Category Archives: Lunch

Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

At the beginning of last summer, we decided to abandon our patio as a dining room.  We had the obligatory table and chairs outside and never ever sat there.  Because the patio is right spanking next to our eat-in kitchen, it just always seemed so pointless to lug all of our food outside.  And then the table was always dirty and covered with pollen — and well, I am lazy.

So we sold the table and chair set at our yard sale and bought an outdoor loveseat, two chairs with big ottomans, and a coffee table.  And we threw down an outdoor rug and proceeded to spend the entire summer sitting on our patio.  We would have a glass of wine while the kids played in the yard before dinner.  After putting the two year old to bed, we would sit out there with our daughter and read mystery books.  We had friends over and lots of impromptu, small parties.  On several occasions, my husband and I sat out there after the kids were in bed and fell sound asleep.

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We couldn’t wait to get our furniture back out this spring and start to enjoy it all over again.  And guess what?  We eat out there more now than ever before.  The kids eat their lunch at the coffee table and we have relaxed dinners in our comfy chairs.    It was all a matter of redefining our space and not feeling so bound by the rules.  (“We have patio.  Must buy table and chairs.”)

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So our outdoor dining matches our new space — small plates of easy to eat things that are relaxed and fun.  Grilled pizzas are one of our favorites.  We usually do two pizzas — the first one with sauce and cheese (or tomatoes and basil once summer is in full swing) to please the kids and the second one with ingredients more suited for grown-ups.  We cook on charcoal and have found that the best way to grill the pizzas is over indirect heat, with a brief stint over the coals if you want to crisp it up even more.  If you have all of your ingredients ready to go, just bring them out on a tray and make the pizzas in stages.  It’s great small party food.  Let the kids run wild and eat as you go.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

Serves 6 (makes 2 large pizzas)

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 lbs.

I like to make my own using the dough cycle of my breadmaker, but feel free to buy a ball of dough from your grocery store or local pizza shop.  Here’s my recipe for the breadmaker (use your dough setting — which is one hour and thirty minutes on my machine).  Just dump the following in and get the rest of your stuff ready while you wait.  (BTW, this makes enough for two pizzas.)

2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 cups of all purpose white flour
3/4 t. sea salt
2 t. active dry yeast (about one package)
1 3/8 cup water (room temperature or slightly warm)
3 T. olive oil

If you want to make the dough ahead of time, just put a bit of olive oil on it and cover it tightly in a bowl in the fridge.

Topping Prep

This makes enough to top one large pizza.  If you want to do both of your crusts with these ingredients (i.e. you don’t have picky kids who only want sauce and cheese), just double the following ingredients.

1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil (plus additional for sauteeing)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 small bunch of Asparagus, trimmed and chopped into one inch pieces
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, freshly grated (or other cheeses — Fontina and Camembert are great too.)
6 dried figs (or fresh if you have them), stemmed and chopped
Brandy, optional
Salt and Pepper
Fresh herbs, optional (basil, chives, etc.)

1.  Caramelize onion.  Here’s my quick method… Saute the onion over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until starting to brown.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water and scrape up any brown bits.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 additional minutes uncovered until nicely caramelized and soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

2.  Saute asparagus in a bit of olive oil until just slightly softened (they should still be a bit crunchy).  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Warm a bit of brandy in the microwave or on the stove (on a low power level) with the chopped dried figs.  Let them sit in the warm brandy for 10-15 minutes until softened.  Give them a quick rinse to remove the heavy alcohol flavor, pat dry, and set aside.

4.  Make your seasoning oil by warming the 1/3 cup of olive oil over low heat until just warmed.  Add chopped garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

The Pizza Grilling

1.  Preheat your charcoal (indirect method — which means coals should be on the perimeter, not in the center) or gas grill to about 350 F.

2.  Roll out half of your pizza dough (about a 1 pound dough ball) until it is very thin.  I like to do this on  a parchment lined jelly roll pan with a small wooden rolling pin (a clean bottle works too).  It should roll out to about 10″x12″.  (Rectangular shapes are easier for the grill.)

3.  Brush a bit of olive oil on the crust.  Put the oiled side down on the grill.  Don’t worry about getting the dough on the grill — just lift it off the sheet pan and drape it down onto the grilling grate.  It is pretty resilient.

4.  Let cook 3-5 minutes until starting to crisp and brown slightly on the underside.  Using tongs or a spatula, flip the pizza crust over.

5.  Drizzle several tablespoons of the garlic/red pepper seasoning oil onto the crust.

6.  Scatter the caramelized onion, sauteed asparagus, and chopped figs over the pizza crust.  Cover with shredded cheese.  Drizzle with additional seasoning oil if desired.  Close or cover grill to help the cheese melt.  Cook 2-3 more minutes, making sure underside does not get too brown.  If you want it extra crispy, move the pizza over the coals for a minute or so.

