Monday, December 19, 2011

60-Minute Moroccan-Style Challah


Every time I make bread from scratch I think to myself: I don’t do this nearly often enough. It’s not the taste of home-baked bread that spurs that thought -- truth be told, I sometimes prefer the store-bought stuff -- but rather the physical process of making bread. Kneading dough is therapeutic. (No bread machine or stand mixer with a dough hook here. That would spoil the fun.) So there I was on a recent Friday morning, in need of kitchen therapy, happily working some dough.

The recipe at hand was a Moroccan-style challah from Joan Nathan that has been making the rounds of newspaper food sections for the past year. Two qualities in particular set this bread apart from “conventional” challah in America. One is that it has a very short rise time (10 minutes!); the entire process of mixing, kneading, resting, shaping, and baking the dough takes about an hour. The second is the flavoring: anise seed in the original recipe, fennel seed when I made it. (Both seeds impart a licorice flavor, but fennel seed has a milder taste. And it’s what I had on hand.) The loaves are topped with sesame.

The result was intriguing, if not exactly challah-like. My loaves were fragrant, narrow, and dense. Too dense, perhaps; I was expecting them to rise more in the oven. Whether that is a reflection of the recipe, a cold kitchen, or the cook is not clear. What I need here is a second opinion, so give this recipe a try and let me know how it works for you. Come on, you can do it. It only takes an hour.

60-Minute Moroccan-Style Challah
Adapted from Joan Nathan’s Pain Petri, or Moroccan Anise-Flavored Challah With Sesame Seeds. Makes 2 loaves.

1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg
1/4 cup canola oil
4 cups flour (divided use), plus more for dusting
1/2 Tbsp salt
2.5 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp fennel seed, crushed (or anise seeds, which are smaller and can be used whole)
1 extra egg yolk, beaten with 1/2 Tbsp water, for glaze
1/2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Have on hand a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Put the yeast in a large mixing bowl and pour in the water. Stir to dissolve the yeast. Whisk in the egg, then the oil.

Add 3.5 cups of the flour, the salt, sugar, and fennel seeds to the yeast mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. If the dough feels sticky, knead in more flour (from the remaining half cup) in increments as necessary.

Shape the dough into a round loaf and poke a 1-inch hole completely through the center. (You can use the handle of the wooden spoon to do this.) Let the dough rest, uncovered, on the floured surface, for about 10 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, roll one piece of dough into a 2-foot-long rope, pinching closed any seams that form in the dough. Bring the two ends of the rope next to each other and twist the dough to form a loose spiral. Pinch the ends together and tuck under the loaf. Place the bread on the baking sheet. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Brush the egg glaze over the loaves and sprinkle them with the sesame seeds.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Boozy Cranberry-Pineapple Relish


The cranberry sauce of my childhood most definitely came out of cans. While we sometimes had the jellied kind, the preferred family version involved mixing a can of whole-berry sauce with drained, crushed pineapple.

In the years since, my tastes have grown more sophisticated (or snobbier or particular, depending on your point of view) and I've turned to making my own sauce from fresh cranberries. But there's something to that combination of cranberries and pineapple. So this year for Thanksgiving, with the freedom that comes from not being a host, not being a guest, and having two kids who don't like cranberries -- and therefore don't care what I do with them -- I took to experimenting in the kitchen.

The Programmer and I were happy with the result: a grown-up cranberry sauce that riffs on my childhood memory. I recommend making this at least a day before serving, to give the flavors time to mellow. 

Boozy Cranberry-Pineapple Relish
(original recipe)

12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, sorted, rinsed, and drained
20-ounce can crushed pineapple in unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark rum

Drain the pineapple well, reserving the juice. Set aside the crushed pineapple.

Measure out 3/4 cup pineapple juice (save the extra for another use) and combine with the cranberries, brown sugar, white sugar, and rum in a smallish saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes; the cranberries will pop and break down, the liquid will get syrupy, and your kitchen will likely smell like a cocktail. Remove the relish from the heat and transfer to a bowl or storage container to cool at room temperature. The relish will thicken as it cools.

When the relish has cooled, mix in 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of the reserved crushed pineapple. Refrigerate the relish several hours to several days before serving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Grilled Cheese With Apple and Mustard

Last week I was testing out a gratin recipe that I was sure was going to be fantastic. Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, onions, ricotta cheese -- I couldn’t resist the mix of ingredients. But for the labor involved (individually cooking said chard, potatoes, and onions, for example), I needed a bigger payoff. A full hour into recipe prep I was considering chucking the whole thing for a grilled cheese sandwich.

And why not grilled cheese? There’s nothing pretentious or complicated about grilled cheese -- not when I make it, anyway. And it’s a perfect counterpoint for this overloaded food-intensive time of the year.

The next time you are in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich (hmmm, I could go for one now), I humbly suggest this combination:
  • Challah or sturdy bread, such as sourdough
  • Sharp cheddar cheese
  • A smear of Dijon mustard
  • Sliced apple, such as Cortland, Macintosh, or Granny Smith
Butter the top and bottom of the sandwich and cook in a flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted. Serve the remaining apple on the side. If you want to up the comfort food factor, finish the meal with a couple of cookies and a glass of milk.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie


Photography is not my strong suit. Which means that I have to invite you all over for dinner, since the food looks much better in person.

I might serve you this. (It would help if you liked eggplant.) This was one of the most satisfying meals that The Programmer and I had last month -- several meals, actually, since Kit prefers eggplant in the form of eggplant Parmesan and Caboodle prefers that eggplant just stay at the farm and be fed to livestock.

What took the dish over the top for us is that I substituted slow-roasted fresh tomatoes for canned ones. That's less likely an option for you now (snow season! gak!) but keep this in mind for when you are inundated with tomatoes next summer or early fall: Cut a bunch of tomatoes in half or in wedges, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and bake at a low temperature -- 225 to 250 degrees F -- for about two hours. The tomatoes will begin to dry out, which concentrates their flavor. You can also roast the tomatoes at a higher temperature (say 325 degrees) for a shorter time; they will brown and caramelize along the edges.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
(Adapted from Vegetarian Times. I especially liked the original recipe's idea to place some of the vegetables on top of the mashed potatoes. This version removes the eggs, cuts down on the fat, and makes minor ingredient substitutions. Serves 6 to 8.)  

2 lbs red-skinned potatoes, peeled only if desired and cut into cubes (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup non-fat milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided use
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
2 cans (about 15 oz. each) diced tomatoes with liquid, or 1 can diced tomatoes and 2 cups of roasted fresh tomatoes
2 eggplant (about 1.5 pounds total), peeled only if desired, and cubed
About 2 Tbsp fresh herbs, chopped, to taste (I used about 1 Tbsp basil and a combination of parsley, oregano and thyme)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1 small zucchini, sliced thin

Place the cubed potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain, and mash with milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat, and stir in the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as desired.

