.  The tequila hangover is something that one just can’t explain.  You may ask:  as bad as way too much cheap red wine?  Yes and worse.  And different.

A tequila hangover is like childbirth.  It is so painful that it keeps you from doing it again for a while, until the cloud of happiness infiltrates your brain and you think “hey, let’s have some tequila tonight.”  Several years in between episodes at the minimum.  And I am pretty sure there might be a heavy correlation between tequila and childbirth, as it can be used to both make the baby and sterilize the forceps.

My worst tequila hangover was like having quadruplets in a field somewhere.  The night started innocently enough with some Indian food takeout and a bottle of red wine (probably not advisable, but also not terrible).  The night ended with tequila shots and then finishing another bottle of red wine. And if there ever needed to be some rhyme made up about what to drink and when, this is the combo:  red wine, Indian food, tequila shots, and more red wine.  You are never in the clear in this situation.  It will be a two day hangover and you will struggle to remember what the hell happened and why you were playing Gin Rummy.  Just take my advice on this and don’t do it.

The tacos, however, are delicious.  We like to have them either in soft tortilla wraps or lightly fried to make them crispy, but not so annoying as to fall apart all over your plate.  (To do that, just put some oil in a saute pan, soften the wrap slightly in the oil, add your fillings, fold it in half, and pan fry until golden and then flip and repeat.  I love soft tacos this way because the cheese actually melts and they are a cross between a taco and a quesadilla.)  Either way, the chicken is succulent and lightly kissed with the flavors of your favorite Mexican drink.  And served with some homemade guacamole and fresh salsa, you will be ready to kiss someone.  Just try to keep your shirt on.

No Hangover Tequila Chicken Tacos with Guacamole

Serves 4-6

Marinade:
1.5 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup agave nectar or honey
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup orange juice
Juice and zest of two limes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t sea salt
1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
Freshly ground pepper

Guacamole:
2 avocados, peeled and pit removed
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Juice of half of a lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Soft taco shells
Salsa (freshly made takes it to another level)
Sour Cream
Freshly shredded cheddar cheese

1.  Whisk together marinade ingredients, except chicken thighs, in a pyrex baking dish.  Place chicken thighs in marinade and turn to coat.  Marinade for about an hour if you have the time (longer is OK too).

2.  Mash together guacamole ingredients and set aside.  (Before mashing, I like to reserve one half of an avocado and cut that into chunks.  I then add the chunks to the mashed guacamole for better texture.  Your choice.)

3.  Grill chicken thighs over indirect heat for about 15-20 minutes until done.  Remove, let rest, and slice into strips.

4.  Serve chicken and guacamole with soft taco shells, salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

Apple and Fontina Monte Cristo

When my husband is traveling on business (which seems to be way too much lately), I usually keep the cooking to a minimum.  I hate having a big mess to clean up when I am the only one to clean it.  And combined with homework, baths, and bedtime routines, sometimes it just seems like more than I can handle — especially when he is on a long trip.  Single parents have my ultimate admiration.  If parenting with help is exhausting, parenting solo sucks your every will to live.

On those nights, we usually do some simple pasta or soup.  A big pot of soup made at the beginning of the week can feed you for many days.  I love making chicken noodle soup — by the end of the week, the noodles have soaked up so much of the delicious broth that they are a meal on their own.  But our other favorite thing in Daddy’s absence is breakfast for dinner — eggs, omelets, pancakes — you name it.  The kids are guaranteed to love it and the cooking/cleaning load is much easier.

Lately, the kids have fallen in love with Monte Cristo sandwiches — a great combination of a grilled cheese and french toast.  It’s just as easy as the two component dishes and can be mixed and matched with lots of different fillings and dips.  Today we made Apple and Fontina Monte Cristos, but you could easily add ham or turkey, use any kind of cheese, and dip in anything from maple syrup to grainy mustard to whipped cream.  Quite honestly, I think you could make a version of this for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or dessert.

You might even be able to get through a whole week of travel with nothing but Monte Cristos.  Next time he goes to California, I guess.

Apple and Fontina Monte Cristo

Makes 2-3 sandwiches

Note:  Simple dishes like this are best with simple, fresh ingredients.  In my case, I am extremely lucky to have the wonderful Gemelli Bakery as my challah source.  Use the best bread and cheese you can find.

Half loaf of Challah or Brioche Bread, sliced about 3/4 inches thick
6 ounces Fontina Cheese, thinly sliced
1 apple, thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/4 cup of milk
1/8 t cinnamon
Dash of salt and pepper
Butter
Maple Syrup
Grainy Mustard

1.  Whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, and salt/pepper in a wide pasta bowl or deep plate.

2.  Place one slice of bread on cutting board.  Make one layer of Fontina slices.  Follow with one layer of apple slices.  Top with another piece of bread.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.  If you like, you can spread some grainy mustard right on the bread before cooking (my favorite, not the kids).

3.  Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan or griddle on medium low heat. Hold the sandwich together carefully and dip it into the egg batter on both sides.  Make sure it is coated nicely, but not too saturated.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

4.  Place sandwiches in saute pan or griddle and cook until golden brown.  Flip, press sandwich down a bit, and cook until golden brown on second side.  If your bread is extra thick, you may need to keep flipping for awhile in order to get the cheese to melt (the frequent flipping prevents the bread from becoming too brown).

