Monday, December 5, 2011

One Squash Two Recipes

I’m always intrigued by those articles in magazines where you make one chicken and eat for a week. Not because you’re eating leftovers, but because you use one main ingredient over and over again in multiple recipes. I’ve seen a number of themes played out with a whole chicken or a roast, but since the I cook meat that’s pre-portioned, de-boned and skinless, those articles have never done me much good.

But over the weekend my own “cook once eat many times” idea took hold. It started on Saturday when I roasted a butternut squash in preparation for making Butternut Squash Ravioli recipe using wonton wrappers instead of pasta. The recipe appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal the day before. I had all the ingredients, including a butternut squash from one of my last CSA deliveries.

After the squash was roasted, I put it in the refrigerator to cool before I’d finish the recipe either later that day or Sunday. I didn’t feel like getting back to it until Sunday morning, when I added the ricotta, sage, nutmeg and Parmesan and mashed it all together. After that I put it back in the refrigerator for later.

I worked up an appetite for ravioli at dinner by Christmas shopping most of the afternoon. Luckily it didn’t take long to fill and cook the ravioli. I made or dinner and lunch today, but stopped after that. I figured the ravioli would taste better if I filled and cooked them right before dinner today.

I strayed from the original recipe, skipping the sage cream sauce it suggested and instead opted for browned butter with some garlic in it along with some toasted walnuts. The dish was as wonderful as I imagined, and tasted just as good today for lunch.

But by then the idea of stretching my creativity by making a different recipe with my butternut squash mash had taken hold. I wanted to make something that didn’t require a trip to the store, or at least too many ingredients I didn’t already have on hand. Because I always have black beans, they came to mind first. I knew black beans and squash paired well together, having used them together in at least one other recipe. Add them together with the corn tortillas I also knew I had and quesadillas it was.

I didn’t have any feta cheese on hand, a good substitute for Mexican cheese like queso fresco, so I did have to stop at the store, but it only took a few minutes. I was amazed at the number of different choices, but settled on quesadilla, which I assumed would be perfect for my quesadillas.

At home with the squash already cooked, the quesadillas were easy to make. After spreading it on the tortilla, I topped with some beans and cheese. In only a few minutes I had a yummy and pretty healthy meal. Plus by changing it up a bit, the squash ravioli won’t go from really good to really boring by eating it too many days in a row.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dreaming of Next Season

So it’s been awhile. I was surprised when I came back here today to see that my last post was at the beginning of October. Since then I’ve been cooking all the fall vegetables that have been appearing in my CSA box.

There’s been lots of squash, some potatoes, bunches of leeks, kale, and carrots, plus beets, broccoli and Brussels sprouts too. I’ve managed to eat it all, so I guess I’ve been too busy cooking to write.

Sadly, though all things must come to an end. I realized that as I picked up my last box of vegetables for the season last Tuesday. In a few days I’ll have eaten them all and the CSA season will close for the year. Then I’ll have to make due with what I’ve frozen and begin dreaming about next season. But before I do that I wanted to be sure to capture two new favorites from the last month.

The first, Orecchiette With Braised Kale And Cauliflower, was good enough to be served at an Italian restaurant. I made only a few substitutions, including cutting out the currants and substituting chiocciole for orecchiette pasta, because I couldn't find it. I also planned to substitute almonds for the pine nuts, but forgot to add them before serving and found it was just as good without them. The recipe was a little more complicated than I usually make, with a few ingredients I don’t tend to have on hand such as anchovies, but completely worth the effort.

The second, Ravioli with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon, which I made this week, was from Real Simple. The Brussels sprouts are shredded and tossed with bacon, pecans and a little vinegar before serving with the ravioli. Again, this is a restaurant-quality dish, if I do say so myself, but a little less complicated than the orecchiette.

Of course both dishes are pasta-based, so it’s no surprise they turned out wonderful, but the addition of the farm-fresh vegetables made them even better. I could make these dishes again over the winter with store-bought produce, but I doubt they’ll be the same. Instead, I’ll dream about having them both next summer.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Lentil Surprise

For as long as I can remember I’ve been trying to recreate my favorite dishes at one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants in Madison, Shish Café. The recipe is mujadara, deceptively simple from the description on the menu: lentils and bulgur wheat, topped with sauteed onions, served with yogurt.

Yet again and again I’ve tried to make that dish to no avail. In my search to recreate it I learned it was a staple of many countries of the Middle East and had a number of variations, some with rice or groats, and using different spices from allspice to cumin.

First I varied the spices, but all of them seemed to overpower the dish. I began to wonder if a different type of lentil would make the dish. The lentils in the Shish Café’s dish seemed small, but not tiny, and held their shape much better than the lentils I was used to buying. I switched to smaller green, pardina lentils, and found them a better match for the texture, but the taste was still off.

Next I set my sights on the onions. They really are the best part of the dish. They are soft and caramelized with the right amount of olive oil. But try and try as I might I just couldn’t get those right either. I fried them in olive oil and either they were not done enough, or fried to a crisp. Neither matched the perfect soft, sweet combination of the mujadara at Shish Café.

So for a while I’ve given up on trying to recreate the recipe, vowing ordering it at the restaurant instead so as not to ruin my affinity for it. Instead I use lentils in other ways as I was tonight, for a recipe of roasted fall vegetables and lentils.

