Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2014 Farm Share - Week 1

Hello again Honest Chef readers - it's that time of year again. Farm share time! The time when New England actually produces fruits and vegetables - that is, summer summer summer time. And I am here to help you with summer recipes for all that delicious produce you get in your Farm Share, Farmer's Market, garden, or neighbor's surplus. In other words, how to Flip your Farm Share!

Over the winter I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to do another farm share. Looking back on last year's experience I realized that I learned so much about cooking vegetables, incorporating more of them into my diet, and most of all, being creative with whatever I was given. So it wasn't too hard to say yes to another farm share, but since Siena Farms was the only one I had ever tried. Granted, it was great, but it was pricey. So I did a little comparison between Siena farms and the Ward's Berry Farm share offered through my work. The box had a bigger volume, it was cheaper, it had vegetables AND fruit, and part of your purchase goes toward purchasing farm boxes for families who don't have enough food. So again, seemed like a no-brainer. Would the quality be as good? Well, that remains to be seen.

So, for this season, what did I get in week one?

2 bunches of carrots (one orange, one purple), 3 mini summer squash, 1 head of red lettuce, 1 quart of strawberries, 1 bunch purple russian kale, one (teeny) bunch of rainbow chard, a bag of peas, and a jar of strawberry jam [not produce, but i'll let it slide this week.]

Those of you who know me can already guess that I just ate the strawberries straight up. No recipes needed. The strawberry season is so fleeting here that I don't ever really want to cook these or hide them in something. If  you want to dress the berries up though, I highly suggest two simple methods: one, drizzle on some maple syrup onto cut strawberries, and two, put two dollops of sour cream and 4 TBSPs of brown sugar on top of a big bowl of them. MMMMMMmmmm. So delicious.

However, I did want to give you a tip about storing fresh strawberries - field strawberries like this go bad pretty quickly. The way to keep them fresh as long as possible is to get a cookie sheet, cover it in a paper towel, and gently transfer the UNWASHED strawberries to the sheet (see left). Put this in your fridge and they should last at least a few days. Washing them ahead of time will hasten their demise, trust me. Even if you don't have space for a cookie sheet in your fridge, don't wash them until you're ready to eat!

Moving on.

This week was crazy busy, so to get ahead, and to use a lot of veggies in one shot, I decided to make a vegetable lasagna. I highly recommend this as a dish to prepare ahead and then just pop in the oven for dinner the following night. It's so easy, and can be scaled up to feed a crowd. Not to mention it's delicious and much healthier than the traditional meat and cheese.

Vegetable Lasagna

1 package of no-cook lasagna noodles
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled, that you can crush yourself)
2 clove of garlic, minced
1 yellow or vidalia onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups of ricotta cheese
11 small bunch swiss chard
1 large bunch of kale (cut the leaves off the stems, which you can discard)
10 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
3 small zucchini, cut into rings 1/2 in thick
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese/parmesean cheese or a combination
Olive oil, salt, and pepper

The key to making this veggie lasagna hold together is cooking all the vegetables first, to release their liquid. If you tried to assemble and cook this with all raw veggies, you'd get a soupy mess and you will be sad. I used these veggies, because that's what I had, but you can put any combination of cooked vegetables together that you like into this lasagna.

First, put on a large pot of water to boil. Then, get a large bowl, and mix your tomatoes with the minced garlic, 2 tsp of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Set this aside.

Rainbow chard, cooking.
Once the water has boiled, throw in your swiss chard, and let it cook for 2-3 minutes until it is wilted and cooked through. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon or strainer, and put it in the middle of a dish towel. When this is cool, wrap the chard in the dish towel, and squeeze any liquid out of it that you can (over the sink). Take out the squeezed chard, and chop it up so that the pieces are small. Repeat this exact same process with the kale, only chop it in a bit bigger pieces.

While you're waiting for these things to cool, put a skillet over medium heat, and add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Then add your onions and a sprinkle of salt and let these cook down while you are squeezing everything and preparing the ricotta mixture. Make sure to check them now and then so they won't burn! They are done when they are soft - set them aside.

Set the kale aside, but mix the swiss chard into your ricotta cheese, along with a 1/2 tsp of salt, some pepper, and your basil. Set this aside.

Finally, use the onion skillet (or a different one if you multitask well), and add 1 tbsp of olive oil, and then the rings of zucchini, in one layer (if there is too much zucchini to fit in one layer, do it in batches). While these are cooking, sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

At this point you might be noticing a S&P trend. That's because if you season each component of a dish and your final dish will come out great! I promise. Just taste each one and make sure you like it on its own. 

