DInner for 12: Lamb Patties, Fava and Greek Salad

Kyra's Law: kale is a vegetable only eaten raw. On a hammock. Otherwise it's poison.

In the late spring, we three dinner co-op chefs met recently to check in, make sure everyone was feeling good with the food and to taste-test the fancy artisanal bitters one of them had recently brought home (verdict: mmmmmmmmm...)

It's been three years of cooking together and while we have kept the ground rules loose, we have come to recognize that there are a few secrets to success in terms of cooking for both adults and young kids worth sharing:
  • Dinners where you can build your own dish are always the most popular, like falafel, fish tacos, fajitas, thai lettuce wraps, that sort of thing.
  • When possible, we keep ingredients separate. Kids are weird. But if they will eat the bolognese if it's three inches away from the pasta, then I will deliver sauce and pasta in two different containers. No big deal.
  • It seems like across all our families, kids will be most receptive to veggies when they are raw. That doesn't mean we don't go ahead and cook them into whatever dish is planned, but we tend to get creative with salads and veggie side dishes.
  • We all agreed that while no one likes everything, having this variety put before them is turning our kids (and us) into very flexible, and increasingly adventurous eaters and that's a huge bonus to an already wonderful life-simplifier.

With that, we clinked cocktails and decided to go with a month of themed dinners. Each of us would cook one cuisine. I chose Greek. The others have gone with French and Italian, respectively. This menu is the first of four Greek-themed menus and features lamb and fava, a traditional pureed dish of the Aegean Islands (particularly Santorini) made with split peas and rich with olive oil.

Lamb Sausage, Fava and Greek Salad

The lamb sausage recipe is definitely greek-inspired but I found it in a Bon Appetit column written by one of my favorite food bloggers, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. It's delicious, simple and the essence of Greek flavor minus martyring yourself for six hours in the kitchen. Fava is a split pea dish of the Cyclades, nourishing and deeply delicious and for the life of me, I cannot understand why more people don't know about it. I would have been among them if it wasn't for my stepmother who hails from Samos and makes a mean fava. As for the Greek salad, I provide no recipe but just chop tomatoes, cucumbers with sliced sweet peppers and onions, crumble in feta, and drown in olive oil. All of this, of course, begs for a loaf of crusty bread.

Lamb Sausage 
(serves 12, adapted from this February 2008 Bon Appetit recipe)

  • 4 1/2 pounds cup ground lamb shoulder
  • 6 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 3 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Place lamb in large bowl. Sprinkle garlic and salt over. Gently toss lamb to blend. Combine feta and mint in small bowl.
  2. Divide lamb into 36 equal mounds. Using damp hands, shape each into ball. Working with 1 ball at a time, poke thumb into center to make hole. Press 1 teaspoon feta-mint filling into hole. Pinch hole closed, then press ball between palms to flatten into 3/4-inch-thick disk. Repeat with remaining lamb and feta-mint filling. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate).
  3. Preheat oven to 250°F. Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, cook lamb sausages until browned on both sides and cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Transfer sausages to rimmed baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Serve hot.
(serves 12, recipe adapted from The Olive and the Caper)

The key to this dish is the tastiest  olive oil you can get your hands on. Otherwise, you can customize the toppings to suit your interest but I will encourage the use of a briny topping to balance the earthiness of the split peas. My personal favorite is capers.

6 cups yellow split peas
2 large onions, peeled
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 quarts water
2 teaspoons salt


  1. Rinse the peas under cold water in a colander, drain and add to a large pot. Add the onion (whole), garlic and water.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer briskly, uncovered, until the peas are almost tender and much of the water is gone, about an hour.
  3. Partially cover the pot, reduce heat to a gentler simmer and continue cooking until the peas stir into almost a puree. The texture should be like think porridge.
  4. Top with a generous drizzle of olive oil and any of the toppings below. You can customize the toppings to suit your tastes but I strongly encourage the use of a briny or pickled topping to balance the earthiness of the split peas. My personal favorite is capers.

