Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Orzo salads

A friend got me a subscription to Cooking Light magazine when I got married. This has been the source of many delicious new recipes for me, and I think two big winners are the big winners has been the Chicken-Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese and Sungold Tomato Salsa Cruda with Orzo

The chicken-orzo salad is a great main dish and the salsa cruda salad makes a phenomenal side dish for a cookout. I love that the grains and veggies are combined in both, and I especially love that both use fresh flavorful ingredients--like basil, oregano, and/or arugula to give the salad flavor without requiring much in terms of fat.

Tonight I wanted to make Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Garlic and Herbed Goat Cheese, a favorite in the house and I wanted a simple, summery, sidedish to go with it. I decided to combine the two orzo salad recipes to make a cold vegetable/starch side dish. I used 3/4cup of orzo, a pint of sungold tomatoes, chopped red onion, chopped red pepper, arugula, fresh basil and oregano, and the chicken-orzo salad dressing. No cheese, as the chicken had enough (and, uh, I may have spread extra garlic-goat cheese mixture on bread as a sorta-bruschetta). This was delicious. Somehow the sungold tomatoes really sang so much brighter in the red-wine vinegar dressing. It was amazing and I wanted to share.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Beet Time!

Although I missed out getting on my own CSA farm share this year, one of my good friends got one and has been generous in handing over her beets to me. I love beets just plain, cool, sliced and sweet, but this week I wanted to make something with them. I turned to Mark Bittman, a.k.a. "The Minimalist", and found exactly the answer to my beet question: Beet Rösti with Rosemary. I wasn't familiar with sti before reading this recipe, but upon learning that it is a Swiss potato pancake, I'd like to become better friends.

Here is my very slight adaptation of Bittman's recipe:

5 medium/small beets, peeled
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
salt & pepper
1/3 cup flour
2 TBS butter

3 TBS sour cream
2 tsp fresh horseradish

1. Grate the beets, either by hand or in a food processor. If you're grating by hand, wear an apron or clothes on which you wouldn't mind a purple stain. (I recommend the processor!)

2. Mix shredded beets with rosemary, S&P, and half the amount of flour. After incorporating, add the rest of the flour and toss. Bittman doesn't say why you should do this, but I would guess that this allows you to coat the shredded beets evenly and without flour clumps.

3. Melt 1 TBS of butter in a frying pan, heat over a medium flame until foam begins to subside. Press beet mixture into the pan with a spatula, let cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat until crisp. It's important that the beets cook through, so don't rush it. Shake it around in the pan every so often, it does have a soft sizzle as it cooks. In the meantime, mix sour cream and horseradish in a small bowl, with a little black pepper if you like.

4. To flip, use the inverted plate method, and let cook for another 8-10 minutes.

5. Remove the rösti from pan, cut into fourths, and top with a dollop of the sour cream mixture. The spiciness of the horseradish pairs deliciously with the sweetness of the beets, and the sour cream matches just as perfectly as it does with a latke. Serve at room temperature.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Sweet Potato Waffles

Since we've started getting sweet potatoes in the farm box (around November or so), I've been wanting to make waffles. We tried these last year and they were delicious. Not only does the flavor of sweet potato go really well with brown sugar and cinnamon, but it adds interesting texture, and the moistness of the potato helps keep the waffles from becoming dry. Besides, since sweet potatoes are vegetables, I feel slightly more virtuous eating sweet potato waffles than regular ones, despite their still-dubious nutritional value (see below).

I used this recipe from Alton Brown as my guide, with a few modifications. After steaming 1.5 cups of sweet potatoes in a glass dish in the microwave, I just mashed them up with 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, the grated rind of one large satsuma (probably less than the suggested 1 Tbsp), and 2 eggs (rather than the six egg whites suggested by Alton). In a separate bowl, I mixed together 2 cups flour, 1 Tbsp. baking powder, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. I added the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stirred just until everything was wet - it's important not to overmix or the batter can become tough. The batter is super thick, almost like a dough, but it cooked up fine.

We have a relatively inexpensive two-square Belgian waffle maker that takes about 1/4 cup of batter per waffle and cooks them up in about 5-6 minutes. Other types of waffle makers will operate differently, obviously. :) If I could go back and do my waffle iron purchasing over again, I'd probably get a large round one rather than the two-square, since it's easier to get the batter to spread and cook evenly in a round iron. But c'est la vie.

