Sunday, June 29, 2008

Out of the Box, Week 3

Clockwise from top left: chard, garlic scapes, sugar snap peas, parsley, lettuce, zucchini, kai-lan.

I had planned to stir-fry the kohlrabi in the middle of last week, but when I heard we might be getting some bok choy in box #3, I decided to hold off and use them together. It looks like we ended up with kai-lan instead, but that's just as good for stir-frying.

The garlic scape, like the kohlrabi, is exactly why I wanted a CSA. Not only had I never bought garlic scapes, I'd never even heard of them. I think they are strangely beautiful. If I were a floral designer, I'd be sticking these babies in arrangements whenever I could get my hands on them. Here is a nice little article about them. You can use them however you would use garlic, steam them and serve them with butter, or make pesto with them. I decided to split my share in half, using some for the stir fry and some for this spinach pesto recipe, which will also help me use up the last of that gigantic bag of spinach.

Here are all my stir-fry ingredients, ready and waiting while the fire heats the wok. In the colander are most of this week's sugar snap peas. I have cubed tofu and bottled oyster sauce, for convenience. Some frozen corn and a shredded carrot add color. The leaves are from the kohlrabi and kai-lan. In the little prep bowls, clockwise from top left, are garlic scapes and the white scallion parts, kohlrabi, and kai-lan stems.

Less than ten minutes later, dinner was ready. I had previously made scallion pancakes with the last of the bunch from week two. I used the recipe from the New Moosewood Cookbook. These were a little tough. I may have kneaded the dough too much. I baked these, instead of frying them, in a small nod to nutrition.

Overall the stir fry was tasty and I really liked that I got to use so many new vegetables in it. We had plenty left over for today's lunch, too, and even a little more for tomorrow's bentos.

Last but not least, we enjoyed a tasty glass of cheap bubbly to celebrate the fact that I am now fully self-employed!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

super quick and easy dinner

Yesterday, Dan and I wanted to catch a movie at 7:00, so we didn't have much time between when he got home from work and when we needed to head out again. I decided temaki (hand-rolled sushi) would be a good dinner choice. I cooked the rice in the afternoon (I work from home) and seasoned it with a mix of one part salt, one part sugar, and five parts rice vinegar, as described in this book.

When Dan got home, I sliced some cucumbers, carrots, and crab stick for fillings, and set out some nori (dried seaweed) and soy sauce for dipping. Temaki are easy to make and particularly refreshing on a warm day, especially if you have a rice cooker and don't have to turn on the stove. You just grab a sheet of nori, put on a scoop of rice, add whatever fillings you want, and roll it up into a cone.


(Yes, my husband proudly rocks the handlebar mustache.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

cruelly delicious

All week we've been eating strawberries - on biscuits with whipped cream, on waffles for breakfast, with low-fat plain yogurt for a snack, and plain, tucked in to our bento boxes as gap fillers. The most decadent preparation, however, has been these amazing strawberry cupcakes.

I generally bake cakes from scratch, but yesterday I was feeling lazy and so I cheated. I used a boxed white cake mix ($.99 at Walmart) and prepared as directed, except that I used a cup of pureed strawberries instead of water. The batter should have been a warning not to proceed; of course I licked the spoon, and it was so cruelly delicious that I knew we would be powerless to resist these cupcakes.

For the frosting, I used a variation on my grandmother's buttercream frosting (recipe below). As usual, I left out the shortening and added a little more butter, but I also added a touch of pureed strawberries and some almond flavoring, and here's the kicker - melted white chocolate chips. Knee-shakingly delicious! Even my husband, who normally doesn't care for sweets all that much, kept going back to the platter for more.

Grammy's Basic Buttercream Frosting
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. shortening
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
milk (usually 1-2 tsp.)

Cream butter and shortening. Add powdered sugar, a little at a time, and beat. Beat in vanilla and as much milk as needed to reach desired consistency. Go easy on the milk! It only takes a little to make it very creamy.

For a nice variation, replace the shortening with cream cheese or peanut butter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

tuna cakes with mystery greens and feta

Tuna is one of those things that I will buy a stack of and then realize that I don't actually like it very much. I just suddenly think "Tuna's a great idea!" and the next thing I know, I have eight cans of tuna sitting in my cupboard for two years. For these tuna cakes, I used the very last can from one such frenzy. I first came across a tuna cake recipe four years ago when we lived in London and were completely skint. I spent hours googling "cheap cooking" and "frugal recipes" and things like that, and tuna cakes was one of the meals I found. That recipe involved crushed up crackers, I think.

For this one, I seasoned the tuna with scallions from our CSA box, dried rosemary, pepper, and a squirt of lemon juice. Then I added a beaten egg and some bread crumbs and formed little patties, which I pan-fried in a little olive oil.

