DSC_0121

Rainbow Cole Slaw with Sesame Dressing

With the exception of a garlicky aioli accessorized by french fries, I am not a mayonnaise kind of girl. So when the cabbage shows up in the summer CSA box, cole slaw is not an option. At least not in the traditional sense. But over the years, this version, made delicious thanks to soy, sesame, and ginger flavors, is a standard go to.

This salad is an easy lunch or dinner side dish designed for the lives of busy families. You won’t regret having a large batch of this dressing on hand in the fridge, as it works just as well for a green salad as for this one. Pre-chop the vegetables a few hours in advance of pulling the salad together to make things go faster at mealtime. Or, mix it all up and let the cabbage soften and soak in the flavors of the dressing for a few hours. Pair with rice and potstickers or sautéed tofu and its a quick weeknight meal.

For maximum enjoyment, make this salad as colorful as you can. Rainbow carrots, green and purple cabbage, white diakon or turnips, black sesame seeds, dark green scallions. You get the picture.

PS Happy Birthday, Mom!

Continue reading

DSC_0380

Quick Tip of the Week: Sweet Potato Fries Discovery

I accidentally bought a couple of Japanese sweet potatoes last week, along with the usual garnet yams, with sweet potato fries in mind. You know the Japanese ones – they are light yellow on the inside, darker purple on the outside and most commonly found breaded with tempura alongside sushi.

Of course I threw them into the mix, assuming it couldn’t hurt. It didn’t. In fact, I discovered that Japanese sweet potatoes are perfect for this preparation. Because of their higher starch content, they hold up better than regular sweet potatoes/yams (this reminds me to again research the difference between the two) and have a stronger resemblance to thick-cut french fries. They are also a bit less sweet, which I prefer.

Give it a try! General directions for sweet potato fries are found here. Once they are tossed in olive/peanut/safflower/grapeseed oil, salt and pepper, a quick 15-20 roast minute roast in a 425° oven is all it takes. End result? Happy, goofy kids:

DSC_0677

Winter Greens and Leek Frittata

With spring around the corner, I’ve been craving lighter foods but ones that still retain the heartiness of winter fare. This frittata is a wonderful option for this transitional time of year. Use the recipe as a base for any combination of vegetables. Little bits and mixtures are perfect.

The rule of thumb is to create a diversity of flavors and textures, adding herbs if you have any on hand, and a representative of the allium family (onion, leek, garlic, shallot, etc). I love how these humble ingredients are elevated to a far fancier status with the addition of eggs and a little milk. This frittata is super versatile – a full proof choice for any meal and a great option for a casual brunch. Make it the night before if that is easier, and warm gently before serving.

The recipe below features a winter combo. In spring, try gently cooked fava beans, English peas, scallions and chives. In summer, a mix of sautéed summer squashes and basil or cilantro will be delicious. The possibilities are endless. Now if only I could convince the kids to love this as much as I do…

Continue reading

DSC_0709

Pasta with Broccoli Romanesco and Chickpeas

For reasons I cannot quite pinpoint, my cooking mojo has disappeared the past few weeks. Maybe it is the neither-here-nor-there winter we are having in Northern California, or the inevitable decline in innovation that comes at the tail end of a season. But whatever the case may be, thank goodness that some variation of pasta with vegetables and legumes always works for a quick weekday dinner. The beauty of this meal is that it primarily relies on ingredients you typically have on hand, and exact proportions don’t matter. Cooking these humble basics together elevates them to something far more special, with very little effort.

As I’ve probably mentioned too many times, my cooking inspiration usually comes from the CSA box and the crisper drawer. Grounding a meal around a (preferably local and organic) vegetable is somehow easier than starting with any other pantry staples. Not to mention healthier. This simple meal begins with the bumpy, lumpy, gorgeously lime green broccoli romanesco, which appears to have landed in the 21st century straight from the Jurassic era.

But any broccoli would be a perfect substitute, as would a combo of other cruciferous vegetables. I throw in olives and capers for a salty tang, and chickpeas for protein. This is a great “transition” dish for kids who prefer their food components separate but are willing to try a more “adult” meal where everything is tossed together.

