Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Posts on

If you're looking for more information on CSAs I'm writing articles for Here are a few to check out until I write another blog post:

Freezing tomatoes  - ideas for preserving any extra tomatoes you have on hand
Get closer to your food with a CSA - more information on CSAs and how to choose one, includes resources for Wisconsin
Check out the Food for Thought Festival - if you're in Madison, don't miss this fun food event sponsored by REAP, happening Sept. 15 from 8:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Parmesan-Crusted Goodness

I wasn’t planning on having a Parmesan-crusted theme dinner this evening, but sometimes that’s just what happens. For me it started with a recipe for Zucchini Oven Chips from Cooking Light. This is one of my favorite ways to use zucchini.

Oven Zucchini Chips
I made the recipe as noted, except I used buttermilk instead of milk, since I happened to have a leftover carton in the refrigerator from a weekend batch of buckwheat pancakes. When they were done, they taste tender on the inside and crispy on the outside and so good you would think they were deep fried.

But before I got there, I had about a half cup of leftover breadcrumb, Parmesan, salt and pepper breading left over. I didn’t want to throw it away and that’s what would likely happen to it even if I saved it for a few weeks in the refrigerator. Instead of dumping it, I decided to make baked tomatoes with it. I added a little dried basil to the mix and cut a tomato in half before pouring the leftover breading on top. To add a little moisture, I poured a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. I slipped them in the oven to cook alongside the zucchini. When they were done, they were the perfect combination of the tart, cooked tomato and the crunchy topping.

Baked tomatoes, the black is balsamic vinegar
The zucchini and the tomato would need about a half hour to cook, so I turned my attention to the bag of beans in the crisper. Similar to green beans, I had received flat Romano beans in my box last week. I had received them in previous years and the Two Onion newsletter reminded me that I could use them similarly to other green beans, but that they may require a longer cooking time.

For these I decided to adapt a recipe I came upon this morning in the gym while reading my Oprah magazine. Ina Garten's Green Beans Gremolata recipe looked good as is, but I needed to adjust it a bit to adapt for what I had in my pantry. Instead of topping beans with pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, parsley and lemon juice, my beans were tossed with pecans, garlic and Parmesan.

Romano beans with pecans, Parmesan and garlic
The final result was amazing. I still may make the Barefoot Contessa’s some other time, but my combination wasn’t too bad either. I forgot to weight the beans, but guess I had less than a full pound. I still used two cloves of garlic, so they were garlicky, but really good.

Surprisingly or not, all three dishes worked together. Though they had most of the same ingredients (especially the zucchini and the tomato) they tasted different enough. And since they did have a lot of the same ingredients they didn’t compete with each other.  

So the next time an ingredient speaks to you, go for it. You may just end up having a theme dinner you didn't plan on. 
Is it me or does this bean look like a bird?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Want Easier Stuffed Peppers? Don't Stuff Them

I like stuffed peppers mostly for the stuffing inside. It’s an easy way to use peppers, but sometimes the peppers can be a little overwhelming when you eat the final dish. Also, sometimes the peppers don’t get done all the way through. As a result, usually I’m pretending I like the dish more than I do as I try to ignore the fact that the outside is raw even while the inside is really good.

So tonight, instead of making real stuffed peppers I decided to make “inside out” stuffed peppers. It would still have all the ingredients, just be served up more like a casserole. It would also be an easier dish to make on a weeknight, since stuffed peppers can take a long time to make. With a plan in mind, I only had to decide just what kind of stuffed peppers to make.

That brings me to another great thing about stuffed peppers. They are easily adaptable to whatever you have on hand. I’ve made Middle Eastern varieties, with couscous, Indian varieties heavy on garam masala, and stuffed them with lentils, rice, bulgur, and everything in between. Last night when I surveyed what I had on hand, I decided these would be Mexican stuffed peppers. My stuffed pepper casserole would consist of chorizo, brown rice, enchilada sauce, salsa and cheese.

unstuffed peppers casserole
Unstuffed pepper casserole 
I had all the ingredients on hand, so to get a jump on tonight’s prep, I decided to make the rice. That way when I came home from work tonight I’d be able to brown the chorizo, mix everything together and pop it in the oven. Doing some of the prep work in advance and cutting out the long cooking time for stuffed peppers which can take more than an hour, made this a do-able dish for a weeknight.

All in all, prep took about 10 minutes, and the casserole was done in about 35 minutes. The peppers were tender and it was a whole lot easier to eat than stuffed peppers. It also had more portion control than whole stuffed peppers. When I make those, I tend to eat at least half or the whole thing, since it’s easier that way. That would have amounted to about 2 – 4 servings had I made the peppers that way. The casserole looks more like at least 6 – 8.

