Friday, July 9, 2010

Blog hiatus.

Hi everyone!  Just a quick note to let everybody know that I have decided to take a blog hiatus.  I want to try and focus my extra time (like there is soooo much of it!) into working on my book.  Ideas have started gelling a bit more recently, so I need to really buckle down and just do it.  Creative writing has always been my greatest passion, but for some reason I have been avoiding the book for a while now.  I need to limit my distractions and increase my commitment to the book.  I've had an extended period of writer's block (or, writer's phobia) and I'm going to attack it head-on!  I got into the groove last night to bang out a couple of pages, and tonight I'm planning to go home and do the same thing.  When I was in college, working on my book (a different, totally unfinished book) was my main distraction from doing real schoolwork.  I justified it because I was in a novel-writing class (it was a student-taught, elective-style class for maybe half a credit - ha!). 

Now I have a new desk in the family room, where I can still be part of the action but have my own little space.  Here's to the journey!  Wish me luck on the novel.  (I've got 43 single-spaced computer pages, so a pretty good headstart ...)

And if you are a fan of Iris Murdoch (British philospher/novelist), that's the style in which I find the most inspiration.  A dramatic, comedic, character-centric approach to telling stories about the interactions of families (those we create and those into which we are born), and the odd notions that reside within the privacy of the human brain.  Her protagonasits are not good, pure people, but they certainly draw you in.  Try "The Sea, The Sea" or "The Good Apprentice."  Especially "The Good Apprentice" - what a blast!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What's in the box?

Here's the Fourth of July holiday version of the Full Belly Farm CSA box.  Woohoo!

This week's box contains:
Beets ( Picked by the Fully Belly Teen Camp Kids)
Green cabbage
Bi-color corn
Blenheim apricots (from Good Humus Farm)
Summer Squash

Here are some close-ups:

Poor beets ... maybe one day we will honor you by actually consuming you, rather than shoving you into the coldest depths of the fridge.
Green cabbage - hopefully you will stay fresh and ready for some coleslaw action this weekend.  Plus garlic.
Bi-color corn really is bi-color!
 Apricots - I don't know if I've ever even had an apricot.  Brian googled how to store them (brown bag on counter until ripe, then stash them in the fridge) and discovered that you eat them by twisting the fruit open like an oreo and popping out the stone.
These potatoes are long, almost like fingerlings!  They look so good.
Petite squash...
It is going to be a busy and special week.  I get three and a half days off this weekend, assuming that the legislative budget committee (conference committee) doesn't meet over the holiday weekend.  If they do, I will likely need to monitor.  But either way, it will be a great long weekend with lots of adventures!

A grilled veggie salad.

On Tuesday night, the night before our new box delivery, we had one remaining planned meal to tackle for the week.  I kept putting it off because it required firing up the grill and tending to veggies, then bread.  That seemed like a lot of grill face time for 100 degree weather.  But Tuesday rolled around and I could put it off no longer.  And honestly, I didn't have to hover over the grill, just flip veggies once, pull them off, and quickly sear some bread to serve alongside the main dish.  Let me tell you, it was totally worth it.  Plus, it only got up to 95 degrees yesterday, so I didn't have much right to complain.  We've seen worse.
Now I'm looking toward the weekend, when we are planning to tackle a number of projects around the house (including painting our master bath gray and updating all the hardware) - and it's going to be 100 degrees on Sunday for the Fourth.  Awesome.  What can I avoid grilling that night as well?  I'll be sure to share.
This is a bean-based salad, made with red kidney beans and grilled zucchini, pepper, and onion, enrobed in an orange-sherry vinaigrette.  I tossed in some of the winter savory from our box for good measure, but you definitely don't need it.  It's served with grilled, garlic-kissed bread, upon which to pile the salad or soak up extra vinaigrette.  Like most of the recipes I like to make, this simple enough to make on a weeknight, as I did.  It comes from Jack Bishop's "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen," my all-time favorite cookbook and the one to which I turn with the most consistency over the years.  Jack Bishop is the editor of Cook's Illustrated, and it shows in the precision of his recipes.  They never fail.
So ignore the heat and fire up the grill.  You won't be sorry.

