Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Family-Friendly Farm

The kids would be much happier if our CSA farm looked more like this one.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tis Another Season To Be Cooking

I popped into my kosher butcher shop yesterday and guess what song was playing on the radio?

White Christmas.

At least we can chalk up that one to a nice Jewish boy. The holiday, too, for that matter.

Anyway, the post-CSA cooking has run the gamut from roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic to rum-tinged cranberry sauce to homemade Pop-Tarts. And I've been on a squash kick of late. Here are a couple of good choices for cold winter evenings.

Squash, Cauliflower,and Chickpea Curry
Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls

These are really before-and-after pictures, as the cabbage rolls are stuffed with rice and leftovers from the squash curry. The recipes and idea are from The Boston Globe. (For a meaty "stuffed cabbage" with a lot less work, check out my Stuffed Cabbage Casserole.)

Another recent hit was this stuffed squash recipe, also via The Boston Globe.

Mushroom and Barley Stuffed Delicata Squash
(adapted, barely, from The Boston Globe Magazine. Mostly, I cut back on the salt and oil, and made minor ingredient substitutions based on what I had at home.)

2.75 cups water
1 cup pearled barley
3 delicata squash, about 1.25 pounds each, halved lengthwise and seeded
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
10 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add barley and 1/4 teaspoon salt, lower heat and simmer, covered, about 35 minutes or until the barley is tender and the water has been absorbed. Remove cover and set aside.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush squash halves with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes. Turn squash halves over, brush each half with orange juice concentrate, and bake cut side up for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the squash is baking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet and saute the celery and onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the celery mixture to the barley along with the porcini mushrooms. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and saute the sliced button mushrooms until brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and herbs to the skillet and cook another minute more. Add this to the barley mixture, and stir in the vinegar. Taste the barley mixture and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Fill the squash cavities with the barley mixture and bake until the filling is heated through, about 20 minutes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chicken With Apples, and a Review of the Season

It's been a couple of weeks now since our last CSA pickup, and I'm reflecting on the season. Whereas 2009 was categorized by excessive rain and clouds, this year we had crop-withering heat and drought. What a visceral reminder of the unpredictable nature of farming!

A couple of crops did very well. Our farm supplied us with 174 peaches (that's somewhere between 43 and 58 pounds); 81 ears of corn; and 42 apples. I have samples of each of these in my freezer for the months to come. On the other hand, I've seen enough green tomatoes, thank you (several dozen, between the farm and our own plants), and I'm ready to forget about that wretched broccoli rabe.

As I go on hiatus, I leave you with a chicken dish that's quick to make and brings in the flavors of fall.

Chicken With Apples
(Adapted recipe; origin unknown)

3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded to be no more than 3/4 inch thick)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 apple, cored, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 cup apple juice
1 large onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

Heat oil in a large skillet. Saute the chicken for about 3 minutes per side, or until golden. Add the remaining ingredients except for the mustard. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower heat, then cover the skillet and simmer 8 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the skillet, whisk in the mustard, then return chicken to the sauce. Heat through and serve.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 18: Green Tomato Soup

Last CSA pickup of the season, and what did we get? A bouquet of Swiss chard.


The chard was the best dish of the week, but you don't need a recipe for it. Just wash the chard, remove leaves from stems, chop the leaves, and saute them with garlic in a little olive oil, as you might do with spinach. Sprinkle salt on top before serving. Perfection.

The rest of the week's cooking seemed to revolve around just a few items:
  • Butternut squash -- in a stew with turkey meat; roasted with green tomatoes and onions; and roasted alone and mashed;
  • Green tomatoes -- roasted with the squash, as mentioned above; and in soup;
  • Red cabbage -- braised with apples and caraway; and turned into slaw;
  • Apples -- with cabbage; and in cake.
The soup was a quick solution to too many green tomatoes. I don't know why it took me all season to come across this idea.

Quick Green Tomato and Bean Soup
(Inspired by this Gourmet recipe)

1 Tbsp olive oil
4 scallions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 pounds green tomatoes, chopped
2 cups water
1 can (15.5 ounces) small white beans, with liquid
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika, or to taste

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Saute scallions and garlic in the oil for a couple of minutes; watch that they don’t burn. Add the tomatoes, water, canned beans and their liquid, and the spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 to 45 minutes or until the tomatoes break down to your liking. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve hot.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Week 17: Roasted Cauliflower With Capers

Caboodle vs. the Collard

I got what I needed this week: a couple of cool, wet days conducive to cooking. After a pot of soup and a big stir fry -- both cabbage based -- I'm close to clearing out the vegetables in the fridge.

My favorite meal of the week was our "C" food dinner: Cod with Crumbs, Cauliflower with Capers, and Collards with, um, more  Collards. The collard greens had enormous leaves, and the cauliflower weighed in at 3.5 pounds. I guess the drought/flood cycle has been good to some crops.

Roasted Cauliflower With Capers
(Adapted recipe. Variations of roasted cauliflower abound.)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Break a head of cauliflower into florets and toss with a bit of olive oil. Lay the florets in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, then flip the pieces with a large spatula and roast another 10 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is tender and a bit browned. Keep an eye on the cauliflower so it doesn't burn.

Transfer the cooked cauliflower to a serving bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon drained capers and 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped. Serve hot or warm.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Week 16: Stuffed Cabbage Casserole; Turkey Corn Soup


We started off the week with a load of vegetables: leftovers from Week 15 (green cabbage, butternut squash), the current share (red cabbage, broccoli, corn, red and green tomatoes), and our own crops (more tomatoes, both red and green). Here at week's end, I'm not completely caught up -- the squash, for one, remains untouched -- but I've made a sizeable dent.

So what's come out of the kitchen? Salsa verde, served with chips. Corn and green tomato pancakes, eaten as a side dish to tuna. Red cabbage slaw with peanut dressing. Cabbage casserole and turkey soup (detailed below). Still to come: Fresh pasta sauce, pickled green tomatoes, maybe a stir fry with the remaining cabbage. And something with squash.
  
Stuffed Cabbage Casserole
(Adapted recipe. The original uses a can of tomato soup and a can of soup water instead of tomato sauce. The flavor of this dish is reminiscent of stuffed cabbage, but with much less work.)

1 medium green cabbage (about 2 pounds), cut up
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce

Grease a large baking dish (9 by 13 inches) and place cabbage inside. Brown beef and onion in a skillet. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Stir in rice. Place meat mixture over the cabbage. Pour tomato sauce over all. Cover dish and bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until the cabbage is tender and the rice is cooked. (Check after 30 minutes and add a little water to the dish if it seems dry.)

Turkey Corn Soup
(Adapted recipe; similar to this one.)