This looks like a pathetic little meal - I should have used smaller plates. It was actually pretty satisfying. I steamed some greens, which I thought were chard, but after eating them, I'm not so sure - they didn't taste quite like the chard I've had in the past. Maybe they were a different variety? I don't know. A little feta sprinkled on top helped counteract the bitterness.

I realized while cutting up the scallions for this recipe that the root end of the scallion looks like a crazy little head. In particular, they remind me of this guy.

Not only is Pepe the coolest by far of the new generation of Muppets, he's also an excellent director.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

by special request

Strawberry soup, because my hubby asked for it.

Just strawberries, yogurt, and orange juice blended together. Really more of a thin smoothie, served with a spoon. I made a simple salad (lettuce, carrots, apples, cheddar) and we ate while watching Goodnight Burbank.

That didn't last long.

It was a very simple meal, but Dan loved it. It's nice that he's so easy to please.



I didn't just make lasagna yesterday. Dan and I also went strawberry picking at Killdeer Farm. It was raining when we left, but since the farm is about ten miles from our house, we decided to head out anyway, in case the weather was better there. It wasn't, but that didn't stop us from picking six heaping quarts. The rain was pretty light, but we got plenty wet. I'd say it was well worth it. There's nothing better than fresh-picked strawberries.

Today I hulled and sliced half of the strawberries. We'll eat as much as we can this week and freeze the rest. Last year we went strawberry picking with my grandmother and the three of us picked twelve pounds in no time. It was such a treat last winter when everything was gray and snowbound to pull some strawberries out of the freezer. I'm looking forward to it again already.

But meanwhile, this week, we get to eat them fresh. We started tonight with some strawberry shortcake:

I used this biscuit recipe, which was fantastic. They rose up so huge and puffy - literally quadrupling in height! Perfectly flaky yet somehow dense and hearty enough to withstand the assault of the strawberry juices. I whipped up some heavy cream with a little vanilla and almond flavoring and just a touch of sugar. The result was heavenly.

Monday, June 23, 2008

spinach and white bean soup

After so much time steaming spinach yesterday, I needed something really easy for dinner. Spinach and white bean soup took about fifteen minutes to cook, during which time I prepped the salad. I just sauteed some onions and garlic in a little olive oil, then added a can of vegetable stock (all I had on hand), some water, and a little low-sodium chicken bouillon, as well as a cup of ditalini and a can of cannellini. Once the pasta was tender, I stirred in some spinach, just until it wilted, then served it up with a little grated asiago. Delicious and satisfying!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Out of the Box, Week 2

Clockwise from top left: lettuce, spinach, scallions, unidentified leafy bunch, oregano, kohlrabi.

This week brought a lot of greens, which is to be expected, and a vegetable that I had never tried before: kohlrabi. This is exactly why I signed up for a CSA; I wanted to be forced to try things that I wouldn't normally choose. I've seen kohlrabi in the supermarket before, but I wouldn't have been able to tell you what it was. It looks like a mutant radish from outer space. I'm definitely excited to try it out.

First, however, we still had spinach left over from week 1, and now we have more! This bag of spinach doesn't look that big, but it's tightly packed - about as heavy as a basketball. I couldn't even begin to think what to do with it all, so I used what was left to make a veggie lasagna.

This is kind of a skinny/flat lasagna - I only had the spinach, which I steamed first, and carrots, which I shredded. Normally I like to add mushrooms, too, but I didn't have any on hand. With some low-fat ricotta and mozzarella, leftover jar sauce, and no-boil lasagna sheets, this was a quick and easy meal, rounded out with sliced cucumbers and some homemade garlic bread. It was so satisfying that I decided veggie lasagna would be a good solution to the spinach problem.

I spent most of today steaming a good portion of this week's spinach and layering a huge veggie lasagna (with mushrooms, this time). I didn't have any sauce on hand, so I made some, based loosely on Rebecca Blood's no-cook pizza sauce. I used the oregano from the CSA box, as well as some garlic and dried rosemary, tomato paste, water, and a big can of diced tomatoes.

I froze the entire lasagna (cutting it up and wrapping each piece individually), so that will be nice at some point later on when I just don't feel like cooking.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

spinach, two ways

After a couple of days of salads for dinner, I was ready for something a little different. I decided to tackle the rather large bag of spinach. I'm not a huge spinach eater; I do use frozen spinach a lot in the winter when fresh, local greens aren't available, but given the option, I'll usually choose other greens. The one exception is this amazing pomegranate and spinach salad recipe from The Armenian Table, an excellent cookbook that I received as a Christmas present from my (Armenian) mother-in-law. That salad was so wonderful I must have made it about ten times in three weeks, and I went through withdrawal when the pomegranates disappeared from the grocery store shelves.