Spread the potato mixture over the vegetables in the Dutch oven, banking it up a little along the sides and leaving an indentation in the middle.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and zucchini, and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes, or until just tender. Pile the sautéed zucchini and bell pepper into the center of the mashed potatoes.

Bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Food Day 2011

This is not a political blog, but our food choices are inevitably steeped in politics. Farm subsidies, animal welfare, food insecurity -- these are only a smattering of the issues that surround the food we eat.

Today is Food Day, an effort by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to bring a host of food-related issues to the forefront of American consciousness. The CSPI has been controversial over the years -- remember those scolding reports about Chinese and Italian restaurant meals? -- but here is something I think we, as food-blog readers, can agree on:

We generally spend more time thinking about what we’re going to cook than about how that food is produced. And if we are wondering about where our next meal is coming from, our conversation probably involves restaurant picks, not soup kitchens.

Today, as you sit down to eat, remember to add a dash of awareness to your dinner. Bon appetit.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Week 18: Green Tomato Curry

Eighteen weeks is a long time – just over a third of a year.  We’ve gone from peas to pumpkins, from strawberries to winter squash.

I think I’m going to miss the tomatoes most of all.

I rhapsodized about ripe tomatoes earlier this season. This time of year, it’s about the green ones. Fully grown, unripe tomatoes are firmer and more acidic than their red counterparts, although they mellow with cooking. They are commonly breaded and fried, but you can also slow-roast them, pickle them, or turn them into relish or chutney. They work in all sorts of stews and show up in Indian dishes. The recipe below makes a mild curry that takes on a deep yellow color from turmeric.

Before we get to the recipe, a little reminder: Now that the CSA season has ended, I'll be posting less frequently. But I'm always cooking, so expect some seasonal recipes for the fall and winter. (Subscribe to the blog and you won't miss any posts.)

Green Tomato Curry
(Adapted from Cooking Light. Serve with basmati rice, quinoa, or a flat bread like naan. Serves 2-3 as a main dish or 4 as a side.)

1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
2 cups green tomato, diced (about 1 large tomato)
2 cups diced, peeled russet potato
2 cups cauliflower, in small florets
1.5 cups water

Mix the ground spices together in a small bowl and set aside. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook for 1 minute; the seeds may sputter and pop, so have a lid or splatter guard handy. Add the tomato, potato, cauliflower, and spices, and stir until blended. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the skillet, and simmer the mixture for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover the skillet and cook about 5 minutes more or until most of the liquid evaporates. Serve hot.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Week 17: The Apple Cake of Many Names


I suppose it doesn’t look much like a slice of birthday cake. No layers; no frosting. But since my birthday fell on the eve of Rosh Hashanah this year, I went with something holiday appropriate. (And if eating sweet foods can ensure a sweet year, my family is surely covered.)

I’m not sure what to call this cake. Sometimes it’s known as a Jewish apple cake -- “Jewish,” presumably, because it’s dairy free and therefore a dessert suitable for meat-containing meals. Apparently it’s also a “Philadelphia-style apple cake,” as explained in this 2006 article from the Philadelphia City Paper. I grew up in Philly, but I had no idea that this kind of cake is something of a regional specialty. (I didn’t visit enough bake shops, I guess.) The cake might also be called a “German apple cake” or “Any Country in Eastern Europe apple cake”; it’s standard fare from that part of the globe.

Whatever you call this cake, the key thing is that it’s an oil-based cake -- moist, sweet, and on the dense side. Cut it into sixteenths and no one will feel slighted by the size of the piece.

The Apple Cake of Many Names
(From Relish magazine, with trivial changes)

6 cups peeled, sliced apples (About 3 apples. Granny Smith recommended, but use whatever is local and seasonal)
4 tsp cinnamon mixed with 5 Tbsp granulated sugar
1.5 cups additional granulated sugar
3 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2.5 tsp vanilla extract
Extra oil, sugar, and flour for preparing pan

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease a 10-inch Bundt pan or tube pan, then sugar and flour the pan.

Combine the sliced apples with the cinnamon-sugar mixture and set aside. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with brown sugar and the remaining granulated sugar. Add in the canola oil, orange juice, and vanilla, and beat well. Gradually stir in the flour mixture and blend well.

Pour one-third of the batter into the prepared pan, and top with half of the apple slices. Make a second layer of batter and fruit in the same manner, then top with the last third of batter, making sure the apples are covered.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the top turns golden and a knife inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Very nice served with a glass of hot tea at the end of a big meal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Week 16: Roasted Butternut Squash Salads

Once you get past the idea that salad is synonymous with lettuce, you begin to see the possibilities in other vegetables. Take butternut squash, for instance. Cubed and roasted, squash makes an ideal base for interesting fall salads.

Peruse salad recipes and you’ll find butternut squash paired with strong, savory flavors that play against its inherent sweetness: onion, garlic, mustard, arugula, vinegar, olives, Roquefort cheese, feta. With a couple of large squash from the CSA, I tried out a pair of salad recipes that, despite some ingredients in common, have very different flavor profiles. Either of these recipes makes a hearty side dish or light stand-alone entree, with nary a leaf of iceberg in sight.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad Variations 

Preparation Step
1 medium butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Toss together the squash, garlic, and olive oil in a large bowl. Spread the mixture out onto a large baking sheet (use two, if necessary, to not crowd the squash pieces) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for about 25 minutes, flipping the pieces about halfway through the cooking time, until the squash is soft and just beginning to caramelize. If you are using two baking trays, switch their position in the oven midway through cooking. Take care to not overcook the squash or the cubes will collapse when they are tossed with the other salad ingredients. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool.


Variation 1: Roasted Squash and Chickpea Salad With Tahini Dressing
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, by way of earlier adaptations. The tahini dressing is also wonderful on falafel.)

For the Salad
Roasted cubes from a 3-pound squash (as described above)
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For the Dressing
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Pinch salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp tahini
3 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp olive oil

Combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and parsley in a large salad bowl.

Whisk together the garlic, salt, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add the tahini, water, and olive oil, blending well with each addition. Adjust seasoning to taste. Dress the salad, tossing carefully, or serve the dressing on the side (my preference).

Variation 2: Roasted Squash and Black Bean Salad With Spicy Chipotle Dressing
(Adapted from My Pantry Shelf. To beef up the salad (so to speak), garnish it with feta cheese.)

