Corn and Radish Salsa

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…and some other things, of course! If you just want the “recipe,” it’s something like:

Saute a bag of Trader Joe’s fire-roasted corn kernels in a little bit olive oil and salt. (Or other frozen corn.) Scrape the warm kernels into a bowl and add a pint of quartered cherry tomatoes, one seeded, finely diced jalapeno, 1/4 of a finely chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, a handful of fresh radishes, halved and thinly sliced, juice of one lime (or more to taste) and plenty of kosher salt. Enjoy over roasted meats, in burrito bowls, with chips, over eggs. We’ve had this twice this week thanks to the amazingly beautiful radishes coming in our produce box.

Recently, I listened again to Sylvia Boorstein’s On Being interview which has continued to have a profound impact on me since it aired the first time several years ago. In talking about discovering Buddhist practice, Sylvia says,

“I thought about becoming enlightened and that, if I practice meditation enough, that the challenges of life and the pain and the disappointments of it would just — I would sail over them with great equanimity…But the truth is that we are connected with empathic bonds of tremendous energy. I wouldn’t want it otherwise. I don’t want to sail above my emotional life. I don’t want to complicate my emotions with worse complications by struggling with what I can’t change or by reacting without thinking things through. In the beginning, I think I had a more lofty idea of what would happen if I practiced a lot, become a lot more pedestrian. I’d like to live kindly with a good heart because I’ll be the happiest that way…Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.

I love this so much. Not taking the spiritual bypass, not sitting on our meditation cushions while we manage to avoid the everyday tasks and relationships that need the most attention in our lives.

Last night, by some miracle, I really did make this radish salsa “in a sweet way.” With the dog at my feet (I’m going to trip over him and break my ankle someday), Loretta hovering and asking, “What’s for dinner?”, Wyatt kissing me on his way to basketball practice, Yancey fiddling with his Goodwill stereo in the garage. The okayness of life settled over me and I could say again, with Julian of Norwich, “All is well and shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

America's Test Kitchen (ATK) mailed me their new cookbook and asked me to make something. Twist my arm. 

I get loads of solicitations in my inbox, and I say no to 99.9% of them. I don't want to clog your feed with product placements and fake enthusiasm for cookware or food novelties that no one needs. Practice is really the key, not expensive pans or specialty food items. And ATK espouses that so beautifully. I've learned so much from letting those 50 test cooks do the work and then tell me about it!

America's Test Kitchen 100 Recipes has countless gorgeous photos and the rationale behind every recipe. The back page says, "Master twenty recipes in this book and you will have earned the right to call yourself a great cook." I love that. It's not about novelty or creativity. Just getting in the kitchen and doing it. (And knowing a good recipe when you see one. Or letting ATK take care of that for you.)

When I get a book like this in my hands, I'm always looking out for one thing--something to answer the perennial question of family dinner. For me, that's got to fit this criteria:

  1. 30-40 minutes
  2. Kid-friendly (thankfully, that's pretty easy with my kids)
  3. Not a heavy reliance on meat. I tend to use meat more as a flavoring than a main dish, and the more I read, the more I want to eat lower on the food chain.
  4. Bonus if I don't have to go to the store.

This soup fit the bill. And as it happens, people will be eating at three different times tonight (basketball season is upon us), so something that can be easily heated up is even better.

This soup gets its creamy mouth feel from olive oil and bread that becomes a silken puree in the blender. And the croutons are good, old-fashioned full-of-butter cubes of loveliness which I'll need to hide so they don't get devoured without the soup. All it needs is a salad or some grilled cheese sandwiches. Or both, if you don't have to make six trips to the Boys and Girls Club gym.

In this week of giving thanks, it occurs to me how many millions of people might not be in the mood, and how underservedly lucky I am to have a stove to cook on, a pantry that's filled, and a bed to sleep in. It's always cold somewhere, and I hope the love I give today, in the kitchen and elsewhere, warms this world up a little bit. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8. Make sure to purchse canned whole tomatoes in juice, not puree. If half of the soup fills your blender by more than two-thirds, process the soup in 3 batches.

