Anna’s Tomato Tart

This recipe, from Cooking with Jeffrey, is the kind of recipe that used to drive me crazy. When we lived in Minnesota, we got beautiful tomatoes that were perfect just on their own, raw and delicious. I hated to waste them in recipes like this, when their perfect flavor would be disguised with herbs and heat and cheese.

Enter Houston, and its (I’m so sorry) subpar tomatoes. I still miss the tomatoes and corn of the Midwest, and being able to breathe the air in the summer, but I don’t mind putting Houston tomatoes into this tomato tart, because they really do have room for improvement. (Houston, I love you. You know I do. But your tomatoes are garbage.) I picked up these tomatoes, along with some peaches and figs, at the farmers’ market this weekend. They were perfect in this tart recipe, which was originally published in Anna Pump’s Loaves and Fishes. The tart is quite a process – a crust which has to be refrigerated (but just for 30 minutes, so not really a make-the-day-ahead kind of thing), and then baked in two phases, and the herbs get smashed into a pesto … it’s kind of a thing. I messed up the entire kitchen for this masterpiece, but it was worth it. This is the kind of siren song that keeps me coming back to Ina, year after year, cookbook after cookbook.

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Part of the recipes calls for draining some of the liquid off of the tomato-herb-garlic mixture, but retaining the solids for the tomatoes in the tart. I added the herby liquid to some steamed green beans, which was a perfect first course while we waited for the tart to bake.

Dishes like this make us think things like, “We could totally be vegetarians.” We would totally not be skinny vegetarians, though, with that crust and that cheese. But it’s so worth it, and I’m already looking forward to leftovers tomorrow.

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Dinner: Changing the Game

I have a confession. I feel like I’ve been cheating on Ina. It’s gone on for some time now, having the occasional dalliance with the Smitten Kitchen and Yotam Ottolenghi, but I’ve found something serious this summer. Melissa Clark, of New York Times Cooking fame, published Dinner: Changing the Game earlier this year. When I first read the title, I thought, sure, they all say they’re “changing the game,” but is there really anything new under the Sun? But of course I bought it anyway, because I buy cookbooks compulsively, and anything that comes from the New York Times folks is probably worth at least a recipe or two. In the made-up words of our former president, I misunderestimated this book. Everything has been fantastic. I’ve made a lot of her chicken dishes, which are surprisingly new and fresh – who knew you could do inventive things with boneless, skinless chicken thighs? A lot of the recipes remind me of Yotam Ottolenghi’s food, but sometimes with more of a Greek twist. She loves anchovies, which I know will turn a lot of you off, but the way she uses them for a dash of flavor (and kind of smooshed into a paste) makes it more of a purer version of Worcestershire sauce, for flavor. I really like how she uses them, and it’s surprising how often they turn up in her recipes. So far, we haven’t been disappointed by anything in this cookbook. Go get you one.

What else have we been doing, besides cooking through another cookbook? We survived the end of the school year, and all of the attendant award ceremonies, final projects, and special celebrations. We spent Memorial Day Weekend with my brother in Dallas, and ate everything we could get our hands on. I went to Charlottesville, Virginia, for a work trip, and loved breathing the mountain air and breaking away for a few hours to meet up with some of the good folks at Mockingbird Ministries. Speaking of Mockingbird, I haven’t been great about updating here, but I’ve written more there, and I’ve generally enjoyed hanging out in that little corner of Christianity.

But back to cooking! And back to Ina. Not even Melissa Clark can keep me away from the siren song of the Barefoot Contessa forever. We have a few events coming up next week, some calling for vegetarian fare, and this is the first spring/summer that we’ve had Cooking for Jeffrey so there are a lot of new recipes to try. I sat down with Cooking for Jeffrey earlier this evening, and I now have a five-page grocery list.

 

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One from Ina, One from Deb

I made the Roasted Salmon Tacos from Cooking with Jeffrey this week, and they were delicious. I went easy on the spices on the salmon, because (miraculously!) the kids will sometimes eat salmon, and I didn’t want to mess with that. Even so, these did not lack for flavor, and I ate the leftovers cold, minus the tortillas, for lunch the next day. The slaw isn’t heavily sauced or sweet – it’s simply dressed with white wine vinegar and fresh dill.

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Earlier in the week, I made a smitten kitchen recipe for roasted sweet potatoes and spiced chickpeas. This recipe avoided my major complaint about sweet potatoes for weeknight meals – that they take so long to cook. By slicing them into wedges, the cooking time was cut way down, and the whole meal was delicious. The dollop of lime-infused Greek yogurt added just the right touch.

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Speaking of Ina and Deb, I’m on their home turf this week, at the mockingbird conference in NYC. I am restraining myself from stalking them, and having so much fun meeting friends I’ve only known online and on the phone – the devoted editors at mockingbird, and other contributors I’ve admired from afar for a long time. I even got to introduce my dear friend Sarah, and I heard the amazing Fleming Rutledge speak, which might have been even better than if I had gotten to meet the Barefoot Contessa or the smitten kitchen. I’m having the time of my life, and I think the boys are having fun at home, too. I owe Neil whatever dinner he’d like when I get home, because he managed field day, music lessons, and double dentist appointments without complaining once.

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Happy Easter!