For the Salad
Roasted cubes from a 3-pound squash (as described above)
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 Tbsp parsley or cilantro (optional)

For the Dressing
1/4 cup canola oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup lime juice
1 Tablespoon honey
1 chipotle chili in adobo
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the squash, beans, onion, and parsley (if using) in a large salad bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil and cloves of garlic over medium heat just until the garlic begins to brown. Cool slightly. In a blender container, combine the oil and garlic with all of the remaining dressing ingredients. Blend until smooth. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of dressing over the salad and toss carefully. Serve salad with remaining dressing on the side.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Week 15: Apple Pielettes


It's not often that you can say “I ate the whole pie myself,” and not feel a twinge of guilt or indigestion.

This week's recipe falls right into two food trends -- pie and miniature desserts -- but I don't care. These “pielettes” are just So. Darn. Cute. And tasty. And relatively quick to make, provided you keep to small-batch cooking and you forgo the little lattices and just use a cookie-cutter shape on top of each pie. Trust me on this.

These pies have a short baking time, so you can use apple varieties that tend to break down too much to go solo in a full-size pie. I had some early-season Macs from the CSA and I'm happy to report that they didn't turn into applesauce inside the pie crust. Just stay away from super-sweet varieties of apples. You need some tartness to balance out the sugar, and you need the sugar for a decent pie filling.

Apple Pielettes
(Adapted from this recipe. Makes 6 single-serve pies. For the best crust, keep the butter and water very cold and don't overwork the dough.)
Filling
3 cups diced apples (from 2 to 3 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a 3/8-inch dice)
3/8 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 T flour

Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp salt
2 T chilled water

Mix all of the filling ingredients together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once or twice to blend. Sprinkle butter pieces on top and pulse a couple of times until the butter pieces are about the size of peas. Sprinkle water on top of the flour mixture (you may not need all of it, depending on the humidity and temperature of your kitchen) and pulse a few times until the mixture just begins to stick together.

Turn the flour mixture out onto a floured surface and knead together gently. Roll out the dough to a quarter-inch thickness, using a floured rolling pin.

Cut out 6 circles, using a 4-inch cookie or biscuit cutter or an overturned bowl or container. (An empty container from a pound of cole slaw or cottage cheese works well for this.) Reroll scraps of dough as needed. Use the remaining dough to cut lattice pieces or small shapes for the top crust.

Press each dough circle into a muffin tin, making contact with the bottom and sides of the tin and folding the dough along the sides as necessary. Divide the filling among the crusts, mounding it up a bit to compensate for any sinking of the filling as it bakes. Top with dough pieces as desired.

Place the muffin tin onto a baking tray to catch any spillovers of filling. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling.

Cool completely on a rack. Use a knife to loosen around the edges of each pie, and use a spoon or knife to gently push the pies out from the tin.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 14: Creamy Corn Chowder, Without the Cream

The Programmer and I have spent much of the past couple of weeks reconfiguring office spaces. The process has been akin to an archaeological expedition: We’re unearthing files and mementos that haven’t seen the light of day in several years. Just this week I came across cute letters from the kids, preschool-era photos, printouts of work emails from employers that no longer exist, a techie parody of The Hollow Men, and a raft of editing-related cartoons clipped from various newspapers.

What does this have to do with working through our CSA stash? Not much directly, but after spending hours sorting, tossing, and moving all of this stuff, I’ve had to contend with (a) limited time in the kitchen and (b) a strong desire for comfort food. Both of these conditions led me to pull together this week’s recipe, a quick and satisfying soup that makes good use of late-summer corn.

Creamy Corn Chowder, Without the Cream
(Inspired by a USA Weekend recipe)

6 ears corn, husked
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 pound new potatoes, diced
3 cups water
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves

Cut the kernels from 3 ears of corn, and scrape the cobs with the back of your knife to release any liquid. Puree the kernels and liquid in a food processor and set aside. You should have about 2 cups of corn puree.

Remove the kernels from the remaining 3 ears of corn and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and cut corn kernels (but not the puree), and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the pureed corn, diced potatoes, water, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Simmer, partially covered, 12 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and the flavors blend.

Stir in the parsley. Taste, adjust seasonings as necessary, and serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Week 13: Eggplant Stackers (and a Basic Marinara)

Did you feel that? That shift in the cosmos when the calendar flipped from August to September? There’s something different in the air this time of year.

Ragweed, mostly -- but like so many others, I make the mental shift from summer to fall once we get past Labor Day weekend. You know … it’s the return of school, and routines, and activities, and all that.

Our CSA share is shifting, too. We’re seeing apples now, and more variety overall. This week’s bounty included beets, a most-fragrant cantaloupe, carrots, corn, cucumbers, peaches, tomatoes, one Thai chili pepper, and two perfectly matched globe eggplants.

I immediately knew what I wanted to try with the eggplant. I adore Eggplant Parmesan, and this variation lightens up on the breading and cheese. Use fresh tomatoes for the marinara sauce, and you have a seasonal meal for whatever season you put September into.

Eggplant Stackers
(Adapted from The Boston Globe. Serves 4; 2 stacks per person)

2 large eggplant, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch rounds to make 24 slices
4 Tbsp olive oil, plus 4 tsp olive oil (divided use), plus a little extra for drizzling
4 cups fresh marinara sauce (recipe follows) or sauce of your choice
1-1/3 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese (divided use)
8 fresh basil leaves
About 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Set an oven rack 8 inches from the broiler element and pre-heat broiler. Cover two large baking trays with foil. Divide the eggplant slices between the two trays, making sure the eggplant is in one layer. Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with oil, using a pastry brush and the 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

Working with one tray at a time, broil the slices for 4 minutes on a side, or until the eggplant is cooked through. Let the eggplant cool briefly on the trays.

Turn off the broiler and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover two 9-inch-square baking pans with foil. (The foil just makes clean-up easier. Skip it if you prefer.) Slice the mozzarella cheese thinly into 8 slices and set aside. (You may not need the whole 8 ounces of cheese to do this.)

Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in each baking dish. Set 4 slices of eggplant in each dish, starting with the largest slices. Then build up each eggplant stack as follows:
  • Top each slice with a rounded tablespoon of sauce and a rounded tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese;
  • Place a second slice of eggplant on top, followed by a rounded tablespoon of sauce, a basil leaf, and a slice of mozzarella cheese;
  • Put the remaining eggplant slices on top, and spoon 1/4 cup of marinara sauce over each stack.
Toss together the panko, the remaining 4 teaspoons of olive oil, the remaining Parmesan cheese, and the chopped parsley. Top each stack with about 2 tablespoons of crumbs. This may seem like a lot at first, but the crumbs bake down. (Refrigerate any leftover panko-Parmesan mix and save for another dish.) Drizzle a little olive oil on top of each stack.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown and the cheese is melting at the edges.

