Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kohlrabi, Two Ways (Part II)

I was a little hesitant about eating these raw. After all, "kohlrabi" apparently means "cabbage turnip", and frankly, I can't think of a single vegetable that would be more disgusting to eat raw than either a cabbage or a turnip... well, okay, maybe an onion... oh wait... coleslaw is raw cabbage, and I suppose I eat that occasionally... well, okay, raw turnips are still disgusting in concept!

Anyway, I got a suggestion to try them raw, based on this endorsement. The idea appealed to me nonetheless since I love raw radishes, dipped in a little salt, even more when served with toasted baguette and whipped, herbed butter, so I thought that perhaps, this might be similar in texture. But my uncertainty lingered. To settle the matter, I reserved one of three kohlrabi from our CSA share, chopped up the other two for roasting, and cut a thin slice of the last one for sampling raw to determine whether its fate would be to remain crisp in a salad or be roasted with its brethren.

The verdict should be obvious from the title of this entry. The flavor was slightly sweet and just a touch nutty, the texture crisp but firm with the little flecks of sea salt adding just the slightest hint of a complementary crunch. I sliced up the rest of that puppy (ooh-- bad metaphor, sorry!) and stacked them with slices of ripe tomato. The stacks sat on beds of arugula that had all been tossed with a lemon basil vinaigrette. This was such a refreshing salad due to the contrasts in textures, colors, and flavors. The anise flavor of the basil brightened the nutty flavor of the kohlrabi; the sweet, juicy tomato rounded out the peppery arugula; the soft tomato paired with the crunch of the kohlrabi. In fact, I think John and I liked this side dish better than the roasted kohlrabi: for him, it was the flavor, but for me, it was a texture thing since the roasting seemed to toughen the skin, which admittedly, could be corrected with better trimming.

2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 kohlrabi, thinly sliced
1 bunch arugula
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade, divided
1 tsp honey
3-4 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly sprinkle the kohlrabi and tomato slices with sea salt and set aside. Wash and spin dry the arugula. Whisk together the lemon juice, honey, olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mix in half the basil. Reserve 1-2 tbsp of the dressing and use as much of the rest as you want to toss the arugula. Plate the arugula and then equally divide your tomato and kohlrabi slices in stacks between your plates. Spoon some of the reserve dressing on your tomato stacks then sprinkle with remaining basil. Best if chilled before serving.

CSA Count: 4
Kohlrabi, slicing tomatoes, arugula, basil

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kohlrabi, Two Ways (Part I)

I know I kvetch a lot about the dreary repetition of certain vegetables from my CSA, but every now and then, there's a brand new vegetable I've never tasted before which makes the whole investment worthwhile. After all, it was this CSA that introduced me to the deliciousness of garlic scapes in our very first delivery from them last year. I now anxiously look forward to the beginning of the CSA season for the few weeks that we get these curly, green miracles that are so delicious on pizza or even substituted for onion and garlic in guacamole.

But I digress. The week we got the kohlrabi was just such an occasion, perhaps appreciated all the more as they sat amongst a delivery of peas, green beans, and squash. I'd never tasted, let alone seen, a kohlrabi before so when we got the packing list at the beginning of the week, I researched what they were and put out a call for help as a Facebook status. I only got two responses, both from in-laws, but they were very helpful, although polar opposites. One suggested roasting, the other suggested eating raw with generous helpings of sea salt. Since both John and I were kohlrabi virgins, if you will, I decided to give both methods a try so we could maximize our umm... kohlrabi experience, get a sense of how the vegetable's taste changes as it cooks and what may be the method of choice for future kohlrabi dalliances.

In this post, I'll describe the roasted kohlrabi dish. I love roasted vegetables, that nutty flavor complemented by a slightly crisp edge to the vegetables. I particularly like vegetables that have roasted with some chicken since the vegetables get mixed with the juices and fat from the bird. I didn't feel like dealing with a whole chicken though, so I took advantage of an Amazon Fresh sale of 2 6oz chicken breasts with drummettes. Unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken since I assumed that the chicken would still be bone in, so to accommodate the length of cooking time for roasting the vegetables and prevent the chicken from drying out, I ended up wrapping the chicken with prosciutto, hoping that the outside hammy layer would keep the chicken moist while crisping up on the outside.

Once prosciutto was involved, I got inspired by saltimbocca dishes and decided to incorporate some sage. Fooled again-- the fresh sage bush which I had relied upon existing in my yard somewhere had apparently died when John moved it to a new spot to make room in the vegetable garden. I had to make do with dried sage, and I think that this could have been better with fresh. Rounding out the Italian inspired flavors was some fennel mixed in with the kohlrabi and mushrooms, which acted as a bed upon which the wrapped chicken sat.

The kohlrabi was sweet and nutty when roasted. The fennel's delicious anise flavor was a contrasting flavor spike and everything was mellowed by the earthiness of the mushrooms. Overall, this worked out to be a delicious one pot meal, but here are some things to keep in mind should I do this again: 1) trim the kohlrabi better as roasting wedges of the vegetable sometimes had a tough, chewy skin attached. Perhaps this may be enlightening (from one of the blogs I regularly follow); and 2) maybe don't bother wrapping the chicken with prosciutto since the result was soggy skin and I'd take crispy chicken skin over prosciutto wrapped, but soggy any day.

2 kohlrabi, cut into 1 inch wedges
8 oz cremini mushrooms, halved
1 small fennel bulb, sliced
2 6oz chicken breasts, skin on
2 pieces of prosciutto
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 package fresh linguini
1-2 tbsp olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a roasting pan, mix together the kohlrabi, mushrooms, and fennel with olive oil and salt and pepper. Put in the oven to get a head start on roasting.

In the meantime, mix together the butter, sage, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Carefully pull back the skin from the chicken and smear about 1 tsp of the butter mix all over the chicken meat and on the skin. Wrap each chicken in 1 piece of prosciutto. Set on top of your roasting vegetables and let continue to cook for another 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer says that the interior of the chicken has reached 160 degrees F.

Cook pasta according to directions, drain, and mix with remaining butter mix. Plate by putting a pile of pasta on the plate, topped with a chicken breast with some of the roasted vegetable mix on the side.

CSA Count: 2
Kohlrabi, fennel

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Candied Plum & Fennel Creme Brulee

I can't say enough how much I love creme brulee. I love the copper brown sugar crust that looks like stained glass and love even more the cool, silky texture of the custard below. Amelie definitely got it right: taking that first crack at the sugar surface is such a simple pleasure and the moment should be savored.

I also love creme brulee for its relative ease in making. I remember how much that came as a surprise to me. The first time I tried making creme brulee I used a recipe from a Ghiradelli white chocolate bar wrapper. Making the custard was no problem, the brulee part though... well, let's just say that I was inexperienced with broilers and so had no idea how hot they get. I set the timer for 10 minutes, thinking that should be long enough to burn the sugar. Turns out, it only needed 30 seconds to 1 minute. Although I ended up with a disgustingly charred black, bruleed to hell crust, the custard below was miraculously still creamy and delicious. I basically learned that I could scrape off my mistake crust and replace it with a new one with each serving.