 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1" pieces
1 Tb. packed brown sugar
2 c. chicken broth
2 Tb. brandy (optional)
1/4 c. chopped fresh chives
1 recipe butter croutons (see below) 

Heat 2 Tb. oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, if using, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in bread and sugar. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Transfer soup to blender. Add 1 Tb. oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and remaining 1 Tb. oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy, if using. return soup to boil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with croutons.

Butter Croutons
Thick-sliced bread works best. Do not use thin-sliced. Either fresh or stale bread can be used. If using stale, reduce the cooking time by about 2 minutes.

 6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/2" cubes (about 3 cups)
salt and pepper
3 Tb. unsalted butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to upper middle position and heat to 350. Combine bread cubes and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Drizzle with butter and toss well with rubber spatula to combine.

Spread cubes in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Bake croutons until golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking. Let cool on a baking sheet to room temperature. (Crotouns can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.) 

Tomato Carrot Soup

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If you're around me for more than 2 minutes, you'll probably hear me talk about Monday Night Dinner. When we moved up to Bellingham 2 years ago, I could foresee a problem. Though we strategically bought a house 4 minutes from my parents, I wondered how often we'd see one another. Coordinating, though I'm good at it, is the bane of my existence. Propose a set of dates and times, fiddle around with who can do what, set a date, remind everyone when the dates gets close, reschedule because someone gets sick, and do the whole thing all over again. Agh! Hell!

So I proposed dinner once a week. Weekends? Forget it. Everyone's too busy. Thursday is the new Friday, so Thursdays are out. Everything else seems to be scheduled on a Tuesday or Wednesday so Mondays were the obvious choice. And to say "Every Second and Fourth" or other such nonsense seemed too much to keep track of. And it's not a potluck. No retirees around here. Everyone's coming straight from work.

So were were doing that with my parents for a few months when my father-in-law (who lives TWO minutes away) caught wind of it and started coming. Then my sister-in-law and her family said, "What about us?" Then my father-in-law's partner and her girls said, "What about us?" So we are now 12. I reserve the right to cancel whenever I'm getting home too late or otherwise overwhelmed, so we average about 3 Mondays/month.

As you might imagine, the key here is to keep it simple. Stupidly simple. A dozen people on a weeknight with an 8:30 bedtime for the kids means the following:

  • Buffet style. Always.
  • I know it should mean paper plates, but it doesn't. I've asked everyone else to do dishes. Cooks privilege, right?
  • Nothing too spicy. 
  • Customizable--endless "build-your-own" menu items like rice bowls, burritos, spring rolls. We have rice and beans a lot.
  • Shopping and prep on the weekend. Not too much prep, though, which would break the Stupidly Simple rule.
  • Huge batches. Huge. Usually with a seasonal salad (last night it was kale, slivered raw fennel, dried figs, and apple) and some kind of starch in case the kids don't like the main dish. Rice saves the day always.
  • No appetizers and no dessert unless someone else decides to show up with them.

And yes, soup. So much soup! This is why it was invented. Beef barley, minestrone, Thai chicken, tortilla. And Tomato Carrot. I always have canned tomatoes around and about 6 bags of half-finished carrots floating around in my produce drawers. It doesn't matter how dried out they get--they'll still make great soup! Serve this with grilled cheese sandwiches and some bitter greens and everyone will be happy.

And what do I get out of Monday Night Dinners? Besides a teensy bit of exhaustion? A lot. Loretta and her cousin Hazel disappear into the basement and play all night. Wyatt plays indoor hoops with Yancey's dad and hangs around the adults making (very funny) jokes. I don't have to leave my house. I can see almost all my family in one place once a week, which is a miracle. I get lots of thanks and appreciation, and I know the walls of this house soak up the noise, laughter, and cooking steam. Life is way too short not to see the people you love.

Tomato Carrot Soup
This soup can be made vegan--use water instead of chicken stock and leave out the cream. Or non-dairy--use the chicken stock but leave out the cream. I think the cream gives it a lovely richness, but if you cook the veggies long enough and have a powerful blender, you'll get almost the same creaminess without it. 