Basic Marinara Sauce
(My own recipe, but similar to dozens. Makes about 4 cups sauce)

4 pounds red tomatoes, peeled (use any variety, as long as they are ripe and in season)
4 to 8 cloves garlic (depending on size), chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
About 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Set a strainer over a bowl. Cut the peeled tomatoes in half (if they are plum tomatoes) or in quarters (if they are larger, round ones) and squeeze or spoon out the seeds into the strainer, reserving any liquid that accumulates in the bowl. Chop the remaining tomato flesh.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the garlic for about 2 minutes, but do not let it brown, then add in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of tomato with a spoon or potato masher. If the sauce seems too thick, add in some of the reserved tomato liquid until the sauce is the right consistency for your taste. Add salt to taste.

To peel tomatoes: Bring a deep saucepan of water up to a boil. Have on hand a large bowl of ice water. Cut a shallow X into the bottom of each tomato. Plunge two to three tomatoes at a time into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge them into the cold water. The peel will begin to curl back from the tomato and will be easy to remove. If the peel remains “tight,” repeat the process from boiling water to cold water.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week 12: Tomato Jam


Post-Irene, and no damage to report from home, save for some tree branches down. I'll find out at Friday's CSA pickup how the farm and its orchards fared.

Meanwhile, I'm still enraptured by the tomatoes. This week, with both farm tomatoes and home-grown ones to contend with, I was ready to cook tomatoes en masse. That led to a batch of fresh tomato sauce and a couple of pints of tomato jam.

It's hard to describe the jam: It's sweet with an underlying note of vinegar, vaguely reminiscent of a chutney. We slathered some on turkey burgers and we are brainstorming ideas for other uses. If you plan to break out the grill before summer's end, this jam would be an uncommon condiment for barbecued meat. I can imagine it spread on grilled cheese sandwiches or used as a dipping sauce for vegetarian egg rolls.

Jennifer Perillo's Sweet and Savory Tomato Jam 
(Adapted, with only one change, from this recipe posted on food52. Instructions are my own wording. Yield: 1.5 pints.)

3.5 pounds fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped (no need to peel the tomatoes)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1.5 cups granulated white sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime (Original recipe calls for a lemon, but I didn't have one on hand; see note regarding canning, below)

Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan. (The recipe calls for a 2-quart pot; I found that I needed a 3.5-quart pot to hold the volume of chopped tomatoes.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture thickens to the consistency of jam, about 3 hours. Transfer the jam to sterilized glass jars, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The jam will keep at least two weeks.

Note: Per the original recipe, the jam can be processed in a boiling-water bath for long-term storage. However, canning tomato products requires careful attention to the acidity level. Read up on the process before making any ingredient changes to ensure safe canning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Week 11: Stuffed Tomatoes, Two Ways

With rice, beans, and corn.
Herewith, a reminder of some of the perils of farming, and, by extension, of being a CSA shareholder: 

Crops fail. Something goes wrong with the zucchini seed and you get yellow squash instead. Blueberries get torched by 103-degree heat. Carrots shrivel, greens bolt. It’s too hot, too dry, too cool, too wet, too something.

And yet, we still get wonders from the harvest. For this, I am eternally grateful to all the individuals who have dedicated their lives to farming, especially here in my corner of Massachusetts.

This week's wonder is tomatoes. Vine-ripened tomatoes. Not-shipped-across-country tomatoes. (Not even shipped-one-town-over tomatoes. A step away from my-own-backyard tomatoes.) I can’t think of any fruit or vegetable more dissimilar from its supermarket counterpart. In New England, August tomatoes epitomize tomato perfection.

This is the time of year for caprese salads and tomato-and-mayo sandwiches and stuffed tomatoes -- anything that pushes these gems from garnish to starring role. Both of these stuffed tomato recipes use  corn, another wonder from the farm that we have in abundance at the moment.
 
With ricotta, corn, and crumbs.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Ricotta and Fresh Corn 
(Adapted from Veggie Belly. Serve as a rich side dish or a light supper.)

3 medium tomatoes (about 6 ounces each)
Salt
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp pesto (I used a cheese-less version of my nut-free basil pesto)
3 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese (you may want to lower this amount if your pesto already has cheese in it)
3/4 cup to 1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from one ear of corn)
Black pepper, to taste
6 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Olive oil, for drizzling

Cut each tomato in half horizontally. Remove and discard the seeds, then carefully scoop out the tomato pulp from each half, leaving an intact shell. (I found that a melon baller worked well for removing the pulp.) Lightly salt the tomato shells. Place them cut side down on paper towels and let them drain for 30 minutes or more.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomato pulp; pat dry with paper towels if the pulp is very juicy. Combine the tomato pulp with the ricotta, pesto, Parmesan, corn, and black pepper, and set aside. Combine the breadcrumbs and seasonings.

After the tomato shells have drained, spoon the ricotta mixture into each half, mounding the filling as necessary. Top each half with about 1 Tbsp of seasoned crumbs, patting the crumbs down lightly. Place the tomatoes into a lightly oiled baking dish and drizzle a little olive oil on top of each. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crumbs begin to brown.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Rice, Beans, and Corn
(Adapted from a USA Rice Federation recipe. For a Mexican-flavored approach, season the rice mixture with cumin and chili powder instead of parsley and thyme.)

4 medium tomatoes (about 6 ounces each)
1.5 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup to 1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from one ear of corn)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Olive oil, for drizzling

Remove the top of each tomato (cutting deep enough to include the stem area) and reserve the tops. Remove and discard the tomato seeds, then scoop out the tomato pulp. Lightly salt the tomato shells. Place them cut side down on paper towels and let them drain for 30 minutes or more.

Roughly chop the tomato pulp. Combine the pulp with the rice, onion, beans, corn, cheese, and herbs. Stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture. Place the tomatoes into a lightly oiled baking dish, and replace the tomato tops. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of each tomato. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the filling is heated through. Bake any extra filling in a greased casserole dish, for about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Week 10: Oven-Fried Squash Sticks


Ah, CSA season. Time for lots of local food and healthful eating.

Yeah, who are we kidding? Last week we were noshing on chips and salsa. This week, we could have steamed or grilled our lovely squash, but ... Hey, let’s coat these babies in eggs and crunchy breadcrumbs and salty cheese ...

These are not deep-fried, so you could construe them as healthful. Or not. Regardless, they were mighty tasty.

Oven-Baked Squash Sticks
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour. Note that the squash should drain for 1 hour before breading, so PLAN AHEAD.)