On a separate note, in honor of my one-year anniversary of blogging at A Happier Meal, I made some updates to the design and functionality of the site, including a direct to Pinterest button. Enjoy!

Continue reading

February Weekly Meal Plan

February is upon us, and though it feels like spring outside, I’m still in winter cooking mode. Here is what I plan to make for dinner next week. A combination of simple weeknight meals (even simpler if you make the lentil soup on Sunday night) and a roast chicken to celebrate the end of the week. I’m assuming various vegetables will be added as side dishes. Don’t forget to consider organic when buying produce for your family. How to make organic choices without breaking the bank is discussed in more detail here.

MONDAY: Winter Lentil Soup with Greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc), crusty bread and a good cheese on the side.

LUNCH NOTE: Make a large batch. Freeze half for future use, send the rest to school for lunch this week.

TUESDAY: Store-bought ravioli of your choice with either a simple marinara sauce and parmesan; or butter/olive oil, sautéed kale and toasted walnuts. Maple-glazed brussels sprouts would make a great side dish.

Continue reading

Annoucing New Blog Feature: Weekly Meal Plans

Happy 2012 to all of you! A lovely holiday break has left me feeling invigorated and ready for new adventures that this year will undoubtedly bring. But Tuesday’s return to reality was also a good reminder that its time to get my act together when it comes to cooking routines. My primary food resolution for this year? To be more organized about planning meals. And what better motivation to accomplish that than to commit to sharing those plans with you?

During the last couple of weeks, when dinner often meant socializing and celebrating, I found some much needed to space to reflect on why 5PM is the most dreaded time of day for me. I realized that half the battle of getting a satisfying dinner on the table – especially on weeknights when time is of the essence – is planning ahead. I’ve occasionally tried meal planning in the past but too often, it doesn’t last. This results in various inefficiencies and frustrations slipping into my routine – the lack of ideas, the repetitive meals, the extra grocery runs for that missing ingredient or two.

So. To inspire my family and yours, I decided to do a regular feature on seasonal meal plans, some featuring meat, some vegetarian. Expect to see these posts on Thursdays, to allow for weekend grocery shopping and planning. I’ll recommend a main course; you can assume that almost any side of vegetables will work as an accompaniment. School lunch ideas will also be included, as leftovers tend to be a big hit for my kids.

Let me know what you think!

Continue reading

DSC_0092

Bi-Rite’s Eat Good Food: Chicken Soup with Fennel, Chickpeas and Kale

San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, opened in its current incarnation in 1997, is one of the most thoughtful and enjoyable grocery stores in the Bay Area, and my hands-down favorite for shopping and browsing. Bi-Rite’s new book, Eat Good Food, is an accessible, concise and beautifully photographed primer for the home cook. It provides well-curated and informative recommendations on how to create a sustainable, healthy kitchen, with recipes to inspire. It is a perfect extension of Bi-Rite’s foundational philosophy: creating community through food.

This is a grocery store that prides itself on operating like a restaurant, made evident by its attention to detail when it comes to food and service. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the emphasis throughout this book is on how quality and simplicity of ingredients make for better home cooking. But the book, and the market, take things a step further, piecing together stories that illustrate the importance of how food is produced, and how to prioritize practices and farmers that create a healthier food system.

Focusing on themes like “How to Use,”How to Store,” and “How to Buy,”  the book’s chapters are organized much like any market you would encounter: the deli case, the produce department, dry goods. I imagine this book serving as my go-to for remembering which type of flour works best for what purpose, the difference between salt-packed and oil-packed anchovies (remember how much I love anchovies?) and how to make informed food choices in any grocery store. The recipes, interspersed throughout the chapters, are inviting, diverse, seasonally inspired, and for the most part, simple enough for any home chef to tackle.

I selected one of the Winter recipes to try because it is a creative version of a family staple: chicken soup. It also reminded me to step out of our usual routine and try something new. My plan was to start with a familiar food, a sure thing, and take it up a notch by adding unexpected ingredients. Worst case, I assumed they would pull out the additions and stick with the basics. But it turned out to be a best case sort of evening: this soup was a total hit!