6 cups turkey stock
5 ears corn
2 cups diced, cooked turkey (about 9 ounces)
1 cup sliced celery (about 2 stalks)
3 ounces broad or “homestyle” egg noodles
Black pepper and salt

Place the stock in a large (4 quart) soup pan. Slice whole kernels from two ears of corn and add to stock. Over a bowl, to catch the pulp and liquid, grate the kernels from the remaining three ears of corn, using the large holes of a box grater. Add to the stock mixture, along with the diced turkey and celery. Bring the stock to a gentle boil. Add the noodles and simmer until cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Adjust the seasoning as desired and serve hot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week 15: Lasagna With Squash and Kale


I had ambitious cooking plans for the week. I also had ambitious work plans. Work won out, and that's why I have a head of green cabbage, a butternut squash, and a couple of beets to carry me into the coming CSA week.

Still, we had two good CSA-centric meals. One was a pot of roasted vegetables that included this week's eggplant and tomatoes along with onions, garlic, pepper, and potato. It was similar to ratatouille, but accompanied by a Thai-inspired peanut sauce. (I liked it better without the sauce.) The other meal was lasagna, a multi-step, multi-pot concoction that I decided to tackle when a client's database problems prevented me from logging into work. (Ah, the joys of being a remote freelancer.) The lasagna, which used up one of our butternut squashes and our kale, ultimately was worth the work. It would make a lovely vegetarian entree for Thanksgiving.

Lasagna With Squash and Kale
(Adapted from Sunset Magazine. The lasagna can be assembled and refrigerated up to a day ahead of baking.)

4 Tbsp olive oil (divided use)
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic (1 minced; 2 peeled but left whole)
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper
6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 pounds squash)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 pound kale
9 whole-wheat lasagna noodles (8 oz.)
1 container (15 oz.) part-skim ricotta cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese (divided use)

Prepare the sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat. Cook the onion and minced garlic for about 5 minutes, or until the onion softens, then add in the tomatoes, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes, then set aside.

Prepare the squash: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash cubes and the whole garlic cloves with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the thyme; sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired. (I used only pepper.) Spread on a large baking pan (10 by 17 inches) and bake until soft, about 15 minutes. (Note: The squash won't cook that fast if your cubes are larger than the 1/2-inch dice.) Let the squash and garlic cool a bit, then puree them in a food processor and set aside.

Prepare the kale: Bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Remove the center ribs from the kale leaves. Discard the ribs and boil the kale leaves for about 5 minutes or until soft. Drain, let cool, then squeeze out as much water as possible from the leaves. Chop the leaves finely.

Prepare the noodles: Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the lasagna noodles, a few at a time, to keep the water boiling. Cook the noodles for about 10 minutes, or as directed on the packaging, until tender. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Separate the noodles and lay out on wax paper to keep them from sticking to one another.

Prepare the cheese: Mix together the ricotta cheese, nutmeg, 1 cup of mozzarella, and another 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Set aside.

Assemble the lasagna: Layer the components in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish in this order, spreading the layers as evenly as possible:
  • 1.5 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 noodles
  • All of the squash
  • One-half of the kale
  • 3 noodles
  • All of the ricotta cheese mixture
  • All of the remaining kale
  • 3 noodles
  • Remaining tomato sauce
  • Remaining 1 cup mozzarella (or a bit less, depending on taste)
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the juices are bubbling. Add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time if the lasagna has been pre-assembled and refrigerated. Let the lasagna stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week 14: Hungarian Peach Cake

load of peachesPeaches. By golly, we got PEACHES.

The farm said to "fill your bag" with pick-your-own peaches, and Caboodle and I took the instructions to heart ... until the bag became kind of hard to lift.

We lugged home 20 pounds of peaches, or about 60 individual pieces of fruit. At least half wound up being sliced and frozen -- they'll brighten up some miserable day this winter -- but we had plenty of peaches to share with friends and to nosh on all week. And with that many peaches around, I didn't feel too bad about sacrificing a few to experimental baking.

Cobbler recipes seem to fall into two styles: those that have fruit under a biscuit or doughy topping (along the lines of these blueberry cobblers) and those in which the fruit cooks on top of a batter. We tried one browned-butter, peach-topped cobbler that was tasty, but unnecessarily rich. We preferred the peach-topped cake detailed below, which was cobbler-like, but lighter in texture.

Also in our CSA bag this week -- wedged under the 20 pounds of peaches -- were a couple of cucumbers, three yellow squash, green tomatoes, and a sugar pumpkin. The kids weren't crazy about roasted pumpkin, but they did like the roasted pumpkin seeds. The green tomatoes went into a Indian-style stew with yellow split peas -- filling, but not photogenic. A highlight of the week was a thin crust pizza topped with our heirloom tomatoes, grown on our CSA-provided tomato plants.

peach cakeHungarian Peach Cake
(Adapted from The Complete American-Jewish Cookbook by Anne London and Bertha Kahn Bishov (1971 edition). I cannot vouch for "Hungarian" origins of this recipe.)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
4 to 5 peaches, sliced in half and pit removed
Sugar-cinnamon mixture for sprinkling (see note)

Sift flour with baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs individually and beat well. Add in flour mixture and mix well. Pour or spread the batter evenly into a well-greased pan (10.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches). Gently press the peach halves on top of the batter. Sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Cut cake into pieces (around the peach halves) and serve warm. Makes 8 to 10 pieces.

Note: The original recipe calls for sprinkling the top of the cake with a mixture of 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. I mixed up the sugar and cinnamon as directed, but didn't use more than a couple of tablespoons of the mixture. The cake was plenty sweet.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week 13: Last Blast of Summer Corn Salad

corn and bean saladThe defining word for this week is "transition." The calendar says summer, but I'm making the mental switch to autumn. Well ... mostly, which is why corn on the cob appeared on our Rosh Hashanah table, along with the soup and brisket and apples.

It was a hefty CSA haul this week: peaches, apples, green beans, green tomatoes, plum tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn. The Programmer, Caboodle, and I also made an apple-picking pilgrimage to Russell Orchards on Sunday -- not that we needed more apples, but our schedule gets tighter as the season goes on. (I don't think the girls will object if I use some of those apples in a cake or crisp sometime soon.)

The week's produce (and last week's leftovers) wound up in a variety of dishes: carrot cake for Kit's birthday; butternut squash soup, kicked up a notch with a bit of hot pepper; corn muffins, made with fresh corn kernels; a green tomato gratin, with feta cheese; refrigerator pickles; curried vegetables, featuring green beans, plum tomatoes and a purchased cauliflower; roasted peaches (delicious with vanilla yogurt; even better with French vanilla ice cream); lots of applesauce, now mostly in the freezer; and an apple-celery root slaw with a mustard-honey dressing.

I pulled together this corn salad as our family's contribution to a Labor Day weekend barbecue. I love the combination of corn and beans; see my Seaside Corn and Bean Salad for another variation.

