Weeknight Dinner Series: Squash Ribbon Pasta with Herb Cream Sauce Plus Bye Bye Bittman

The sky this time of year can sometimes take your breath away. #nofilter

The sky this time of year can sometimes take your breath away. #nofilter

Despite loving to cook and spend time in the kitchen, I find I spend less and less time in the kitchen making dinner in the summer. To take advantage of the light as much as I can, after-work time is spent walking, mowing the lawn, reading, writing, everything but making dinner. Which means it gets on the table late, sometimes really late; our usual 8 p.m. dining time has been bumped sometimes to 8:30 and even close to 9 p.m.! With the start of September, I decided to make a new start and to start cooking earlier, which means I’m looking for quick, nutritious and healthy dishes to make on a weeknight.

You’re going to want to make this pasta dish NOW! It’s perfect for late summer, since zucchini, summer squash, and fresh herbs are still plenty. This recipe had three techniques I’d never used before: “wilting” the squash by pouring the hot pasta water on it, softening and tempering the onion flavor by boiling it with the pasta, and making a roux without butter. All worked beautifully and I definitely got this on the table in record time!

I prefer to buy small squashes, so I used two or three of each, because you can never go wrong adding more veggies. Since there is no butter in the sauce, I flavored it with a little bit of white wine, which was perfect. Lemon juice would be a good addition, too. I had some mushrooms in the veggie bin, so I sautéed a few in olive oil to add for a bit more texture to the sauce. Those who eat gluten-free, brown rice pasta can easily be substituted for the fettuccine.

Lots of vegetables, freshly chopped herbs, and one cooking pot for easy cleanup, this is a recipe that will please even those meat lovers in your house—and get on the table quickly. Cook it tonight!

Happy Eating!

squash pastaSquash Ribbon Pasta with Herb Cream Sauce

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine. Serves 4 (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)

1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces)
1 medium summer squash (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon, basil, or parsley
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Shave squashes into thin strips using a vegetable peeler; place in a colander. Bring a large saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add pasta; cook 6 minutes. Add red onion; cook 2 minutes. Drain pasta mixture over squash in colander.

2. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add milk and flour; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in cream; cook for 1 minute. Add pasta mixture, stirring to coat. Stir in the herbs, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

 

(JooHee Yoon/New York Times?

(JooHee Yoon/New York Times)

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: A Farewell
Or sadly, my dislike of the week. One of my all-time favorite food writers, Mark Bittman, is hanging his The New York Times pen to join a young start-up company. The original Minimalist, for years Bittman’s weekly column introduced readers to healthy eating with quick, easy-to-make recipes. Even years later, I still to this day refer to his tips on salads, grilling, summer cooking, holiday cooking, and more. His style of cooking is what I strive for every time I enter the kitchen, and he makes it look so easy! His opinion piece which began five years ago, educated cooks and readers to the politics of food and frequently made me think about where my food is coming from, and where, ethically, the food industry is going.

While my weekly dose of Bittman inspiration is a loss for me as cook and reader, his presence will still be in the limelight. His newest cookbook, Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix: More Than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities, comes out at the end of October. And I still have those dog-eared columns.

Bidding a Fond Farewell to Winter

Despite the temperature, we've had gorgeous sunrises this month.

Despite the temperature, we’ve had gorgeous sunrises this month. #nofilter

This past weekend, the first weekend of spring, I decided to say goodbye to the winter of 2015, that dark, cold, icy, snowy, did I say COLD, winter. In my kitchen, this means saying goodbye to some of my favorite root veggies: turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, and Brussels sprouts, and hello to spring asparagus, radishes, and peas. So I decided to make one last Brussels sprouts recipe before I closed the door on the season.

Now, I’ve purchased one bottle of fish sauce in my life and it’s still sitting in the refrigerator. Used in that rare Asian dish, it lasts forever so it just sits in the door of the fridge waiting for that next recipe. But when I spotted a page of fish sauce recipes in the April issue of Cooking Light, I knew I could kill two birds with one stone, bid adieu to winter and use up a little of the sauce!