Since then, I've really enjoyed taking the basic creme brulee recipe from Joy of Cooking and experimenting with different flavors/fillings, including blueberry, almond, and lemongrass (that's three different flavors, not one... but then again, that could be great!) Since there was fennel from the CSA and a whole bunch of plums from an impulse buy at Costco, I thought I'd try candying the fennel and plum as new creme brulee flavor.

This would be a fabulous dessert to make at Christmas time. My house smelled so warm and inviting while the fennel and plums were candying- kind of like Fig Newtons, actually. Once baked in the custard, they were sweet, spicy, and juicy in texture, similar to that of reconstituted raisins. And actually, I'd recommend saving the step of burning the sugar crust- I believe John and I both actually just liked the custard enough on its own and as John put it, the burnt sugar didn't add anything to the dessert. I think next time, it might be just fine if I did this as a panna cotta or as a pudding.

1/2 plum, slivered
1/2 fennel bulb, slivered
1 tsp fennel seeds
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 strips of lemon peel
3 large eggs
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a small saucepan, add the plum and fennel slivers and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then drain. In the same sauce pan, mix together the 3/4 c of sugar and 3/4 c of water with the lemon peel and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the fennel and plum, and simmer for 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Heat the heavy cream in a medium sauce pan until scalded (shouldn't boil, but little bubbles should form at the side and the cream should have a light steam coming out of it.) Boil water in a tea kettle while finishing making the custard. While heating the cream, beat together the sugar and eggs until well combined. Pour a little of the scalded cream into the egg mixture and beat fast to temper the eggs then gradually whisk in the rest of the cream. Add the vanilla and stir.

Set 4 large ramekins in a roasting pan. Evenly divide the candied mixture in the bottom of each ramekin. Pour in the custard mixture into each ramekin and gently stir. Set the roasting pan in the oven and pour hot water from your tea kettle into the roasting pan until water rises at least half way up the ramekins. Bake for 1 hr to 1.5 hrs. The custard should still jiggle when set. (TWSS!) Chill for at least 3 hours.

If you wish to brulee and don't have a torch, set a rack close to your broiler. Evenly sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar over the top surface of your custard and broil until sugar melts, making sure to check often. This probably won't take longer than a minute or two, depending on how hot your broiler gets.

CSA Count: 1

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Warm Green Bean Salad

We continue to slog through green bean hell. Tons of green beans for 3-4 weeks, and now they've mutated into Roma beans: long, flat beans that you cook like green beans. Having already pontificated on how boring I find this vegetable, I don't really have much to say in this post and will for the most part just jump into what I did. I will say this though: when a vegetable bores you to death, bacon is the key to invigorating things! My thoughts went to warm spinach salads with this one, cooking bacon with sweet onion and tossing that with warm, blanched green beans, fresh tomatoes, and a dressing made with mustard and dill. The end result was pretty wonderful for green beans: the beans were crisp and fresh, their taste mellowed by the sweetness of the tomatoes, the tang of the dressing, and the smokiness of the bacon. Huh... perhaps I should take my own advice when I tackle another 1.5 lbs of Roma beans next week...

1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
2 smallish tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced in half moons
4 strips Hempler's uncured bacon, diced
1 tbsp fresh dill
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the green beans. Cook 3-4 minutes and then drain and run under cold water.

In the mean time, add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a medium sized pan and heat over medium flame. Add the onions and the bacon and saute 7-10 minutes or until bacon is crisp.

While the onions and bacon cook, combine the dill, rest of the olive oil, honey, and mustard in a large mixing bowl adding salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the green beans and tomatoes and the bacon and onions fresh from the pan. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

CSA Count: 3
Green beans, tomatoes, dill

Monday, August 31, 2009

Grilled Pizzas

Please join me over at Second City Soiree, the home entertainment blog of event planner/hostess extraordinaire (and fellow Conant Marching Band alum) friend of mine, Jennifer Dunham Luby. Jen's lucky to be in Chile while I slaved over a hot grill, making pizzas, but I'm not complaining-- I had brilliant and creative company to help out!

CSA Count: 4 (my contributions only)
Red potatoes, yellow squash, fresh basil, fresh garlic

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Squash Lasagne

Oh summer: You're so beautiful with your long, sunny days and moderate climes, but why, little tempestuous strumpet, must you plague us with so much squash?! I think my household alone has consumed 1.5 lbs of summer squashes for the last 6 weeks-- oh wait, I'll subtract the pound that I pawned off on some friends recently but still-- that's a total of 8 lbs! Alas, I can't stay mad at you for long, and if anything, my ire will only truly reach fever pitch when your sister autumn comes along with a metric buttload of acorn, butternut, and other winter squashes. Boo.

But let's not talk about that bitch for now (even though she is otherwise my favorite season.) At least this abundance of squash has kept me on my toes trying to find ways I could use it up without having to resort to zucchini bread. In fact, I made it all the way until the 2nd week of August, or I'd guess, maybe the 4th week of squash in the CSA box, before resorting to that default. This squash lasagna may become a summer staple when squash inevitably rains down next year too!

I layered lasagna noodles with a sauteed mixture of yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and sweet onion and kept this a white lasagna, using only a bechamel sauce and ricotta in order to keep this light and sunny in flavor and color. A bit of basil and lemon zest in the ricotta mixture brightened up the flavors with a citrus zing that cut through the creaminess and cheesy goodness of the noodles. And like all lasagnas, this is great for creating lots of leftovers that you can freeze for packing for lunch or for taking this to a big potluck which I did for one of 2 neighborhood block parties we went to that week.

9 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
2 cups whole milk
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
dash of nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 lbs mix of summer squashes (yellow and zucchini used here), thinly sliced
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, slightly squeezed to remove excess juice and seeds, diced
1 15oz container of part-skim ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus another 2 tbsp
2 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
zest of 1 medium lemon
2 cups shredded mozzarella
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the noodles according to package directions (I add olive oil to the boiling water to help keep the noodles from sticking) and drain, rinsing under cold water once in the colander.

In the meantime, make the bechamel by melting the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to make a roux. Let this cook for about 2-3 minutes while you whisk it into a light brown paste. Add the milk while whisking, being sure to scrape up any lumpy bits of roux to make a smooth sauce. Turn up the heat to medium high and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add about a 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/8 tsp of pepper along with a pinch of nutmeg. Set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and let saute gently so that the onions become translucent but don't brown. Add the squash and continue to saute until squash softens and becomes slightly shiny, about 7 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and cook until tomatoes are just heated so they retain their shape but do not fall apart. Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan, basil, and lemon zest with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp black pepper. You now have all the components to start layering.