Preparation

Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Total time: 35-45 minutes

  • 1/2 bunch of kale (or chard, spinach, escarole, etc), ends removed and thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1 medium head of fennel, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken or as desired
  • 1/2 – 1 cup diced carrots (and/or celery)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh herbs if on hand: parsley or marjoram are great options
  • 1 lemon
  • Optional: Several handfuls of croutons, 1 -2 cups cooked brown rice, etc.

Note: The vegetable amounts listed here are meant to be recommendations. Feel free to adjust proportions based on what you have on hand and personal preference.

Using a 4-5 quart Dutch oven or similar pot, heat 1-2 tbsp. olive oil and saute fennel for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then washed and thinly sliced kale. Cover and cook the kale-fennel mixture, stirring occasionally, until the kale softens, about 5 minutes. Add diced carrots, bay leaf, herbs and broth, adjust heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Once at a boil, turn down the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 25-30 minutes until the kale is tender and wilted. A few minutes before the soup is done, add in the cooked chicken and garbanzo beans to warm up. Remove from heat, then add in a squeeze of lemon juice if desired, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is or throw in some croutons, rice or pasta for a heartier version. Don’t forget to save some leftovers for lunch!

Done, at last!

Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Anchovies

Yes, that says anchovies. Don’t stop reading! They are the “secret ingredient” in this dish, one that elevates something very simple to another level. But more on that in a minute.

Cold weather began in earnest about a week ago, and my trusty oven has been operating in full force ever since. Roasting is my cooking process of choice this time of year, especially on rushed weekday evenings. Part of the attraction is that its relatively passive, leaving hands and minds free for dealing with stovetop cooking, squeaky kids, and other urgent matters. The other great benefit of roasting is that it can transform even the most humble vegetable – cauliflower a perfect case in point – into something sweeter, more flavorful, and tender.

This recipe is one of our family’s favorite cauliflower preparations. The girls love olives and capers (anything pickled actually) so I always overload one or the other into the roasting pan. The anchovies completely disappear in the roasting process, leaving behind tons of tangy flavor, nothing fishy. Throw in garlic too if you like. My goal is to also integrate dried chilies in the future, but I’m not sure how Talia will feel about that. This also makes for an excellent and easy Thanksgiving side dish.

Now if only I could rig a way to remotely preheat the oven so its ready exactly when I need it….

Preparation

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 40-50 minutes, depending on oven

Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 425°.

Starting with two medium-sized cauliflower heads (preferably a mix of white, orange and/or purple), wash and cut the florets into bite-sized pieces. Spin or toss to dry a bit, then place into a roasting pan of choice. One hint here: in my oven, it will certainly take longer to cook this dish in a ceramic pan, as opposed to a baking sheet with parchment paper. So opt for the latter if you are in a rush.

Toss cauliflower pieces with a generous amount of olive oil, 1-3 tbsp. rinsed capers (amount based on personal preference), a head of garlic with the cloves separated (optional), a small handful of crumpled, dried chilies (optional), and 4-6 anchovy fillets torn into small bits.

Season generously with pepper before putting it in the oven but hold off on the salt until the vegetables are done. The anchovies inherently add a lot of salt.

Roast for 30-40 minutes, until caramelized and tender to the bite.

Ready for roasting!

Done, at last!

If you're feeling purple...

Note: If you prefer faster cooking time in exchange for a little more clean up, steam the cauliflower florets until they are just tender. This will cut the roasting time by at least 10 minutes if not longer (oven dependent).

DSC_0666

Boxed Mac’N’Cheese Saves the Day!

Our family has been in sick mode this week, which translates into a lot of triage and late nights working, and not a lot of energy to put toward the evening meal. So I wasn’t at all surprised to find an essentially empty refrigerator at 5:00PM yesterday, as I began to contemplate what’s for dinner. What options did I have before me? Not many, it turned out. I decided to center a quick and healthy meal around an unlikely candidate: boxed macaroni and cheese.

No, it is not an ideal dietary staple.

No, it does not compare to any homemade version (unless you are Ava and dislike melty cheese).

Yes, it is made from organic ingredients.

Yes, we happen to have a secret love for this queen of processed foods.