And that’s exactly where I discovered the secret to to mujadara. It isn’t the spice. It isn’t the lentils or even the bulgur. It is the onions. But not carmelized. Roasted.

The recipe I set out to make was simple enough: roast squash, carrots and an onion and serve them over cooked lentils in a sauce of cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil. But when I took the first bite of lentil and onion I discovered a nice surprise. I had finally made mujadara.

Now next time I visit Shish Café I can discover a new favorite. I’m sure it won’t be long until I’m trying to recreate that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Wanted Pizza, but I Ate This Instead

My craving for pizza hasn’t abated since this summer. Today seeing someone eating a piece of leftover Uno’s pizza at lunch set me off. I forgot about it for most of the day, but saw the box in the recycle bin at the end of the day when I threw my soda can in there.

Before the pizza box incident I was planning to make spicy carrot soup with the carrots I received in yesterday’s CSA box. On the drive home the battle waged between carrot soup and pizza.

“I could order the pizza and still make the soup tomorrow.”

“But carrot soup would be healthier.”

“But I really want pizza.”

“It’ll take too long to make soup.”

I finally made my choice in my kitchen with the carrots in one hand and the phone in the other. Not so much because I thought the carrot soup would be better, but because I wanted to prove to myself I could cook a healthy meal in about as long as it took for the pizza to arrive. I might even be surprised about how good the soup would be.

I put the phone down and began peeling and chopping the carrots while the water boiled. After that I chopped an onion, minced a clove of garlic and sautéed them both in a spice mixture of cumin, ginger and cinnamon.

In about 15 minutes both the carrots and onions were tender and I was way ahead of the pizza guy. Until I took out my new immersion blender. It wasn’t new, but new to me, a hand-me-down from my sister’s kitchen. I hadn’t used it yet and thought this would be the perfect occasion.

Since I was in a hurry I didn’t bother to read the directions. How hard could it be? Not hard exactly, I found out, but rather a bit messy. I glossed over the “immersion” part of the name and ended up with splatters of orange puree all over my kitchen. But never a slow learner, I got the hang of it after lifting it out of the bowl without turning it off about 10 times. Finally, on number 11 as the soup was done, I managed to remember to turn it off before lifting it out of the bowl.

With only an additional 5 minutes added on for searching out splatters and wiping them off my wall and countertops my soup was almost done. I had one final step. I didn’t want to be too virtuous so I topped it with some chopped cashews and it was ready to serve. All told from refrigerator to table it took about 30 minutes.

And it was very good. So good, I wasn’t craving pizza anymore. One other benefit was the wonderful aroma the spices left behind. When I returned from an after dinner walk they greeted me at the door. That’s something a pizza box can’t deliver.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Giving Broccoli a Run for the Money

In the list of my most to least favorite cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower falls somewhere in the middle. So similar to broccoli (my favorite) in so many ways, it lacks not only the color, but the panache in my eyes. As such, and since I don’t like to eat it plain, I always have a hard time coming up with recipes to use it when it appears in my CSA box.

As a reminder, cruciferous vegetables are thus named for their cross-shaped flowers. They are the ones in the cabbage framily, from broccoli and cauliflower to greens and radishes and are known to have cancer fighting qualities. The same compound that is responsible for their bitter or pungent flavor has proven anti-cancer properties proven to remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumors from growing.

Knowing that, this week I was bound and determined to do something great with the great white head. I found my answer in my Bon Appétit Vegetables cookbook. I bought the book for $1 last year and it has turned out to be the best dollar I ever spent. It is arranged by type of vegetable and each vegetable only has a few choices unlike the thousand or so I can find on the Internet. It’s also much more organized than my stack of recipes.

The recipe was for a Cauliflower and Ham Tart. It’s basically an egg, cauliflower, and ham quiche. I cut down a few of the steps (using a store bought crust) and lowered the amount of fattening ingredients (substituting milk for the whipping cream), turning it into a dish I’ll make again. I also skipped a few steps, by just parboiling the cauliflower and skipping the step of lightly browning it and the ham. The changes cut down the prep time and I think resulted in a fine dish.

I might even say it gave broccoli a run for the money.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Easiest Soup Ever

I love my slow cooker. During the week there’s nothing like coming home to a hot, home-cooked meal after a long day at work. But it seems that most recipes for the Crock-Pot are high-fat or unhealthy. Most call for fatty cuts of meat or if they do call for chicken, they call for chicken thighs.

I understand that for some dishes, these juicier cuts of meat are used to keep them from getting too dry, but I’d rather use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. And when the recipe did call for boneless chicken breasts the recipe usually used some sort of cream soup to add in the extra moisture. To avoid any mishaps, up until now I stuck to recipes that called for ground beef or that were vegetarian.

But I recently came upon a recipe this recipe for Crock Pot Chicken and Rice Soup which not only used chicken breasts, but used them raw. Instead of cooking them first, they were cooked in the broth over the course of the day.

In addition, the recipe used raw rice and let that cook in the soup instead of cooking on the stove and adding later, as some recipes have you do.

