Tag Archives: Summer

Moroccan-spiced chickpea and squash stew

The temperature has dropped, fall produce is showing up at markets, and I am starting to crave warm and spicy autumnal foods.  But there are still so many tomatoes to be eaten!  This recipe perfectly blends the summer and the fall, making it a delicious shoulder-season meal.  Grilling the squash lends a beautiful, smoky flavor to please carnivores and herbivores alike — but you could roast it as well.

I actually had some delicata squash pop up out of the compost in my garden in my old house.  I bought one more from the farmer’s market.  You could use any kind of orange winter squash.

This recipe is very flavorful but I think even those who prefer more mild dishes could handle it.  As strong and fragrant as the cinnamon will smell, it actually lends just a very subtle touch in the end and works perfectly with the cumin.

Moroccan-spiced stew with chickpeas and grilled squash
Adapted loosely from here, and probably some other recipes for inspiration; there are a lot of google results for “Moroccan squash stew.”

1 lb squash — butternut, acorn, delicata, or even pumpkin
4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 cups chickpeas (or one can)
4-5 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 bunch greens (I used Tuscan kale, but spinach would be find)
A few hot peppers (I had some cayenne but you could use jalapeno, serrano, etc)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
bunch of coarsely chopped celery, carrot, onion for stock
salt and pepper to taste
For garnish:  bunch cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce
Quinoa (healthy) or couscous (authentic) for serving

Make the stock:  toss a few handfuls of coarsely chopped celery, carrots and onion (I actually freeze celery/carrots in bags for this  purpose), plus the cinnamon stick, some dried mushrooms, a few peppercorns, thyme, etc — whatever sounds good in a stock — and cover with water.  Simmer until reduced in half, about an hour or so.  You will need two cups of stock.  Strain and set aside.  (NOTE:  you can obviously buy pre-made stock, but if you’ve got time, may as well do it yourself).

Peel and seed the tomatoes.  I’ve always just blanched them, but recently came across this easier method.  Chop them coarsely.

To prepare the squash, peel them, cut in half, scoop out seeds, and grill.  They do not need to be fully cooked at this point, just charred.  When they are done and cool to the touch, dice them.

Saute the onion in a large pot over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes with the cumin (and cinnamon stick, if you are using premade stock).  Add the tomatoes, garlic, chickpeas, potatoes, peppers, and grilled squash.  Raise heat to medium-high and cook for another 5-10 minutes or so, until the squash and potatoes are somewhat cooked and the tomatoes are getting saucy.  Add the stock.  Add the greens.  Simmer everything together until it is flavorful and stew-y, about 30-60 minutes (the longer the better!).  Check periodically if you need to add more stock.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

When it is done, garnish with cilantro leaves, hot sauce, plain Greek yogurt, etc.  Serve over quinoa or couscous.





August garden update

I was about to declare my container gardening experiment a failure when I impulsively picked up some red reflective mulch on clearance at a garden center nearby in a last-ditch effort to save it.  Perhaps it’s just coincidence — it is possible my plants just needed until August to store up the energy to produce fruit– but whatever it was, it seems to have done the trick.

(makes it kind of hard to mow the grass around it though…)

I actually have a few tomatoes!  Most are still green but I’ve picked one so far which unfortunately had blossom end rot.  Another is pink and about to be ready to pick.

I have SIX eggplants!


My cayenne plant is going crazy!  I pick a bunch of peppers every week.

My poblano plant has not been quite as prolific as the cayenne.  Even in years past with lots of sun my experience has been that they love to grow tall and bushy but not produce a whole lot of peppers.  Is there a secret to poblano pepper plants?  I’d love to have enough for chile relleno!

I even got some fall veggie plants into the ground.

Three weeks ago I started searching for fall seedlings because I had plans the following two weekends and didn’t want to wait too long. But everyone at every nursery I went to looked at me as though I was crazy for wanting to start so early, and implied that they would not have any in stock for MONTHS.  However, when I returned just 2 weekends later, not only had they already restocked but had SOLD OUT of the most popular plants like kale.  WTF.  So much for trying to get a head start.

I have seriously been to 5 separate nurseries multiple times and have not been able to find kale seedlings.  I suppose it is just as well because I don’t really have the space to grow enough kale for my voracious appetite and can stick to things that I use less frequently and cost more at the market.

Or that grow vertically — like Brussels sprouts!

I am super excited to give growing my very favorite vegetable a try.  I got these grow bags on end of summer clearance for just a few bucks.

I also picked up some broccoli and radicchio.

