The first meal you cook in a new kitchen feels portentous. As if the success or failure of all future culinary endeavors rests on the results of that one meal. It shouldn’t be too simple, or too fancy. You don’t want too much room for error, or something that’s *gasp* boring. It should be just right. So when I unpacked my kitchen, and decided my long cooking hiatus would come to an end, I wanted to prepare the perfect meal. I wanted it to be familiar, but novel. Seasonal comfort food. In the first kitchen that’s Mine in my very first house, I wanted something that said “Home.” And so I chose soup. Now I know that soup may not be the most obvious choice for a summer dish. Soups are associate with cold days and long slow simmers on a hot stove. And the usual summer soups – your gazpachos and your vichyssoises and your fruit soups — while delicious, are not homey. But this soup combines the best of both worlds. It’s a hearty soup, made with a bounty of summer vegetables which are delicious in soup — green beans, zucchini – and it simmers for less than an hour, as it gets a big flavor boost from a large spoonful of basil pesto, whose sharp summery flavor wakes up your tastebuds. It can be served hot or lukewarm, and it’s perfect for those long summer evenings. Soupe Au Pistou is a classic Provencal dish, and it can be made with whatever looks best at your local farmer’s market. [...]
There seems to be this idea out there that kids will not eat vegetables. There are suggestions to disguise the vegetables as trees, or puree them and hide them in the brownies. I just don’t get it. Sure, some kids are neophobes — they will view anything unfamiliar with suspicion. And some kids won’t touch anything green. But I think it’s our job as parents not only to get them to EAT vegetables, in some sneaky and underhanded manner, but to actually get them to like vegetables, as vegetables. That’s going to serve them a lot better in life than never eating spinach unless it’s part of a cupcake.
The challenge is in how to do that. And there is no answer that works for every kid. Try different things. Prepare vegetables in different ways. Try roasting them, or sauteeing with a little bacon, or serving a salad, or baking into a lasagna. Let them dip the vegetables in ranch dressing, or cover them with a cheese sauce. If they don’t like green vegetables, cook carrots or cauliflower or pattypan squash. Make vegetables, in all of their wondrous variety, a part of their life.
Before you run screaming for the hills, don’t think that the Nuni is sitting there saying “How about some cardoons for Sunday brunch today, Mom?” She’s not a great eater in general in terms of quantity, and macaroni and cheese or ice cream tend to be more successful than bell peppers and eggplant. (And I fully admit that there have been nights when dinner WAS ice cream, ideally washed down by a vitamin and some green juice from Trader Joe’s (that stuff is magic — it looks like pond scum, but tastes like bananas and mangos, and has things like spinach and seaweed in it). But I keep trying. I serve her the veggies she’ll reliably eat, like carrot sticks and raw broccoli, and I keep trying new preparations on her. And occasionally, I hit gold.
Last week we were driving home, carrying on our typical patter “Who did you play with today? What books did you read? What do you want for dinner?” (the answer is usually “Macaroni and cheese, because that’s a dish she remembers), when she suddenly piped up “I want kale for dinner.” Kale? My child wants kale? Not one to miss an opportunity, I stopped at the Whole Foods on the way home to pick up some kale, and rushed when I got home to prepare these kale chips. [...]
The advent of fall is subtle here in Los Angeles. We don’t get the fire of autumn leaves, serving as a beacon, or the sudden damp and chill, requiring rainboots and peacoats. We tend to put our heads down during the fires and Santa Ana winds of September and October, keep going through day after day of sunny skies and 80 degree temperatures, until sometime in November we look up and notice that the air smells of leaf mold and woodsmoke, the nights have grown cold, the sycamore leaves have changed from golden green to golden brown, and the light seems to be filtered through a faint haze. Fall has arrived, not with bright banners and pounding drums, but quietly and unmistakeably.
Fall also brings with it a cornucopia of autumnal produce — my beloved brussels sprouts, apples, persimmons, pears, sweet potatoes, and of course, squash. Nothing quite screams autumn like winter squash – first the pumpkins for Halloween, then pumpkin pie and suddenly the creamy orange flesh is everywhere you turn.
Squash are often banished to side dish status, but they can be the centerpiece of a meal. Acorn squash, in particular, makes an appealing main course — it’s perfectly sized for built-in portion control, is less sweet than butternut or kabocha squash, lending itself well to savory preparations, and it’s pretty to boot. This acorn squash, which is halved, then baked and stuffed with a mixture of squash and quinoa, is a particularly elegant preparation — hearty, savory and beautiful enough to grace a dinner table. It’s a great option if you are planning a Thanksgiving dinner with vegetarians at the table — it can be made well in advance except for a late reheating, and is substantial and lovely enough that the vegetarians don’t feel like they’ve been relegated to the status of second class citizens. [...]
Brussels sprouts have since become one of my favorite vegetables, with their nutty flavor. tendercrisp texture and whimsical form (my childhood of playing with dollhouses predisposes me to love miniature things). When fall comes around and I start to see those little guys in the market, they come into regular rotation — usually thrown into a hot oven with some olive oil and salt to brown up, but sometimes in salads, in sautes and in that scallop dish from years ago. Now that I am a brussels sprout fanatic though, I find I need to convert the unbelievers (like my dad), and olive oil and salt, divine though they may be, just don’t cut it. [...]
Fall produce – what do you think of? Apples, of course. Brussels Sprouts. Take a page from Thanksgiving and think sweet potatoes and cranberries. And pumpkins are, of course, inescapable, their leering visages popping up everywhere you go. Although I personally love all of these, the autumn crop which gets me all hot and bothered is the persimmon.
This salad combines some of the best flavors of fall, with persimmons, toasted walnuts and a dressing made from apple cider and apple cider vinegar. This is tied together with peppery arugula and a mellow, nutty aged gouda. It calls for the squat Fuyu persimmons — don’t use Hachiya unless you enjoy wearing your lips in a perfect pucker. Enjoy it as a counterpart to all the Halloween candy that abounds today! [...]