On really hot days, when I was growing up, my mother used to make an antipasto plate with dry salami, cheese, cherry tomatoes, olives, celery sticks, and various other things for dinner. We'd sit outside and nibble away until the house cooled down enough to go back inside. These days I don't have any outdoor space where I can eat al fresco, but I still enjoy a do-it-yourself style dinner now and again. Hot weather calls for some creative approaches to meals and my mom was right--lighter, less meaty, room temperature meals that don't require using the stove really help beat the heat.
A variation on my mom's antipasto platter is lavash sandwiches. If you've never used Persian lavash bread before you should try it. It's similar to a flour tortilla but square or rectangular instead of round and at room temperature it's pliable and soft. You can get it in white or whole wheat. Tortillas are great when warm, but cold or room temperature they are dry and gummy and not very tasty. I know plenty of "roll-up" sandwich recipes call for them, but lavash is a much better choice. I particularly like the lavash bread I get at Trader Joe's but it's available in supermarkets near me as well.
It’s back to school and that means bag lunches. Or maybe like me, you don’t have school age kids, but still want to start packing lunch to take to work. It’s easy to get in a rut, but these three cookbooks offer many ways to jazz up your lunchbox.
The Banh Mi Handbook is the latest book from Andrea Nguyen. In the past she has written about Vietnamese food, dumplings and tofu, perhaps convincing you to make your own. But I had to wonder, when I can get a terrific banh mi sandwich for just a couple bucks, would I want to make my own? The answer is YES because Nguyen goes well beyond what you might find at a Vietnamese sandwich shop.
What I absolutely love the most about this book in addition to the versatility is the focus on ease and simplicity. There are lots of shortcuts and no shame if you choose to buy bread or mayonnaise or doctor some liverwurst to make a tasty pate. The book offers the basics and traditional recipes for fixings like carrot and daikon pickles, headcheese terrine and Chinese barbecue pork but also offers tons of non-traditional options too to keep things interesting. Go vegetarian with coconut curry tofu or an edamame pate. I know I’ll be making the warm sardine and tomato sauce sandwich and the oven fried chicken katsu. These are sandwiches that will make your mouth water!
We love pulled pork sandwiches in our house, but I don’t always love working with pork. I do admit to loving the taste and making a huge 5 pound pork butt is easier than any week night meal. And I know that pork is the “other” white meat, but I just don’t like eating it that often.
I do make a really good pulled turkey recipe that I discovered over ten years ago in Sara Foster’s The Foster's Market Cookbook, but like the pork, it takes hours to cook. This recipe is great fall dish when the weather is cooler and turning the oven on for 3 to 4 hours is no big deal. I have been searching for a pulled chicken recipe and alas, I finally found one over at The Comfort of Cooking. Georgia uses a dry rub to marinate her chicken and I think it is the rub that gives the chicken it’s tenderness.
I use organic, grass fed chicken from Whole Foods. For this dish, I don’t purchase the boneless, chicken breasts. Instead, I get the chicken breasts with the ribs attached. I then ask the butcher to remove the ribs. The breasts without bones tend to dry out on the grill. The taste, using the chicken in this way, is significantly different. If you don’t use your butcher at your local supermarket, you are missing out! They are always so accommodating, friendly, and they love their meats and poultry.
My mother was born in Paris but to very provincial Spanish parents. She married my father when she was 23, and he whisked her away to New Jersey to live. Princeton, but still. She had a lot of adjusting to do.
By the time I was born ten years later, you'd think she would have had ample time to acclimate. But, she clung to her old-fashioned, handed- down-by- Spanish -grandmother-ways. She steadfastly refused to succumb to the allure of the Breck Girl... She put lemon juice on my hair to lighten it, olive oil to moisturize it, and vinegar on to detangle it. I went to school smelling like salad.
Lunchtime was equally traumatic. Everyone else had nice, shiny metal lunch boxes bursting with cultural relevancy and advertising. I had a brown paper bag. The over-sized one my mother got from the grocery store. Wrinkled from multiple uses.
I am going to miss our lazy days of summer. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner doesn’t seem as daunting during the summer as it does during the school year. First of all, I get a bit of help with the prep, the clean up, and my sons culinary suggestions inspire me.
The school year brings it own set of hurdles. Breakfast and lunch have to be prepared at the same time – unless I can get my act together to prep the night before. Then there is the after school rush. Piling them into the car only to hurry home, get their homework done, give them a healthy snack, and hustle them to their various after school activities. Oh boy am I going to miss summer.
For the past few weeks I have been experimenting with a few ideas. My kids love pizza, but the stuff in the box leaves much to be desired and I just don’t have enough time to make one from scratch – given our schedule and how limited our time is (sadly said). Solution: pizza muffins.
You know how I made it through sophomore geometry? My mom's meatball sandwiches.