With that discovery a new recipe was born. I stole the chicken and rice from the original recipe and turned my soup into a Broccoli Carrot Chicken and Rice Curry Soup. It couldn’t have been easier to make. I combined chicken broth, curry, ginger, broccoli and carrot to the slow cooker. Then, with a little trepidation, I cut up a raw chicken breast and added that to the pot. Next, this time fearing I’d come home to a starchy mass instead of soup, I poured in the raw rice. I flipped the slow cooker to low and left for work.

Ten hours later I came home and immediately smelled the soup from downstairs. Because I’d been gone so long I didn’t have a chance to check it right away, and instead took my dog Frisbee out for a quick walk. Back in about 10 minutes I ran up to the stairs for the moment of truth.

When I took the cover off the slow cooker I could see that everything had cooked together perfectly. I lifted out a piece of chicken and cut it in half. I was cooked all the way through and after it cooled a bit, a taste revealed that it was very tender.

I scooped out a bit of rice after that and it was cooked through, without any hard uncooked center as I also thought might happen. Although the rice was cooked through it did have a bit of an odd consistency in that it seemed to have fallen apart a bit. Instead of being regular rice-sized pieces, the rice seemed to have fallen apart into a couple pieces. I actually liked the consistency because it made the soup creamier. Alongside the broccoli it almost reminded me of the consistency of broccoli cheese soup, but at a lower calorie count.

All in all the soup tasted very good. I will make it again, but I’m also excited to come up with other new recipes now that I know I can cook chicken and rice raw in the slow cooker.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

5-Spice Lentil Soup

It’s not exactly soup weather. It’s 90 something today, with a heat index of 100 something. Which means the air conditioning is on, so maybe it is soup weather? Plus I hear by Labor day it will be 68, so I don’t feel too silly that yesterday I pulled out the crockpot and made my first lentil soup of the season.

I received leeks in this week’s CSA box, which are a perfect soup ingredient and a great match for lentils, one of my favorite ingredients. In fact, as I look at my recipe index I realize I must have had the exact same idea last year at this time when I started to embrace fall and the wonder that is soup. I even made Curried Leek and Lentil Soup which calls for many of the ingredients in my CSA box this week including kale.

I’m saving the kale for another recipe, so I kept the leek and lentil soup simple this time, using a tomato and a red pepper in addition to a cup of lentils, one leek and some water. But the magic ingredient was Chinese 5-spice powder.

My friend Heidi picked it up on a trip we took to Chinatown in Chicago this spring and was nice enough to share some with me. I hadn’t thought about it since before I moved and was glad to find it hiding in the back of my spice drawer.

She had made a point of asking the owner of the store what the blend included, since recipes for 5-spice powder can vary, but I can’t remember what he said. Five-spice powder mixtures seem to vary with some including star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel seeds, and others including ginger or nutmeg.

In any case, the 5-spices added the perfect blend of spicy, sweet and salty against the tangy tomatoes and Earthy lentils. I used a full teaspoon, which I worried might overpower the soup as I poured it in, but it turned out to be the right call. I’m anxious to use the rest of my 5-spice blend in more soup recipes this fall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Summer of Pizza

This summer I’ve been craving an inordinate amount of pizza. I’m trying to avoid becoming a regular at the pizza restaurants in my new neighborhood so I’ve been making a lot of pizza. I’ve already blogged about BLT pizza on super flat bread and my failed beet pizza, but since then I’ve made at least two more interesting pizza recipes.

The first was a pizza potpie I read about in another blog I read, Plain Chicken. She made Chicago-Style Pizza Pot Pies, but I tried to make them with some veggies I had on hand. The concept is similar to an upside down cake. You put the ingredients on the bottom of a ramekin, starting with the cheese, then the vegetables and meat, then the pizza sauce. Finally, you lay a circle of dough over the top of the ramekin.

You bake it like that, then flip it over onto a plate when it comes out of the oven. We made these when my sister and her family were visiting and they were a hit. Everyone got to make their own pizza and it was a fun way to eat an old favorite.

I also tried something a little different for my most recent pizza, although I cooked this one right side up. I started by mixing fat-free ricotta with some homemade pesto. I put about a half cup on the crust and then topped that with about an eighth of a cup of pizza sauce. I topped that without a half cup of reduced-fat mozzarella cheese. Then I topped it with some chopped zucchini, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.

Because it was a heavier pizza, I used a thicker crust. I cheated again with a store-bought frozen loaf. The key was pre-baking it for about 10 minutes before adding the ricotta and other toppings. It was crispy enough to stand up to the heavy topping.

It was good the first time I ate it and made tasty leftovers for two lunches. It was definitely better than the beet pizza and in the same league as the BLT.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Balkan Spiral Pies

It’s cabbage time. I love cabbage and have no problem coming up with recipes for it. In past CSA seasons I’ve been making borscht, cabbage rolls, and sweet and sour cabbage. With my last CSA box, I ended up with two heads, thanks to the swap box.

I used the first head in Cabbage and Cashew Salad for a dinner this week with my Cooking Light cooking club. It was a perfect coleslaw made even better with cashews, but wasn’t very adventurous. That’s why the second head went into a more daring enterprise: Balkan Spiral Pies with Cabbage Filling.

