Thursday, August 18, 2011

Man made.

Below is the recipe for an incredibly delicious, simple sandwich created by my husband, Mat.  Far greater than the sum of its parts, the Zucchini Grilled Cheese is served at our house on a regular basis, usually for breakfast, especially in summer, when everyone is up to their ears in sweet, fresh zucchini.  It doesn't seem like anything particularly special, but there's something about the delicate flavor of the zucchini, the slight tang of the cheese and the nuttiness of the bread that makes for a surprisingly satisfying combo. My favorite part about it? It's one of a handful of dishes Mat makes for me!

Mat's Zucchini Grilled Cheese

  • 4 slices whole wheat sandwich bread (I prefer regular wheat over honey wheat so the sweetness of the bread doesn't overpower the flavor of the zucchini.)
  • 1 medium or large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 4 oz. cheddar cheese,* thinly sliced (Munster, american, provalone, or Monterey Jack will do)
  • Butter
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Few pinches of salt and few turns of the pepper mill

Optional: Texas Pete or another straight-forward hot sauce.

*I know it's kind of sacrilegious to eat low-fat cheese but Cabot's 50% fat cheddar works just fine in this sandwich and I have used it on many occasions.

Preheat cast iron skillet on medium.  You can use a well-seasoned traditional or enamel skillet.  Any pan will do, but the way cast iron holds heat creates a nice, crisp crust.

Put the sliced zucchini on a plate, drizzle with olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper and then use your fingers to rub the oil and seasonings into the zucchini, coating every surface.

Fill the hot pan with zucchini slices, laying them flat, without crowding or overlapping.  Cook till browned on one side, 3-4 minutes.  Flip the slices, then brown the other side, 2-3 minutes.  These times are a guide.  Keep an eye on them and use your judgement.  In our house, we like them really browned, with some charred bits, but I expect most people prefer a more delicate, golden brown as shown in the photo.

Once the slices are done on both sides, move them to the prep plate and add the next batch of zucchini.  Depending on the size of the zucchini and your pan, it will take 2-3 batches.

While the zucchini is cooking, thinly slice cheese using a knife or the slicing side of a box grater.  Butter one side of each piece of bread.  Once the pan is free of zucchini, place one or two pieces of bread in the pan (depending on your pan size), buttered side down.  Carefully place the cheese slices on the bread, covering the entire surface, then top with another slice of bread, buttered side up.  Cook on medium-low until brown, 2-3 minutes on 1st side, slightly less on the second side.  Again, watch carefully and adjust time accordingly.

After removing the sandwich from the pan, let sit for a minute, then carefully, using your fingers, pry apart the two pieces of bread, without breaking them, layer half the zucchini in the middle, dot with Texas Pete or your favorite hot sauce, close it back up and if necessary continue with the second sandwich.  Delicious warm or room temperature.

Vegan option:  Prepare zucchini as directed, toast the bread, spread Earth Balance on toast, then layer with zucchini and hot sauce. I like to eat the vegan version open face. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watermelon love.

It's starts early at our house.  Zoe, 10 months.
I am a watermelon fanatic. Sometimes I lay in bed thinking about what I would do without watermelon if I survived the apocalypse.  After a minute I have to think about something else because it's so disconcerting and there's really no substitute.  

During the summer months we always have cold watermelon in the fridge and an uncut melon on the counter so we never run out. I adore it in every imaginable way but have often found that watermelon drinks usually miss the mark.  Strange consistency, off-flavor and temperature problems are some of the things that come to mind.  

I love the idea of watermelon drinks because at their best they are refreshing, hydrating, summery and perfectly sweet.  And they can be a creative solution for that last hunk of melon that's been sitting in the fridge. Additionally, they are very versatile:  equally delicious in cocktails or as a slushie for a child's birthday party.

Watermelon Slushie

My 5-year-old daughter, Savana, showed me the method for this super yummy slushie after learning how to make it in day camp.  Nothing revolutionary but really good on a hot day.

