Wait, it’s only early September…still PLENTY of veggies pouring into the market every week. (By the way, this song plays in my head every year, basically all September long. Now it’s your ear-worm. I am sorry. It’s groovy, though! Dance with your veggies…) Look, it’s been a long week (you, too?) and I offered to help Steph with the Market Menu this week and I might be a little goofy-punchy today.
But that’s because the confluence of school getting into full swing, days getting shorter, and the air getting cooler means I’m totally energized by the beautiful veggies that are available this time of year. It’s pretty amazing, because you have the tail-end of (still truly fresh and delicious) summer veggies like peppers and tomatoes, the return of more delicate greens and lettuces, and NEW potatoes, squashes, and various root vegetables. To me, that spells menu inspiration.
Steph and I were chatting about what we love to make and eat this time of year – and we both landed on soups and salads. It’s really a perfect match for that summer-into-fall mood. Maybe we’re not ready to let go of summer’s bounty, but (admit it) we’re kind of excited to see fall colors and maybe even shift our energy level to a different space. The recipes below play off the idea of combining those seasonal vegetables in straightforward, fresh ways. Serve with bread and you’ve got a great lunch or light dinner.
You may have noticed that Steph and I are both posting a lot about meal prep. Now that the semester is in full swing, we’re both focused on ways to keep up healthy eating habits without being overwhelmed in the kitchen.
I’m a weekend kitchen warrior. The only cooking I want to do during the week involves a microwave or an oven and something already made.
Freezer-based prep and planning developed over time for me as way of coping with long days during the week, and now it’s a habit. It takes a bit of planning and organization so that you don’t end up with a freezer full of stuff you won’t eat.
My tips on making freezer prep work:
1) LABEL EVERYTHING with a date and description. (Trust me, you won’t recognize that container of shredded chicken in a month. You think you will, but you won’t.)
2) Make a list of prepped items you put in the freezer with the dates they were frozen. Keep it wherever you do meal planning. (Hang it on the fridge, even.)
Both of these steps will help you remember what is in there (even if you have to dig for them!) and use them in a timely way.
Pantry Staples are Meal-Builders
A huge time-saver for me is to make staple items in bulk, then freeze them in amounts that match how I like to use them. An example of that is brown rice (or any kind of rice). If I am going to cook during the week, it’s going to be a quick stir fry, a salad, or something that accompanies the fish or chicken my husband can throw on the grill when he gets home.
I prefer brown rice to white; it is a whole grain and has more nutrients. However, it doesn’t cook very quickly, so having it already prepped is a real time-saver. (Yes, you can buy prepackaged frozen rice – but it’s so cheap to buy in bulk, cook in bulk, and freeze it yourself!) I use Alton Brown’s recipe for baked brown rice so often that I really don’t need to check the recipe anymore. I double or even triple or quadruple the amount in the recipe so that I have plenty to stock for later.
Other grains that freeze incredibly well include polenta (grits) and even cooked potatoes.
Cooked beans are also great freezer staples. I am definitely a fan of canned beans as a time-and-sanity saver, but cooking dried beans from scratch yields a tastier meal, I think. My most-used cooking tools are the slow cooker and the pressure cooker (I don’t have an Instant Pot, but that’s the same idea), and beans do great in both. The Kitchn has great tips for pressure cooking beans and here’s a link to walk you through beans made in an Instant Pot. If you’re a slow cooker devotee, here’s info from the Kitchn on beans in your crock pot.
We also cook proteins (meat or vegetable) and freeze them for later use. Some favorites are slow-cooked shredded chicken and pork (you can make plain or mildly seasoned shredded pork the same way, plain, so we can adapt it to recipes later). There are plenty of slow-cooker recipes for pulled pork, too. Make more than you need and put half away for later.
Make More, Freeze Leftovers
Basically, always cook a bit more than you need and freeze it for later. Not everyone loves to eat leftovers all week (my household is kind of weird that way). So freezing even just one or two servings will give you options during a busy week. There’s no reason to limit this approach to meat-based meals; plant-based prep-freeze/leftover-freezing is an option. Check out this list of bulk cooking ideas from The Minimalist Vegan. Vegetarian lentil, bean and pureed veggie soups form the basis of our winter meals, and I always have a container of soup in the freezer.
How to Thaw
My favorite way to thaw frozen food is overnight in the fridge. Because we do most meal prep on Sunday, I’ll take out a prepared meal (soup that we’ll eat with a quick salad and crusty bread) on Friday or Satuday…usually with a sigh of relief that at least one or two after-work dinners for the week are, essentially, already made.