The recipe was hiding away in The Cabbage Family section of my Bon Appetit Vegetable cookbook among the more familiar cabbage recipes. A couple things interested me:

  1. The word pie. I love them sweet or savory. Even with cabbage they had to be good?
  2. The recipe called for phyllo dough. I love that too. It’s one of my favorite Greek ingredients.
  3. It also called for bacon. Can’t go wrong there.

With that I was off to the grocery store to obtain the ingredients I didn’t have, namely bacon and phyllo dough. The recipe starts with cabbage and bacon, but more interesting are the spices used. In addition to sugar, two tablespoons of Hungarian paprika and a teaspoon of crushed caraway seeds, seasoned the cabbage, onion and bacon mix that is the filling for the pies.

Because I was trying to cut down on the fat and calories, I used non-stick cooking spray to soften the phyllo sheets. After ripping the first a few in half, I finally got the hang of it. I sprayed each one with cooking spray before folding it in half horizontally. It was only later that I realized I should have probably folded them lengthwise. After that, I added the filling about an inch from the crease before rolling it up like a cigar before coiling it into something that was about as big as a cinnamon roll.

Later after I ate them, I looked up Balkan Spiral Pies and found this product, which let me know that I hadn’t rolled mine up the right way. The other difference was that the recipe said it would make 12 pastries, but I only ended up with nine slightly smaller portions.

In any case, looks didn’t really matter, since they tasted the same no matter the shape or size. The filling was a nice mix of spicy, from the caraway and paprika, and sweet from the sugar and the maple-flavored bacon I used.

I’m looking forward to trying the recipe again with the cabbage filling, but I’ also am going to make spiral pies the next time I make spinach pie. I also froze a couple of the cabbage spiral pies for later. I think they’ll taste especially good on some upcoming cold winter’s night.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Food Moment

I remember the first time I ate peanut sauce. Well, not really the moment, but the taste. I have no idea what restaurant it was at or with whom I shared the meal, but what I do remember is how much I loved the taste of that sweet spicy peanut-infused sauce.

It was a food moment. I’ve had a few in my life. The first time I ate pesto. Biting into my first stuffed grape leaf. Eating a garlic blue cheese burger. Something that tastes so good and different, it changes the way I look at food.

I had always been a fan of sauces, but this one blew my mind. Sauce, with nuts in it? I was really getting exotic now! I remember that not long after my meal I came upon jarred peanut sauce and couldn’t believe my luck. I plucked it off the shelf and took it home where I scooped it out of the jar and smeared it over noodles with sautéed vegetables until I had scraped the last bit out off the bottom of the glass. It seemed a little thick and I knew it was probably not very good for me, but I was willing to suffer a few extra pounds for something so tasty.

Luckily, when I went back to the same store to find a second jar, I found that the supply had disappeared. After several more trips and the shelf not being replenished I gave up. Over time, I forgot about peanut sauce and treated myself only occasionally when I saw it on a Thai menu.

It wasn’t until I came across a recipe for Peanutty Noodles in Cooking Light that I realized I could make this dish at home. The bonus was that the sauce had to be lighter than that served in a restaurant and I’m sure much better for me than the goop I found in that jar.

Tonight I had a crookneck squash and carrots on hand but wasn’t sure what to make with them. As I paged through my recipe binder I came upon the recipe and knew I had my meal. When I looked a little closer at the dateline below the clipped out recipe I was surprised to see that it said May 2000.

As I mixed up the sauce, sautéed the squash, peeled the carrots, and boiled the soba noodles I tried to remember the circumstances of that first dish, but I couldn’t recall. As I mixed all my ingredients together and the sweet, spicy scent rose up to my nose I thought a memory might return, but I couldn’t think of anything except how good it tasted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Every One is Not a Winner

Just because a recipe sounds good doesn't mean that it will be a winner when you make it. This can be true even when the beautiful picture depicting it makes your mouth water just looking at it or if it contains some of your favorite ingredients. When you collect as many recipes as I do, you’re bound to run into a few flops. This week I ran into a bunch.

The first, Black Bean Pork and Zucchini from Cooking Light, sounded like my kind of recipe. I like black beans. I like zucchini. What could go wrong? Well first off, I must admit I didn’t exactly follow the recipe. I had chicken in my freezer, but not pork, so I actually made Black Bean Chicken and Zucchini. I’m not sure if chicken and pork made all that much difference in the recipe, but something didn’t taste all that great about this recipe to me. I think it might have been the black bean sauce or the ginger. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be making it again. I’m hoping to find another recipe I do like with black bean sauce since I have a whole jar of it in my refrigerator.

The second flop wasn’t a huge surprise – Roasted Beet Pizza. It actually wasn’t that bad, considering it was a pizza with beets on it. My big mistake here was that I didn’t let the beets cool long enough after roasting them and before slicing them to put them on the pizza. Since they were so hot, I couldn’t slice them thin enough. If they had been sliced thinner the pizza would have been easier to eat. Instead, the beets fell off as I bit them. I forgot to put the honey and salt on after cooking and also substituted red beets for the golden beets the recipe called for. The pizza was topped with shallots and feta cheese, which tasted good together and may be all I put on my pizza next time.

Finally, I made Sesame-Miso Cucumber Salad. I can just about make creamy cucumber salad in my sleep, so I thought trying something new would be good. The dressing is a spicy Asian one that is supposed to made with sesame seeds, white soybean paste or soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey. Having spent all my grocery money on black bean sauce, I used soy sauce for the soybean paste and olive oil for the sesame. This one wasn’t the biggest flop, but I don’t think I’ll save the recipe either.