2-3 cups cubed, seedless (or de-seeded) watermelon
1/4 - 1/3 cup light agave nectar (or 1/3 cup sugar) 
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
3-4 cups ice cubes (if you use frozen strawberries then you'll need less ice, closer to 2 cups) 

Add watermelon, lemon juice and 1/4 cup agave to the jar of your blender and blend on high until smooth (about 20 seconds).  You may have to press down the melon with a spoon.  Be sure and stop the blender before doing so.   
Add strawberries and blend until smooth (about 20 seconds).
Add ice to blender a handful at a time, blending in between batches for 10 seconds or so (until smooth). 
Take a little taste and add a couple more tablespoons of agave if necessary. The sweetness of the watermelon and strawberries can vary quite a bit from batch to batch, so this ensures it's never too sweet. 

*If you use fresh strawberries it will have a more liquid-y consistency.  If you use frozen then it will be thicker and more daiquiri like.  Serves 4.

As I said, I will eat watermelon any which way. It grows on every continent except Anatarica and so is a part of many different cuisines.  Some of which highlight it in very interesting ways:  Russian pickled watermelon,  Indian watermelon curry, and Sicilian watermelon pudding, to name a few. Below, is a Greek themed watermelon salad for those of you who are a little more adventurous and enjoy a sweet/savory flavor combo.  It's lovely with warm, whole wheat pita dripping in olive oil. 

Watermelon Salad

I adapted this recipe from one featured in Saveur magazine.  And while it's easy and delicious, very late at night I have been known to just eat chunks of watermelon, feta and whole kalamatas while standing at the kitchen sink. 

6 cups cold, seedless (or de-seeded) watermelon, cut into roughly 1 inch cubes
2-4 oz. crumbled feta cheese (about 1/8 - 1/4 cup), according to taste
15 kalamata olives*
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 lime, halved

jalapeƱo, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 small red or sweet onion, thinly sliced and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes (sometimes I don't have the patience for this and the result is a much more onion-y experience)

In a medium bowl gently toss watermelon, olives, mint (& jalapeno and onion, if using). Add salt and crushed black pepper to taste.
Sprinkle with feta and squeeze the juice of the lime over the other ingredients, very gently mixing to distribute feta throughout then divide between four bowls. This salad can be eaten as is or over a bed of arugula or mixed greens with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  

*If your kalamatas come with pits (the yummiest do), then you can pit them by laying them on a cutting board and using the flat side of the blade of a large chef's knife, gently smash each olive.  Once they are smashed you can remove the pit easily with your fingers and then tear each olive into two or three pieces before adding them to the mixing bowl.  Serves 4.

Watermelon is a great source of essential vitamins A and C. It's also a good source of Vitamins B6 and B1, which both aid the nervous system, among other things. Watermelon also contains a high concentration of the cancer fighting carotenoid lycopene.  And as you can imagine, it helps prevent dehydration: consisting of 92% water and beneficial amounts of rehydrating salts such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium.  For detailed info about watermelon's nutritional content and benefits go here.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Fifth Element.

I recently read a fabulous article which was very reflective of my approach to vegetarian cooking.  Seek satisfaction at all costs!

Seriously, though. If you can keep your taste buds happy and get enough of the right kind of calories then you'll be a much more successful vegetarian.  Make delicious meals that appeal to your palate and hunger level and you will come away from the table feeling truly satisfied and like you're not missing a thing!

Read the article below for some wonderful insight into umami, which is the largely unknown fifth taste identified by the Japanese, after bitter, salty, sour and sweet.  It is found in a variety of foods such as dried mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, aged cheese, seaweed, fish and meats and can be described as mouthwateringly savory.  Familiarizing yourself with its sources and focusing on incorporating those foods into your recipes will help you a great deal when you're first becoming vegetarian or vegan.  And for those of you who've been cooking veg for years, adding some umami elements to the dishes you love to make will surprise you in new and amazing ways.  I've been experimenting with my Thai dishes, which I've always felt have been a little weak due to the absence of seafood.  I'll post some recipes when they're completed.  For now, try out some of the recipes in the article or experiment on your own.  And by all means, share the love if you create something that makes you swoon.