Topping ideas:
olive tapenade
chopped capers
pickled red onions
anchovy filets
tomato sauce
marinated mushrooms
steamed greens


Dinner for 12: Chicken with capers, polenta and brussels sprouts

table so dirty, they had to eat on boxes.
(Note: This entry languished for a little bit. I've got recipe catching up to do!)
One of those weeks where we never caught our breath. One of those weeks where every last item stayed exactly where it was dropped while we ran to the next appointment, meeting or event, passing children and to-do lists to one another on the way out. It was the kind of week where I should have taken a pass, or ordered out. But no, instead I chose something "easy" and "quick" that I had never tried. A novice mistake. The polenta? Now that was quick. I love the method I present below, where you just mix the polenta and broth and cook it in the oven, no slaving over the stovetop. It's moist and creamy and e-a-s-y. The chicken was lovely, moist and with a depth of flavor that brine and butter can bring to anything. But pounding into cutlets pounds and pounds of chicken which then needs to be floured and sauteed with lots of room, so they don't feel crowded and get soggy? So not fast, trust me. It is, however, a great way to take out all your buried frustrations with a mallet.  Dinner eventually made it to everyone, just a couple of days late. And, sorry, not even half-assed pictures to share of this meal..

Sauteed Chicken with Capers
(Makes 12 servings. Adapted from Everyday Food)

10-12 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 pounds total)
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup champagne or white-wine vinegar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons capers, plus 3 teaspoon brine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  1. Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally. Place each half between sheets of plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness with a meat mallet or small skillet. Place flour on a plate. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then coat with flour, shaking off excess. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. In batches, cook chicken until browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side (add remaining oil to pan, if necessary). Transfer to a platter and tent with foil.
  2. Add vinegar to pan and cook, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon, 1 minute. Add butter and capers and brine; cook, stirring, until butter is melted. Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and top with parsley.

Oven Baked Polenta
(adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide To Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce)

3 cups polenta
12 cups chicken stock
3 tsp salt.

This is an infinitely easy recipe to replicate. Basically mix together 1 cup of polenta, 4 cups chicken broth and 1 tsp salt. Stir it together and bake in the oven at 350F for around 50 min or until the broth looks completely absorbed. This makes 4 servings. I make one of these for each family in a 1 quart casserole so I've tripled the recipe. You can make it in one big dish or individual dishes for each family as I do. It's all good.

I served this dish with sauteed burssels sprouts. The shredded brussels sprouts are a family staple in our house and if shredded with a food processor, can also be a quick side dish (I used 1.5 lbs of brussels sprouts, sauteed with one leek in olive oil with salt and pepper and a squirt of lemon to finish them off.).


Dinner for 12: Roasted Squash Risotto and a trio of Salads

spinach with roasted asparagus, blood orange and toasted almonds.
If I had the authority to declare salad month, it would be March. Because it's midwinter and all the celebrating is done for a while and spring is nowhere near yet. And if you're in the midwest, you are living in a state of anxiety because winter hasn't yet arrived either. So spring is even farther off than usual. At this time of the year, unless you are heading for warmer climates, the only brightness you will find lies in a bowl.

roasted delicata, fennel, carrot and green apple with bean sprouts on mixed greens

I love many foods, but I crave salads. And the cravings are always dependent on the time of year. In the heart of the grey midwestern winter, what I want are beautiful salads, bright, bejeweled and a little gaudy. The nice thing is that these salads draw in the little ones too. The jewel-colored fruit and little bits and bobbits are irresistible to small hands and before you know it, some green stuff has made its way in too. Luckily, it's citrus season so these jewels are plentiful. And my stash of  cheerful orange winter squash is beckoning. So this week's recipes are all about salads and squash, and squash in salads (if you count the photo above). And some red beets, orange turnips, and purple cabbage. And of course, a creamy risotto to balance out all that roughage.

Winter Squash, Leek and Saffron Risotto
(adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide To Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce)

10 cups chicken stock
1 tsp saffron threads
6 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups finely chopped leeks (about three fat ones)
3 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1 1/3 cup dry white wine
5 cups squash, roasted and pureed
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring stock and saffron to a simmer in a saucepan

2. Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan. Add leeks, cook over medium-low heat until softened (but not browned).