I’ve never grown Brussels sprouts or radicchio before.    No idea how difficult they may be.  It would be SO AWESOME though to get six stalks of Brussels sprouts this year — they are so expensive at the grocery store compared to the $1.99 I paid for a pack of seedlings!  Not sure what I will do with 6 heads of radicchio, however…

It’s hard to believe the summer is coming to a close and September will be here on Saturday.  Summer is usually my favorite season and I’m usually sad to see it go, but I think I’m looking forward to fall this year.  I mean, it’s been pretty hot in my house.  And now that, for the first time in four years, fall does not mean back to school for Mr R and me, I am looking forward to all the fun weekends we can have.

And of course…Brussels sprouts!


Spaghetti Vongole


We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for…a recipe that isn’t vegetarian.  Or is it?  As they lack a central nervous system, there seems to be a debate on the vegan-friendliness of bivalves.  I don’t know what the answer is myself, and oysters, clams and mussels are not something I would normally eat, but for ambiguous food groups such as this, I sometimes will adopt a “when in Rome” attitude.    And in Rome we certainly were, on the coast of North Carolina where fresh-off-the-ship local clams were sold everywhere on the roadside.

I do not find the sight of a slab of flesh on a plate visually appealing at all.  But clams and mussels tossed together with pasta just looks so pretty.  They are a more sustainable type of seafood, earning yellow and green ratings from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch; you can even grow your own oysters right off your pier, as my family does.  Of course, with water pollution and over-harvesting an ever-present risk, populations are in decline worldwide, which is my main reason for avoiding seafood, but the occasional indulgence is certainly okay.

I make the tomato sauce from scratch in this recipe as tomatoes are abundant, and I was on vacation, so why not?  But throw in a can of tomatoes instead, and you have yourself an easy dinner to make during the week.  I think you could also add in some cream with the wine to give this sauce a creamy base.

Spaghetti Vongole (e cozze)

1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
5-7 tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
~dozen clams and/or blue mussels (note:  “vongole” means clam but you could use mussels in this recipe too, it would just technically be called “spaghetti vongole e cozze”).
Salt, pepper, herbs to taste (Italian seasoning, fresh basil, crushed red pepper, etc)

Place the shellfish in a bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes to allow them to filter out any sand or debris.  Scrub and clean the shells (“debeard”).  Discard any with cracked or open shells.

Bring a well-salted pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti (hint:  save energy by boiling pasta in water for only two minutes, turn off the heat, and let sit in the water for the remaining time).

Peel and seed the tomatoes:  cut the woody stem out of the center and score the bottoms.  Dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove and put in a bowl of ice water.  Remove peel and squeeze out seeds. Coarsely chop.

In a large saute pan (a deeper one, with a lid), saute onions, black pepper, and any  seasoning 5-10 minutes over medium heat.  Add the garlic toward the end.  Deglaze with  white wine and add the tomatoes.

Add the clams to the pot, cover, and allow to steam until the shellfish have opened, about 10 minutes (mussels will open earlier than clams).

Remove mussels and clams from the pot with tongs and set aside temporarily.  Allow the sauce to cook down to your preferred consistency.  It will probably be very watery at this point thanks to the bivalves, so it may take another 20 minutes or so.  If there is a lot of water, you can turn the heat up to high to burn it off more quickly, but keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t overcook.

When the sauce is done, toss with clams and pasta.  Shave some fresh Parmesan on top, add some fresh basil.  Savor the glory of summer!


Summer perfection ratatouille

It’s August!  And apparently one full month since I last updated.  July was kind of a hectic month.  And a hot month.  But the few degrees cooler it has been so far in August seem to be making all the difference.  I actually voluntarily went outside today to garden!

And in spite of the heat, it is a grand time of year as all the summer veggies are in their prime.  When I made this the first time this summer, Mr. R, who in addition to the heat has been in the throes of studying for the bar exam, said to me, “now I remember why the summer is not awful!

There really is nothing better than a perfectly summery ratatouille for dinner.  I am not lying when I say I eat some version of this almost every single night all summer long.  Sometimes more than once a day.  Even though my garden has not worked out so well this summer — I have gotten just a handful of peppers, tomatoes and one eggplant (two if you count the baby one my dog ate off the plant) — there is luckily a farmer’s market a block away every Saturday and the Glut Food Coop down the street that sells local produce so I can stock up on all the ingredients for the week!

There is some debate over what constitutes a “traditional” ratatouille.  Some like to cook the vegetables separately, some just throw it all together in one pot.  The version I will write below is a more laborious one, but please do not let this deter you from whipping up a delicious summer stew of veggies any night of the week.  If I’m short on time or just being lazy, I’ll just throw everything I have together and saute in one pot.  Sometimes I’ll add chickpeas  for protein, mushrooms or greens or other things I have on hand that may not normally go in a ratatouille.  But it’s the same general concept so, whatever.  Another interesting alternative would be to grill the squash/peppers/eggplant.  I think I might try that tonight!

