Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's in the box? Plus a potato & spinach quesadilla

Here's this week's box!

The box included:
  • Asparagus
  • Baby Beets
  • Carrots
  • Sun Dried Onions
  • Green Garlic
  • Chard
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Spinach
The chard is the brilliant red-stemmed ruby chard:

So lovely!

Carrots and green garlic:

And the dreaded beets:

I want to love beets. But my few (one?) at-home beet experiment failed miserably. That was probably three or four years ago but I am still traumatized. I had delicious roasted beets floating in delicate veggie broth at The Kitchen around the same time, which inspired me to attempt beets at home. The Kitchen is a major local Sacramento institution, a very fine dining experience that is also a cooking demonstration. It sounds like something you would see on QVC, but it isn't. Sous chefs parade monstrous fish around the dining room. Diners are invited to wander the premises and chat with the chefs while the prep in the industrial kitchen in the back. It's a fabulous experience and I thought that if they could do beets, then so could I. I was wrong. It's gotten to the point where I am wary just thinking about preparing beets; I don't want to waste my energy on something that I am pretty certain I will tolerate at best (loathe at worst).

Remember the dried peaches from last week? Now we've got sun-dried onions. These guys are a tasty little snack or garnish:

Last night we ate baked potatoes with all the fixings: sour cream, green onions, salsa, cheese, butter. Tonight we recycled one of the extra potatoes to make Potato & Spinach Quesadillas!

Yes, those are whole wheat tortillas. Normally, I am just not that virtuous. However, Trader Joe's was out of the $1.69 regular white flour tortillas, so these came home with me.

On the side, some spinach from tonight's box, sauteed in olive oil with garlic, lemon juice, and plenty of S&P:

Tasty! Does spinach make your mouth feel dry? I have a slight texture issue with spinach, similar to my texture issue with cotton. Cotton balls feel ... squeaky? ... to my fingers. Spinach has a similar uncomfortable texture if I eat too much of it. But it tastes delicious and it's good for me, so I can handle a little mouth discomfort.

It's going to be a good week!

How'd We Do? (TGIW)

Today is Wednesday - my husband is on his way this very minute to collect our box. Hooray! Tuesdays are tough in our house because they are the last day before the new delivery. Tuesday is the new Friday! I used to do all my grocery shopping and meal planning on the weekends, so by the time that Friday rolled around, our cupboards were bare. Now, it's Tuesdays. But today is Wednesday; we get our new veggies and the planning has already begun!
Last week was a productive and delicious week. Here's how we used the veggies from our box:

• Pea Greens - We sauted the greens in olive oil, with a touch of lemon juice. Served with ooey gooey grilled cheese. See the details here.

• Chard - Chard and Tofu in tangy marinade. Served on a grain medley. Details here.

• Baby Lettuce & Carrots - The Big Salad. (That's a kitchen sink salad - anything goes! Leftover tofu, chickpeas, bell peppers, red onion, dried onion, cranberries, cheese, almonds ... whew! Delicious. We ate this for dinner, lunch, and dinner again!)

• Asparagus & Green Garlic - These two were featured in Asparagus & Leeks on Cheese Toast. I could eat this again RIGHT NOW. Delectable.

• Sun Dried Peaches - We nibbled on a few of these, snack style. But they were HARD as rocks. I wonder if they were meant to be rehydrated?

• Oregano - Oh my goodness, I forgot this was hanging out in the bottom of the crisper drawer, begging to be added to something, anything. I love oregano! I hope it can hold on for another day or two because I have a couple recipes in mind that would really benefit from an oregano bump.

All in all, a great week! Since we started our CSA, we have really limited eating out. I feel much less stressed about menu planning each week, since I have base ingredients around which to construct meals. It's a strangely structured freedom, but I am loving it!

And thank goodness it's Wednesday!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Amazing Race - Seychelles

The opening scene of this week's Amazing Race episode pretty much summed up how I felt about cooking a meal inspired by this week's location. All of the teams were totally confused about where Seychelles is located. One after another as they departed for this leg of the race, the teams ripped open their yellow and black envelope and proceeded to butcher the name, ponder the location, and display a complete lack of knowledge about the place. (The entire premise of the show, by the way, is somewhat ironic for one of the teams - Miss Teen North Carolina or whatever she was, the one who infamously answered her pageant question by saying that American children don't have access to maps ... "and the Iraq and such as" ...)

Seychelles. Hmmm ... googling failed me when it came to providing recipes. I had at least heard of it (or the shoe company). I found out that it is a country of about 500 islands north of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. It is remote, tropical, and very beautiful. This former French colony is a tourist destination, presumably catering to Europeans. But I couldn't find much about their cuisine. It makes sense that there is a significant amount of seafood featured, and they have their own version of Creole. The food is inspired by French, English, African, Indian, and Chinese traditions. There are tropical fruits like coconut, banana, and papaya, as well as vegetables like yams, potatoes, pumpkin, and tomato. I found many references to fish curry and coconut curry, including a fish curry recipe published by the BBC, so I decided to prepare a curry dish with veggies. I chose a South Indian curry dish from Epicurious, with a flavor profile (cumin, garam masala, garlic, plus lime, tomato, and coconut) that seemed to match the exotic array allegedly found in the Seychelles (thanks, Internet).