I don’t have any idea how we got to September already. I mean, SEPTEMBER?! Where did July and August go? Every year, the summer seems to fly by, and I find myself wondering if it was all just a dream. But then those tomatoes keep coming, and I know it wasn’t a dream. (though with our weather forecast tonight, those tomatoes might need some cover soon!)
What should you expect to see this weekend at the Bloomington market?
The return of some salad greens! Arugula, lettuce, and some other cooler-weather (spring/fall) greens, in addition to kale. Also, the return of some cooler-weather vegetables like radishes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, and swiss chard. Plus, all the midsummer veg like tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, eggplant, onions, scallions and herbs.
So, what could we make from a market haul?
Is there anything at the market this week that might change your breakfast selections? I’m not above having toast with butter or cream cheese and tomato for breakfast… or for second breakfast, or elevenses. Enjoy those beauties while you can!
Slightly cooler weather, even a temporary string of it, definitely makes me think of hot cereal in the morning. Don’t forget about those berry preserves and syrups you made while the berries were coming so quickly! They make a tasty addition to oatmeal, cream of wheat, cream of rice, or any other hot cereal.
If you’re in the mood for something hearty, these breakfast frittata squares from the Food Network might have to be a weekend freezer prep, they look so simple and good. And I can’t imagine why the squares couldn’t be shrink-wrapped and frozen. You’d have to experiment with thawing and heating temperatures and time, but my first instinct would be to thaw overnight and heat in the microwave for about 40 seconds. They look eminently portable though, and that’s a huge plus.
Mark Bittman first made a name for himself as a food critic in the New York Times and has recently become an evangelist of a “mostly plant-based” diet. Check out his ideas for breakfast bread pudding and other unique breakfast ideas (recipes in the article). You can easily sub the fruit in the recipes for whatever is in season.
Are you a fan of Medici in Normal? It’s easy to make their popular Moroccan Ragout at home, and it takes to variations very easily. A close match is the harira recipe on Epicurious. Although this recipe uses chicken, I usually leave it out (doing so makes it a very close cousin to the Medici soup). Add zucchini or some diced potatoes for additional heft and flavor.
You know what’s great about your having already bought local buttermilk for scones? (See: breakfast.) We are headed into prime lettuce season once again, and you might be craving a great bibb salad with homemade creamy dressing. In this quick recipe, you can use those precious summer tomatoes (and, really, any kind of sturdier lettuce lead will work great). If salad is your midday meal, you could also add chick peas (or any bean) or chicken for protein.
We’re still inundated with summer vegetables, and this is the time to enjoy them (they’ll be gone pretty soon!). Peppers are prolific right now. You can toss chicken or beans into any of these raw sweet bell pepper salads:
School has started, and the weather lately has been decidedly fall-like. But don’t let the cool breezes fool you: this is prime time for peppers and other height-of-summer vegetables. You’ll find piles of sweet bell peppers at the market right now.
No one ever minds eating them raw (plain, or with hummus or yogurt dip, etc.) but if you’ve got an hour or so you can char them in the oven, slip off the peels, and stack them in freezer-safe containers to brighten the grey winter days.
In the last few years, I’ve scaled back some of the cooking and preserving that I do every summer. One thing that I never miss, though, is restocking my freezer with roasted sweet peppers. Like my parents did when I was growing up, I make pots of sauce for pasta all year round. We always freeze a container or two from each batch for later. My mom, my dad, and I have each developed our own individual stamps on the sauce we make. My dad favors a heavier dose of dried oregano. My mom often makes meatballs, but neither of them put meat in the sauce. I always use crushed fennel seed and a chunk of the roasted red peppers from the freezer.
You can roast peppers very easily in the oven or even on the grill. (I am partial to the oven method myself.) I lay the peppers out on a cookie sheet – plain, no oil, just clean peppers – and turn the broiler on. Periodically (say, every 5 minutes) I peek to see if they are getting charred, and using a set of oven-safe tongs I turn the peppers over so that all sides get roasted and the skins start to bubble up.
Once all of the peppers are roasted, use tongs to put them into a bowl and cover it with a large plate to steam for a few minutes. Remove the plate. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, you can slip the skins off and pull the stem out (if needed). I usually do that and pile them on the cutting board, where I can portion them into containers for the freezer.
It’s late, late August…so I might be getting a wee bit nostalgic already for summer foods. I know they’ll soon be gone.