The Unstuffed Peppers Casserole is definitely going in my pepper recipe file. I like the Mexican variety quite a bit, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other varieties I might make. I’ll have to see what’s on hand the next time I get peppers in my CSA box. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eggplant Meet Crockpot

One of my favorite parts of getting a CSA share has been learning to cook and like vegetables I wouldn’t necessarily eat if they didn’t show up in my kitchen. One has been eggplant. Judging from the swap box yesterday, I can say that I’m not alone. I looked inside to see what I might swap my own eggplants for and found nothing but eggplants inside.

I received them in my last box too and instead of hiding them at the bottom of the crisper, decided to try to use them up right away. I did the same this week and I’m proud to say I have two new recipes I love for one of the vegetables I’m most likely to avoid. And as a bonus, they both use the crockpot and made tasty meals that I didn’t have to cook after a busy day.

Crockpot Spiced Eggplant and Lentil
Crockpot Spiced Eggplant and Lentils
Last week’s was inspired by a recipe I found in an Indian cookbook I picked up at a garage sale earlier in the year, Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. I stole the idea of their recipe for Smoked Spiced Eggplant, by using some of the same ingredients and spices, adding lentils to make it more of a main dish, and adapting it for the slow cooker.

It worked out perfectly. It made a spicy dish that was good warm or cold. The best part was the eggplant. Sometimes eggplant has a slimy texture to me that isn’t appealing. In this dish the eggplant took on a firmer texture that tasted very good. Here is the recipe for Crockpot Spiced Eggplant and Lentils.

crockpot Moussaka
Crockpot Moussaka
For tonight’s dinner, prepped last night, I made crockpot moussaka. I already wrote about moussaka in this post, but I was looking for a quicker and easier way to enjoy one of my favorite meals. I found this recipe and adapted it a bit by using cinnamon instead of oregano and fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

It cooked all day while I was at work and tasted amazing. Although it didn’t have the béchamel crust it was still really good. If you want, you could add feta cheese for a bit more flavor, but I thought it tasted fine without anything on top.

I don’t know if I’ll be getting anymore eggplant this season, but if I do, I’m sure I’ll be able to find more recipes to enjoy it in. I think I might even be sad if I don’t get the chance. Who would’ve ever thought I could feel so strongly about eggplant. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Convenience versus Homemade

I had every intention of making the crust by hand. But just in case, I picked up one from the refrigerated section of Copp’s on my way home from work with the rest of the staples I needed for the week.

After all, the recipe I was planning to make, Summer Squash and Ricotta Galette, featured a light flaky crust made with olive oil. I had read the directions a few days earlier and it looked pretty simple. I barely ever bought those store-bought crusts. Eating them made me think about all the trans fats and preservatives I was sure were inside making it so flaky. But still, I had a bit of headache, the heat had eased a little, but I was still hot, and convenience won out.

squash galette assembled
Squash galette assembled
After that, the rest was easy. All I had to do was cut up some summer squash (I used two instead of one and one zucchini as the recipe called for) and add it to some crushed garlic and olive oil. In another bowl, I combined the ricotta, egg and spices. To assemble, you put the ricotta mixture on top of the crust and top with the squash. Instead of combining my own ingredients, waiting for them to meld together and rolling them out, I simply rolled out the store-bought crust and could fill it immediately.

squash galette fresh from the oven
Squash galette fresh from the oven
I will definitely add this recipe to my rotation. But after eating it all week for more than a few lunches and dinners, and even one breakfast when I found my milk had inexplicably gone sour more than a week in advance of its expiration date, I have to say next time I’m going back to homemade.  The store-bought crust tastes fine, but it’s almost too perfect. I’m almost missing the imperfections of a homemade crust. I imagine they would go better with the fillings.

The perfectly flaky store-bought crust seems almost too perfect for this rustic dish. Plus, the crust is so flaky it keeps peeling right off the bottom, leaving flat cardboard pastry-colored pieces on my plate, which I haven’t been eating, but scraping into the trash can. I may have saved a few calories this way, but the homemade crust definitely would have been more enjoyable.

I’m not surprised, but it’s a good reminder that homemade does win out most of the time. It takes a little more effort, but somehow it’s worth it. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yin and Yang Cooking

bahn pho noodles
Banh Pho Noodles
As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’ve been reading a book about the Chinese way of eating and cooking, Why the Chinese Don't Count Calories by Lorraine Clissold. I have to admit I didn’t have time to read the whole book before I had to return it to the library today. I skimmed the last few chapters, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t continued to inspire me.