I did make some changes to the Epicurious recipe, but I thought I would link to it in its entirety so that you can make it as it was intended. The base of the recipe is an aromatics-and-spices paste, a technique that was unfamiliar to me. You whiz an onion, some garlic, a few tablespoons of oil, and the base spices in a food processor to form a paste. This paste is cooked over medium heat for ten minutes, then tomato paste is added and the mixture cooks for five more minutes. After that, veggie broth, lime juice, and cardamom are added, and this liquid base simmers for a bit for the flavors to develop, after which the veggies (sweet potato, potato, carrot) are added. I'm curious to know if this is a traditional South Indian technique because I thought it worked beautifully. I did skip the coconut chunks and instead used unsweetened shredded coconut to save time and prevent loss of critical digits. The end result was served with fragrant, buttery basmati rice (another Seychellois staple!). It was absolutely delicious!!!

I will definitely be eating the leftovers tomorrow! Sweet, tart, spicy, and salty - this dish had it all.

P.S. Seychelles looked incredibly beautiful. Turquoise water and lush landscapes. It looked like heaven.

Asparagus on Toast, Take Two

Asparagus and toast must be made for each other, because I can't keep them apart!

We ate them together a few weeks ago, when they rubbed their spiny little elbows with some eggs and feta. Friday night was a little different, maybe a bit more of a pure pairing. Asparagus and leeks on toast, with cheese. And it was divine!

Apologies first to my husband - our toast was walnut toast. The other rustic bread loaves at the store were all white, no good multigrain options, so I brought home walnut. I love the blue-tinted, nutty bread, but my husband is no walnut fan (it may or may not make his lip swell ... or is that ibuprofen??). But he was a good sport and tried it, and I appreciate him for that. No more walnut bread (or cakes or cookies) in this house anytime soon.

This recipe came from Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison's Kitchen. I have had mixed luck with the recipes in this book. The black beans and yellow rice are tasty, though my red onion garnish never pickled to the same intense pink as Deborah Madison's. And the wild rice pancake over veggie ragout - ohhh it was not good. I will forever have nightmares of red cabbage. I suppose it is just not my thing, but I found out the hard way. So I am slowly learning to appreciate this book, especially the easier, less intensive recipes. This was one of those, and it was a great success. I did make some modifications, outlined below.

Asparagus & Leeks on Cheese Toast
Adapted from Deborah Madison

One bunch asparagus, cleaned and trimmed, chopped into 2-inch long pieces
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter (separate)
Two leeks, cleaned well and thinly sliced (white parts only)
Four bulbs of green garlic, cleaned well and thinly sliced (don't include the greens)
1 cup veggie broth
Splash of fresh lemon juice
Four slices of crusty, rustic bread of choice
Thinly sliced white cheese - I used a white cheddar but you could use gruyere, fontina, etc

Heat one tablespoon butter in a deep saute pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and green garlic, stirring to coat with the butter, and cook for about three minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and cover, cooking for about 5 minutes. Adjust the heat down to medium-low if the leeks begin to brown. Add the asparagus, another 1/2 cup broth, and S&P to taste. Continue to cook for about 6 minutes, until the asparagus is tender but not mushy (if spears are thick, you can go a little longer, but take care not to over-cook the asparagus).

While the asparagus and leeks are cooking, gently toast the bread, then add cheese to each slice and broil or heat in a toaster oven just until the cheese is melted. [Don't do what I did and let these go for a bit too long under the broiler - a smoky, burned disaster! I had to start over in the toaster oven with a second batch of cheese toast. I am still learning how to use a functioning broiler.]

To finish the asparagus, raise the heat to medium-high to thicken a bit. Add lemon juice and additional S&P if needed, plus the last teaspoon of butter. Stir and let cook for about 30 seconds to a minute. When done, spoon evenly over the cheese toast and enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ruby Chard, Tangy Marinade

Tonight we ate the ruby chard in a tangy and flavorful tofu dish, served over a medley of whole grains that included spelt and barley. I can't remember the third grain! These grains cook up in about 15 minutes - even faster than a pot of white rice, and to my palate, possibly even more tasty. The grain medley came from Trader Joe's (be still, my beating heart!).

So for the tofu dish ...

I know, that looks like a bloody pool of juice on the plate. My husband certainly thought so - a moment of cognitive dissonance.

The chard tonight was so fresh, the pert green leaves veined with red and the stems a shocking beet-pink. It was simply perfect. Last week's chard may have been on its last legs when I cooked it up toward the end of the week, but tonight's was bright and lovely.

