spicy beet greens with chickpeas

My children have been away with their grandparents for the better part of the past two weeks. The first week with one set, the second with the other. That’s right, we’ve been childless for nearly 14 days. Just typing that makes me feel slightly woozy. FOURTEEN DAYS KID-FREE. (I know, the gods are clearly smiling on me.) So what you may wonder have I been up to? Well… I’ve been putting in some serious hours at work. I’ve done a significant amount of chillin’ on the deck. I’ve read a book. We met friends for drinks. I went shopping without anyone asking me “Are we almost done? How many more things do we need to buy?” We went to the movies (an advance screening of The Hundred Foot Journey to be precise). We went out to dinner. I did not watch a single TV show that revolved around Bart, Marge, Maggie and Homer, a family of British pigs who love muddy puddles or that famous duo Elsa and Ana. I got a pedicure. We actually talked to each other (imagine!) and we made things for dinner that the kids would never want to eat; Garlicky pesto over linguine, salmon with a balsamic glaze, lamb burgers with tzatziki, giant bowls of steamed mussels and one night we went totally vegan— beet greens, chickpeas, Habanero chilies and tofu with coconut milk over brown rice. Yup, I’m not kidding.

I eat vegetables everyday. Not because I think I should or because they’re good for me. I eat them daily because I love them. My family doesn’t exactly share my passion for Mother Nature’s candy, but the kids will eat baby carrots and garden fresh cucumbers for a snack, they love mashed turnips and grilled asparagus and only grumble minimally when I make grilled squash or string beans. But they draw the line at greens. Sure they can handle collards with bacon, but an arugula salad or god forbid sautéed spinach or beet greens… totally out of the question. My husband, who can deal with nearly anything but cauliflower, has come to accept that life with me involves much more than meat and potatoes.

Anyway back to the vegan meal… I stopped at the store on my way home one night thinking I’d make a coconut milk and brown rice number with some of the leftover veggies I had at home; A few bunches of fresh beets with greens that needed to be eaten, some Habanero peppers leftover from the mussels night and cherry tomatoes from my garden. I already had brown rice and chickpeas in the pantry so all I needed was coconut milk and shrimp and we’d have dinner in a flash. The shrimp ended up being both expensive and pathetic looking, totally not worth buying. I needed an alternate plan. I still wanted to add a bit more protein to the meal, but it needed to be something that required minimal prep and cooked quickly. That something turned out to be tofu. I think of tofu is a rather innocuous ingredient. It really doesn’t lend much by way of its own flavor but it’s more of a sponge for the other flavors in the dish, and it’s high in protein. So I sliced and diced, sautéed and deglazed, simmered and served and guess what… It was delicious. And vegan. And while my dearest did comment that “It would be better with sausage.” he cleaned his plate nonetheless.

The kids will be back tomorrow and while I have thoroughly enjoyed their absence, I’m ready for them to come home. I know this will mean listening to their bickering, watching their dopey kid shows and answering 50 million times the question “How many more bites do I have to take?” But I’m ready for them to return all the same.

And if you ever remind me that I said that, I’ll completely deny it.

Spicy Beet Greens with Chickpeas and Tofu 

Deilsh and vegan. Who knew… 

vegan2

1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
a handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
3 Habanero peppers, seeded and julienned
3 tbsp. lemon juice
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
greens from two bunches of beets, stemmed and julienned
14 oz. can coconut milk
2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
brown rice, for serving
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, Habanero peppers and 1 tsp. of salt and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the lemon juice to deglaze then pan then add the chickpeas and beets greens. Stir to coat well with the onion mixture and allow to cook until the greens have just begun to wilt.
  3. Add in the coconut milk, remaining teaspoon of salt and ground cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a simmer then turn down the heat to low and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the chickpeas just begin to soften.
  4. Serve over brown rice and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

sweet summer sauce

As I mentioned last week my tomatoes and peppers are very happy with this record breaking hot weather. So happy in fact that I have an insane number of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter. I’ve been eating them everyday day; quickly sauteed with eggs, in a green salad or as a snack, but I’m not even close to making a dent in my overwhelming supply. So, what’s a girl to do but… make sauce!

Ordinarily I make red sauce during the cool months with canned tomatoes, a bit of lean meat (to round out the flavor) and a full day of simmering on the stove. But this was going to be a summer sauce; all garden fresh ingredients with a short cooking time and instead of meat I’d use a bit of butter to knock down the acidic bite.