Grilled Vegetable and Kidney Bean Salad with Grilled Bread
Adapted from Jack Bishop's "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen"

2 red onions, halved and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch planks 
1 red bell pepper, chopped into large pieces
1 tablespoon fresh winter savory, minced (optional, or sub in fresh thyme)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 15-oz cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
4 thick slices of white artisan bread, such as pugliese
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half
2 oz. crumbled goat cheese (optional)

Light the grill to medium heat.  Toss the onion, zucchini, red bell pepper, 2 tablespoons olive oil, winter savory, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.  Grill for 12 minutes, turning the vegetables once about halfway through.  Remove the veggies from the grill and let them cool for a few minutes.  Chop into roughly 1/2 inch pieces.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette in a large bowl.  Combine the orange juice, sherry vinegar, and parsley.  Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, plus salt and pepper to taste, until smooth.  Add the beans and grilled veggies and toss to coat. 

Using the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, brush the bread slices on both sides with the oil.  Sprinkle with salt to taste.  Grill for two to three minutes, flipping once, until the bread has dark grill marks.  Remove from the grill and rub each slice of warm bread with the cut side of the garlic. 

Sprinkle each serving with some goat cheese.  Serve the salad with bread on the side. 

How'd we do?

Here's last week's veggie haul, and how we incorporated each item in our meals this week.

Green beans - A quick and easy tofu and green bean stir fry with teriyaki sauce.

Radishes - Atop open-faced cream cheese and radish sandwiches.  Try this!  If you've never had radishes and cream cheese, it's a match made in heaven.

Collard greens - Grilled (!!!!!!!).  Nothing short of bewitching.

Zucchini, torpedo onions, & winter savory - Grilled veggie and kidney bean salad, with grilled bread.  A great summer dish, with the refreshing flavors of orange and sherry.

Potatoes - Roasted.  Plain and simple.  Recipe here.  We ate these alongside the cream cheese and radish sandwiches.

Arugula/spinach mix - A balsamic strawberry salad.  This was easy and pretty delicious.  Slice your strawberries and pour a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar over them and let them marinate for about 5 minutes.  Toss with the greens and a mixture of olive oil, dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.  Add goat cheese and almonds and you are ready to go!
Make this now: Hands down, it's the grilled collard greens.  A funky preparation pays off in the flavor department!  Smoky and spicy and tangy - a very unique recipe and method!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday dinner - grilled collard greens.

You read the title of this post correctly: grilled .... collard ... greens.  !!!!!

