My Times Union column from September 2021. Read it online here, or see below.
- Find the recipes that went along with this story:
- Greek Nacho Fries
- Fall Vegetable Farro Bake with Sausage and Cheese
- Hot Apple Pie Sundaes
It doesn’t feel great to admit this, but here goes: I eat a lot of meals on the go. A lot of them. And literally on-the-go. Like, while driving or standing up and cleaning the kitchen. I also take meals, many of them, in front of my computer. The menu for my typical day might look like this: toast with almond butter, served with coffee, in the Honda CRV. And lunch will be a fresh green salad, with market vegetables and avocado, served at the desk and taken in quick bites between phone calls and emails. It’s a sad and lonely way to eat. Come evening, I long for a proper meal. I want time at the table, for faces not on a computer screen, for cloth napkins and for the talk and togetherness that goes along with those things. I want, above all, to share food with other humans.Occasionally, my son Elliot does not want to sit at the dinner table and I know he would much prefer to make a bowl of ramen noodles and eat them while playing guitar in his room (what seventeen-year-old wouldn’t?) My daughter Zoe is living at home and going to Siena College this semester, so she is occasionally around, between classes and work. If I’m lucky, I get some combination of my husband and Zoe and Elliot at the dinner table. It’s much preferable to toast while driving.
The last time I made nachos for dinner, Elliot said, “This is freaking awesome.” And then he told me about going mountain bike riding with his pals. See? Cheesy communal food does bring people together.
Dinner around our house is often the sort of meal that’s something like a big salad, with leftover or grilled meat-of-choice on top. It works, it’s fine, it gets the job done. But isn’t it so nice to make one big pot of something that’s steamy and has tons of vegetables and flavor and everyone piles it high on their plate, then goes back for more? Or even—and this is the best—when you eat food from the same communal plate? There are always only yummy things on a shared plate of food. Things like gooey cheese, crispy chips, rich chocolate. Communal food, whether it’s a bowl of popcorn, or Chinese hot pot or fondue, goes right to the heart of why I like to cook. Sharing it, and eating it together, changes the experience, brings us closer. With a pot of food between us, somehow the day, and its stresses, ease. I recommend it.
The last time I made nachos for dinner, Elliot said, “This is freaking awesome.” And then he told me about going mountain bike riding with his pals. See? Cheesy communal food does bring people together. Here are a few dishes for fall, for sharing and for eating with people, definitely not for driving or sending emails.
The fall vegetable pasta bake is a version of a dish that I originally published on the Times Union blog I used to write many years ago, and it was a favorite. If lasagna had a much younger and cooler cousin, this would be it. The spirit of lasagna is in here: gooey cheese, layers of vegetables and grains. Instead of noodles, though: pearled farro. Farro is a type of wheat, and it has a nutty flavor and a plump texture with plenty of tooth. Cook until it’s just al dente and spread it on the bottom of a baking dish: it’s become the bottom layer, the base and the catch-all for the carmelized onions, the sausage and the cheese. You can mix this up in infinite ways and change out the veggies (my kids like peppers in place of the squash but I had a squash, so, squash it was), use cooked chicken instead of sausage and switch out the Gouda for mozzarella, if you like. Gouda, though, has deep, rich and caramelized flavor. It is good to make ahead, good food to bring to a friend and great to eat for lunch the next day, even if it’s consumed in front of a computer.
The Greek nacho fries are fun party food, but acceptable for a weeknight, as there’s a load of fresh veggies, piled right up on top. This dish was born from desperation one weeknight, when there was Greek salad makings, frozen french fries and not much else. It didn’t take too much deep thinking to figure out that Greek salad really does go well on French fries. And what, really, does not go well with French fries? I typically make this a vegetarian dish, but you could beef it up with any kind of leftover meat or even shredded rotisserie chicken. I went for the total cheater version and used the frozen ‘hand-cut’ fries, but feel free to make your own with a few Russet potatoes. I do love food that is a perfect yin-yang embodiment: a bit of good and a tiny bit of evil. Each bite of these kicked-up nachos has indulgent, crispy and salty fries, a layer of melty cheese, then loads of crunchy vegetables and finally, a drizzle of lemony feta cheese and fresh herbs. Yin-yang to the core.
Dessert this month is an ice cream sundae, made with seasonal apples and pieces of pie crust. I’ve had many people tell me that making pie is super intimidating, that it never turns out right and that they’ve given up on it. Here is a good way to have all the flavors and textures, without the pressure of a perfect pie. To make the cinnamon pie crisps, use your grandmother’s recipe, or whatever your favorite pie dough recipe is, or yeah, buy the store-made kind. This is low-pressure, remember? Just get the good vanilla ice cream. It makes all the difference. I like the Ginger Gold apples called for in the recipe – they’re crisp and tart and have a good amount of sweetness, but not too much. If you don’t have those, you can use a few different varieties to balance the sweetness. If you only have a super sweet kind of apple (like a Gala or a Cameo), add a squeeze of lemon juice to the mix. This particular dessert is a crowd pleaser and a seasonal favorite. We like to eat apples in every form available, while the harvest is here, don’t you? This dessert is a nice treat for anyone on a cool fall evening.
You might be wondering what was eaten while I wrote this story, and it’s not a surprise that it was the same old green salad, chopped vegetables, avocado and light dressing. And yes, I ate my toast while driving in the car today, too. But I did it all with dreams of dinner, of a big communal plate filled with warm vegetables, eaten with my family tonight for dinner.