I’m not what one would call an active girl. I enjoy yoga when I can make it to a good studio, but you’re not going to catch me out for a run. My brother tried to make me run with him back in high school, and he ended up behind me, pushing me along the last half of our mile. That didn’t last long. I really prefer hammocks, beach towels, books, day spas and those sorts of “activities.”
The down side, of course, is that I have to moderate my calorie intake. Fortunately, I lovevegetables; unfortunately, I also love bread, pasta, rice, butter, and a myriad of other calorie dense foods. I no longer struggle to adhere to a low-carb diet, but I do attempt to limit my carbs. Cauliflower is a favorite among paleo and low-carb enthusiasts, and I can see why. Cauliflower is delicious. And while a great many cauliflower-instead-of-potato recipes are delicious, I also love the richness of real potatoes. So I started messing around with substituting a portion of the potatoes and I found that in mashed potatoes (and potato leek soup), replacing half the potatoes with cauliflower left me with a dish that I liked more than either the potato-only or cauliflower-only versions. I win all over the place – tastier dish, fewer carbs/calories, more diverse vitamins… and I get to have guilt-free mashed potatoes.
If you don’t have any leftover cooked cauliflower, just dice it up into florets and boil along with the potatoes – they take about the same time.
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled & diced
an equal amount of cooked cauliflower (leftover grilled cauliflower, boiled fresh cauliflower, or microwaved frozen cauliflower)
cream / milk / butter to taste
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
optional: 2-3 cloves worth of roast garlic
Place diced potatoes (and cauliflower, if using fresh) in a medium pot, cover with water, and boil over medium-high heat until a knife easily slides through each piece.
Meanwhile, puree cooked cauliflower, along with a splash of milk or cream, into a paste.
When potatoes are ready, drain and mash. Add roast garlic, if using.
Mix in cauliflower puree, and add butter & milk or cream and salt & pepper to taste.
Serve these anywhere you would otherwise have mashed potatoes. They are particularly lovely with thick meaty stews.
I went to visit my parents last weekend and came home with a bundle of typical summer veggies from their home garden: zucchini, tomatoes, green beans. This is what I’ve learned about growing zucchini: once it starts producing, you have zucchini to pick nearly every day, and you best pick them when they are medium sized, because if you wait until the next day they’ll be huge. Oh, and huge zucchini are not necessarily better – they are seedy and pithy at the core and better suited to make zucchini boats.
Zucchini wasn’t one of my favorite vegetables growing up – it always seemed to be overcooked and mushy. Unless it was fried. But then everything fried is delicious. Evil and delicious. Eventually I discovered more toothsome preparations for zuchhini, and was finally able to pay attention to it’s flavor. It’s incredible, fresh flavor.
One such preparation was Michael Ruhlman’s Sauteed Zucchini. It makes a fabulous side dish during the summer, when you want something fresh to accompany grilled meats. In fact, it’s so delicious, I wanted it to be a meal all on it’s own, and that’s what we get when we add in the spaghetti. My only complaint was that the minced shallot didn’t swirl up with the rest of the noodles, and were always left at the bottom of my bowl. So I found a way to make onion noodles too.
Summer Veggie Pasta
Larger zucchini and yellow squash have a lot more seeds at their core, and those seeds will lead to breaks in your squash noodles. Opt for smaller squash, or discard the center seed-filled portions. The veggies don’t take long to cook, so don’t start them until you put your pasta into it’s hot tub. Only boil the pasta as long as the package suggests, and if they are finished before the veggies, drain it and toss with olive oil to keep from sticking (never rinse your pasta).
Use a mandoline to julienne the carrot and squash (discard the seedy core). Slice the bell pepper in long thin strips either manually or with the mandoline. Cut halfway through the onion lengthwise, then slice thinly with the mandoline to create ribbons of onion.
When your pasta water is boiling, add the pasta.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat with 2 tbsp. olive oil and the minced garlic.
When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the carrot, bell pepper, onion and a pinch of salt. Saute until the carrot begins to soften (about 4 minutes) and add the zucchini and cherry tomatoes. Saute 2 minutes more, then add the pasta, drizzle with good olive oil or butter and toss to combine. Season with salt to taste.
This pasta works as either a side or main dish, and shines alongside grilled meats.
I remember sitting at my Gma’s dining table once, when I was living with her during college, reading M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating (one of her autobiographical books). Fisher’s husband had recently died, and she describes floating through life in a state of numbness. Normally a woman who relishes and treasures her food, she can hardly stand to eat. She goes on a cruise to Mexico, alone, and the crew seems to see the pain she’s in, and pays special attention to her.