In a large casserole dish, spread 1-1.5 ladles of the bechamel sauce (a skin will have formed while it cooled and thickened, so be sure to stir it up first) over the bottom of the pan. Lay three noodles side by side on this sauce layer. Add 1/2 of your vegetable mix then cover with 1/3 of the remaining bechamel sauce. Dot with 1/2 of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella. Top with 3 more noodles and repeat as above: vegetables, bechamel, ricotta, mozzarella. Finally, top with three more noodles and pour on the rest of the bechamel sauce and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and the 2 tbsp of Parmesan.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the top cheesy layer gets some nice brown coloring to it. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing up and serving.

CSA Count: 5
Yellow squash, zucchini, slicing tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Green Beans, Potatoes, and Dill

When I was little, I infinitely preferred the taste of canned green beans over fresh ones. I can distinctly remember that it wasn't a truly good day at my pre-school unless lunch had squishy and overcooked canned green beans as a side. Whenever fresh green beans showed up on a dinner plate at home, I think the taste and the crunch actually made me gag. As I look back on that now with a more mature palette, I can only guess that the saltiness and artificiality of canned beans is what made them taste so good to me, given that back then, I also eagerly awaited opportunities to buy Lickamades (purchased with change leftover from buying cigarettes for my daycare teachers at the 7-11, but I digress...)

Of course, sometimes it still takes a bit of sodium and artificiality to get me to eat green beans today, given my deep, dark, and disturbing love of green bean casserole. The kid in me still exists since fresh green beans are among my least favorite of vegetables, so you can imagine my sense of ennui when faced with 3-4 CSA deliveries of green beans. Here's one way I tried to get over the green bean boredom-- lace 'em with some butter and throw in potatoes as a distraction.

The butter and the potatoes definitely were the spoonful of sugar to get the medicine of green beans down. The crunch of the green beans contrasted nicely with the softness of the chunks of potato. Each bite was nicely balanced: creaminess from the potato and butter, fresh green flavors from the beans and dill, subtle sweetness from the onion. This was a side dish to the salmon in my last post, but since the dill makes me think of springtime, I bet it would also make for a nice side for lamb or some other Easter meal.

1 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed off and cut in half or thirds depending on length
1 lb baby red potatoes, cut in half
1 small sweet onion, sliced thinly in half moons
1-2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and add some salt. After about 10 minutes, add the green beans and cook for an additional five minutes. The potatoes should be fork tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the green beans from cooking.

In a medium pan melt a tbsp of butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the potatoes, green beans and remaining tbsp of butter and gently toss until butter is melted, trying to avoid breaking up the potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with dill.

CSA Count: 3
Green beans, potatoes, dill

Friday, August 21, 2009

Salmon, Cantelope, Basil

Living in the Pacific Northwest has so many benefits: mostly moderate summer weather, a plethora of microbreweries, the inability to throw a coin out on the street without hitting a coffee shop, and of course, plenty of fresh salmon.

Salmon was probably the first fish that I can remember willingly eating, probably because it has a firm but flaky texture and is rich in flavor without being fishy. I love cooking it, not just because it's an impressive but relatively cheap fish to serve for dinner out here, but also because it's coral pink color brightens any plate. The one problem is that whenever I get a piece of salmon, I always feel challenged to find a new way to cook it and don't feel satisfied unless that goal is met.

So over the years, I've tried roasting it in the oven with Asian style marinades, cooking on a cedar plank with a yogurt and mustard sauce, and poaching in olive oil, but I think my favorite basic way of cooking it is pan roasting, especially in the way that Tom Colicchio teaches in Think Like a Chef. If you don't have that book, I highly recommend it and admit that his method of teaching you basic skills so you can have an arsenal of methods on which to begin improvising recipes is a huge influence on this blog. Anyway, I like this method for it's simplicity and how it imparts a crusty outside, soft and flaky inside without being overcooked, and takes no time at all.

But having found a favorite way to cook salmon only increases that self-imposed challenge of finding different ways to serve it. This time, I arose to the challenge by using up some leftover cantaloupe that had been sitting in my fridge. I'm no melon fan, and of the melon family, cantaloupe is my very least favorite. So in the spirit of want not, but waste not, I thought I'd try making a fresh salsa of sorts as a topping for the salmon. Eying some basil from the CSA, I thought about the pairing of prosciutto and melon and how I could maybe play off of that: the salmon could provide the meaty texture and buttery but salty flavors in place of the prosciutto and the anise flavor of the basil would be a good bridge between those flavors and the sweetness of the melon. A slight drizzle of grapefruit infused olive oil added a citrusy zing that really made the basil flavor pop.

This turned out to be a really lovely, summery meal as the cool chill of the melon salsa contrasted with the warm, crispy on the outside salmon. Plus, the deep pink of the salmon, light orange of the melon spiked with green basil was total eye candy on the plate.

1/4 of a cantaloupe melon, small dice
1.5 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
1 lb salmon fillet
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp grapefruit olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Set the salmon out between two pieces of paper towel to dry off the surfaces. This helps to ensure a nice crusty sear in a hot pan. In the meantime, dice your cantaloupe and mix with the basil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside in a small bowl in the fridge to chill while you cook the salmon.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the salmon fillet. When the oil is rippling and slightly smokey. Set the salmon fillet skin side down and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula, gently lift the salmon and flip it over to cook on the flesh side for another 3 minutes. The skin should have a nice brown color to it and look pretty crisp. If you had any resistance when trying to flip it, let it cook a little longer before cooking as the skin was not yet crisp enough. (If I used the true Think Like a Chef method, I would have also added butter and thyme sprigs, but I didn't want the butter flavor here.) Flip it again and cook skin side down for another 1-1.5 minutes, then flip it one more time to cook on the flesh side for another 1-1.5 minutes. Remove from pan and plate by topping with the melon basil salsa. Drizzle with grapefruit infused olive oil if you want.

CSA Count: 1
Fresh basil

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Camp Cooking Special: Jerk Chicken Rice Bowl

If there's one thing that I've most resented about this summer spent primarily prepping for and taking the bar exam, it's that it was August before I could finally go camping. But camp, we did-- a brief but much needed trip up the steep, winding, gravelly road to Deer Park in Olympic National Park.

Our love of outdoor activities is well-recognized among friends and family with gift certificates aplenty to REI, so over the years, we've steadily acquired a good collection of fat man camping gear. Among the headlamps, thermarest chair converters, camp chairs, and several stoves (2 backpacking and one Coleman 2 burner), by far, my favorite piece of gear is our Binto Box portable kitchen:

Why yes, those are collapsible, plastic wine glasses. What? It's not like we spent the money on the stainless steel chopsticks or little martini shaker... yet.

This baby comes with 3 storage containers for pantry items, plates, cooking pots, etc. as well as pouches for storing wooden spoons, a spatula (and yes, a whisk!) and can unfold to create an upright counter for chopping stuff. It's made camp cooking almost a luxury, allowing me to expand our camp meals beyond just mac n' cheese and canned ham... although admittedly, that's amazingly delicious after a day hiking around Zion National Park. But thanks to the counter, I'm actually able to set up a mise en place:

(Note the Purell-- another camp kitchen necessity.)

