Entries tagged with “Lighter fare”.


On January 2, 2010, I made a colossal mistake. My reason paralyzed by the overwhelming desire to install a cookbook shelf in my kitchen, I ventured out to the Pottery Barn in Pasadena. Inside, I found myself surrounded by a scene that bore marked resemblance to my idea of hell. Noisy, crowded, lots of wicker, people wandering about willy nilly as though the world ended at their elbows. It was a mad house. The only thing missing was a continuous loop of Sandra Lee screeching DELICIOUS! while making things out of cheez whiz.

I made it out alive, shelf in hand, steadfastly recommitted to my disdain for shopping. I like buying stuff, just not the process of actually going and doing it. As a consequence I tend to stick with things that I already know work. Cosmetics are the sole exception to this rule, as I am a complete sucker for new and different products (if it promises to airbrush my skin, I’m a goner). My makeup collection has, in fact, been accused of having its own luggage. I can neither confirm nor deny the truth of that statement, though I can wholeheartedly endorse the concept of a well-made train case.


Eyeshadow aside, I am a product loyalist. My favorite work pants? I have three, identical pairs. The same goes for sweaters, t-shirts, hoodies, blouses, etc. If it fits, I’ll buy several. Likewise with food staples. My tenacity for buying bulk multiples of my trusty favorites is dampened only by the storage failings of our house (note to future home buyers: there is no such thing as too much storage, there is no such thing as too much storage, there is no such…eh, you’ll figure it out someday).

One of my very favorite protein staples is turkey Italian sausage. I try to keep at least one package each of sweet and hot varieties in our fridge or freezer at all times. Lean and full of flavor, I get a lot of bang for my caloric buck out of a link or two. They bring a tempered saltiness to dishes without overpowering them like pork sausage sometimes does. Mostly, though, I adore the satisfying richness of their lean fat content; just enough to sate the mind and belly, but nothing more.


Because I keep turkey Italian sausage more readily on hand than I do pancetta or bacon, I swap them when it makes sense. When I read the following recipe, which calls for pancetta, I had a hunch that my turkey sausages would fill in handsomely. And they did. Thankfully, I have more in the freezer.

What are your favorite food staples?

(Keep reading Rotini with Butternut Squash and Italian Sausage…)


Wee, tiny versions of regular-sized things are almost always irresistible.  Mini Twix? Check. Kittens? Check. Those tiny, lady finger bananas? Double check.  Brussels sprouts? Not so much.

I think of them as an adult vegetable – one you only learn to properly appreciate when you’ve finally laid your inner six-year-old to rest so she can stop saying EWWW about such things. They’re a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins and protein.  And they are as cute as they can be, like perfect little cabbages for fairies and other small creatures interested in vitamin K.


I happen to love them.   After I was inspired to try Suzanne Goin’s balsamic braised version (amazing), I started playing around with other ways to braise these mighty balls of leafy might to perfection.  One night, I decided to use them in place of pasta under simple pan-seared scallops.  Braised in the tomato sauce, the Brussels sprouts took on a rich, tangy flavor while adding enough bulk to reasonably qualify the dish as a one-bowl meal.  Their earthy heft handily balances the scallops’ sweet, spongy levity here; add a heel of crusty bread and you have a perfect storm of flavor and texture.  It’s satisfying but not heavy which comes in handy in this, the season of dietetic good intentions.


Since it’s technically winter (even Los Angeles is hurting for decent fresh tomatoes this time of year), I stick with canned tomatoes.  I’ve been enjoying the various offerings in Muir Glen’s 2009 Organic Reserve gift box recently, and the fire roasted diced tomatoes were an absolute knock out for this sauce.  Any 14.5 oz can of petite diced tomatoes will do, but I highly recommend looking into Muir Glen for a bit of extra sparkle.
(Keep reading Braised Brussels Sprouts with Tomatoes and Scallops…)


I’ve been putting off this post for a few weeks because I am desperately trying to remember the salient details of a story about lentil and sausage soup.  It was at least 20 years ago.  I can remember being doubled over laughing in the soup aisle of a grocery store, shrieking and crying over the hilarity of Progresso’s Lentil and Sausage Soup.  If you just stopped to reread that sentence in order to pick up whatever word you missed that would clue you in to what might possibly be so uproariously funny about lentil and sausage soup, do not panic.