I used a recipe from Moosewood Collective Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day. This is one of the first books I got when I was learning to cook. It spans a number of ethnic cuisines and uses ingredients that are easy to source. I would recommend it for the budding cook and for anyone who is looking to incorporate more easy, meatless dishes into their diet. I don't use it every week, but I do use it! (It has a very approachable pad thai recipe that uses kitchen staples to mimic the unique flavors of Thai cuisine, such as tamarind.)

Basically, the recipe had me do the following:

Make a marinade: Combine 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup dry sherry (I used 1/4 cup - it's all I had left), 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, and cook for one minute. Remove from heat.

Tofu: Recipe called for 1.5 pounds of tofu, but I only had 1 pound of super frim (dense and chewy) tofu. Slice into 1/2 inch thick slices, then cut each of these into blocks about one inch wide. Place in one layer in a "non-reactive" pan (I used a small ceramic casserole dish). Pour the marinade ingredients over the tofu; pour one tablespoon of veg oil over the mixture. (This was a lot of liquid - I probably could have used less!) Let sit for five minutes. While marinating, heat the broiler.

Prep chard, etc: Wash and prep one big bunch of chard (or other hearty green); remove leaves from center stems and slice into ribbons. You want about six cups - I might have had slightly less. Also, prepare lime juice (about 3 tablespoons - I would go light, not heavy on this); grate or mince two tablespoons of fresh ginger; chop 2 tablespoons of cilantro.

Cook & Assemble: Pop the tofu into the oven and heat on one side for about 8 or 9 minutes. Toward the end of this time, heat about two tablespoons veggie oil in deep saute pan or big pot over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and cook about one minute. Add the chard; stir frequently and cook for about four or five minutes.

Pull the tofu from the oven and flip it over, then pop it back in to brown the other side for about 6 minutes (longer if needed).

Once the chard is tender, add the lime juice and cilantro and stir. Add the tofu and the marinade (to taste - I added about half of what was left) and stir over the heat for about a minute. Serve over the grain of your choice!

Pea Greens

Pea greens are exactly that - the green leaves and shoots of the pea plant. They are spring-only fare, and when we brought home our CSA bundle last night, I couldn't wait to try them.

Delicate tendrils.

I read a bit online about the pea greens and decided to abide by the recommendation to remove the woody stems. This was very good advice. The woodier, stemier parts that snuck into the final dish were a tough, chewy texture that wasn't overly pleasant. But the taste - fresh, with an essence of peas, and a somewhat hearty texture reminiscent of Swiss chard or kale.

To prepare them as a simple side dish, I washed the bunch in a big bowl of water, then pulled the leaves from the stems. I kept some of the tendrils and flowers but eliminated most of the stems. Then I washed again in my trusty Oxo salad spinner, avoiding the obsessive drying that salad requires by leaving them a bit damp.

I heated up about a tablespoon of olive oil in a big, deep saute pan, then added a clove's worth of mashed garlic (using a frozen minced garlic product from Trader Joe's). I added the pea greens, plus a healthy dose of salt, and sauteed until they wilted down, stirring constantly. To finish, I squeezed on some fresh lemon juice, and -


We ate the pea greens alongside one of my guilty pleasures - a grilled cheese sandwich.

I probably wouldn't seek out the pea greens, as their prep took a bit of time. The leaves are relatively small and require some work to remove from the stems, making this side a slower choice than spinach or chard. But for something different and seasonal, they were fabulous! I am so grateful that I have such easy access to these beautiful, unique fruits and veggies that practically just show up on my doorstep (thanks, husband!!).

All in all, pea greens were a relative success! I wonder when the peas are coming?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What's in the box?

Here's our box for the coming week, 3/24 through 3/30:

Red Chard
Pea Greens
Baby Lettuce
Sun Dried Peaches
Green Garlic

Wow! A ton of delicious items, and I've got some great ideas. I have never eaten pea greens - my only idea so far is to saute them in olive oil, with a bit of lemon on top. But we shall see how they inspire me!

Pea greens - the flowers are edible!

Dried peaches.

I am not normally a peach fan - I have an issue with the texture of some fruits - but I am learning to appreciate them. I'm sure a couple of these dried peaches will end up in my mouth. What exactly should I do with them? Salad topper? Snack?

How'd we do?

Here's what our box contained last week, and how we used each item.

Chard, Potatoes, & Fresh Garlic - Chard, Chickpea, and Potato Stew

Asparagus - Roasted, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, alongside tofu sauted in a pan sauce of maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and veggie broth, atop couscous.

Navel Oranges - In The Big Salad (see below) and out of hand.

Salad Mix, Carrots - The Big Salad! We ate a lovely salad mixed with lots of veggies, cheese, chickpeas, green onions, crunchy fried onions, and more! Accompaniment: cheese toast.

