Friday, June 24, 2011

The Summer Menu (AKA What happens to the fennel every week)

Every week in early summer we get fennel in the farmshare.


When we first started getting the farmshare, I would take one look at the fennel and be like, "Oh fennel. You've come to the wrong place." And then I would bury it under something else I wasn't likely to deal with (beets come to mind) in the crisper and forget about it until it was too bouncy to contemplate any longer as food and then I'd throw it in the composter.

Bye-bye bouncy fennel.

Then I got tired of throwing away the fuzzy bouncy fennel bulb and decided to crack open a cookbook. Which is a totally original idea, I know.

And that's pretty much the start of the Summer Menu and how things like the Fall, Winter and Spring Menus came about.

I learned how to make Fennel Orange Olive Salad, which we loved a lot and was super easy, and we've been eating Fennel Orange Olive Salad every week during early summer for the past few years and not bouncing any fennel into the composter. HOO-ray.

So The Summer Menu, as we call it, is just a fancy ass way of saying that we have a bunch of recipes for the one good way I've learned to dispatch all of one vegetable in a single meal without either of us vomiting.

This system is pretty good, too.  So good, in fact, that Bubba commented the other night on how good we were getting at working through the garden and farmshare and chicken share and egg share and meat share and it's probably because of these menus that I've cobbled together over the years out of desperation for not wanting food going bouncy in my fridge.

That's a nice thing for him to say, I think, that I'm a good and resourceful cook (I hear what I want to hear) even though it sort of hearkens back to the 50s and and makes me wonder if I should take up snorting coke off my stovetop, but whatever. I'm just thinking it's nice.

So nice that I thought I'd share this with you - The Summer Menu - and the concept of Summer Menu making. Just in case you have similar vegetables piling up and want to rotate them out each week into someone's belly instead of the composter or trash.

The handy part is that all these things are pretty quick to make, don't require much beyond that which lives in your fridge or pantry and do well as leftovers even if they're smushed into a Tupperware and biked 15 miles to work.

Plus! They don't taste like ass. At least we don't think they do.

Extra fun bonus - there are 6 things on this menu so one for each night of the week that isn't Pizza Night. Because you know that Friday night is Pizza Night at our house and thou shalt not fuck with Pizza Night.

The Summer Menu
White Bean Kale and Pasta & Roasted Green Beans
Mexican Grilled Whole Chicken, Pinto Beans & Green Salad
Meatballs with The Best Sauce Ever. Yep. & Fennel Orange Olive Salad
Chicken Salad with Arugula & Garlic Naan (na-na-na-na-nanana-na)
Broccoli Walnut Pasta with Bacon or Prosciutto
Big Ass Cobb Salad & Garlic Toasts (no egg for Bubba)

Some explanation...
White Bean Kale and Pasta & Roasted Green Beans 
This requires no explanation because I've covered it in great detail around here. However, I will say that the new french style green beans I'm growing this year are THE MOST and will be enhancing this menu item all summer because they are long and skinny even when they're old so won't require extra stomachs to manage the harvest. Last summer there were a lot of beans is what I'm saying. I could have used extra stomachs. Like a cow has. But I didn't want to equate myself to a cow. Obviously.

Mexican Grilled Whole Chicken, Pinto Beans & Green Salad
This is new this year and requires some awesome brutality to accomplish. I, for one, love to lay a good beat down on my meal before eating it, which I assume is the same for everyone.

If you're a wuss with raw chicken, handling raw chicken, hacking bones and the like - stop being a fucking puss and make this. It will be worth all your girlish squealing. Promise.

One whole chicken (our pastured local organic chickens are so fucking delicious, but I won't judge anyone for their Foster Farms. I'm very accepting.)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Hot sauce (Tapatio, Cholula, Frank's Hot Wing sauce - you do what you need to do)
Corn or flour tortillas
Green salad makings
1 can of pinto beans, rinsed

To make:
Rinse and pat your chicken dry. Which is not as sexy as it sounds. Feel free to give your chicken one last dance before you beat its ass. I always do.