Big glug of olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 or 4 large carrots (or the equivalent baby carrots), peeled and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
2 28 oz. cans canned whole tomatoes with juice
Enough chicken stock or water to cover everything by about 2"
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4-1 c. heavy cream (optional) 

Heat olive oil in a large heavy stockpot. Add onions until getting soft, 7 or 8 minutes, then add garlic, carrots, and bay leaf and sauté for about 5 minutes more. Add tomatoes and chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially cover, and cook until everything is soft, about 30 minutes. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cream if desired and warm. Serve with a swirl of cream on top.

Almost-Fresh Salsa

salsa

Here is the dilemma:

Our family goes through a lot of salsa, mostly because one of the sacred rites around here is Sunday night nachos. (You should try it. 10 minutes, everyone loves it, and it's sometimes in front of the TV. Heaven.) I hate chopping and seeding mealy tomatoes in the winter. It's a lot of work for a disappointing result. There is some delicious fresh salsa out there, but the kind I really like is $6 for a small tub! Wyatt and Yancey would slurp that in 10 seconds. And canned salsa has never floated my condiment boat. Too sweet, flat, or weird.

Enter "Almost-Fresh Salsa," a recipe given to me by Emily who got it from her ex-boyfriend who got it from his Mom. And you guessed it--it uses canned tomatoes. I cannot keep enough canned tomatoes in the house. I've heard the packaging makes them bad for you, but have plugged my ears on that public service announcement. You only live once, right? If I don't smoke or eat fast food, I can be crazy and use canned tomatoes. 

This salsa meets my criteria of tasting good. Who cares if something is fresh but it tastes like crap! Or if it's "all natural" but you can only choke down a spoonful. About to step onto a soapbox here, but some of the recipes floating around on Pinterest or Foodgawker look absolutely awful. I'd rather have a banana for every meal than concoct some of the "good-for-you" things out there. (Speaking of bananas and Pinterest, this post is really funny.)

And if you have a salsa soapbox, you know I'd love to hear about it. 

Almost-Fresh Salsa
If you double or tripe this recipe (not a bad idea), don't double or triple the garlic. It will inedible the next day. Maybe add just a tiny bit more. And you'll notice this doesn't have any lime. The acidity balance is perfect without it.

1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, drained
1 seeded jalapeno (or to taste)
1 garlic clove
big handful chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c. finely sliced green onions
coarse salt

In the bowl of a food processor (or by hand), chop the garlic and jalapeno. Add the drained tomatoes and pulse a few times until salsa reaches desired consistency (slightly chunky, not a puree.) Remove tomato mixture from bowl and add cilantro, green onion, and salt to taste. 

Tomato Confit

tomato confit

I heard an interview with Jacques Pepin today. For his culinary school students, he devised this final test: roast chicken and roast potatoes. He told them not to try to stand out or surprise him. He said all the chickens would be different from one another anyway. And if you pour yourself a glass of wine while it's roasting, it will matter less if it's burnt.

Amen.

Isn't it wonderful when the best things turn out to be the simplest? That's these tomatoes. Take whatever half-wilted fresh tomatoes might be wasting away in the pantry. (In my case, it was a combination of pear tomatoes from Trader Joes and a few "vine ripened" ones from the grocery that never made it into a salad. Yes, I sometimes buy tomatoes in the winter. Prosecute me.) Since you probably won't have a ton of those (you, ethical reader, NEVER transgress like me), add  them to a can of diced or whole tomatoes that you drain. Combine your tomato medley in a roasting pan and sprinkle liberally with coarse salt, a tiny bit of sugar, and a huge glug of olive oil. Roast at 300 for at least an hour, longer if you have time. The uses are limitless--with eggs, on top of pizza, on a baguette. Straight from the pan. Yum.

In the "simple is spectacular" vein, we were playing games around the coffee table last night, the evening light was pouring through our windows, and I ran for my camera. I've clicked through these photos a million times already today, thankful to the millionth power for my husband, my son, my daughter and that we're in each other's orbit every day. Amen.

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Tomato Barley Soup

Tomato barley soup

Three generations. Riding bikes in the sun. 

After our bike ride with Grammy, Poppy, and the kids yesterday, I told Yancey, "This is a very short window. The oldest are healthy, the youngest can ride a 2-wheeler, and the 10 year-old still wants to be with us." A little blip on the screen, really. And all the more precious for it.