So three recipes, three flops. But is there one common denominator? Actually there is. Well, besides me, anyway. All the recipes were not made according to specifications. Would making them exactly as described, with the exact ingredients have made a difference? There's probably a lesson to be learned there, but I guess I’ll never know. I have too many other mouthwatering recipes in my stack to try.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Submarine Pizza

Tomatoes! What a surprise to find one in my CSA box today. With bacon in my refrigerator and a head of lettuce in the box as well, I had BLT on my mind. But I still wanted to try something a little different.

After a little searching, I settled on BLT pizza from a recipe I found on because it would require minimal preparation and still feel as if I had done a little cooking.

Side note: I usually like to make my own pizza crusts, but I had two packaged flatbreads on hand from when I moved, and I knew they would speed up the preparation. If you haven’t tried them, the flatbreads are a brand called Flatout and they make a great substitute for homemade crust for personalized pizza. And the best part is they only have 100 calories and have 8 grams of fiber.

The original BLT pizza recipe called for topping the crust with olive oil, mozzerella, tomatoes, and bacon before heating it in the oven. When the pizza is done, you top it with shredded lettuce that has been dressed with mayonnaise.

Although I’m sure that would have tasted fine, I wanted to try something different with the lettuce and make it a little more salad like. I made a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil, oregano, and garlic powder. It reminded me a little of the oil and vinegar dressing I remember from a sub shop when we were kids. On top of the pizza after it had been removed from the oven, it tasted a bit like a BLT sub sandwich.

The pizza was a good combination of hot and cold and it was a fun way to try an old favorite. Plus the tomatoes tasted wonderful among the bacon, lettuce, and of course cheese.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fabulous Fennel (and Grapes)

I’m having all kinds of discoveries already this CSA season. As noted in my last post, only on my second box, I’ve found a favorite new way to cook zucchini (with raisins!), and today I found out that I like fennel. What’s even more strange is that this recipe has grapes in it. That has to be the surprise ingredient of the season.

The recipe was so simple it barely had a name, only appearing as Fennel, Chickpeas, Peppers and Grapes on the piece of paper I had torn from Whole Living magazine. It was part of an article titled, “Culinary School” and fell under 2. Roasting.

The article said that most people know about roasting vegetables, but that adding fruit or beans to roasted vegetables could add a greater dimension. The instructions were simple, just slice the vegetables, drizzle with olive oil and toss in some herbs and salt and pepper.

In addition to the aforementioned fennel, chickpeas, peppers and red grapes, the recipe also called for garlic. For spices, I used dried oregano instead of fresh, since I didn’t have any on hand. After tossing with olive oil, I cooked them at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Roasting took the edge off the fennel, a vegetable that for my taste tends to overpower a dish. Part of the problem I’ve had in the past is finding the right flavors to go with its licorice taste. This dish, which combined the spicy taste of peppers and the sweet taste of grapes, along with the roasted chickpeas somewhere in the middle, seemed just right. Roasting also seemed to soften both the flavor and texture of the sometimes stringy vegetable.

All in all I was surprised again by the addition of the sweet grapes in such a strong dish. But the article was right. The grapes, and the chickpeas, did add a different dimension. This recipe will go on the top of my fennel recipe pile for the future. It's also a good reminder to try adding a few unexpected tastes here and there.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trying Out the New Kitchen

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I like zucchini pretty much any way you slice (or shred it). It was a nice surprise to find it last week in my CSA box, only the second of the season. It seemed early, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Since I’ve only been in my new home about a week, it’s nice to have an old friend, and something I can cook with my eyes closed, at my side. I’ve been eating it raw and on pizza, but I wanted give my new kitchen something a little harder to produce tonight. Well, not really hard, but at least little more complex, if only in flavor.

I found the recipe for Spaghetti with Zucchini, Walnuts and Raisins in a stack of those I shoved in my hutch before I moved. I had been tempted to toss the whole stack out in the last days of packing, but luckily my hutch could be moved with the contents intact as long as they weren’t breakable. Knowing a stack of recipes fit the bill, I felt better tossing them in there than in the trash.

I had most of the ingredients on hand, only substituting penne for spaghetti. The raisins were picked out of a bag of trail mix. I thought about leaving them out entirely, as they’re not my favorite ingredient, but decided to keep them in as they were pretty much the thing that made the recipe different from any other I had made before.

The recipe was from Real Simple, which as the name suggests means it was pretty simple. But as with most of their recipes, they don’t tend to be too boring, even if they are easy. It was a good recipe to try out the flow of the kitchen. I was pleased with how the kitchen worked and was able to whip the whole thing up in about 15 minutes. I was also pleased with the taste when I sat down at my new table.

The raisins gave the dish a nice unexpected sweet taste against the garlic and toasted walnuts. Of course the pasta and zucchini were good, but there’s no surprise there. I’ll be adding this recipe to the binder I keep of successful CSA recipes. That is, as soon as I find it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Moving Right Along

My belongings are really starting to pile up in my new garage. I’m keeping them there until Wednesday, the day before by closing when I can actually move them in, and the day the movers are moving my large items.