Even though there are plenty of great camp cooking recipe resources out there, my goal to cook recipe free follows me on the trail as well as at home. Under the influence of a recent brunch at a nearby Caribbean restaurant, I thought I'd try making a jerk chicken stew of sorts. This would give me a chance to use up lots of fresh veggies from the CSA and a stew is always great for camp cooking since almost everything can be cooked in one pot for easy clean-up.

I packed a pint size container with my spice mix then added the chicken to it to marinate while I cut up my vegetables. I made sure to use plenty of onion, garlic, and jalapeno (would have used scotch bonnets if I could have easily found them) and coconut milk as the soup base. The spicy scent of the jerk mix filled the air with cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, plus the bright colors of the vegetables and the rich feel of the coconut milk made me temporarily leave our Pacific Northwest setting for the tropics until I noticed we had a visitor whom our dog, unfortunately, did not welcome:

Nonetheless, I think this would be a great meal to make when camping in colder climes, when that hint of the tropics is especially appreciated on a night when your sleeping bag is extra snugly due to lows under 40 degrees. It didn't get lower than the mid-50s that night for us, but that didn't stop us from finishing off the evening with s'mores using Hit cookies as the base with marshmallows roasted over our campfire.

2 cups instant rice
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1/2 cup shelled peas
1.5 cups zucchini and yellow squash, sliced into half moons
2 small carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
3 scallions, chopped
1 15 oz can light coconut milk
1 tsp Better than Bouillon Chicken Soup Base
2 tsp canola oil

Jerk Marinade
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp all spice
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Mix together the dry spices for the marinade in a pint sized container. At the campsite, add the soy sauce and diced chicken and let marinade while you chop up your other vegetables.

Cook the rice according to package directions. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, scallion, jalapeno and garlic and let cook until vegetables are softened. Add the chicken and continue cooking until chicken is browned. Add the rest of your vegetables and cook until softened, about 5 more minutes. Add the coconut milk and soup base. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Spoon rice into bowls and top with ladle fulls of the stew.

CSA Count: 5
Carrots, fresh garlic, zucchini, summer squash, shell peas

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grilled Treviso Radicchio

Treviso radicchio is such a pretty vegetable: Its stems are a soft, pale green that gradually deepens to a rich, forest green with shades of the purple-red color you'd expect from radicchio in the tips of the leaves. On the night that we ate this, I thought I'd try grilling the treviso since the grill was fired up to cook burgers. Seemed like a waste of effort and time spent lighting coals unless we had another grilled item that night.

Perhaps grilling wasn't the ideal way to use the treviso: it's not as hearty as regular radicchio. The lack of a good crunch resulted in difficulty when trying to cut these into bite sized pieces. I'm not sure how to describe it otherwise-- the leaves were only slightly, not overly wilted from the heat, but for some reason, it just toughened up. But the flavor was still good! The slight char from the grill, the natural bitterness of the vegetable and the sweetness from the dressing I made using balsamic vinegar and honey harmonized, appealing to every part of my palette. I think I'd probably try this again with regular radicchio as I hope that the crunch, heat, and balanced flavors will make a great alternative to a regular salad.

1 head of treviso radicchio, split lengthwise in half
2 tbsp olive oil, plus a little more for brushing the leaves
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
drizzle of honey
salt and pepper to taste

Brush both sides of your treviso halves with olive oil and sprinkle with a little bit of salt and pepper. Place on the grill cut side down and cook for 2-3 minutes, flip over and cook the other side for an additional 2-3 minutes or until you see a slight char form on the ends of the leaves then remove to a plate. Mix together the vinegar and olive oil with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with honey.

CSA Count: 1
Treviso radicchio

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rainbow Chard Potato Salad

The CSA gods have been plentiful in bestowing us with rainbow chard this summer. After using it in soup and eating them braised, I wanted to find yet another tasty way of using this beautiful vegetable in order to combat some of the boredom I could feel creeping on as this had been the 4th week in a row that we ended up with rainbow chard in our fridge.

Also in the CSA basket that week: new potatoes and dill. Potato salad immediately came to mind, and in a true moment of CSA serendipity, I wondered what would happen if I put the chard in the potato salad? I thought that the pretty stems, when chopped, kind of looked like celery (a potato salad staple, of course), only the bright colors would hopefully pop against the creamy white color of the potato and the dark, green of the chard leaves. If anything, this would hopefully be a feast for the eyes if not for the stomach.

But thankfully it turned out to be a feast for both. The potatoes kept their firmness, thanks to the waxy flesh, while the stems added crunch as well as color, and the leaves added crispness-- kind of like a salad nicoise only without the tuna... and the green beans, come to think of it. Of course, maybe I was more spellbound by how cool and refreshing this salad was on a hot day of 103 degrees (in Seattle-- record breaking!) and that it was kind of comforting after my second day of writing substantive law essays for the bar exam. Despite those specialized circumstances, I think this might be worth a try next time you're looking for a potato salad idea to bring to a bbq or potluck!

1 bunch rainbow chard
1.5 lbs new potatoes
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 small clove fresh garlic, minced
1 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes clean then cut into bite sized pieces and throw into a large pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Add some salt once the water starts boiling and bring down to a medium simmer. Let cook for about 15 minutes or until you can pierce a piece of potato (alliteration!) with a fork. While the potatoes are cooking, chop the stems off the chard and trim off any tough looking ends. Chop into smallish, 1/4 inch sized pieces then rough chop the leaves. Put these in a colander in your sink.

When the potatoes are done cooking, drain them into the colander holding your chard so that the hot water wilts the leaves but doesn't over cook them. Rinse lightly with cold water then spread out your potatoes and chard on a sheet pan so they can cool and dry out faster.

In the meantime, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add the cooled potatoes and chard and gently toss, trying not to break up the potatoes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

CSA Count: 4
Rainbow chard, new potatoes, fresh garlic, fresh dill

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Green Noodle Stir Fry

I love where we live on the southern side of Seattle partly because we're so close to the International District, not just Seattle's Chinatown, but also home to Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants, shops, and bakeries. There's a restaurant there that specializes in food from Shanghai: yummy steamed dumplings filled with soup made even tastier when you dip them in tangy red vinegar, a pan fried cake which like all Chinese desserts is perfectly not too sweet, and best of all-- hand-shaven green barley noodles. These beautiful noodles are jade green, slightly chewy (or as a reader review I once read accurately described them, the texture of spaetzle) and come to your table stir fried with your choice of meat.

On the last Sunday before the bar exam, John and I took a study break to go downtown for lunch using the light rail train that opened in mid-July. (I have to specifically acknowledge the light rail as it makes heading into downtown so much more enjoyable than my other, highly irritating, bus option, as it is less crowded and makes the trip in 15 minutes as opposed to the 25+ minute bus ride!) We had a pleasant, quick lunch at the cafe in the basement of Elliott Bay Book Company, then stopped by the Japanese mega mart, Uwajimaya for some frozen yogurt. (Coconut frozen Greek yogurt, fresh mango and black berries-- yum!) Since we felt only slightly guilty about going there just for frozen yogurt we decided to walk through the store to see what other impulse buys we could make. We ended up restocking our staple of Chinese sausages and throwing in some chocolate coconut Pocky sticks for good measure.