   For Preparation Step

3 slender summer squash (straightneck), about 6 inches long
1 Tbsp salt

   For Coating and Baking

1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Scant 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil leaves
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil spray, or regular cooking spray

Preparation: Trim squash ends. Slice the squash in half crosswise, then cut each half into six (or more) sticks or wedges; these should be about 3 inches long. Place the sliced squash in a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt. Let the squash drain for 1 hour or longer, then rinse and pat dry.

Coating and Baking: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray the paper with olive oil or regular cooking spray.

Combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, and seasonings. Place half of the mixture into a shallow rimmed bowl, and set aside the rest. Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Place the flour into a third bowl.

Dip the squash sticks individually into the flour, tapping off any excess with a fork; then into the egg, and then the breadcrumb mixture. Place the coated squash sticks onto the baking sheets. Use the reserved  breadcrumb mixture when needed; by adding to the crumb bowl periodically, you keep the mixture from getting too eggy to coat the squash well. (Also, it's a good idea whenever you are breading something to use only one hand for dipping ingredients, and keep your other hand clean.)

Bake the squash sticks for 12 minutes, then turn them over and bake for about 8 minutes more, or until they are golden brown and crisp. Serve hot, with marinara sauce or another sauce for dipping, as desired.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Week 9: Blueberry Salsa and Cilantro-Basil Sauce

As CSA weeks go, this one was a bit ho-hum: Light on the produce -- corn, cucumbers, a single beet (goodness, what is the point of a single beet?); and heavy on the herbs -- cilantro, basil, and dill. So it was a herb-filled week all around.

Most of the dill, and all of the cucumbers, were dispatched in the form of pickles. We had corn with basil; cole slaw with dill and basil (using up Week 8's cabbage); vegetarian chili with corn and cilantro; a cilantro-basil sauce for fish; and a fruity salsa with more cilantro and basil.

I’ve hit overload with these herbs, and I still have some dill and basil to carry into Week 10. Oy. At least the food's been tasty. The cilantro-basil sauce was delicious over a pan-seared tuna steak, and would be equally good over poultry or beef or with Indian food. The salsa would work with chicken as well, but we just ate it with tortilla chips. I happened to pick up the blue-corn kind, but I don’t really recommend doing that: color-wise, the chips and the salsa match a little too well.

(I apparently go for fruit salsas. Here are recipes for Peach-Pepper Salsa for now and Apple Salsa for closer to the fall.)

Blueberry Salsa
(Adapted from Jones Family Farms)

3 cups blueberries, washed and dried (divided use)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped; seeds and membrane removed before chopping if you desire less heat
1/2 cup (packed) basil leaves, slivered
1/2 cup (packed) cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 tsp coarse salt, or to taste

Place 2 cups of blueberries in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add onion, jalapeno, and herbs to food processor and pulse again to combine ingredients. Remove to bowl. Stir in lime, salt, and remaining blueberries. Allow flavors to blend one-half hour or more.

Cilantro-Basil Sauce
(Adapted from Laurie Constantino)

1 cup (packed) cilantro leaves
1/4 cup (packed) basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped; seeds and membrane removed before chopping if you desire less heat
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp water

Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Serve sauce over fish, beef, chicken, vegetables, or what-have-you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Week 8: Meatballs With a "Secret" (Swiss Chard!)

I don't hide vegetables from my children. I'm not a sneaky chef. But I also don't make pronouncements about dinner that are liable to provoke an "ick" from the kids before before anyone has taken a bite.

I will tell you upfront, dear reader, that the meatballs had Swiss chard in them. Hardly secretive, really; you can see the green, leafy bits in the meat. And since these meatballs are Turkish/Middle Eastern in style, they were cooked in a lemony broth. So, no red sauce for the green bits to hide under.

Furthermore, I left the printout of the recipe on top of the toaster oven for the better part of a week.

So there you have it. Kit, apparently food-deprived after a day of camp, happily gobbled these down without asking what was in them, and I decided against volunteering the information. Which means she ate Swiss chard. And her head did not explode. Do me a favor, though: Don't tell her. She'll stumble across this post eventually, at which point I may never get her to eat these meatballs again. 

Meatballs With Swiss Chard
(Adapted from a recipe on Food Bridge)

1 bunch Swiss chard (about 1 pound)
1 pound ground beef
6 cloves garlic, divided use
1/2 cup grated onion
1 egg
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1 cup vegetable stock or water

Remove chard stems and discard them or save for another dish. Thoroughly wash the chard leaves but do not dry them. Wilt the chard in a large, covered pot over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Drain well. When the chard is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any extra water and chop the leaves finely.

Slice three cloves of garlic and set aside. Finely mince the remaining garlic. In a large bowl, combine the chard, beef, the minced garlic, onion, egg, bread crumbs, and black pepper. Mix thoroughly. Divide the mixture into 16 slightly flattened meatballs.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, deep skillet that has a lid, and brown the meatballs in two or more batches, about 2 minutes each side, adding oil as needed. Remove the browned meatballs to a plate; they are not fully cooked at this point.

Add the sliced garlic to the skillet and fry until golden. Return the meatballs to the pan and add the lemon juice. Add in the stock; it should almost cover the top of the meatballs. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover the skillet. Simmer the meatballs for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through, turning the meatballs over once about midway through the cooking.

Remove the cover, and let the mixture simmer for a couple of minutes longer if you want to reduce the cooking liquid. Serve over rice or couscous.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bonus Post: Blueberry-Lemon Scones

Late July is blueberry pie season here, and while I respect the tradition of pie-for-breakfast, I recognize that practice is less accepted outside of New England. (Though, when you think about it, how far is pie from blueberry danish or muffins or Pop-Tarts?) Anyway, if you can't fathom pie for breakfast or brunch, I suggest making scones as an alternative.

Bakery scones generally disappoint me -- too heavy or too dry -- but this home recipe won me over. It has a nice balance of flavors and moistness without being cloyingly sweet. The scones are definitely best eaten warm on the day you bake them. Revive day-old scones (if you have any) with a quick zap in the microwave.

Blueberry-Lemon Scones

(Adapted from Baking Bites. Makes 8 scones.)

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup milk (see note, below)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Have on hand a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the flour mixture appears sandy and no pieces of butter remain larger than a pea.

Stir in the milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest with a fork until the dough comes together. If the dough is too wet, add in another tablespoon of flour. Knead the dough in your bowl for about 1 minute. Flatten the dough slightly, sprinke with blueberries, and gently knead or fold in the blueberries so they are evenly distributed in the dough.