That’s the detail I can’t remember.  I’ve been kicking that story stub around my poor little brain for several days to no avail, and I just can’t hold out on the recipe any longer.  It doesn’t help that I’ve had a song stuck in my head for days.  A horrible song.  It is nearly impossible to remember funny stories from your childhood when the one-hit-wonder LEN is screaming WOULD YOU STEAL MY SUNSHINE?!! during every quiet moment, to say nothing of the difficulties it presents at work.  I’m not going to say that those words made it into a motion last week, just that having professional proofreaders on staff is a really beautiful thing.

The upshot of the story is this: we tried the soup, it was amazing, I fell in love with the combination of lentils and sausage, and Progresso can enjoy an everlasting bout of shingles for discontinuing it.


Since the soup is no longer available, we have to make do on our own.  But freed from the confines of the can, lentils and sausage show themselves to be equally charming without the accompaniment of broth, their trusty backup dancer.  We had so much fun with butternut squash earlier this month that I thought I’d feature acorn squash, another one of my favorites.  Petite and perfect, they bake handsomely when paired with a little butter and maple syrup. I find combining them with lentils and sausage to be particularly satisfying.  The lentils and squash are both earthy and smooth, but in slightly different ways; their textures complement each other while their flavors layer gently.  Hot Italian sausage, when paired with the sweetness of the maple syrup, is vibrant but softly restrained.  The result is a happy little barbershop quartet of flavors, portioned perfectly in its own ready-made bowl.


You will notice that you end up with a lot of extra lentils.  It’s sort of intentional.  In order to avoid leaving you high and dry without sufficient lentil coverage for any particularly robust acorn squash you may encounter, I’ve asked you to make more than you need.  Still, since it’s frustrating to end up with an extra third of a serving of something, I’ve given you a basic proportion for about three cups of cooked lentils.  This way, you have plenty to eat as leftovers by themselves, in a salad, in soup, whathaveyou.  If having extra lentils really puts a knot in your knickers, reduce as your heart desires.
(Keep reading Acorn Squash with Lentils and Sausage…)


October was a powerful month. It managed to pull the perpetually sunny southern California into semi-submission to its wiles. During our 12-day visit to the east coast in the middle of the month, something here changed. Upon our return, it was as though a switch had been flipped. Suddenly it was dark for the first four snooze cycles of my alarm clock. My drive home was cloaked in navy velveteen, the sky betraying its last few gasps of mauve behind inky silhouettes of palm trees that keep watch over Sunset Boulevard.  Though warm and golden during the day, dawn and dusk decidedly fell prey to the seductive, autumnal call of October.

I can’t blame them. Even in temperate zones, fall is cotton-clad warmth. Fall is cozy. Fall is a gilded, tender embrace before the year tumbles swiftly and rambunctiously into oblivion. However fleeting it may be, fall is a lovely time of year.


As I bid adieu to summer’s berry-laden bounty each year, I am quickly comforted by the sweet, earthy delights of squash and wintry greens. Enter kale, and its acerbic wit. Growing up, I enjoyed heaps of kale in a delicate beef stew, speckled at the last minute with a beaten egg. Its stiffly leafed fortitude is no match for heat; no matter how many leaves you add to the stew, it always seems to accommodate them.

Though I had planned to braise a bunch of kale with cauliflower and beans last week, I couldn’t resist tossing a few leaves into a blistering hot pan with garlic and the last ears of the summer’s sweet corn. I made this for myself one night when I was home alone, fully intending it to complement some leftover chicken but never making it that far. The back-arching tang of the lemon joins with a bit of sea salt to goad the vegetables into asskicking mode. Pay attention, they seem to say, this is going to knock your socks off. Hang on tight and keep another pair of socks handy; November is here, and it isn’t messing around, either.

(Keep reading Kale and Sweet Corn…)


Do you know what I have spent the past several weeks doing? I mean, aside from working and traveling and playing with my iPhone. I have been dealing with the fact that the dumbest of our three cats (which, really, is a dubious distinction) has a new-found and insatiable attraction to all power cords. As in, he wants to chew through them.

In some ways, this discovery has been a relief. I now know that I wasn’t crazy to think that the phone on my nightstand was just plain dead. Only instead of the rigor that eventually seizes all things with rechargeable batteries, this was the kind of deadness that comes when someone chews clean through the phone line to its base. Same for the keyboard on my desk. And the Kindle charger. Make that two Kindle chargers.

We have sprayed everything with Bitter Apple. We have replaced some cords and patched others with electrical tape. And we have embarked on an extended campaign of terror with respect to Charlie and these damned cords. The goal is to get him to think that cords are bad and scary and yucky and not interesting to chew. Sometimes, this campaign involves spraying him with water. Sometimes it involves waving a cord around and yelling in a menacing way. Sometimes it involves bringing him near a cord he has just chewed and smacking the cord whilst shouting BAD BAD BAD BAD. And sometimes – like, say, this afternoon – it involves all of the above.