Last Blast of Summer Corn Salad
(Serves 8 or more as a side dish)

6 ears of corn
1 can (15.5 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 pickling cucumber, seeded and diced, but peel left on (about 1 cup)
1/2 to 1 cup diced red onion
1 Tbsp red basil, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste

Lightly steam or boil the corn, then place in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain corn and remove kernels from the cobs. Mix corn kernels with the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Week 12: Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters

watermelon gazpachoWow, that was a whirlwind of a week. It was Kit's bat mitzvah this past Saturday, and between Friday and Tuesday we had a steady stream of friends and relatives through our kitchen. The whole experience was exhilarating and exhausting. The food was pretty good, too, if I do say so myself.

Over the course of the weekend, much of Friday's share was served to our guests: fresh apples and peaches, served plain; wax beans and cherry tomatoes, in pasta salad; carrots, in a green salad; and round tomatoes, sliced for sandwiches. Previous CSA fare turned up in the form of chocolate zucchini bread and blueberry crumb bars.

Now that the family has cleared out, I can take stock of my leftovers: a couple of carrots, which are destined to become carrot cake; a butternut squash; and a handful of hot peppers. Hmmm, I ought to be able to come up with some hot-sweet squash idea. I'll have to report back on that.

Here's something from our pre-bat mitzvah Friday evening dinner that uses seasonal produce, can serve a crowd, and is refreshing on a hot night.

Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters
(Adapted from Good Food Catering Company)

1/4 of a seedless watermelon, cubed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tomato, chopped
1 to 2 ounces red wine vinegar
Black pepper and salt to taste

Reserve a third of the diced cucumber for garnish. Blend remaining cucumber, watermelon, and tomato in a food processor (in batches) or in a bowl with an immersion blender. Add seasonings to taste. Chill gazpacho, preferably overnight. Serve cold in shot glasses, garnished with cucumber. Makes 30 to 40 one-ounce servings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Week 11: Caramelized Corn With Mint

Woo-hoo! Another 20 peaches, plus eight plums, five apples, a half-pint of raspberries, four round tomatoes (two red, two green), and maybe a pint or so of cherry tomatoes that were the same size as the plums.

tomato vs. plumOur CSA has come to fruition.

Outside of some peach sorbet (using last week's recipe), the non-tomato fruit was eaten unadorned. I fried the green tomatoes and turned the red ones into salsa. With the salsa, we had corn and cheese quesadillas, using some of this week's fresh corn.

If you are looking for a new idea for corn, try the following.

corn with mintCaramelized Corn With Mint
(adapted from The New York Times)

3 ears fresh corn, kernels removed (or 2.5 cups corn)
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp minced fresh mint
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, or until the kernels are golden and browned. Stir in the mint and add salt to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Week 10: Food Processor Sorbet

It's been an odd work week. The kind of work week that has me noshing on sorbet at 9:30 in the morning.

At least the sorbet's homemade. With just three ingredients: Cantaloupe, yogurt, and sugar. Breakfast food, really.

The CSA doesn't always deliver enough by way of fruit, but the past couple of weeks have been fantastic. Friday's pickup included another 20 peaches and a cantaloupe the size of a soccer ball. Most of that we ate as just plain fruit, though I sacrificed a couple of peaches to a failed meatloaf idea that involved a pie plate and a cloying sweet-and-sour topping.

Also in this week's share were pickling cucumbers (which became quick pickles); tomatoes and mint (the basis of a couscous salad); summer squash (broiled); and corn (eaten in various ways, including plain boiled; skillet browned; and in bean salad).

Food Processor Sorbet

(The recipe I have is attributed to Mark Bittman; you can find variations of this all over the Internet. Sorry for no photo; mine were all fuzzy. Must have had something to do with the brain freeze.)

1 pound frozen fruit (I froze small cubes of peeled cantaloupe)
1/2 cup yogurt (I used low-fat vanilla)
1/4 cup sugar
a couple of tablespoons of water

Place the ingredients in a food processor bowl fitted with a steel blade and process until pureed and creamy, but not liquefied. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary, and add another tablespoon or two of water if needed. Serve the sorbet immediately, or freeze it for later use. Allow any frozen sorbet to sit at room temperature 10 to 15 minutes to soften before serving.

I'm pretty sure you could leave out the yogurt and make the sorbet dairy-free, but I haven't tried that out yet. If you have experience with this, let me know.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Week 9: Main-Dish Peaches

peach saladQuick word game: I say "peach" and you say ...

Cobbler, probably. Maybe pie. Maaaaayyyybe ice cream.

I bet you didn't say salad, or stir fry, or salsa.

When the farm gave us nearly 5 pounds of peaches last week, I dismissed the inclination to make a cobbler and took the opportunity to try out more savory recipes. That's how we wound up eating a peach and corn salad (pictured); beef stir fry with peaches; peach salsa; chicken in a ginger-peach sauce--not to mention a couple of peaches eaten just out of hand. (Naturally, I still indulged my sweet tooth with a cup of peach ice cream at Richardson's.)

It was not solely peaches in the share. We also received corn; tomatoes; eggplants; and 20 tiny plums. But peaches were the stars of the week.

Peach Salad With Corn and Fresh Mozzarella

This is a super-easy recipe, adapted from one on About.com. Our corn was so good we ate it raw, but you can boil or grill yours if you like.

Mix together:

2 peaches, diced
Kernels from 2 ears corn
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced
6 basil leaves, slivered, or to taste

Eat the salad plain or drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, or drizzle with both olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Serves 1 to 2 as a light entree.

Peach-Pepper Salsa

This one I served with pan-cooked tilapia.

2 diced peaches
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tsp minced jalapeno pepper (seeds removed)
1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
juice from 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate at least an hour ahead of serving time to let flavors blend.

Beef Stir Fry With Peaches

Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn starch
Black pepper, to taste
1 pound thinly sliced beef for stir fry
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 ounces brown mushrooms, sliced
2 firm but ripe peaches, cut into wedges

Combine soy sauce, sugar, corn starch, black pepper, and beef. Let the beef marinate 10 minutes at room temperature.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Quickly cook beef, about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from frying pan. Turn down the heat slightly and add onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, until vegetables soften and mushrooms give off some of their liquid.

Add in the peach slices and let them heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beef back into the pan, toss to combine and cook just another minute or so until heated through.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Week 8: Portion-Controlled Cobblers, and Other Delights for Two

mini blueberry cobblerWith both girls at overnight camp for the first time, The Programmer and I are adjusting to having dinners as a twosome.

Full Disclosure No. 1: The best thing we ate this week did not come from our kitchen. Rather, it was a fancy-schmancy dinner we had during a weekend get-away to celebrate our anniversary. (Sample menu item: Pan-roasted duck breast with braised celery root, wilted Asian greens, pineapple marmalade, and seared foie gras.)

