Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fun Food

I have a tendency to take things seriously. For me everything is a school assignment and the only acceptable grade is an “A”. So imagine my surprise this week, when I slacked off. After unpacking my produce and taking the picture at right, I promptly began to ignore it. After so much planning and excitement over the past two months, it was clear that I had hit the midsummer blahs.

I did, as I planned, make pesto with the parsley and basil on Tuesday night, but my dream of a BLT was thwarted by the substitution of cherry tomatoes for slicing tomatoes. My malaise continued on to Wednesday, when I didn’t even venture into the lower half of the refrigerator, instead eating a sandwich for dinner. Last night I was spared cooking, since I was invited to eat at a friend’s house.

So today, I decided it was time to get back on track. But instead of taking myself so seriously, I knew a little pick-me-up was in order. What better way to celebrate the beginning of the weekend than with homemade pizza? I could feel my enthusiasm rising as I reached for my Italian So Fat, Low Fat, No Fat cookbook by Betty Rohde to retrieve my favorite pizza dough recipe.

By the name, you can probably guess this book was published during the no-fat craze of the 90s. I also have the original So Fat, Low Fat, No Fat cookbook and many of the recipes have stood the test of time. In addition to the pizza crust, each version contains a number of go-to recipes as is evidenced by the split binding and stained pages.

With the scent of yeast in the air it felt good to get my hands dirty. After letting dough rise for about 45 minutes I spread it into a jellyroll pan and topped it with some pesto, a little shredded mozzarella, finely sliced zucchini (thanks to my little plastic slicer, which is holding up quite well), red onions and the rest of the cherry tomatoes.

It looked pretty good tasted even better. All in all, I’d give myself an “A” for effort, if I were the sort of person to do that.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Making Room for More

I pick up another box of vegetables tomorrow. So today I counted up what was left over from my delivery two weeks ago. Before dinner tonight, I had one half of a red onion, one kohlrabi, and one head of cabbage. That was easily transformed into my second coleslaw of the season.

I’m a bit competitive, even with myself, so I feel as if I failed if I haven’t eaten up all the vegetables over the two-week period or if any have gone to waste. So seeing the leftover cucumber yogurt dip in the refrigerator gave me a great idea. Instead of making the Asian dressing I had planned, I decided to use the leftover sauce instead. After dipping a piece of the cabbage and kohlrabi into the prepared dressing and finding the combination tasted good, I poured the rest over the bowl. I have to say I felt quite satisfied with my thriftiness.

That left me with only the rest of the dill and walnut sauce, which I also ran into in the refrigerator. It had tasted good on the green beans two weeks ago and a tilapia filet in the meantime, but how would it taste now? I dipped my pinky finger in and was relieved that it was still good. I put it back in the refrigerator, where I would see it tomorrow, when I would possibly get another bag of beans. If not, I'm sure it will taste good with something else in the box.

In addition to beans, I’m also expecting: lettuce, broccoli, a white pepper, cherry and/or slicing tomatoes, summer squash, cucumber, eggplant, onion, garlic, basil, and parsley. My plan is to make pesto tomorrow night, to use the herbs before they wilt. I also have big plans for the tomatoes, and hopefully I’ll get enough to fulfill all my dreams. A BLT is the first thing on my list for dinner, not only because it is one of the best things about summer, but also so the bacon, left from the salad a few weeks ago, doesn’t go bad.

Beyond that, I’m looking forward to making eggplant, zucchini and tomato tian, a recipe I saw in the June issue of Cooking Light. It has layers of vegetables topped by bread crumbs and cheese. It sounds similar to the zucchini casserole my mom made when I was a kid, which I will make before the season is over.

I don’t have any firm plans with the rest of the vegetables, but I’ll think about that later. That’s the best part. I wouldn’t want to have all the fun in one night.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Lunch Challenge

I am fortunate to have Friday afternoons off in the summer. Unfortunately, I’ve been making a habit of going out to lunch on my way home from the office. Today instead of stopping at Laredo’s as I wanted to, I came home and made lunch with some of my CSA produce, using only what I had on hand.