This photo is a snapshot of a berry syrup I made. It’s also sitting in front of bowls containing two other ephemeral pleasures: fresh peaches and tomatoes.
I have come to appreciate the joy that comes from “seasonal mindfulness” (I made that up…it means enjoying those summer treasures in the moment, without obsessing over saving them for later). But sometimes on a cold, grey day, you just want to be reminded of the best of summer foods. Because canning is time consuming, I have never really tried it. I usually stick to things I can freeze (roasted tomatoes or peppers) that things that will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, like quick pickles, sauces, etc.
Last Saturday I was (easily) talked into buying two cups of local aronia berries, which I’ve had in jam form before (made by a local farmer and sold at the Thanksgiving Market). But I decided the quickest thing I could make with this amount was a sauce on the stove.
Aronia berries are really tart, and I had a handful of blueberries in the fridge that were about to go bad, so I tossed those in the saucepan, too. The recipe I used also calls for lemon, but I only had lime – it turned out great!
It only made a small amount but it’s really lovely – not overly sweet, and the touch of ginger and vanilla adds depth. I’m interested in the medicinal qualities of ginger, plus I like the taste, but you could easily leave it out. I also strained the sauce, but you could keep it chunky.
I’ve been spreading this on toast this week, but you could also put it on plain yogurt, on pancakes, waffles, or French toast.
I’ll be looking for more aronia berries at the market next week!
I’ve been working on prepping more freezable meals for this busy fall season; some tested recipes, some soups and sauces, and some total experiments. This experiment is so tasty, that I just had to post the recipe!
I’ve made breakfast burritos for the freezer before, with egg & cheese, sausage and egg, and some with rice. These were intended to be really meaty, hearty dinners, so I started with a rough estimate of amounts of each ingredient, calculated the nutritional information, and started prepping — and then adjusted as follows.
Beef: Starting with 2# of 90%/10% ground beef, cook in a skillet (cast iron is excellent for this), with no added fat. When it’s nearly all cooked, add a packet of of your favorite taco seasoning (I used Ortega, which is supposed to be a packet for 1# of meat, but ok as I didn’t want these super spicy). Mix in well, and cook until browned. Turn off the heat, scoop the meat into a bowl and weigh it (for portioning later) For what it’s worth, it lost 4 oz in cooking (1# 12 oz. cooked), and I calculated the nutritional information (using Calorie King) based on the cooked weight.
After cleaning the grill pan, heat with 1 T. olive oil on medium-high, and add 1 medium yellow onion, chopped. Once the onion starts to soften a bit, add the peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Or you can do them all at once, but I like my grilled onion a little more caramelized. When they’re done (nice and brown on the edges), dump in a bowl, and decide whether to weigh or measure or just eyeball it later. I recommend doing one of the two, so that you distribute everything evenly. Then repeat with the mushrooms, but without adding any more oil to the pan. Note: before you add these to the tortillas, you may want to drain the vegetables, as they’ll release some liquid while they wait.
Assembly: I used medium-sized tortillas — they were labeled for burritos, but they’re not the giant burrito wraps. I think they’re 8″ in diameter. See, my intention had been to make burritos, but that was a big FAIL — there was just too much stuff to wrap up. Oops! So my sister had the brilliant idea to just fold in half and call them quesadillas. Brilliant! They’re stuffed full, but they actually hold together really well as fold-overs.
First thing is to spoon out some refried black beans, and spread onto half the tortilla. You can weigh each spoonful, or just eyeball it after the first couple. Then add 4 oz of the ground beef, 1/2 c. of the sauteed vegetables, and 1 oz. of the shredded cheddar cheese. Spread everything out as much as you can; it’ll make it easier to close. I found it worked well to have one small bowl for the meat and one for the cheese, and just pre-weigh a portion of each before starting on the next tortilla.
Carefully fold in half, trying to keep everything inside. Wrap tightly in cellophane, place in a large freezer bag, and freeze. That’s it!
4 oz ground beef (90% lean)
2.25 oz refried black beans
1 oz shredded cheddar
1/2 c. sauteed mushrooms, onions & peppers
To thaw and warm: Unwrap each quesadilla (this is important – don’t microwave your saran wrap!) and defrost in microwave for 1.5 – 2 minutes on 50% power (your microwave may vary on times). Once thawed, place in a hot skillet until it’s slightly crispy, before carefully flipping to repeat on the other side. Don’t rush this part; the crispy tortilla is one of the best parts. We’ve enjoyed ours served with some chopped lettuce and tomato and cilantro, and sour cream.
