Fried green tomatoes

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If your child loves french fries and tomatoes, then they will love fried green tomatoes. Or, they will reject them out of hand because they're mercurial toddlers like mine. One day, M will love these. I'm sure of it.

I just dropped M off for his first day of a new school year. He was only off for a week between "grades" but I felt so nervous this morning! M had a tough time adjusting to his last classroom and now he has new grownups, a new space, and some new kids to contend with. Ugh. I don't like change. That must be where M gets it.

We also have a nut allergy in the classroom this year, so I'll be more mindful of nut-free recipes for lunches and snacks.

ALSO also, after just a week off from packing lunches, I forgot what a huge drag it is. My sympathies go out to those of you getting back to it after an ENTIRE summer off. Strength to you, fellow lunch-packers.

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The keys to good fried green tomatoes, to me, are soaking overnight in buttermilk, and cooking with HOT oil. I've gotten equally delicious and crunchy results from using a little bit of oil and a lot of oil, but the heat seemed like the common denominator.

I also experimented a lot with corn flour and different grinds of cornmeal. I initially liked corn flour the best, but it's very easy to get too much flour, which doesn't cook evenly. (Picture #2 was taken BEFORE I knocked off the excess.) Ultimately, my favorite was straight-up, finely ground cornmeal.

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Fried green tomatoes

3-4 large green tomatoes, sliced in ¼-inch thick slices
1-2 cups buttermilk, full or low-fat (enough to cover the tomato slices)
1 tsp salt, divided
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
½ tsp paprika
Ground pepper
¼ cup avocado oil
Course sea salt

Slice the tomatoes and discard the end pieces. Place the tomatoes in a container and cover them with buttermilk. Add ½ tsp salt, cover, and shake. Refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to 1 day.

Combine the corn meal, salt, paprika, and pepper in a large container. Set aside. Heat one to two tablespoons of avocado oil at a time until very hot.

Working one at a time, shake off excess buttermilk and immediately place the tomato slice in the cornmeal mixture. Cover both sides well, but shake off the excess cornmeal as well.

When the oil is hot (when you add anything to the oil, it immediately starts bubbling), add the tomatoes (as many as will fit in your pan, but don’t crowd them; work in batches), and fry for 3 minutes. Check for brownness and flip when golden. When second side reaches golden brown, remove to a paper towel and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Between batches of tomatoes, pour out any leftover oil and carefully wipe off any cornmeal left in the pan. Heat two more tablespoons of avocado oil and repeat the cooking process with remaining tomatoes.

Yield: 12-16 tomato slices

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Creamy tomato and white bean pasta

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TOMATO SEASON IS HERE!!!!!!! I looooooove tomatoes. Love. And so does M (though he mysteriously won't eat them in his lunchbox anymore).

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M does not always love beans though. He eats them, but they aren't on the top of his list.

As anyone who's read this blog knows, I have a relationship with healthy eating. Like all relationships, it takes work and there are lots of struggles. But any article titled, "The Last Conversation You'll Ever Need To Have About Eating Right," I am 100% going to read. I mean, I'm not going to stop having conversations about eating right, but I liked the article and one of my main takeaways was: Beans are good. Full stop. So, we're eating more beans, which is sometimes a struggle with a toddler.

These beans are not the healthiest things I've ever eaten. But a little bit of cream and Parmesan go a long way. A boat load of tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, and fresh thyme also do some heavy lifting to form a dish that is hearty and tasty and takes advantage of the best summer produce.

But the secret ingredient here is patience. Reducing the sauce to a syrupy, caramely sauce gives you maximum tomato flavor.

And then your toddler will eat beans.

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Creamy tomato and white bean pasta 

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ large white onion, minced
5 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds cherry or other heirloom tomatoes (or a mixture of both)
1 can white beans
2 Tbsp heavy cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup pasta, cooked
¼- ½ tsp salt (more to taste)
pepper
Thyme (2 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried, or to taste)

In a medium pot, bring well- salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

While the water is coming to a boil, mince the onions and garlic. Over medium-low heat, saute the onions for 4-5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute, or until fragrant.

Chop the tomatoes and add them to the onions and garlic. Turn the flame up to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, or until the tomatoes release their water and begin to boil.