I dreaded geometry. Measures, angles, slopes, points. Coordinates? I thought they were clothes. It didn't help that my class was right before lunch, last lunch, actually, so I never knew if it was the geometry or the hypoglycemia that was causing my sweaty palms and headaches.
Nothing made me feel better than pulling my sandwich out of its paper bag. I'd take a whiff, know instantly it was a meatball sandwich, and give praise for Italian mothers. Then I'd carefully open the crinkly aluminum foil and discover three of my mom's homemade meatballs snuggled lovingly inside of a chewy Italian roll and doused with just the right amount of red gravy. It was as close to Nirvana as I would get, at least until I read Siddhartha.
I have to admit – as much as I love trying new recipes – there are times when nothing quite compares to the satisfying goodness of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Some days there's just no time for chopping, grilling, or baking and a classic PB & J is the perfect solution.
According to Smuckers, no one really knows when or where this sandwich was first created. Bread and jelly have been around for ages, but peanut butter wasn't invented until 1890. This spreadable creation was a hit at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and during the 1920s and 1930s, commercial brands of peanut butter such as Peter Pan and Skippy were introduced. Around the same time, pre-sliced bread became common in the U.S. But there's no mention of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before the 1940s.
The National Peanut Board reports that the average kid eats 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating from high school. They're not just for kids – I've often been on airline flights, when a waft of peanut butter drifts my way, and I turn to see some business exec pull out a Ziploc bag from a briefcase and enjoy a pb & j out – much to the envy of fellow passengers. You can also take comfort in knowing you're helping to save the planet!
I have been making this sandwich again and again over the past two weeks and decided it's probably time to share them with all of you. Heck, just look at them...what's not to love?
Just this morning I shoved one into the hands of my oldest son as he was running out the door. Turns out it's perfect school bus food too. Lucky him. The ingredients are simple and you probably already have most of them at home.
My main inspiration for this recipe were my beautiful California avocados. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don't enjoy an avocado with one of my meals or as a snack. They truly are nature's butter and require nothing to make them an amazing and healthy treat. Avocados are one of the few fruits that provide good fats in our diet (3 g of mono and 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat per 1-oz. serving) and are heart healthy.
And don't be afraid to buy extra avocados and keep them in your fridge. I store mine in the crisper drawer and they keep for weeks. This means I always have a ripe avocado to use when I'm ready...which is daily. After you scramble your eggs, place them on top of your toasted bagels and sprinkle with shredded cheese. It will melt nicely on top of the hot eggs.
I've loved peanut butter sandwiches as long as I can remember. And I don't know anyone who hasn't eaten them as kids or even adults. Most people owe their school lunches to peanut butter and jelly. But somewhere down the line I had lost my interest in the sandwich and peanut butter in general.
It wasn't until my travels in England that I really had a strong craving for a real pb&j. For me the sandwich was never complete with just any jelly—it always had to be Concord grape jelly. I was inconsolable that in London I couldn't find a jar of Concord grape jelly (because Concord grapes are only native to America). So my only substitute was blackcurrant jam, which wasn't bad but it didn't hit the spot.
It took a trip far away from home to help me realize how much I had missed a peanut butter sandwich. In New York there's a place that specializes in peanut butter sandwiches. But I had never managed to eat there, that is until recently. Peanut Butter & Co. has everything a peanut butter lover could ask for in their massive variety of sandwiches all using peanut butter. But my favorite is one that the King himself loved—and by king I mean Elvis.
I wish I could tell you exactly how many yards it was for me to get to Roxbury Park to give you the visual. A hop. Not even a skip and a jump. I walked two houses up, crossed Olympic and I was there.
That is where I spent my summers. Basically, doing absolutely nothing. Kind of like a Seinfeld episode. No sunblock. No checking in with my mother. I didn’t excel at anything in Roxbury Park. Not at caroms. Not the monkey bars. And certainly not the rings.
At the rings, I watched other kids adept at swinging quickly back and forth from one to the next. I stood high up one day, grabbed ahold and leapt off, but unable to catch the next ring, which seemed to move further and further away, I landed back where I started. I spent long days trying to push myself further until I did finally grab onto that second one, which was such a victory. Then I kept swinging back and forth, trying to gain the momentum I would need to get to the next, but failed and dropped to the ground. Again I tried, over and over, all summer until I was finally able to go back and forth, leaving the other kids waiting in line, drumming their fingers. And like a monkey, I would copy what the other ring junkies would do just before taking over the set for their performance. They would dig their hands into the sand and rub some of it between their palms for better friction. Or use chalk. It never seemed to work for me, but I did it to look cool, like them. Inevitably all us monkeys ended up with blisters.
A group of good friends, connected by a love of politics and good food,
always used to get together every August in Santa Barbara. Life slowed
down; we’d cook together using all local produce – sweet corn, plum
tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, peppers, tomatillos, Blenheim apricots,
avocadoes, Santa Rosa plums – and then feast as the sun went down
behind rolling hills planted with avocadoes and lemons.
