Happy Labor Day Weekend Friends! This weekend traditionally marks the unofficial end of summer or, to anyone who grew up near the beach, the end of shore traffic. This summer has certainly been eventful, though not in ways it has been in the past. While I haven’t taken any vacations or blogged very much, I do feel quite accomplished. I started my intern year, “caught” more than 20 babies, and did not catch the “peds virus.” I have settled into my new roles of wife and doctor, as well as into my new house and city. I have found new friends and a new church, and have explored some of the surrounding area with my loving husband and puppy.
And I have cooked. A lot. I have fully embraced trying to eat as locally and seasonally as possible, and am loving every minute of it. Since no summer meal is complete without tomatoes, zucchini or corn, here is a mini-roundup of some of my summer favorites! Hopefully you can still find some great tomatoes and zucchini in your garden or farmers market before fall is officially upon us!
Farmers Markets were not something I frequented while living in Boston. While there were some great ones to choose from, I was intimidated by the crowds and the price tag. Since moving, however, Dan and I have become major converts to all of the fun, fresh, local ingredients that you can find at the market. While certain items can still be pricey, there can be some great deals on seasonal fruits and vegetables that all begged to be picked at once. We have also learned that there are some things that are worth the extra dollar or two! The best part is getting to know the vendors and supporting local business. We are on first name basis now with “The Egg Lady” and know who has the best tasting tomatoes or the best prices on lettuce. We go every weekend that I have off for some staples (eggs, seasonal vegetables, and occasionally some local berries or peaches) and allow ourselves one splurge per visit (usually locally-raised meat, fancy cheese, a bottle of local wine, etc.)
Here are some of the things we have found lately!
Staples: Seasonal Green Vegetables
One of my menu planning strategies is to not plan my vegetable sides. Why? This allows me to look for deals on what looks best or has the best price at the market. I am able to make a list generated by the main component of the meal for the grocery store, and then make sure I pick up 4-5 varieties of vegetables to accompany my meals for the week! Some of my farmers market favorites are zucchini, sweet corn, and lettuce, as these are low-fuss to prepare during the week and are usually abundant. The most notable find, however, was this gigantic bunch of kale grown by the local middle school gardening club that I picked up for just $2!
Worth it: Eggs
Farm fresh eggs are worth every extra penny, in our opinion. Not only do the chickens that lay them live a happier and healthier life, but the resultant quality of the eggs is incomparable to anything you could get in the grocery store. Not a believer at first, my husband directly compared a cage free, organic egg from Trader Joe’s to one from our favorite vendor at the Delmar Farmer’s Market. While the egg at Trader Joe’s was sunshine yellow, there was no comparison to the golden yolk that came from the farm fresh egg. The egg whites are also less runny, which means that our fried eggs are much easier to cook perfectly. He is now such a convert that we are now on first name basis with the egg vendor, and may even head to their farm one weekend to meet the chickens and pick our own dozen!
Not convinced? Here is a picture of our typical Sunday morning breakfast. Drool.
Treat yourself: Flowers
For weeks, I had been eyeing the gorgeous zinnias and dahlias, lusting after the gorgeous colors. While flowers are never cheap, some farmers market bunches can run upwards of $10 for a small bouquet. Since they are not a necessity in our weekly budget, I held out for the perfect occasion to splurge on these beauties. Finally getting the new table that my sister and brother-in-law hand-crafted for me seemed like the perfect occasion!
Putting it all Together: My Favorite Meal
One of my favorite meals from the summer is actually one of our simplest. We put together a salad from the bounty we had picked up at the market the day before, and boy was it good! The base was a baby lettuce blend with arugula, topped off with cucumbers, local aged goat-milk cheese, and a poached egg. I also threw in a handful of sweet strawberries that we picked ourselves at a local farm, and finished the salad with a simple balsamic vinegar reduction. I wish salads always tasted this good!
Question: Are you a farmers market fan? Share some tips and favorite finds below!
Hello Friends! I am proud to announce that I survived my first week of residency! After finally feeling adjusted to life in our new house as newlyweds, we are going through another series of changes with the start of my intern year. I am starting off on one of my more taxing inpatient rotations, which means long hours and 1-day weekends. My husband has been very helpful with pitching in to do some cooking and general house up-keep, but being in the kitchen is still very therapeutic when I have the time! We have started loosely planning our meals for the next week on Saturday or Sunday to help us stay within our food budget and waste less food. This also helps guide us when we are grocery shopping! We have been doing this for a month now with great success, so I wanted to share some tips that have really helped us. If there are any veteran meal planners out there, I would love to know some tips that help you stay on track!
1. Write it out
We use two chalkboard canvases (leftover from our wedding) to catalogue what our plans for the week are, what meats/staples we have in the freezer, and what homemade meals we have frozen away for really busy nights! They hang right next to the fridge so that we always know what we have around.
