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