It inspired me to visit one of Madison’s Asian grocery stores, Viet Hoa Market. Someone at work had mentioned it and when I passed it on my way from dinner with friends I had to stop. Inside I found everything I could ever want to make an authentic Asian meal, if only I knew how to read Chinese.

peanut sauce
Peanut Sauce
Peanut noodles with carrot and cucumber
Peanut noodles with carrot and cucumber
I perused the exotic meats and frozen fish, marveled at the produce, and picked up nearly every box of tea I passed. I ended up purchasing a hodgepodge of items including some coconut flavoring for my coffee, a tea ball, chrysanthemum tea, some noodles and some sesame cookies that had been delivered from a bakery in Chicago’s Chinatown.

Because I don’t usually cook Asian cuisine, it took a little research to figure out what kind of noodles I bought. They were banh pho, a type of rice noodle used in Vietnam for soups. I decided to make some peanut sauce and use them that way because I knew it would be a good complement to the carrot and cucumber I had recently received from Two Onion farm.

The dish seemed to be a perfect way to put a few Clissold’s secrets into practice: Bring yin and yang into your kitchen and Balance the flavors. Basically these two secrets discuss how the Chinese vary ingredients and cooking methods and eat foods with varying tastes and textures together.

Peanut sauce is a good example because it contains peanut butter (sweet) and curry paste (hot) and does not need to be cooked. I served it with the noodles, which needed to be soaked before they were cooked, and raw carrots (crunchy) and thinly sliced raw cucumber (slimy/soft). All in all, it was a combination of a lot of textures, tastes, and heat/cool.

The dish was perfect for a day when the mercury rose to more than 100 degrees and when it feels more like southeast Asian than Wisconsin. Although I had to return the book today, I did copy a  few of the other recipes, so I’m looking forward to trying out more of her secrets as CSA season continues.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Easy Season

This week my CSA box included:
crustless broccoli quiche
Crustless broccoli quiche

  • Broccoli (three heads)
  • Red Onions
  • Cucumbers (two large)
  • Carrots
  • Peas

That list is a little more streamlined than the original box, which included lettuce, mixed greens, and spinach but that were left behind in the swap box.

This is an easy box. I don’t need recipes for these veggies because they are pretty “normal” and ones I like. Although having a CSA share can be a fun way to try new recipes and eat vegetables that you don’t eat very often, sometimes it’s nice to keep it simple. This box is perfect for this time of year when I’d rather be at the pool than in the kitchen.

cucumber salad
Cucumber salad
Without any need for research, I got right in the kitchen Tuesday night when I picked up the box. Before long the first head of broccoli was added to a crustless broccoli quiche. It was an easy recipe that did involve the oven, but not much planning or forethought. I also ate about half of the carrots as a snack with some hummus while I made the quiche.

Last night I still had leftover quiche, but needed a little something extra to go with it. I sliced one of the cucumbers very thin, did the same with one of the red onions, added some vinegar, water and a little sugar and I had salad to eat as a side.

stuffed vegetable bread
Stuffed vegetable bread
Tonight I was feeling like junk food. Namely, a delivered pizza, but instead the veggies came through again. I decided to return, in a way, to the stuffed spinach bread of last week, with a baked stuffed sub. To do so, I sautéed some broccoli, plus some mushrooms and spinach I had on hand and added it to some jarred spaghetti sauce. I hollowed out some French bread and stuffed the vegetable the mixture with some mozzarella inside. I wrapped it up in foil, baked it and in about 15 minutes I had a somewhat healthier way to conquer my pizza craving.

It’s hard to say what has been my favorite dish this season so far, but the baked sandwich was right up there. It’s a good reminder that good food doesn’t always have to take a ton of effort.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Stretching Ingredients and My Creativity

beet feta and walnut quesadillas
Beet, feta and walnut quesadillas
Right now I’m reading, Why the Chinese Don’t Count Calories, by Lorraine Clissold. It summarizes Chinese food culture into 15 secrets. The secrets help the Chinese eat in a healthy way and still enjoy their food. Secret 2 is Think of Vegetables as Dishes. She says the Chinese give vegetables the same attention as meat. Instead of a dinner of meat with a small side of vegetables, the meal is mostly vegetables and many different kinds at that.

Secret Number 4: Eat Until You’re Full is accomplished through something called multi-dish eating. Instead of eating a few things in great quantities, they eat a lot of different things in small quantities. Instead of a plate with chicken, vegetables and a potato, Chinese diners sit down to many different plates of different types of vegetable dishes that they all share and end up taking small bites of a lot of different things.