While in the refrigerated noodle section, we were about to buy udon noodles when I noticed that familiar, bright jade green color. Labeled "vegetable noodles," I decided to give these a try as a switch-up for what had otherwise become a very tired stir fry rut, thanks to yet another share of snap peas from the CSA.

I ended up stir frying these with some small pieces of pan fried tofu, carrots, snap peas, zucchini and a little scrambled egg. The package directions did not require a par boil, which made for a nice quick meal, but the suggested amount of soy sauce (3/4 cup!) frightened me a little, so I reduced the suggested amounts of soy sauce and water. Plus, this made a lot of leftovers for just the two of us, which worked out great for me since I only had an hour for lunch while sitting for the exam and the 100+ temperatures made me reluctant to go anywhere during that break. I have to say, maybe it was the stress of the bar, but these were even better cold the next day! I hadn't planned on blogging about this when I started out (hence the lack of pictures in this post) but the end result was so pretty, thanks to the vivid green of the noodles and vegetables, contrasted with the bright orange of the carrots and the mellow yellow of the eggs and tofu, I just had to share.

1 package "vegetable" noodles (check your local Asian market for them)
1 16 oz package of super firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and drained
1/4 canola oil, plus 1 tbsp
2 carrots, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 medium zucchini, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 lb snap peas
1/2 tbsp minced ginger
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1-2 tsp sesame oil
3 tsp Siriacha Vietnamese hot sauce
salt, pepper
1/2 tsp Five Spice powder

At least an hour before you're going to start cooking, place the block of tofu between two plates and stack a bowl full of water on the top plate to press out the water. Be sure to pour out water and flip over the tofu at least once to drain water out of both sides. Cut the tofu into small pieces (mine were about a 1/4 inch thick and about 1 inch long) and set on a plate lined with paper towel to drain even more water out. The point is to get these as dry as you can to hopefully cut down on splatter.

In a small frying pan (large enough for a single layer of your tofu), heat the 1/4 cup of canola oil over medium high heat. Carefully add the tofu and cover with a splash guard. Cook for about 4-5 minutes then remove from heat and flip the tofu pieces over before returning to the heat for another 4-5 minutes. Keep removing from the heat to turn the pieces until they are golden on all sides. Remove the tofu to a plate lined with paper towels to drain the oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and five spice powder while hot.

In a large pan or wok, heat the 1 tbsp of canola oil over medium high heat. When hot, add the ginger, green onion, and garlic, stirring quickly to keep the garlic from burning for about 30 seconds. Add your carrots, zucchini, and snap peas, cooking for a few minutes or until the colors are their most vivid. Add the noodles, water and soy sauce and continue to cook for about 5 minutes more or until the water has been mostly absorbed and the noodles are heated all the way through. While that's cooking, scramble your eggs in another pan. Add your egg, the Siriacha and sesame oil to the noodle mixture and plate.

CSA Count: 4
Fresh garlic, carrots, zucchini, snap peas

Monday, August 10, 2009

Steamed Manila Clams with Fennel and Bacon

I'm a relative newcomer to loving steamed clams and mussels. I used to only be able to eat clams when unrecognizable, such as in chowder or in pasta. Admittedly, what first drew me to eating steamed clams was more for the wonderful prospect of dunking crusty hunks of bread in the juices, swimming in garlic, wine and butter. Really-- bread and butter will always be my downfall, my comfort food, so low carb diets can go do something rude to themselves.

But I soon came to appreciate eating the clams themselves, both for the clam meat and because it's just such a good, sloppy, social event. Diving into a bowl with another or a group of friends, everyone's whipped into a frenzy by the aroma from the steam that's released when the lid is removed from the bowl, the slurping, the development of a silent competition as we each see the other's empty shells stacking up.

A favorite, now sadly defunct, local restaurant turned me onto steaming clams with Pernod and pancetta. The licorice flavor from the liquor, the saltiness from the pork, and slightly toasted garlic slivers all combine into a heavenly broth. Those elements are reflected here, only since I'm too cheap to buy Pernod and too lazy to find someone who'll cut thick, slab sized pieces of pancetta for me, I've made a couple of substitutions: thin slices of fennel and crispy pieces of bacon.

The result is a fast, simple, and dare I say, even kind of impressive looking meal. There's something magical about how you can take these things that look like rocks (although that still doesn't stop my strange, irrational fear that they'll bite me as I'm cleaning them), stuff them in a pot with a little liquid, cover with a lid, and poof! In no time they've all popped open and all this lovely broth has filled the pot. I made these at John's very good suggestion that this, a good salad (in this case, heads of little gem lettuce, split in half, topped with chopped scallion and shredded carrot, blue cheese yogurt dressing and dill), a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine could be a great mid or late week dinner, since usually by that point in the week, we're both too tired to cook. This may become a weekly staple-- it's just that great of a meal!

1.5 lbs Manila clams, scrubbed clean and hopefully still breathing.
4 slices thick, uncured bacon, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced in half moons
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp olive oil
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine (I usually look for a Semillon Blanc)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 loaf ciabatta bread
olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
fresh basil, chiffonade (optional)
salt and pepper

Rinse the clams under cold water, scrubbing the shells clean of sand or dirt (or if you're an irrational freak like me who still fears the clams will bite you, ask someone else to do this for you.) Check for any that are open and that won't close when you lightly tap them on your kitchen counter. Throw any of those out. Place clams in a bowl of water with a tbsp of flour or corn starch sprinkled over them. According to Ina Garten, the clams will eat the flour and disgorge any sand or grit. I'm not totally sure if it works, but I do admit that when I've done that, I've come across far fewer gritty clams than when I skip that step.

Preheat your oven to 375. Split the ciabatta loaf in half, lengthwise and bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly toasted. Drizzle with olive oil and while the bread is hot, rub the garlic clove over the bread's cut surface. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and fresh basil. Stack the halves together again and cut into slices, then set aside.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the bacon pieces until crispy then remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and let them drain on a paper towel. Add the onions, sliced fennel and garlic to the bacon fat in the pan and cook until onions and fennel are soft and translucent. Add the clams, thyme and the wine, then cover the pot and turn up the heat to medium high. Check on your little lovelies in 10 minutes. If some are still closed, make sure they're submerged in the liquid, cover and cook for another couple of minutes. Check again and if any remain closed, toss 'em. Add the butter to the broth and stir until melted. Pour out all the pot's contents into a big bowl, scatter the top with the bacon pieces, and let the slurping begin!

CSA Count: 1, sadly; 5 if you count the side salad
fennel, little gem lettuce, carrot, scallion, dill

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grilled Steak & Potato Burritos

I love making burritos: they generate plenty of leftovers for an easily portable lunch and more importantly, it's an excuse to make and eat a giant bowl of guacamole and chips. Frankly, on my plate, the chips and guacamole are the main dish and the burrito gets relegated to a side.