You’ll also note I’m rather sparse on details and measurements.  I know I usually am.  But ratatouille in particular is one that is better when just thrown together haphazardly.


4-5 fresh local tomatoes (if you’re gonna buy these from the grocery store in August, I mean, just don’t even bother!)
1 eggplant or two small eggplants, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
3-4 zucchini and/or yellow squash, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled but not chopped
1-2 bell peppers, julienned
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (OK to substitute Italian seasoning or something similar)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°.
Gently saute an onion in a large pot in olive oil with the herbes de Provence and a few grinds of black pepper.  In the meantime, peel and de-seed the tomatoes:  score the bottoms and dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds each.  Immediately move to ice water.  The peels should come off easily with a little prodding.  Scoop/squeeze as many seeds out as you can.

Deglaze the pot with about a quarter cup of wine (or a splash if vinegar in a pinch)  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add to the pot.  Allow to simmer and cook down until nice and saucy.

Roast the remaining vegetables in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the garlic is nice and fragrant.  You can smash it up or chop it at this point.  Once the tomatoes are cooked down nicely, throw in the remaining vegetables.  Cook in the pot until it is nice and stew-like.  Or, to your preferred consistency.

Serve over pasta.  Or rice.  Or couscous.  As always — there are no rules.  It’s summer — go wild!



Grilled pizza with cilantro pesto, cotija and veggies


Happy Fourth of July!  Kinda lame having this holiday on a Wednesday, but whatever, I’ll take it!  I’ve had a leisurely morning sleeping in, running around the lake with my dog, and enjoying a sublime breakfast and coffee.  Ahhh.

It’s too hot too cook much in my kitchen so we’ve been taking the cooking outdoors.  I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the amazingness of grilled pizza.  It’s been a trend for a few years now and I don’t see it going away any time soon — it really allows you to achieve the texture and flavor of a brick oven pizza without the brick oven!  It is a treat we look forward to every summer.

The inspiration for this pizza was from a restaurant outside of Charlottesville, the Blue Mountain Brewery, where I was visiting a couple weekends ago with some friends.  Cilantro pesto pizza.  WHY hadn’t I thought of this before?!  Cilantro is my favorite thing ever.  This pizza was pretty awesome, but this is Bounteous after all, and you know I think homemade is always better  :).  Not that I am claiming any special talent, but just because I can make it how I like it, use high-quality ingredients and not cut any corners.  So here is my version:

Cilantro pesto pizza with queso blanco, cotija, and veggies

The dough
I love this neo-neopolitan pizza dough, but when grilling pizza we’ve always used this method from the Washington PostHere is the direct link to the recipe that accompanies the article.  The dough is so chewy and delicious.

The sauce
I’ve made this cilantro pesto before, which is why I am surprised I never thought to put it on pizza!  It is super easy and quick.  I doubled this recipe to make enough to generously top four pizzas:

Cilantro Pesto
1 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup safflower oil, or other mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Toast the pine nuts on a dry skillet and remove when browned and fragrant.  Puree all ingredients together.  Voilà.

The toppings

Cheese — the pizza I had at Blue Mountain Brewery was topped with an inordinate amount of cheap mozzarella and goat cheese.  I thought it would balance the cilantro well to stick with a Central American flavor profile and went instead with a mixture of cotija and queso blanco.  Similar texture…but better.
Veggies — do whatever you’d like, but we went with red onion, cherry tomato and jalapeno.  It was perfect.  Grill the veggies beforehand if you want them cooked more thoroughly on your pizza — otherwise they’re only on the grill for a couple minutes.

I’m not the grilling expert in my family, so reference the Washington Post article for the specific details — but in a nutshell, the grill will get very hot and the dough will cook very quickly.  The idea is to sear the dough on one side, with the grill covered.  Flip, add your toppings, close the cover again and let that side cook for another minute or two.  Again, since the time on the grill is so brief, pre-cook your toppings if you want them more done.

This was one of my favorite pizzas we’ve ever made and it’s definitely going into the regular rotation.  Grilled pizza is the perfect addition to your holiday barbeque today!

Happy 4th,


It’s too hot!

Okay, I shouldn’t be complaining, because I am by some miracle one of the few people in the DMV who hasn’t lost power…not sure how that happened, as it tends to go out at the first sign of drizzle.  But while I am enjoying the luxury of the internet on my computer and a functioning freezer, in terms of escaping the heat, I can still commiserate with those without electricity.  Damnit, it’s hot!