So you can imagine our excitement when we heard that Johnny Apple – the legendary political columnist and food writer at the New York Times – was coming to town with his wife Betsey. Johnny was (as many have noted) a force of nature. I first met Johnny when he came to LA to do a feature on Asian Pacific food. We hit three restaurants in four hours one evening, going from Vietnamese to Chinese dim sum to a Chinese restaurant famous for its “pork pump”. I was so exhausted I begged off the next three days of eating. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone enjoy food and wine more (even that third dinner you have to eat when you’re a critic.)
I try really hard to be a health-conscious dancer. I go to the health food markets and buy spinach and avocados and turkey breast and trail mix. But the truth is, I am a carb monster. "C stands for cookie. That's good enough for me." But for me, the real C stands for croissant, and I just couldn't find the perfect one. Until one day I was walking around the neighborhood and saw it. Tarte Tatin. In that little mini-mall on Olympic and Oakhurst. Yep; the one with the frozen yogurt place and the nail salon.
Owner Kobi Tobiano (the former pastry chef at Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco) makes everything in-house from all natural ingredients. It's perfect. Clean, cozy, and filled with croissants! Their almond croissant has become an almost daily indulgence for me--buttery and rich, made from real almonds, not that disgusting paste everyone else in town seems to be using.
If you are a freak of nature and almond croissants just aren't your thing, try to the cinnamon vanilla swirl or the fluffy, powdered sugar covered brownie (or if you are like me, maybe you should get all three). Their egg salad is light and fresh, made with homemade mayo and on fresh baked bread. Their muesli is nothing short of a work of art.
I love parfaits. They are such pretty things to make, with all kinds of possibilities from what ingredients you are going to layer to what glasses you will serve them in.
For these, I used our small stemless champagne flutes. I thought they made a perfect parfait, because they are just 4 ounce glasses and so the desserts were not huge, they were just right.
This parfait is made up of two creamy puddings – one chocolate, one peanut butter. It's topped off with whipped cream.
You can make the puddings early in the day and refrigerate them and then assemble the parfaits later. Or you can even make the parfaits a day ahead.
A simple pasta is a life saver. How many nights are you rescued from eating out of a box just because you know how to throw together a good simple pasta? First tip: Don’t just rely on tomato sauce to coat the pasta. I love good sweet, milky ricotta and when I’m at a store where I can find it I tend to go overboard and buy a bit too much. So it’s ricotta on toast for breakfast, ricotta with fruit for lunch and ricotta as the “sauce” for a quick seasonal pasta.
In this dish I started with ricotta, then saw I had some pesto, added a couple of tablespoons of that, then added some crunchy sweet baby tomatoes and slices of green onion. While I was waiting for my pasta water to boil I discovered a couple of tiny zucchini with flowers attached and an ear of corn that needed to be used up. So I cut the niblets off the corn, sliced the zucchini in half lengthwise and shredded the flowers with my fingers.
With summer vegetables appearing in the farmers' markets, a vegetable risotto is a perfect way to feature the bounty of the garden.
This past Sunday at the Palisades Farmers' Market, we picked up several ears of fresh corn and some baby zucchini. We also bought carrots, spinach, Italian parsley, scallions, green garlic, squash, asparagus, English peas, spinach, and broccoli, any of which would be good in the risotto.
To make risotto requires a variety of rice – Carnaroli, Violone or Arborio – with a high starch content, the source of risotto's distinctive creamy quality.
For the liquid, you have a lot of choices: vegetable, chicken, meat, or fish stock, wine, even water with a pat of butter added for flavor. You'll achieve the best results if you use homemade stock with its fresher taste and lower sodium content.
by James Moore
I generally don’t care for Sangria, except for when I’m in Spain - it just seems to taste better there. Sangria makes a perfect summer drink when entertaining, because you can make large batches ahead of time.
This recipe is based on one I received during my stay at Le Meridien Barcelona from the General Manager, Gonzalo Duarte Silva. They...Read more...
by James Farmer III
My house wine is sweat tea, but there are a couple concoctions I simply relish as much as tea. One is Mrs. Wilson’s Rosemary Lemonade and the other, a “James Farmer” – this Farmer’s version of an Arnold Palmer.
Dear friends of mine in Montgomery host me and “put me up” (or more so put up with me) when I’m staying in town for the night, and Mrs....Read more...
by Susan Salzman
The local farmers market today was filled with several varieties of stone fruit, rhubarb, strawberries, and melons. Melons were everywhere. Red, orange, green, and white. I grabbed whatever I could carry, I couldn’t help myself.
After washing, cleaning and cutting all of my veggies, I stared at the amount (and size of the fruit) that now rested...Read more...