As I drove, I envisioned a couscous salad with the zucchini from my last box, along with garbanzo beans and feta cheese, which I was pretty sure I had. But when I opened my pantry I discovered my bag of couscous had only about a tablespoon rattling around like grains of sand.

With no one else to blame I continued my search, now for a bag of orzo pasta I was sure existed, but proved only to be a figment of my imagination. I did come across some barley, but turned my nose up at that, instead grabbing a box of multi-grain penne pasta from the top shelf. It too was a little light, but had at least a third of its original contents, enough for a pasta salad.

I added a bit more water to the pot on the stove, which was waiting for the couscous, and began cutting up the zucchini. I chose to grill it because I knew I liked the vegetable that way, and thought it might make the salad a little different. I don’t have a grill, so I settled for my panini maker, setting the rounds on the grill plates, just as the water began to boil vigorously.

While the pasta and zucchini cooked, I prepared my dressing, choosing lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of hot mustard to go with the Mediterranean items in my salad. By then everything was done cooking so, after draining the penne, I mixed the ingredients together not waiting for anything to cool.

At first bite the salad seemed fine, but not enough to really qualify for a meal, so I returned to the pantry for a can of tuna I had unearthed earlier. After adding that, I had a bona fide meal. And it only took me about 30 minutes to make, not much longer than the wait at some restaurants, although not Laredo’s. Anyone who has ever eaten there knows they serve the entrées at the speed of light.

I’m willing to admit that this dish wasn’t the prettiest I’ve ever eaten and definitely ugly compared to my beet salad of a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t bad for whipping it up at the spur of the moment. It could also have used some more feta cheese, but that was only because I had greatly exaggerated the amount left in the container in my mind. All in all, it was a pretty good lunch and I have a really good idea about what I need to add to my grocery list.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fake Burgers and Fries with Real Beets and Zucchini

My surprising new affinity to beets continued tonight with, of all things, beet burgers. I have tried to make a number of different kind of homemade vegetarian burgers but have never succeeded in making anything that resembled an actually patty. That is to say, something that stays together on the bun. In the past black bean burgers looked like pâté and Dr. Andrew Weil’s chickpea burgers, while one of my favorites, look more like crumbled ground beef that isn’t the right color.

I was away this week with my sisters and mom in Lake Geneva and saw a recipe for beet burgers in a cookbook at one of the shops. I thought about buying the book, but decided I would try and find a similar recipe online when I returned home (when I vowed I would return to my healthier eating habits). Back home, happy and a little bloated, as promised I found a recipe online. Still hungry for some of the indulgent food I had on vacation, but wanting to get back on the wagon, I decided to make the fake burgers tonight.

After mixing together the ingredients, including sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, onions, rice, eggs, soy sauce, cheddar cheese, flour, and vegetable oil, it didn’t take much imagination to pretend they were burgers. The red color of the beets made the patties look like ground beef, even if a bit watery.

When I pulled them out of the oven the beet juice had all cooked away forming a nice solid patty that had somehow turned hamburger brown. As I scraped them off the pan and plopped it on my toasted sesame bun, I was pleased to see that the burger stayed in one piece.

I topped it with plain yogurt and Gorgonzola and took my first tentative bite. The patty held its shape even better than some hamburgers I’ve eaten. The taste was also remarkable. There wasn’t a bit of the dirt taste I had previously assumed was synonymous with beets. I could definitely taste the beets, but they were good, as were the sunflower and sesame seeds all playing against the slight tang of the soy sauce. Since I wanted to have a complete faux burger joint experience, I served my burger with a side of oven-fried zucchini sticks.

The surprising thing is that even though I was having a meal of imposters I didn’t feel cheated at all. After a couple of days away where I didn’t eat as healthy as I should have, it felt good to eat something that tasted good, and that was relatively good for me too.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cooking with Dill

Lifting my box off the shelf at the pickup spot today, I could tell it was packed with vegetables. When I looked inside I saw everything I was promised. When I took out the lettuce and swapped it for a good-sized zucchini in the take-one-leave-one box, I noticed the delicate sprig of dill for the first time.