It was a great week! My favorite item? Either the tofu and asparagus dish or the Big Salad. Both were wonderful. (We ate Big Salad twice!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Peasant Fare

Tonight we had a pleasant, peasant-y dish that incorporated the last of our CSA box veggies from the past week. It was a dish from Food & Wine that made good use of the potatoes, chard, and green garlic. Plus we got to use up another can of the Costco chickpeas. These are S&W brand and actually really tasty. Unfortunately, they aren't organic, but at something like 60 cents a can, these are an actual Costco money-saver for us. No normal family can use up a gallon size jar of mayo, but we can certainly polish off a small flat of chickpeas in decent time!

Here's the dish as assembled. I made a few tweaks to the recipe, which is featured below. We served the stew with buttered sourdough toast to soak up all the smoky broth.

Chard, Chickpea, and Potato Stew
Adapted from Food & Wine

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds yellow potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 3/4 inch thick slices (I used two medium, one small)
1 yellow onion, chopped
five stalks of green garlic, chopped (alternatively, use two or three cloves of garlic, minced)
1 bunch of Swiss chard, well washed, center stem removed, and sliced into ribbons
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
salt to taste
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 cups veggie broth

Heat olive oil in a deep saute pan, Dutch oven, or pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and potato; saute for five minutes or until potato begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Add green garlic and chard, stirring constantly until chard begins to wilt, about two minutes. Add paprika, turmeric, cayenne, salt, chickpeas, and broth, stirring to incorporate spices. Simmer, covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amazing Race - France

I did something I have never done before this past weekend! The Amazing Race jetted to France, and I did a little kitchen happy dance. Sometimes, cooking food inspired by a country's cuisine can be downright hard. Or, as has happened in the past, three weeks of racing in China takes a toll on my creativity. I always strive to make something delicious and representative of the culture, but sometimes you just have to have a Chinese "chicken" salad (with veggie chik patties standing in for the poultry).

But, France? Ahhhhh, France. Cheese, bread, croissants (boulangerie/patisserie!!), wine ... France I can do! But I wasn't going to do France lying down! I decided to tackle something so quintessentially French that it's almost blasphemous to do it on this side of the pond ...

And I present to you ..... MADELEINES!

The infamous, butter-rich, shell-shaped, cakey cookie of my dreams!

To tackle this project, I had to purchase a madeleine pan. Madeleines are a spongy dough that is made by whirring the sugar and eggs together to create a light, foamy base, then gradually adding in flour, butter, and flavoring. In this case, I made lemon madeleines using the Meyer lemon from my CSA box. Usually, Meyer lemons get the scone treatment in my kitchen; had the race been to England, we might have seen some scones pop out of the oven!

I relied on that famed American-in-Paris, David Leibovitz, for the madeleine recipe. It makes 24, and my pan accommodated 12, which was an absolute blessing in disguise! The first batch of madeleines was ... less than perfect. They came out looking golden and beautiful on top ... blackened and streaked on the bottom. Hmmm ... I made some adjustments; instead of brushing the molds with melted butter, I used Pam. Instead of dusting with flour (the part that had unfortunately burned in round 1), I spread a bit of "clarified" butter in each mold. I had some leftover melted butter and skimmed the milk solids off the top to make a modified clarified butter (I didn't bother to strain or work too hard to get all the solids out - normally, these are the parts that burn, but in this case I figured it didn't matter too much since the madeleines themselves are chock-a-block with buttah). And I nudged my oven down to 400 from 425. I haven't done a scientific analysis, but I'm pretty sure this oven runs hot. I do a lot of adjusting downwards now that I have the electric oven. I am so used to a drafty old gas oven ...

The second batch came out beautifully!! Rich, decadent, but still light and fresh. Mmmm...

Bon appetit!

What's in the box?

Here's our box for the next week - I am very excited!

  • Fresh Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Navel Oranges from Good Humus Produce
  • Asparagus
  • Salad Mix
  • Potatoes
  • Chard
We already scarfed down the salad mix in what I call Big Salad - we tossed the greens with carrot (some of the leftover CSA carrots from last week), chickpeas, green onions, cranberries, cashews, dried onions, mozzarella, feta, and sliced orange. Yummmmm! Served with once slice of sourdough cheese toast (raclette cheese melts just beautifully - it's got enough fat that it displays a deep salty richness when melted). These greens are sturdy and a bit toothsome, but they are fresh as fresh can be. It is so exciting to think that they might have been picked and packed this morning, which is very different than the gas-inflated salad bags we used to buy too frequently at the grocery store. I am happy to say those bags are now only an occasional vice. Whizzing salad greens through my awesome Oxo salad spinner doesn't take much more than an extra minute or two - and the freshness of these greens is superior to anything you can get at the store. 100% worth it.

Green garlic

I've got a good idea for a potato and chard dish ... don't know how the asparagus is going to turn up on our table. But I bet it will be great.


Here's looking forward to another week of hearty, healthful meals that put a smile on our faces!

How'd we do?