I’ve been taking about three carloads a day, but thanks to help from my sister, brother and brother-in-law, yesterday I was able to double that.

In between, I’ve been eating up as much of the CSA bounty as I can, and I have to say I’m doing a pretty good job. After the chard, the lettuce, radishes, cucumber and one of the kohlrabi disappeared in a salad. For breakfast, I used the broccoli and some of the spinach in a breakfast bake, which helped me use up my eggs and some of the milk and cheese I had on hand.

Yesterday, I used up the green onions and garlic scapes in a pan of butter dips. They were a savory treat alongside the broccoli spinach bake, even if I ate them off a paper plate.

Today, after taking my last carload to the condo, I decided to stop for a swim at the pool. While there, I was reading an issue of Real Simple and saw a recipe for Feta and Sun-dried Tomato dip inside. They recommended you serve it with pretzel crisps, which I didn’t have, but I knew I could easily substitute that for something I did have on hand – soft pretzels. I bought a bag at the Bavaria Sausage store in Madison before I knew I was selling my house, and still have a few in my freezer.

In my mind I knew had the jar of sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and Greek yogurt the recipe called for on hand. When I returned home, I found I didn’t have as much feta as I imagined, but used the rest of the blue cheese I didn’t know I had. In addition, I added two handfuls of torn CSA spinach to my batch.

It tasted wonderful with a hot pretzel out of the oven and later made a tangy dressing for a cold pasta salad. Although the presentation wasn’t beautiful because I mixed the last quarter of a box of penne and half a box of spaghetti I had on hand together, it did taste pretty great.

Moving is actually turning out to be pretty healthy for me. I think I’ve done more cooking in the past week than I’ve done in the month leading up to my move, thanks to my Two Onion vegetable delivery. I am basically down to a pan and a pot and I’m only using the ingredients I have on hand, so I’ve also been more creative than I’ve been in a long time. I may be getting to be an old hat at this CSA farm share stuff, but in the midst of a move, it’s still teaching me new lessons.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

They’re Back

The veggies that is. I picked up my first box of vegetables from my CSA share this afternoon. And although I’m excited, my enthusiasm is tempered a bit this year by the fact that I’m a week away from moving out of my house and into a new condo.

My first impulse upon dropping the vegetables on the kitchen table was to throw them all in a pot and make stew. That thought only lasted a second, not only because a lettuce, chard, beet, spinach, radish, kohlrabi, cucumber, broccoli, garlic scape and green onion soup sounds a little unappetizing, but also because I remembered I’d already packed away my stock and crock pots.

Unable to use up all produce in one feel swoop, or should I say soup, I've decided to do my best over the next week to eat whatever I can and see if the rest is hardy enough to make the move.

First up was the chard. It’s the most fragile and I knew that if I didn’t eat it tonight, it would be a wilted mess tomorrow. In fact, as I write this a few hours later, I see a leaf of chard that I missed beneath the bag of spinach already has taken on the consistency of a wet paper towel. It will be one of my final gifts to the compost bin.

I rooted through the pantry for a can of white beans I wanted to use up before I had to pack and move them and then headed to the freezer. There I found a turkey sausage that would likely end up in the garbage in a week if I didn't eat it soon. Before I knew it, I was getting excited again.

I thawed the sausage in the microwave and cut it into bite size pieces before putting it on the stove in one of the pans I hadn’t yet packed. Next I cut the ribs out of the chard and added them to the compost pile, before tearing up the dark leafy greens and throwing them in the pot. I cut up one of the garlic scapes and added that with the beans and a quarter cup of chicken bouillon. I let it cook for about 15 minutes on low heat, to let the chard soften and then it was done.

Overall, it was a good start to a new CSA season and a healthy meal in the midst of all the chaos and boxes filling my house right now. Earlier today I may have wished my CSA share would’ve waited a few weeks, but now I’m glad to have a few healthy choices on hand to nourish me as I finish packing up over the next week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Daylight Saving Soup

I’ve felt my energy growing all day, even after losing an hour of sleep last night to daylight saving time. I must admit I slept more than the extra hour, waking up at 10 a.m. To a morning person like me this felt like the middle of the day. Since half the day was gone I considered staying in bed all day.

But I could see a bit of sunlight filtering in thorough the crack between my blinds. I also heard birds singing like I haven’t heard them before this spring. I’ve been listening for them and have heard a few tweets here and there, but this was a full chorus performing for one another. If I didn’t know any better, I could almost imagine it was warm summer day outside. That was enough to get me up at least to see what kind of day was in store for me.

When I did I began to see true signs of spring. When I grabbed the Sunday paper I saw the green stems of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths peeking up through the ground. I guess it’s not too hard to believe since spring officially begins in a week.

And, not to rush things, but that means it’s only three months until the first official day of summer. Which means the growing — and CSA season — is right around the corner. I’m already signed up for another season membership at Two Onion Farm again this summer. I’m looking forward to an extended season into mid-November and a full six months local and tasty produce to eat and cook.

Although I used up the last of my fresh CSA produce when I made the Saffron Almond Potatoes at the end of January, I have a few tomatoes left. Bolstered with the extra energy of having the sun still shining at dinnertime, I took three each of the oven-dried and the whole tomatoes from the freezer and began whipping up another Spanish-inspired dish.