After our ride, we came back to the house and grandparents played cards with kids while I made dinner. We have people over a couple times a week, and I usually plan ahead more than I did last night. Nothing prepped, chopped, or even dreamed up. (I did have a pitcher of Sanity Sangria in the fridge, which buys a lot of time. That came into being as it always does--two half-finished, very mediocre bottles of red wine. A little triple sec and some fruit juice and a miraculous transformation ensues.)

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Enter Refrigerator Soup, though I've named it something else here. A vegetable soup like this: 

  1. Is a wonderful way to pack in oodles of veggies.
  2. Makes great leftovers (not that I have ever devoted any time to thinking about that).
  3. Is endlessly variable.
  4. Makes a pretty picture.
  5. Kind of demands biscuits. I made a divine variation, which I'll post later this week.

Loretta only ate half her bowl, but that's alright. Look at this face. It's hard to be tough about anything.

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Tomato Barley Soup
The great thing about a soup like this is that it's almost impossible to mess it up. Don't go light on the salt, taste as you go, and have fun cleaning out your fridge!

 1/4 c. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped or thinly sliced
2 large carrots, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
2 cans chicken stock (or water)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 head of small cabbage, finely shredded
Few big handfuls of chopped fresh kale 
1/2 cup quick-cooking barley (or 1 cup cooked grain, like rice)
big handful fresh basil, coarsely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
lots of coarse salt
pepper 

Heat up the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add carrots, red pepper, and garlic, and sauté until soft, about 10 more minutes. 

Add chicken stock and tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Stick an immersion blender in and puree about 1/4 of the soup to give it more body.

Add cabbage, kale, and barley and cook for 10 minutes. Add basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and add more of anything to taste (including more water if you want your soup thinner).

Serve unadorned or with lemon zest, parmesan, or more basil on top.

Emily's Favorite Caponata

caponata

Emily and Ricky came up a couple weeks ago for her birthday, and she requested eggplant caponata. Then my neighbor Megan left a jar of caponata at my door a few days later. Then I had one more eggplant left and made it again last night for my parents. I don't think too much eggplant ever did anyone in. 

As I've mentioned ad nauseum, we've had lots of dinner guests lately. It wouldn't work if I laboriously menu-planned, set a nice table, or worried about things like appetizers. BUT, having a little something to nibble is a favorite hostess trick, giving me time to pile dirty dishes in the sink, take off my apron (if I remember), and act like things are more effortless than they really are. 

This caponata is absolutely delicious, a big saute pan is all you need, and one batch should get you through two nights of company. I've made it with fresh or canned tomatoes, with or without red chile flakes, and even without the flourish of fresh basil at the end. That's for the summer, which I'm not sure whether we're having or not. I keep bugging Joe's Garden about the basil. They just smile and say, "That's the sun's job." And the sun is nowhere to be found. But this little number might cheer you up.

Emily's Favorite Caponata
Adapted from Epicurious. Makes about 2 cups. Leftovers are delicious over eggs, spread on panini, or a million other ways.

5 Tb. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1.5 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/2" dice
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, some of the juices drained, or equivalent amt. fresh tomatoes
3 Tb. red wine vinegar
2 Tb. drained capers
1/4 c. chiffonaded fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
red chile flakes 

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add eggplant, onion, and garlic cloves. sauté until eggplant is soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, then red wine vinegar and drained capers. Cover and simmer until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh basil. Taste and see if it needs any salt (capers add a lot of salt). Grind a bit of fresh pepper and add a dash of chile flakes if you want. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Serve with crackers, pita, or grilled bread. 

BLT Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

BLT salad

This is the first meal I made in our new (summer) home. Nothing revolutionary, but easy, delicious, and just right for when the temperature climbs to a blistering 70 degrees around here. To celebrate, we went for a dunk in Lake Whatcom, which happens to be right outside our door.

