Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What's in the box? Plus a kale frittata.

For the first time since we started our CSA in January, I went to pick up the box by myself tonight!  It went pretty smoothly, with only a couple of dicey moments.  First, I didn't know if the boxes on the left were different (smaller? bigger?) than the boxes on the right (I don't think they were).  Next, I couldn't figure out how to open the box - it's a complicated contraption.  Our CSA box pickup is in the backyard of a house in East Sac - it's somewhat surreal to go pick up produce from the backyard of someone whom you do not know and have never met.  But it's also delicious!

Here's what we found in our box this week:

Sugar Snap Peas
Dino Kale
Spring Onions

Here are some close-ups:

Spring onions on top - notice they aren't the skinny little wimps that you would normally find labeled as "spring onions."  I use these in place of regular yellow onions in recipes, using mostly the bulb (the green part isn't very tender).  And sugar snap peas on the bottom.  These were great in stir-fry the last time we had them.

Strawberries and asparagus - wonderful spring offerings.

And tonight we had a kale frittata.  Here's the kale, dino variety:

And the frittata:

I used the kale frittata recipe that I wrote about in a prior post, but I swapped feta in for the cheddar and used the green onions from my box.  I also omitted the potato.  This was super delicious - the kale got a bit crunchy on top under the broiler.  I think it was reminiscent of the "kale chips" recipe that I've seen floating around the blogosphere.  I ate my frittata with a piece of toast, slathered in sweet and sour lemon curd.   A tasty treat for a Wednesday evening!

 Mini knee update: I ran on Sunday for the first time after my two-week running hiatus.  I wore a brand new knee sleeve and took it slow.   Verdict?  I hobbled home after about two miles, in pain that still persists (and now it's Wednesday).  Nooooo!  So then I made an appointment with a well-respected sports medicine doctor at the UC Davis sports medicine program.  My self-diagnosis was correct: they are pretty sure I have runners knee, aka patellofemoral pain syndrome.  There are a number of ways to attempt treating it, but the good news is that it will likely go away eventually on its own, even if untreated, and I will be able to continue running.  I have a number of strengthening exercises to do for homework (my inner thigh/quad muscles aren't as strong as the outside muscles), and I am going to do them like a mad woman!  If in six weeks it's not better, I have an appointment to go back in for x-rays.  I'm a little disappointed that my recovery will likely take a while, but I'm relieved to be treating my injury early and with thoughtfulness.  If I were in the middle of training for my next race, this could be devastating.  The only thing now is that I will need to re-build my base once I regain my knee health (which wasn't that high to begin with) and watch my calories a little closer so I don't overeat while I'm exercising less.

A (semi-)broken knee is a pretty good excuse to spend some time on the couch ...

We're off to beautiful Clear Lake this weekend for Memorial Day with my dad and step-mom.  Should be wonderful!  Lots of food and wine and hanging out with the family - dogs included!

How'd we do?

Erm.  Well.  How did we do?

Food-wise, this week was fabulous.  Blog-wise, not so much.  I fell behind on posting about our lovely meals, and I frantically tried to play catch-up to showcase some of the best of our meals this week.  Unfortunately, you never got to see this:

It melds two amazing broccoli treatments into one dish.  The pesto is broccoli- and almond-based, and I tossed roasted brocc on top for some savory measure.  Fabulous.  Check out the base recipe here, but know that I added a few things; I roasted the broccoli, and I added vegetable lovelies like French breakfast radishes and carrots to beef (ahem) the dish up.  (To anti-beef?)  I also omitted the avocado because I am one of those rare vegetarians who can't stand the thing.  (What is it anyway?  Alien fodder?)

You also missed out on this:

It's a green coconut curry with golden pan-fried tofu, roasted broccoli on the side (yes, I am obsessed).  We ate this last night over brown basmati rice, and it hit the spot.  It was mild and comforting.  The leftovers made a creamy and delicious lunch.  I used a recipe from my new Deborah Madison cookbook, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone."  It relied on (gasp) bottled curry paste!  And you know what?  That bottled green curry paste is pretty awesome (I used Thai Kitchen brand, available pretty much everywhere).  The ingredients list is short and easy to pronounce.  The paste is sweet and tangy and a bit spicy.  And I had dinner on the (coffee) table in 45 minutes flat, in time to tune in to the (painfully long) Biggest Loser finale!  (Go Michael!!!)

So without further ado, here's the narrative about how I used up all the goodies from our box:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A North African feast.

On Sunday, we enjoyed two new dishes with North African flare.  Just because.  The meal was inspired by an intriguing carrot and feta salad from Smitten Kitchen, using an ingredient that I have been itching to try: harissa.  The main dish was a chickpea and chard stew with Moroccan flavors.  Both were tasty and complemented one another perfectly.