3. Raise heat to medium high and stir in the rice. Stir for 1-2 minutes and then add wine. Stir and cook until all the wine has evaporated. (At this point, if you had the time, you could refrigerate the rice for a half hour before continuing to make a killer risotto but it's still really delicious without the added step). Add 2 ladlefuls of hot stock and stir frequently until it is mostly absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir very frequently until the risotto gets creamy but still firm (the refrigeration helps keep the risotto firm). This should take about 25-35 minutes.

4. Pour yourself the remaining wine and channel Julia Child while you stir.

5. Stir in squash during the last 10 minutes. When risotto is done fold in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Should be served immediately but, honestly, we served it the next day and while it's not award-winning in texture, it's just really stick-to-you-ribs delicious and filling. Good stuff.

Winter Salad with Creamy Tahini Dressing
(adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide To Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce)

Seriously, you should just buy this book. It's an unassuming gem and the recipes just really work. The recipe is meant to be utterly adaptable, a clean-out-the-back-of-the-fridge kind of recipe. I used a combination of cabbage, beets, carrots, celeriac, turnips and kohlrabi. Yes, all of that was lurking at the back of the fridge.

5 cups any combination of grated beets, carrots and red cabbage.
5 cups any combination of grated celeriac, turnips, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, green cabbage and winter radish. 

4 cups chopped kale and/or parsley
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 cups sprouts (optional)

4 cups chopped fennel

Toss all ingredients and serve with Creamy Tahini Dressing (below)

Creamy Tahini Dressing

3 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 c tahini
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c sesame oil
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c soy sauce, tamari or shoyu
1 tsp dried dillweed
1/4 c water

1. Toast the sesame on a dry skillet, tossing often, until fragrant and browning.I put it into a jar and just shake, shake, shake.

2. When cooled, mix sesame seeds with the remaining ingredients


ode to a quiet weekend

"the monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind." - Albert Einstein



Dinner for 12: The Meat Hangover

One of the risks you take in setting few rules in a dinner co-op is the potential for too much of the same thing to be eaten in a given week. Surprisingly, we haven't encountered this problem often. But last week was one of those rare times: three nights of heavy meat-eating (all delicious, mind you, but whoa!). As expected the pendulum swung hard. Call it the meat hangover. This week featured a roster of (almost) fully vegan meals completely different from each other in cuisines and flavors.

This beauty does not deserve the name "Turnip Dip"

We'll call it terrine de navet, oui?

Russian red lentil soup

My meal this week included an apricot-kissed red lentil soup served with a hearty turnip-herb dip. "Dip" doesn't quite do this justice; it's more of a savory rich vegetable terrine or pate that you slice thickly and spread on the crunchiest cracker you can find. I think some people describe it as having umami, whixh means it leaves your mouth really happy. I also say someone should change the name because "turnip dip" sounds like a euphemistic insult. When I lived in Montreal, I loved the veggie pate made by a local vegetarian chain resturant. This recipe is the closest I have ever come to replicating that delicious pate in my kitchen. We added a small platter of pickles, olives, crudites and a wedge of creamy Delice de Bourgogne as accompaniment.

Russian Red Lentil Soup for 12

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
3 cups dried red lentils
12 cups of homemade chicken stock (NOTE: I just used veggie chicken-flavored base here)
1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried thyme
Yogurt (for topping soup)
fresh mint for garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients except yogurt and fresh mint (if using) in a crock pot. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer 3-4 hours. NOTE: I actually just simmered overnight and it worked out great. Serve up a bowl with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinking of chopped mint.