Back home, the cooking was decidedly more pedestrian. (Sample menu item: Tuna from a can; skinny eggplants, brushed with olive oil and charred under the broiler; and fresh beans, shelled, boiled, and served with just a bit of salt and pepper.)

Actually, that was a pretty good dinner, and the leftover beans were good cold, with some thyme and a drizzle of olive oil. Other simple delights from this week's basket:
  • Beets -- roasted, sliced, and served at room temperature with feta cheese;
  • Tomatoes -- chopped with cucumber and scallions for a chopped salad;
  • And green beans -- steamed and mixed with fresh corn, tomatoes, basil, and oregano.
As it was our anniversary week, we needed a blueberry dessert, too. (Here's the explanation from last year, in case you missed it.) With only two of us at home, it seemed prudent to keep the baked goods to small quantities. Hence, mini blueberry cobblers.

Full Disclosure No. 2: I'm bending the rules with this recipe, as the blueberries didn't come in our CSA share this past week, but they did come from the farm. I'm sure somebody's CSA is providing blueberries now.

Portion-Controlled Blueberry Cobblers

(Recipe adapted from The Pink Apron, who started with an Apple Cranberry Crisp recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn started with a Michael Chiarello recipe in Bon Appetit.)

Filling:
1.5 cups fresh blueberries
4 tsp Splenda granulated, or sugar
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind

Topping:
1/3 cup flour
2 Tbsp corn meal
4 tsp Splenda granulated, or sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
5 tsp chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp fat-free milk

Process:
Toss together the filling ingredients until well combined. Divide among four (6 ounce) ramekins and set aside.

Place flour, corn meal, Splenda or sugar, baking powder, and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Transfer to a medium bowl and add milk. Stir until ingredients are evenly moistened.

Distribute topping over the filling. Place ramekins in the oven and bake until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm. A little whipped cream or ice cream on the top wouldn't hurt.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Week 7: Tabbouleh

This week, we kept the food preparation simple: fresh peaches; corn on the cob; zucchini and squash simmered in tomatoes; and a batch of tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh is a dish that invites experimentation. You can alter the grains, the proportions, and the mix-ins. But no matter exactly how you make it, tabbouleh is a vehicle for using up parsley. This recipe is heavy on the herbs and leaves out both cucumber and tomato, which tend to give off a lot of water as tabbouleh sits.

Tabbouleh
(I cobbled this together from several recipes, the origins of which are unknown)

1 cup coarse-grain bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
1 bunch (4 ounces) parsley, washed and dried in a salad spinner
1/2 bunch (2 ounces) mint, also washed and dried
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced red bell pepper
6 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/2 cup chopped, pitted Kalamata olives (go ahead and splurge on good ones)
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Place the bulgur in a bowl and stir in the boiling water. Cover the bowl and set it aside to let the bulgur absorb the water, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley and mint leaves, discarding the stems. Pulse the leaves in a food processor if you wish, but be careful not to puree the herbs.

Drain the bulgur if it hasn't completely absorbed the water, then mix in the remaining ingredients. Store in the refrigerator until serving.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Week 6: Dill Bread and Quick Pickles

dill bread bread and butter pickles

As much as I would like to "go with the flow," I'm not a spontaneous/spur-of-the-moment/sure-whatever kind of gal. So I love it when a plan comes together. Friday afternoons, as I clean the vegetables in my share, I begin to map out the week's cooking. It's something of a "free association" exercise.

Hmmm. Look at that heaping bunch of dill. What am I going to do with that? Dill ... Pickles! OK, I have pickling cukes in here, so that's easy. Oh, and I could make fish. If I marinate some salmon steaks in dill and garlic, and throw them on the grill, we could grill the squash and zucchini at the same time. Lettuce ... will be good for salad, and we'll boil the corn. That leaves me just the arugula and the chard ...

A little research online and Hey, here's a recipe for dill bread. That ought to go great with salmon, and it'll use up that container of cottage cheese and ... oh, oh, oh, this is perfect: a couscous salad that uses dill and scallions and arugula. Score! That leaves me just the chard ...

So it goes, and so it went. This week I boiled corn; put up a small batch of pickles; baked dill bread; invited friends to partake of dill bread along with grilled salmon, zucchini and squash (plus an eggplant, purchased separately); threw together couscous salad and lettuce salad; and ate cold salmon leftovers with aforementioned salads. As of this writing I still have the chard, but inspiration will come to me by dinner time. The remaining dill has been planted in the garden, as the dill heads were dropping pollen on my kitchen counter.

The Dill Bread recipe was found on Smitten Kitchen and it was, indeed, great with salmon. I made minor changes: swapped all-purpose flour for the bread flour; cut the onion back to 1/4 cup; took the option for honey over sugar; and used low-fat, small curd cottage cheese.

As for pickles, I have made three kinds of quick pickles in the past two weeks. Oddly enough, none of the recipes include dill. The Daikon and Carrot Pickle, mentioned in passing last week, is reminiscent of cabbage health salad. It's a traditional layer in a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, which would typically feature pork, but we had it instead with leftover Passover brisket. Make note that daikon radish smells more cabbagy as it pickles.

Pictured above are Bread and Butter Pickles from The Hungry Mouse. I'm liking these more the longer they sit in the brine. Still, my preferred recipe for a sweet-sour pickle is this one:

Freezer-Safe Quick Pickles

You can make this recipe with pickling cucumbers or regular cucumbers, sugar or Splenda. Defrosted pickles keep most of their crunch, though I have not tried freezing pickles made with a sugar substitute.

From Cooks.com

7 cups sliced cucumbers (pickling cukes preferred, but not mandatory)
1 cup sliced onion (optional; sliced scallions work, too)
1 cup diced green pepper (optional)
2 cups sugar (or Splenda; see note above about freezing)
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed

Combine the vegetables in a bowl or freezer container. Mix together the sugar, vinegar, and spices. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour over cucumbers. Refrigerate. Pickles are ready to eat in a couple of hours and can be safely frozen.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Americana

Details of last week's Americana evening, with blog posts from hostess Doves and Figs and fellow guest Good Cook Doris.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Week 5: Summer Succotash

Photo courtesy of Doves and Figs

The invitation instructions were deceptively simple. An Americana-themed party. Pot luck dinner. Bring a dish that represents America to you.

Oh, soooo many ways to interpret that. I considered, and rejected, a whole raft of kitschy American recipes -- you know, the ones promoted by food manufacturers and featuring Jell-O or Cheez Whiz or condensed cream of mushroom soup. I took a pass on any elaborate construction projects or subtleties. I'm just not going to make a replica of the Statue of Liberty out of marshmallow treats, PVC pipe, and green fondant. (However, should this idea appeal to you -- if only for the "ick" factor -- you can find the how-to video here.)