 I especially recommend trying the carrot salad; it was such a unique combination of flavors - piquant, sweet, tart, salty.  I had to go on a mini hunt for harissa, which is a spicy chile paste condiment hailing from Tunisia.   On a tip from the original recipe post, I checked Whole Foods first.  No luck.  There was one sad little jar of "Harissa-Sun Dried Tomato Spread" - that seemed a little frou-frou for my salad, and I wasn't willing to shell out almost $7 for some high-falutin' chile paste.  Ultimately, I found success at Corti Brothers (I love you, CB - you always come through in my time of need!), settling on a $3 tube imported from France, packaged in a bright yellow box etched with Arabic characters.  It reminded me that Tunisia and France share an intertwined history and culture; Tunisia, along the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa, was a French protectorate from 1818 through 1956, when it gained independence.  In my search for harissa, I also found that a number of recipes and prepared products included a surprise ingredient: caraway.  The carrot salad echoes that flavor by including ground caraway seeds in a spice vinaigrette.  The spices and garlic are quickly sauteed in olive oil to release their fragrant flavors.  Paired with mint and feta, this salad is truly unique.


The chickpea and chard recipe came from my new Deborah Madison cookbook, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone."  It was a gift from my wonderful dogs for Mother's Day (thank you for facilitating, husband!).  This was my first time cooking from the new book, and it was a pleasant experience.

 While not totally unique, the recipe is clear and reliable.  I've had similar versions of this stew with Spanish flavors.  It is filling and tasty, and especially delicious the next day for lunch.  I made some simple modifications from the recipe, such as using tomato puree in place of fresh tomatoes (it's not quite tomato season, and I also have an aversion to chopped tomatoes in stews - I know, weird).

Enjoy this North African-inspired feast!

Carrot & Feta Salad with Harissa-Spice Vinaigrette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Note: Make sure you taste your harissa before you add to get a feel for how spicy it is and adjust the amount you add based on that.

1 lb carrots, scrubbed, peeled, and coarsely shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds, ground (I used my coffee grinder)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste (I used about 3/4 tsp harissa paste from France)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
1/2 cup feta, crumbled

Heat the oil over medium heat in a small pan.  Add the garlic, spices, harissa, and sugar and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.  Turn down the heat if it simmers too aggressively; stir almost constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt to taste.  Add vinaigrette to the carrots and toss well.  Mix in the parsley and mint.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for one hour.  Add the feta immediately prior to serving.

Chickpea and Chard Stew with Moroccan Flavors
Adapted from Deborah Madison, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone"

1 large bunch of chard, washed, center stem removed, sliced into 1-inch ribbons
2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (alternatively, 2 teaspoons of either paprika)
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, separated
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 white onion, chopped (I used one spring onion from my box)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
dash of red pepper flakes
1 cup veggie broth
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree (I used half a 28-oz. can)

Steam the chard, using a steamer basket in a large pot over about one inch of water, partially covered, for about 3 minutes.  Use tongs to move the chard around so it cooks evenly.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Mince the garlic with a generous pinch or two of salt, smashing with your knife to form a somewhat chunky paste.  In a small bowl, mix the garlic-salt paste with the dried spices (paprika through turmeric), 2 tablespoons cilantro, the parsley, and 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, thyme, and red pepper flakes, and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the garlic-spice mixture, then add the chickpeas and 1/2 cup of the veggie broth.  Simmer for 4 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, cooked chard, the remaining 1/2 cup veggie broth, and salt to taste.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro and serve over rice or couscous.

Two quick meals - spinach & smoothies.

I wanted to share two quick meals that we enjoyed this week.  These are meals that you can whip up in no time - both have their naughty & nice components, but who doesn't enjoy a little bad with their good?  The juxtaposition keeps things interesting.

First up, for a weeknight dinner, an old favorite: sauteed spinach and grilled cheese.

You can check out the details of how to prepare the simple and delicious spinach dish here.  And my secret for delectable grilled cheese?  I like a thin layer of Miracle Whip on one side of the bread to enhance the creaminess.  Shhh.  Don't tell my arteries!

 Then, for a revitalizing lunch on Saturday, to power us through an afternoon of shopping (nursery - the plant kind; trek to Roseville for some gifts and furniture browsing), we had fruit smoothies. 

Our smoothies contained some of the fresh strawberries from our box, plus frozen fruit (including cranberries from the last holiday season), a banana, yogurt, honey, orange juice, and a couple splashes of vanilla soy milk. 