Last week (3/10 through 3/16), we had an amazing spring celebration of a CSA box. Here's how we used each of the items that we brought home:

Fresh Garlic & Red Russian Kale = Kale Breakfast Pizza

Carrots = Carrot & Red Bell Pepper Saute, served with grain medley. Adapted from Mollie Katzen. Here are the basics:

Chop about 6 medium carrots, one bell pepper, one red onion. Chop a clove or two of garlic, and mince a tablespoon of fresh ginger. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, and saute the carrots, onion, and ginger over high heat for five minutes. Add the red bell pepper and garlic and saute for five minutes. Add three tablespoons balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon soy sauce; saute for two minutes, stirring constantly. Serve over the grain of your choice, topped with cashews and/or chopped pineapple. (This is seriously incredible!)

Asparagus - Eggs & Asparagus on Feta Toast

Potatoes & Fennel - We ate these roasted in the oven, doused in olive oil with herbs de provence and S&P for about 50 minutes. Served with organic ketchup. Yummmm ...

Broccoli - Roasted broccoli accompanied our potatoes and fennel. We served these two dishes accompanied by a piece of sourdough cheese toast with dijon. This is the simplest, most delicious comfort food.

Meyer Lemon from Good Humus Produce - Surprise baked good!! I will reveal this soon ...

We did pretty darn good last week - we put everything to good (and tasty) use!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kale Breakfast Pizza

I enjoy making my own pizza and have success with both homemade and store-bought dough. Come summer, you will see me tending gleefully to pizzas on the grill. This weekend, however, I was inspired by the lovely photography of the breakfast pizza featured on Smitten Kitchen. This is a recipe from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, and the original boasted bacon and eggs on a pizza ... for breakfast! On my birthday last month, my husband and I ate at OneSpeed, East Sacramento's new Rick Mahan pizza joint. The crust is at once chewy and crisp, and the toppings are top-notch (and sometimes a little frou-frou - arugula and apples? Yes, please). I was intrigued by the option to add an egg to my potato and greens pizza for $1, but I was dissuaded when the server explained that the yolk is ... runny. You cut into it and it slips across the pizza, making a sort of impromptu sauce. I have my own issues when it comes to the done-ness of eggs; I would rather they be very dead than just a little alive. Though I will scarf down a veggie eggs benedict or huevos rancheros, mightily gooey and sinful, with reckless abandon. Go figure.

I also have been inspired by Molly Wizenberg's treatment of kale - the exotic (eye-roll) braising method that I learned in her kale and spaghetti recipe featured in Bon Appetit. It's tangy with lemon and the kale is succulent but still retains some structure. Just delicious with a bit of salty cheese - a perfect mate for my breakfast pizza!!

And so two recipe inspirations came together to form one crazy whole. I had a bit of trouble with the dough - mine dried out a bit too much and got crackly on the edges, and the whole thing was a bit too crackery for my taste. I prefer more chew, less crunch, in my dough. But I think this one is worth working with, especially when you want a light, thin crust that behaves very well on the pizza stone. I had a bit of trouble stretching it out and am wondering if I mis-treated the yeast in the first place ... my "is this the warmth of a spa?" method for determining when water is a lukewarm, happy-yeast temperature probably isn't ideal.

Here it is in all its wonky, tangy, cheesy glory... and, yes, the yolks were very done. And, no, we didn't eat it for breakfast ...

Kale & Egg Pizza
Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, via Smitten Kitchen, and Molly Wizenberg, via Bon Appetit (Spaghetti with Braised Kale)

Note that the dough recipe makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas, but this pizza recipe only makes one kale & egg pizza. Freeze one half of the dough, use it to make a different type of pizza, or double the kale and pizza assembly ingredients.

For the crust:
1/2 tsp dry active yeast
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour, plus additional for dusting
1 teaspoon salt

For the kale:
1 bunch of kale (I used Russian red), washed, de-ribbed/de-stemmed, and sliced into ribbons
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, chopped
garlic - I used 6 stalks of green garlic, trimmed and sliced into 1/4 inch slices. (Alternatively, you could use 4 to 6 minced garlic cloves)
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

To assemble pizza:
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 cup grated mozzarella
3 eggs

Prepare the dough
Make this dough at least 12 hours before you will need it, preferably overnight. Place 3/4 cup lukewarm water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let sit for five minutes. Add the flour and salt; mix on low speed for one minute. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Then increase the speed to high and mix for another 2 minutes, or until the dough comes together smoothly (note that for me this took a bit longer, and it never really coalesced around the hook). Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and split into two equal pieces, formed into balls. Put the dough balls on a lightly floured cookie sheet, and set the sheet inside a plastic trash bag. Tie it closed and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

Two hours before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and put in a warm (or draft-free) place to proof. Place a pizza stone in the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees for at least 30 minutes prior to baking.

Freeze or use the second dough ball as desired.