The nutritional information above might make this recipe look rigid, but you can make yours however you’d like, to meet your needs. Use ground turkey, or chopped chicken, or eliminate the beans if you don’t like them. And 1 oz of cheese isn’t a lot, so you might want to bump that up, or bring down the amount of the ground beef (it’s a beefy recipe!)
If you make them with variations, let us know on our facebook page!
For many of us (your co-authors included!!), it’s just about that time of year when the academic calendar takes over our lives again. Or at least for a little while, until we regain our balance. Having some food prepped for the coming week helps to take a little pressure off at the beginning of the term.
Whether it’s you or your kids or spouse who are headed back to school, check out some of our ideas below for prepped meals to help you out. And if no one in your house is headed back to school, then I hope you’ll relish your continued summer and this lovely weather!
Stuffed Bell Peppers
I’ve wanted to try making stuffed bell peppers for a while now. The peppers in our CSA basket this week were gigantic, so it was a great time to try! My sister was game and offered the use of her kitchen, so we each made a big batch to freeze.
Sometimes I don’t feel like following a specific recipe, so this is more a report on how I made them. I kept track of the ingredients in case you want to try replicating it, though!
the peppers. Between the CSA and market, I had 10 giant peppers to stuff! I sliced off the tops, pulled out the core and gently removed the white ribs with my fingers. I diced up the good parts of the tops to add to the filling, since I wasn’t putting the tops back on after stuffing. And because I was going to freeze these, I decided to blanch the peppers first. I only put them into the boiling water for a minute, but I’d probably follow this chart (which recommends 3 minutes for peppers) next time. After blanching and draining, I set them in small foil loaf pans in pairs, to get ready for assembly. tip: spring-loaded grabbers are quite handy for dunking and removing the peppers without getting burned.
the meat. I figured a pound of ground beef was enough, and though it was sufficient, twice that would have been better. Cook the meat thoroughly in a skillet and drain the fat from the pan.
the filling. Make a pot of brown rice — 2 c. rice, 4 c. water. Set that aside in a large bowl once it’s done and cooled. In a large skillet, sautee a diced yellow onion and the diced pepper-tops together with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Add this to the rice, and mix well.
assembly. You can mix the ground beef into the rice mixture if you like, but honestly I wasn’t sure the rice was all going to fit, and I wanted to be sure that all the meat made it in. So ground beef went into the peppers first, then the rice mixture. The foil containers had thin plastic lids, so I used those for now. But once they’re frozen, I’ll take the covers off and put them in foodsaver bags, since the covers aren’t very sturdy for keeping in the deep freezer.
For what it’s worth, my sister used 2# of ground beef for her batch of 6 peppers, and she added a large can each of black beans and crushed tomatoes to her rice-meat-peppers-onions mixture. It made more than would fit into her peppers, so she just put those portions in their own containers.
nutritional info. As made above, with 1 Tbs. of canola oil (to cook the diced peppers and onion), and with 2 stuffed peppers counting as a serving, these have approximately 384 calories, 20g protein,
25g carbs, 17g fat
They’re quite large, so add a bit of cheese and you have a pretty hearty meal!
I’ve made some version of these many times over, and the potential for variation is great — you can customize them for whatever flavors you like. Maple pork sausage with eggs and shredded potato is a particular favorite in my house.
Another thing your co-authors share is a significant daily work commute, and the ability to pop a breakfast in the microwave and eat it on the road or once I get to my office is a huge plus. I’ve made sandwiches and burritos before, but they’re hard to put down and pick up again. I find a bowl and spoon is actually easier to manage without spilling.
The batch that I made today was designed to be pretty heavy on the protein. I use 2 c. glass containers with lids from Anchor that do well from freezer to microwave, and this recipe stuffs them pretty full.
The eggs are going to be scrambled, so crack 1 dozen whole eggs and 1 dozen egg *whites into a blender jar, add about 3 Tbs. water, and blend until slightly foamy. Heat a large skillet (nonstick is best) and add a quick spray of olive oil. Scramble the eggs in batches — about 1-2 c. in each batch, depending on the size of your pan. I’ve tried doing the whole thing at once, and it’s kind of been a mess. Your mileage may vary, of course. Set the cooked eggs aside in a large bowl/pan. When the first dozen is done, crack your second dozen of whole eggs and whites, and repeat the process.