When the zucchini are done, set them aside. Now everything will be set aside, because you are ready to assemble. Get a station ready, like the one here (not all ingredients in view).

Add a little tomato sauce to the bottom of your lasagna pan (no chunks here - make sure the bottom sauce is as smooth as possible), and then open up your lasagna noodles and put them right in. Some people say these no-cook noodles are cheating. Let me tell you, they are not. You won't sacrifice taste and if you boil lasagna noodles and then assemble you will sacrifice several fingers and other body parts trying to get those long slippery noodles out of a huge pot of boiling water. So take my advice and don't.

Next, layer on the ricotta mixture by spreading onto the noodles. Then add your vegetables in layers, and plan for at least two, maybe three layers depending on your pan (so divide contents of bowls in 2 or 3). I did zucchini in a single layer, then onions, then kale. Top this with your shredded cheese, then more tomato sauce, and repeat (noodles, ricotta, veggies, etc etc. See below for instructions. Finally, make sure you top layer is just noodles with plenty of sauce on it. Since these noodles are exposed they need a lot of sauce to soak up. See visuals below. 

Top the lasagna with mozzarella cheese. If you're saving for later, wrap with tin foil that has been sprayed underneath with a bit of cooking spray so that when you try to take it off later all the cheese doesn't stick to it, and put it in the fridge. When you're ready to cook, set the oven to 400, and let it cook, covered in tin foil for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling. Then take the foil off and let and cheese brown (about 10 minutes more). 

Cool a bit before diving in so you don't scorch your mouth, and serve with a side salad (yes, that's 4 farm share veggies used in one meal!). We'll talk a bit more in other entries about what I decided to do with some of the other goodies -- carrots in a peanut noodle dish, and peas in a risotto, which you can check out from last year here, with some lemon and mushrooms.

Welcome to Summer everyone. Time to seize the season!  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An Ode to the Neighborhood Brunch Place - Sweet Potato Hash

Sometimes I miss living in Philadelphia. Don't get me wrong. I love Massachusetts. I was born and raised here, and if you were too you probably know that most people never can leave it, at least not for long. It is home, and even with all its annoyances (skyhigh rents, confusing roads, aggressive drivers) it really is the best. But this time of March really makes me want to be back in Philadelphia. Because spring does come earlier there - several weeks earlier. I can pretty much guarantee that my old running path has crocuses and daffodils about to bloom, and that Day by Day, my most favorite of brunch places, is dusting off their patio furniture for those 65 degree days that will almost surely occur in the next week.

And I've been thinking about brunching at Day by Day on a Sunday afternoon a lot lately... partially because I just want to be outside enjoying the sun without a parka and moon boots on... but more importantly I've been thinking about their Sweet Potato and Chorizo Hash. Man, is it good and man, do I miss it. It's delicious for brunch, but also for dinner (particularly a dinner for 1 so you don't have to share). It's so much better than regular hash -- it's got the sweet creaminess of the sweet potatoes, half-caramelized onions and peppers, the spice and meatiness of the chorizo, all topped off with an over-easy egg. There is nothing better.

So tonight I decided to make my own version of Day by Day's Sweet Potato Hash -- using what could be found in my neighborhood grocery store. Although not quite as refined as their version (can hash even be refined? With chorizo, it most certainly can) it brought me right back to those spring afternoons in the City that's (not always but in spring almost) always sunny.

This hash is really pretty easy to make, and everything gets mushed together, so there's no need to fuss. Estimated cook time: 20-30 mins. Serves 2 (or 1 plus some leftover for lunch... woohoo!)

Sweet Potato Hash w/ a Fried Egg and Toast

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, and cut into small cubes.
1 large onion, diced (cut into small squares)
1/2 red pepper, diced (see above)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like more heat)
2 raw italian sausage links (smaller sized ones, not foot longs -- if you have that, just one)
1 egg
Olive oil (about 2.5 tablespoons)
Your favorite toast

First, grab a deep skillet that has a lid, and put it over a burner on medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil, and when it is hot (1 minute or so), add in your sweet potato. Sprinkle the potato generously with salt (about 1 tsp) and pepper (a few grinds or shakes), and stir around and let cook for 1 minute. Then, make sure the potatoes are evenly distributed in the pan, and add enough water to reach to the top of the potatoes. Cover the pan and turn the heat to medium high. (See photo)

This will take at least 10 minutes to cook the potatoes through, and usually this occurs when all the water has absorbed, but if you have only a shallow skillet or if your burner is too hot, the water will absorb before the potatoes are done. How can you tell? Take one out and try it (or poke a fork in it and see if it's soft all the way through). If it's not, just add a little more water (1/4 cup), and continue as before.