The Secret Life of Veggies by Eric Gower:

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Antoine

Any cook can tell you there is a kitchen equivalent to a bad hair day.  Those perplexing and humbling days when everything you attempt ends up just "wrong" in an indefinable way. 
These off days drive me crazy and I usually end up cooking one horrid thing after another in a frustrated attempt to produce something edible.  I've only recently begun to surrender. Now, when I burn the breakfast, I flee.  I pack the girls into the car and we head out in search of something good.  We usually end up at my Mom's house. Or at our local community kitchen (which serves 3 vegetarian meals a day.)  Or, if it's a really bad day, we drive 45 minutes to Charlottesville for the best bagel sandwiches on Earth.

Thankfully, in the spirit of balance, there are also days of sublime inspiration. Days when someone walks into your kitchen hungry and half an hour later you're perched on stools relishing some new and expressive dish.

The sandwich in this post was inspired by our dear friend Tony who lives next door.   He's actually more family than friend.  And by "next door," I mean he lives in a little apartment in our house, separated only by a that is open more often than closed.

I'm grossly understating by calling him an animal lover.  Or a plant lover. It's more accurate to say that Tony is a life-lover. A few months back he heard someone speak about the realities of the dairy industry for the first time.  It had a big impact on him and he immediately began to avoid dairy.  But, being Tony, he didn't label himself as vegan or make a big deal out of his dietary preferences.  He never wants to put anyone out.

When he first moved in he didn't have a functional kitchen for a while so I was often cooking for him, along with Mat and the girls.  What's one more mouth to feed?  In Tony's case it was really a treat for me to cook for him.  Not only was it a wonderful challenge to create some new grown-up, vegan fair, but it was also incredibly rewarding.

Tony is a very enthusiastic person in general and Italian by descent, so he eats with bottomless gusto.  He groans and oohs and ahhs throughout the meal and then adamantly declares it the best of his life.  Every. Single. Time.  You can't help but want to cook for him.

So, in honor of a very happy eater, The Antoine:

2 slices of lightly toasted bread of your choice (I use European style rustic whole grain or Ezekiel bread)
1/2 an avocado, mashed with a fork (You can halve it again and mash directly onto each slice of bread)
Sriracha hot sauce
4 or 5 roasted red pepper strips (homemade or your favorite brand)
6 - 8 fresh basil leaves
A handful of fresh, baby spinach

Optional: Mozzarella (fresh or low-moisture whole milk), very thinly sliced, enough to cover one slice of bread.

Mash the avocado with a pinch of salt then spread half on each slice of bread.  Polka-dot the Sriracha (to taste, it's spicy!) all over the avocado on one slice, then lay down the red peppers evenly on the same slice, followed by the basil and spinach. If you are using mozzarella, cover the other piece of bread evenly with the sliced mozzarella and then close up the sandwich, slice in half and enjoy!

A little about the how's and why's of this sandwich:

Avocado is a wonderful, nutrient rich replacement for mayonaise or even veganaise. It contains all those healthy, satisfying fats that our bodies actually need along with a surprising amount of fiber for something so decadent: five grams!  

Spinach is a great source of many essential nutrients and antioxidents.  It's rich in both calcium and iron which are two minerals to be aware of when eating a plant based diet.   

Fresh basil works well both with the hot sauce in a Thai sort of way and with the red peppers and mozzerella in a Mediterranean way.

The roasted red peppers and Sriracha hot sauce complement each other well and offer a nice flavor counterpoint to the creamy avocado.  Red peppers are rich in vitamin C and betacarotein.  

Whole grain bread is always a good bet: it offers more fiber (which aids digestion), is full of nutrients and fuels your body for longer than a white bread, which is essentially a refined sugar.  

Mozzerella and red peppers are a classic match that I've adored for years.  When I lived in Brooklyn ten years ago, there was an amazing Italian deli, Paneantico, just down the block from our apartment.  They made a sandwhich with fresh mozz and marinated roasted red peppers that I still crave on a regular basis. Everything made in house, usually that morning. Heaven. 

For those of you interested in knowing more about the health benefits of various superfoods, go to  Thank you, Sumati, for turning me on to this info packed site.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shake it, baby.

I broke my toe on Saturday night.  Not while dancing at a party or playing soccer with my nephews on my sister's lawn.  I smacked it on my stair stepper which had been sitting in the walkway for over a week, annoying the heck out of my husband Mat. "Why don't you move this thing?" he asked me the night before.  At which point I shot him a dirty look that said, "Why don't you?" Ok, so I had it coming.