2. Plan for the main dish, but keep a loose idea of the sides
We tend to plan only the main theme, or central dish. For example, I will plan to make marinated chicken, but will decide on the vegetable to serve on the side when I get to the farmer’s market or grocery store and see what looks freshest or on sale. This way, my grocery list ends up being staples (meat, beans, lemons, eggs, grains) plus 5-6 vegetables and 2-3 fruits.
3. Pick seasonal meals
This sort of goes with what I mentioned above, but you can save money and get better tasting ingredients if you plan your meals in concordance with the season. For example, my husband loves this Israeli Cous Cous salad, but we only make it in the spring and summer when squash and cherry tomatoes are in abundance. In contrast, hearty chilis and bean soups simmer and heat up the house while cooking on a hot summer day.
4. Plan with ingredients that you can buy/prepare in bulk.
For example, we are big brown rice eaters. At least 2-3 of our meals per week will be served with brown rice. Instead of making rice every night, we make it once and then keep it in our rice cooker for the next few days. In order for the rice to stay fresh, we try to plan to have the meals that go best with rice in a row.
5. Always buy salad greens.
As a veggie advocate, having fresh lettuce on hand for quick salads is the best way to ensure that something fresh and green makes it to the table on even the busiest of nights. Even with the best pre-planning, life happens and salads are the easiest, albeit not always the most exciting, way to get your veggies in.
6. Plan at least one meal with lunch leftovers.
We are lucky enough as a family of two to often get lunch leftovers out of most of our dinners. If your family is larger, though, plan for one meal that makes great leftovers. Vegetarian bean dishes, lentil salads, pasta salads, and curries tend to be our favorite to eat the next day!
7. Be flexible.
If you know that things frequently come up in your week or you often find yourself with unused ingredients in the fridge by Friday, build in some wiggle room. For example, we always plan for a date night, and frequently leave one more night “unplanned,” leaving room for impromptu dinners with friends or pantry creations.
This is some of what we have learned so far. Any other thoughts or things that you have found to work for your family or lifestyle? Share in the comments section!
Just a few years ago, the thought of cooking a whole chicken was quite intimidating to me. As a former vegetarian, cooking meat seemed like a daunting task, and cooking it on the bone was scarier still. I had no idea how to tell if it was done, and even less of an idea of how to carve and serve it. More so, the thought of rubbing a chicken with herbed oils or sticking my hand in a turkey carcass to remove the neck was the stuff of nightmares. (Thanks, Grandma, for chasing me with a turkey neck during my first vegetarian Thanksgiving! ;) Haha) However, as I learn more about environmentally responsible animal farming and less wasteful eating habits, I am more convinced than ever that whole chickens are the way to go. First of all, the flavor is all in the bones, fat and skin, leading to the most flavorful and juicy white chicken meat I have ever tasted. Second of all, you can cook once (perhaps on a lazy Saturday or Sunday) and enjoy chicken meat on sandwiches and salads throughout the week. Perhaps most exciting for me is the opportunity to use the leftover bones and veggies to make your own chicken stock.
To make this whole process even easier and more approachable, I learned that roaster chickens easily fit in a slow cooker. This method is perfect for the summer when you don’t want to overheat your house, or for all year when you want a low-maintenance alternative for roasting chicken! With this method, the skin will not get crispy (OK by me as I still take off the skin when I am done cooking). However, you will get fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth, perfect chicken with very little effort. When you are done making the chicken, don’t even rinse out the slow cooker. Throw the bones and a few more carrots, onions and celery stalks back in with some bay leaves and peppercorns to make chicken stock! I usually freeze mine in 2-cup portions to use the next time I need it!
Slow Cooker Roaster Chicken
1 whole roaster chicken (between 4-5 lbs), giblets removed
1 lemon, cut in eighths
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
5 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 large or 2 small onions, roughly chopped
spices: basil, parsley, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth or water
Rinse chicken under cold water. Place in slow cooker and season to taste with herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Add 4 lemon slices to the interior of the chicken, then place the remaining slices between the wings/legs and body of the chicken. Sprinkle with vegetables, then add cooking liquid. Set slow cooker to low heat and cook for 8-9 hours. Remove and discard the skin prior to serving. Serve with roasted potatoes and favorite vegetable.
Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
Bones from 1 roaster chicken
1 onion, quartered
3-4 carrots, roughly chopped in 2-in pieces
2-3 stalks celery, roughly chopped in 2-in pieces
4 cups water
Return chicken bones and fresh vegetables to the slow cooker after chicken has been cooked and carved. (You do not have to discard the liquid or vegetables that remain in the slow cooker). Add water and pinch of salt. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. Skim fat from resulting broth, then store in airtight container in fridge for immediate use or in freezer for future use.