While these are cooking, get another skillet and put it over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil. Let heat for about 1 minute, and add both the onion and pepper. Add a little salt and pepper, and stir. Keep cooking for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Remember, onions have lots of natural sugars, which is why they can caramelize of course, but that also means they can burn quite easily. Do not put the heat on too high and if you notice brown edges forming on the onion, turn it down.

Once these are softened, push them over to one side of the pan, and remove the sausage from its casing, placing it into the other side of the pan (hey, who wants to dirty more pans than necessary?) I wish I could find chorizo, which is more spicy (and fancy) than the sausage at my grocery store (but if you find it, more power to you!) Break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula until there are bit size pieces.  (See left) They will cook while you're doing this, which will make it easier to break up. I used chicken sausages this time, and it was great, but you know, feel free to go full on pork or whatever you do. That's the best thing about hash. As long as you like what goes in, you'll like it when it's done.

Stir that sausage around in its half of the pan to get it cooked through, while stirring the onions and peppers on their side once in a while to prevent burning. When the sausage is done, turn off the burner. Check your potatoes. When they are cooked through and there is no more water in the pan (if there is a little but their already done, that's ok, just uncover and crank the heat while stirring and it will evaporate in no time) dump the other ingredients from your second skillet into this one. Stir around and keep on medium - low heat so that all the flavors have a chance to melt.

Press the toaster down on your toast.

Put .5 tbsp of olive oil (or butter if you want it to taste even better) in the old skillet you just cleaned out. Turn on the burner to medium. After 1 minute, crack an egg into the center of the pan. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Watch it cook. I mean it! Eggs cook fast and if you want this yoke runny (believe me, you do!), you have to watch.

But you can quickly turn the hash off and put some on a plate. You'll need it ready for the egg.

Nice looking egg! Still at least 2 mins left.
When the white is completely opaque (probably 2-2.5 mins), but there still seems to be a little bit of goop on the top, you have two options: 1) cover the egg pan with a lid so the top steams it cooked or 2) (my preferred lazyman method) quickly flip the egg over for literally 2 seconds and then slide it onto your hash.

Flipping an egg takes courage, but I was given some sage advice that hasn't failed me yet. "Don't be afraid! Just do it!"

So, before flipping, make sure the egg is loose from the pan (you can run a spatula around it to make sure it is sliding freely in the pan). Then hold the pan in your dominant hand, and literally just push your hand straight out ahead of you and bring it back quickly. Not up! Don't try to lift the egg, it will do it itself. Just forward, and back. You'll see if you're not forceful enough it will just slide to the edge. You can do this!

(Can you flip with a spatula? Sure. But the yoke might break from being poked around by the spatula, so don't say I didn't warn you! If that happens, just quickly scrape onto your hash. You'll still get some good liquidy bits).

And you're done! Oh! Don't forget the toast!

Happy Spring Everyone.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Festive Squash Bowls with Sausage Minestrone Soup

Happy Halloween everyone! Hope you're at least getting a little festive by wearing those skeleton socks stuffed at the back of your drawer today. I pulled out my once-a-year sparkly pumpkin earrings for the occasion.

I do feel bad for the little kids this Halloween though, because a) it's a weekday and b) the forecast is for it to be cold and rainy -- not the best trick-or-treating weather. Since you'll probably want to stay inside this evening too, I thought I'd tell you about one of my favorite soups, and give you a fancy (and easy) way to serve it.

First, the soup. This recipe is from the New England Soup Factory cookbook. Yes, that is an unfortunate name but let me tell you this is a restaurant, it's in Newton, and it is AMAZING. All of their soups are made from scratch and delicious -- DELICIOUS. They will let you try as many as you want when you go there, and by the time you do you'll be practically full of the best soup you ever tasted already. My favorite to make at home for a large crowd (or to keep some soup in the freezer for later when I don't have to cook) is Sausage Minestrone Soup. Before I had this soup I would have minestrone soups and just think to myself, eh, this is kind of bland, like something's missing. Well something was. Sausage. And orzo.

Here's the recipe my friends, adapted a bit to what I think makes it a bit easier for a home cook. Really, you can sub in different vegetables if you choose (I threw in some kale to get rid of it). Such a great way to get some veggies in your diet and feel like you ate a full meal.