Some other tidbits about our move and our new life in Bellingham: 

  • There are deer everywhere up here.  At first, I was incredulous when my Mom suggested Wyatt pursue them with his slingshot.  Then, after noticing they had eaten all my pots down to nothing, I'm reconsidering.
  • Wyatt climbed up in the cherry tree while the moving van was idling in the driveway of our Seattle house. I told him he could have a few last minutes up there. He sobbed so loudly he could be heard down the whole block. It was heartbreaking, but I love that he feels things so deeply. 
  • The Bellingham Farmers Market is indeed amazing. Wyatt got a lavender lemon popsicle and I bought some kale. Of course.
  • Our rental (and the fixer we purchased down the hill!) are right on an interurban trail system. We are in heaven, going for lots of bike rides and spending an inordinate amount of time outside.
  • In spite of not being unpacked yet, in the last five days I have managed to make basil shortbread, a giant platter of carnitas, rhubarb crisp, and have people over for dinner twice. There's some pent-up cooking energy going on, for sure.

This morning, at the kitchen table, the kids chattering in the living room and Yancey still asleep, my parents' cat meowing at the front door, I feel complete. We have landed, and it is good.

BLT Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
Serves 4. I've given instructions to make one big bowl, but you could plate the salad up individually. 

For salad:
1 large head lettuce, washed and torn
1 bunch watercress, washed and stems (mostly) removed 
2 c. fresh bread cubes
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb. bacon, cooked until crispy and coarsely chopped
1 large avocado, cubed 
4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced into wedges 
handful of crumbled feta 

For dressing:
1 medium avocado
juice of one lemon
1/2 bunch cilantro, washed 
salt and pepper
one garlic clove
water to thin 

To make croutons, heat 2 Tb. of olive oil in a heavy skillet.  When oil is hot (but not smoking), add bread cubes, salt, and pepper. Saute until bread is crispy on all sides, but not hard (about 5 minutes). Set aside.

Arrange greens in a large salad bowl. Lightly toss with 1/2 of other ingredients--avocado, feta, bacon, eggs, and croutons. Arrange the rest of ingredients on top of the salad.

To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Thin with water to desired consistency.

Drizzle dressing over salad.

Analog Sundays

Pantry Minnestrone

So far, so good. A few weeks ago, I resolved to not open the computer on Sundays. It's amazing to wake up in the morning knowing I won't be beholden to anyone's urgent email or sucked into reading Facebook updates. Emily has been talking a lot about Sabbath lately, so I suppose it's rubbing off. One of her current favorite quotes from Sabbath by Wayne Muller:

"I have sat on dozens of boards and commissions with many fine, compassionate, and generous people who are so tired, overwhelmed, and overworked that they have neither the time nor the capacity to listen to the deeper voices that speak to the essence of the problems before them.  Presented with the intricate and delicate issues of poverty, public health, community well-being, and crime, our impulse, born of weariness, is to rush headlong toward doing anything that will make the problem go away.  Maybe then we can finally go home and get some rest.  But without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in the problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief.  Born of desperation, it often contains enough fundamental inaccuracy to guarantee an equally perplexing problem will emerge as soon as it is put into place.  In the soil of the quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable."

I love how he contrasts our default problem-solving methods with "quiet wisdom." I haven't been trying to solve world poverty on Sundays, but I sure have felt some of that quiet strength.

Space Needle

And I've been making soup. A quick fridge-cleaning produces a pot to share at church, and the kitchen volunteers are always happy to receive it. Last week, I used leftover chickpea curry. I dumped it in a pot with leftover rice, added water, another can of tomatoes, and fresh spinach. The only problem, of course, is being asked for the recipe--"Make too much chickpea curry, and leave it forgotten in the fridge for a few days. Pull it out, find some cooked rice in the back, and see what you can do it with it."

This week, the bits in the pantry and produce drawer were much more accommodating if, for instance, the cook were a food blogger and wanted to scrounge up something to keep her faithful readers on the line.

P.S. Seattle friends, when was the last time you were at Volunteer Park? The leaves are turning, all the lovers and families were out yesterday afternoon, and I even got Yancey to take a picture of ME, for once. Oh--and those rascally children of mine.
Volunteer Park

Pantry Minestrone
These were the things I happened to have around, but you could certainly use lots of other things--white beans instead of kidney and garbanzo, shredded cabbage or spinach instead of kale, carrots and celery.