It is definitely time to make a season switch; the sprouts I bought, normally bright green and round like a golf ball, were small and oval with just a tinge of green. This is a simple recipe, you measure everything and place into a bowl and just pan roast the sprouts. I added a bit more crushed red pepper, so on a blustery 14-degree day, it was a welcome warm side dish to roasted chicken, but I thought it could be equally tasty on a bed of rice or quinoa. (Vegetarians, you can still make this, just leave out the fish sauce, it will still be delicious!) So, goodbye winter! Hopefully Mother Nature will take a look at the calendar and realize we need to warm up!

brussels
Sweet and Savory Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts

This recipe originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 1/2 cup)

2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 pound trimmed Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise

Combine water, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and crushed red pepper in a small bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Let stand at least 20 minutes. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sesame oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add Brussels sprouts to pan in a single layer, cut side down. Cook, without stirring, 5 minutes or until cut sides are evenly browned. Turn sprouts, and reduce heat to medium; cook 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Increase heat to medium-high. Add fish sauce mixture to pan, tossing to coat sprouts. Cook 1 minute or until liquid evaporates.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Mark Bittman in Berkeley          

berkeley

(Photo by Jim Wilson/New York Times)

One of my favorite food writers hands down is Mark Bittman. He can take three ingredients and make a dish fit for a king; his creativity in the kitchen is simple yet elegant. This lifelong New Yorker recently moved to Berkeley (which I take is a temporary move) and he writes elegantly about the winters farmer’s market in California’s Bay Area. Sigh. It honestly does sound like heaven to those of us in the snowbound states. You can read about his adventures by clicking here.

Summertime and the Cooking is Easy

morningWith all due respect to George Gershwin, Vermont this summer has seen waves of hot, hot, hot weather; so humid and sticky that all I want to do is sit in the river. On days like these, I find my appetite isn’t normal, so I try to make salads that are light, yet protein-filled enough so I don’t walk away hungry.

True Nicoise salad has tomatoes, olives, fava beans, and even anchovies. Mine is a bit different, adding some boiled potatoes, radishes that I had on hand, and a salmon salad I made which is just canned salmon, lemon juice, and some capers. I love salads that have a little bit of this and that, so you, too, can create your own riff on the salad, adding your own favorite vegetables and protein. If you’re a vegetarian, you can make a white bean salad in place of the salmon. The vinaigrette recipe will probably make more dressing than you need, but it will keep for at least a week if not longer in a cool spot in your kitchen or in the fridge.

misenplaceI created this salad to take on my annual trek to Lake George with friends a few weeks ago for a simple and delicious lunch. And it is one that is easy to tote if you’re going to the beach or for a picnic. See? >>>

Of course, soon after I wrote this recipe, the temperatures turned and I could finally turn on the oven again. So in the meantime, I’ll tuck this away for the next time we take a trip to the lake or the heat comes back–whichever comes first.

salad
MVK’s Nicoise Salad
2 red peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 cups green beans, steamed
4 small red potatoes, boiled and cubed
4 radishes, sliced into fourths
3 hard-boiled eggs

Salmon or tuna salad: tossed with fresh lemon juice and capers (optional)

Vegetarian option: One can of white beans, toss with a little bit of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chopped herbs.

Vinaigrette: 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or a vinegar of your choice), 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, ½ shallot (a couple teaspoons), finely chopped (optional). Whisk together.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Speaking of Summertime. . . 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

The title sounds like an infomercial, but seven years ago, when Mark Bittman was still working for the Dining section of the New York Times, he produced this masterpiece; 101 super simple recipes for summer. This has been a savior ever since for those nights I’m not sure what to make, it’s too hot, or I need some creativity.

The recipes run the gamut: meat, vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan. And they are all so simple, that the 10 minutes is true. Cook up some bratwurst with apples and serve with coleslaw (#59) or saute shredded zucchini in olive oil, adding garlic and chopped herbs. Serve over pasta. (#45) Or Bittman’s own version of Nicoise Salad (#34) Lightly steam haricot verts, green beans, or asparagus. Arrange on a plate with chickpeas, good canned tuna, hard-cooked eggs, a green salad, sliced cucumber and tomato. Dress with oil and vinegar.

You can find the article here, 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.

Tips for the Big Day + Week Night Dinner Series: Chicken (or Tofu) Stirfry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

imagesI can’t believe another year has passed and I’m talking about Thanksgiving again! Wasn’t it just a month or so ago I was making black-eyed peas for good luck for the coming year? (Which, by the way, has been pretty good, so I’m going to continue the tradition!).

We are coming upon the biggest cooking day of the year (and since the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving Day this year, this makes it doubly so!), and as has been my custom, I’m going to give you my tips for making it relatively stress-free and fun. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once easier. Some of these tips are mine and some are other cook’s tips I’ve collected through the years that work for me. Whether you’re cooking Thanksgiving for ten or having a dinner party at another time of the year, I find these tips are good to have in your back pocket.

My Vermont Kitchen’s Thanksgiving Cooking Tips
• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Make this weekend your friend; rolls can be made and frozen until Thursday morning. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey the next day.

• Make sure your knives are sharp! I made this tip last year when my dad found my knives were less than sharp when he was carving the turkey. (He has since given me a hand-held knife sharpener.) If you don’t have one, find a kitchen shop that does sharpening and take them in this weekend. This will make carving the turkey all that much easier–and everything else for months to come!