I decided to top the waffles with a little bit of apple - cut up one large apple into thin slices, melt 1/2 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan and sautee the apples. Add 1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/4-1/2 tsp. cinnamon and cook until the apples are nice and soft. The waffles are pretty moist, especially with the juicy and buttery apples on top, but maple syrup (and/or whipped cream) would still be a welcome addition.

Time: Overall, this took me about 40 minutes to get together: 20 minutes to cut up /steam the sweet potato and mix the ingredients, and then another 20 for the four 'batches' of waffles to cook (while I made coffee and the apple topping). Not an insignificant investment of time, but not bad for a fancy schmancy breakfast.

Dishes/kitchen mess: As someone who owns a food processor, stand mixer and pizza stone but no dishwasher, I often find myself evaluating recipes based on how big a pile it will leave in the sink. This one dirties two large bowls and a waffle iron (plus a small saucepan for the apples) and involves some chopping as well, so I'll give it a 5 out of 10 on my arbitrary kitchen mess scale.

Nutrition Info: 227 calories per waffle (6g fat/37g carbohydrates/6g protein - more here). The sauteed apples add another 77 calories (2g fat/15g carbohydrates/0g protein - more here). Maple syrup and whipped cream both up the calories considerably, too.

So, okay, it's not health food, but there IS a lot of vitamin A (150% of your daily value in two waffles!) and hey, there's nothing wrong with a sweet breakfast treat once in a while. Especially if you have a couple pounds of sweet potatoes lying around.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Making Bread

It's so cold here in New England, despite it being May 19th, so thoughts turn to making the house warm and lightly scented. What better than bread? Now, we have a KitchenAid mixer, so kneading isn't really a concern. However, sometimes it's nice to not really have to work for your bread. With this in mind, I present to you a recipe I got from the New York Times, for No-Knead Bread. You can set this up at night, and bake it when you come home from work the next day.

3 cups flour (bread or all-purpose)
1/4 t instant yeast
1.25t salt (I think it needs more--use your judgement)

Combine above in a bowl. Add 1 5/8 C water and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 12-18 hours. Fold the dough over on itself a couple of times on a cutting board and allow to rest 15'. Shape the dough into a ball, and dust with cornmeal. Cover with a towel, place on another towel, and allow to rise 2 hours. While it rises, place an oven-safe pan with a lid into a cold oven, and preheat to 450. CAREFULLY remove the pot from the oven, place the dough inside, and shake the pan to evenly distribute the dough. Cover and bake 30', then remove the lid and finish baking 15-30'--bread is done when it's a lovely brown.

The thing I really like about this method is the wonderful crispy crust you get. This bread also made wonderful stuffing a couple days after baking. It is really sticky in the towel phase, so be sure to use lots of flour or cornmeal--I would recommend a 1/3 flour 2/3 cornmeal mix, to prevent your final loaf from being insanely floury on the outside. Enjoy the minimal effort/maximal reward feeling when you eat!


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The most functional kitchen $200 can buy

Today's New York Times has a great article in which Mark Bittman describes how to equip your kitchen with the essential gear for, apparently, under $200 - I don't know where he's shopping, but *my* local restaurant supply store is a lot pricier than the one he visited. Still, I tend to agree with his list of essentials. It's quite similar to our "Necessary Objects" list from last year.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Year-Round Summer Berry Cobbler

summer berry cobbler
My neighbor had a barbecue the other night, and I was charged with bringing dessert. I wanted to do something summery/barbecue-y and not too heavy, and thought a berry cobbler paired with french vanilla ice cream would work nicely.

This recipe from America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated (free registration required, but it's worth it) uses frozen blueberries. I had a couple bags of mixed berries in the freezer - they're cheap at Trader Joe's and I use them a lot for smoothies - and the combination of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries worked perfectly well.

The trick to using frozen is to collect the juice that's exuded as the berries thaw and boil it down into a syrup before cooking, so the berry filling isn't too watery. You could probably get away with skipping that step - after all, there's no bottom crust to worry about sogging through in a cobbler - but you'll have to watch more closely for bubble over. And of course, you could always use fresh berries and not have to deal with the juices at all.

I did my best to speed up the thawing process by spreading the berries out on a cookie sheet in a warm oven (175°F, the lowest my oven will go) for about 30 minutes, and pouring off the juice every 10 minutes. That was the most annoying part of the preparation, so if you have time to let the berries thaw themselves in a colander, it's probably best to do that.

I also didn't have any buttermilk on hand, so I just substituted non-fat vanilla yogurt (full-fat yogurt or sour cream would have worked even better) in for the biscuit topping. The biscuit was a tiny bit dry as a result, but it was an acceptable substitution... I might also have overmixed the dough, which wouldn't have helped.