This resulting sauce was some of the best I’ve ever made. Seriously, the best! It was so good that after we enjoyed it for dinner the remainder went directly into the freezer; how lovely it will be to pull out a container of that wonderful sauce on a cold winter night. And with the way my plants are continuing to produce tomatoes, I just might be able to squeak out another batch or two of sauce before the end of the season. Hooray for happy heat loving tomatoes!

Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce
This sauce was the perfect way to use the freshest of summer ingredients from my garden. It was only a matter of hours from harvesting to serving.

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups chopped onion
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 1/2 lbs. cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
5 springs fresh thyme
6 large leaves fresh basil, julienned
3 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup red wine
3 tbsp. unsalted butter

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Cook the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes. Add the whole cherry tomatoes, give a good stir and let cook (covered) until the tomatoes begin to pop.
  2. Add the fresh herbs, bay leaves, red pepper, salt and wine. Let cook, stirring every 2-3 minutes and smashing the tomatoes with the back of a spatula, until all the tomatoes are popped, about 20 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer until the sauce has thickened, 25-30 minutes. Once everything is soft and cooked through remove the bay leaves and thyme stems. Use an immersion blender to break down the skins, seeds and onion and make the sauce smooth.
  4. Add 3 tbsp. of unsalted butter and 1 tsp. white sugar and let cook uncovered for another 10 minutes. Adjust the salt to taste and serve with your favorite pasta or cool for use at a latter date.

my garden’s bounty

I recently went to see a man about some chickens. No I’m not speaking euphemistically here, I mean actual chickens; hens to be exact. I’m kicking around the idea of perhaps keeping a few in my backyard. Oh what lovely fresh eggs we could have! I’m sure to some of you this seems like no big deal, what’s so strange about having a couple of hens or maybe even a pigmy goat? But the rest of you are probably laughing too hard to even be able to continue reading this. In case I haven’t mentioned it before I live in Northern New Jersey, roughly 11 miles outside of New York City. So close that I imagine if you stood on my roof and looked East you would see midtown Manhattan— not exactly farm country! But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to make the most of my little plot of land. (My mother, who actually does live in the country, gets the biggest kick out of my urban agriculture and refers to my yard as “Green Acres.”) Anyway, I currently have two raised bed gardens filled with veggies (with plans for a third dedicated to garlic, leeks and onions) and a half-dozen or so containers overflowing with a variety of herbs. The kids and I water, tend and harvest something wonderful from our backyard nearly everyday.

While last months heat wave had some dire effects on my cucumbers and squash, the remainder of my garden seems as happy as ever. My cherry tomatoes, jalapeño and cayenne peppers and corn are all ready for the picking, my basil is huge (but has started acting like it wants to start flowering) and my leeks have grown big enough to rival store-bought. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I thought to myself, “if I could make something delicious with this bounty from my garden. Something simple that would let each homegrown ingredient shine.” I started flipping through some cookbooks for inspiration and decided pretty quickly that Ina Garten was the way to go. I love the Barefoot Contessa for her relaxed unpretentious style, her simple, delicious and totally accessible food and the way she seems to enjoy the process of planning and executing a meal the same way I do. I would channel my inner Contessa and come up with a sensational meal.

The dish I ended up making was a sautéed cherry tomato, leek, roasted shrimp and feta cheese combination— and holy cow was it good! I used every ripe vegetable my garden had to offer, some lovely fresh herbs as well as sweet shrimp and salty feta. Served over a little orzo with some crusty bread and a glass of white wine, it was summer perfection in a bowl.

And as for those chickens, I’ll keep you posted…

Roasted Shrimp with Tomatoes, Leeks & Feta
This combination of garden fresh veggies and herbs, sweet shrimp and zesty lemon is fantastic as a first course, entrée or even spooned over thick slices of grilled bread as an appetizer.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups leeks, sliced thin (about 3 medium)
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 fresh cayenne pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cup white wine
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato sauce
1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. medium shrimp (36/40 count), peeled
6 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup panko
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
5 large basil leaves, julienned
the zest of 1/2 a lemon
the juice of 1 lemon

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large ovenproof skillet heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, garlic and hot pepper and sautee for 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half.
  2. Add the cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  3. Arrange the shrimp in one layer over the tomato mixture and sprinkle the crumbled feta evenly over the shrimp.
  4. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, panko, parsley, basil, and lemon zest with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle generously over the shrimp.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the shrimp and top with additional fresh basil. Serve over orzo, rice or on grilled bread.