Our house is perpetually cluttered these days. I've been stay-at-home-moming it for 5+ years now and it's starting to take it's toll on my housekeeping sensibilities.  We moved into a small, finished part of our largely unfinished house a year and a half ago and we still have boxes in a couple of corners.  My husband is starting a business and I'm usually running around after our toddler, Zoe or trying to explain the nature of the Universe to my very inquisitive 5-year-old, Savana.  But now, with the broken toe, there is an especially large pile of laundry on the sofa, dishes in the sink, and a locked front door so they can't run away.  If they got out, I don't think I'd be able to catch them!

Most people who come to our house can tell you that the better part of my day is spent in the kitchen.  We are an abnormally hungry family, who all turn into gremlins if we don't eat every couple of hours.  So for the sanity of our life, I make a lot of food...all day long.  We each have different nutritional needs and preferences so it's not uncommon for me to make 8 different things in one day.  All of which usually involve standing around the kitchen.

Now, did I mention that I can't really walk?  Who knew the pinky toe played such an important role in mobility? It's been a rude awakening.  One that can only be battled with humor.  Particulary since broken toe or no, life goes on.  The girls keep moving, Mat makes the money, and I cook...or not. These days I get out the blender.

There's a lot of talk these days about whole foods and upping our fruit and veggie intake. But I think a lot of Americans have a hard time eating that much. I know, I know. What? Americans love to eat! Yes, Americans love to eat high calorie foods, and we're really good at it.  But if you're eating lower calorie, bulkier foods then eating can be a lot of work.  Both my husband and daughter will not eat certain greens (kale, for instance) just because they take too long to chew!  There's also a impression that whole foods (usually unpackaged, unprocessed foods) can often take longer to prepare.  Which is true if you get fancy. But if you start out simply, with a blender, you can very easily up your intake of fruits, veggies and easily digestible protein without much effort.  

I've recently been using Garden of Life Raw Protein ( which is a plant based, raw protein powder with probiotics (for digestive tract health) and no preservatives or added sugars.  I've  tried many protein powders over the years and this digests easily and has a very natural, neutral taste.  No chalky, cloying vanilla or chocolate flavoring here.  

It has 18 grams of protein per serving (one scoop), which is equivalent to the protein content in a regular hamburger, 3 large hard boiled eggs, 1 cup cooked lentils, or 3 oz. of tuna.  So if you fill the blender with fresh or frozen fruits or veggies, nut milks or juices and this powder, you can usually increase your servings of fruits and veggies by 3 or 4.  And give yourself a fabulous, digestible, absorbable protein boost that's good for the planet.  

I've listed below a couple of the shakes I've been drinking this week.  Just some ideas to get you going. These are a great way to start the day, finish a workout or as a bedtime snack for those who have to go to bed with something in their me!

Shake Idea No. 1

Add ingredients sequentially to ensure even mixing:

1 ripe banana
1 ripe, peeled mango (a vegetable peeler works well)
1 large handful of fresh baby spinach (go for organic greens if you can)
Juice of 1/4 lime, squeezed directly into blender jar
1/4 cup water (or 1/2 cup coconut milk or coconut water)
4 ice cubes

Blend until smooth (about 20 seconds).

This is a good base if you like to keep things simple or if you are just beginning to explore fruit and veg shakes.  To make it a little more special add:

2 or 3 sprigs of fresh basil
1 heaping tablespoon of ground flax seeds

And, if you like, add a scoop of Garden of Life Raw Protein or protein powder of your choice.

Shake Idea No. 2

My toddler loved this shake.

Add ingredients sequentially to ensure even mixing:

1/2 cup non-fat yogurt (organic if possible)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 banana
1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen, organic if possible)
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen, organic if possible)
2 large leaves of red chard without tough center rib (or handful of     baby spinach, both organic if possible)

If you use fresh berries add 4 ice cubes then blend until smooth (about 20 seconds).

For more nutritional goodness add:
1 T flax seed  OR
1 scoop Garden of Life Raw Protein or protein powder of your choice.