My guilt was instantly assuaged by the suite of accompaniments I decided to pull together to round out the meal. There was zucchini-cilantro soup awaiting in the freezer (reminder: freeze everything you can for a rainy day!). A lonely but gorgeous head of purple cauliflower was roasted with garlic, olive oil, capers and secret ingredient anchovies. A “crisper bin special” green salad was quickly thrown together, saving one orphan kale leaf, half a carrot, a head of fennel and a little lettuce from their compost bin fate).

It all came together in about 40 minutes, and most importantly, allowed us to enjoy a family meal during a tough stretch.

DSC_0401

Summer Squash Linguine with Cheese

We returned from a wonderful vacation a few days ago, and I’m finding myself very happy to be home and cooking again! Not that we didn’t have an amazing time exploring the various treasures of British Columbia but after a long stretch of restaurant meals, I crave the simplicity of home-cooked food. This post was set up the week, assuming there would be time to finalize it and share while away but as with so many things, you live and learn. Everything about my daily life – even this blog – felt very distant as we explored gorgeous Salt Spring Island and dabbled in city travel with two little ones (the former is far easier).

And now, onto important matters, like: zucchini candy. Yes, zucchini candy. This phrase was coined by yours truly last summer after years of frustration trying to get the girls to willingly eat summer squash. After all, it is a quintessential summer vegetable.  It not just withstands, but thrives, in the harsh conditions of our little backyard plot. It is surprisingly versatile. And it happens to show up in droves in the CSA box, which means I am often on point to come up with creative strategies for preparing it.

Of course zucchini muffins go down easy, but not so the savory options. I tried the soup approach (which is incredibly delicious and simple – will post on this later). No love. I tried the simple saute with mushrooms. Lukewarm. Then, I hit the magic bullet: we grew our own. Suddenly, there was real pride involved in harvesting, which then leads to a greater willingness to eat the spoils. The outcome of  a quick saute on high heat with garlic and olive oil became “zucchini candy”. We struck gold. As long as it was served as a side dish, it disappeared alongside smiling faces.

So this summer’s test was to see whether I could incorporate it into a main course with any success. Since I’ve been personally obsessed with linguine for the past few weeks (on account of a transcendent version with anchovies and spicy peppers I had at Locanda recently), I decided to give a simple summer pasta dish a try. To my total surprise, they went for it hook, line and sinker. It seems as though a new quick, simple and delicious dinner (or lunch) is born!

Preparation

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4-6 or more  (easily scaled to the number of people you are serving)

  1. Working with a ratio of about 1-1 1/2 pounds of summer squash per 4 servings, cut squash in half, then slice into thin half circles. Thinly slice 4-5 garlic cloves. Chop a few handfuls of fresh sage if you have on hand (or parsley, oregano, tarragon, whatever you favor).
  2. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil for the linguine (or other pasta, per your preference) and cook according to package instructions or until al dente, remembering to generously salt the water before adding pasta. Be sure to reserve about a cup of cooked pasta water before draining the noodles.
  3. Warm a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and saute the squash over high heat, stirring often so it doesn’t stick or burn, about 10 minutes. It should be caramelized (brown) and soft, a darker in color and sweet to taste when ready. When you think the squash is almost ready, add the garlic slices and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant but not brown.  This would be a great time to add a dash or two of chile flakes (adding them later, upon serving works too).
  4. If you are using fresh herbs – besides sage – add them to the squash-garlic mixture in the last 5 minutes of cooking. If you are using sage, fry them in warm olive oil in a separate small pan and reserve as a garnish. This is totally optional.
  5. If your pan is large enough to hold the zucchini mix and all of the pasta, add the drained pasta and a bit of the cooking water to the pan. Toss to distribute the vegetables throughout the pasta. If you – like me – don’t have room to mix everything in one pan, create a saucier vegetable mix by adding about 1/2 cup (or more if dry) pasta water to the squash mix and cooking for a minute or two, making sure to scrape the delicious caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Drizzle lemon juice, to taste, on the pasta and serve with grated Parmesan cheese  (Asiago, Gruyere or another hard cheese would work great too) and a salad on the side. Don’t forget to sprinkle the fried sage on top if you made some.