Make the kale
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or deep saute pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sprinkle with salt; cook for another 5 minutes, until onions are golden and browning slightly, stirring occasionally. Add kale, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of water. Stir constantly until kale is wilted, about two minutes. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low, cooking for 20 minutes until kale is tender. Stir occasionally and add a bit of extra water if it looks dry. Once the kale is finished cooking, add lemon juice to taste (about 1 teaspoon, more if you like) and add salt if needed.
To assemble
On a lightly floured surface, flatten the dough into a disk with your hands. Stretch and pull to form a crust 12 inches in diameter. You can do this by stretching and flattening with your fingers. Also try a steering wheel motion, holding the dough from the top to let it hang, then pulling down on the right side with your right hand to stretch, shifting the dough around the circle but keeping your hands and noon and three o’clock. Dust a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet lightly with flour. Place the stretched dough on the sheet. Spread the kale mixture over top of the crust. Sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan on top of the kale. Crack three eggs over the top of the pizza, being careful not to get too close to the edge of the crust.

At this point, make sure that the pizza is not sticking to the peel. Open the oven and shake the pizza in one back-and-forth motion onto the pizza stone. You can use a spatula or other implement to help slide it onto the stone (don’t be tentative - just do it). Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. When the crust is crispy and the cheese is melted, slip the peel or sheet underneath and slide the pizza back onto the peel. Slip it onto a cutting board (it will be nice and crisp), and wait a minute or two then slice to serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring is in the air

Nothing says spring quite like asparagus! Sure, you can pick it up at your local Safeway practically year-round for $4.00 a bunch (made in Mexico). But when it appears in the local farmers markets and in our CSA box, we know spring has arrived.

It's like the robin of the East Coast. We apparently don't have them here in California. The little bird with the red breast is the quintessential harbinger of the new season. First the robin, then the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in D.C. Pretty pink puffs and red feathers to usher in the warmth, the sunlight, the Daylight Savings Time. This just might be my favorite time of year - brimming with possibility and promise.

So tonight, dinner was a confluence of spring idols: Eggs and Asparagus on Feta Toast, from Jack Bishop.

Thick sourdough toast with a simple feta-mint spread (mix crumbled feta with chopped mint, add freshly ground black pepper, and coax into a smooth spread with a couple splashes of milk). Eggs not so much scrambled as folded into themselves, in plenty of butter, punctuated by asparagus blanched for one minute in boiling salted water. We piled the eggs and asparagus onto the toast and reveled happily in spring's bounty.

I also polished off another piece of bread, with butter and berry jam made by my talented step-sister.

It just doesn't get much better than this simple and comforting celebration of spring.

What's in the box?

Here's our box this week (sorry, no picture of the bounty!):

Fresh Garlic
Meyer Lemon from Good Humus Produce
Red Russian Kale

I am very excited because I love all of these! I haven't had fennel in a while, and I'm looking forward to a very special Meyer lemon treat.

I'm pretty sure the fresh garlic and kale are going to end up together - perfect partners!

It's going to be a good week!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How'd we do?

Moment of truth - what did we do with all those CSA veggies last week? Here's a round-up of our meals and how we used each ingredient.

Asparagus - Asparagus & Red Onion Quesadillas (recipe from Epicurious). I love the method used to quickly roast and char the veggies: chop up asparagus, slice onion into rings, toss with olive oil and S&P, and roast both at 500 for 10 minutes. It sets off the smoke alarm but it's worth it! The recipe then has you build the quesadillas (cheese + veggies), brushing the tortillas with olive oil and then sticking back under the broiler for a few minutes on each side. I tried the broiling method this time and didn't like it as much as the tried-and-true pan method. You have better control of the melting and browning when finishing the quesadillas on the stovetop. However, you also generate an extra dirty dish, so there are tradeoffs! Top off the quesadillas with salsa and a quick cumin sour cream - sour cream + cumin + lime juice. Yum!

Broccoli Romanesco - See the post here. Roasted veggies with the romanesco, sweet potatoes, and brussel sprouts, tossed in a light pomegranate vinaigrette. Round two used the leftover veggies in a couscous salad the next day.

Broccoli - Roasted, accompanying grilled cheese! My absolute favorite broccoli treatment, learned from Kim O'Donnell (former Washington Post food blogger and now True/Slant blogger and cookbook author). Chop broccoli into florets. Add spices - I like garlic (either fresh or powder works), cayenne and/or paprika, and ginger as suggested by Kim. I also enjoy garlic plus a dash of balsamic vinegar. Add plenty of S&P and pop in the oven at 400 for 12 minutes. Stir once or twice during the roasting. Bliss.

Carrots - I used a couple in the Romanesco Part 2 couscous salad, but there are still some left. They might appear at tonight's dinner ...

Chard - Chard tacos.

Fresh Onions & Potatoes - These were both showcased in the German potato salad. These potatoes are just delicious.

Beets - I have a confession. These are still sitting in the crisper, unloved and untouched. I don't know if they are going to make it onto our table ... I am red-veggie-averse (beets ... red cabbage ... ugh).