Sausage Minestrone Soup with Orzo

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 pound hot Italian sausage (if you like spicy)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large Spanish onion, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 ribs celery, sliced

5 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, cut into pieces

12 cups chicken or veggie stock, plus additional as needed

4 cups tomato juice (like V8 or some knock off brand)

2 bay leaves

1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 16-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 large turnip, diced (or if it is summer, 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash)

1/2 cup dried orzo (you can omit if you want something GF)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add a little bit of olive oil to a medium skillet. Turn the burner onto medium, and remove the sausage from the casing and put in the pan (either squeeze it out or cut down along the side of the casing with scissors). Saute this until it is cooked through (no longer pink), and browned a bit. Scoop the sausage with a slotted spoon (to drain grease) onto a plate lined with paper towels. Let this cool there while you do the other steps.

Heat a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onion, garlic, celery and carrots. Saute for 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato juice, bay leaves, chickpeas, cannellini beans and cooked sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot, and simmer for 40 minutes, adding more stock or water if too much liquid evaporates. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Add the turnips, and cook for five more minutes. Then, before serving add orzo.* When it is ready, so is the soup (test it to make sure it's aldente and not overcooked). Stir in the basil, salt and pepper to taste, and you're done. *NOTE: If you are going to freeze some, cook the orzo separately and then add a bit of cooked pasta into each individual bowl of soup before serving. Freezing and thawing this pasta will make it mushy and gross in your soup.

You can eat this in regular bowls, but while the soup is simmering, you might as well get festive. I give you, Acorn Squash Bowls. Super easy and super fancy (and you can use with other soups as well).

Acorn Squash Bowls

Buy half as many acorn squash as you have mouths to feed. Preheat your oven to 375. Cut each squash in half longitudinally (so you are cutting the stem in half when you do it). Scrape out the seeds. Slice a little sliver off the bottom of each half of squash. This will help the bowls to stand still instead of tilting everywhere since they are rounded. (See photo). Set these on a cookie sheet with just a little space in between them so they don't stick together.

In a small bowl combine (this is for two bowls) 1tsp dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 TBSP maple syrup, 1TBSP brown sugar, and a few grinds of pepper. Mix this up until it is all incorporated together, and drizzle half of it on the squash, making sure to get it on the top edges too, not just the bowl portion (Don't get too much on the cookie sheet or it will burn since it is mostly sugar. Not the end of the world but might make your oven smell a bit). Cook for 20 minutes. Then drizzle the remaining glaze on the cooked squash, and cook another 20 minutes, or until squash is very soft (outsides will look wrinkly and darker than before). Take squash out of the oven, and using oven mitts, carefully remove the squash from the pan, and dump any liquid that's collected in the centers in the sink. Place bowls on a larger plate (to catch any spills) and ladle in your soup.

Don't forget you can reuse the bowls for seconds (and thirds) before eating it (Noah made this crucial error so I want to remind you all).

Have a very spooky and delicious Halloween everyone!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Curried Farro Salad

I didn't have Indian food until I was 22. You see, my mom does not like curry; just can't stomach it, or its smell. Also, as many Indian dishes are pretty darn spicy, and my mom is a real spice wimp (that's where I inherited it from -- although I am trying to train myself to handle a little more spice than what's in "mild" jarred salsa), any dish that resembled Indian cooking was just not happening.

It turns out that curry is actually delicious, not always spicy, and even if you're initially averse I have found you can wean yourself onto it and really love it. Enter: Curried Farro Salad. This dish is a great "entry level" guide to trying curry powder. It takes the flavor of the salad up three notches from most "pasta" salads, without adding anything bad for you, and is not spicy in the least. And if you have had curry and love it, this dish is definitely for you because it will give you a new technique for using it.  Bonus for everyone, this recipe makes a big batch so you can whip it up for an easy dinner (can be served cold or room temp) and can use the leftovers for brown bagging it.

I found this base recipe in Bon Appetit a few years back, and since I made it then (with a few modifications aka eliminate cilantro, etc.), Noah asks for it all the time. ALL THE TIME. No matter what the season. Luckily, this can be made in any season really, but this past week I got carrots, red onions, and arugula in my farm share, so all the stars aligned for Noah to get his wish.

Curried Farro Salad

2 cups semi-pearled farro (if you get regular farro you'll just have to cook it longer)
1 teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or whatever you have, I used olive)
3 teaspoons curry powder (such as Madras)
1 teaspoon ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 small carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4" dice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup thinly sliced red onion (about 1/2 large onion)
1/2 lemon
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (from 1 rotisserie chicken or just simply bake two chicken breast halves and shred; optional)
2 cups arugula
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

The first thing you want to do is cook the farro, because it needs to cool down somewhat before you add the other things in. Use the package directions, or if you lost them, just put the farro in the bottom of a pot, cover with water, add a little salt, and boil for 12-15 minutes. The farro should still be a little chewy. Drain it and let it sit in the large bowl to cool. If you have never had farro before I am really excited for you to try this because it is delicious and you'll want it all the time after this.

Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add curry, ground mustard, and cardamom; cook, stirring often, until spices are fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Stir in carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until carrots are crisp-tender (try one), 5-6 minutes.

Add vinegar and stir until evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in onion and the juice from your half a lemon. Remove pan from heat and stir until onion is wilted, 1-2 minutes (this is magic!). Add vegetable mixture to bowl with farro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temp. Then add chicken (if using), arugula, and olive oil to spelt mixture; toss to combine. And serve! Either room temperature (my favorite) or chilled. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Summer Corn Pesto

It's the summer scramble!

I am now in that mode where I am trying to squeeze everything "summer" in before it technically fizzles away the 21st of September (and probably earlier than that because, afterall, this is New England). One of the most common occurrences at this time is that I will all of a sudden remember a summer recipe I love and say to myself (and occasionally out loud), 'oh shoot, I haven't made that yet!' This happens most particularly with recipes involving corn and tomatoes -- those most-fleeting pf summer crops. And since time is running out, I am going to share this recipe for Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto, Tomatoes and Bacon with you so you can go out right now, buy yourself some corn, a few tomatoes, and some basil, and celebrate the last of summer with me.

I have made this recipe several times and every time I do I end up licking the bowl -- it is that good. The corn is tender and sweet, the bacon salty and crunchy, while the tomatoes and basil add a nice summery freshness to it. You could make this in the winter -- but it just won't taste the same. I adapted this from Bon Appetit's recipe -- I think mine's better but I wouldn't stop you from making both versions just to see :).

Fresh Corn Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes and Bacon

4 bacon slices, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
6 ears of corn, corn removed from cobs^^
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine

12 or so cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves (reserve a few pieces to sprinkle on top)

^^ A mini lesson on removing corn from cobs. The tricks are: to use a very deep bowl to catch all your kernels in, and to use a big sharp chef's knife to cut down the sides. (See right). The bowl is the most essential because if you do not do this your entire kitchen and outfit will be showered in corn juice and kernels. Not fun to clean up, let me tell you. And I don't want you to be discouraged by that and decide not to make this. So use a big bowl. 

Heat up a big pot of salted water to boil your pasta in.
While that's going, put the raw bacon into a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat, and cook it until crisp and brown, stirring often (be careful because fat burns quickly, especially with the small pieces of bacon, so keep an eye on it). When it is finished, transfer it to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet. **Side note -- do not pour excess bacon fat down the drain; it will kill your pipes. Just put in a small dish, wait for it to cool and harden, and scoop into the trash. You're welcome for saving you a whole new sink drain.

(Since we're pausing now anyway, this is a good time to put your pasta in the pot, if it's boiling. If you don't trust yourself to be able to keep an eye on this while doing the rest, then don't! Wait until you're done your pesto and then add the pasta. That is fine! It takes a lot of practice to get multiple-dish-component timing right.)

Add corn, garlic, 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to drippings in skillet (see left). Sauté over medium-high heat until corn is just tender but not brown (if it gets brown it gets chewy), for about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn kernels to small bowl and put it to the side. This will add texture to your pasta, as the rest of the corn will be blended up. Scrape remaining corn mixture into a food processor with pine nuts, your basil, and another pinch of salt. Turn it on and blend it up, until it looks pretty smooth (10 seconds or so). Scrape down the sides, add the parmesean cheese. Then put the top back on, and add olive oil through the hole in the top while the food processor is running. Once it gets pretty smooth and even (another 20 seconds or so, see right), and you now have: fresh corn pesto.

Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions (remember you want al dente -- some bite but not raw). When draining it, reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot and add: all the corn pesto, the corn you set aside, the cherry tomatoes, and some salt and pepper. Turn on the heat again under the pot, and start mixing: add pasta water (a little at a time) to help you spread that pesto all over. Once everything is incorporated and the pesto is clinging to the pasta, it's ready to serve. Make sure it is seasoned right (add more salt now if you want it), and then scoop out into bowls, decorating with a few pieces of fresh basil.

And I just so happened to have some pretty tomatoes from my farm share today, so I could stage that nice picture. So completely summer, right? Enjoy!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Summer Farm Share, Week 9

Well, it’s the last week of the farm share blogs. And what a great week to end it on. We got tons of beautiful looking stuff (please see right).