Hi Friends! Sorry for another brief absence. Life got busy as we moved into our new apartment!!! To say that I am excited is an understatement. I never realized how important having my own space to cook, relax, and entertain was to me until I no longer had my own home. While I have learned invaluable lessons over the past 5 months from my apartment fire, it feels so good to be settled again.
On Saturday, my parents helped my husband and me play a miraculous game of moving truck Tetris to load all of our worldly possessions and bring them to our new home in Albany, NY. We then spent the next 4 days frantically unpacking our things that had been boxed away for the past 5 months. (We were so excited to be out of boxes that we are fully moved in after less than a week of being here!) It felt a bit like Christmas as we finally got to pull wedding gifts from their original packages and find them a place in our new home. We are so thankful and feel so loved as we look around our new home and see the memories, people and stories behind each item.
My favorite part of being re-settled is having my own kitchen again. We have TONS of windows in our new space and I absolutely love the natural light that floods our kitchen. Hopefully I will be able to continue to cook and share recipes and ideas from this new space, though likely not as often as I would like as I learn to balance residency with married life in a new city.
Question: What makes your house feel like home?
Everyone has a slightly different meaning of appropriate cook-out foods depending on your cultural and regional backgrounds. Growing up in NJ, a summer BBQ always meant hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and chips. To my husband, who was born in Brazil, no cook-out is complete without linguica (Brazilian sausage) and short ribs. I have also heard that BBQ and cook-out can signal two totally different affairs if you are from the southern US.
No matter what, it is hard to disagree that anything off the grill just screams summer. My husband got a new Weber charcoal grill for his birthday yesterday, so we are excited to have many grilled treats this summer. Here are some of my favorite summer recipes for the grill. These are all perfect for any special graduation celebrations or Memorial Day BBQs coming up!
Have you heard of Shake Shack? In some ways, I would lightly call it the “In-N-Out” of New York City based on its popularity with tourists. My husband is obsessed, and was one of the first in line when they opened their Boston location. In my opinion, the regular burger at Shake Shack is overpriced and nothing to write home about. However, the Shroom Burger or the Shack Stack are worth the hype. If you have never had the privilege of indulging here while in NYC, then allow me to describe it. The Shroom Burger is two Portobello mushroom caps that have been lightly scooped out to accommodate a generous cheese filling. They are pressed together, lightly coated and then deep-fried. The result is a deliciously unhealthy, cheesy and hearty vegetarian mushroom patty. To create the Shack Stack, this monster patty is layered on top of a normal beef burger and served on a grilled potato roll. To say that this is over the top is an understatement, but more than just my husband is obsessed as evidenced by the around-the-block lines that Shake Shack draws daily.
Since we are moving out of Boston, my husband and I wanted to create a homemade version of his favorite burger. We each had our own idea of how to do this. A Shake Shack purist, his mission was to recreate as close to an exact replica as possible – double mushroom patty with a gooey cheese filling over a beef patty. I wanted to come up with a less intense version that is not quite as indulgent so that we can enjoy this treat more often at upcoming summer BBQs. In my opinion, both avenues were a messy success. Our method still needs perfecting and will never quite replicate the real deal, but for a homemade option we are quite happy!
Neither of the following are recipes, more like ingredient lists and bare bones guidelines of what we did (with pictures). If you have or plan to experiment with this chain favorite, let us know what you did that worked (or didn’t!)
Classic “Shack Stack”
Take two medium-sized Portobello mushroom caps and wash well. Gently scrape out the middle of the mushroom (what we call “gills”). Place mushroom caps between two paper towels and two microwave safe dishes. Microwave for 1.5-3 minutes, or until moisture seeps out and the mushroom caps become flat and pancake-like. Allow to cool. Mix together shredded cheese (we used Muenster and Cheddar). Form a palm sized ball of cheese. Place the cheese in the center of the mushroom caps. Surround with plastic wrap and wrap tightly to adhere the two mushroom caps together.
Allow to sit for several minutes. In separate bowls, lay out flour, a beaten egg, and plain panko bread crumbs. Dip the mushroom patty in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, then repeat in egg and breadcrumbs.
Deep fry in canola oil until the outside is golden brown. Meanwhile, cook a burger as desired. Toast a potato roll lightly. Assemble burger with mushroom patty, lettuce, tomato and onion. Serve immediately.
Lightened Up “Shack Stack”
Wash and prepare one mushroom patty as above. Follow instructions to flatten the mushroom cap. Mix together one to two tablespoons of shredded cheese and place in the middle of the mushroom cap. Create a covering for the cheese with either 1/4 lb ground beef mixture or a pre-formed hamburger patty.
Grill beef side down first until meat is cooked as desired, then flip for one minute to melt cheese.
Serve on toasted potato roll with lettuce, onion and tomato.
Question: Anyone hosting a memorial or graduation celebration BBQ this weekend? What is your favorite thing to make on the grill?