It all started as a red bean gumbo and evolved into a zany preparation that I had never even considered.  But let me back up a bit...
I was planning originally to make a red bean gumbo with collards, but yesterday in Sacramento the mercury topped out at 102 degrees.  That isn't gumbo weather!!  I foolishly tried to convince myself that it would work out okay, but then I got so attached to the wonderful cool air-conditioned climate that we had created in our house.  This weekend was a significant first in my independent adult life.  My husband and I ran the air conditioner for more than 24 hours straight.  That's right.  It was on during the day, we left it on at night, and then we left it on when we woke up the next morning and continued about our day.  I must tell you that this is our first home with central heat and air, and I also must tell you that this isn't swamp land.  The humidity here is normally negligible, so a strong fan or a window unit can keep you decently content most days, especially in a small space.  We moved into our house last September, and we dabbled a bit with the A/C at that time, but I'm fairly certain it didn't get this level of use.  Now, we aren't too wasteful - we keep it around 77 or 78 - and we turn it off whenever it's prudent.  But lord it is luxurious!
So ... I wavered from the gumbo.  It will be a delicious dish on another day, perhaps when we are enjoying a cold spell.  It was almost too hot to grill yesterday too; I certainly didn't want to stand in front of a hot grill, babying something that needed frequent flipping or basting.  I winged it a bit and decided to make a different collard side dish to accompany a tasty Bulgur Picnic Salad, from a now-defunct vegetarian magazine called Veggie Life.  This is one of my warm-weather favorites.  It requires only 10 minutes of actual cooking, and it's a hearty and easily adaptable grain salad.  If you've had tabbouleh, then you have had bulgur.  It's a Middle Eastern wheat product that has been parboiled and really just needs a quick boil or soak to cook it the rest of the way.  This particular salad welcomes various veggies - add anything you've got that sounds good.  The original recipe called for two ears of fresh corn, but I didn't have any on hand, so I added shredded carrots and French breakfast radishes to bulk it up a bit.
For the collards, I turned to "The Ethnic Vegetarian" by Angela Shelf Medearis.  This is a fascinating book that includes recipes with African roots.  Chapters represent the following cuisines: African, Afro-Caribbean, African and Native American, Creole and Cajun, Southern, and Modern African-American.  This is really a neat book and you should check it out if you are a vegetarian in search of a unique perspective and some soulful recipes.  I found the recipe for Grilled Collard Greens in the Modern African-American chapter, and it was easy as (deep dish) pie.  You season the collard greens with balsamic vinegar, cayenne, olive oil, salt, and pepper, spruce them up with some onion and red bell pepper, then toss it all on the grill inside a foil packet.  The greens steam and absorb the surrounding flavors.  I've never had anything quite like it!  This was a truly interesting dining experience, and one that I will certainly repeat.  Just fantastic.  I imagine you could do this with other greens, such as swiss chard, but the structure of the collards helped them stand up to the heat of the grill.
I also made granola again this weekend, and I had some today for breakfast with vanilla yogurt.  Divine!

Here are the recipes from our Sunday dinner.

Bulgur Picnic Salad
Adapted from Veggie Life magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (plus more to taste)
2 tablespoons mayo or miracle whip (plus more to taste if you like)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped (I used a big handful of shaved carrots)
8 French breakfast radishes or 4 regular radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
3 cups cold Seasoned Bulgur (recipe below)
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mayo, and salt and pepper to taste.  Taste the dressing and if you want more acid, add additional vinegar.  Stir in the beans and let them sit for about 5 minutes to absorb the flavors of the dressing.

Add the bell pepper, carrots, radishes, and parsley to the bowl and stir to combine.  Add the prepared bulgur and stir.  Taste the salad and see if you'd like to add additional vinegar, mayo, or salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature, garnishing each serving with some feta cheese.

Seasoned Soft Bulgur
2 cups veggie broth
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup bulgur

Combine the broth, onion, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the bulgur, cover, and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork to incorporate the onion evenly.  Allow to cool to room temperature and use immediately or refrigerate until you are ready to use.

Grilled Collard Greens
Adapted from The Ethnic Vegetarian

1 bunch collard greens, washed, center rib removed, sliced into one-inch slices
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced 
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat the grill over medium heat.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, stirring well.  Prepare four pieces of aluminum foil, each about 24 inches long.  You are going to make two foil packets.  Stack two pieces of aluminum foil and pile half the greens mixture (including some liquid) into the middle of the foil.  Fold the long sides up to meet one another in the middle and fold the foil over twice in 1/2 inch folds to seal.  Fold the short edges in toward the center and roll down in 1/2 inch folds to seal.  Repeat these steps with the remaining two pieces of foil and the rest of the greens mixture.

Place the packets on the grill and cook for 15 minutes.  Open one of the foil packets, using tongs and an oven mitt, to test for doneness.  You want your greens to retain some structure but be soft and and cooked through.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two quick meals - green beans & potatoes.