The liquid should be at a consistent and vigorous boil. If it isn’t, turn the heat up slightly until the liquid begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tomato liquid has reduced by more than half and become syrupy, about another 8-10 minutes.

Add the heavy cream and parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Continue simmering for 4-5 more minutes, stirring regularly, until the sauce thickens. (You should be able to scrape the bottom of the pan and the sauce doesn’t ooze back right away.)

Add the beans and pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Cook for one more minute to heat the beans and the pasta through.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme.

Yield: 4 servings (one heaping cup each)

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Mediterranean caprese salad

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I don't know if we can go back to regular oil-and-vinegar caprese after this. I love a good caprese salad, but I accidentally keep typing "craprese" and that's sort of a fitting description for a lot of them. If the mozzarella is rubbery or cold, if the tomatoes are mealy or our of season, and if the dressing isn't lively and tangy, then they're just...nothing. I mean, they're bad, but more than that they're just absent any flavor or texture or redeeming qualities.

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However, tomato season is upon us, so it's much more likely that your tomatoes will be delicious. And if you have any access to a backyard, side yard, fire escape, community garden, etc, I implore you to plant some basil and mint. Both of these plants are hardy in the summer and will save you so much money at the grocery store. AND, you'll have no excuse not to make the pesto that accompanies this caprese salad (and that you'll want to pour on everything).

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So, we have good tomatoes and a tangy interesting pesto, but what else does this salad need? Well, I also implore you not to serve cold mozzarella. Room temperature is SO MUCH BETTER. If you can get even a decent mozzarella, I think it's improved exponentially by sitting out for a short time (or, if you're also in the middle of our current heatwave, a few seconds?). And, I like to guild the lily by sprinkling a generous amount of crumbled, salty, briny feta on top. Is it necessary? No. Is it delicious? Yes. Should you do it? Without hesitation.

Buy a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes and you have a showstopper for a dinner party that requires basically no effort (I even opted for a pre-cut cheese because I'm that lazy) and better yet, NO COOKING. Did I mention the heatwave?

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We ate it yesterday as Sunday lunch on our back porch with some prosciutto and salami, some Bantam Bread, and white peaches. A glass of cold rose or Sancerre would have made it heaven, but I'm old now and can't day drink without needing a nap and an Advil, so we forwent the wine. Boo.

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Mediterranean caprese salad

4 large heirloom tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium balls of mozzarella
½ cup crumbled feta
¼- ½ cup mint and basil pesto (recipe below)

Mint and basil pesto
1½ cups basil leaves, loosely packed
½ cup mint leaves, well packed
1 large garlic clove (or 2 smaller ones)
1 medium shallot, quartered
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 large lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt

To make the pesto:
Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a large food processor or blender. While the machine is running, pour in the oil and blend until you've reached your desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the salad:
Alternate the mozzarella and tomatoes in whatever color combination you like. Top with the mint and basil pesto and sprinkle with the feta.

Serves: 3-4 as a main course, 5-6 as a side

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Meatless Monday: Lentil meatballs

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Well, it's happened. M is officially in preschool. He's officially potty trained. He's officially a kid and not a baby. I'm officially unsure of how I feel. On the one hand, I'm so happy! I'm writing a post without a child hanging on my leg! I'm staring down the gaping maw of 4 whole hours to myself every day!

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On the other hand, it's the end of a really sweet time in our lives. Being home with M all day every day was exhausting and sometimes unfulfilling, but more often it was pretty magical. I was there every time he learned something new or said something hilarious. We had adventures and figured out our new town together and made some friends. Not that those things are over, but it's definitely going to be different. Different in a good way, I hope. We'll see.

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You know what else is different in a good way? Meatless meatballs. (See what I did there?) Seriously though, we've been trying to cut out meat once a week, but not skimp on taste and IT. IS. POSSIBLE. These meatballs are delicious.

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They're tender, but don't fall apart. The garlic and onion powder load them with flavor and the Parmesan gives them a toasty crust when lightly sauteed. And a couple of eggs and some panko bind them together without drying them out.

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A couple of notes:
- You want the lentils to overcook a little, so I cut back on the water and cook them a tiny bit longer than is necessary. The slight mushiness helps to bind the meatball mixture together.

- I've also tried cooking these in a few ways: Roasting keeps the balls very circular, but I miss the slight crunch that comes with sauteeing. And cooking these right in the sauce makes them fall apart a bit. So, sauteeing is the way to go.

