I never thought I’d shout about one of those look-what-I-made-from-the-random-stuff-in-the-fridge salads today, or tell you that it belongs on your festive Easter table or in the spread of a baby shower brunch you might be hosting. But this one turned out so well, especially when I recast the crunchy side dish as a main, with the addition of shredded chicken. And so I thought it might be useful to tell you more about what happens when you combine paper-thin fennel with crunchy lettuce, cherry tomatoes, a spicy garlic vinaigrette, and toasted pistachios, in case you’re looking for a healthful but substantial dish that’s easy to make ahead and totally fine to serve at room temperature.
Here’s how the combination of ingredients happened.
After being out all day, we got back to our neighborhood really tired and hungry. I finally worked up the energy to cook dinner, but I used every hands-off cooking tip I could think of. I plopped a filet of Arctic char into a 300°F oven with olive oil, salt, and lemon wedges (you can cook salmon or char this way without worrying about over-cooking). I smashed garlic cloves and didn’t chop them. I grated carrots and sweet potatoes so I didn’t have to dice them. Those veggies went into my Instant Pot with rice, onions, broth, and rosemary to emerge as no-stirring-necessary pressure-cooker risotto in minutes.
Sometimes, you just want crunch! Smooth and silky have their place in cake, mousse, and soup. For when you want to bite into breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert and feel that toothsome SNAP! between your teeth, here are the dishes for you. (I wrote more about crunchies here, if you’re as addicted as I am.)
1. Fusilli with Squash, Chard, Walnuts, and Pangritata. Pasta with vegetables is such a go-to, and I’m always looking for variations. This wintry delight, with sweet squash and fresh greens, gets perked up with pangritata–fried breadcrumbs also known as “poor man’s Parmesan.”
2. Cheesy Roasted Broccoli with Breadcrumbs. Roasted broccoli already has two excellent textures: crisp, nearly burnt florets and soft sweet interiors, but melted cheese and brittle breadcrumbs give the dish an even more attractive character.
3. Peanut Butter Crispy Bars. Don’t restrict crispy bars to the official marshmallow version. A combination of peanut butter and corn syrup replaces the melted ‘mallows, while chocolate swirls on top complete the picture.
4. Green Tea Chocolate Bark. Chocolate bark has been a go-to since I was “cooking” in my dorm room microwave. But this version is sophisticated: matcha powder turns white chocolate green, and toasted walnuts pair with puffed brown rice cereal for ultimate crunch.
This is not meant to sound sad–if it does, I’m sorry–but sometimes when you’ve committed to cooking at home, to not spending all your money on take-out and restaurants, to eating leftovers and using up the last of that millet you bought too optimistically long ago, sometimes there’s not quite enough to fill out a plate.
What I mean to say is that if there’s a smidgeon of fried rice from yesterday, I’ll eat it for lunch, even if it’s not quite enough to be all of lunch. Otherwise, where would my beloved fried rice go? Not the trash!
So, some noontimes find me acting like a scavenger, scanning the fridge for something to make a half meal into a whole meal. A new trick for when I need to supplement skimpy portions is to pair a small portion with a big glass of banana lassi.
You may have made, or drunk, a mango lassi, perhaps at an Indian restaurant. Those are delicious drinks–earthy and sweet and thick (here’s a batido de mango, sort of a South American version). A banana lassi is more pedestrian, more everyday. It’s simple enough to eat with almost any cuisine but tasty enough that you won’t feel sad that your lunch is well, sad. Or it was, before you made the lassi.
What strikes me every time I blend one of these up (the whole process takes about a minute and a half) is how totally different it tastes from any other kind of banana-based smoothie or milkshake–and I’ve drunk a lot of banana shakes in my life. The yogurt contributes the most delightful tang, which sets off the caramelized notes of a ripe banana. A sprinkle of ground cardamom makes this otherworldly.
You’ll want to tweak my recipe according to the ripeness of your banana (and whether you froze it), the tanginess and thickness of your yogurt, and of course your preferences.
When we had half a tub of tofu left over from making this favorite for the first time in a while, my mind rambled over the possibilities. I don’t buy tofu that much anymore, but I used to cook with it and eat it a lot. One of my favorite preparations was the tofu sandwich. A million years ago, when I lived in the East Village, my roommate Jordana and I ate plenty of meals at Angelica Kitchen, the first-of-its-kind vegetarian joint nearby. There, Peter Berley cooked presciently, serving tasty grain bowls and tofu that tasted like something, not nothing. On his sandwiches, he layered slices of tofu, which had been marinated and baked under a blanket of herbs, vinegars, spices, and oil, with vegetables and good spreads. We adored those sandwiches.
With the exception of a) hardcore Italian subs with at least four kinds of cured meat and b) the pressed mortadella pressed at Brooklyn Larder, I actually don’t love cold cuts on my sandwiches. Though not every menu reaches much beyond caprese on focaccia, I’ll order a vegetarian number if I can–avocado and hummus, grilled cheese of course, or this tofu club.
Here, the tofu bakes in what’s essentially a green sauce. I spread the bottom slice of bread with a chutney I threw together at the end of the summer, to save a few rooftop tomatoes that never ripened. The seasoning comes from coriander seeds, which play nicely with the cilantro leaves (they’re the same plant), and of course plenty of sugar. You could use a purchased chutney if you like one; otherwise make some quick onion jam or reach for the apple butter you pushed to the back of the fridge after October’s farm visit. Ingredients for the rest of the sandwich–fresh multigrain bread, avocado, mustard, and lettuce leaves–shouldn’t be a problem to come by.
Here’s a new one: skip the marshmallow and coat puffed rice cereal (and salty peanuts) in peanut butter instead. The idea comes from the brilliant sweets masters behind Baked – it’s in the cookbook Baked Elements, which I browsed in my cinnamon bun research. The instant I read the recipe, I knew I had to try these delicious things, which they term “Good Morning Sunshine Bars.”
The method consists of simmering sugar and corn syrup together, then adding peanut butter, salty peanuts, and crunchy rice cereal. The result is a pan of sticky, crunchy sweet stuff that you can cut into perfectly textured, not-too-sweet little candy bars. The name in Baked, good morning sunshine, comes from the fact that you could technically eat these for breakfast (cereal: check. peanut butter: check).
I didn’t, though I think a bite or two could complete an unsatisfying breakfast. I packed the bars up into a bakery box and presented them as a hostess gift. I didn’t even sneak a few on the way there.
Is there anything more welcoming than a cloud-like cake filled with whipped cream and berries to bring spring to the table (even if it’s a little early)?
A pavlova is simply a large meringue, made with egg whites and sugar and baked. It gets its name from the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova, because it’s as light and airy as she was on her feet. If you like meringues, with their crisp exterior and marshmallowy-pillowy interior, this stunning dessert is a must-make.
Pavlovas are showstoppingly beautiful, and the good news is, they are easy to create. Just be sure there are no bits of egg yolk in your whites and that the sugar is fully dissolved into the egg whites. The top of the pavlova may cave from the weight of your fruit, but no matter; it still tastes just as delicious. While a pavlova is a dessert, it is very low in sugar and I think it makes a lovely addition to a brunch table as well.
Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just egg whites, nuts, and fruit. Don’t miss her sprinkle-filled Rice Krispie treats.