For years I've been making burritos with a mix of broiled or grilled chicken, black beans, tomatoes and cheese then bake them in the oven until the cheese melts. Pretty tasty, but I wanted to try making a different version, just to change things up a bit. Flank steak was on sale on Amazon Fresh that week, so I thought that was a sign to try making steak burritos. Unfortunately, this was more of a lesson in reading descriptions carefully when you're buying your groceries online: groceries arrived and the flank steak turned out to be in a 5 oz portion, about the size of my television's remote control! Luckily, we had to make another order to purchase a few more necessities, so a second one was purchased, but still, I think this burrito would have benefited from more beef. (I love alliteration!)

Another burrito variation that I was experimenting with: potatoes. We had approximately 1.5 lbs of waxy, red potatoes from the CSA that week. I thought fondly of the chorizo and potato burritos from a favorite Cleveland restaurant (in walking distance to wear we lived in Ohio City which was perfect given the number of late night runs sharing a pitcher... or 2... of mango lime margaritas) and thought I'd try to recreate some version of that here.

Finally, as if I couldn't get enough variation from my regular burrito routine, it was the beginning of that awful heat wave so instead of baking, I fired up the grill to heat these through to get the cheese all good and melted. (The foil packet in the picture at the top of the page contains sugar snap peas, lemon zest & juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and dill.)

The overall result wasn't bad. An improvised marinade of orange juice, fresh oregano, fresh garlic, salt and pepper imparted a delicious citrus, spicy, yet sweet flavor; tender texture; and lots of juiciness to the meat. In fact, I kind of wished I hadn't rolled them into a burrito since there was so little of it, I don't think you could ultimately taste it in the end result, sadly. The potatoes were diced and cooked with some sweet onion, jalapeno, and garlic in a cast iron skillet to get a nice crisp on the outside and they still maintained their waxy firmness, giving a great toothy bite to the burritos. Last to the mix was black beans flavored with cumin, cilantro, and a little chili powder. Here is where I should have stuck with my routine and not strayed too far-- I forgot to put a spike of cinnamon in the mix. I really now think that cinnamon is the key ingredient to my other burritos and I think it would have been a welcome addition here. Overall, I was happy with the texture from the potatoes and the juiciness from the meat, but I think the flavors could have been better with a little more steak and more complexity to the spices.

1 package of 8 burrito sized flour tortillas
10 oz of flank steak (would have upped this to a full pound)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 small Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped
1 lb waxy red potatoes, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Mexican mix shredded cheese
1 15 oz can black beans, drained
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
(would add a couple dashes of cinnamon)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced (yielded about 1 tbsp)
1/2 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped

Combine ingredients for marinade in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour into large plastic bag with the flank steak. Let sit in your fridge for at least 1 hour. Grill 3-4 minutes on each side. Let rest for 5-10 minutes then slice thinly.

In the meantime, in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the potatoes and turn up the heat to medium high. Stir occasionally, to get a crust on the potatoes, approximately 10-15 minutes. Add the jalapenos and garlic and continue to cook a few minutes more. Add drained black beans, cumin, chili powder (and cinnamon!), salt and pepper and let cook until beans are heated through. Stir in the cilantro after turning off the heat.

Heat a few tortillas at a time in a microwave on high for 1 minute. Place about 1/2 cup of the potato bean mixture in a line down the length of the tortilla and arrange some slices of steak on top. Add a hand full of shredded cheese. Fold in the sides of the tortilla and roll from bottom up. Continue until you're out of tortillas or burrito mix, whichever comes first. Place on the grill, sealed side down, on indirect heat and close your grill so it acts as an oven, a few minutes on each side or until you get some nice grill marks. Don't forget the all important guacamole!

CSA Count: 2 (4 if you count the snap peas)
red potatoes, fresh garlic; snap peas and dill on the side

Monday, August 3, 2009

Braised Swiss Chard

Another CSA delivery, another bunch of rainbow chard. If the bunches weren't so pretty and tasty I would have been irritated at the lack of variety. As it was though, this gave me another opportunity to cook the chard in my favorite way of late: braised with some bacon, cider vinegar, and hot sauce.

Now I'm a Midwestern girl, born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Illinois. I know nothing about the South and make no claims that this is as good as someone's grandma's greens. I do know that bacon makes everything great though and that's probably why these taste as good as they do. Recently, I discovered the joys of a certain uncured bacon and whenever John and I eat it, we can't help but proclaim that it's the best bacon ever and don't think we truly knew bacon until we met this brand. Shall we take a moment to admire the bacon in all its glory?

So imagine this: there's thin slices of sweet onion and garlic cooking in olive oil and the little amount of fat that these babies render. The smell of onion and garlic is heavenly enough as it is, but when you add the chopped chard, the verdant aroma of the vegetables mixes with and some how enhances the hickory of the bacon so the air is just filled with this intoxicating, smokey, sweet smell. Add a shot of hot sauce and some cider vinegar and that sweet smokey flavor has an acidic tang.

As if the colors of the chard weren't bright and entrancing enough, we ate this as a side for John's specialty, pork chops and as an experiment, mashed purple potatoes. Basically, the CSA had warned us that eating purple potatoes mashed was not recommended as some find it a bit too trippy. That of course was practically a dare to John who wanted to see what they'd look like. So, prepare yourselves for the final Technicolor plate below!

1 bunch rainbow chard, roughly chopped
1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, sliced thinly in half moons
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced (yielded ~1 tbsp)
4 slices Hempler's uncured bacon, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2-3 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth (or water w/1 tsp better than bouillon)
1 tbsp cider vinegar
salt, pepper, vinegary hot sauce to taste

In a large pot or Dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until half cooked. Add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped chard and stir around until mixed with the onions and garlic. Add the broth then cover and let cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, hot sauce, salt and pepper.

CSA Count: 2 (3 if you count the potatoes!)
fresh garlic, rainbow chard, purple potatoes

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Flatbread, Rosemary White Bean Dip, Curly Endive

The WA Bar exam is over so I'm back to blogging with a vengeance. Studying in those last days leading up to the exam kept me busy and tired, but not too busy to avoid cooking for the most part. Over the next week, I'll be catching up on some entries with an added disclaimer that a week or more has gone by since we ate this, so my memory may not be accurate as to the quantity of ingredients or what order I did things.

First up: Flatbread with Rosemary White Bean Dip (or Spread, as used here) and Sauteed Curly Endive. The curly endive was a surprise in the CSA box that week. It was a light green, tangled mess-- not at all like the smooth, white spears that I picture endive to look like. The CSA newsletter suggested a white bean soup as a way to use this, but I already had a soup going on my table that week so I thought this might make for a great side to go with it. I liked the idea of pairing the crunch and slightly bitter vegetable with the creaminess of cannellini beans though, so used the tip from the CSA as inspiration.