A great week! Tonight we pick up our new bounty, and I'm already planning a week of amazing meals. Plus ... a French baked good surprise!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Amazing Race - Germany

My husband and I enjoy a Sunday evening ritual that is - what else - food-centric and TV-centric! We are devoted fans of the Amazing Race, and each week I cook a meal inspired by the country in which the contestants are traveling. Don't worry - you will never see us racing together as a team on AR. We are pretty sure we would tear each others' faces off (best case scenario). Let's not test our harmonious relationship!

This particular season - Amazing Race 16 (!!) - has some incredible casting. Remember Miss Teen South Carolina, the beauty queen who answered a question about American children's lack of geography knowledge by uttering the infamous phrase "such as ... and the Iraq"? She and her boyfriend (Caite and Brent) are Dumb Blond Team #1. Dumb Blond Team #2 is comprised of a Big Brother winner and a former Big Brother contestant (dating - Jordan and Jeff). My only knowledge of these two comes from watching them in all their glory in clips on The Soup. The girl Jordan was expressing her confusion about what "quarter after" means in reference to time keeping ... oh boy.

This Sunday, the teams traveled to ..... GERMANY! Whenever I can cook relatively comfortably from the cuisine of the country, I am particularly excited. (Um, Kazakhstan? They pretty much only eat offal there. I took that week off.) I was also thrilled to enjoy a virtual visit to Germany because it's where I was born when my dad was stationed in Augsburg in the Army. (Yes, I can still be president; no, I'm not a dual citizen.)

In honor of Germany, we had:
  • German potato salad
  • Faux bratwurst (confession, it was kielbasa - which is actually Polish - because they were out of the bratwurst). We served the faux-wurst with bell peppers and onions that were scorched in the oven at 500 for 10 minutes. (I abstained from the fake meat because it freaks me out a little. I did cheese, veggies, mustard, and Miracle Whip on a sourdough bun.)
  • Cookie experiment - German chocolate cookies baked in bar, rather than drop cookie, form. These were crumbly but delicious. The experiment was 80% successful, 100% tasty.
Here's a full plate:

Close-up of the potato salad - it was good. A bit laborious and needed a tad more salt, but still pretty tasty. A warm beer-based vinaigrette is poured over cooked sliced potatoes, onion, and parsley. Recipe here, from Cooking Light. I stayed true to the recipe, with the exception of subbing my CSA fresh onions for the yellow onions in the vinaigrette. I also bypassed whizzing the dressing concoction in my food processor - why food process when I can just whisk? (Confession: I used my mini stick blender-style dressing wand, a gift from my husband.)

Tonight (Monday night), we enjoyed another CSA-veggie-inspired meal. Leftover potato salad and ...

Chard Tacos!

This is a tried-and-true recipe from one of my favorite books, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop. This book is a must for any vegetarian. The recipes are simple yet delicious. Many can be tackled on a weeknight, and the ingredient lists are reasonable, often surprisingly terse. The book is divided into four chapters, one for each season. This is a wonderful book by which to learn to cook or expand your repertoire of unique yet accessible dishes. Bishop is the editor of method-obsessed Cook's Illustrated, and it shows in these tight, reliable recipes.

Corn tortillas cradling swiss chard and onion saute, with leftover bell peppers and onions, plus some cheese, a dab or two of sour cream, and some taco sauce. Plus a small side of leftover German potato salad.

And for dessert - the very non-German chocolate cookie bar. I learned that German chocolate cake is actually an American invention, with the original recipe calling for "German" brand sweet chocolate. I consider the Amazing Race to be a great learning tool!

Next week: FRANCE!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Romanesco - Main Dish & A Sequel [011235813...]

This was our first attempt at making broccoli romanesco. It was developed as a cross between cauliflower and broccoli, so I gravitated toward my favorite broccoli preparation - roasting!

Round One - Roasted Veggies

On Saturday night, we hade some lovely roasted veggies with pomegranate vinaigrette. I used a Martha Stewart holiday recipe (original here) and made a few tweaks, mostly to omit a few ingredients and extend the roasting time a bit. My mix contained the broccoli romanesco, sweet potatoes, and brussel sprouts. The sprouts needed a bit longer in the oven than its veg brethren, but nonetheless it was a tasty mix! It was also my first time cooking (but not my first time consuming!) brussels. The veggies were roasted then doused in a simple pomegranate vinaigrette - while in theory this was a delicious idea, my pom got lost amidst the strong flavor of cruciferous veggies. Perhaps it would benefit from being concentrated into a pom syrup? Or maybe the Trader Joe's pom juice (it was from concentrate) wasn't very strong?

I believe that romanesco's spiral design is an example of the Fibonacci sequence expressed in nature (a fractal). The Fibonacci sequence begins with the numbers 0 and 1, and from there each subsequent number represents the total of the two prior numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on). When a particular tiling pattern is created using the numbers in this sequence, the corners of the tiles can connect to form the spiral shape that we see so often in nature. Imagine a mollusk spiral shell and you have the approximate proportions of the Fibonnaci sequence. Click here for a clearer description and images showing the Fibonnaci tiling and spiral.