Couple big glugs of olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow or red pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, finely chopped
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
couple handfuls chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and lemon thyme)
1 bay leaf
pinch red pepper flakes
1 or 2 parmesan rinds
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 14-oz. can kidney beans, drained
3/4 c. small elbow macaroni
1/4 c. fine bulgar
1 bunch fresh kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
water
juice of one small lemon

Saute olive oil in a big stockpot. Add onion, garlic, diced pepper, and zucchini. Saute for five minutes, then add salt, pepper fresh herbs, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes. Saute for a couple minutes, then add parmesan rind, tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, and enough water to cover by a couple inches. Bring to a simmer, then add macaroni and bulgar. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until pasta is tender. Take out a couple cupfuls (or stick an immersion blender in there) and puree. Add puree back to soup, add chopped kale and lemon juice, and stir. Add more water along the way at any point, and taste at the end, adding more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh herbs, or lemon juice to taste. Serve with chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

 

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

roasted vegetable lasagne
By now, you've all made your Roasted Tomato Sauce, right? Good. Get that gooey jar out.

Before the recipe, I want to say that I'm ending this week with a lot of gratitude. A couple days ago, I was extremely anxious about work--the kind of anxiety that causes one to forget about lunch (unheard of around here!), tense up everywhere, and take an inventory of everything I don't know and can't do. I am much better now, thanks to some stern self-talk, coaching from my mentor, and a bouquet of flowers from my husband. I've had lots of learning this week, but here's a big one: Asking for help is a good idea. Vulnerability, though we hate it, turns out to be the only real path to success and connection sometimes.

And a little lasagne never hurt, either. I love the meat-laden 9x13 as much as the next person. But if you want something different and less artery-clogging, this is it. This was a true leftoverist meal--sauce from a couple days ago, mushrooms and squash from the produce stand, a fennel bulb knocking around underneath the wrinkling peppers in the crisper. On my way home from the library, trying to remember what was in my fridge, I stopped at the store for lasagne noodles and créme fraiche. Everything else was here. Something else to be grateful for--this crazy, stuffed fridge of mine, doling out plenty in a time of want.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne
I'm a big fan of the no-boil lasagne noodles. They're EASY, and so much more tender than the curly, tough kind. You can cut right through these with a fork. The key is to make sure they're totally covered in sauce (doesn't have to be a thick layer, but make sure there are no dry noodles hanging around) and to loosely tent your casserole with foil while baking--a little steam helps the noodles soften up, too. And this exact combo of veggies isn't necessary. I wouldn't sub out the mushrooms, as they bring a needed meatiness and texture. But you could do more mushrooms and less squash, leave out the fennel, sub eggplant for squash. The layers in this version might be a bit more scant than other lasagnes you've made--I think that makes it better.


4 cups roasted tomato sauce (or fresh tomato sauce or marinara)
1 pkg.(9 oz.) no-boil lasagne noodles
1.5 lb crimini or portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped (i.e. halved if crimini are medium-size)
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced into 1/2" half-moons
8 whole garlic cloves
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
coarse salt
pepper
red pepper flakes
1/4 c. olive oil
3/4 c. créme fraiche or sour cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 lb. whole milk mozarella, grated
1 c. grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425.

Toss mushrooms, zucchini, fennel, and garlic cloves with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Toss with your hands till everything is evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until mixture is softening and charred in places, about 35 minutes. You don't want it so everything is non-distinct. Remove from oven and let cool and turn the oven down to 375.

Mix grated mozarella and parmesan in a small bowl and set aside.

In another small bowl, combine creme fraiche with lemon juice and set aside.

To assemble lasagne, pour 1 c. of the sauce into the bottom of a 9x13. Lay 4 of the lasagne sheets horizontally on the bottom, just slightly overlapping one another. Then layer 1/3 of roasted veggies, 1 c. of cheese mixture, drizzle of creme fraiche mixture, and one more cup of sauce. Repeat this twice more, using up all of the veggies and creme fraiche, but saving about 1 c. sauce and some cheese. Over the last (fourth) layer, put one more layer of lasagne noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheese over that.

Loosely tent with foil and bake until noodles are soft and the whole thing is bubbly, about 45-50 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes. Let rest at least 10 minutes before cutting it.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

roasted tomato sauce

A few handfuls of sungold tomatoes from the garden. Some wrinkled romas from ?? And a few beautiful heirlooms from Eastern Washington. Anxious to eat them before they all become wrinkled?