I decided to take a white bean dip that I occasionally make for parties and spread it on some flatbread, then top it off with the curly endive. The dip has rosemary and lemon zest/lemon juice in it so I thought I'd play off of that woodsy taste of the rosemary with some thyme in my sautee. Thyme tastes both woodsy and lemony, so I thought it'd tie together all the flavors nicely. A healthy squeeze of lemon juice would help wilt the vegetables and brighten them up at the same time. An added bonus: getting to use my food processor which is probably my favorite kitchen possession, well, that and my favorite Santoku knife. Added bonus: I had an excuse to get a nerdy kick groaning "BEEEEEEAAAAANNNNS!" while the ingredients for the spread whirled together!

1 package prepared garlic naan
1 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained
1 head curly endive (I rough chopped this to preserve the stems, but it would have been easier to eat this had it been more finely chopped.)
1 lemon, zested, juice divided
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced (yielded about 1 tbsp)
2 small cloves regular garlic, chopped into halves
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tbsp
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small pot, add the 1/4 olive oil and the 2 small, halved cloves of garlic and let simmer over low heat. You're looking for the cloves to turn golden and to infuse the oil, not burn so stir them around so they cook evenly-- about 10-15 minutes. In a food processor or blender, add the drained beans, infused oil with the cloves, rosemary leaves, lemon zest, and juice from one half of the lemon. Blend until smooth and add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Put the naan or other flat bread in the oven to crisp up, then heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Sautee the minced garlic until cooked, about a minute. Add the endive and stir occasionally until wilted, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice from the other lemon half over the greens, add the thyme leaves, salt and pepper and let continue to cook over low heat, while the bread cools for a few minutes. Spread the white bean mix over the flat breads then top with some of the sauteed endive.

CSA Count: 2
fresh garlic, curly endive

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

If there's a vegetable I'm not such a fan of, I'm afraid it'd have to be the bell pepper. It usually does nothing for me. I don't really like the taste and it's not like it adds any heat like its friend higher up on the Scoville scale. I really think that their only reason for evolutionary survival is the color that they add to dishes and that's about it.

So now that I've probably bored you with that intro, sounding like a certain grumpy old man's hilariously arbitrary prejudice towards fruit, I have to confess that I was recently inspired to make a soup that would showcase this vegetable enemy, maybe considering it a personal challenge. After a really great email conversation brainstorming foodie dreams with some friends recently, I thought I'd try developing one of the ideas mentioned-- a yellow pepper soup. Although admittedly, I think I wanted to do this more for what I hoped would be a pretty and colorful sight and a medium for some creme fraiche. Oh look-- once again, bell pepper used primarily because of its color!

My goal was to play off of the brightness of a yellow pepper and how that vegetable is both sweet yet spicy (not hot mind you, but you know-- that pepper flavor.) I decided to roast the peppers to yield more of its flavor and to use cumin as the main spice since it adds an earthy, complex element without adding heat. Carrots, leeks and sweet onion enhanced the sweet side of the pepper while giving this soup more body. A taste of the soup once pureed was good, but something was slightly off. A last minute couple of dashes of Asian five spice did the trick making this soup taste faintly like a curry but the bell pepper flavor is really distinct and is the main flavor that shines through in the end. Keep this vegan or top it with a spoonful of creme fraiche and the texture of the soup becomes luxurious. The bright color, sunny flavor and slightly cool but creamy feel after adding the creme fraiche made this an amazing summer meal.

4 yellow bell peppers
1 Walla Walla sweet onion
2 leeks
1 large clove of fresh garlic, 1 small clove of regular garlic (~ 1 tbsp minced)
6 small carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 quart vegetable broth
2 tsp cumin
2 dashes Asian five spice
salt and pepper to taste
creme fraiche, fresh basil and chives (optional)

Roast the yellow peppers either by broiling close to your broiler's heating element, forking them and holding them over your gas stove flame, or on a grill-- anything to char the skins black. When blackened on all sides, place peppers in a large bowl and seal with plastic wrap, letting sit while you prep and cook your other vegetables.

In the meantime, chop the dark green ends off of the leeks and get rid of them. Slice the remaining stem lengthwise and separate the layers in a large bowl of cold water. Stir around to get the dirt out. Take out the layers, restack them, and slice into thin half moons. Chop the onion and the carrots. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions and cook until softened, keeping an eye on the heat because you just want these to sweat, not brown. Add the garlic, carrots and stock.

By now the peppers should have cooled enough that the skins have cracked. Peel off the charred skins then seed and chop the peppers. Add these to the soup pot and bring to a boil then let simmer for 20 minutes. If you're lucky enough to have an immersion blender, blend in the pot until a slightly chunky puree. But if you're like me, add a couple of ladle fulls to your blender and use a towel to hold the top down while you puree. Be careful to do this in small batches as this is hot and can splash! Repeat in batches, pouring your pureed soup into a bowl to keep separate from the unpureed and do a better job than I did about not leaving too much broth in the end otherwise, you'll end up splattering on the wall even though you were careful to not put too much soup in the blender. Once everything is pureed, pour all contents back into the pot to reheat through. Ladle into bowls and if you want, add a dollop of creme fraiche and top with a chiffonade of basil and some chopped chives.

CSA Count
: 3
fresh garlic, carrots, chives

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shredded Zucchini & Carrot Cappellini

After asking John's advice, I've decided that I should blog my failures as well as my successes. After all, my blog description says I'm documenting my "struggles" to live recipe-free and failures are inevitable since I lack formal culinary training. Besides, this way I can document for myself what worked and what could use some tweaking.

This one wasn't a total failure, only a semi-failure. I think the pasta to vegetable ratio was a bit too high, resulting in less of an emphasis on the vegetable flavors I was trying to showcase and also a little too dry for my taste. But it still served its purposes of 1) trying to use up the many little zucchinis we've been getting from the CSA lately and 2) giving a productive form of procrastination from studying for the bar!

My inspiration was a favorite way to use zucchini during the summer-- saute it in olive oil with mint and a little salt and pepper. I had some feta and kalamata olives left over from grilling pizzas with my family who were visiting last week so I thought I'd combine that with the zucchini idea and make a Greek theme out of it. Lastly, I thought carrots would add a nice sweetness and a little pop of color. I decided to shred my vegetables so they'd cook fast and would make colorful threads throughout the pasta. It cooked fast, but as you can see from the picture of it cooking in the pan, it kind of looks like coleslaw.

All in all, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Again, I think I didn't have enough vegetables in comparison to the pasta since every now and then when there'd be a perfect bite of all the elements, it was complex in a good way. The vegetables did not disappoint in their sweetness which was balanced by the saltiness of feta, the fruitiness of olive oil and the kalamata olives, and a little peppery bite from the fresh oregano and pepper I'd mixed in too. I still have lots of zucchinis left; maybe that's a sign I should shred some more to mix in with my leftovers...

4 little zucchini
3 small carrots
1 very large clove fresh garlic (yielded ~2 tsp minced)
1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, sliced thinly into half moons
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 tbsp feta crumbled (per serving)
12 ounces fresh cappellini
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil divided
salt and pepper to taste

Heat water for pasta. Melt the butter and about 1/2 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet. Shred the zucchini and carrots-- pretty fast and easy when you have a food processor with a grating blade, but can also be done with a grater using the side/section for large shreds. Cook the onion in the skillet over medium heat, careful to not let them brown, just sweating until softened. Add the shredded carrots and zucchini, cooking for about 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss in the mint and oregano. Salt the water and cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is cooked, drain and add to the vegetables drizzling with the rest of the olive oil as you mix it in and adjusting seasoning to taste. Plate and top with some of the sliced olives and some feta.