I ended up with soup, because with all the warm weather that is no doubt on the way, I won’t have too much longer to enjoy it. I seasoned it with some of the saffron and also paprika. The rest of the dish was simple. I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil and added the tomatoes and spices along with a cup of water. I let it simmer for about a half an hour to thaw out and heat the tomatoes, and then put it in the blender.

After pouring it back in the pot, I added a can of drained chickpeas and a couple handfuls of spinach and heated it until the chickpeas were warm. I topped it with feta cheese and served it with toasted baguette brushed with olive oil. The soup was good, but the best part was eating it in the light of day. I even saw a few birds flitting about the backyard as I dined. Bring on spring!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine’s Mole

I have been craving peanut butter cups ever since I saw the Reese’s peanut butter hearts in the Valentine’s Day candy aisle a few weeks ago. When I went grocery shopping last week and looked for them again, they were gone. More than a little heartbroken, I’ve been craving that magical peanut butter chocolate combination ever since.

Such is the way of holiday candy. A little not-so subliminal messaging goes a long way toward feeding my cravings. Knowing that Easter is only a couple of months away and with it a whole bunch of other candy cravings I decided to feed my need for peanut butter and chocolate in a different way with chicken mole.

I didn’t know a whole lot about mole, other than two of its magic ingredients were chocolate and peanut butter. I also heard it was complicated to make and so was happy when I found Marcela Valladolid’s ‘Easiest Ever’ Chicken Mole Enchiladas recipe on the Food Network site.

After checking the recipe I found I already had majority of the ingredients including queso fresco and corn tortillas from tacos last week as well as dried Guajillo chili peppers. All I needed was chicken and some Mexican chocolate as the recipe called for.

I looked for Ibarra chocolate at Woodman’s but was surprised to come away empty handed. The recipe said I could substitute semi-sweet chocolate, or ground cinnamon and almond extract for the chocolate but since it was such an integral ingredient I wanted to do it right. Luckily there’s a Mexican grocery store on the way home so I decided to stop there.

They were serving prepared tamales, tacos, and much more there, which was hard to pass up, but I ignored the little restaurant set up in the back corner of the store and went straight to the aisles where I found the Ibarra chocolate right away. I wandered through the aisles looking at all the products I might want to try, holding myself back from buying a bunch of packaged goods that looked sweet and exotic, but couldn’t avoid one treasure. I found a sort of bento box, shaped like a big thermos with a number of plastic containers packed inside. It was a steal at $2.69 and I can’t wait to take my leftovers to work in it.

Back at home I started the process of making the mole sauce first by reconstituting my dried chilies in hot water. After 15 minutes they were still a little bit like plastic, but since I’d be processing them in a blender, I thought the texture would work. In addition to the peppers, I added garlic, onion, chicken broth, peanut butter and sugar to the blender. When I was done I had a red-orange sauce typical of most Mexican sauces, but not yet the dark brown color of mole sauce. That would come after I added the chocolate after simmering for about 20 minutes.

After that, the rest of the recipe was simple. I shredded two chicken breasts, put that with some mole sauce inside the corn tortillas, wrapped them up, and then added a little sauce on top. On top of that I added a little queso fresco.

It wasn’t a bad knock-off to my favorite mole dish at La Mestiza in Madison. The only difference I noticed was that my sauce was a little thicker, but the taste was pretty much the same. As usual I couldn’t taste the peanut butter and chocolate inside, but I still feel like my craving has been satisfied. At least until those peanut butter chocolate eggs start whispering to me in a month or so.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Potatoes Worth Waiting For

Tonight I said goodbye to the last of the fresh vegetables from CSA share. The pound of red potatoes in my crisper could have probably made it a little longer, but it seemed as if the time was finally right to make them. I didn’t want to wait too long and waste them, after all.

My friend Barb had given each of the attendees at our last Cooking Light cooking club event, a Spanish themed dinner, a small bag of saffron to take home. She received it from a friend and had more than she could use.

I had been burning a hole in my proverbial pocket ever since. I had never cooked with saffron, but certainly had tasted it on my trip to Spain. I found a recipe for Saffron Almond Potatoes on the Cooking Light recipe page and printed it out immediately. It called for red potatoes, which seemed like fate.

The potatoes are roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, in a sauce of water, tomato sauce, and saffron, that is dusted with paprika. As it cooked, it filled the kitchen with a rich smoky aroma that was the perfect antidote for the snow outside.

I had plenty of time to take the scent in as I prepared the crumb topping, which I was quite excited about. First I toasted slivered almonds, then added them with two garlic cloves, some more olive oil and some toasted bread, to the food processor.

When the potatoes were tender I took them out of the oven and topped them with the almond mixture, while they were still steaming. The combination of the garlic and almond together was tasty enough on its own, but with the spicy, tender potatoes it was an especially nice juxtaposition. These were definitely the special potatoes I had been waiting for.

As I ate the potatoes I took stock of the CSA vegetables I still had preserved. I have quite a few tomatoes left and a few packages of pesto, but that's it. Next I counted the months until my first CSA delivery of the next season. Five. Remembering that I slowed down and savored my special potatoes a little bit more.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Arracache Picadillo Turned into Spicy Potato Picadillo Soup

It has been about a year since I visited Costa Rica. While I was there I visited a banana, sugar cane and coffee plantation. Although we got to try sugar cane fudge and coffee, the highlight of the tour was tasting a local dish, arracache picadillo.

