Monthly Archives:

May 2014

Pesto with Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Tomatoes

Field

If the thought of pesto, tossed with shaved asparagus and roasted tomatoes, seems far off from camping, I’m with you. But if that thought, along with the image of mint mojitos by the fire, sounds amazing, I’m undoubtedly with you, too. 

This year I learned you need to book a campsite well in advance if you want to tent it out over Memorial Day weekend. Because apparently everyone else wants to do that, too.

So much for spontaneity these days. Oh, and having the planning part covered by mom. Big kid problems.

Pesto with Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Tomatoes

I was determined to go camping this Memorial Day, and a bunch of booked campsites wasn’t going to get me down.

Plan B – Camp out at my madre’s house, a haven 2 hours outside the city that might as well be taken from the pages of Henry Thoreau. See field photo above. Not a bad alternative. (Just don’t compare my writing to Thoreau. I prefer a caveman-like brevity to never-ending sentences.)

Pesto with Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Tomatoes

Plan B turned into a bunch of Philly and hometown friends joining me for mojitos by the fire made from just picked mint via mom’s herb garden. It turned into watching hot air balloons sail, and then the sun fall, from the comfort of our front deck. It turned into setting up tents in a free backyard. And it turned into a conclusion of sleeping soundly inside.

Ah, yes. A mint-mojito-shaved-asparagus campout was never destined for sleeping outside, was it? To be fair, I will blame my friends for coercing me indoors. And also to be fair, we had one lone camper who roughed it out in his tent.

Asparagus

Now onto the food. While pesto might not seem like standard camping fare, for my vegetarian family, it was always a go-to. It keeps well in a cooler, and tastes fine both hot or cold. Plus, we always make it in large batches during the summer, when the garden basil’s at its peak, so it becomes an easy meal to pop out from the freezer.

It’s still too early to see basil thriving. But both my mom and I still have several pesto batches holding out from last season in our freezer.

Pesto with Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Tomatoes

When you’ve got the pesto part already made, sprucing it up to make it a little richer and fancier becomes easy and fathomable. Although, the pesto itself is not hard to make — so even if you don’t get a chance to make it ahead of time, I still recommend taking the time to include the tomatoes and asparagus seen here, too.

Pesto with Shaved Asparagus and Roasted Tomatoes

Asparagus has always been a springtime favorite, but it’s only been recently that I’ve discovered its utility in raw form. Slightly grassy and crisp, here it adds a refreshing and light crunch to what can feel like a full-bodied pasta dish. It pairs well with the tomatoes, whose flavor is drawn out and intensified via a little time in the oven. I love roasted tomatoes, so when I’m making this recipe, I’m roasting extra for me, and me only.

Grape Tomatoes

Maybe this isn’t your ideal grab-and-go camping dish, but it’s definitely an all-star bowl to include at your picnic or BBQ outing. It’s best hot, but still tastes great at room temp., and since it’s vegan, it’ll survive outside, too. Plate it up alongside a hotdog, and I challenge you to determine the winner. My bet’s on the pesto.

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Swiss Chard Falafel

Swiss Chard

I should probably admit upfront, these err a tad more on the side of fritters than falafel. But I hate a dry, dense ball of falafel, so in my mind, the characteristics of these are what the word “falafel” should always mean.

Falafel should be as moist as the fresh chickpeas you put into it. It should mean a circular or ovular sphere flavorful enough to snack on as it is, even if a little bit of yogurt sauce or hummus elevates it to a whole other level. I.e., a truly good falafel should be the shining star in the pita you pack it in, radiating brighter than all else that lays beside it.

Swiss Chard Falafel

It’s simply impossible to deny how beautiful of a veggie swiss chard is. I’ve expressed before my love of pinks when it comes to produce, and the photographing of it. Beets and radishes, while not necessarily my favorite flavors of the veggie kingdom, stand among my all-time most beloved subjects to photograph. (Apologies in advance to my friend Laura. And my 90-year-old grandpa. And the random boys in my life. All of which are other favorite photo subjects in my life – but I’m telling you, beets and radishes make for some steadfast competition.)

Swiss Chard

The magenta lines that stream down a leaf of swiss chard, the veins not unlike our own that bring this veggie to life, make it a mesmerizing sight. Its yellow veins, too. Although if I had to choose, I’d of course go for the pink. There’s just something about those pinks when you get them in front of a camera. Born to be (still life) models, I tell you.

Swiss Chard Falafel

I’ve been in a bit of a cooking rut lately. Breakfast for dinner has been popping up more often than I’d like, as is thrown together bowls of beans, rice, herbs, and avocado. (Although – if that avocado is a magically flawless and ripe specimen, forget the hesitancy and tone of complaint emanating from that last sentence. Hand me a ripe avocado, and I’ll be a happy kid forever.)

I never thought I’d be one to say this, but busyness has led me to allow cooking to fall by the side of the road for a few. Plus, it’s summer, and I enjoy nothing more than eating outside. And if this means scoping out all the restaurants with outdoor seating, then so be it. Cooking can be put on pause for a few.

However, you know as well as I do, I do love cooking. And so I return, by the sight of a healthy looking bunch of swiss chard.

Swiss Chard Falafel

I picked this bunch of from the store and immediately had ideas start to come to me from left and right. There’s nothing like a little ingredient inspiration to draw you out of a slight cooking hiatus.

It’d been forever since I made falafel, so that’s the idea I went with. Don’t ask me how swiss chard led my brain to falafel – but it worked out well. I mean, why not add some green power to falafel? Tastes great, looks decent, and kills it on the “you should really make this meal more nutritious” level.