Aren't those fairytale eggplant so pretty? And we finally got (two measly) tomatoes!!! And BS leaves again, oh shoot. But still, give me at least some tomatoes, and I am a happy camper.

Alas, my vacation to-do list is creeping up on me. So this blog posting will only have one dish in it. But it’s a perfect one to end on. It’s a great way to use lots of vegetables at their peak, all in one meal that is hearty and delicious. Readers, I give you, ratatouille. Or, more fully, Ratatouille over Goat Cheese Polenta. Make it for yourself, your friends, a dinner party full of people. Everyone will love this one.

Ratatouille over Goat Cheese Polenta
Used: Fairy tale eggplant, tomatoes (ok, no I just ate those raw right away), squash, peppers, basil

4-5 small fairytale eggplant (or other eggplant)
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 small red bell pepper
1 small green bell pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped fine
¾ cup of ground tomatoes, canned (or if you are lucky, two small ripe tomatoes, pureed)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and Pepper

1 cup ground yellow cornmeal
½ a log of goat cheese
3 cups water
Salt and pepper

Start the polenta first, because it can take a while. Heat up the water in a saucepan with high sides (as high as you have). When it is boiling, slowly pour in the polenta (watch out, it sometimes bubbles at you), and turn the heat down to medium low. If it is still spattering, turn it to low. Stir the polenta frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom. The polenta is done when you can stand a wooden spoon in the middle, and it doesn’t fall over (or, you can just taste it, but don’t burn your tongue!) When it is done, turn the heat off and add salt, pepper, and goat cheese. Stir until incorporated.

While the polenta is cooking, make the ratatouille. Please note, if you don’t have quite enough of one thing, no worries! You can adapt this to whatever you have. I didn’t have enough zucchini and it came out just fine; I added a bit more eggplant. Cut eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and bell peppers into 1/2-inch chunks. In a large heavy skillet cook eggplant in 1 tablespoon oil over moderate heat, stirring (and adding a bit of salt and pepper), until tender and transfer to a bowl. In skillet cook zucchini, yellow squash, and onion with salt and pepper to taste in 1 tablespoon oil over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes, and transfer to bowl. Cook bell peppers in remaining teaspoon oil in same manner, and when they are done, add the garlic in, wait 10 seconds, and then add back in all the other vegetables. Then stir in tomato purée, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure it tastes good now!

Put the polenta in bowls, and top it with the ratatouille. So delicious, so colorful, and so many vegetables in one meal. Noah didn’t miss the meat and neither will you. This is also a great dish for winter time --- while the veggies aren’t as fresh, it will be oh-so-satisfying to have a heaping bowl of this on a cold day. Let’s not think about those days right now though.

Thank you to everyone who was following my Summer Farm Share adventure this season. As I mentioned before, I have a Fall share too now, but I won’t be holding myself elaborately accountable of everything I make on this blog. I will be posting weekly though, about something new from the farm share that I think you all might like to know.

Until then, keep cooking! See you all in the Fall! 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summer Farm Share, Week 8

Guys, I have to admit, I was kind of disappointed with this week's pickings from the farm share. I mean, it's August right? Doesn't that mean all our favorite summer veggies are here? Tomatoes, eggplant, corn, etc? Well not this week at Siena Farms unfortunately. I hope that they will be coming in abundance next week. But not to worry! I came up with some new ways to use the old (at this point) standbys although it was admittedly one of my tougher weeks . Unfortunately I cannot show you the picture of everything laid out because I had used Noah's phone to take the picture and he's away hiking without the Internet. So, you'll just have to imagine it.

New: Thyme. And brussels sprout plant leaves. Seriously.

Old: Green peppers, onions (4, yay!), potatoes (a yellow kind, called Superior), carrots (so so so many carrots; a gallon sized bag's worth), zucchinis, two green oakleaf lettuces, cucumbers, mesclun mix, and scallions.

Snack 1: Carrot Cake
Used: Carrots

Alright, so carrots. You are getting really old! But I realized that I had been storing these all wrong. If they are in a zip lock bag in the fridge, they can last forever, but if they aren't in a bag, well, they will shrivel up. So since I didn't realize that at the time, I wanted to use up as many carrots as possible, quickly. Therefore, I made carrot cake, of course. I made his for the the blog quite some time ago, but the recipe is from smitten kitchen, and it is really a great one. I suggest you try it even if you don't have an overabundance of carrots. I made this one in a bundt pan which was great for slicing off a piece for breakfasts---I mean snacks.