Divide the dough in half and scoop each half onto the baking sheet, keeping a couple of inches between the mounds of dough. Flatten each mound into a circle about 3/4-inch thick. (You can do this by putting a piece of wax paper or parchment paper on top of the dough, and pressing down with your hand.) Slice each circle into quarters with a knife or bench scraper.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Note: I used skim milk, because that's what we keep in our fridge. Any kind of milk should work. I think more fat would just add to the creaminess of the scone, but I didn't test the recipe that way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Week 7: Rustic Onion Tart

This week I've been all for simplicity. Boiled corn and new potatoes ... grilled pattypan and yellow squash ... sauteed kale ... you get the idea.

The most ambitious bit of cooking for the week was an onion tart. And by "ambitious" I mean: has more than two ingredients. This is one of those recipes where the individual parts (butter, flour, onion) add up to so much more (sweet, caramelized onions and a flaky, buttery dough). I suspect any kind of yellow or white onion would work in this recipe, giving it year-round possibilities, though my motivation was a large bunch of spring onions from my share.

The tart was equally delicious served warm at supper and eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator. If making tart/pastry dough intimidates you, try this one; it's quite forgiving.

Rustic Onion Tart
(Adapted from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters)

   For the Dough:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup ice-cold water

   For the Filling:

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
2 lbs onion, thinly sliced (about 6 medium onions)
1/2 to 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt to taste

Stir the salt into the flour. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until only a few large pieces of butter remain. Pour in about three-quarters of the water and stir the mixture with a fork until the dough forms clumps, adding the remaining water in small increments as needed. Bring the dough together into a ball, wrap in plastic and flatten the ball into a disk. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour or more.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and juicy, 20 to 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook the onions until they begin to turn golden and caramelize. This could take another 15 to 20 minutes. The liquid should evaporate as the onions cook. Transfer the onions to a bowl (draining any excess liquid, if necessary) and let cool for at least 10 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Flour your work surface and rolling pin, and roll out the tart dough to a 14-inch circle. (If the dough is too hard to work with, let it warm up 15 or 20 minutes at room temperature first.) Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and return it to the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to firm up.

Spread the onions on top of the dough, leaving a 1.5-inch border all around. Fold up the border over the onions to create an edge to the tart. Bake the tart for about 50 minutes, or until the crust on the bottom is golden brown. Slide the tart onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Week 6: Raspberry Yogurt Cake

We didn't plan it this way, but summer so far has been as busy as the school year, chock full of work, volunteer obligations, family gatherings, and camp preparations. I have plenty of washing and labeling and packing left to do, but I'm putting it all aside for a moment for a nice glass of iced tea and a slice of cake.

Not a fussy cake, mind you. Nothing heavy; no buttercream frosting. (I'm saving that for fall.) Just a humble, single-layer cake studded with summer fruit.

We are delighting in raspberries from the farm, so raspberry cake it was, but it could just as easily have been a strawberry or blueberry cake. This is a fine cake for a picnic or a beach outing -- or for just sitting around the kitchen table avoiding the laundry.

Raspberry Yogurt Cake
(adapted from Gourmet, by way of Smitten Kitchen.)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1.5 Tbsp sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 egg
1/2 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
1 cup fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, lemon zest, and egg. With the mixer on low, add in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the yogurt, until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Scatter the raspberries over the cake batter and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out on a rack and cool another 10 to 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving platter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Week 5: Fresh Pea Soup

Lots of good stuff in the share this week: Lettuces for salad, beets for roasting, onions for sauteing, summer squash for stuffing, more squash for roasting, and raspberries (yes!) for eating out of hand while cooking all that other stuff. Plus, a good friend gave us a taste of her CSA with a gift of some beautiful scallions and fennel and chard and herbs, in exchange for a couple of squash and some peas.

Let me tell you about the peas. Caboodle and I have shelled a good 10 pounds of peas over the past two weeks. We may have reached the end of the season, as the pea pods this week were positively enormous -- a tad overgrown, really -- with individual peas the size of chickpeas. Still, the peas were nibble-worthy raw, and even better in soup.

Split pea soup, made from dried peas, is definitely stick-to-your-ribs, cold-weather comfort food. I found fresh pea soup, on the other hand, to be something of a revelation: far lighter, more delicate, and quick to cook. As hot soups go, this is a plausible one for a summery day.

Fresh Pea Soup

(Inspired by Ina Garten)

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 medium carrot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 cups vegetable stock
5 cups shelled fresh peas
2/3 cup chopped mint leaves (loosely packed)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp chopped chives, for garnish (optional)

Heat the butter and olive oil together in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables soften. Add the stock, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the peas, lower the heat, and simmer the soup until the peas are tender, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size. Remove from the heat and add the mint.

Let the soup cool a couple of minutes, puree it in batches in a blender or food processor, and return it to the soup pot. Add the lemon, salt, and pepper, adjusting seasonings to taste. Reheat the soup if necessary, and serve hot, garnished with chive if desired. Serves 6.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Week 4: Minted Simple Syrup and Honeydew-Mint Sorbet


Oy, mint. Garden herb and invasive weed. We pulled up a patch of it years ago, and I haven't missed it much. Except ... every now and then I come across a good use for mint -- tabbouleh or this falafel and tzatziki combination  -- and I think: Maybe we could keep a container of mint growing outside. A small container. One that's quarantined from the actual garden.

The spearmint that came from the farm in our share tasted a lot better than whatever variety of mint we once grew. Spearmint, lime, sugar, and rum are the flavorings of a classic mojito. Drop the rum and add in cubes of honeydew and you have the makings of a refreshing melon salad. Freeze the honeydew and you are on your way to making a minty sorbet.

The real find of the week was the recipe for the minted simple syrup that flavors the sorbet. It's ideal for sweetening glasses of plain-brewed iced tea, and would no doubt be handy in all sorts of mixed drinks. You can swap out the mint to make other herb-infused syrups.

Minted Simple Syrup
(From Gourmet)

1.5 cups packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Chop the mint. Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer the syrup, without stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour the syrup through a fine sieve, pressing on the chopped leaves to extract as much liquid as possible, and cool. Makes about 1.25 cups.

Honeydew-Mint Sorbet
(Adapted from Gourmet, using the food-processor sorbet technique.)

6 to 8 cups frozen honeydew cubes (cut from 1/2 large melon)
About 1 cup minted simple syrup
Juice from 1/2 lime

Place half of the frozen melon, lime, and simple syrup in a food processor bowl fitted with a steel blade. Process until pureed and creamy, but not liquified, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Remove from the food processor and process the remaining ingredients the same way. Combine the two batches. Eat immediately or transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and freeze. Makes about 6 cups. If the sorbet freezes too hard for later scooping, allow it to sit at room temperature 10 to 15 minutes to soften before serving.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Week 3: Panko-Sage Cod and Quinoa Pilaf

Panko-Sage Cod, with Quinoa Pilaf and marinated radishes.

