less meat

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.

Crispy Lemon Rosemary Chicken

By Lisa

I tried this recipe because in the middle of cooking a run-of-the-mill dinner for my kids last week, I got a text from a friend with a cooking question. I responded & asked what she was cooking. She told me she was trying to cook like Giada. I responded I wanted to look like Giada.   That is not going to happen.

But the chicken did happen, in both our homes, and with good results. These are basically a version of chicken “nuggets” rolled in mixture of polenta and rosemary and sprinkled with lemon rosemary salt. They’re nicely crispy, great at room temperature, and appealing to kids without being too familiar.  It’s a fast, good weeknight chicken recipe. Next time, I might experiment with baking these, since frying can be messy & I hate the clean up.

The kids liked it, the book club liked it, and we even liked it leftover as a little  side dish of protein for a composed salad (with Boston lettuce, cilantro, cucumber with olive oil and white balsamic)

It was a busy week and I forgot to take a picture, but you can trust me that it’s an appealing looking dish.  For the visual, today, in honor of Giada, here’s the closest thing I have a to a glamour shot, taken by the amazing Lisa Johnson, Rock Photographer, in case, you know, one of those glossy magazines comes calling.

But seriously folks, try the chicken. And be sure to make extra salt: it’s great on salads. Or popcorn.

Crispy Chicken with Rosemary-Lemon Salt

Vegetable oil for frying

1 (6-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 cup kosher salt
Zest of 1/2 large lemon

1 pound chicken tenders, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Zest of 1/2 large lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fine cornmeal or instant polenta

For the salt: Heat 1/4-inch of oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat (the oil is hot enough when a pinch of cornmeal sizzles when added to the pan). Add the rosemary sprig and fry for 30 seconds until crisp. Using tongs, remove the rosemary sprig and drain on paper towels. Remove the leaves and finely chop to yield 1 tablespoon. Place the rosemary, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl. Mix with a fork until combined. Set aside.

For the chicken: In a medium bowl, mix together the chicken, garlic, chopped rosemary, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Add the cornmeal and toss until the chicken is coated. Add 1/2 of the chicken to the same skillet used to cook the rosemary and fry for 2 to 3 minutes each side until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Sprinkle with the rosemary-lemon salt and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 to 7 minutes

Pan-Seared Tofu and Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

by Caroline

I have to admit that a food article about cooking post-kids is speaking to me when I read, “Well, I used to actually cook…Now I just make food.”

I might like to think I resist this cliché, but really, the days of poring over cookbooks to find new recipes, making spontaneous market trips (or multiple market trips) to assemble ingredients, and knowing that whatever I put on the table will be greeted warmly by my dining companions — those days are pretty much on hold right now. Oh, they aren’t over entirely; we do find new things to cook, especially when we take the kids with us to the market, but the priority these days is not on the new, but on what’s quick, reliable, and healthy.

When I do want to innovate, I follow a friend’s advice to make sure there’s at least something on the table I’m confident the kids will like. Like Lisa using cornbread to ease the way to chili earlier in the week, I usually make sure there’s either bread or rice on the table (our standard rice/quinoa mix) when I offer something new. In this recipe, I was fairly confident they’d eat the tofu (though the lemon juice made it a question), and pretty sure I’d get at least one thumbs up on the kale (from my 3rd grader; the kindergartner’s on a bit of a vegetable strike at the moment). The chopped peanuts were a plus, too; my kids, like most, adore any extras they can sprinkle on the top of a dish and in our house we’ve retained Ben’s early malapropism and delight the boys by calling these extras not condiments, but contaminants.

So, Eli, the kindergartner took one bite of the tofu, pronounced it delicious, and only ate one more bite. He tried one dainty scrap of kale and pushed the rest aside in favor of carrot sticks, a big helping of rice, and a handful of peanuts. His older brother ate the entire meal, as served. That’s a success in my book, and I’ll be making this one again.

I’m copying in the recipe just as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article by Amanda Gold.

10 ounces extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste (I left these out)

1 or 2 bunches Lacinato or Tuscan kale (about 8 cups, chopped)

1/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, and place on paper towels to
drain while you make the marinade.

Whisk together the soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, sesame oil, 2
tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium-sized bowl. Add the tofu, and gently toss to coat; let marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the tough stems and ribs from the kale, and cut the leaves into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Rinse and dry very well. Take care to remove grit and water, either in a salad spinner or by hand. Place into a serving bowl and set aside.

Set a large, nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until shimmering. Use a slotted spoon to lift the tofu out of the marinade and add to the pan in one layer; cook, undisturbed, until bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir the tofu and continue to cook for another 3 minutes, gently stirring every
minute or so, until golden brown on most sides.

Add the marinade and let boil down for about 1 minute. Pour the contents of the pan over the kale, toss gently to fully coat the leaves with the dressing, and garnish with peanuts and green onions. Let stand for a few minutes to slightly wilt the kale, toss once more, and serve warm.

Ham x (almost) 4

by Lisa

We’ve been taking a cue from Mark Bittman’s latest book around here and making meat even less of presence than it usually is on our table.   One of the things he suggests is to keep meat as a side course, not the focus of the meal. This is good for the eater and good for the environment.  This week, this strategy happened kind of by accident, but it was terrific: economical, efficient, and versatile.

Remember that ham steak? That’s half of it on the plate. The kids ate only half of that, and the husband and I ate the other half.  The following night, I cooked another quarter, choppped it up, and used it for our baked potato bar. Which was a big hit.

We still didn’t finish it, so the next night that leftover chopped up ham went into a country omelete with chives and cheddar cheese.

And we still had a 1/4 of the ham left.  Kory and I finished it a few nights later with a potato/celery root mash & the left over pan sauce (which I had kept in a glass jar for just this eventuality).  On the side we had roasted beets & puntarelle, and it was a perfect cold winter night’s meal.

That makes 4 meals (3 for 4 people, 1 for 2 people) for about $6 worth of meat, which in this house is an accomplishment.