CSA Count: 3
zucchini, carrots, fresh garlic

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pork Tenderloin and Salad with Cherries & Port Vinaigrette

Pork tenderloin is really one of those great secret weapons that can make any person seem like a fabulous gourmet. It's simple to dress and when it cooks, it always comes out juicy and tender. In fact, as far as my memory serves, pork tenderloin was the first "fancy" dinner that I made for John that really seemed to impress him.

That was back when we lived in Cleveland. I had bought a cookbook to support the local PBS station that contained recipes from the city's best restaurants, most of which we couldn't afford at the time on my nonprofit salary and his student loans. But we were able to splurge every now and then, including a dinner at Oz where I made sure to get the famous pork tenderloin and cabbage noodles. I bought the cookbook particularly because it had that recipe. It did not disappoint as it shows how much flavor can be yielded by a good cut of meat when the only thing you do to is put some simple seasoning on it and cook until it's the right temperature. That recipe taught me some basic skills which I used here.

I always return to that pork tenderloin in the fall or winter, mostly because the cabbage noodles make such a comforting meal. But lately with cherries in season, I keep running across menu items and recipes for pork with cherries. That still seems like an autumnal meal to me, maybe because of the sweet richness of a wine reduction. Since our CSA gave us a bag of delicious, deep red Bing cherries, my thoughts turned to a salad of some kind to lighten up pork tenderloin into a summertime meal. I thought I'd try making a vinaigrette using port as a nod towards cherry wine sauces and maybe as an excuse to have a glass of port while cooking, but you won't judge me, of course.

The main CSA challenge for me with this meal? Lavender. For the last 3 weeks we've received a bunch of lavender in our share. Lavender is the one thing I do not need: 1) we have bunches of it growing around our house, and 2) I can't stand the taste-- it's like having the taste of old lady in my mouth. Blech! The first week, I had John put the lavender in with our CSA share of lilies. Faced with a new bunch the following week, I thought that I should try putting it in something I make to eat, just to give it a try.

So with a lot of trepidation, I tried a sip of the port with the lavender to see how they paired together. I winced as I put a small leaf on my tongue but was surprised to find that instead of the flavor of grandma, it was peppery! I thought that this might actually be a nice sharp contrast to the sweetness of the cherries, and when you add some fresh thyme, the woodiness of the thyme helps the flavor of the lavender mellow into those cherries resulting in what John said, a flavor that's reminiscent of Thanksgiving-- kind of perfect for what was intended to be a light, summer tribute to a fall meal. :)

Pork Tenderloin

1 lb pork tenderloin
1/2 tbsp Kosher salt (I'm guessing at a smaller amount since I over-salted mine)
1 tsp course black pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
8 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut in half
1/2 medium onion, sliced in half moons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Blend together the 2 oils and use 1/2 of it to coat the pork tenderloin. Mix together salt, pepper, and thyme and coat the outside of the tenderloin. Sear each side of the tenderloin until browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. Add the rest of the oil on both sides of the tenderloin and add the onions and mushrooms on each side. Cook in the oven until the pork's internal temperature reaches about 160 degrees. Remove and let the juices redistribute before cutting on a bias and plate, spooning the mushrooms and onions over the slices and pouring any juices from the pan on top as well.

Salad with Cherries & Port Vinaigrette
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and sliced in half
Butter Leaf and Little Gem lettuce
2 oz chevre
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1.5 tbsp port
1 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme
pinch of dried lavender leaves
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
scant amount of salt and pepper

Mix together the port, vinegar, thyme, lavender, honey, salt and pepper. Using a whisk, mix in the olive oil until combined. Plate the lettuce and top with chevre, walnuts and cherries then drizzle with vinaigrette.

CSA Count: 3
Cherries, Little Gem Lettuce, lavender

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fresh Mozzarella, Tapenade & Arugula Panini

It's no secret that I'm always daydreaming about a career that doesn't involve practicing law. A frequent fantasy is to run a store of some kind. My ideal would be a yarn store, situated in a cool looking house with an area where customers can work on projects and have cupcakes and tea. John says that it would just be our living room, not an actual business, but I see nothing wrong with making people feel so comfortable, like they're guests in my home.

Alternatively, my friend Liz and I have frequently dreamed about opening a coffee place that promotes social justice activism. We'd offer free refills if you show us that you wrote a letter to the editor while you were using our free WiFi and host conversation circles and neighborhood events. We'd call it the Human Bean.

The latest fantasy has been inspired by my neighborhood. There's an amazing park that's under construction just a couple of blocks from my house, and recently, a cute little space opened up on the main avenue that is also near the park. I envision that the one thing my neighborhood really needs is a cute place that sells ice cream and sandwiches that people can pick up and enjoy while they're walking through or hanging out at the park. I'd need to learn how to make some seriously good ice cream, but I already know at least one sandwich that would be on the menu: this panini made with fresh mozzarella, tapenade, arugula and fresh basil.

This is such a great sandwich on its own or served alongside a bowl of soup. The peppery arugula and the basil add a fresh, verdant flavor to the saltiness of the olives that's rounded out by the smooth milkiness of the fresh mozzarella. Of course, I don't know why I'm even trying to write a description of how good this is-- it's grilled cheese essentially, so of course it's good!

1 tbsp butter, melted
2 small cloves garlic, smashed
4 slices of a crusty Italian bread, cut on a bias.
6 thin slices of fresh mozzarella
6 leaves of fresh basil, cut into smaller pieces
1/2 cup of arugula
4 tbsp of olive tapenade

Melt the butter with the garlic so that the garlic flavors the butter. Heat a medium-sized pan over medium low heat. Brush the garlic butter on 2 slices of bread then flip them over and top each slice with 2 tbsp of tapenade, 3 slices of mozzarella, the basil and arugula then top with the other slices of bread. Place the sandwiches buttered side down in your heated pan and weigh them down with something heavy like another pan or in my case, two small cast iron skillets. After about 3-4 minutes your cheese should be melted and a nice, browned crust should have formed, but you may want to check to make sure you don't burn the sandwiches. Butter the tops of the sandwiches then carefully flip them over. Weigh them down again and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes or until toasted on the other side. Slice on a bias and try not to burn yourself by eating it fresh out of the pan.

This is totally my favorite sandwich of late, and I actually frighten myself a little because it makes me realize how much I'm like my dad with this little sandwich shop fantasy described above. A couple of years ago, my father really impressed himself with his teriyaki chicken sandwiches and wanted to run a restaurant that served them exclusively. I don't think this sandwich can be an exclusive menu item, but if I do open my little store, I suppose I could make room for his chicken sandwich too. :) What other sandwiches should be on my menu?