The romanesco was vaguely cauliflowery, but I thought the broccoli flavor and texture was more prominent. I enjoyed it! I think I'd like to try a pan-fried saute version with lemon and olive oil next time for a brighter flavor.

We ate the veggies with polenta. I used a ready-made polenta tube, sliced up and pan-fried with cheese melted on top. Yum!

Round Two - Couscous Salad

I am a big fan of the kitchen sink grain salad. Grains + veggies + dressing + toppings = lunch! We ate a kitchen sink grain salad on Sunday.

I made couscous with a dab of butter and garam masala, then let it cool down a bit. To that I added the leftover roasted veggies, plus some chopped carrot and dried cranberries. Whipped up a quick dressing of sour cream, pom juice, dijon mustard, s & p, and a little bit of olive oil. Mixed that all in and topped each bowl with cashews (roasted unsalted) and a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Those are my Franciscanware antique bowls, a gift from my stepmother when she and my dad moved half way across the country! I cherish their fun, bright colors and soft wave design. They look fabulous in any kitchen! [Special message for my brother - you need to return the stolen box of dishes!! I haven't forgotten about that!]

And today (Monday), I polished off the rest of the salad - with some cheddar and charred onions on top, heated in the microwave for a bit. It was amazing!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

C-S-A! C-S-A!

In January, my husband and I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and I think it is going to revolutionize the way that our little family eats. We were already committed to eating local/organic produce when possible (with somewhat more emphasis on the local), but being forever dedicated to the Sunday farmers market under the freeway just wasn't sustainable. The further we moved from the city core, the more I felt like shopping for fresh fruits and veggies had become a chore rather than a pleasure. I love the farmers market, but I didn't love the throngs of people, the crazy parking lot, waiting until Sunday morning to do all my shopping (farmers market + grocery store(s)), planning a seasonal meal and finding the market was out of favas.

We (well, my husband) brave the rain, cold, and dark each Wednesday evening, driving through the alley and parking behind the Craftsman cottage in what feels very much like an underground activity. The boxes are stacked up in the back yard, beyond the rickety wood fence, and the husband packs our wonderful loot into his own bag, breaks down the box, and hurries off to bring home the bounty. By this point, I already know what we are getting - and I have likely planned the week's menu, giddy and expectant. The veggies are fresh and bright, newly picked and always delicious (and organic!). So far, this new rhythm of planning, obtaining, and cooking works well for me. We love our farm.

I know this isn't an earth-shattering concept. Forging a direct connection to the grower and supporting local and sustainable agriculture in our own community. Our farm is only 60 miles from our house - an hour's drive out into the country. Hopefully we will visit soon so we can strengthen our connection.

This week's bounty (for 3/3 through 3/9):

What's in the box:
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli Romanesco
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Beets
  • Fresh Onions
  • Potatoes

I love these carrots! They are sweet and tender. And I almost hyperventilated when we got the first asparagus of the season last week.

(Yes, that's my gorgeous KitchenAid in the background - Martha Stewart edition!)

There is almost always one foreign veggie, something that i either haven't eaten or prepared before. Here's this week's alien:

Broccoli romanesco! More to come on what we do with it and how it tastes. Prior newbies include celery root, mustard greens, and green garlic (all of which were a success). My fear? This week's beets.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And so it begins...

A little bit about me. I am obsessed with food. I think about what I am going to cook and what I am going to eat with a level of passion that verges on addiction. Food is my sun and I am a hungry planet. Spinning around and around.

I am also a vegetarian and have been since I was 15 (almost 13 years!). The last time I knowingly, intentionally ate meat was Easter Sunday, 1997, in Northern Virginia. And I haven't looked back. Sometimes I feel like the world of fine dining could be a little more inclusive of vegetarians and those with special diets, but then again I understand the challenges. Sometimes, we are blessed by geography - I spent four years in the East Bay (Berkeley, CA, specifically), and that was my breeziest, easiest vegetarian period. Surrounded by like-minded people, I learned to appreciate aspects of healthful eating and stepping with quiet intention upon the earth (paired with occasional college binge drinking, of course). Berkeley is the heart of the original local and sustainable food movement - Alice Waters/Chez Panisse. Sometimes I miss the options and the ease.

But now I live in Sacramento and I am blessed with a vegetable bounty that I have never experienced. I have learned almost everything I know about cooking in the six and a half years that I have lived here. We are surrounded by an embarrassment of produce riches, and slowly but surely the Bay Area food sensibilities are moving east into our valley (I'm looking at you, restauranteurs!). I am excited to begin documenting my adventures with cooking and food, along with my pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. I plan to share recipes that I have enjoyed, tell stories about my small steps toward physical accomplishments (10k run, anyone?), and just enjoy writing for the sake of writing.

Thank you for joining me!