Sage is an herb that I strongly associate with autumn flavors (squash, pumpkin, Thanksgiving turkey) so I was momentarily stumped when it appeared in this week's share. The Programmer, ever helpful, suggested that I seek some sage advice (yes, you can groan), but in the end I found inspiration in my own recipe files.

I make variations of cod-and-crumbs all the time; sage -- which complements fish as well as roasted meats or poultry -- was a nice change from the oregano or basil that I typically use. I worked the rest of the sage into a quinoa pilaf and a spinach quiche, using up CSA zucchini and spinach, respectively.

As for the rest of this week's share, we're keeping up with the lettuce (plenty of salad); made marinated radishes; and made a pot of vegetarian chili with a second CSA zucchini. I've also been experimenting with honeydew and CSA mint.

Panko-Sage Cod
(Original recipe)

1.25 lbs boneless, skinless cod fillet
About 1 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup chopped sage leaves
1 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
Salt
Pepper
Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil (optional; it aids clean-up) and lightly spray the foil with non-fat cooking spray. Lay the fish on the baking sheet. If the tail end is very thin, turn it under itself so the fillet is of an even thickness. Spread a light coating of mayonnaise over the fillet.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Lightly saute the sage for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from the heat. Add the panko to the skillet and stir to combine with the sage and oil. Season the mixture to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Spoon the crumbs over the fish, pressing lightly into the mayonnaise so the crumbs adhere. Depending on the size of your fillet, you may have crumbs left over. Bake the fish for about 15 minutes, or until it is cooked through; the flesh should appear opaque when done. Serves 3 to 4.

Quinoa Pilaf
(Original recipe)

2 cups water (or broth)
1/4 tsp salt (omit if using broth)
1 cup red quinoa
1 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup chopped sage leaves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced brown mushrooms (cremini or baby portobello)
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1.5 cups)

Bring water and salt (or broth) to a boil. Add quinoa, lower heat and cook, covered, 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet. Add onions and saute about 5 minutes, or until they soften and begin to brown. Add sage leaves. Cook 2 minutes more, or until the leaves crisp a bit. Remove mixture from skillet and set aside. In the same skillet, saute the mushrooms and zucchini until they soften and begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Mix the vegetables into the quinoa and serve hot. The pilaf is also good the next day, with a bit of feta cheese mixed in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week 2 (Part 2): Pasta With Spinach and Peas; Sesame Noodles With Radish

Kit and Caboodle cannot live on salad alone. For that, we have pasta.

Fortunately, it's hard to go wrong with vegetables and pasta. We combined peas and spinach (both from this week's share) to make a Spring-y alternative to red sauce. Meanwhile, we used up a new bunch of CSA radishes in an Asian-inspired side dish to accompany grilled chicken and grilled romaine.

Pasta With Spinach and Peas
(Inspired by many recipes. I don't care for creamy sauces, but you could easily substitute heavy cream for the quarter-cup of water.)

1 pound dried pasta, any shape (I used penne)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, washed well, roughly chopped if large
1.5 cups shelled fresh peas
1/4 cup water
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook and drain the pasta as usual. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the garlic for about a minute (do not let it brown), then stir in the spinach in two or three handfuls, letting it wilt a bit between additions.

When all of the spinach has wilted (this takes just a couple of minutes), add the peas and water (or cream, if desired). Cover the pot and simmer the vegetables for about 3 minutes, or until the peas are tender. Remove from heat, then add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the vegetables over the pasta. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Sesame Noodles With Radish
(Adapted from The Boston Globe Magazine)

1 package (about 13 ounces) whole wheat or "whole grain blend" linguine
3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided use 
2.5 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2.5 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1.5 tsp sugar
6 to 12 radishes, cut into short matchsticks (about 1.5 cups when sliced)
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
5 scallions, thinly sliced

Cook the pasta as usual in a large pot of boiling water. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water until they are cool to the touch. Drain again thoroughly. Place the noodles in a large serving bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and toss to coat.

Whisk the remaining sesame oil with the vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the dressing to the noodles, along with the radishes, cucumber, sesame seeds, and scallions. Toss well and serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Week 2 (Part 1): Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

A week into the season and I'm up to my eyeballs in leafy vegetables. Red leaf, Boston, and romaine lettuce. Kale. Spinach. More baby beet greens. Not to mention most of a head of green leaf lettuce that we didn't finish last week.

Folks, we're having salad. A lot of salad. And something with kale. So let's start with dessert first.

I had been eying a crisp recipe for a couple of weeks, and with three fresh quarts of CSA strawberries this week (along with all of those greens), I had no qualms about putting a few of the berries to an experiment. The twist with this recipe is that it uses oil, rather than butter, to form the crumb topping. That makes it dairy free without the use of stick margarine. Another plus is that the yield is only four or five servings, making it a right-sized dessert for our household. In spite of all the salad we're eating, we really don't need too much dessert around the house to tempt us.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp (Dairy Free)
(Adapted from a Stop & Shop supermarket recipe. Best served warm. The crumb topping loses its "crispness" as it cools.)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 lb rhubarb (2 to 3 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp orange juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

Combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir in oil with a fork until the mixture forms crumbs. Set aside.

Place the rhubarb and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat just until the rhubarb begins to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine the granulated sugar and cornstarch, and stir into the rhubarb. Mix in the strawberries.

Pour the fruit mixture into a 1-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with the reserved crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until bubbly. Serves 4.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Week 1: Beef Stir Fry With Rhubarb


I know, I know. A quart of strawberries and a couple of stalks of rhubarb logically pair up for a pie or a crisp or something like that. But the first quart of local strawberries quickly becomes a pint of strawberries, and then a handful of strawberries. And the rhubarb? Well, the rhubarb needs other partners that benefit from its natural acidity. Like beef and onions and cilantro.

So stir fry it was.

It was a good haul for the first week of the season. In addition to the strawberries, rhubarb, and cilantro, we received two enormous heads of leaf lettuce; a handful of beet greens; a bunch of elongated, mild radishes; tomato, chive, and oregano plants for our garden; and a jar of honey. Plenty of salad this week, and I've been snacking on radishes with butter and French bread. After the stir fry, I put the rest of the cilantro into a spicy sauce to top some fish (Arctic char, to be specific). I'm holding onto a bit of rhubarb, in the expectation that more strawberries are on the way.