Hearty Turnip Herb Dip
(Adapted from the recipe in From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh, Seasonal Produce)

3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup vegetable oil (I ran out so it was a mix of veg and olive oil)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cups sunflower seeds
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups nutritional yeast
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1 tsp nutmeg
2.5 cups boiling water
4 cups shredded turnips
1 1/2 cups shredded onion
2 cups shredded carrot
9 bay leaves


  1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease three 9x9" baking dishes (You can improvise here, I was making servings for three families). 
  2. Combine the first 7 ingredients and stir well.
  3. Stir in spices and boiling water.
  4. Add vegetables and stir until well-combined.
  5. Pour mixture into the baking dishes and press 3 bay leaves into the top of each dish. 
  6. Bake until firm and golden brown, about 1 hour.
  7. Serve on rye crackers (Ryvita or a similar crispy kind).Itgets firmer and more terrine-like on the second day.

You can improvise with any number of root vegetables including potatoes, beets, turnips and carrots or anything you root out of the deep corners of your fridge, really.


girl meets vintage camera app.

Jan at olbrich, originally uploaded by Helen de madison.

sigh. I'm in love.


Dinner for 12: Pasta with Broccoli and Ham with Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce

Catching up on some previous weeks' dishes so I hope to post more often over the next week or two.

I am not one to be drawn in by heavy comfort food often but this dish won me over both because it didn't involve terrifying amounts of cheese and cream and because it did involve terrifying amounts of crucifers. And, well, I am kind of a broken record about how much I love me some crucifer. The ham lent a smoky depth to this otherwise and sweet dish but it's easy to omit the ham and still make it a scrumptious vegetarian meal. If you are looking for a vegan option, this one is on my "to make" list soon.

The dish was fragrant, filling and satisfying. I also felt a teeny bit smug about the fact that even if kids wound up picking around the chunks, they would still be getting a belly full of cauliflower and not just noodles. I served this with a crusty baguette to soak up the sauce and a green salad topped with oranges, grapefruit and radish.

Baked Spirals and Broccoli with Ham and Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce (adapted from Martha Stewart Living, February 2012)

Serves 12
9 cups cauliflower (2 large heads or 3 small), cored and chopped
1 head of garlic (yes, head!), roughly chopped
12 shallots, roughly chopped
Salt n' Peppa
1/4 cup flour
12 cups skim milk
3/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
18 oz pecorino cheese, grated (about 6 cups)
1 1/2 lbs whole grain pasta spirals (I used 2 bags of noodles which seemed to be more than enough)
3/4 lb sliced smoked ham (I am a fan of Willow Creek Farm's sliced ham and it was perfect in this dish)
2 heads broccoli (roughly 15 cups), trimmed and cut into florets
1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs (recipe called for panko, but I have homemade breadcrumbs that I used)

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cauliflower, garlic, shallots, and 1 1/2 tsp salt. cook until softened but not brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with flour, stir to coat well.

2. Gradually stir in milk; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; gently simmer until cauliflower is very soft, about 15 min. Let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree with nutmeg and half the pecorino until smooth, about 2 minutes (I did this in four batches since it's a large amount of sauce).

3. Preheat oven to 400F. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta until slightly tender but not fully cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Drain well, return to pot. Add ham, broccoli and cauliflower sauce and toss to combine. Transfer to 3 3 1/2 quart baking dishes. Sprinkle with remaining pecorino and bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Heat the broiler and broil until golden on top, 1-2 minutes. Divide among dishes, top with toasted breadcrumbs and enjoy.

Quick and Healthy: Green Sushi Salad

January has been our month of regrouping around these parts. I've purged years of files out of the office, We've pared down the books at home (high school Cliff's Notes to Macbeth? Really, Helen?). I've even been reorganizing the kids' art supplies. Good times. This cleansing has even extended to the cooking we do. I've promised myself to incorporate a little more vegan cooking into my repertoire, a raw dish here or there. We've enjoyed a delicous raw carrot, cabbage and beet salad recently.

Last night, I tried a recipe for a kind of suhi-as-a-salad dish I've been drooling over at Green Kitchen Stories. Actually, I drool over pretty much everything on this blog, but this was one recipe that didn't take hours to make. And that it can be made as a composed salad and involves toasted seaweed pretty much guarantees a family hit. Bright, crunchy, gingery and just the thing for a light dinner that's heavy on superfoods.