5.  Remove from pan, cut in half, and serve with maple syrup or grainy mustard on the side.

6.  Pour yourself a tall glass of wine to get through the rest of the evening.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Making soup is one of my greatest pleasures.  After you know the basic models and processes, you can do just about anything and use up just about anything.  It is a tremendous stress reliever for me too — before every presidential debate (I get a little worked up over politics), I have to make soup to focus my attention elsewhere.  Plus, it is obviously about the best comfort food you can find.

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And summer time makes me miss soup a lot.  As much as I like the idea of chilled soups (and love the flavors, to an extent), they are just not the same.  Somehow, I just feel like I am eating a giant bowl of salsa or leftover sauce from the refrigerator.  It just doesn’t seem … finished.

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So, the rainy weather (combined with everyone feeling a little run down) gave me the urge to make a summer soup.  Of course, I had zucchini to use.  And leftover corn.  And some beautiful fresh garlic and onions.  I added smoked paprika because I wanted the smoky quality to add depth and contrast to the sweetness of the corn.  From there though, I went in a slightly Italian direction with lots of basil and a parmesan crisp garnish.  But I am actually going to change this recipe up next time and make a Cuban Corn Bisque (with smoky chipotle, garlic, cilantro, lime zest, and a little queso fresco to garnish).

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See what I mean?   You can do anything with soup.  The only rule is that you cook it until it tastes good.  There is no excuse for a bad soup because you can keep tasting and adding to it (very much unlike other dishes).  You cook soup until it tastes good.  Period.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Serves 4

1 large zucchini, cubed (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups of corn
2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
3/4 t smoked paprika
Small bunch of basil, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
Parmesan Cheese

1.  In a large sauce pan or stock pot, heat about 1 T of olive oil.  Saute the zucchini, onion, and garlic until soft (about ten minutes).  Season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

2.  Add 3 cups of corn and a nice handful of chopped basil.  Saute for 1-2 additional minutes.

3.  Add water and white wine, cover with lid, and cook 5-10 minutes more until very soft.

4.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth.  (You can also use a regular blender, however be VERY careful with blending hot liquids.  They expand and can make a huge mess or burn you.  You must do it in small batches and keep the lid slightly off, while covering with a towel, to allow the steam to escape without having the soup splashing out and burning you.  I would strongly suggest an immersion blender … they are great for all sorts of tasks and are not expensive at all.)

5.  Stir in heavy cream and remaining 1 cup of corn.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional smoked paprika.

6.  Garnish with parmesan crisp, additional chopped basil, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

For the Parmesan Crisp: Preheat oven to 400 F.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, thinly slice or grate some parmesan cheese in square shapes.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until very bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool (they will crisp up as they cool).

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Curried Chick Pea and Red Potato Hash

Does anyone remember that show “Ready, Set, Cook?”  Basically it was a game show where you got a box of random ingredients and had to make dinner out of it.  Some of the cooking reality shows use a similar premise now, but I liked this show because the professionals had to work with regular people to get the meal prepared.  Plus it was a great way to spend thirty minutes running on the treadmill.  I still generally watch cooking shows while on the treadmill — not sure if that is incentive or punishment.

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But I do love the challenge of taking very disparate items and somehow bringing them together into a coherent dish.  Certainly some of the dishes turn out a lot better than others, but it is always a fun experiment.  Before we went away on vacation, I was cooking like crazy to use everything in the refrigerator up.  In this case, I had new potatoes, garlic scapes (the green flower shoot from the garlic), green onions, parsley, and lots of eggs.  I settled on a “hash” sort of thing and I was not disappointed.  I love putting a slight twist on a very traditional approach and it was a delicious vegetarian entree.  I served it with sauteed snow peas and a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

You should definitely add a hash like this to your weeknight cooking repertoire — it is super flexible, quick, healthy, and uses up lots of odds and ends.  And the kids really loved it too… Feel free to spice it up if your crew is spice tolerant.

Curried Chick Pea and Red Potato Hash

Serves 4-6

1 qt. of red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 garlic scapes (could substitute with 1 or 2 chopped garlic cloves), chopped
4 green onions, green and white parts chopped
2 t fresh ginger, chopped
3 T olive oil
1 t curry powder
1/2 t garam masala (a spice mixture generally made of cumin, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, pepper)
1/4 t turmeric
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of water
2 T parsley or cilantro, chopped
4-6 eggs

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Saute the white part of the chopped green onions, garlic scapes, ginger, 1/2 t of curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, 1/2 t of salt, and freshly ground pepper for about five minutes.

2.  Add in chopped potatoes and cook for about 10-15 minutes until potatoes are beginning to brown and soften.  Add more oil if the potatoes stick too much.

3.  Add in chick peas and 1/2 cup of water and scrape up any browned bits sticking to bottom of pan.   Cover with lid and let cook about 10 more minutes until potatoes are fully cooked.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate pan fry or poach eggs.  (Best cooked over easy with a nice runny yolk…)

5.  When ready to serve, add to hash pan the additional 1/2 t of salt (or to taste), freshly ground pepper to taste, 1/2 t of curry powder, the green parts of the green onions, and 2 T of parsley or cilantro.  Mix well to incorporate.

6.  To serve, place a fried or poached egg on top of a portion of the curried chick pea and potato hash and garnish with additional herbs or green onions.

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