The Leftoversist solution is almost always to turn the oven to 400 and ROAST. At least it's fall now and I might not incur the wrath of those of you in hotter climes. This sauce is delicious in any form--tossed with pasta, spread atop crostini. But you'll want to have it ready in its cute little jar for the recipe I'm posting next. Weak-in-the-knees good. And pretty darn easy if you've done your roasting homework first.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Makes 3-4 cups. Preheat oven to 400. Buy or scrounge for about 2 pounds of tomatoes--any kind. Leave the cherry tomatoes whole, halve the romas, cut the big ones into quarters. Spread them out on a big baking sheet with 4 garlic cloves. Sprinkle a generous pinch of kosher salt, a little bit of sugar, and quite a bit of your best olive oil--about 1/3 cup. You want your tomatoes nice and oily with some to spare.
Roast for 45-60 minutes, until tomatoes are collapsing on themselves and maybe a bit charred in places. Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit. Dump the whole mess into your food processor bowl and pulse until you've got a fairly smooth sauce--some chunks are fine. Clearly, you've got all the seeds and skins in there. I didn't bother taking any of them out. The roasting sweetens everything (seeds can be bitter when raw) and the pureeing mashes those skins right up. Spoon the sauce into a jar. Will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days (or until I post next).

Pico de Gallo

pico de galloWe're just home from Sun Lakes with grandparents. Our last hurrah. Wyatt was acutely aware that summer's over. Whenever I tried to ask him how he felt about school starting, he'd say, "Mom! Don't talk about that yet."

park lake

Serious routine is about to kick in around here. Homework, being on time to the bus stop, diligently trying to get stains out of Wyatt's white polo shirts, Loretta starting preschool.

If I start to get overwhelmed by it all, remind me of Sun Lakes and Dry Falls. Remind me of the Ice Age floods that barreled through the desert, turning arid acres into an astonishing patchwork of lakes and canyons. Remind me of the forces that put human endeavors in their puny place, of the deep, cold water that is always there.

And remind me of end-of-summer bounty, like bright red Roma tomatoes and peppers, waiting to be diced, doused with lime, and spooned onto rice and beans or into tortillas. Goodbye, summer. Thank you for filling us up.

canoefishinghiking

Pico de Gallo
Makes 2 cups. Sometimes called "salsa fresca," this is the sort of condiment I assume everyone knows how to make. You, kind readers, have asked me not to make those assumptions, though. You can add diced cucumber to this, use any kind of spicy pepper, use the cherry tomatoes growing in your garden, or sub mangos or pineapple for the tomatoes.

10 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 jalapenos or other spicy peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 c. washed and finely chopped cilantro
Generous pinch of kosher salt
Juice of one large lime

Gently mix everything together in a medium bowl.

Candied Tomatoes

candied tomatoes

I got all heavy on you the last post. Carpe diem and stuff. And I just preached a sermon this morning, so I'm going do myself a favor, lay off the life lessons, and just say:

YUM.

I was actually a little sick this morning from eating so many of these last night. They were the main course, accompanied by fried bread, goat cheese, a bowl of grapes, and an incredible salad I'll post about soon. Yancey sat across from me (love Saturday nights when we're all home), reaching for more tomatoes and saying repeatedly, "This is what I'm talkin' about."

I like them best with bread and cheese, but there are countless uses. I threw leftovers into a barley salad, and they're delicious tossed with pasta and cream. You'll be talking, too.

Candied Tomatoes
I'm misleading you a little bit here--these are really just oven-roasted tomatoes with a bit of sugar, but they taste like candy to me. Preheat oven to 250. Take about 2 pounds of roma or campari tomatoes and cut them in half. Lay them out on a jelly roll pan, cut side facing up. Drizzle a good amount of your best olive oil over them--about 1/3 c. Sprinkle a couple teaspoons of coarse salt, a generous grind of black pepper, and 1 Tb. sugar.
Roast in the oven for about 5 hours, until they are shriveling up but still oily and juicy. Remove and let cool. You can remove them earlier or later--the consistency will change accordingly, but they'll be delectable no matter what.