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard’s back in style. Every farmers’ market table will be wearing it pretty soon. Get some while you can. Admire it’s beauty for a day. Or 15 minutes on your cutting board. Then chop it all and throw it into this falafel recipe.

These are definitely snackable on their own, but I love the pairing with the yogurt/herb sauce. You choose whether to pack them in a pita, or throw them with some brown rice. Either one you go with, drizzle a little tahini on top, and voila. A truly golden, slightly green meal.

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Creamy Polenta with Spring Greens and Shiitakes

Creamy Polenta with Spring Greens and Shiitakes

Oh man. A whirlwind of travel mayhems transported me to my mom’s garden this past weekend.

I was out in San Diego last week for work (consider me sunshine-swooned), and my layover flight home ended up terminated due to poor weather. My choices were: 1) Struggle to keep my eyes open till 4a.m. at the airport and achieve automatic world-class traveler status; or 2) Switch my flight destination from Philly to Baltimore and persuade my mom to come pick me up, just before the strike of midnight. Family for the win. I chose to forgo the world-class traveler award as soon as my mom gave me the go-ahead. That accolade can wait, especially in circumstances where a spring garden awaits. Oh, and let’s not forget that a ton more places are waiting for me to visit, too.

Spring greens

Naturally as soon as my jet lag wore off, I was outside inspecting the garden, and cooking up lunch with my findings. It happened to serve as a good thank you to my mom, and a pre-Mother’s Day gift. That deserves an accolade in itself, right? Just kidding.

Creamy Polenta with Spring Greens and Shiitakes

I dream of days where I have my own garden. Or even just a yard. But for now, my mom’s will likely have to do until I migrate away from Philly. Luckily, it holds its own with an uplifting plethora of baby greens and herbs, all of which gave inspiration to this meal.

At their youngest, kale and collards simply can’t be beat. And now is the time to find them.

Spring greens

It’s been said life hardens you, and apparently this goes for greens too. You see, babies are inherently soft-skinned and sweet in nature. Apply this to greens, and you get leaves that are far more tender than when they grow older, and generally less bitter, too. (And since this seems to apply to humans as well, I’m keeping a “big kid” status forever.)

The soft and sweet characteristics make early spring greens perfect for raw preparations and for quick 2-minute sautes in recipes like this. From kale to spinach to swiss chard, any green that might be sprouting up in your garden or making its way to your local farmer’s market will work here. If available, go for a mix. That may just mean throwing in a few red lettuce leaves, too, and turning your mushrooms a strange shade of magenta. Es la vida.

Creamy Polenta with Spring Greens and Shiitakes

Pile those greens and mushrooms on top of St. Andres cheese, already working to melt its way into creamy polenta, and you’ve got a spring meal that’s memorable, to say the least.

My best description for St. Andres is “a more heavenly version of butter”. However, if for some reason you can’t find it, opt for a soft cheese, one that’s ideally slightly stronger in flavor than brie. If baby greens aren’t at your disposal, feel free to use the big guys. Just add a few extra minutes to your saute time. Then tell those big babies to stop growing up so fast!

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Avocado Radish Toasts

Avocado Radish Toasts

You know spring has arrived when there are 7 different street festivals swarming the streets of your one city, all within one Saturday. When your local park is carpeted in pink pedals of the cherry trees after several days of showers. When you look down and notice you’ve gotten a bit of a sunburn after just 2 hours of tennis. When the first farmer’s markets kick off. And when, there, you stumble upon beautiful bunches of radishes.

Spring radishes

The weather is here. The flowers are here. And my favorite – the first smell of fresh-cut grass, a perfume I walked by literally an hour ago, has arrived and bestowed me with this evening’s biggest smile.

Radishes sliced

There are few vegetables I find more stunning than radishes. And they feel rather novel too. Rarely do I eat a radish outside of springtime.

When they are in season though, and just picked from the ground – still young, small, not fully matured – little else can beat how refreshing that crispness of theirs brings to the table. A spring rain rooted radish, yes please.

Sliced radishes

Along with all those seasonal festivals I mentioned earlier comes the arrival of countless picnic-themed holidays, on their way shortly. Next up is Mother’s Day, soon after followed by Memorial Day, and so on, and so on, and so on.

How to prepare for those occasions? Have a radish-inspired recipe you can count on. One that literally takes barely any effort at all to pull together.

Toasted Baguette

When you have quality ingredients, you only need a few ingredients to make a dish that’s memorable.

Fresh radishes. Ripe avocados. Crusty bread. Good olive oil. Coarse salt.

All favorited ingredients of my repertoire.

Avocado Radish Toasts

Pull them all together, and you create this, a recipe perfect for any picnic, potluck, or simple outdoor, light-lunch occasion. (Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly enjoy this indoors as well. But in my dreams, I’m eating outside for all 3 meals of the day.)

Avocado and lime

Sorry (but not sorry) for the photo overload. Like short and sweet recipes that can be easily fantastic when quality ingredients are involved, beautiful photos always come easier with ingredients that inherently shine.

Avocado Radish Toasts

Fun fact – most of the spice (and flavor) of a radish lays in its skin. Early season ones should be pretty tame, but later on, if you can’t handle the heat, you can always give them a zebra-striped peel.

Avocado Radish Toast

A little bit of that heat though, and the corresponding crispness, goes great with creamy avocados, so make sure to hang on to some of it. Enjoy guys!

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