Meal 1: Onion Thyme and Bacon Flatbread with Salad
Used: All the onions, thyme, mesclun mix

Well, what did you expect? It was Flatbread Friday! But I will say that I've changed my technique on flatbreads that have a lot of cheese on them -- I instead cook one side on the grill, and take it off the grill, leaving the cooked side up. Then I add the toppings onto the cooked side, and return it to the grill, raw side down, and cover it to melt the cheese while the other side cooks. I realized that if I don't do this and instead cook both sides first, the cheese won't melt before the bottom gets too burnt. So if you are choosing to put a lot of cheese on top, go with this modified technique.

I didn't want to do much with the onions besides sautee them a little because they were just so so delicious on their own. The pizza was great with just the onions on it, but would work by adding mushrooms, sausage, or any other number of things as well.

Meal 2: Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte and a Salad
Used: Potatoes, Summer Squashes, Thyme, Scallions, one head of oakleaf and mesclun mix

As I headed into the weekend, I wanted to make something special and new with the "old" ingredients, and so I went to epicurious.com and typed in summer squash and potatoes -- sorting through the search results I found this torte, which not only looked delicious, but for which I had every single ingredient already on hand. Score! (this never happens.) I was a little doubtful that this would actually come out like a torte since it really only had some grated parmesean cheese to bring it all together. But, the reviews seemed positive so I went for it. And... perhaps I should have heeded my gut feeling... because this is what happened when I tried to put the torte slice on the plate:

Dang it! It was holding together for a second, but then just fell right apart on the spatula, and all over the floor! I have a few ideas on how to fix this for next time, because it actually tasted good and would be worth making if it actually would stay together. So, here is the recipe, with my notes:

Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte


1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
(use a food processor to make it fast)
12 ounces yellow squash, cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
6 teaspoons olive oil


Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter two 8-inch-diameter cake pans. Set aside 1/4 cup sliced green onions. Toss remaining green onions, cheese, flour, thyme, salt and pepper in medium bowl to blend.

Layer 1/6 of potatoes in concentric circles in bottom of 1 prepared pan, overlapping slightly. Layer 1/4 of squash in concentric circles atop potatoes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/6 of cheese mixture. Repeat with 1/6 of potatoes, then 1/4 of squash and 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/6 of cheese mixture. Top with 1/6 of potatoes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/6 of cheese mixture and press gently to flatten (really press -- maybe this will help). Repeat procedure with second cake pan and remaining potatoes, squash, oil, and cheese mixture.

Cover pans with foil. Bake until potatoes are almost tender, about 40 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until tortes begin to brown and potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes longer. 
Cut each torte into wedges. Sprinkle wedges with 1/4 cup green onions (do this -- the garnish actually adds a great flavor); serve.

So the recipe seemed straightforward, if time consuming. I made the torte as instructed (or so I thought), and layered the squash and potatoes, like so (right). I think this may have been  part of the problem. I would go around the outside, and then stuff some in the middle. But that is not really what concentric circles are. I should have started in the middle making a small circle, and overlapping bigger circles until I got to the edge. And next time I will do this. There's a picture of it taken out of the oven -- looks deceivingly fine, right? Oh well. At least it was still tasty!

Meal 4: Cucumber Mint and Avocado Soup (course 1) and Stuffed Peppers (course 2)
Used: Cucumbers, mint, peppers, two brussels sprout leaves, some carrots

I am always on the lookout for new recipes, and I found a really nice one in the New York Times for cucumber soup. Unfortunately, every time I make cucumber soup it doesn't taste much like cucumbers and instead tastes like watery yogurt. This time was no different, EXCEPT one of the commenters on the recipe said that he added half an avocado to his soup (the author suggests cutting them up and serving on toast with the soup) -- and bam! Then it worked. It was a nice and refreshing first course. I didn't have any corn or dill for the garnish, so I just  tried to get fancy with the olive oil garnish, as you'll see in the photograph.

Cucumber Soup

1 pound cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded

2 cups buttermilk (or use 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt plus 1/4 cup water)

1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed

2 anchovy fillets (optional)
(I used anchovy paste -- this soup definitely needs it I think)

2 small whole scallions, trimmed

1/2 avocado

1/2 jalapeño, seeded, deveined and chopped (did not use, because I am a spice wimp)

1/2 cup packed mixed fresh herbs (like mint, parsley, dill, basil)

1/2 teaspoon sherry or white wine vinegar, more to taste

3/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt, plus more to taste

Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Toasted pine nuts, for serving

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, combine cucumber, buttermilk, garlic, anchovy, scallions, jalapeño, fresh herbs, sherry vinegar and salt (and half an avocado). Blend until smooth and adjust seasoning as needed. Distribute soup between 4 bowls and garnish with pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. 