• On Wednesday, take out all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” questions when you have some ravenous people hovering at your elbow in the kitchen. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps my memory immensely the next day. Make sure all china, glasses, and linens also are cleaned and ready to go, so all I have to do Thursday morning is set the table. If necessary, do the wash this weekend so it’s not a last-minute chore during the week.

• For me, the most important piece of paper in the kitchen will be my timeline. I take my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook and what I have to do when it comes out of the oven. So I have everything down to the time, “10 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to easily whisk around the kitchen and for everything to be done pretty much at the same time (fingers crossed!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• Since almost all of us have one oven, prime real estate in the kitchen is small. Last year, at the suggestion of “America’s Test Kitchen,” I pulled out my crock pot for an additional burner! Set to low, it warmed my squash wonderfully and freed up an extra burner.

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat. Serve with toothpicks

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat, so you aren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

• If you want some additional quick recipes, check out Mark Bittman’s fantastic “101 Tips for the Big Day” from the New York Times. This is well worth reading and printing out; I always refer to it this time of year; Bittman is the king of quick tips and simplicity and is always so helpful.

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Week Night Dinner Series #5: Chicken (or Tofu) Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce
You can serve this over rice or another grain, but I like the simpleness of just veggies and meat.

I know I’ve mentioned before, but Monday dinners have to be pronto, with a capital P; I get home from the gym long after 7 p.m. and I’m famished. So dinner has to be made quickly or I may find myself stopping at the grocery store before I leave town for something unhealthy to eat. Stir fry is my go-to meal, but lately I’ve getting bored with my usual hoisen sauce mixture. This is my latest creation, a delicious spicy, peanutty sauce that makes you want to lick the plate and go back for seconds!

If you chop your chicken the night before, one step is already done. I chop the veggies when I get home, everything tossed into a hot skillet, and the sauce whisked together while everything is cooking. In actuality, everything can be prepped ahead of time, making this an even quicker meal!

Veggies are whatever are in the vegetable bin, but my favorite combination these days are red peppers, zucchini, onions, broccoli (can this possibly be becoming a favorite vegetable?), and carrots. A small chicken breast or some tofu are what I use as protein. I don’t measure, but I’d say the ratio is 3:1, veggies to protein.

Instructions

1. Warm a couple of teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the vegetables and cook until barely done. Remove from heat and put the mixture in a large bowl.

2. Return the skillet to the stove, add a little bit more oil, and add your chicken or tofu and cook until done. While this is cooking, mix up the peanut sauce.

3. When the chicken or tofu is done cooking, mix in the vegetables. Add the peanut sauce, make sure everything is covered evenly, and serve!

Spicy Peanut Sauce
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 Tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon soy sauce (or tamari)
1 generous teaspoon sambal oelek (or less if you like things less spicy)

In a small bowl, add the peanut butter and hot water. Whisk together until it make a thin paste (the amount of water you add will depend on the oilness of your peanut butter). Whisk in the soy sauce and sambal oelek. Taste test to make sure all the flavors meld well together and adjust accordingly.

Cook’s Note: Sambal oelek is a garlicky chili sauce you can find in the supermarket in the ethnic foods section. But if you can’t find it, you can substitute red chili pepper flakes; start with 1/2 teaspoon and work your way up to the desired heat.

101 Simple Meals in 10 Minutes–or Less!

One of my all-time favorite cooks is Mark Bittman.

(Photo © Fred R. Conrad/New York Times)

I was first introduced to Bittman around 2005 through his PBS cooking shows, “Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs” and “The Best Recipes in the World.” Author of How to Cook Everything, Food Matters, among others, and a longtime contributor to Wednesday’s Dining Section of The New York Times (he is now a food columnist for the Sunday magazine but still contributes recipes), Bittman can take just a couple of ingredients and create an inventive, delicious, and quick meal.

In the summer, when dinnertime is right around the corner and you don’t really feel like cooking, Bittman, of course, has the answer. In 2007, he published in the Times, Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.” As he writes in the introduction, these are more of a general outline instead of a formal recipe. Such as this:

“3. Cut eight sea scallops into four horizontal slices each. Arrange on plates. Sprinkle with lime juice, salt and crushed chilis; serve after five minutes.”

See, simple, easy, and delicious in six minutes! He has since expanded this idea to “101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics” (2008), “101 Simple Salads for the Season” (2009), and “101 Fast Recipes for Grilling” (2010).

So, get your printer fired up and take advantage of your ten free monthly articles from the Times and print these menus out! I always haul them out once springtime arrives for some needed inspiration on those evenings I don’t feel like cooking!