Last little tip - put a cookie sheet under the pan while baking, just in case. I got a little bit of bubble over despite having reduced the juices a lot.

The finished product was very tasty; the flavors of the berries were highlighted by just a little cinnamon, salt, and VERY fresh lemon zest and juice (from the neighbor's tree... yet another reason I love living in California!) and the biscuit topping held up well to the berry filling. It was more work than I thought it would be to reduce the juices, and this recipe was definitely not the 'quick and easy dessert' I had sort of hoped it would be. I'd suggest to wait for fresh berries and save the thawing/juice reducing steps, but if you're craving a summery treat in the dead of winter, it might be worth the effort.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What the hell do I do with fava beans?

image courtesy*

As it turns out, I make a salad. A quite delightful one, at that.

In our first week with the CSA, we got a delivery that included all the vegetable ingredients for this salad - asparagus, fava beans, and salad greens. We didn't have the pecorino cheese that the recipe called for, but I made do with a hunk of parmigiano reggiano. The salad itself was pretty simple - the veggies were tossed in olive oil with a little salt and pepper (is there anything in the world that isn't delicious with just EVOO, salt and pepper?), cheese shaved on top, and doused liberally with balsamic vinegar - but it was light, flavorful, and unexpectedly filling. Definitely a thumbs up.

I'd never encountered fava beans before, and after reading up on how to prepare them I thought it would be a pain - most recipes require you to shell the beans, steam or blanch the beans, and then peel off the outside layer to get the good stuff inside. And, okay, it *is* kind of a pain, but my husband and I were already sitting in front of the TV watching the Red Sox game, so it's not like we had anything better to do than shell and peel fava beans. It went quickly between the two of us, anyway.

I was also a little wary of the raw asparagus in the salad, but boy was I wrong. It was fabulous! I don't know if it was the raw-ness (the tips were blanched, but that was it) or their farm fresh-ness, but it was definitely the best asparagus I've had in a long time. Maybe even ever.

All in all, tonight served to remind me exactly what I love about being part of a CSA: discovering new recipes through having to cook with foods I'd never grab in the supermarket, and the joy of getting those foods super fresh and at peak season (I didn't even mention the fantastic strawberries and CHERRIES!). Plus I get to feel all self-righteous about supporting the local economy and sustainable organic agriculture! Hee.

Next up: What to do with a couple pounds of sugar snap peas?

*my photo skills just can't compare... and our salad was much bigger and messier, anyway!


Monday, April 16, 2007


I'm fortunate enough to live in one of the few areas of the US, maybe even the world, where eating according to the 100 mile diet entails very little work. Northern California produces tons of great food year round, so there's really no excuse not to eat local. Having read "The Omnivore's Dilemma", and read/watched "Fast Food Nation", I'm always grumbling about the industrialized food chain, and global warming, and on and on... so, long story short, my husband and I decided to put our money where our mouths are - literally! - and join a local CSA.

For those not familiar with the term, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Essentially, you pay a monthly or yearly fee to a local farm and in return get a share of the farm's produce every week (or every other week). Different farms operate differently - some are organic and others are not, some sell extra produce to restaurants and some don't, some require money up-front for planting season while others let you join anytime, some deliver straight to your door and others have only a few pickup locations, they can have 50 members or 1000 - but the basic idea is the same. You support local farmers, and you get to eat the freshest and most flavorful fruits and veggies the area has to offer. And I do mean flavorful! Since the produce isn't being shipped long distances or stored for long periods of time, farmers can choose to plant varieties that have been bred for their taste rather than their hardiness. Also cool, most CSAs aren't super expensive. We're getting a box of freshly picked fruits and veggies, "enough to feed two vegetarians" for a week, for about $20 per box, which is on the cheap side for certified organic.

The Bay Area offers a lot of CSAs, so I had my work cut out for me in picking one. Ultimately, we settled on Terra Firma Farms - they're a fairly large CSA, so they grow a big variety of fruit and vegetable crops, and don't have to supplement using produce that's grown further away, which was important to me. Plus, they have a pickup spot that's close to our new apartment, not to mention two extremely cute bulldog mascots.

I'm really looking forward to getting CSA produce again. Back when we lived in Massachusetts, we had a work-share with the Heirloom Harvest CSA (instead of paying cash, we put in 8 hours of work on the farm each week to earn our shares), and it introduced me to all kinds of vegetables that I would normally have skipped right over in the grocery store. I also loved the "challenge" of eating seasonally, both in the winter (how many variations on kale and white bean soup can you come up with?) and in the summer (can you make enough salsa and pasta sauce to use up this week's haul of tomatoes?); it seemed like there was always SOMETHING on hand to inspire me to cook. I'm especially excited about the prospect of trying out new recipes and posting 'em here.