I have but one AC unit cranking in the bedroom, which seems to make the rest of the house just barely tolerable, as long as I don’t move around too much.  It’s hard to be motivated to do much of anything in these conditions.  Laundry gets done out of necessity, but vacuuming might have to wait till August or September.  Eating is a challenge.  It may be December before I am cool enough to turn on my oven again.

So I’m scouring the archives for some frosty inspiration…

Green monster smoothie anyone?  This has become my go-to breakfast — who wants hot oatmeal in this weather?

For some frozen treats try fresh peach ice cream, Aztec chocolate ice cream.  Top with a kumquat sauce!  Or try some homemade popsicles.

Don’t feel like turning on the oven or stove?  For a light and refreshing salad, try one with watermelon, feta and basil or perhaps this colorful salad with Asian sesame dressing.   Or whip up some fresh Thai spring rolls.

Refresh your body with a spa day at home using homemade ingredients…like this mermaid skin scrub or avocado hair treatment.  Scour pinterest for hundreds more ideas!

How do you stay cool in the heat?  I have a feeling it’s going to be a long month…



The truth about sunscreen

Happy summer solstice!  Mother nature seems to be celebrating with 100° heat and high humidity.  But the arrival of summer begs another discussion:  staying safe in the sun.


I grew up spending my summer days on the water and in the pool.  Days  of swim team, fishing, crabbing, boating, or just jumping off the pier were always capped by a week at the beach in August.  In other words:  sunburns were a rite of passage.  I looked forward to the golden tan that developed by the first day of school.  Sunscreen was always an afterthought.

Which makes this fact even scarier:    just one severe sunburn in childhood doubles your chances for melanoma.  These days, I no longer willingly and knowingly allow myself to be exposed to known carcinogens.  A sunburn is just not something to be taken lightly.  Not gonna lie, my vanity also comes into play:  we all can picture what middle age looks like on someone who had a little to much fun in the sun in his or her youth.  Hence, I have become super anal retentive about being protected whenever I’m in the sun.

Not all sunscreens are created equal, however.  There is startlingly little control and regulation over what sunscreens are permitted to advertise and promote in terms of their effectiveness.  There is little quality control over ingredients that may actually exacerbate skin damage.  While conventional sunscreens may prevent you from burning, thus giving peace of mind, they are not all equally effective against cancer.  This is an instance where our regulatory and industry controls have failed, and it is up to the consumer to do the research and protect themselves.

Luckily, the Environmental Working Group publishes a sunscreen guide every year, testing hundreds of sunscreens and reiterating these basic facts:

-UVB rays cause sunburn and cancer.  UVA rays cause cancer but not sunburn.  Many sunscreens are advertised as “Broad Spectrum” or otherwise protective against UVA rays … but very few actually are.  The rules are astonishingly lax.  Cross-reference the guide to ensure that yours is.

-Many sunscreens contain harmful ingredients
.  Vitamin A, or retinyl palmitate, is an ingredient in about 25% of sunscreen.  Vitamin A actually increases the skin’s absorption of UV rays.  How does this make any sense????  Oxybenzone, an ingredient found in about 50% of available water resistant sunscreens, penetrates the skin, causing allergic reactions and is a potential hormone disruptor.  Mineral sunblock frequently contains nanoparticles.  Most FDA-approved UV blockers react with sunlight to cause free radical damage to the skin, even as it is protective against UV rays.  Other ingredients are known toxins and known to penetrate the skin.  It seems that choosing the best sunscreen is choosing between the lesser of two evils.  According to EWG, there are effective and safer UV blockers used in Europe that have yet to win FDA approval.

-Bigger is not better.  SPF of 30 should be sufficient protection, and SPF over 50 is false advertising — there is no evidence that these provide significantly better protection.  Don’t believe the hype.  Growing up, I was always told that SPF 15 was adequate, but it depends on how easily you burn, and for many people it is not enough for extended periods of time.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  There is no “perfect” sunscreen available in the U.S. today.  Luckily the EWG has some helpful advice:

Mineral blockers, for all their faults, are the best.  Nanoparticles, free radical damage, and pasty white skin aside, mineral sunscreens are the best thing available on the market today.  This is what I use, and while the thick white creme that doesn’t blend so easily took some getting used to, I am happy with them now.

-Sunscreen is not the best defense.  Stay in the shade.  Wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.  Minimize your time in direct sunlight in the middle of the day.  Don’t assume that you’re good to go just because you’ve coated your skin in sunscreen.

-Educate yourself.  Check out EWG’s guide and see how your sunscreen is ranked.   You might be surprised!

Summer is such a magical time of year — don’t let a bad sunburn ruin it.  Stay safe out there!

Stay cool!