Beet, feta and walnut spinach salad
Beet, feta and walnut spinach salad
Clissold says Western diners can do the same by putting individual ingredients on the table and letting those at the table choose to create their plate and how the items go together. Instead of creating a meal of chili and a salad, she suggests making a bowl of chili, stir frying some mushrooms, slicing up some vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers, and roasting some chopped butternut squash, and putting it all on the table. Each person gets a bowl of rice and then digs in to a little bit of each.

In a way, I’ve been putting these two rules to work this week, first with beets and then with garlic scapes, green onions and spinach. Earlier in the week I roasted some beets in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. First I made a beet and spinach salad topped with walnuts and feta cheese. When I was still hungry after that I put the same ingredients, minus the spinach, inside two tortillas and grilled it. Both dishes highlighted the beets, which were caramelized and a bit crispy, and left me satisfied, but not stuffed.

Baked spinach with roasted garlic scapes and green onions
Baked spinach with roasted garlic scapes and green onions
Later in the week, after reading a friend’s Facebook comment about her disappointment in the garlic scapes in her own CSA box, I remembered I had some of these strange things to use up. Determined to use them instead of letting them grow into some other form over the summer forgotten at the bottom of my crisper as I’ve done in the past, I decided to try roasting them.

I cut the scapes into two-inch pieces and did the same with my remaining green onions and poured a bit of olive oil on them. I roasted them until they were brown and almost crispy. They tasted amazing, almost like chips, and I was tempted to eat them just like that, but wanted to be a little more creative.

I put them in the chopper until they were broken into small pieces. Then I added them to a pan with about two big handfuls of spinach and sautéed the spinach. Next I added some milk to the pan and scraped up the remaining brown bits. I added a pinch of Parmesan and transferred the spinach mix to a baking dish and baked it until the liquid was almost absorbed. The baked spinach was wonderful with the roasted scapes and onions adding an extra level of flavor to it.  

I spread a little of the extra roasted scapes and onions on some bread and toasted it in the oven and served it with the spinach. With the other half of the portion, I hollowed out a piece of French bread and stuffed the spinach inside. I wrapped it in foil and baked it for about 10 minutes, something I’ll be doing again.

Stuffed French bread
Stuffed French bread
I’ve only started to read about secret 5 so I’m hoping to learn some more rule I can put in practice this CSA season.  The book also has a few recipes, which I want to try, but even if I don’t, I’m looking forward to cooking more creatively this season, thanks to the book.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ready, Go - Week 1

I picked up my first box of veggies this week. I had big plans for my first box, which didn’t pan out. During the off-season I meant to research new recipes I wanted to make this summer and organize them into a blog post I could refer to throughout the CSA season. Instead they are in the usual places, in stacks of pages ripped out from magazines and saved as favorites on my computer. I also wanted to recategorize the recipes posted on my blog by vegetable, but that never happened either. I also read a great book on organic farming, Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley, and meant to write a review of that.

 Oh well. I may return to those projects this summer, next fall or next winter, but for now it’s on to the vegetables I’m picking up every two weeks. Here’s a list of what I received this week:

  • Kale 
  • Beets
  • Green Onions
  • Garlic Scapes 
  • A number of different types of lettuces/greens 
  • Carrots 
  • Broccoli 
  • Salad Turnips 
  • Cucumber 

On Tuesday, after I picked it up, I put the kale to use right away with some leftover pasta I had in the refrigerator. I don’t really have a recipe. All I did was sauté the kale with some thinly sliced garlic scapes until it was cooked down. Then I added some store-bought pesto to the pasta, stirred in the kale mixture and topped it with some grated Parmesan. It was quick and simple, but tasty.

I’ve eaten most of the rest in variable salads in the past couple days. The surprise of the box was the salad turnip. The Two Onion Farm newsletter described these as “extremely tender, juicy, and sweet, with just a hint of mustardy, turnipy taste.” They also called them the most delicious vegetables they grow. They were absolutely right. I peeled one so far and ate it raw. The flesh is more tender and moist than other root vegetables and the taste is very mild, but distinct. I can’t wait to eat the other one.

Finally, tonight I decided to put a few of the beets to use. I traded some of my greens for more beets, thinking I was going to make some beet burgers. Since I haven’t had time yet, I decided to try a new recipe. I was gone all day, so soup in the crock pot won out. Although I didn’t follow the directions exactly for the Roasted Beet and Potato Soup, it was a nice surprise. When I came home tonight my house smelled almost like I’d been cooking tomatoes all day. The beets were an unexpected acidic compliment to the potatoes. 

So even though I didn’t do all the planning I wanted, the CSA season has started out well. I’ve learned to love a yummy new vegetable, eaten a number of healthy dishes and found another new way to like beets. I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s what CSA season is all about.