Tag Archives: Lunch

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.)

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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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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