I finally decided on succotash, for multiple reasons. Here's a dish that prominently features a New World crop, has strong regional associations, and evokes (for me, at least) pre-Colonial America and Thanksgiving. From a practical standpoint, succotash can sit out at room temperature on a buffet table for hours. It's a fun word to say. And I just plain like it. That this week's share included corn and green beans made my Summer Succotash recipe all the more appropriate.

Succotash fit in well among the pot luck offerings at the party. The interpretations of Americana included the nostaglic (daisy-shaped sandwiches with pimento cheese, a la 1917); regional foods (Southern mac and cheese pie); riffs on classics (vegetarian baked beans and gourmet sliders); a lot of blueberries (muffins, cornbread, pie, tarts, and cobbler); and plenty more stuff.

"Plenty more stuff" characterized our week. In addition to succotash (I made a batch for home, too), we ate CSA raspberries and blueberries out of hand; worked through most of an enormous head of Romaine lettuce; whipped up a zucchini-crusted pizza; made quick pickles from cucumbers and -- separately -- daikon radish (daikon was new to us; I'll have to post more about this another time); sauteed collard greens; and marinated summer squash and zucchini for a salad.

Summer Succotash
(adapted from The Boston Globe)

1/2 pound fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ears of corn, kernels sliced off
1 large red onion, diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts kept separate
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a pot of gently boiling water, cook the beans for 2 to 4 minutes, until they are just tender. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the corn and onion in the skillet about 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften, stirring occasionally.

Add the beans and the white parts of the scallions to the skillet. Cook about 2 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are cooked through to your liking. Off heat, stir in the parsley, green parts of the scallions, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Week 4: Spinach Calzone, and Other Good Stuff

Some weeks, inspiration comes slowly. Other times -- like this past week -- the cooking just comes together.
  • Curly parsley + fresh mint + SWISS CHARD (sorry, had to shout that) = Swiss Chard Spanakopita Casserole
  • Green cabbage + kasha + kitchen staples (onion, mushroom, carrot) = Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage
  • Spinach + cheeses + pizza dough = Spinach Calzone
  • Summer Squash + parsley + canned beans + tomatoes = Vegetarian chili
  • Red leaf lettuce + arugula + squash + radishes = a week of salads
The kids favored the calzones, so I feature that recipe below, but I do want to point you to the Swiss chard and cabbage recipes.

Swiss Chard Spanakopita Casserole is a Cooking Light recipe, available here. A construction note: If you can't find large sheets of phyllo dough (mine were only 9 by 14 inches, not the 18 by 14 inches specified in the recipe) just use a 9-inch-square pan. Layer the sheets of phyllo dough perpendicular to one another in the pan, so all sides are covered and the phyllo can encase the filling. Score the assembled casserole into nine pieces before baking.

The stuffed cabbage recipe, aka East European Style Cabbage Rolls in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce, comes from Blog Appetit. This one is not hard, but it has several steps to it: prepping the cabbage leaves, preparing the filling and sauce, assembling the rolls, and finally baking everything together. Bookmark this one for cooler weather. For the uninitiated, kasha is buckwheat groats; you'll find it in the kosher food section of your supermarket. For those familiar with kasha, note that the recipe calls for cooking the kasha the way you would for breakfast cereal -- not coated with egg to keep separate granules. The result is a solid filling that holds together when you spoon it onto the cabbage leaves. I might tweak the sauce a bit the next time I make this, but overall this was a satisfying meal.

The calzones were inspired by the coupon I had for a free pound of pizza dough -- and the just-right amount of spinach that came from the farm. You can use any commercially prepared or homemade dough, of course. The spicing is a bit different from what you might expect, but it worked. I have to thank Caboodle for staging and taking the photo of her plate.

Spinach and Cheese Calzones
(by way of Venetto's Italian Recipes at That's My Home)

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups coarse chopped fresh spinach (about 1/2 pound)
1 cup lowfat ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (2 ounces)
1 pound pizza dough
Extra olive oil (for shaping dough)
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal (for baking tray)
1 cup marinara sauce (for serving)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cover. Cook onion over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook uncovered for about 1 minute, then stir in the spinach and cook until it wilts, about 2 minutes.

Place the vegetables in a bowl and let them cool a bit. Stir in ricotta, spices, egg yolk, and feta. If you wish, you can prepare the filling several hours ahead and refrigerate, but return it to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with cornmeal.

Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Pat or roll each piece out to about a 7-inch circle. I found it was necessary to have a little olive oil on my pastry mat to keep the dough from sticking. Spoon a quarter of the filling onto half of each circle, leaving a margin around the edge. Fold over the dough to make half-moon shapes and press the edges with the tines of a fork to seal. Transfer filled calzones to the baking sheet. With a small, sharp knife, make two or three slashes in the top of each calzone to let steam escape. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown. Serve with warmed marinara sauce for dipping.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Week 3: Beet Salads, Cooked and Raw

Excuse me a moment while I finish a yummy sandwich: Hummus, cucumber (nom, nom, nom), radish and arugula on whole wheat pita. Dang, I'm going to have to make more hummus to go with the leftover vegetables.

It's been a busy week in the kitchen of Chez Swiss Chard -- temporarily dubbed Hotel de la Chard over the weekend for Caboodle's belated birthday sleepover party. Aside from the party cooking (pasta and salad dinner, chocolate souffle cupcakes, breakfast buffet with pancakes and home fries), the CSA-specific rundown went something like this:
  • Steamed peas
  • Grilled zucchini and summer squash
  • Plenty of salad (Romaine, arugula, mixed salad greens)
  • Stuff added to salad (radishes, summer squash)
  • Stuff added to sandwiches (radishes, lettuce, arugula)
  • Raw beet salad
  • Braised greens (collards and beets), and ...
  • 2 Chocolate zucchini cakes (wrapped and frozen for later this summer)
I like the fact that beets are a two-for-one deal. If you need ideas for the greens, remember that beets are related to Swiss chard, and you can use the greens in much the same way.

Having received beets both this week and last, we tried out two very different takes on beet salads. We'll start with Week 2's salad, pictured above. (We made just a half-batch, enough for 3 or 4 servings.)

Beet Salad With Oranges and Beet Greens
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Leftovers taste fine, but the vibrant color fades with refrigeration.

