Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tortilla Pizzas and TV

I've been avoiding it for years, but finally did it, I braved the TV cameras, and did a cooking spot for Television! And you know, it really wasn't so bad, I'm not sure what I was so nervous about. They asked me to do a segment on cooking for kids, and there was one recipe in particular that I knew would be great. It is simple and invented itself out of pure necessity and hunger:

Picture this:
I'm tired after a long day of working on multiple food related projects and trying to find funding to pay myself (stressful to say the least). I pick up kid #1 from school giving him a big hug and a snack, go to another school to pick up kid #2 who is finishing snack. We arrive home, both kids are tired and fussy, and despite the fact that they have both eaten a snack within the past hour, they are seriously hungry and not afraid to let me know it. This is not one of those good nights that I preach about where I've managed to have some leftovers or bits and pieces of a meal like steamed broccoli, or cooked whole wheat pasta in the fridge that I could use to throw dinner together. On this night, my cabinets are nearly bare, and I have to get creative. I do have a few good staples in the house: whole wheat flour tortillas (I keep extra ones in the freezer), a block of extra sharp cheddar cheese (the generic one is cheaper and tastes great), a can of black beans, some frozen peas, corn and green beans.  And so, Tortilla Pizzas were born!

Rather than plopping my kids in front of a video, like I often do to get dinner ready, I decide to have them help cook. They wash up, drag stools noisily across the kitchen floor and start sprinkling veggies and beans over the tortillas. I hand them some thin slices of cheddar cheese, which I make with a vegetable peeler, to top off the veggies, and we put the "pizzas" into a 450 degree oven, until the  cheese is bubbling and brown. We cut the tortillas into wedges and dinner is served.

It would have been great with a dollop of yogurt, lettuce or guacamole, none of which I had that night, but I settled for a few drops of good hot sauce, and my two very hungry kids dug in with pleasure. They'd helped cook themselves a delicious, nutritious and satisfying dinner. 10 minutes of work, less than $5 dollars worth of ingredients for all three of us, and a heck of a lot more nutritious than eating out. Now that's my kind of "fast food"!!!
My boy helping out with the cooking demo, he was so excited!
Tortilla Pizzas
4 Whole wheat flour tortillas or 6 corn tortillas
6 oz Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese (block, not shredded)
1 can Beans*-  rinsed and drained
2 cups Vegetables of your choice, fresh or frozen: spinach, corn, peas, peppers, broccoli, etc.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
  1. Line 2 baking sheets with foil (optional) and rub with oil. Place tortillas on the baking sheet in a single layer.
  2. Top tortillas with beans and vegetables. Leave some space between the toppings so the cheese can melt down into them and get crispy and delicious.
  3. Using a vegetable peeler, slice long thin strips of cheese off of the block. This technique allows you to use less cheese than cutting with a knife, and is easier than cleaning a grater. Top each tortilla with a single layer of cheese. Place pans in the oven until cheese is melted and browned, about 5-7 minutes. 
  4. Finished tortillas can either be sliced in triangular wedges like a "pizza" or folded into quesadillas or tacos. The tacos work especially well with the corn tortillas: top them with a dollop of yogurt, some shredded lettuce and hot sauce. Salsa, pickled onions and guacamole are also great additions. 
          Some great combinations are: 
          black bean, corn, broccoli
          spinach, tomato, black bean
          red bean, peppers, corn, spinach
          or for something a little different try: turkey, apple, broccoli and cheddar
* Canned beans are easy and part of my life as a busy parent, but I often cook dry beans which are much cheaper, delicious and easy if I plan ahead. Try this recipe for the basics on working with dry beans, it's easier than you think! I often make a big pot and freeze individual portions in bags or containers so they are easy to pull out of the freezer when I need a quick meal.

Please leave any comments below! 

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    Summer Coming to an End

    Sorry for my absence over the past few weeks. I was getting some much needed R&R with my family in the woods. We spent a week at the wonderful dance community I wrote about last summer in this post. It's where I got my first experience cooking in a large commercial kitchen when I was just a youngster.

    We ate well this year, tons of vegetables and huge salads at lunch, warm tasty vegetarian fare for dinner, plenty of vegetarian protein (beans, eggs, nuts, tofu, yogurt) and there seemed to be more dessert than I remember from past years. It was fun to spend a few hours back in this great communal kitchen again, lending a hand with recipe sizing and altering for gluten free or vegan recipes, transforming leftovers into new meals and chatting it up with the cooks and friends. 

    I feel at home in a big kitchen cooking large quantities of food, and wish there was a kitchen like this where I live during the rest of the year. I read a quote by a someone recently about how it is a genetic tribute to her Jewish ancestry that she gets such satisfaction from cooking large quantities of food and feeding whole communities....let's just say I can relate to that.

    I have about half a dozen partially written blog posts waiting in the wings and a fall season packed with exciting food policy initiatives, cooking events and urban gardening projects, not to mention my first ever TV cooking segement, so check back soon for more tasty bits.