Beef Stir Fry With Rhubarb
(Original recipe)

1 pound thinly sliced beef
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced rhubarb (1 large stalk)
1/2 pound brown mushrooms (i.e. cremini or baby portobello), sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp minced ginger root
1/2 cup sliced celery (about 1 stalk)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
2 green onions, sliced

Marinate beef in soy sauce while you prepare your other ingredients, or for up to one hour.

Heat oil in a wok or a deep frying pan with sloped sides. Add the beef, along with any soy sauce in the bowl; brown the beef, stirring frequently, until just cooked through. Remove beef and set aside.

Add the onions and rhubarb to any liquid remaining in the frying pan and cook for about 2 minutes or until the onion starts to soften and turn translucent. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ginger, and cook for about 3 minutes more, or until the mushrooms soften.

Return the beef to the pan and add the celery. Cook just until the beef is heated through, so the celery retains some crunch, about 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in the cilantro and green onions. Serve over rice.

Note: If you desire more sauce, mix in additional soy sauce, or a combination of soy sauce, dry sherry, and corn starch, when you return the meat to the pan.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hoping for Chard ...

Our farm share resumes this Friday. I haven't a clue as to what we're getting, but that's OK. After three summers of CSA participation, The Programmer and I can tackle just about anything when it comes to produce. Or, at least, I think we can; the jury is still out on broccoli rabe.

In the run-up to the CSA season, I've been experimenting with herb and spice combinations. Recently, we've had from-scratch falafel, tzatziki, Indian-spiced potatoes, and cilantro-mint dressing. I expect to be sharing more about these recipes as the season progresses.

Meanwhile, it's time to sit back and see what the week brings. Chard, maybe? Pretty please?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Labneh (Yogurt Cheese)

I have an abundance of herbs popping up in my garden: chive, oregano, parsley -- all of them perennials that survive despite significant neglect. They are precursors to the CSA season, and they were the impetus behind a couple of recent experiments with labneh.

Labneh
Labneh, made with whole-milk yogurt.
Labneh, of Middle Eastern origin, is nothing more than yogurt drained of its whey to make make a spreadable cheese. It has a consistency similar to cream cheese, but it retains the distinct sourness of yogurt. For me, that makes it a bit of an acquired taste. So far, I've liked it best dabbed on bananas (reminiscent of bananas and sour cream), mixed with chive and spread on a toasted bagel, and slathered on pumpernickel-and-onion pretzels. It plays well with strong flavors -- fresh herbs, garlic, horseradish, olive oil, olives, black pepper -- and counterbalances sweet ones -- honey, berries, or dried fruit, for example.

Labneh is probably the easiest cheese to make at home: two ingredients and minimal equipment. For comparison sake, I made one batch using non-fat yogurt and a second batch with full-fat yogurt. The full-fat yogurt naturally produced a firmer, richer cheese, but even the non-fat yogurt had decent results (plus, no fat!). Whatever type of yogurt you choose, get a high-quality one that does not contain gelatin, pectin, or stabilizers, as any additives will affect how the yogurt drains.

Labneh


Ingredients and Tools

1 quart plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
A deep bowl
Fine-mesh sieve
Cheesecloth or muslin
Kitchen twine

Method

Place the sieve on top of your bowl. Fold a large square of cheesecloth into quarters and set it inside the sieve, or substitute a piece of muslin for the cheesecloth.

Mix the salt into the yogurt, and pour the mixture into the cheesecloth. Let it drain for about 10 minutes, then bring the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a bundle of yogurt. Tie the bundle with kitchen twine.

Leave the bundle in the sieve, or tie it to a wooden chopstick and place the chopstick across the top of the bowl so the bundle is suspended. Let the yogurt drain, refrigerated, for 12 to 24 hours. The longer it drains, the thicker the final product will be. Keep an eye on the level of the liquid (whey) that's collecting in the bowl, and make sure it never reaches the bottom of the bundle or sieve. You can save the whey for cooking or baking, or discard. I found it easier to suspend the bundle after the yogurt had drained for a couple of hours and had compacted somewhat, so the bundle didn't hang as low in the bowl.

When the yogurt has drained sufficiently, untie the bundle, remove the cheesecloth, and transfer the cheese to a serving dish or container. Refrigerate leftovers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fabulous Beef Roast With Garlic, Horseradish, and Mustard

Roasted broccoli and some of our
CSA squash rounded out the meal.
Here's what ordinarily happens when I buy a fresh horseradish root. I grate it up for the Passover seder, use a couple of spoonfuls on gefilte fish, and then forget about it for months as it grays in a corner of the fridge. But not this year. That's because I came across a beef roast recipe that's perfect for leftover horseradish.

I almost never, ever roast a hunk of beef (my go-to meat -- brisket -- is braised), so I was a little concerned about how this would come out. The verdict: A thumb's-up from everyone in the household. Ha! I'm thinking this dish could become a regular post-Passover tradition.

(A word of caution, though, if this recipe appeals to you as a Passover entree. Mustard is considered kitniyot, and by tradition is not used by Ashkenazi Jews during the holiday. Please don't ask me to explain this.)

Fabulous Beef Roast With Garlic, Horseradish, and Mustard
Adapted from Canadian Living magazine

Many resources recommend letting large cuts of meat come up to room temperature before cooking. Remove the roast from the refrigerator about an hour before you want to put it in the oven.

5 lb boneless beef rib roast
2 Tbsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp water
10 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup prepared white horseradish (fresh grated, or from a jar)
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp black pepper

Lightly grease a roasting rack and place it in a foil-lined roasting pan. Place the beef roast on the rack, fat side up.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry mustard and water to make a paste. Mix in the garlic, horseradish, vegetable oil, thyme, and pepper. Spread the mixture over the top and sides of the meat. (If desired, you can cover and refrigerate the coated meat for up to a day.)

Roast the meat in a 325-degree F oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees F for rare or 150 degrees F for medium, roughly 1.5 to 2.5 hours. (The timing can vary considerably, depending on the size and shape of your roast, the internal temperature of the meat when you start cooking, and the accuracy of your oven temperature.)

Transfer the roast to a carving board, tent with foil, and let stand for at least 10 minutes, or up to 30 minutes. The temperature should rise another 5 degrees upon standing. Slice and serve.

Preparing Fresh Horseradish


Scrub the surface of the horseradish root with a brush. Place the root into a bowl of water and peel it while it is submerged; this keeps the cut surfaces from being exposed to the air, which in turn makes it less irritating for your eyes.

Remove the peeled root from the water, quickly chop into pieces, and place into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to finely chop the horseradish. Add some water and white vinegar and process to combine.

How much water and vinegar you need will depend on the size of the horseradish root; figure 3 to 4 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon of vingear for a 6- to 7-ounce root. Take care in removing the food processor cover: Fresh horseradish is pungent.