fast

5-Spice Pan Grilled Steak

By Lisa

It’s still hot in these parts, and last night, I was going to make your standard, California grilled steak, but when I opened the pantry yesterday morning to start the marinade I found I had neither enough balsamic vinegar nor any ginger.   I quickly recalibrated. I had rice, which had the advantage of cooking in a rice cooker while we were at soccer practice, and fresh bok choy…and 5-Spice Powder.

But into the ziplock bag went:

  • 1/3 cup grape seed oil
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 5 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 1-2 tsp 5-Spice powder
  • 1 lb flank steak

I washed the rice and set the timer on the  rice cooker.  The meat sat in the marinade in the refrigerator all day. I turned it 2-3 times.

After school, I sliced the bok choy and 2 more cloves of garlic and left it all in a pan with some olive oil, ready to go.

When we got home, I decided to pan grill the steak, just because. I left the steak out for about 30 minutes (could have used longer, as it was a pretty thick steak and didn’t cook quite as fast as I’d have wanted it to–see below), then seared it on each side for 1 1/2 minutes on high heat. It finished cooking on medium heat for about 3 more minutes each side. It rested for about 10 minutes, then was thinly sliced against the grain.  It was still a little rare for us, purplish being just this side of the very medium rare meat we all like, so I pushed all the bok choy to one side, and let it rest on very, very low heat for just 2-3 minutes, which produced a terrific, light pan jus, which was great for the rice.

The 5 Spice powder gave the steak a spicy, earthy, deeply flavorful crust.

The best bit? No forks. We ate everything with chopsticks, and I have meat left for sandwiches and rice for sweet rice.

Ella’s Grilled Salmon Back Sandwich

By Lisa

Salmon Backs are a seasonal favorite around here. If salmon is in season, we’re sure to eat this cut of the fish nearly once a week. It’s fast, flavorful, and really economical.  I can’t afford to keep my family in salmon filets or steaks, but I can afford to feed them piles of salmon backs: in tacos, “ceviche” flavored, lox style, etc.

Earlier this week I made some on the grill and we ate it in soft Middle Eastern flatbread with cream sauce, cabbage, and lime.  As usual, it was delicious. I had to stop myself at two, and Finn at a pile with his spoon. But we still had some leftover, which Ella called dibs on, but then I had not a tortilla in the house.  I offered her crackers, a range of breads, fresh sesame rolls. She chose the rolls and made this sandwich, which is basically taco fillings on a bun. Of course  you can use another cut of fish, but it wouldn’t be the same, because this is basically the fish equivalent of a sloppy joe:  piles of light, loose grilled fish, a creamy sauce, a squeeze of lime for flavor, a bit of cabbage for crunch.

I was happy to let Ella take control of her meal, and even happier that she gave the family another way to keep seasonal eating fresh.

Grilled Salmon Back Sandwich

  • 1-1 1/2 lbs Salmon backs
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • two handfuls of cilantro, leaves and stems + chopped cilantro for serving
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • Cream sauce:  equal parts mayonnaise, sour cream or plain greek yogurt, and cumin to taste
  • shredded cabbage
  • lime wedges
  • Sesame Buns
  1. Marinate salmon for a few hours in white wine, Meyer lemon juice, salt, a few handfuls of cilantro,  garlic
  2. Grill salmon on high heat for five minutes, until just cooked through.
  3. Let salmon cool, then flake meat off the bone
  4. Pile fish on fresh sesame buns and garnish with cream sauce, cabbage, and extra cilantro and lime  as desired

Melon Soup

By Lisa


Over the weekend I went on a juicing binge brought on by an unexpected CSA delivery, which brought us an extra melon,which brought our household total to 3 ripe melons. Usually its no chore to eat one in a day, but all three of these beauties weren’t going to wait. So I brought out my Breville juicer, which is the only thing in my life I’ve ever won, and which is a pretty great machine. It’s lightning fast and powerful, and we do use it all during citrus season.  But because it takes an awful lot of (often expensive) produce to make juice, and I don’t love cleaning the pulp, I don’t use it regularly.   Most days, I’d much rather hand an apple (or plum or carrot) to the kids and just say, “Eat.”  But when I met my husband, he drank all sorts of juice and smoothies, and this was long before Kris Carr (who, for the record, I think is pretty terrific. I contributed to her site here.)   So in the spirit of economy and nostalgia, I broadened my juicing repertoire.

First, I chopped up the watermelon and passed it to Ella, who had a great time feeding it to the maw of the machine. It happened so fast I didn’t get a picture of the juicing or the juice, but believe me when I say there is nothing more refreshing on a 90 degree day than ice cold watermelon juice.

Then, we went to work on the melon, which I chilled and served after dinner with a spoonful of vanilla yogurt and a strawberry garnish.  Kory and I thought it was great. The kids, not so much.. But I saved their portions and the melon soup made a great, drinkable breakfast for me the next morning as I made the kids pancakes.  I think the soup would work nicely as an appetizer, too, served in  little shot glasses with a  garnish of creme fraiche (or greek yogurt) and some cubed, fried pancetta. I will get back to you on that.