7.  When cheese is melted, use a big spatula to help you guide the pizza onto a tray.  Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh chopped herbs if you like.

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Rustic Ham, Bean, and Spring Green Soup

Our spring this year has been very dreary.  And cold.  And cloudy.  Actually that is pretty typical, I think.  We get one sunny day and I am nearly manic — excited to exercise and clean and parent with limitless energy.  But then we have to endure at least three cloudy and cold days because of it.  So I get a little taste of nice weather and then it is snatched away, which sometimes feels worse than if it were never here at all.  These are soup days.  

I was inspired today by leftovers from Easter — a ham bone with some meat remaining, the greens from my Kohlrabi and Radish Slaw, and a veggie drawer that was overflowing with aromatics.  I have to tread very carefully with this sort of soup, because my daughter insists that she hates beans (all forms of white, black, and red beans).  If I tell her we are making it with lima beans (dried ones which taste almost identically to any white bean), she’s cool.  So that’s where I started.  

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This is a fully made-from-scratch soup and takes about two hours start to finish.  However, I should add that most of this time is unattended.  Trust me, I was outside chasing the boy out of the mud, having impromptu playdates, and attempting to get the girl to practice the piano.  (I should also mention that you could certainly make the broth and cook the beans ahead of time which would leave you with less than an hour to just make the soup.)

The best part of this soup is that it reveals a kitchen secret:  you don’t need to soak dried beans.  I have spent the last 15 years of my life thinking I could never use dried beans because I hadn’t soaked them.  It’s not true!  You can simply simmer them for about an hour and you are good to go.

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And as usual, take liberties based on what you have available.  Use more beans if you like to make it heartier (you can even pull some out and mash them at the end to thicken the soup) or add a bit of heavy cream to make it richer.  Most importantly, enjoy with a nice glass of vino and hold out hope that the strange, bright orb in the sky might reappear tomorrow.   

Rustic Ham, Bean, and Spring Green Soup

Serves 6 with leftovers

Step 1:  Make the broth and cook the beans

(Takes about 1 hr, mostly unattended.  Prep your veggies for step two at some point during this cooking process.)

Broth:
1 Ham Bone or Ham Hock (preferably naturally smoked/no nitrates from a local source)
1 onion, cut into chunks
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 t sea salt
Peppercorns

Combine all of the above in a large stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and let cook for about one hour.   When finished, strain stock into a colander set over a large bowl to catch the stock while separating out the veggies/bones.  If there is meat remaining on the bone, you can pick it off and set it aside.  (Discard cooked veggies.)

Beans:
1 cup of dried white beans (we used Limas, could use any kind and up to 2 cups if you want more beans)
4-5 cups of cold water (more if using more beans)
1 clove garlic, smashed
Freshly Ground Pepper
1 T rosemary
1 bay leaf

While broth is coming to a boil, put beans and other ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until tender.  Remove from heat and allow to remain in cooking liquid until ready to make soup (if cooking up way ahead of time, remove from cooking liquid.)  When ready to make soup, strain beans.  

Step 2:  Make the Soup

(Takes about 45 minutes, mostly unattended)

1 large onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced 
1/2 cup of Sherry
White beans (about 2 cups or more, cooked from above)
Ham Broth (6-8 cups, cooked from above) 
2 cups of shredded/chopped ham
3-4 cups of chopped cooking greens (we used Kohlrabi and Radish greens, could use spinach or just about anything else)
Sea Salt, Freshly Ground Pepper, Cayenne Pepper (if you like)
Fresh Rosemary

Croutons for garnish (bread cubes toasted in a saute pan with butter, salt, and herbs)

1.  Saute onions and garlic in a large stock pot or dutch oven in a bit of olive oil or butter over medium high heat.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes until they begin to soften and brown a bit.  Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of Sherry and stir to scrape up any browned bits and allow it to reduce for 1-2 minutes.

2.  Add 6-8 cups of ham broth, cooked white beans, carrots, and celery.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes or so until vegetables are softened. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne if you like (if your soup is not tasting right, it usually just needs salt — soups are salt hounds.)

3.  Add in 2 cups of shredded ham and simmer 5-10 minutes more.  

4.  When ready to serve, stir in 3-4 cups of chopped cooking greens and cook until they are wilted.  Add some freshly chopped rosemary.  Taste and season more if necessary.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes until soup is slightly thickened and reduced, beans are tender (but not mushy), and greens are cooked.  (If you like, you can pull some of the beans out and mash or puree them and add them back into to make a heartier soup.  Or add some cream for richness.)