The naughty factor came in the form of sweet potato fries from Trader Joe's.  They are a fabulous vehicle for organic ketchup!

Simple, quick, and satisfying - these are two easy meals that brought a smile to my face this week.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's in the box?

Here's our box for May 19 through May 25. 

  • Carrots
  • Strawberries
  • Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Spring Onions
  • Spinach
  • French breakfast radishes
  • Broccoli

 I am SO EXCITED to have broccoli back in my life!  We wolfed it down tonight - stay tuned for one of my new favorite recipes. 

 I've also got a great idea for the carrots.  We're getting our new patio furniture delivered this weekend, so I might be eating my carrots outside come Saturday. 

I wasn't expecting the lovely French breakfast radishes again this week, since our newsletter just identified "radishes."  But look what came home with us.  Pretty and pink!

Lovely strawberries.  We have had such mild weather this spring that I'm hoping we continue to get these for many weeks to come.

My Mother's Day present!  Surprise - there are two when I only expected one!  Cosmo gave me "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison, and Cooper gifted me with "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman.  Okay, they did receive a little bit of help from the male member of our family who has opposable thumbs and a bank account.  I am chomping at the bit to dig into both of these - where to begin??

Here's to another week of healthy and happy eating.

How'd we do?

This was a very productive and adventurous week.  In conquered a new cooking technique (yeast bread!), and we ate like a king and a queen.  Spring has just been so plentiful!  Last Wednesday seems so long ago now...

* Asparagus & Spring Onions - Asparagus Gnocchi - a rich and tasty dish with butter, goat cheese, and veggies galore!  Easy for a weeknight.

* Fava Beans - in a puree for a rich-tasting and unique appetizer.  

* French Breakfast Radishes - I didn't get any pictures, but the best use of the radishes this week was a take on the buttered toast approach (toast + radish + butter + salt; the French way of eating them).  I toasted a poppyseed bagel and slathered both sides with light cream cheese.  Then I added thin slices of the radishes cut lengthwise, plus freshly ground pepper.  Divine!  We also at the radishes in salad and in the wraps seen above in the fava puree link.

* Strawberries - snacks!

* Lettuce - As the base of a big salad and lining the inside of the wraps.

Lovely week! If you make only one recipe, let it be collard green rolls.  Oh, wait - run, don't walk, into your kitchen to make the incredible Braided Lemon Bread.  No box ingredients but 100% delicious.

Sunday cooking - a fava appetizer & a collards dinner.

Sundays are great days for doing a little bit more in the kitchen.  You can lazily approach a multi-step dish, making components throughout the day as you go along.  I don't usually stray too far from home on Sundays.  This past Sunday was a serious day in my kitchen!  First up, braided lemon bread (soooo tasty).  Then, later in the day, we had an awesome snack while I prepared a more elaborate dinner: fava bean spread on toast!  Dinner: ricotta-stuffed collard greens with marinara!

 The fava bean spread was easy and inspired by the Italian flavors that pair so well with favas.  I also consulted an old Kim O'Donnel recipe to make sure I wasn't missing anything.  Her recipe involves lots of chopped hearty greens, such as arugula.  I didn't have them, but I didn't fret - I knew our puree would be excellent without them!  How could it not be, when there are fava beans to love.  You may recall that I have a slight obsession with the lovely fava.  See my prior fava post, including information on how to remove the favas from their pods (step 1) and also from their skins (step 2).

After we ate our fava snack and popped open a bottle of syrah, I got down to business with the collard greens.  This is a recipe that I have enjoyed before, and I stayed pretty true to it, with only a few modifications.  The texture of the collards is just perfect for stuffing.  They retain their structure in the oven, and they taste fresh and delicious.  I would highly recommend this recipe - even the sauce is a keeper!

Fava Puree
I used one small brown bag of favas in their pods, probably about 3/4 of a pound - I would recommend using even more, because 1 pound of fava pods will yield one cup or less of beans.  So take advantage of the favas while they are around! 

Remove the favas from their spongy outer pod.  Bring a pot of water to a boil; add the fava beans and cook for three to four minutes, then remove from the stove and plunge immediately in an ice water bath.  Drain and pop the beans from their skins (you can just use your fingers to pop them out).

Add the favas to a food processor and pulse a few times to make a chunky fava puree.  Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or more or less to taste), two to three tablespoons of finely shredded parmesan, a bit of lemon zest (about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated), a couple squeezes of lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon), a bit of salt and plenty of pepper.  You can also add a couple leaves of fresh mint (I did not).

Spread on toast and enjoy!