Then, using kitchen shears or a kick ass sturdy knife, cut the breastbone of the chicken from the bottom up. Yeah, that's right - you're cutting through bone. It's extreme.

Now that your chicken's split, grab the breasts and pull them apart until they crack. That'd be the back bones breaking. WEE! You're brutal.

Flip that bird over, spread the breasts apart (Not Sexy ALERT) and break the spine until the chicken lays flat and accommodating on your cutting board. Snip the skin around the thighs away so that the breasts will spread out nicely and not tuck underneath the thighs. (I doubt that sounds sexy.)

Rub the whole thing down with olive oil and a healthy coating of salt and pepper. You could probably do a lime tequila thing here with the marinade, like all those fruity ridiculous TGIWhatever places do when trying to Mexican-ize chicken, but I find that all to be too much. Salt, pepper, olive oil, grill. That's plenty.

So, now you grill. Lay that beautiful flat bird meat side down (bones up) on a hot grill and cook with the lid on for about 15 minutes. Flip it over and cover for another 15 minutes. Flip it over again and cook covered until juices run clear. And, since you're going to chop it all up anyway, feel free to slice into that thigh to see if it's cooked through like I know you want to.

Look, I know professional chefs frown upon this from up on their super high horses, but I'm just a chicken scarfing psychopath playing cook in my backyard, so I can just slice into whatever the hell I want as long as it's not a guest, the dog or Bubba. Hell yeah! I'm a chicken ninja! Zing zing zing!

Where the hell did that come from?

When the chicken's done, throw a bunch of tortillas on the grill and then cut up the chicken into legs, breasts, wings and so on and set it out with a big pile of warm tortillas that you just tore off the grill. And hot sauce. And cilantro fresh from the garden if you happen to be sitting right by the garden. And limes.

And the pinto beans that I mentioned earlier that you just heat up in a pot on the grill or stovetop while the chicken's cooking. And that green salad I mentioned earlier, made however a normal person might make green salad.

I can't help you with everything.

Meatballs with The Best Sauce Ever. Yep. & Fennel Orange Olive Salad
I know everyone's got their own way of making meatballs, so I'm not going to pass my simple and probably wrong recipe for meatballs off as the best or anything, but they're good and Bubba loves them a lot and you can find those details in this post where I made him a white trash dinner that will further illustrate how I'm not a professional chef.

You don't need me recounting The Best Sauce Ever. Yep. because I've told that story. And you can read it here. Along with a variety of conflicting comments.

The salad has been documented before, too, but I called it something else and used kumquats instead of oranges, but you'll get the gist. And hey, really, the thing should be called "Fennel Orange Onion Olive Salad" anyway, so that all the ingredients are actually just in the damn name, but someone probably told the author of this cookbook that the name was too long and to cut out her least favorite vegetable and so she decided she liked the onion least of all. Which is a crime because onions are THE BEST. 

Chicken Salad with Arugula & Garlic Naan (na-na-na-na-nanana-na)
The chicken salad recipe is around here, too, and I usually just get some naan from a nearby Indian restaurant or GASP from Trader Joe's, give it a brush of olive oil and then throw on some sea salt and chopped herbs and garlic to be fancy.

Because obviously I'm very fancy with my Trader Joe's naan to begin with.

Broccoli Walnut Pasta with Bacon or Prosciutto
I can't believe I've never talked about this dish, which is a total mainstay in our kitchen because I get to blow out a lot of broccoli before it turns repulsive in my fridge, but that's probably because it's about as photogenic as horse poo.

Meanwhile, it is delicious and improved dramatically with the addition of prosciutto (if you're fancy) or bacon (if you're us).