And there you have it. Now why am I making two courses for a weeknight dinner, you might ask. Well, because I was making stuffed peppers for a main course, and Noah -- really doesn't like peppers. So I thought I could appease him by making something else as well, to take the focus off the peppers. But it turns out, he actually liked the peppers too, score!

These were kind of a mishmash because I had a base recipe and then tried to stuff as many veggies in there as possible to get rid of them. And from looking through recipes I learned that you can stuff peppers with pretty much anything!

First, I sliced the green peppers in half and scraped out the seeds and insides. Let me tell you something that I learned about green peppers --- they are actually unripe red/yellow/orange peppers! I hope none of you think I'm an idiot, but I had no idea. I thought green were their own variety. Well they aren't. That's why I've only gotten green so far, because they are "unripe."

Going in the oven
Then I cooked up three chicken sausages (squeezed the meat out of the casing into a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil on medium heat), and shredded up 5 carrots and 2 brussels sprout plant leaves and one small onion in the food processor (see left). From now on I will call these BS leaves. I mean, what am I supposed to do with those leaves? They said "use like kale" but they don't really taste like kale. And there were a lot of them! They could easily overpower a dish. So -- shredded up and hidden and things they went.
Anyway, let's continue. In a separate bowl, I added the shredded veggies, cooked sausage, a little bit (1/4 cup) of tomato sauce (just the plain stuff you buy in a can with the other tomatoes), salt, pepper, 1 egg, parsley, thyme, 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, and a 1/4 cup of mozzerella cheese. I mixed all that stuff up together, and stuffed it into the pepper halfs (overflowing). I drizzled a little more tomato sauce into the bottom of a glass baking dish so it just covered it, and then placed the peppers on top after sprinkling a few more breadcrumbs on the top. I baked them for about 45 minutes at 350 (I waited until the pepper skins looked a little shriveled and cooked). Serve with quinoa, rice, cucumber soup (ok, not together) or whatever you like!

Meal 5: Chicken Fried Rice
Used: Carrots, brussels sprout leaves (still not all of them)

Fried rice is one of my go-to meals. It is relatively easy to make, and hearty in the way that it can fill you up with relatively few ingredients. And I know you can hide things (looking at you BS leaves) in there.

The first thing about fried rice is to, surprise, have rice on hand. This is best if the rice is leftover from last night, but somehow that timing never works out for me. It works with fresh rice too. So when you get home, just put the rice on before you do anything else so it has plenty of time and will be cooked by the time you prepare everything else.  So I chopped up the BS leaves very tiny, and also diced up some carrots and onions. I take a very very large skillet (almost a wok but really not at all because woks are very fancy) and put 2 TBSP of canola oil in there on medium heat. Once it is hot, I quickly add 1 minced garlic clove and a little bit of fresh ginger, also grated or chopped tiny. Then after literally 30 seconds, I add the diced carrots and onions, and let them cook for a few minutes until then are tender (onions will be translucent). Then I added one chopped up chicken breast (just cut it into bite sized pieces), and a few shakes of soy sauce. Then, once the chicken was cooked through (5-7 minutes) I added the chopped BS leaves and let them cook for a minute. Then added a cup of frozen peas and a cooked egg (cooked it up separately by literally spraying the pan with cooking spray, putting it over the heat of the burner, and adding a stirred up egg). Once the peas are thawed, add the cooked rice right on top (see above). Then you are going to add a lot of soy sauce. And a very lot if you have a lot of rice. You want the rice to turn light brown. Stir everything around so it all gets coated with the soy sauce and incorporated, then taste a bit of the rice to see if it has enough flavor. If it does not, add more soy sauce. When it looks and tastes good to you, take it off the heat and serve! You can definitely change up the vegetables added (brocolli, sliced sugar snap peas, whatever you want, it's your dish -- I guarantee you no one would ever think of BS leaves as a first choice, but it worked).
So, that's a wrap! Let's review the rules before we're through. 1. Try everything? Yessiree. 2. Use everything? No way. I still have at least a dozen carrots and most of the BS leaves. Fortunately those carrots keep for a while, and the BS leaves will keep until I figure out what to do with them. I hope.

Until next week, which is, my final week of Farm Share blogs! Hey, a girl has got to go on vacation once in a while, right? But don't worry. The postings will keep on coming. They will just be a little less intensely focused on using up and eating veggies and more on, well, me messing up in the kitchen, and you laughing at me but also learning something.