For now, if you have any quickly ripening produce, I suggest the juicer.  I am going to get to work on those tomatoes soon.

Also: I’d love to know: what do you juice?

Variation on a Theme: End of Summer Pan Fried Gnocchi

by Lisa

In some ways, the food blogging/writing world misleads us.  If you believe everything you read, people out there are cooking new, interesting, fresh, inspired things all the time.  On the one hand, this can inspire you and give you lots of new ideas, recipes, ingredients. The blogging world is great for that.  On the other hand, the constant stream of new content can put a lot of pressure on the cook in the house. It can be hard to measure up, not just in terms of skill and innovation, but simply in terms of getting something new and different on the table every single night.  Where are the leftovers? The repeat meals? The meals that come straight out of the freezer? The take-out or pizza nights?  Not to mention:  those nights when activities and work schedules mean the kids have to eat separate meals and the parents eat even later. Pete Wells got it right: sometimes we are just too busy to cook.

It is true that I do try to cook every night. But last night? Wednesdays are my teaching night, so my sitter prepares what I leave, and my kids had TJ turkey chili out of a can. Which, for the record, they think is one of the best things ever.

Also: we eat an awful lot of the same things for weeks, even months at a time. This is what happens when you eat seasonally. When it’s tomato season, we eat tomatoes. Lots and lots and lots of them. We’re Italian like that.  You can romanticize it all you want, but it’s not exactly inspired.  And unless you’re Mark Bittman, it can be a challenge to figure out something to do with all the same stuff day in and day out. A girl can dream and plan and try, and lots of us do, of course, but if you’re not a food professional, and you’re tired, it can be a lot of work to be inspired.

Moreover, we have had an unusually busy week.  A slight shift in Ella’s schedule has meant that she has 20 minutes to eat dinner in between Finn’s drop off and pick up from swimming and her own drop off at soccer.  I have no idea when Finn is going to eat.  Our afterschool hours are such that I have to have dinner ready for them both to eat by  4pm.  Because between 4-7 pm, I won’t be home long enough to cook. Certainly, this week is not usual, but the fact remains that there are plenty of other families who face this challenge on a regular basis.  It’s one thing to cook and eat a family meal when your kids are young.  I found it a hell of a lot easier to cook for toddlers than it is now, with a 6 and 9-year-old.  It doesn’t help to say my family dinner will never be sacrificed, because if your kids have activities, sometimes it will be.  All of which is to say that how we cook and how our families eat our meals changes.  I am here to say: it’s okay some nights to eat on the run. It’s okay to eat the same thing over and over again.

Which brings me to my dinner dilemma tonight. What could I cook that would keep from 3:45 pm until 8 pm? I had tomatoes, corn, and hooray! a package of gnocchi, which, once cooked, keeps far better than pasta.  I have  a bin full of good produce: green beans and great lettuces for a side dish or salad.  Also some good mozzarella.  And this morning I was talking to my very dear friend Melissa Clark, the novelist, who introduced me to gnocchi, and is also a contributor to our book. Then there was Caroline’s post yesterday, and dishes I’ve made before, and this is the result:  our end of summer (and end of a very long day, and nearly the end of the week) pan fried gnocchi.


Like tonight’ s dinner, which has not yet been cooked, this photo is repurposed. But you get the general idea…

End of Summer Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Corn, and Mozzarella

1 package gnocchi

1 clove garlic

2 T butter

2 T olive oil

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

2 ears of corn, cooked, cooled and kernals sliced off

2-3 slices fresh mozzarella, sliced into bite- sized cubes

3-4 leaves fresh basil

  1. Mince the garlic & sautee in olive oil and butter in a large pan.
  2. Add the gnocchi to the pan & cook until heated through and lightly golden brown.
  3. Remove from heat, and in a large bowl gently toss in tomatoes and corn.
  4. Toss in mozzarella and basil.
  5. Serve immediately or after (soccer/swimming/piano/tutoring), at room temperature.

Pasta with Arugula, Tomato and Egg

by Caroline

I am trying to get back into a regular yoga routine (a routine abandoned years ago, after two good stints of beneficial prenatal yoga, after Eli proved uninterested in mom + baby yoga) and I’m getting better at getting to class and moving through the poses. But concentrating on my breathing? Concentrating on the poses? That’s not really happening yet. Instead, I have to admit, I spend much of the 90 minutes, especially the final savasana, pondering my next meal.

So it was today. I lay there, eyes closed, bolster over my legs, thinking about the tub of leftover pasta in the fridge, the arugula going wild in the backyard, the juicy tomatoes from the CSA. On the drive home, I remembered we still had some eggs. And so, with a grating of fresh parmesan and a sprinkle of lemon zest salt, a quick lunch was born. Its origins remind me a bit of garbage salad and although its perhaps prettiest at first, like this:

It is most delicious, like that salad, when you take your knife and fork to it and slice everything up in your bowl, letting the arugula wilt and mellow a bit with the heat of the pasta and egg, the runny egg yolk and tomato juice making your sauce, like this:

It made a great lunch, though of course it would make a nice simple dinner, too, with some crusty bread on the side; your salad is already in the bowl.