Anyway, back to the spinach - I decided to use some of it for a pasta dish. I sauteed it with some onions and garlic in a little olive oil, then tossed it with penne and (for lack of ricotta) cottage cheese. A little grated asiago on top finished it off. It was an okay supper, but not quite as good as I expected it to be. I think next time it would be better with feta. (Doesn't that sound like a tagline? "Everything's betta with feta!")

We had some leftover, so I put it in our bentos the next day, along with a simple salad (lettuce, carrots, walnuts, dried cranberries) and some turkey pepperoni for protein.

By the next night, Thursday, I was really sick of salads and terrified of how much spinach remained. I decided it could only be handled with cheese. Bring on the calzones!

Whole-wheat pizza dough from the Coop is reasonably healthy but probably did little to counteract the cheesezilla action as seen in this picture. Four different cheeses combined to make this one tasty calzone: mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, and feta. At least they were all low-fat cheeses, but the cumulative fat factor = not so great. Still, there was (some) spinach in there. We added a little marinara for dipping and had one deliciously cheesy meal.

Now for the bad news: we STILL have spinach left from week one, and today, in box number two, we received more. Lots more. Probably like five pounds more. And there's only two of us (that are human). Unless Ashley the cat takes a liking to fresh greens, I think we're stuck with a spinach surplus.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

salad, take two

Now this salad, while similar to the last one, was much more satisfying. In fact, it was downright hearty. I was so stuffed that I didn't even eat dessert (a VERY RARE occurrence).

I used the enormous mutant lettuce as a base, and topped it with celery, carrots, Granny Smith apples, cheddar cheese, dried cranberries, and walnuts. It's dressed with my mustard vinaigrette, as usual. This time I shredded the carrots using our Salad Shooter. It's one of those weird little gadgets that I probably wouldn't have purchased on my own, but we received one as a gift from my sister-in-law and it has turned out to be one of the best gifts I've ever received. It's amazingly fast and easy, and I use it constantly. It takes so much of the work out of the whole shredding process - my grater is pretty much obsolete at this point.Post Options

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Here's the first of many salads that we will eat this week. I used some of the colossal lettuce as well as some mixed greens (baby spinach, mustard, arugula, and several more that I can't identify). This night, I was craving all things crunchy, so I loaded up on celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds. I used my basic mustard vinaigrette (salt, dried mustard, champagne vinegar, and olive oil) that I put on almost all salads.

It was a tasty salad, but not quite filling enough. Thankfully, we had the rhubarb for a delicious dessert. I used Phat Duck's compote recipe, made with orange liqueur, and it was fantastic! The liqueur and the touch of butter really enhanced the natural flavor of the rhubarb. It was a little sweet for my liking, though, so next time I would cut the sugar down to a scant half a cup.

When I have rhubarb, I pretty much do a compote (with or without strawberries) or sometimes a crisp. My grandmother makes wonderful strawberry-rhubarb pies. But I'd like to do something different with it - do you have any suggestions for unusual rhubarb recipes? If so, please post in the comments! I'd love some new ideas.

By the way, that nice cold glass you see in the corner of the compote photo is spiced rum and ginger beer, a favorite drink of mine for summer (so refreshing!).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Out of the Box, Week 1

I've wanted to sign up for a CSA for a few years, but we've been thwarted by life events (one year hoping we would move out of state, then the next year knowing we would). Finally secure in the knowledge that we'd be in one place for a whole growing season, we signed up for a weekly small share from Luna Bleu Farm.

Not surprisingly, this early in the season, we get A LOT of greens. Take, for instance, this mega head of lettuce.

I think the fact that I have giant man-hands is throwing off the perspective of this picture. This lettuce was seriously HUGE - it must have been 18 inches across. It took a few hours to clean and spin the whole thing.

In addition to the colossal lettuce, we received a good-sized bag of spinach, a bag of mixed greens, and a handful of rhubarb spears. Clearly, the first week of eating out of the box would entail many salads. Pictures and details of just what we did with all those leaves to come in future posts.

And so it begins.

There's no shortage of great blogs out there. I already have way too many in my daily reading queue. So why start another one? I guess I want to a venue for writing about things I'm interested in. I want to get back into the habit of writing on a regular basis. If you've somehow stumbled across this, welcome. I hope you find something you like.

For now, this will mostly be a food blog. I've signed up for a CSA this summer, so figuring out what to do with the giant box full of veggies (or sometimes, just what the heck kind of veggies they are) takes up a lot of my time. Eventually, this blog's content will probably expand to include other things I like, such as fashion, design, crafting, and travel.

The title "Choice of Pies" comes from a family joke, but that's another story for another day.