    Hope you all had a great summer and are surfacing well from the hurricane.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Peaches Are Back

    Heaven for me would be an hour or two of fruit picking every day. Just the thought of it makes my heart swell.  I can hear the fruit ripening on the trees beyond the city limits. I can almost feel the soft flesh of the fruit on the trees, a gentle pressure under my finger tips just before it is plucked from the branch. There is something addictive about fruit picking, and whatever it is I am hooked.

    There is so much to say about fruit picking that I could ramble on for hours. However, since I'm trying to get my family out to the woods for some R&R, dancing and peace, you'll have to settle for one good seasonal recipe, and wait till I get back for more fruit picking rantings. In New England right now, blueberries are finishing, and peaches, plums, raspberries and summer apples are just getting started. Go to for info on where and what to pick in your area.

    Here's a link to my Peach & Raspberry Pie from last summer
    And, last night I made an easy Peach Buttermilk "Ice Cream" by blending, buttermilk, light brown sugar, fresh peaches, and a few leaves of fresh lavender (optional). Pour it into an ice cream maker and enjoy! well, there, see I ranted anyway.....

    Roasted Corn and Peach Salad 
    with Tarragon and Basil

    3 Ears of Corn
    3 peaches, cut into a small dice
    Scallion, red onion, or chives
    3 sprigs of Basil,  leaves finely chopped
    1 sprig of tarragon finely chopped
    2 tablespoons white vinegar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1. Shuck corn. Roast over an open flame on a grill or stove top, turning until it is browned on all sides. Cut corn from the cob.
    2. Toss all ingredients together in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. adjust seasoning as desired. 
    This salad can be used to top off grilled meats, fish or tofu, it is also delicious over lettuce with some lentils or a hard boiled egg added for protein. Enjoy!

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Pesto, Food Allergies and a Quick Celebratory Meal

    This meal, including dessert, fed two families of four, with 4 food allergies/sensitivities between them (wheat, dairy, eggs, meat); there were plenty of leftovers, and it only took about 35 minutes to pull together.
    Yes really.

    Here's how it went down: 
    1. Boiled water for pasta (large one for wheat, small for rice pasta)
    2. Set french lentils in a pot covered with a few inches of water, a pinch of salt and a slice of onion. boiled till tender. 
    3. Placed eggs in a pot to boil.
    4. Made "ice cream" base - put raspberries, banana, coconut milk, brown sugar in a blender, pureed. Poured into ice cream maker.
    5. Wheat linguini entered the pot. 
    6. Garlic, basil, walnuts, miso go into the blender to make a dairy free pesto, and you'd never know it!
    7. Drained pastas.
    8. Tossed pasta with pesto. (left some plain for picky kids)
    9. Pulled already washed lettuce from the fridge.
    10. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, topped salad and pasta.
    11. Put finished ice cream into a container in the freezer to hold for dessert.
    12. Pulled homemade (but already made) garlicy salad dressing from the fridge.
    13. Enlisted our friends who were waiting to eat, to peel the eggs. 
    14. Sat down, gave thanks, ate.
    Now please don't think that I cook like this every night. I am a working mother with two kids and a lot of extra responsibilities. But, food is a priority, as is feeding my friends and neighbors at impromptu dinners, so when I can muster the energy to throw together a whirlwind dinner party, I do it (especially if it is a cute boy's 2nd birthday, and our dearest neighbors are leaving for a year abroad). It helped that I had a big bag of lettuce from my garden already washed, I'd bought a bunch of basil earlier that day, and I actually had a whole dozen eggs in the house. The rest were staples and pantry items I try and keep in my house: pasta, lentils, frozen fruit, low fat coconut milk, nuts, miso, bananas, homemade salad dressing. 

    This was a meal of simple parts, but when you tossed it all together, it felt much more glamorous and delicious. And the raspberry ice cream, well that was just a bonus prize at the end of a very good day.

    Disclaimer: I was able to focus and cook this meal quickly because my kids were outside being watched by our guests. And, let me say that there was a lovely mess to clean up in the kitchen after this whirlwind of cooking, but it was worth it!

    Pesto ( the non-dairy version)
    miso makes a wonderful substitution for Parmesan cheese if you need to make a non-dairy pesto, or are out of good cheese. White miso has a more subtile flavor than darker miso, and won't muddle the pesto color.

    1 large bunch basil large stems removed (about 3 cups picked)
    2 cloves garlic
    1/2 cup walnuts
    1/4 cup miso paste (white if you have it)
    1/3 cup olive oil (or just enough to get it moving in the blender)
    salt and pepper to taste

    Place all ingredients, except oil in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth, slowly adding oil to help the mixture blend. Scrape the sides of the bowl down, taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Remember that you need to make the pesto a little saltier than you want in the end, because the flavor will be dispersed once it is tossed with the pasta. You can make pesto using a mortar and pestle as well, just chop your ingredients first, crush the garlic with salt to create a paste, then add the walnuts and pound, then the basil, miso and oil, season to taste and enjoy.

    Have you been making any interesting pestos this year? Please comment below.