27 June 2009

The Last Week of School = The Week of Little Cooking

Ah, the last week of school has finally come and gone. I’m usually a strange mixture of excited (I look forward to sunny afternoons in my lawn chair with a good book, a cocktail, and the company of my pups) and wistful (as I say goodbye to the little ones who have been my company, my audience, and my focus for the past ten months). This year, though, I find myself rather emotionally numb. Although I’m most assuredly looking forward to two months without lesson planning, grading, early morning alarm clocks, and LIRR commutes, I can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm I usually have at this point of the year. Although I will miss the interaction with my students, especially those few extra-special kids that always bring a smile to my face, I don’t find myself feeling particularly emotional because of the impending separation (there was no crying this year – a first for me). Maybe I’m just overtired. I haven’t been sleeping or eating well during this last (and busiest) week of the school year. Maybe the veil of sleep deprivation has grown thicker and more opaque during this crazy school year so that it blocks some of the intensity of my feelings. Maybe it was just a very different year. Maybe I’m changing as I become a more and more experienced teacher. Maybe. Who knows?

I do know that I am excited about having more time to focus on my garden (which, by the way, is starting to flower and fruit as the rains start to taper off) and my cooking (I actually busted out a cookbook this morning and pored through it cover to cover) and my writing (this blogging thing has brought back the writing bug from my high school days). I don’t need to travel or have a big adventure this summer as long as I have all of that, plus some good quality time with J and my fuzzy ones. That suits me just fine.

So, as you can imagine, very little in the way of cooking got done this past week. Last Suday we picked up our shares and I prepped all of the greens and sautéed off some for use that night and throughout the week. Sunday night I stuffed homemade enchiladas with the cooked down kale and garlic and a mixture of pepper jack and sharp white cheddar. I baked off two pans of my kale enchiladas and froze one for enjoyment later in the year when my refrigerator isn’t bursting at the seams with greens. I served the enchiladas with some vegetarian refried beans, some shredded iceberg lettuce (mesclun mix does not work here at all), and a handful of organic tortilla chips. Of course J and I splashed on heavy-handed doses of hot sauce and dolloped on some low-fat, rennet-free sour cream.

Sounds great, right? It was, but it came with a high price. While heating up some canola oil to soften the corn tortillas for the enchiladas, I turned to the refrigerator to grab some ingredients. J, noticing that a pan was on the stove with the heat on under it, thought I had accidentally left the stove on under a dirty pan and picked it up to wash it. Now, J is excellent at cleaning pots, but he usually makes a mess while moving them to the sink, sloshing the contents about during transport. Have you figured out what happened yet? Yep, as I turned back towards the stove, J picked up the pan containing the hot oil and managed to slosh the hot (fortunately, not yet scalding – but indeed hot) oil down the right side of my body. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

Fortunately, being married to J for twelve years has trained me in the fine art of burn treatment (ask me about the second-degree burns on my hand from our fifth wedding anniversary sometime). I bolted into an ice cold shower and stayed there for a very very long time, letting the frigid water run down my shoulder, arm, and side, cooling down the angry red skin. When I finally emerged, I made large bundles of ice in paper towels and iced down my arm (it had taken the brunt of the direct oil contact – my shoulder and side were protected by my favorite gray t-shirt) for another agonizingly long period of time. Finally, I slathered my whole right side in aloe (with some lidocane for the pain) and headed back into the kitchen to finish the enchiladas. They were good, though, and I didn’t blister or scar at all, so J has been allowed to live for a while longer. I will admit that I shouted some not-so-ladylike things at him while running to the shower and while in the shower. The tirade may have continued during the icing portion of the treatment as well. He ate well and he did carelessly fling hot oil at me, so I’m not going to let the guilt eat me up.

Monday night was a fast dinner kind of night. Working on report cards, I caught a late train home and needed something tasty and fast. I had a ciabatta in the bread box and a block of mozzarella and a bowl of garlicy sautéed pea shoots in the refrigerator. Panini night! I fired up the Foreman grill while grating up the cheese. I layered greens and cheese and (duh!) red pepper flakes between crusty slabs of ciabatta and grilled them to golden-brown, melty, crunchy, herbal-green, garlicy goodness. We tore into the toasty toothsome crusts and let the cheese and the juice from the greens dribble down our chins until nothing remained on our plates but large flaky crumbs of ciabatta. Although we were full, we still wanted more.