6 medium beets, washed and trimmed, greens reserved
2 seedless oranges, peeled and sectioned
1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast, steam or boil the beet roots, depending on your cooking preference and how hot it is in your kitchen. Cool, then peel the beets, and cut into wedges. Coarsely chop the greens, discarding the stems. Cook the greens in a large pot of boiling water until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, cool, and squeeze out any excess moisture. Combine the beets and greens in a bowl. Add the orange segments and sliced onion. Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, and garlic; dress the salad. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

This week's salad:

Raw Beet Salad
(adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe, via Serious Eats)

1/2 lb beets
1/2 lb carrots
1/2 onion
1 Tbsp minced ginger root
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the beets, carrots, and onion. Combine them in a food processor and pulse until chopped, or grate the vegetables separately. Place in a bowl and add in the ginger. Combine the mustard, oil, and lime juice, and add to the salad, tossing to coat. Mix in the cilantro. Adjust the seasonings and serve.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Week Two: Zucchini-Feta Pancakes

I heard a radio clip on NPR the other day from the show Promises, Promises. Around here, it's more like Radishes, Radishes.

What do you get with a CSA?
You get enough lettuce to last a lifetime ...*


(*sung to the tune of I'll Never Fall in Love Again.)

zucchini-feta pancakesThree heads of lettuce this week, plus peas, cilantro, zucchini, beets, strawberries, a purple basil plant, and broccoli rabe. Not a tremendous load of produce to get through, which pleased me, because this was too busy of a week for much serious cooking.

For a quick dinner early in the week, I braised a head of Boston lettuce with peas and wine and mixed that into pasta. The remaining heads of lettuce became salad, as did the beets and beet greens. The broccoli rabe, I hate to say, looked a bit pathetic. The leaves will be dispatched in a pot of vegetable soup today; the stalks went directly into compost.

Highlight of the week was the zucchini, which became savory pancakes. Serve them as a light entree or side dish. The recipe makes enough for two to four people, depending on the rest of your meal and the eating habits of your children.

Zucchini-Feta Pancakes
(slightly adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook)

4 eggs, separated (yolks optional)
4 cups (packed) grated zucchini (2 to 3 zucchini)
1 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup finely minced scallions
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely minced (or 1 tsp. dried oregano)
Salt (I did not add any, because of the feta)
Black pepper to taste
1/3 cup flour
Olive oil or cooking spray, for frying pan

In a large bowl, mix together the zucchini, egg yolks (if using--I left them out), feta, scallions, seasonings, and flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and gently fold them into the zucchini mixture. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, or use cooking spray. Add spoonfuls of batter and cook on both sides until golden. I found that the pancakes had a tendency to stick (probably because of the cheese) and remained soft even when browned.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Week One: Strawberry Salad With Balsamic Vinaigrette

this week's shareCaboodle left me a note on the food section of last week's newspaper. "Can we make this sometime?" she scrawled in red ink above a recipe for broccoli rabe. Imagine my delight when broccoli rabe showed up among the heap of greens in our first week's CSA share.

Alas, the dish was not a total success. Oh, the recipe is worth keeping (blanch and drain broccoli rabe, saute it with garlic, top it with Parmesan and crumbs, and then brown it under the broiler). Nope, the problem was my unfamiliarity with the vegetable. Our bunch of broccoli rabe was far more stalky than leafy; it apparently needed to be cut into smaller pieces and cooked longer. I'll just have to try again the next time it comes around.

As for the rest of the share, we got most of the items we expected (salad greens and radishes and strawberries) and a few surprises (no rhubarb, but baby turnips and a six-pack of tomato plants). Salad has been the dominant food all week. We've been eating our way through Boston lettuce, romaine, red oak leaf, mesclun mix, and spring cress. Truth be told, the cress is a bit vexing. It has the look and feel of plastic garnish. Best use so far has been to chop it up fine and add it to egg salad.

For my favorite salad of the week, I paired up our sweet berries with peppery greens.

Strawberry Salad With Balsamic Vinaigrette

For the salad: Mix together romaine lettuce with arugula or another peppery salad green to taste. Top with ripe strawberries, quartered or halved, depending on size. Add other ingredients as desired. I kept my salad to just greens and berries, but I could see adding red onion or feta or cucumber. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
(Adapted from various recipes on the Internet)

Whisk together:

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)

Leftover dressing will keep in the refrigerator, but the oil will likely separate and harden. Just bring the dressing back to room temperature and whisk again before serving.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Anticipation

I received a pre-pickup e-mail from our CSA this week. Hurray! Anything that gives me a heads-up on the week's produce helps with the eventual cooking. It looks like we'll be getting strawberries, rhubarb, radishes, and a variety of greens on Friday. Check back later in the week to learn what we did with our stuff.

I have set a couple of goals for myself concerning this year's farm season. As always, I want to try out new vegetable-based recipes. This year in particular I want to explore cuisines that I don't often cook (Thai and Indian foods, for example). Also, since we'll be hosting a lot of family and friends late this summer, I'm planning on turning some of the early-season produce into freezable brunch foods -- quiche and quick breads, for example. Write in if you have a favorite recipe to share.

To my new CSA fans: I extend thanks to Public Radio Kitchen for linking to this blog and to my CSA Tips post. PRK lists my blog among the Healthy Eatin' sites, which means I probably shouldn't tell you about the birthday cake I made for Caboodle this week.

Okay, I'll tell you anyway. It was Rosie's Famous Chocolate Sour-Cream Cake Layers with Mocha Buttercream. If you don't have a version of this cookbook, hie thee to a bookstore or library. Consider it research for CSA-friendly recipes; just check out Rosie's Rhubarb Bars.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Parsley Challenge

chickpea saladI don't garden much, but over the years The Programmer has planted a variety of herbs. The ones that grow best for us -- parsley, chive, oregano -- are all perennials that survive despite neglect. I use them when I can, but the parsley is a bit of a challenge, because it grows so abundantly and The Programmer doesn't particularly care for it. That means I'm in need of good recipes that get rid of a lot of parsley at once.

Chimichurri is one option, as is tabbouleh (though I'm the only one here who really likes it). This week I came across a salad recipe that I'm adding to my list. It features not only parsley, but also radishes, another early-spring ingredient. The Programmer declared this one a keeper.

Chickpea, Carrot and Parsley Salad
(slightly adapted from Fine Cooking magazine)

1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (stems discarded)
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup sliced radishes (1 bunch, or about 6 radishes)
1/2 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts of about 4 scallions)
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Black pepper, to taste
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put 1/2 cup of the chickpeas into a bowl and mash them coarsely. Stir in the remaining chickpeas, parsley, carrot, radishes, and scallions.

Using a small whisk or fork, combine the lemon juice, coriander, salt, black pepper, and olive oil. Pour over the salad and toss gently. Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve.

The salad keeps fine overnight. Serves four as a side dish.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tips From a CSA Veteran

We're about a month from the start of our CSA season, and our farm (Connors) has just reopened its farm store. Not much local food yet, aside from spring-dug parsnips, but the anticipation mounts. Meanwhile, I'm prepping for the season, testing out recipes, and enjoying the herbs coming up in our garden.