Although we had just a taste the arracache picadillo really stuck with me. I vowed to make it when I returned home, buying a recipe book in the gift shop with the proprietor’s own recipe to make it happen.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve returned to the recipe, again and again. Recreating it wasn’t as easy as I hoped. The first problem was the main ingredient, arracache or arracacha. It wasn’t something an American typically came across in the produce section.

Arracache are a root vegetables native to South America. When our tour guide pulled one out of the ground it looked something like a white carrot, wide at the top and narrow and pointed at the bottom. He explained that it tasted something like a cross between celery and a potato. Later when we ate in the picadillo it tasted distinctive and very good, though I couldn’t say what it tasted like.

Even though the vegetables in my CSA box were varied, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t come across arracacha, so I began searching everywhere else I could think of. I tried Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and the Hispanic grocery stores in Madison.

Language was often a barrier on the Latin grocery story. I held up my recipe book and pointed to arracache in the list and most just squinted before shrugging their shoulders. One woman pointed me to the meat counter.

“Arracache?” I asked tentatively.

She nodded and pointed again to the counter.

“It’s a vegetable,” I said, mad at myself for not knowing such a simple Spanish word.

“No,” she said. “Carne.”

I knew that word, but it didn’t seem right, so I said “gracias” and left.

That was sometime at the end of the summer and the last time I thought about making the arracache picadillo until this weekend. I used of the remaining CSA potatoes last weekend for a tortilla española, and noticed it was growing eyes.

With two bags of potatoes left, I decided I needed to use them soon. One would go for fake arracache picadillo. If arracache tasted something like a celery and a potato, potatoes should be a good substitution.

I started by looking again at the recipe and it hadn’t become any less confusing over the past few months. The problem, besides the missing ingredient, was that the recipe had been written in Spanish and translated into English without someone who knew both languages and the recipe proofing it

As such, it included items such as mincemeat and salami, neither of which seemed right. I assumed mincemeat meant ground beef, but hadn’t seen anything like salami anywhere in Costa Rica. Once in the store, I completely changed course and bought chorizo, mainly because it was an item I had meant to try anyway and seemed like a likely combination of both ingredients.

The rest of the ingredients were easy: garlic, onion, bell pepper, coriander, achiote, chicken stock, tomatoes, oil, salt, and pepper. I skipped the coriander because I’m not a big fan. Achiote is a red spice that is typical in Latin American cooking. I was able to get it at one of the Hispanic grocery stores. It looked like chile powder, but didn’t have a spicy flavor, just turned everything a bright red color.

I cut up the potatoes and boiled them until they were just about tender before draining them. I planned to cook them again with the rest of the ingredients and didn’t want them to get too mushy. Meanwhile I sautéed the garlic, pepper and onion until they were tender before adding the chorizo and achiote.

At this point I looked at the remaining ingredients on my countertop. I had a cup of chicken stock and three whole tomatoes that I had taken from my stash in the freezer. In the pan, the chorizo, peppers, garlic and onions looked to be the perfect consistency of picadillo, which is used as filling for tortillas. Adding the stock and tomatoes would make it too runny.

In that moment I realized why it had taken me almost a year to try and reproduce this recipe. I didn’t want to fail and without arracacha I was destined to do so. With this in mind I poured my chorizo mix into a soup pot and added the tomatoes and chicken stock. About a half an hour later I had my own picadillo recipe — spicy potato picadillo soup.

Sometimes cooking is about recreating a recipe. Other times, one dish serves as the beginning of another. Perhaps I’ll have the arracache picadillo again someday, but tonight I’m having an inspiration.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year’s Chili

So here we are at day one of 2011. With my lawn making a surprise visit from beneath the snow yesterday, it’s almost possible to believe there are only six months until the next CSA season begins.

Of course it’s a bit of an illusion. From my window it might look like spring, as it felt yesterday at 45-degrees, but one step outside proves that winter is here to stay for a while. Back in the teens today, with a wind chills that feel like subzero, I’m glad I still have some of my CSA stash to welcome in the chilly new year.

With my eye on the last buttercup squash, and wanting to start the new year out with a new recipe, I decided to make chili of a different sort. The resulting black bean and squash chili was hearty enough for the chill outside and also healthy way to get back on track after my gluttonous past few weeks.

I added buttercup squash, black beans, an onion, about four of my frozen oven-dried tomatoes, chicken broth, cumin, and ground chipotle pepper powder to my slow cooker before braving the weather to run some errands. By the time I returned a few hours later I needed something to warm me up. I knew the chili would fit the bill by the scent that welcomed me back in the house.

The ground chipotle pepper powder added the right amount of heat to the dish, making my nose run when I ate it, my measure of a good chile. The squash and onion added a nice sweetness to the dish, which was good since I had eaten so many sweets all December. I wanted something healthy to move into January, but I wasn’t exactly to go cold turkey.

The meal warmed me up and made me feel good without making me feel too guilty. I’d be lucky if all my meals accomplished that in the coming year. Here’s wishing you the same in 2011!