As many cups of broccoli florets as you have on hand (I usually have about 6)
1 cup of walnut pieces
1/4 lb chopped bacon
1 cup whole wheat pasta
1/2 shredded Parmesan
2 cloves chopped garlic
Olive oil

To make:
Preheat the oven to 400.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (or, if you're not a big fat waster like me, just throw it on the pan and then spend the rest of your natural life scraping broccoli off that pan), add some olive oil to the pan and throw on the broccoli, bacon and walnuts and toss them in the oil. Add some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, take it out to toss and then finish in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the walnuts begin to darken.

Just don't burn the god damned walnuts because it ruins the whole thing and makes it all bitter and sad. And you won't have enough of everything to remake it anew and will end up eating popcorn that you managed NOT to burn and Bubba will eat chips and look sad all night.

Make the pasta and toss in the roasted broccoli mix and then the Parmesan. Add more salt if you like. Hell, add Velveeta if you like, it's already been bastardized with beautiful bacon, why not go for the friggen gold, here? (Warning: I've never tried this and I'm not even sure Velveeta qualifies as a food. Take your own chances.)

Big Ass Cobb Salad & Garlic Toasts (no egg for Bubba)

Yeah, I doubt I really need to tell you how to make a cobb salad. Though, if you're not familiar with cobb salad let me tell you how I see it: A cobb salad is all the food you'd want to have on a sandwich, except you put it on greens, call it salad and then don't feel like a fat ass.

It's great.

Just don't skimp on the blue cheese (and, no, I will not be spelling it as "Bleu cheese" because I'm not a complete douche) or bacon. And since tomatoes are out of season right now, I like to sub in sundried tomatoes packed in oil because they're delicious, but you could sub in some sliced peaches, apricots or plums and I promise it won't be grotesque. Try marinated olives instead of those sad grey rounds from the red can and see how happy you get.

To make the garlic toasts, just slice a small baguette in half, rub the cut sides with the cut side of a fresh clove of garlic, brush on a bit of olive oil and some sea salt and toast until nice and golden.

It's pretty awesome for dinner, particularly if you're having a beer or some Chardonnay from your recent trip to Paso Robles.

Alright - so that's all the Summer Menu knowledge I have right now. In the event that I'm able to document the grilled chicken scenario without losing my camera in the Frank's sauce or happen to catch the Broccoli Walnut Pasta in a flattering light (darkness), I'll come back and post those photos. Or maybe I'll write up new posts because in the event those things happen, they're going to represent small miracles in my world and will have to be documented appropriately.

Geez - the things that count as miracles these days.I've really lowered the bar.


  1. Yummy.

    Try this one is what made me plany fennel this year.

  2. There was so much about this that made me laugh and love you even more, but I think your comment about the "Bleu cheese" may be the best. Thank you.

    Meanwhile, my "summer menu" has mostly consisted of a whole hell of a lot of lettuce. And beef. You wouldn't think it would be possible to get jaded about porterhouse steaks, would you? That's because you've never bought an entire cow.

  3. Talk about fucking pusses. Hello, FENNEL is WONDERFUL! My stupid kids even like it (raw with nothing on it of course). But I love it raw, roasted, sauteed, etc. Delicious! But if you ever think WOW I LOVE FENNEL, I WILL GROW IT, don't. Everything I read says it kills things around it. Cool, huh? So now I'm thinking you love fennel AND respect it.

  4. I love fennel - it's like the connoisseur's celery. I love a chickpea / tomato / fennel salad (mix with a little pesto for a no-brainer flavoring), and I even like them roasted in the oven.

  5. A little tear comes to my eye at the thought of finding fennel (which I LOVE) in my CSA box, because at $4/pop I don't buy it often, and I'm pretty sure they're not growing it at my lovely local farm. Sadness....
    Happiness, though, is getting to read your summer menu inspiration -- so helpful! I know arugula will be making it's appearance again, and I've worn my family out w/my limited uses. Thanks!

  6. You California people. Growing fennel and saffron and lemons and shit. So envious!

    LOVE your summer menu! And will be back to try all of those things even though I will purchase many items from the store, shipped from California.



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