Using pre-cooked turkey sausage feels a bit like cheating, and I’d rather not do it. But it is a huge time-saver. I need to seek out some local turkey that I can get ground, though; I’d love to try making my own turkey sausage, and cooking it at home.
Assemble the bowls in layers: rice first, then meat, then eggs. I use a measuring cup for the rice (1/4 c. each), and weigh the other ingredients for each bowl.
To figure out the nutritional information for the eggs, I used the total number of eggs and whites — but knowing that number doesn’t help with portioning! So I divided the total weight of the cooked eggs (we found a pan that would fit on the kitchen scale!), and divided by 12 to get the weight we’d need for each bowl. It sounds like a hassle, but it actually goes pretty quickly.
Using only cooking spray for the eggs, and no other added fat, these have approximately 316 calories, 34g protein, 14g carbs, and 15.8g fat. I was going to add cheese, but they’re stuffed into the bowls already!
These actually come together pretty quickly, and you can cook the components ahead of time. Straight from the freezer, these take a little more than 2 minutes in my microwave to heat fully. Friends have asked about the consistency of the egg, and honestly I don’t mind it. If anything, I slightly undercook the egg when I’m scrambling, since they’ll get cooked some more in the microwave. But they’re definitely better than the texture of egg in most drive-through breakfast sandwiches.
*If you’re going to separate your eggs, you might be wondering what to do with all those yolks. Might I suggest making some salt-cured egg yolks? I’ve heard excellent things from friends, though I haven’t made them yet myself. You gently place the yolks in a little well of a salt-sugar mixture, and cover with more of the mix. For 5 days, they sit in your refrigerator, presumably releasing a lot of water into the salt mixture, and maybe taking in some sugar? After 5 days, you brush them off and dry in a 175F oven (or a dehydrator) for a couple of hours. Then, grate on pasta or toast. If you try it, be sure to report back!!
This week, we wanted to feature recipes that allow substitutions — recipes (or styles of cooking) that let you throw whatever you have on hand into a dish that you’ll enjoy.
When we polled readers on our facebook page as to their favorite dish in this category, stir-fry was the most common. So, here are some ways that you can enjoy seasonal vegetables in a stir-fry.
Equipment: Having a wok is not essential; a large skillet or other large pan with a flat bottom will work, too. Make sure to start with a hot pan, and hot oil (something other than extra-virgin olive oil). Then add aromatics like ginger and garlic or onion first, then your veg.
Ginger and Garlic – for 2-4 servings, start with 1 T oil, 1 T fresh ginger (grated or minced), 2-3 cloves of garlic (crushed or minced). Keep it moving or keep stirring for about a minute, until the kitchen smells amazing. Then add your vegetables: green onions, carrots, summer squash, kale — whatever you have on hand!! You can even cube kohlrabi and add it to this. Just be conscious of how long each veg will take to cook, relatively. I generally add carrots, kohlrabi, and broccoli stalks first; summer squash or peppers in the middle, and kale later. When you add your veg, also add 1-2 T of soy sauce. Keep stirring for a few minutes until everything is cooked to your taste. I often do veg-only stir fries, but lately I’ve been using the high protein extra-firm tofu from Green Top, and it’s great in this. You can pre-marinate it, or just add it in with your vegetables. If you want meat, I usually cut up my chicken into bite-sized pieces first, then add to the hot pan at the very beginning of cooking, with the aromatics.
Garlic Sauce – I haven’t tried this, but for fans of dishes like tofu in garlic sauce, this looks like a winner!! It includes soy sauce, chicken broth, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, pepper, garlic, and ginger. I’d definitely try this with green beans, if you have any around.
Sweet and Sour sauce with Ginger – this is pretty close to what my mother made for us growing up (as taught to her by our Cantonese neighbor). The main difference is that she would cook the meat and vegetables with everything except the sugar, vinegar, and cornstarch. She’d mix the sugar and vinegar together and then add it to the pot and cook for a bit, then mix the cornstarch with a little cold water, and add it once the sugar-vinegar mixture was boiling.
For me, having lots of veggies on hand and no plan for them usually means making a frittatta or tortilla espagnole. The latter requires (waxy) potatoes, both require eggs, and the frittatta definitely needs some cheese. But the more critical thing is time; the tortilla espagnole starts with thin-sliced potatoes, which make a sort of crust at the bottom of the pan, under a layer of egg and vegetables. Delicious! But slicing and pre-cooking them adds about 15 minutes to cooking time, compared to the frittatta. Here are a few options for each.