Kitchen Helper

“What’s your house like?” asked a little girl Lilli was on a playdate with. “It’s…messy. Really messy.” I’d actually found myself in a similar conversation with a rabbi I’m working with days before. There are always projects going on — not renovations, more like this morning’s empty milk carton is about to become a robot’s head. And used toilet paper and paper towel rolls are clearly supposed to be arms and legs of figurines waiting to be made. Empty pizza boxes are dragons’ mouths; close your eyes and you can practically already see their teeth.

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And then, of course, are the kitchen projects. Nowadays Lilli is always by my side, armed with a butter knife, ready to cut anything soft enough. Ripe stone fruit work. So do tomatoes and some cheeses. And then there is the veggie sausage she cut for the vegan jambalaya, made with the okra Lilli and I would hand pick at the farm each week. That sausage came from a Western Mass company called LightLife, which invited me to enjoy some of their vegan sausages and hot dogs this summer.

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They also sent us a cute little portable grill, with a case that doubles as a cooler; a very handsome set of grilling tools, and Sir Kensington condiments. Beatrix, as it turned out, is a Lightlife hot dog fanatic. She gobbles them up, then asks for more while smashing her hands to sign “more” to hammer home the message. I ended up sending cut up pieces of the fake dogs in her lunch box this summer.

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I can report that Rich grilled the hot dogs successfully on the tiny grill, though he felt slight ridiculous with his Weber kettle standing at the ready. But let’s talk about this jambalaya recipe I developed this summer and love making. It starts with New Orleans Holy Trinity flavor base of onions, green peppers and celery. I add a healthy dose of tomato paste, which I keep flattened in a plastic Zip Loc in the freezer, to bolster the flavor.

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Once the veggies are softened, I browned the sausage, then added the okra, a small can of tomato sauce, then stock or water. My personal choice is water and the vegetarian Better Than Bouillon. To keep things simple, I use a can of black beans, drained. And instead of rice, which is totally fine to use, I tend to reach for the 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. That really cuts down on the prep time, making this an easy weeknight dinner. Because there is always squash in the fridge, I’ll sometimes quarter one and add it to the pot when I add the okra.

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This makes an immense amount of food. It can serve four adults as a main, with leftovers for days. It also freezes well; I have some in the freezer now.

Vegan Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 package Lightlife sausages, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small white onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 fresh okra, chopped or 1 cup frozen

1 small yellow summer squash, quartered

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro or 1 cup brown rice

2 cups vegetable stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)

Salt

Directions:

In a very large, lidded skillet with sides, soften the pepper, onion and celery in the tomato paste. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt.

Once softened, add the chopped sausage; brown it. Add the okra and summer squash; cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, black beans, farro and stock. Stir and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.

Cook the stew until the farro or brown rice has softened. If you’re using the Farro, check it in 15 minutes. If you’re using the brown rice, it will be closer to an hour.

Check to see if the farro has cooked. Serve.

This post was sponsored by Lightlife. Opinions are my own.

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Stirring the Pot

Rich had to shush me and drag me away from the potluck offerings at Tot Shabbat last month. Lilli is now four and can be trusted to eat things like popcorn and cherries, but Beatrix is just two, so I winced a bit too dramatically when I saw those on the table. (Yes, I still halve their grapes and cherry tomatoes. Better safe than sorry.) And don’t get me started on the farro walnut salad. There was an incident at a neighborhood potluck where Sylvie ended up in the emergency room. Nut allergies are no joke.

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Still, there was a moment at the tables that made me smile: It was plain to see who also used Mountain View for their farm shares. It’s beet season, and the vivid pink Chioggia beets, and the sunbursts of the golden beets, dotted the salads on the table. Roasted and diced into quinoa, sliced into salad greens, beets were on full force at the potluck.

It’s also summer squash time, and today I bring you the summer squash cake I brought to Tot Shabbat. It takes minutes to pull together and is really, really tasty. Rich first thought of zucchini bread when I talked about making this cake, but this is in no way a “bread.” This is clearly a cake. A moist, sweet one, with a cream cheese frosting. Without the frosting, it’s still moist and sweet, and dairy-free.

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As you can see, the frosting in our version was pink, as per the request of Lilli. You certainly don’t need to dye yours. Confession: I overestimated how much squash to grate in our food processor, so I used the leftovers the next night to make summer squash ricotta fritters. I recommend you do the same if you also end up with too much squash.

The recipe is from the new cookbook Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak, a pastry chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in California kitchens. The recipes in this charming book are seasonal and use produce one finds at the farmers’ market, or in my case, the CSA. It begins in the springtime when we enjoyed a very lovely mango mousse. She is a California chef, after all, so some of her fruits and vegetables are a bit more tropical than my Western Mass options. There’s also a blueberry crisp I have my eye on, and a roasted beet panna cotta with candied walnuts that is just singing to me. But first, I had to share this dead simple summer squash cake, since I’m sure you have too many summer squash in your crisper right now.

