A New Standby

I’ll admit one thing to you today, and that’s this: I like to plan.  You probably know this by now, if you’ve paid attention. You probably know that we’re pretty on the ball when it comes to vacations, like last year when we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway. We had most of the hotels booked, a few points of interest mapped out, and just enough free time reserved for last-minute stuff, too. That’s the crux of it: planning is great, but in doing so, you need flexibility, too, or else you just screw yourself. You don’t want to screw yourself.

[I just read through the PCH post. What a crazy coincidence that we now live near all of that. That vacation totally rocked, and now everyday life does too (not that it didn’t before…). Also! the area around my poison oak did flare up again a couple of weeks ago, as some strange reaction to sunburn. That’s gone now, but man, was it weird.]

We’re heading on a couple more trips this fall, though they aren’t quite as lavish as last year’s. First, we’re invading my in-laws’ road trip and spending some time with them in Sedona for a long weekend, at which point I’m sure we’ll do some hiking, sight-seeing, and if things go our way, some wine-tasting (um. obviously.). Then, we’ll head back to Chicago for my favorite ex-co-worker’s wedding (and many hopeful reunions!), and start a road trip from the Midwest to the Deep South, ending up in New Orleans for the weekend. If you have any recommendations for St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans, send them my way. There will be barbeque, I’m sure. Maybe some honky-tonks, too.

As you might imagine, I’m also a kitchen planner. I’d love to be the person who grocery shops for individual dishes, but I’m just not. I’d spend too much money that way, and I’d have way too little time to actually cook if I stopped at the g-store on the way home every night. That said, I plan 3-4 meals each week, buy the ingredients, and stock up on a few standby items, for the days that an hour in the kitchen seems like too long, either because I exercised for a change, or because I got stuck in traffic, or when Chris decides he wants to work late (he does love working late!) and roll in at 8:30.

This is one of my standbys. Well, now it is, seeing as how I’ve made it exactly twice in a month. This is also perfect for those of you sweating your faces off in other parts of the country that aren’t northern California – you turn on absolutely no heat source to get this dinner on the table. You need only a few staples – something to fill, like lavash bread, or a pita, or even tortillas, and you need something canned, preferably chickpeas, but other beans would work too. And finally, greens; I’d suggest something other than arugula, which is what I had, but you be the judge. The rest of the ingredients can come and go as you have them, a true testament to the standing-by nature of this dish.

It’s a pinch hitter, really. Meant entirely for the days you haven’t planned – the days you want to just wing it. And by wing it, I mean hit the ball outta the park without even trying. Standbys are good like that.

Chickpea Wraps
Adapted from Super, Natural, Every Day; serves 4

time commitment: 20 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 c shallots, small dice
1/2 c celery, small dice
2 T fresh dill, chopped
1 t Za’atar (optional, I still have some)
2 T Dijon mustard
1 c Greek yogurt
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 a lemon’s worth of zest
1 T fresh lemon juice
4 pieces of whole wheat lavash or 4 whole wheat pitas
2 c mixed greens (whatever you have)

instructions
pour half of chickpeas into a large bowl and mash with a potato masher (or fork) to break up a bit. add remaining chickpeas, shallots, celery, and dill.

in a small bowl, whisk together the za’atar (if using), mustard, yogurt, and salt. toss chickpeas with most of the mixture. add lemon zest and juice; taste and add more lemon juice if needed.

spread remaining yogurt onto/into the lavash/pita/whatever you’re using. add 1/4 of the mixed greens to each piece of lavash/pita/whatever, and top each with 1/4 of the chickpea mixture. fold into a wrap and devour. if using pita bread, just devour.

Waiting is Overrated

I have had a huge hankering for tomatoes lately. Huge. They’ve slowly been inching their way into our markets – every weekend I dash down the street (okay okay, I stroll; I couldn’t dash if I tried these days) to see if there’s a burgeoning table of wayward-shaped heirlooms in need of a handful of my cash-money. Instead, I see a corner of lonely tomatoes, the same corner that once housed a crate of greens, or maybe some stray box of strawberries.

Damnit, I want that big table of tomatoes already. I have a list of things I want to do with them, and I am growing impatient. Can you tell?

I want to make another panzanella salad, because I haven’t made one since I made this one two years ago! But this time, I want to load it with ‘maters. And sourdough bread, of course.

I want to can plenty of tomato sauce, and make barbeque sauce, and plenty of sriracha ketchup. I want to make buttermilk dressing and slather it all over sliced heirloom tomatoes. And myself. That’s not weird, is it?

I want to make my own harissa. Now let me be clear – the store-bought harissa is totally legit, but I’m sort of a fan of making condiments. Sort of.

I also wouldn’t mind some gazpacho right about now. That sounds like something I could definitely get behind. Or in front of. Or in my mouth. Whatevs.

I wanted to wait to stuff some ‘maters, like my old bosslady did a few months ago, but I really just couldn’t wait any longer. Plus, I’ve been cooking through Heidi Swanson’s new book like it’s goin’ outta style, and I decided that the Whole Foods tomatoes would just have to do because the earmark on the page was near ’bout worn off.

I also couldn’t help myself from throwing a slice of cheese on top, because when has mozzarella cheese and a tomato ever been a bad thing?

Sometimes waiting is so overrated, isn’t it?

Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active time)

this is a relatively versatile recipe. except! don’t use millet in your tomatoes, as i accidentally did the first time i tried this recipe. you could use a grain of similar texture, more than likely. quinoa maybe? a pesto filling would work well in place of harissa and any other spices/seasonings to put a different twist on it sound fabulous too. if you want a meat-filled tomato, check out this ‘winning recipe‘.

printable version

ingredients
4 large, ripe, red tomatoes
1/3 c plain yogurt
2 T store-bought harissa (tomato-based)
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped into thin strips (chiffonade)
1 shallot, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 c couscous, uncooked
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 slices
olive oil, for drizzling

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the top 10% off of each tomato. Working over a large bowl (and using a grapefruit spoon if you have one, but if not a regular spoon works too), scoop the flesh out of each tomato, being careful not to puncture the sides. Let the pulp and juice fall into the bowl. Chop up any large pieces. Arrange shells of tomatoes in a small, glass baking dish.

In the same bowl, combine 1/2 c of the tomato pulp/juice (discard the rest, which shouldn’t be too much) with yogurt, harissa, basil (leave a little to garnish), shallots, and salt/pepper to taste. Add couscous and stir to combine. Stuff filling into each tomato shell, filling as much as possible.

Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Add mozzarella strips to the top of each tomato and bake another 5-7 minutes, until melted and gooey. Remove from oven, drizzle with a little olive oil and pepper, and garnish with remaining basil.