In years past I have made the mistake of forgoing the herbs on delivery day, with the idea of doing something grand with them another day, only to find them wilted by morning. Luckily after three years, I’m starting to learn, and this week I was ready to cook with dill tonight.

My first recipe was Persian cucumber yogurt dip, which make use of not only the cucumbers and dill, but also two of the green onions left from last week. I already have homemade Turkish pide bread, which I made over the weekend to eat with it. I also made a frozen walnut burger from the Trempealeau Hotel, which went well with both the bread and the dip.

After the dip I still had dill left, so I set my sights on green beans in dill and walnut sauce, a recipe I found in a Bon Appétit Vegetables cookbook I bought over the weekend at Barnes & Noble. It was only $1, so I figured I had to buy it. It is sorted by vegetable and may turn out to be my go-to for recipes this CSA season.

After blanching the beans, they are tossed with the dill and walnut sauce, which has to be the best sauce I’ve tasted. The recipe calls for green onions (which I just happened to have), walnut oil, fresh dill, parsley, cider vinegar, and walnuts. To be fair, I made a few substitutions, using olive oil for walnut oil and almonds for the walnuts.

I also cut back on amount of oil and vinegar, which made the sauce less of a dressing and more of a coating, but it still tasted wonderful on the beans. I saved some of the sauce and am planning to use it on fish next, although I’m thinking it might taste good on the carrots, which will need to be eaten in the next few days.

After that, I’m looking forward to the zucchini and the many cucumbers I have left, as well as the kohlrabi, and even the beets. So another two weeks begins …

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fennel Hot and Cold

It’s only a few days until my next box of CSA vegetables arrives. It’s surprising how the time flies and how many different things I get to try in between deliveries. This weekend I used the fennel, the last big item left. I still have one garlic scape from an earlier delivery and some green onions, which are also holding up well against time.

Fennel was the heartiest of the vegetables from my last box from the farm, and it hadn’t wilted at all by the time I used it this weekend. With the consistency of celery and the taste of licorice, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I had don’t remember receiving it before and had two bulbs to use up, so I decided to try two separate recipes.

The first was a wilted salad with a fennel and red onion dressing and the second was a raw tomato sauce with fennel, both from the Two Onion Farm recipe collection. They have a great index on their site, so I probably could use one of their recipes for each vegetable, if I didn’t love searching for my own so much. Since I didn’t have the lettuce and tomatoes required for the two recipes, I supplemented my collection with some that I found at the farmer’s market.

The wilted salad was superb, with red onion and fennel cooked in bacon drippings and balsamic vinegar. Bacon was indeed the secret ingredient, added along with the cooked vegetables to the top of the lettuce. While the salad was good, it was hard to taste anything but the balsamic vinegar and, of course, the bacon. The distinctive taste of the fennel was nowhere to be found.

Which is why I decided to make the raw pasta sauce with the second fennel bulb. The recipe couldn’t have been simpler. I cut up three tomatoes, sliced up the fennel, tore up some basil and added a little salt and pepper. I served it over pasta with Parmesan shavings. This was the winner for letting the taste of the fennel come through. It played the perfect contrast to the tart tomatoes and the sweet basil and also added a nice crunch. I also tried it as a topping for some of the leftover lettuce and it tasted just as good there.

I even have a few leftovers to carry me through until Tuesday. I’m expecting lettuce, cucumbers, dill, summer squash, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, red onions, garlic, more beets and possibly kohlrabi. The search begins again.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Beet Hate

I have always been leery of beets. It is only a natural response to a vegetable that appeared unsuspectingly throughout my youth in what first looked like chocolate cake. Sure, on the outside it looked safe, the white cream cheese frosting telling you to take a bite, the faint brown color beneath making you believe it was chocolate, but it was only partially so. The secret ingredient to this cake was beets, and it didn’t hide itself very well. It showed up in the red flecks between the chocolate color, in the weightiness of each bite, and the occasional unprocessed bit that fell between your teeth.

No, for a child who grew up eating beet cake, a general distrust – no dislike – is to be expected. So for the past three years my heart has fallen a little bit when I see the red monsters hiding at the bottom of the box. I’ve tried to like them, with not much success. During my first year of CSA membership I tried roasting and pureeing them, but no matter the shape, they always came out the same. I just couldn’t shake the taste of the beet-ness, something to me that tasted like the dirt they grew in.