Summer Squash Cake from Farm to Table Desserts Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak

Ingredients

Cake

3 large eggs

2 cups grated summer squash

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature

¼ unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Cake

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9- or 10- inch round pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, squash, sugar oil, and vanilla extract well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

Frosting

Sift the powdered sugar and set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 30 seconds to ensure no lumps remain. Add the powdered sugar all at once and mix on low speed until sugar is just incorporated. Scrape bowl well and beat on high speed for 10 seconds.

Remove cooled cake from pan and place onto a serving platter. Cut the rounded cake top off, if desired. Spread cream cheese frosting on in a decorative design. Store cake in refrigerator.

 

A Summer Rain

Occasionally my cookbook habit (some would say “problem”) has proven extremely helpful outside of the kitchen. To wit: last week, Rich went and nearly ruined his shoes riding his bike home in the pouring rain. This was entirely preventable, since I had announced to him that morning that I was taking the bus and leaving my bike at home due to the forecast. But, he, and nearly everyone I talked to that day, sniffed at the idea that it could rain like that in August, especially after the steamy July we’d just been through.  But rain it did, buckets and buckets. And that night, while Rich stuffed crumpled grocery circulars into his shoes, I curled up on the couch with the cookbook that had given me the heads up.

I found The Old-Time New England Cookbook in a box labeled $1 at a gastronomy event last year. It’s seasonal and local with a certain Yankee particularity; think of the Farmer’s Almanac but with recipes. The book breaks down the New England year not into four seasons, but rather nine. Instead of summer, we have early summer, regular summer and the end of summer, which as it turns out, runs from August 2 to September  9. The opening sentence of that chapter provided my meteorological tip-off: “The rainy spell you may be complaining about in August lasts longer than most people believe it should.”

The next sentence has proven equally uncanny in predicting the bounty of my CSA this month: “As August gets on a bit, however, there will be corn and tomatoes, beans, swiss chard, spinach, summer squash, young potatoes, and all sorts of wonderful fresh vegetables in the back-yard garden.  The worst of it is, of course, that when these vegetables do start showing up there is always an oversupply. Can or freeze, we say, and this rainy spell in August is just the time to do it.”

As if on cue, so far this month we’ve received pounds of summer squash and piles of corn. I’m not complaining, and neither is Rich. We’ve become very fond of this dish, eating it roughly twice a week for three weeks now. But the last time I made this, for last week’s Shabbat dinner, it was something particularly special.

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After much thought, I’ve come to understand there are two things happening in this dish. The first is tarragon, the herb which has reigned supreme in the Parr household since early last summer. It usually shows up in my beans; Rich likes to use it when he cooks chicken and fish. In this dish, tarragon’s sweet licorice flavor coaxes out the squash’s inherent sweetness – the word caramel comes to mind whenever I take a bite.

The second thing happening here is taking the time needed to cook the onions. I must cook them down for about 45 minutes, until they’ve basically melted, before I could even think about adding the squash.  I think in other dishes there’s more wriggle room, but here the onions really need the extra time.

As you can see from the photos, the squash I used this time around was made with globe squash, but rest assured this is a catch-all summer squash recipe: yellow straight neck, crookneck and zucchini are also more than welcome to join the party. In all honesty, I’ve never tried this with a pattypan, so if someone ends up getting some in the next few weeks, could you please let me know how it turns out?

Summer Squash with Tarragon and Whole Wheat Pasta

Ingredients

2 cups summer squash, cut into 1½-inch pieces

½ onion, diced – any onion will work well with this dish

1½ Tablespoons tarragon, chopped

Enough oil to cover the pan

Kosher salt

½ pound of whole wheat pasta (I prefer linguine for this dish)

Directions

Set a large pot of water, salted like the sea, to boil on a back burner. On a front burner, heat enough olive oil to coat a pan on medium heat. Give it a minute or two to heat up, then add the onions and a nice-sized pinch of kosher salt. Turn the flame down and let the onions slowly cook and melt down. This should take about 45 minutes. Every four minutes or so, stir them with a wooden spoon.

When your onions have finally broken down – I’m talking a browned, soft puddle of onions – add the squash and a second pinch of salt. Cook the squash for about 10 minutes, stirring every three or so with the wooden spoon. Please don’t get nervous about the texture of the squash. Many people complain about its wet, squishy quality, but I promise that the strength of the pasta balances it.

At this point, your pasta water is roiling. Add the pasta, and cook it for approximately three minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

At that three minute point, use tongs to transfer the hot pasta into your pan of onions and squash. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the pan, and the tarragon, and cook everything together for a good three minutes or so, until the pasta has finished cooking. (Taste it before you turn the flame off to make sure it’s softened. Add more pasta water as necessary.)