If you are new to the CSA world, you may be wondering how you are going to manage the coming influx of produce. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Stock up your pantry. This may seem counter-intuitive; after all, you're expecting a heap of vegetables to arrive, right? But having a good supply of staples makes it easier to cook. And you will need to cook. I keep on hand beans, lentils, grains, pasta, tuna, soy sauce, spices, vinegars, and oils--not to mention cocoa, flour, squares of chocolate, vanilla, and a variety of sugars for a few produce-containing sweets.

Gather recipes. It's good to have a couple of ideas stashed away for when you have virtually nothing but lettuce in your share. (Reference last June.) I cook well off the cuff, but formal recipes help me expand my repertoire and figure out correct proportions of ingredients. I use the Internet, naturally, but I also clip recipes from newspapers and magazines, and I keep a small library of reliable cookbooks.

Bookmark reference sites. If you are having trouble identifying a vegetable, or figuring out what to do with it, the Internet is your friend. The Cook's Thesaurus, the Squash Glossary, and CHOW’s Visual Guide to Chili Peppers have all served me well. Whatever you have in your share (Swiss chard, anyone?), someone has written a blog post about it.

Make storage space. Some foods (like, say, lettuce) don't keep well. Other foods (like, say, raspberries) you'll eat up RIGHT NOW because you can't help yourself. Between those extremes, you will likely need some storage options. Canning, pickling, and freezing are all good ways of extending summer's harvest into winter. Just be sure to clear out some shelf space or freezer space for packing away the goodies.

Share with your friends. Turn your CSA bounty into a communal experience. If you have salad fixings for 20 people, it's time to host a party or a pot-luck. Bring a quiche or a zucchini bread over to your neighbor's house. Chances are they'll appreciate the gesture--unless they are overrun with vegetables, too.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cupcake Nation

applesauce cupcakesSqueeze a couple of hundred people into a neighborhood bar, throw in free cupcakes from dozens of professional and home bakers, and whaddya get? Cupcake Camp!

This wacky event made its Boston-area debut this week. Naturally, I baked, as did my good friend from Doves and Figs (she of the Farmer's Market Fudge Cakes mentioned in the Boston Globe article). My contribution was two dozen Mini Applesauce Cupcakes With Cinnamon Buttercream. These cupcakes had a CSA connection: They were baked with the last of my homemade applesauce from the fall. I was pleased to see that they were gone within the first hour.

As for choosing cupcakes to sample, that was hard. (Hmmmm. Root Beer Float cupcakes or Guinness and Bailey's? Or maybe the Hostess look-alikes?) I opted for an orange and vanilla "creamsicle" cupcake that was lovely and light, and an organic mocha cupcake, which, despite the whole wheat flour, still tasted like a treat.

By the time we left Cupcake Camp (around 8:30 p.m., before sugar comas set in), the line to get in the door stretched down the block, and "bouncers" were making sure no one left with cupcakes, lest the masses go unfed. Cupcakes as contraband! Who knew?

* * *
Cupcake Camp was just the culmination of a couple of cupcake-filled weeks. I was a kitchen assistant one morning for Doves and Figs' bat mitzvah dessert project. I think the total was 13 dozen cupcakes. (I'm inspired by this Cupcake Goddess, but not so inspired as to take on a similar project for Kit's bat mitzvah.) And I baked Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes for home toward the end of Passover. I skipped the mint cream part and just topped the dimpled cupcakes with sliced strawberries. Caboodle wants me to make a batch of these for her birthday in June. By that time, I may want to see cupcakes again.

Mini Applesauce Cupcakes With Cinnamon Buttercream
(Adapted Recipe)

The cake recipe originates with one that appeared on a can of Ideal applesauce (Acme supermarket's house brand) sometime in the 1970s. The cake is egg-free and can be made dairy-free, although it tastes better with butter. Because the cake is so moist, I recommend using foil cupcake liners over paper ones. Frosting is optional.

For the cake:
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup melted butter (or substitute non-dairy margarine or flavorless cooking oil)
1 pound applesauce (homemade or store-bought, mostly smooth and without added sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set cupcake liners into mini-muffin tins. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, spices, and baking soda. (Yes, that means you sift the flour twice: Before you measure it and again when you combine it with the other dry ingredients. But you can get by with just the first sifting.)

Stir in the melted butter and applesauce until well blended. (A wooden spoon works well. No need to pull out the mixer.) Spoon batter into cupcake liners. Bake 20 minutes or until done; a cake taster should come out dry or with only a little moist crumb. Remove cupcakes from the tin and cool on a wire rack completely before frosting. Makes 2.5 to 3 dozen mini cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake pans and liners.

For the frosting:
(Slight adaptation of standard Domino Sugar buttercream)

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 pound powdered sugar (that's roughly 1 7/8 cups)
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or more to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy. (Use a low speed to keep the sugar from flying about.) Add more milk if needed for the frosting to be right consistency for spreading. Pipe or spread frosting on completely cool cupcakes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I think of spring cleaning as a mental exercise as well as a physical one. So here are a couple of odds and ends as I clean out the cobwebs.
  • Leftover Chex Mix -- at least my modified take on the 1955 version of the recipe -- can be frozen and defrosted successfully. Why, you ask, would anyone bother to do this? For one thing, frozen Chex Mix slows down the children and the midnight snackers, who have limited self-control. Not that I'm referring to anyone in my household, of course.
  • Radicchio is not a great addition to a pot of vegetable soup. The taste is fine (if you keep the bitterness in balance), but it turns the soup the most unappetizing shade of reddish-blackish-purple. Must. Eat. Without. Looking.
  • Radicchio-vegetable soup is still better than parsley soup. 'Nuff said.
  • Caboodle is leery of kitchen experiments. Whenever I try out a new vegetable-based recipe -- even during the dead of winter -- she asks whether our farm share has started up again. We are about two months from CSA season, and I have recently finished up the last of our rhubarb and corn. We still have some frozen herbs and applesauce.
  • Rhubarb Chutney is excellent with sharp cheddar and crackers, but makes a surprisingly good snack with peanut butter on a rice cake. Had I thought of it, I would have made some to use as charoset on Passover. Maybe next year.
Rhubarb is coming into the markets, so this is a good time of year to try out the chutney recipe. The original version calls for nuts, but the chutney does not suffer without them.

Rhubarb Chutney
Slightly adapted from The Food Channel

1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/8 cup cider vinegar
1/8 cup water
1/2 Tbsp grated lemon zest
3 rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise
1 piece of cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
1/2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup golden rasins
1/8 tsp salt

Combine the sugar, vinegar, water, and lemon zest in a non-reactive saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add in the rhubarb, cinnamon, and ginger, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Stir in the raisins and cook 3 minutes longer. Cool completely.