Ricotta-and-Veggie-Stuffed Collard Greens with Marinara
Adapted from Gourmet, via Epicurious

1 cup chopped yellow onion (I used two small spring onions from the box)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons red wine (pick one you like to drink!)
28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen fire-roasted for extra oomph)
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon herbes de provence or other mix of Italian-type herbs
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
dash of red pepper flakes (the kind you use on pizza)

1 bunch of large collard green leaves (at least 10 large leaves, plus extra for patching any holes)
7 oz. ricotta (use one with flavor!); about 1/2 a regular 15 oz. container
1/4 pound mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch dice (I used fresh mozzarella)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels (rinsed in warm water and patted dry to thaw), or use fresh corn
4 green onions, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced

To make the sauce: Heat the butter over medium heat, and add the onion and cook until translucent and tender, about 8 minutes.  Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.  Then add the remaining ingredients - tomatoes, sugar, herbs, and red pepper flakes, plus salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally.  Spread in the bottom of a baking dish (ceramic or glass, about 13x9 inches).

To make the rolls: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  While the sauce simmers, bring a large, deep pot of water to a boil (I used a stock pot).  Add the collard greens and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.  Remove with tongs and place in a bowl of cold water.  Spread out on a kitchen towel to dry.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, egg, bell pepper, corn, and green onions, plus salt and pepper to taste.  To make a roll, pat dry one large collard leaf.  Slice out the middle rib, cutting about 1/3 of the way into the leaf.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling in the top third of the leaf (opposite of the stem end).  To roll, pull the top part of the leaf up and over the filling, then tuck the sides in and roll up the rest of the way (like rolling a mini burrito).  Place the roll in the baking dish, on top of the sauce.  Roll the remainder of the leaves in the same manner, using any smaller leaves to patch any holes or tears.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the sauce is hot and bubbling and the rolls are hot all the way through.  Serve with rice or another grain,with sauce spooned over the rolls.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A fresh lunch and an INCREDIBLE breakfast!

I just had to share both of these items with the world.  First up, a tasty and fresh lunch.  Next - a baked good so delicious, and so easy for how incredible it looks, that you must go make it right now.  Right. Now. 

For those of you who are yeast-apprehensive, I have to share something with you.  I am not terribly yeast-averse; I can roll out pizza dough with confidence.  However, I have yet to climb onto the bread-making bandwagon.  Now I feel as if I am on the cusp of a cooking breakthrough.  The recipe you see below was such a smashing success, yeast bread and all, that I think I may have conquered my indifference.  You see, I don't fear yeast; I embrace laziness.  There are so many darned good bread options out there these days, commercially available for less money than it would take to bake up your own loaf.  Literally.  But the amazing scent of sweet yeast bread baking in the morning - in your very own kitchen - is a very, very close second.  A photo finish.

A lunch

My husband had to work a half day on Saturday, and by about 1:45 I knew he needed some sustenance.  I packed up some lovely veggie wraps and drove over to his office for a picnic in the deserted office kitchen.  I chopped up some fresh veggies, including the French breakfast radishes and the lettuce - two kinds! - from our box this week.

The French breakfast radishes are delicious!  Just slightly peppery and very fresh.  I slathered some thick, excellent tortillas (from our local food co-op) with light cream cheese and a line of yellow mustard.  Then I added the lettuce and the veggies, rolled them up, and served with oil and balsamic vinegar on the side.

 A tasty lunch!  This was fuel for ... part 1 of Braided Lemon Bread!  Prepare to have your socks knocked off!

A breakfast
This bread looks elaborate but is actually fairly simple.  The recipe came from my favorite source, Smitten Kitchen, and I cannot improve upon it, so the link will stand in for an actual recipe on my site.  Please, go check out her blog, and lavish her with praise as I have done.  And conquer your fear of yeast bread!  Come on, join me on the other side...

 I started this project yesterday and wrapped it up this morning.  Yesterday, I got to use my favorite kitchen tool (more like a kitchen robot) to mix and knead the yeast dough:

Then I let the dough rise for about 90 minutes.  Here's the before and after - mine didn't puff up too much, but it was definitely noticeable.

Then, I rolled out the dough and slathered on two filling layers: sweet cream cheese and lemon curd.  I used store-bought lemon curd; why not?  It's perfectly decadent out of the jar.

Then I followed the very precise instructions on braiding...

And popped the filled and braided bread into the fridge until this morning.

 When I woke up to feed my crazy animals at 6:45 this morning, I pulled the bread from the fridge to bring it back to room temperature and complete the second rise.  This took about two and a half hours.  The bread then baked for 25 minutes, and we were forced to wait an additional 15 excruciating minutes before gobbling up the moist, delicious, sweet-and-tangy lemon bread.

 To die for.  Go make this!