He’s a fundamentally sweet cat, and he’s impossibly cute (see above - the perpetrator at rest), so it’s hard to stay mad at him. I would just appreciate it if he could postpone indefinitely his efforts towards a self-induced electrocution so I could spend more of my scarce free time in the kitchen and less of it crawling around spraying all of our cords with foul-tasting substances. (If you ever think you don’t have much in the way of electronics in your home, try coating the length of every cord with something wet and messy – you will be amazed).

One of the things I try to do with this site is provide a real-world glimpse into one approach to balancing a hairy schedule with a pattern of regular cooking. And it is, indeed, a pattern. A habit, even. I’ve become so entrenched in my preference for cooking dinner at home that I gravitate toward my kitchen even on nights when dinner doesn’t show up on the radar until after 9. Of course, I’m human and not a cooking automaton. Sometimes I’m just plain tired and hungry. Sometimes I need dinner to come together in a matter of minutes. And sometimes I need it to be an act of mixing rather than actual cooking.

Here is a trio of salads that, when put together as an ensemble, make a truly lovely dinner with absolutely minimal effort. Everything here, save the produce, are pantry/fridge staples in our house. If they aren’t staples in your kitchen, they should be. The first recipe comes from the lovely Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. The second is a variation on that theme. The third is a bit of a grownup’s approach to the mayonnaise-and-pickle-relish tuna salad we all know and love. The quantities here will handsomely feed two ravenous adults, or four with more demure appetites. All of it can be easily doubled, as well as tweaked and augmented to suit your taste. Think of these recipes as guidelines rather than strict prescriptions.
(Keep reading A Trio of Salads…)

Cut to the chase and take me to the recipe


Lately, I’ve been making my own vegetable stock on the weekends. I’m normally a chicken broth kind of girl – it serves me so well whenever a little extra liquid and extra flavor are needed, and there are several decent varieties for purchase in most grocery stores these days. Yeah, yeah, it’s wonderful to make your own chicken stock, but I don’t always have time to deal with it, and it’s one of those areas where I feel the store-bought version is good enough to justify the shortcut. Sue me.


But I’ve been trying to make more vegetable soups over the past few months, and they aren’t always conducive to chicken broth’s different melody. Sadly, I have yet to find a prepackaged vegetable broth that didn’t taste smurfy. I can’t put my finger on what I find specifically objectionable about the taste, but it’s just…off. It tastes like something completely wrong swam around in the pot for a bit while the flavors were mingling. A frog? A tuba? A mirepoix of tires and potato peels? Something totally weird.


Unlike chicken stock, which really wants several hours to simmer and amuse itself, homemade vegetable stock takes about 90 minutes, including chopping. It’s a true ensemble cast, too. Leeks, carrots, mushrooms, fennel, onions, tomatoes – all coordinate themselves together gracefully to produce a smooth, sweet, silky broth. No single element charges to the footlights to demand your attention. It doesn’t taste like fennel. It doesn’t taste like leeks. It tastes like a beautiful prelude to the fluttery melody that will come with the rest of the ingredients.


I had a pint of stunning roasted zucchini soup for lunch the other day. The restaurant in my office building has a take-out kiosk on the patio, and I often snag a quick lunch from them when I’m too lazy to pack something in the morning. The food there has gotten markedly better in the past three years, most notably the soups. This little roasted zucchini number was extremely simple – a delicate puree brightened with dill. It’s a good thing I like to keep my door closed when I eat at my desk, because nothing about the way I dove into that soup matched the delicacy of its gentle flavors. I scarfed. And promptly added zucchini to my shopping list so that I could make my own.


While the homemade stock isn’t life-and-death critical here, I really recommend you give it a shot. The stock can simmer while the zucchini roasts, so you aren’t adding much time to the whole venture. Let the pot on the stove and the tray in the oven do their thing while you amuse yourself with other stuff and before you know it, you’ll have everything ready for the final simmer.


About the color. It’s not exactly the most beautiful soup you’ll ever see. I know. If you must, take a slurp with your eyes closed. Let it roll over your tongue and warm your belly, and see if it doesn’t look ever so much lovelier when you open your eyes again.


P.S. Like the third photo above? It’s called Simple Greens, and if you would be so kind, I would greatly appreciate a “yeah” vote in the Color Theory competition at JPG Magazine. Thanks!
(Keep reading Roasted Zucchini Soup…)