And beautiful, yes?
photo: 2010, Green Kitchen Stories

Green Sushi Salad (adapted from Green Kitchen Stories here)

This serves 4 but is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd.

Marinated tofu (marinade recipe below).
Steamed brown rice (I used 1.5 cups of uncooked rice and had plenty left over)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil

1 large broccoli, chopped into bite size pieces
2 avocados, cubed
12 mushrooms, quartered (shiitake would be awesome; I only had button and still yummy), cut in quarters
1 handful sugarsnap peas
1/2 cucumber, cut into sticks
8 sheets nori seaweed
1 handful roasted sesame seeds
1 handful cilantro

Tofu Marinade
300 g tofu
5 tbsp sesame oil
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/2 red chili
2-inch (6 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and minced


1. Begin by marinading the tofu and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the salad. Drain and dry the tofu and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and add the tofu. Make sure the marinade covers all of the tofu. Put in the fridge for 1-2 hours (HS - I did not have time t do this but the tofu was still delicious!).

2. Steam the brown rice. When cooked, stir in the rice vinegar and sesame oil.

3. Steam the broccoli, peas and mushrooms to crisp-tender (I did each veggie separately).

4. Toast the nori sheets briefly over an open flame (I use the burner on my gas stove). Alternately, you can use the nori sold as seaweed snacks which is toasted and lightly flavored and skip this step. Cut or tear the nori into bite-sized pieces.

5. Divide the rice into 4 large bowls and top it with all the vegetables and tofu. Drizzle the rest of the tofu marinade over the salad, top it with sesame seeds and cilantro and serve it with soy sauce and chilis on the side.

 Note: for the kids, I left it as a composed salad, i.e. I kept everything separate which seems to make them like it more. Whatever, they ate it with gusto!


Post Post Post Christmas Post.

Though technically, the holidays are long gone, the winter has really only started around these parts. The days are calling for indoor inspiration. And we had a chance to do some pretty fun things that I'd love to share in case you are looking for a little incentive to shake up the daily routine.

Thanks to the wildly popular advent calendar, there was a lot of making in our house in December (some will argue too much making...) and there were constant project piles on every available surface. Particularly around the sewing machine and oven. What was so great this year was how much more the making involved the whole family. It's hard - it's sometimes a drag, really - to have to plan something every day for a month and come home from a long day of work and school and find the energy to do things besides curl up on the couch and read books together. But it is clearly shaping the kids' perspective of what Christmas and holidays are all about and the focus is on other people and doing things. I have to repeat this to myself often to remember why the hell we do things so much the hard way sometimes. It pays back. 

 We received a gorgeous box of citrus for our fruit share in December. Much of the clementine and orange rinds were made into candied citrus peel.

 Of course, gingerbread men were on the menu.

 The solstice was celebrated over two days in our house, the first night was at a neighborhood solstice bonfire and the second was a candlelight dress-up dinner at home. We donned our finest and tried to keep K from blowing out the candles the entire time.

I had helpful reminders whenever I tried to slack off on advent activities.
Yes, we remembered the popcorn string. After the tree came down in January, the popcorn and cranberries were taken outside for bird food.
 Another surprising hit activity in our house was the making of wrapping paper and cards. This went on all night. We had enough wrapping paper to wrap six families' worth of gifts.

The cookie and candy-making was in full force this year. The 2011 roster included:
These peppermint-coconut lip balms were made for M's preschool teachers. Making the balm and whipping up a few hand-stamped labels took less than one hour for a beautiful gift he was incredibly proud to give. This great idea comes courtesy of SouleMama.
 My biggest project was to make a pile of recycled sweater mittens (I took a class with this terrific lady to jump start my making and it was worth every penny, but you can find her free tutorial for the mittens right here). The ones above are a father-son pair for J and M. These are easy but not-so-fast when you are a beginner sewer like me. Also, you can end up with kattywompus mittens that you wind up giving anyway because they took you so damn long to make. I'm all for wabi-sabi gifting.