They’ll Hold You To It

November 9th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to kids, don’t make a promise you won’t be able to keep. Don’t promise a trip to Barnes and Noble this weekend if you know it’s going to take some logistical heroics to squeeze it between all the games and practices and trips to the mall to buy new boots. (Again! Why am I always buying boots?) Don’t promise you will kick the soccer ball around after work if you know it’s going to be dark outside when you get home. (They will blame you no matter how convincingly you try to explain Daylight Savings, the meeting that ran late, the train that chugged along at a snail’s pace.) Don’t promise you’ll make a cereal box village on Sunday afternoon, if you know there’s a good chance you’ll have to wrap up some last-minute work on a project due Monday and will likely respond “in a minute…in five minutes…in ten minutes…in about an hour” to the little voice that keeps asking you “Now Mom? Now Mom? Now?” and then eventually with resigned, puppy-dog disappointment, “Oh forget it.” Does anything make me feel lousier? I don’t think so.

Whatever you do, don’t promise them you’ll take part in Meatless Monday! Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t love the idea of a weekly vegetarian meal and the hugely popular initiative to get families to cut back on meat once a week  – I more than love it. I embrace it! We like to do our part for the planet with plant-based dinners at least two times a week. It’s just that those dinners somehow don’t ever seem to fall on a Monday. And for my two little literalists, this is not acceptable. They don’t ever seem to give me props when we have salad pizza on Thursday or Minestrone on Sunday or Bean Cakes on Wednesday. It’s the Pomegranate-braised Pork Loin I dared to make on Monday that they remember. “Mooooom,” said one of my eco-policewomen last week, setting her fork down, leaning back, and crossing her arms. “It’s Monday! Why are we eating pork?”

So next Monday we’re having veggie Quesadillas. Because they are fast, because they are good, and because I promised.

Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
The girls aren’t goat cheese lovers, so for their quesadillas, I usually replace it with shredded cheddar or Jack.

vegetable oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup water
3 scallions (white and green parts only) chopped
6 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Stir in beans and mash them with a large fork. Add water and scallions and cook, stirring until most of water is absorbed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Set a separate skillet over medium-high heat and add a little more vegetable oil. Place one tortilla in skillet, spreading about a sixth of bean filling on one side. Sprinkle a little goat cheese on top of beans and fold other half over to seal. Flip around a few times until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a dinner plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

I served these with crispy kale, which is another way of saying I sauteed the kale in olive oil over medium-high heat, added salt, and then completely forgot about it as I was summoned to explain a bar model math problem. But you know what? The leaves turned crispy and with a little more salt, they became delicious, easy-to-eat (and easy-to-sell) kale chips.

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TV Dinner: Risotto Two Ways

January 10th, 2011 · 7 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I have two fall-back meals that I can always count on when my imagination fails me: There are my tacos (quick shrimp, or shredded pork) and there’s my risotto. Risotto, sadly, has gotten a bad rap because it requires you to hover and be attentive for the entire time you are cooking. (Sound like someone else you know? Who is possibly hanging on your apron as you read this?) In my opinion, though, this flaw is cancelled out by the fact that risotto falls in the hard-to-screw-up category (along with that braised pork loin I wrote about last month) and can be open to interpretation as soon as you nail the fundamentals of its preparation. Not to mention the fact that having a stash of leftovers in the fridge is money in the bank for dinner the next night, too, in the form of golden, crispy, melty-cheesy risotto cakes. My suggestion: Save your apron-hanger’s dedicated screen time til dinner prep hour then turn on one episode of The Backyardigans while you stir the rice and get Zen.

I was so happy when Trader Joe’s started selling organic string cheese. We always have a stash of them in the fridge, which came in handy on risotto cake night. (more…)

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The Almost Vegetarian

April 22nd, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Vegetarian

About 15 years ago, I was chatting with two women at a cocktail party when one of them mentioned she was a vegetarian. Other than feeling a flash of pity — poor thing can’t eat a steak — I didn’t think much about it until she wandered away to get a Pinot refill.

At that point, the other woman whispered, “Well, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s not a lot of fun!” We snickered and shoved a few more pigs in blankets down the hatch.

I’ve thought about this conversation a lot in the past few years. When I replay it and think of my glib response, it feels like watching a pregnant Betty Draper in “Mad Men” throwing back a martini: How could she not know? How could I have dismissed this woman when it was likely that some major soul-searching had gone into her decision to stop eating meat? How could I not have known?

Maybe it was because that cocktail party was about eight years before Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” described the disturbing conditions of the slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants feeding the country’s fast-food system. And before Michael Pollan asked us in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to question everything on our plates and how it got there. It was way before investment bankers were leaving Wall Street to start organic chicken farms and before new dad and literary darling Jonathan Safran Foer proclaimed in his 2009 vegetarian manifesto, “Eating Animals”: “We are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle.”

Click over to Body + Soul to read the rest of the story and to get the recipe for this stunningly good vegetarian main: Spinach, Mushroom, and Scallion Tart.

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Split-Personality Pizza

April 1st, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

I called Jenny on the way home from work tonight:

“I’m running for the 6:23 train, yeah, be home by seven, work was fine, need me to pick anything up? And oh, what do you feel like for dinner.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Let me look–hold on–Girls, turn DOWN the Michael Jackson!”

I could hear her open the freezer, rifle around. “We have some chicken.”

Nah, not feeling chicken. Sick of chicken.

“We could do pasta.” I had pasta for lunch.

“Wait,” she said, “There’s a Jim Lahey pizza crust in here!” Pizza sounded good. “Okay, what should we have on it?” she asked. For some reason, I wanted potatoes…and cheddar cheese and caramelized onions. She raised no objections. I told her I’d make it, if she would defrost the crust and slice up some potatoes.

Forty-five minutes later, I got home to a crust on a baking sheet, a bowl of sliced red potatoes (about 1/4 inch thick, skins still on), and a preheated oven. The kids were upstairs in the bath. The dog did not appear to need walking. I went to work.

We didn’t have much in the refrigerator, pizza-wise, so I grabbed some olive oil, salt, fresh thyme, chives, an onion, and Trader Joe’s Mexican blend of shredded cheese. I boiled the potatoes in salted water for about eight minutes to soften them up and sauteed a sliced onion while I got the rest of my ingredients ready. “Do you think the kids will eat this?”  I asked as I was assembling. “Probably not,” she said. The girls were now in the kitchen in their bathrobes. Hungry. “Why don’t you make them a regular cheese pizza?” We had no mozzarella, but we did have a few sticks of string cheese, which I diced up and sprinkled over some marinara. I did a half cheese, half potato, and put it in the oven for about fifteen minutes at 500°F. As usual, the pizza crust came out exactly the way it always does (perfect, and infinitely better than a storebought crust), and thirty minutes after walking in the door, dinner was ready.

The kids did try the potato version, by the way. (We sold it to them as french fry pizza.) It appears they will allow us to move it into our rotation.

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