5.  To serve, ladle in large soup bowls and top with some buttered croutons.  (Or nice crusty bread…)

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Spicy Curry Chicken Salad

So I should start this post by saying it was supposed to be Grilled Chicken and Roasted Potatoes.  But you see, my husband came home very late last night and our grilling was done in the dark — so I couldn’t take any pictures of the work in progress because my photography skills are definitely in the “beginner” category.  It’s a great marinade and a great technique, so I promise I will do it again when it’s either lighter out or I have the proper equipment to take good pics in the dark.   

That being said, we had a couple of pieces of leftover chicken today.  The kids claimed the drumsticks for their lunch and I was left with a half of a breast.   And I know chicken salad is not exactly difficult, but I do think it is a forgotten favorite and it is great for lunches.  Kids typically love the sweet and crunchy texture with dried fruit (or grapes) and nuts/seeds.  If they don’t dig creamy things with mayo (like my daughter), just dress it with a little olive oil.   And while this isn’t overly spicy, you could use a regular curry powder (or skip the curry entirely) if children will be eating it.  

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Spicy Curry Chicken Salad
(serves about 2 people)

3/4 Cup chopped cooked chicken
1/4 Cup chopped celery 
Zest of one lemon, Juice of half that lemon
1 T dried cranberries
1 T pumpkin seeds
1/4 t hot madras curry powder (or regular curry, or skip it entirely)
1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise
1 t honey
1 T chopped parsley (cilantro would be good too, but I didn’t have any)
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Mix all ingredients and season to taste.  Serve with salad greens, on toast, or with lightly crisped flatbread or naan.

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Barbecued Chicken Tacos with Slaw

Some of my favorite meals are the leftover creations I enjoy at lunchtime.  In fact, leftovers are a staple and become the basis of almost every lunch that the kids and I eat.  That’s the beauty of cooking real food at dinner time — it generally always provides you with another meal.  And these meals are quick — the meat is already cooked, many of the veggies are prepped and washed — which leaves you only a few minutes away from a lunch (or a soccer night dinner) that’s ten times better than anything you can find in a restaurant.  For a heck of a lot less money, too.

So last night, we had a simple and delicious dinner of my husband’s “world famous” (he has deemed it so) barbecue chicken and cucumber salad.  We always try to grill a little extra meat to have for leftovers — in this case we had boneless chicken thighs with some awesome barbecue sauce that we found on vacation in South Carolina.  Also in the fridge were a wedge of purple cabbage from the other night, some corn tortillas, and some cheese.  So, my first grader got a nice chopped salad made of purple cabbage and barbecued chicken with some olive oil and spices on it.  (She also got a banana and a cookie).   My two year old only wanted the chicken and a rice cake.  That was easy.dsc_5598

I was left with one chicken thigh and my brain obsessing about barbecued chicken tacos with slaw.  You could just as easily make a chicken quesadilla or chicken soft taco with a flour tortilla. These kinds of things aren’t really recipes as much as methods — so get creative.  I should also add that a head of cabbage is on my farmer’s market or grocery store list every week.  It is perfect for quick family dinners because it’s easy to wash and prep (remove some of the outer leaves and give it a rinse, cut it into quarters, remove the core, and slice thinly), you don’t have to spin it dry like salad, a half of a head easily makes enough cole slaw for 4-6 people, and the remainder stores in the fridge very well for a long time.  Try it lightly sauteed with butter and a bit of beer or wine served with mashed potatoes — my kids love it.  And certainly feel free to use pre-sliced, bagged cole slaw mix if you like — but it is more expensive, much less flavorful — and I trust my own kitchen a lot more than the “salmonella spinach farms.” It takes all of five minutes to prep the whole head.

Barbecued Chicken Tacos with Slaw

  1. Make a quick slaw with sliced purple cabbage, a handful of chopped cilantro, some olive oil, salt and pepper, and lime juice.
  2. Slice leftover chicken and shred some cheddar cheese (or grab a bag of preshredded like I did).
  3. Heat a splash of oil in a saute pan over medium heat and place one small corn tortilla in the oil.  Spin it around a bit until it softens (so you can bend it without it breaking — important for corn tortillas, flour ones aren’t as fragile).  Quickly add sliced chicken, a bit of slaw, and some cheese and fold the tortilla in half.  When lightly brown on one side, flip and brown the other side.  Remove to a paper towel to soak up any extra oil and repeat with remaining ingredients until you’re done!
  4. Serve with additional slaw and sour cream, guacamole, or salsa if you like.

*If you or your kids have access to a microwave at school/work, this would make a great lunch with a flour tortilla heated for a bit just to melt the cheese.  Wrap it in parchment paper to keep it safe for microwaving (plastic wraps and containers leach chemicals into your food in the microwave and obviously foil causes a little fireworks show — something the lunch lady might not be so pleased about).