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Lentil meatballs

1.5 cup green or brown lentils (makes 3 cups cooked) 
3.5-4.5 cups water* (see notes below)
Large pinch of salt
¾ tsp onion powder
2-4 large cloves garlic, minced
¾-1 cup panko
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
2 large eggs
½ tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp of olive oil

Combine water and lentils* (see notes below) and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and simmer, partially covered, for the times noted below. Our goal here is a slightly mushy lentil, which will help the meatballs stick together.

When all the water has evaporated and the lentils are cooked, drain well over a fine mesh sieve while they cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Combine the lentils and the rest of the ingredients (start with ¾ of the panko and add more later if needed) in a bowl and mix well. The mixture will be sticky and ever-so-slightly slack at this stage, but should be easy to roll into balls. If the mixture feels very slack, sticky, or is hard to form into balls, add the other ¼ cup of panko to the mixture and try again.

Form into balls and chill in the fridge for at 30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the meatballs. Let a crust form on one side. Flip the meatballs over and crust the other side. The process should take about 12-15 minutes.

Yield: 12-20 meatballs (1/4 cup to 1/8 cup)

*If using large brown or green lentils, use 4.5 cups of water for 1.5 cups lentils and cook until water has evaporated entirely, about 30-35 minutes. If using small green or brown lentils, use 3.5 cups of water for 1.5 cups lentils and check after 20-25 minutes. If the lentils have too much bite left, but are dry, add 1/4 cup of water, cover partially, and continue cooking, checking every 3 minutes until water has evaporated or the lentils are mushy enough.

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Farmer's market bread salad

What a week, friends. We're staring down the barrel of a huge house move and the world seems to be devolving into complete chaos. To combat all of this uncertainty, I'm organizing. Or, organizing as much as possible when life feels like a giant snow globe: One flick of the universe's wrist and everything that makes me feel grounded will be flying around every which way.

As someone who claims to be unsentimental about "stuff" and who has become pretty cutthroat about culling after 15 years of living in one, two, or three-room (not bedroom, room room) apartments, we still have a lot of unnecessary crap. Why do I have receipts for jeans I bought two years ago? Why are there face creams I've never used in my medicine cabinet? I'm not terribly worried about getting rid of things because we're moving to a house with plenty of space, but seriously future self: STOP BUYING PARENTING BOOKS YOU WILL NEVER READ. No one has space on their nightstands or in their brains, house or no house. 

I've also been trying to keep the food easy and nutritious since we don't have time or energy to cook anything complicated and I don't want to feel terrible after a heavy meal when we have so much to do. Enter, bread salad with fresh raw veggies from the farmer's market and a quick basil dressing. I am the queen of buying bread that looks great, forgetting about it, and realizing it's there a week later when it's hard as a rock. Bread salad is the perfect way to resurrect stale loaves and is a great alternative to leafy salads. You can make a huge batch of bread salad and eat it all week without worries about wilting. Also, I've never met a toddler who wanted to tear into a salad of leafy greens. But a salad that features bread and tomatoes and can be eaten with your fingers is a win with my kid.

A couple of notes: I tend to make this salad with heavy, thick whole grain bread, but it can easily be made with a stale baguette or something lighter. Use your discretion with the amount of dressing you add to the bread: A thicker bread will require more dressing while a lighter, airier bread will turn to mush with the same amount of liquid. The goal of adding dressing to the bread is to revitalize it with liquid without turning it into a liquid. So, start with 1/2 of the dressing and add more depending on how dense your bread is.

I like to eat this salad as is for lunch, but for dinner, feel free to add cheese, grilled chicken thighs, shredded rotisserie chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or grilled shrimp to make this into a more well-rounded meal.

 

Farmer’s market bread salad

8 oz very stale bread
2 ears corn
1 medium zucchini or other summer squash
½ large red onion
1 pint cherry tomatoes

For the dressing:
2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves (I used about 75 leaves, or about 1 cup slightly packed)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt

Make the dressing: Blend all dressing ingredients in a food processor until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Check for seasoning and set aside.

Chop the bread and place in a large bowl. Add ½- ¾ of the dressing (See note above to determine how much dressing) and toss. Set aside.

Chop the rest of the raw veggies and add to the bread mixture. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When ready to eat, drizzle with leftover dressing before serving.

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