Here are two of the dinners we ate this week.  They were very simple and required a minimal amount of effort, but both were delicious and featured some star items from this week's box.
First up, on Wednesday night (box night!), we had green beans and tofu with teriyaki sauce.  I used the Island Soyaki sauce from Trader Joe's.  Yes, I am fully aware that I am capable of making that sauce myself.  But sometimes it's nice to use a convenience food (one that has ingredients you can pronounce and contains nothing too alarming) to speed up dinner prep. 

The green beans were fabulous!  They were fresh and crisp and just divine.  I snapped off the stem ends (no need to trim the opposite end) and parboiled in salted water for about 4 minutes.  Then, to stop the cooking, I drained and rinsed the beans in cold water.
For the tofu, I pan-friend a pound of tofu cut into bite-sized slabs, about 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch and half an inch thick.  I don't usually bother with draining and pressing tofu to remove the excess water.  Instead, I buy extra firm water-packed tofu and cut it into 8 slabs crosswise.  Then I dab each slice with paper towels, on each side, pressing to extract as much water as possible.  This works great!  For this dish, I used my paper-towel pressing technique, cut the tofu into the aforementioned pieces, and pan fried for 10 minutes, flipping once.  Then I added about half a cup of the teriyaki sauce and the parboiled green beans, flipped the heat up to medium-high, and let the dish simmer for about 2 minutes until the sauce was reduced and everything was nice and hot. 
We served this over couscous (the lazy lady's grain), which was seasoned with garlic and ginger powder.  Yum!
Then, on Friday, we had roasted potatoes and open-faced radish and cream cheese sandwiches.  The oven roasted potato recipe is below.  While the potatoes roasted, I prepared the radish sandwiches.  I used an English muffin and my husband had two pieces of multigrain bread.  I toasted all the bread, then slathered each side with light cream cheese.  I sliced the radishes thinly, length-wise, and then layered them atop the cream cheese.  With a little salt and pepper thrown on top, these were tasty!  If you haven't tried French breakfast radishes, I highly recommend them.  They are a bit spicy, in a peppery sort of way, and refreshing at the same time.  Lovely!  They pair well with fats like butter and, in my opinion, cream cheese.
Enjoy the potatoes!  These came out crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, like a perfect potato should. 

Oven-Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian"

Note: You can use other spices here as well.  One of my favorites is two teaspoons of prepared Mexican chili powder (the kind with oregano), mixed with a bit of minced garlic and about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Mix into the potatoes during the last 5 minutes of roasting, and sprinkle with lime juice and cilantro once you remove the potatoes from the oven.

1 1/2 pounds waxy new potatoes, red or yellow skinned
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.   Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Wash and scrub your potatoes, then dry them well.  Slice into 1-inch(ish) cubes, aiming for relatively uniform sizing so that everything cooks through in the same amount of time.   Place the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet and add the olive oil plus salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well to combine.  Make sure your potatoes are in one layer on the sheet.

Place the tray in the oven and let the potatoes roast, undisturbed, for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, stir.  Roast for another 20 minutes, stirring once or twice during that time, then check for doneness.  They might need a few more minutes if your pieces are larger.  Remove the potatoes from the oven and add additional salt and pepper to taste, plus the smoked paprika, and stir. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's in the box?

Here's what's in our box this week.  I'm excited because I believe this box heralds the advent of summer.  Our first day of summer was this past Monday, and this is the first box to feature ... ZUCCHINI!!!!!!  Hooray for summer, and hooray for summer squash!  I can't wait to make some stellar zucchini bread. 
 Green beans
Collard greens
Winter Savory
Torpedo onions
Arugula/spinach mix

Now for some close-ups:

Green beans (these were delicious - crisp and fresh)
 Winter savory (which, by the way, looks so much more like savory than the fennel the farm tried to pass off as savory the last time!)
Torpedo onions
Arugula/spinach mix
And the wonderful zucchini!
I did some menu planning tonight and I am very excited to eat all my planned meals this week.  Happy summer!