Store the chutney in a covered jar or plastic container and refrigerate. It'll keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, and can be frozen for longer storage. Makes about 2 cups.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Crunch, Crunch, Crunch

celery saladAfter weeks of soupy, stewy foods (recently: beef goulash, curried lentils, Asian vegetable soup, veggie chili), I had a craving for something crunchy. And green. And -- dare I say it -- springlike.

Celery Salad fit the criteria. You can find all manner of recipes for celery-based salads on the Internet, but one I like pairs sliced celery with shallots, Parmesan cheese, and a lemony vinaigrette. It has a nice bite along with the crunch.

Celery Salad
(from The Boston Globe)

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1.5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 pounds celery (about 9 large stalks), trimmed and thinly sliced; leaves reserved and finely chopped
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (divided use)
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

In a large bowl, mix lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot, salt, and black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil.

Add the celery slices and leaves, half of the cheese, and the parsley. Toss gently to coat.

Taste the salad and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Garnish with the remaining cheese and serve. Serves 6.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter Ratatouille

On the subject of bowls, here's the recipe for last night's ratatouille. I think it's misnamed; it's full of what I would consider late summer/early autumn vegetables rather than dead-of-winter produce. Still, I was able to take advantage of my greengrocer's special on zucchini.

Winter Ratatouille
(Adapted from The Times of London)

Fat-free olive oil cooking spray
2 onions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can tomatoes (petite diced)
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
Rosemary leaves from 3 sprigs
Thyme leaves from 10 sprigs
3 parsnips, peeled and sliced (remove any woody cores)
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 large globe eggplant, cubed (or 3 slim Japanese eggplants, sliced)
2 to 3 zucchini, sliced into half-moons
1 cup water
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Spray the bottom of a Dutch oven with cooking spray; heat. Saute the onions until soft, about five minutes.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepper and herbs, and cook for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes thicken slightly.

Add in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and coated with the sauce. If the stew is too soupy, increase the heat and cook, uncovered, to reduce the liquid. (I did not have to do this).

Serve as is or over pasta. The ratatouille can be made ahead and reheated.

Super Bowls

We had friends over on Super Bowl Sunday, and between our families we have a nut allergy, a fat-restricted diet, a pepper-chili-cilantro aversion, a carbs-and-calories watcher, a couple of picky kids, and a kosher kitchen. Oh, what to do?

Punt!

Then, make a bunch of food and let everyone mix and match. Our final line-up:

  • Crudites and herbed yogurt dip
  • Fat-free and regular hummus (homemade)
  • Pita bread, salsa, hard pretzels, and tortilla chips (store bought)
  • Baked macaroni and cheese
  • A winter ratatouille
  • Plain pasta
  • Salad greens with roasted squash and a maple vinaigrette
  • Undressed salad greens
  • A "gridiron" of brownies (with Hugs and Kisses for the X's and O's)
  • Jell-O footballs
  • Grapes
  • Plus our friends' contributions of spicy pickles, a big football-shaped fruit tart, and little football-shaped s'mores.
Turns out I had one major goof-up: I completely missed my friend's maple syrup allergy (smacks self in head!), so the dressed salad was a no-go for him. Fortunately, there were no Emergency Room trips, and, as far as I can tell, no one left hungry.

So, all in all, it was not your typical Super Bowl spread, but a lot of bowls were involved. Leftovers for dinner tonight!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back to Our Roots

root vegetablesGotta love New England in January. Snow, drizzle, flurries, a peek of sunshine, a little thaw, some freezing rain. And that was just one afternoon last week.

Perfect weather for some ice cream. The girls and I have been treating ourselves to sundaes, but it's not a long-term strategy. So in between the frozen treats I've been focusing on stews and casseroles and roasts. Root vegetables have starred in several of these meals; not only are they widely available this time of year, but they also hold up well in the long-cooking, kitchen-warming dishes that I reserve for winter.

We found an array of root vegetables and other wintry things (like squash, and, um, gelato!) at the winter farmers' market in Wayland. It's worth a visit if you are in the area, but go early: We apparently missed out on some greenhouse-grown Swiss chard.

Part of the farmers' market haul wound up in this stew:

Vegan (and Fat Free) Winter Vegetable Stew
(adapted from the International Vegetarian Union web site)

Peel and cube:
1 rutabaga
3 turnips
3 to 4 carrots
1 sweet potato
2 to 3 white potatoes

Chop:
1 large onion

Rinse well:
1/2 cup barley

Put everything into a large stew pot (mine holds 8 quarts), and add water to cover (about 11 cups). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let simmer for about an hour, until all is nearly tender.

Add:
1/3 cup red lentils
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried tarragon
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Simmer until the lentils have cooked, fallen apart and thickened the stew, about 20 minutes. Add more water if necessary.

Notes: The recipe yields a ton (about 16 cups), so keep that in mind if you have a vegetable-averse household. Like most stews, this one tastes even better the second day. Leftovers will continue to thicken because of the barley.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Twisted Start to the Year

I suppose the following recipe violates the general purpose of my blog: It does not feature anything local, seasonal, or even vegetable. File this one under regional nostalgia.

You see, growing up in Philadelphia, soft pretzels are a part of my culture, and they are one of the few foods associated with that city that I actively seek out (along with the occasional tuna hoagie.) They're fun to make at home, and a good recipe to make with kids: Lots of opportunities to play with dough.

Caboodle and I whipped up a batch of these on Sunday, and they gave us the fortitude to shovel out the driveway. If you make some for yourself, remember to eat them warm, preferably with a smear of mustard. (Gulden's Spicy Brown, thank you.)

Philadelphia-style Soft Pretzels
(adapted from The Philadelphia Inquirer)

For the dough:

1 envelope active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp salt
4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, plus up to 1 cup extra flour
Canola oil, for greasing bowl and baking trays

For the boiling:

4 tsp baking soda
4 cups water

Procedure:
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in one-quarter cup warm water. Stir in remaining water. In a large bowl, combine the salt and four cups of flour. Stir in the yeast water. Add more flour, as needed, to make a stiff dough. Knead dough for 10 minutes or until it feels smooth and elastic. Shape dough into a ball and place into a greased bowl, turning to coat dough. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Separate dough into 12 pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll each piece into a coil, about 18 inches long and 3/8 inch in diameter, and twist into a pretzel shape. Set shaped pretzels aside, loosely covered, in a warm place.

Dissolve the baking soda in four cups of water and bring to a boil. Drop in the raw pretzels, one at a time, and let boil for one minute or until the pretzel floats. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Transfer the boiled pretzels to a greased baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Optional: Brush the baked pretzels with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt. (Personally, I consider butter a sacrilege. Real pretzels need mustard.)

CSA: Danvers (Season 3)

Wanna keep your resolution to eat more vegetables? Easy! Just sign up for a CSA.

Connors Farm patrons can now lock in their shares for 2010.