If you're interested in joining a CSA, has a tool to help find one close to you... and they really are a great way to do something good for the planet, your local economy, your health and your wallet, all at the same time. It's a win/win/win/win!

And just for fun, here's a cute movie I came across to promote local organics in a clever way: Store Wars.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pink lentil and bulgur pilaf with zucchini

I first tried out this recipe when I was living in a co-op here in Berkeley (in my first semester of grad school). We always had lots of whole grains and beans on hand, and were also always trying to come up with recipes that were suitable for the vegetarian/vegan members of the co-op. This one, probably adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook (?) was so good I had to write it down. :)

The finished result isn't the most beautiful-looking thing in the world, but it is really satisfying and has a rich flavor, even though it's pretty darn healthy. To wit: I made it tonight and my husband asked me how much parmesan cheese I'd put into it! I think he was fooled by the creaminess of the dish; the lentils kinda fall apart while cooking and make it seem like there must be cream or cheese or dairy of some kind in there. The bulgur maintains enough of its grain to give it a nice texture. Cooking the "pilaf" in chicken (or veggie) broth also gives it extra body. The zucchini contributes a mild flavor, and some nice green color.

This dish goes really well with fish or lemon-pepper chicken (due to the lemon in it), but it has enough protein from the lentils to be eaten as a vegetarian main dish.

The recipe (and nutrition info!):
4 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 c. bulgur
1 c. lentils
1 onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. (several grinds) fresh black pepper
juice of 1 lemon (~1 Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large zucchini (or 1 each medium zucchini and yellow summer squash)
1 clove garlic, minced
zest of one lemon (~1 tsp.)
~1 Tbsp each parsley and cilantro

Combine all ingredients in first group (except lemon juice) in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook ~35 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed, creating your "pilaf". Stir in lemon juice. NB: there's really no way to retrieve the bay leaf from the pilaf, so look out for it when serving!

While the pilaf is cooking, chop up garlic and zucchini. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add ingredients in second group (except parsley and cilantro) to the skillet with a pinch of kosher salt and saute 5 minutes. Stir sauteed zucchini into the cooked pilaf. Serve topped with parsley and cilantro.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Full nutrition info HERE (at


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Taco Soup

I love eating a nice hot bowl of soup or chili when it's cold outside but I'd never made it myself before.
I found this recipe for Taco Soup on The Food Network's web site.

2 pounds ground beef (I used about 1.5 lbs ground turkey instead and it worked out well)
2 cups diced onions
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans pinto beans
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can pink kidney beans
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can tomatoes with chiles (I used Ro*Tel)
2 (4 1/2-ounce) cans diced green chiles
1 (4.6-ounce) can black olives, drained and sliced, optional
1/2 cup green olives, sliced, optional
1 (1 1/4-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 (1-ounce) package ranch salad dressing mix
Corn chips, for serving
Sour cream, for garnish
Grated cheese, for garnish
Chopped green onions, for garnish
Pickled jalapenos, for garnish

To make the soup:
-Brown the meat and onions in a large skillet. Ground beef will yield it's own oils and fats for cooking but if you are using turkey as I did, you'll want to add some oil to the pan.
-drain the excess fat, then transfer the browned beef and onions to a large slow cooker or a stockpot. I don't have a slow cooker so I cooked mine in a big stockpot on the stove.
-Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, green chiles, black olives, green olives, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix, and cook in a slow cooker on low for 6 to 8 hours or simmer over low heat for about 1 hour in a pot on the stove.
-To serve, place a few corn chips in each bowl and ladle soup over them. Top with sour cream, cheese, green onions and jalapenos.

This makes what I would best describe as a Mexican chili. It's got the thickness of a chili and the meat and beans made me feel like I was eating chili, especially since I topped it with my favorite chili toppings: cheddar and sour cream. The choice of beans, corn, and spices give it a taco-like taste though. The corn chips on the bottom of the bowl were the best part of the soup. It added a great flavor to the soup. It was delicious.

This makes a HUGE amount of soup. I wouldn't necessarily recommend making less though because most of the ingredients are a whole can. Unless you are making another recipe soon using all the same ingredients, it's not worth it to waste the food. It does freeze well though. I ended up freezing quite a bit of it and eating it over the next few weeks.