As has been well documented, I love Easter. It is my favorite holiday, for big reasons (Alleluia, he ain’t in there!) and small (deviled eggs! seersucker suits on little boys!).

This year, we spent time with the same friends who have included us in their Easter celebrations since we moved to Houston. I made two recipes from Cooking for Jeffrey: herbed fromage blanc and root vegetable gratin. Both of these recipes were really easy, easy to make ahead, and delicious.

The night after Easter Sunday, I hosted a book group. I made another recipe from Cooking for Jeffrey: an aperol spritzer. I had never heard of aperol before, but it’s a citrus aperitif, and the spritzer combines it with prosecco and sparkling water, with an orange slice for garnish. Everybody loved it, and I think this will bear repeating throughout the summer.

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Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille with Polenta

Hello again! It’s been a while. My dad is known for saying that life is like a roll of toilet paper: the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. (Poet laureate of Dogwood Lane.) I don’t know if that means I’m getting old, but life is going awfully fast these days. Rowan is a long, lanky nine-year-old, and Ben will turn six in the next few weeks. This summer will mark three years that we’ve lived in Houston, which means that Ben is about the same age now that Rowan was when we moved here. That hardly seems possible.

Neil and I took a wonderful trip to Washington, DC in February, while my parents stayed with our kids. I don’t know who had the most fun. In March, we all went “home” to North and South Carolina for Spring Break. Work has been taking up a lot of our time, and school has been filling in the gaps where work might have left us a minute to catch our breath. I’m not complaining – we wouldn’t have it any other way. But it hasn’t left a lot of time for cooking.

So, it felt like a special treat to spend some time in the kitchen tonight, when I made roasted vegetable ratatouille with creamy polenta from Cooking with Jeffrey. It was delicious, and beautiful, and ridiculously easy to make. When I looked at the leftovers and realized we probably wouldn’t eat them tomorrow in their current state, I pureed them in the food processor to make into a roasted vegetable marinara for the freezer.

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“To Care and Not to Care”

I have an exciting thing to share!

It has nothing to do with Ina, but it does have to do with food and cooking.

Most of you know that I’ve written and spoken for Mockingbird Ministries, which “is a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.” The Mockingbird website does a much better job of describing itself than I ever can:

Behind our entire project lies the conviction that none of us ever move beyond our need to hear the basic good news of God’s Grace. In particular, none of us ever fully escape the gravitational pull of personal control (and anxiety) when it comes to life and how we live it. Hence the name “Mockingbird,” which refers to the curious characteristic of the bird itself: to repeat the message it has heard, over and over again.

Neil and I first began reading the Mockingbird blog several years ago, and then I began writing for them last summer. It has been one of life’s greatest pleasures to write with them and for them, and to spend time in their midst. I am so grateful.

And so, when the Editor of the Mockingbird Magazine asked me to write something for their Food and Drink issue, I was ecstatic. (Incidentally, I’d just thumbed through the last issue of the magazine and saw that the next issue would be about Food & Drink. I turned to Neil and said, “I want to do THAT.”) I’ve never written for a magazine before, and it was so much fun. It stretched me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be stretched, and I loved the process. Their masthead is “To Care and Not to Care,” which I think sums it up. They/we care deeply about the subject matter at hand, but they don’t care so much if you ask a lot of questions and need someone to help steer you in the right direction.

You can order a copy of the Food & Drink issue (or the archived issues) here. Or better yet, subscribe to the magazine and support Mockingbird. The magazines are book-quality, with beautiful artwork. I liked it even before I knew I’d get to write anything for it.

For what it’s worth, that refrigerator on the cover image is not my refrigerator. My refrigerator looks like the inside of my brain: cluttered, full, and oddly stashed things here and there. When you open our refrigerator, things jump out at you and occasionally crash to the floor. That cover fridge is my dream fridge. So tidy!

 

 

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Butternut Squash Hummus

I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions, but if I were, the recipe for Butternut Squash Hummus in Cooking for Jeffrey would fulfill a few new year’s promises: eat healthier, spend less money, cook at home more, or go meatless on Monday. It was easy to throw this together on our last day of winter break, and I’m looking forward to taking it to work tomorrow, as much as one can look forward to going back to the office after a fantastic week-long break. Ina says that her inspiration for this recipe came from Yotam Ottolenghi, who also happens to be one of my favorites. That explains the combination of some weird flavors: cinnamon, sriracha and Greek yogurt all in the same recipe? Why not? (Believe it or not, it works.)

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Speaking of resolution-y foods (healthy, don’t break the bank, don’t take enormous effort to make at home), I can’t believe I’ve been making this turkey stock risotto for the past four years without mentioning it on this blog. Sam Sifton (of New York Times cooking fame) wrote it for Bon Appetit magazine back in 2012, and we’ve been making it faithfully ever since then. Usually, I make it a few days after Thanksgiving, when we’re growing tired of the usual leftovers, but still have turkey stock to use up. This year, I made a ton of turkey stock (some on the stove, and some in the pressure cooker), and froze a lot of it as a gift to myself to use in the coming months. It’s been great in soup, but also for things like collard greens and blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, after a cold and rainy drive back from the beach at Galveston, we were ready to throw something together to eat at home. The stock thawed in no time, and we had nice pot of risotto ready for dinner.

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