Tuesday night was my last night of cooking for the work week. Wednesday night was the Black & White Ball for our sixth and seventh graders at school and J and I dined on pizza slices and cups of Doritos sold at the Black & White Bar run by the seventh graders. Thursday was graduation and I ate leftovers from lunch in the car during the long drive home. Friday was the last day of school before summer vacation and J and I dined on nibbles from the farmer’s market in Union Square and various other favorite restaurants. Tuesday, though, was all about the bacon. Bacon? Yes. Vegetarians eating bacon? No. I’ve mentioned Bacon Salt and Baconnaise before. (Remember www.baconsalt.com?) Tuesday night was a celebration of both. One final ciabatta toasted in the Foreman Grill while I cooked up some Morningstar Farms bacon strips in the microwave and stirred some Baconnaise into some yogurt-based blue cheese dressing. I tossed the bacony blue cheese with some of the mesclun mix from the share pickup and sprinkled it all liberally with Bacon Salt. When the bread came out of the toaster, I pried apart the crispy pressed layers and stuffed them with soy bacon and my bacon and blue cheese salad greens. Talk about a smoky, creamy, pungent, crunchy, grassy-green sandwich! I can’t wait to try this one again once my tomatoes start coming out of the garden. That is going to rock.

J and I picked up some goodies during our Friday-Last-Day-Of-School-Fest in Manhattan, so Saturday’s breakfast was leftover dumplings and other delights from our favorite restaurant in Chinatown. Lunch was yet another panini (we were heavy into the bread this week) made with slices of cheddar-jalapeno bread we picked up in Union Square. Paired with pepper jack cheese, the spicy bread was pressed and crisped in the Foreman while I tossed the rest of the mesclun mix with some light blue cheese dressing and a ton of Bacon Salt. I was going to use my new bottle of Jalapeno Bacon Salt, but I thought it might be pepper overkill. Once the bread was thoroughly toasted (and the cheese embedded in the bread was melting against the plates of the Foreman), I pried open the slices and spread the cheese-glue around before stuffing in the bacony and blue cheese slathered greens. This was a glorified grilled cheese with a creamy salty smoky salad stuffed inside. The peppers in the bread and cheese gave it a nice kick and Jason wanted seconds. Alas, I had used up the greens, so Jason turned to his secret stash of hummus in the fridge and grabbed the bag of tortilla chips.

For only a few days of cooking, I’ve babbled on quite long enough. Stay tuned for the tales of this week’s share pickup and my plans for its bounty. Happy eating!


  1. Hey Nicole,

    I was feeling like you were about the end of school, until today, when I got burnt to a crisp at a picnic and realized it's summer ;) Seriously, how great is it not to be having one of those sleepless Sunday nights tomorrow worrying about teaching on Monday? Anyway, I am glad you were able to avoid getting permanently burned by oil. If you are ever around me cooking, stand many feet away ;)

    Your delicious sounding sandwich blog post made me hungry for some good ciabatta (I love ciabatta) and then I started thinking about how one of the things I was going to do this summer was make bread. Do you have any good bread recipes that don't involve eggs for someone who does not have a lot of tools in her kitchen (I'd be making it for someone who loves bread)? :) And then do you have any recommendations for sauces I could make to put on the bread sometimes as an appetizer?

    Have a relaxing, wonderful, not-thinking-about-students-Sunday :)

  2. Hi Tamara!

    I've got a great, super-easy bread recipe that I use to make all kinds of bread. It doesn't require a lot of equipment or effort. Look here: http://tinyurl.com/2rxjqh. I've got the book written by the creators of this recipe and it discusses techniques for turning the basic dough into all sorts of breads - including ciabatta.

    As for toppings, I've got lots of ideas. I make homemade tomato sauce for dipping, a tasty white bean and garlic topping to spoon on top of toasted slices of bread, all kinds of hummus, flavored cream cheese spreads, compound butters, and marinated vegetable mixtures. Let me know which ones interest you and I can pull together some recipes for you (the recipes otherwise live in the chaotic world that is my head).

    We should have a cooking party so that I can teach you how to make all of these goodies!

  3. Thank you so much Nicole...that recipe is perfect to get started. Your toppings sound delicious :) I'd love to hear about the marinated vegetable mixtures, and then the homemade tomato sauce and white bean and garlic one...Yum...Yay for summer!

    And a cooking party sounds great; we can plan it when we see each other later in the week :)