She’s in the dining room one evening, and all the food seems drab and pretentious, and the waiter leans over to her and says, “There is an American kitchen and there is a country kitchen, side by side out there…”
He disappears, and then returns with a bowl of what the staff is eating, “light-tan beans cooked with some tomato and onion and many herbs.” She devours three or four servings, and relishes every bite, describing the “feeling of that hot strong food going down into [her] stomach [as] one of the finest [she] has ever known.”
I remember finishing that chapter… and then immediately making myself a pot of beans, and eating them with a warm flour tortilla and diced avocado while I dug in to the next chapter.
I have lived in Southern California all my life, which means that even though I’m a white girl, I have some decent experience with Mexican food. My mother makes great Mexican and Mexican inspired foods: tacos, enchilada casseroles… we even made big batches of (delicious) tamales together on occasion.
I’m comfortable with the onion-garlic-chilies trinity, and can usually whip up some Mexican-style foods without a recipe. Sometimes I just need a little inspiration, in the form of a meal at someone’s home or in a restaurant, and I’ll be off on a mission to replicate, simplify or build upon a recipe. (Do you ever obsess about food like this?)
This recipe developed over time, watching both my mother and mother-in-law make their beans, and seeking out the flavors I loved. I tend to used canned chilies for Spicy Beans, and fresh chilies for Spicy Citrus Beans, but either will work.
While I like black beans and pinto beans on their own, the addition of the onion-garlic-chilies trinity really makes them pop. The addition of the optional citrus changes the flavor profile significantly, so try them both. Using rendered chicken fat instead of oil really ups that richly satisfying quality of the beans.
1 tbsp. rendered chicken fat or pork fat ( alternate: Canola oil or vegetable oil)
½ poblano or whole Anaheim chili, diced OR ½ (4 oz.) can diced green chilies
⅓ medium yellow or brown onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15 oz.) can pinto (or black) beans, including liquid
optional: juice of ½ a large orange
Heat the fat in a medium pot over medium heat, and once the fat begins to shimmer, add the onions, chilies, and a pinch of salt.
Sweat the chili and onion until softened, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and cook a minute more.
Add the beans and their liquid as well as the orange juice (if using).
Stir to combine, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook 5 minutes until beans are the desired tenderness.
Season with salt to taste.
The standard variation pairs incredibly well with Mexican-Style Rice and Mexican-Style Vegetables (drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and microwave until tender and hot – 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, stir, 2 minutes) as perfect sides for Chicken Tacos.
My son is almost two, and loves rice. All rice. If I put rice on his plate, or he sees rice, before he starts eating, it’s unlikely he’ll eat anything but rice for the duration of the meal. And it’s not because he’s picky – he’ll (thankfully!) eat most foods, for now. But when he looks upon rice, the heavens are certainly shining down and illuminating it for him.
This works out great for me, because that means packing lunches for day care is often as simple as mixing rice, veggies and meat in a tupperware.The rice at most Mexican joints doesn’t appeal to me. I still usually leave it on the plate if we eat out and I forget to ask them to give me double beans instead. It’s just too dry. I prefer moist rice, unless there will be some sauce or meat/veggie medley of which that rice will be soaking up the juices.
Rice is great because it reheats well, and works even better mixed with meat and frozen vegetables for a quick and easy lunch. My favorite pairings for this rice are Spicy Beans, leftover taco meat, and Mexican-Style Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, corn, red bell pepper).
Moist Mexican-Style Rice
This rice is an adaptation of my mother-in-law’s rice, influenced by my go-to rice pilaf. The result is moist rice that pairs great with any Mexican food you happen to be serving. If you have rendered chicken fat on hand, definitely utilize it here, as it makes for a heartier rice.
Heat the fat in a medium pot over medium-high heat, and once the fat begins to shimmer, add the onions and a pinch of salt.
Sweat the onions until softened, add the rice, and cook a minute more, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and cook a minute more.
Add the salsa fresca, and stir to combine.
Add the chicken stock or water, and stir to combine. Bring to a bubble, then reduce to a simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
Season with salt to taste.
This pairs incredibly well with Spicy Beans and Mexican-Style Vegetables (drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and microwave until tender and hot – 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, stir, 2 minutes) as perfect sides for Chicken Tacos.