Last fall I felt a small triumph when I actually enjoyed them in borscht. But today, when the temperature is about 80 and the humidity is nearly as high, soup sounded unappetizing. So I went searching for cold recipes typing the words “beet hate recipe” into Google. I found I was in good company, with these words appearing in more than 12 million results.

Amid discussions of aversion for the red rocks, I found some interesting recipes, including beet ravioli and beet roesti, which were intriguing, but would require a trip to the grocery store. Instead I looked again at the salad from my CSA newsletter. I had everything I needed on hand: chick peas, spinach, walnuts, feta cheese, which I would substitute for the goat cheese in the recipe, and of course beets and red onions from my delivery.

The recipe said I could use raw or roasted beets for the salad, and I chose roasted since I wanted to remove as much of the beet flavor as possible. In a feat of fearlessness, I dared myself to try one of the raw beets as I was cutting them up. I lifted it to and lowered it from my mouth a few times before actually taking a bite and was shocked to find that it actually tasted good. It still tasted earthy, but definitely not dirt-y.

After roasting the beets in some balsamic vinegar and olive oil they tasted even better and I was tempted to eat them just like that, but I wanted to finish what I started and make the salad. I wasn’t disappointed. You can see from the picture that the salad is beautiful and it tasted just as good. I even had seconds.

So now, I have a dilemma. I had planned to try out the beet cake recipe the next time I got some to see if it tasted any different as an adult. I have been thinking about it for the past few years and had decided this year would be the year I revisit the past. But now that I know about this salad, beet cake may just have to stay in my memory, a relic of when I used to hate beets.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vegetable Math

When I went to pick up my box Tuesday night I was surprised by the variety of vegetables. As I dug through the box I tallied it up: two heads of lettuce, carrots, radishes, baby red onions, sugar snap peas, two bulbs of fennel, broccoli, beets, and green onions. The list matched the one I received via e-mail from Two Onion Farm a few days earlier, except the green onions had been substituted for leeks, something I wasn’t too disappointed with, as I didn’t find them all that exciting.

As I always do, my mind started calculating what items I would use first, a complicated formula that involves determining how long the produce will last along with how much I like it. I want to eat the produce that goes soft right away, but I also don’t want to waste my time on the produce that I don’t like while the vegetables I love go to wilt away.

The two heads of lettuce came to the top of the list right away. I knew they would be the first to fade and decided my meals for the next couple days would be salads. With two heads, they would have to be really big salads. I checked the swap box to see what might be inside to trade one of the heads of lettuce with and was excited to find a zucchini. I was the only one at the site, but snapped it out as if it was gold, dropping my lettuce in the swap box like a forgotten toy.

Zucchini is one of my favorites. It had been on the list I received from the farm, with a caveat that it would only be in few boxes since it was just beginning yield. It was a tiny one, but was glad to have it, since it met both the “love” and “last” criteria. I placed it in my box along side the beets, which would probably win the award for my least favorite vegetable before taking the box to my car.

At home, I made my first salad of the week, using about a quarter of the head of lettuce, a half of one of the red onion bulbs, a couple small carrots, leftover canned black beans, Colby jack cheese, and green goddess dressing. I had the same salad again for the lunch the next day and another salad, this time with lettuce, carrots, onion and cottage cheese, for lunch and dinner the next day. I also discovered I like radishes a lot better when I peeled them and enjoyed them as a snack along with some dip as a side to my salad one evening.

By Thursday night I had finished the lettuce, radishes, and most of the carrots, plus I had a number of vegetables I liked and could make without much thought, including broccoli, zucchini and sugar snap peas, left. I set my eyes on the snap peas and served them, along with one of the garlic scapes I still had from my last box, with some penne pasta and Parmesan cheese.

By the end of weekend, the broccoli, zucchini and one remaining carrot will be cooked and eaten, and then the real challenge will begin when I move on to the beets and fennel. They will still be here, earning their spot in last place for their ability to stay fresh and my general disinterest of them. But like all the others, they will be eaten too. More on that later.