Friday, January 30, 2009

Shipping Off to Boston!

We're heading down to Boston tonight to spend the weekend with Zach and Maria - always a good time. Remember when I raved about Anthropologie? Well, this weekend I'm going to set foot in one of their stores for the first time, and I won't have to walk away disappointed, since Z&M gave me a gift certificate for Christmas (thanks guys!). I'll be back next week with a restaurant review or two, a wrap-up of my Anthro experience, and the special surprise project I mentioned recently. And don't miss the return of Salad Days next Wednesday.

What about you? Any plans for the weekend? Please share in the comments, and have a great one!

Get Ready for Summer!

Despite what you might think from the headline, I haven't lost it yet. Even though it's still January and we're being regaled with another six inches of snow two or three times a week, it's time to think about summer CSA sign-ups. The first deadline for the CSA that we use, at Luna Bleu Farm, is March 1, and Suzanne expects it to be full by then (so no late sign-ups).

My mom recently said to me, "Your CSA looks really great, but I don't think they have any near me." They do - in fact, there are more than twenty to choose from in her area. The Local Harvest CSA finder lets you search by zip code or by city and state. Unless you live in an extraordinarily dry, mountainous, or remote area, there is probably a CSA near you. Even then, it's worth a shot - Local Harvest's map shows CSAs in all 48 continental states. You can also try's search - their CSA listings aren't as extensive, but they do have listings for Canada. If you're abroad, try Googling your country or region and CSA or whatever it may be called where you live. For example, in Britain, CSAs are usually referred to as "veg box schemes." If you're not sure, try searching "farm share" or looking at the website for your country's department of agriculture. The USDA website lists a few other CSA finders beside the ones that I mentioned, plus some more great links about CSAs.

And before you settle on a CSA, take the time to investigate your options. Not all CSAs are the same. Some require volunteer time on the farm (ours doesn't, but they do host occasional harvest days/potluck parties). Some have weekly drop-offs or pick-ups, some biweekly. Some require you to come to the farm, others offer pickups at central locations, and some even deliver to your door. There are CSAs where you choose nothing (all box contents determined by the farmer) and others that are more like discount programs at farm stands, where, for instance, you pay $200 in advance and in return you get $250 in credit to buy whatever you want. Some CSAs include things like herbs, fresh flowers, meat, bread, honey, milk, or eggs. There are so many variations, and chances are, whether you know it or not, you probably have options in your area.

If you decide to sign up for a CSA near you, PLEASE comment here and tell me what you've found! I'm really curious to know what you've chosen and why.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

End-of-the-Month Soup

My camera battery is dead and the charger has disappeared, so the picture for this post is currently trapped on the camera. I'll upload it as soon as I can.

ETA: Woohoo! Charger recovered, battery charged, picture posted!

You may have noticed that I skipped the Salad Days post yesterday. It wasn't an oversight, and I'm not canceling the Salad Days series. In fact, I didn't do a salad entree this week for a very simple reason: we had run out of fresh greens, but we still had plenty of other ingredients on hand, and since it's the end of the month and I wanted to stick to our January budget, I decided not to buy more salad greens this week. So, no salad entree. Instead, I made a simple vegetable-bean soup. The carrots that we got at the beginning of the month from our winter CSA had gone a bit soft, so they weren't great for crunching raw, but they would work just fine in a soup. Ditto for the celery we bought a couple of weeks ago. These withering vegetables made the basis for a tasty, satisfying, and very cheap meal. I served it with some homemade focaccia - a first for me, and since I'm not fully satisfied with that recipe yet, I'm not posting it here.

End-of-the-Month Soup

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium-size onion or 3-4 shallots
3-4 cloves garlic
3-4 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 small potatoes, diced
2 cups cooked chickpeas (frozen or canned okay)
28oz can tomatoes (whole or diced)
broth, any flavor (optional)
2 teaspoons Italian herb blend
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large soup pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 3-5 minutes. Add potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes, and spices. Fill the now-empty tomato can with water and add the water to the pot. You can substitute stock for some or all of the water. I used some water, plus a small wedge of frozen concentrated turkey stock that I made with Thanksgiving leftovers. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender.

This is just a very basic bean and veggie soup and you can easily substitute whatever you have on hand. This would be great with fresh or frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and corn, too. I used chickpeas straight from the freezer, but you could also us canned chickpeas or any other kind of bean (black, kidney, etc.).

A note on carrots: if your carrots are organic, or if you're not concerned about pesticides, don't peel them first - just scrub them well. The carrot skin has a lot of great fiber in it that gets lost when you peel. The same goes for the potatoes.

Also, a note on canned tomatoes: yesterday I said that canned vegetables aren't the best and today I'm writing up a recipe with canned tomatoes in it. What gives? Well, tomatoes are rare in that their nutritional content actually improves in the canning process. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant which is less available to us in raw tomatoes. Heat helps break down the cell walls and release more lycopene, so canned or cooked tomatoes actually offer more benefits than raw ones.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Outside, that is. It's about 15 degrees Fahrenheit as I type. Of course, that's thirty or forty degrees warmer than the worst temperatures we had a few weeks ago. But still, it's cold, and I'm happy to be inside and comfortable. The freezing weather outside has inspired me to write about freezing inside - that is, freezing vegetables for later use.

This was a delicious meal - roast pork loin with sage rub, roasted butternut squash with cinnamon and butter, and French green beans. Thanks to the freezer, this meal was actually made on quite short notice and with little effort.

The pork loin, which was not frozen, did take some time to roast, but it was hands-off time so I could be productive elsewhere. The sage rub I used was actually a prepared seasoning mix, something I found in my cupboard and thought, "Why do I have this? I don't remember buying this. Oh well, might as well use it!"

Both side dishes came from the freezer. I had roasted, mashed, and frozen the squash from our winter CSA weeks before, so all I had to do was pull it out to thaw when I put the roast in and then put it in the oven to warm up during the last twenty minutes or so of roasting time. The green beans were originally from a summer CSA box. When they arrived, I knew we wouldn't use them that week, so instead I washed, trimmed, and froze them raw; when I wanted to use them, the frozen beans went right in to the steamer basket and cooked for about seven minutes.

The freezer is particularly essential for me in winter when I can't get fresh vegetables locally. Freezing the excess from the abundance of my summer CSA share means that food doesn't go to waste. I also buy a lot of frozen veggies from the grocery store. Most of these veggies are now flash-frozen right after harvesting, so they actually retain more nutritional value than the "fresh" produce that is shipped thousands of miles. Frozen vegetables are also better than canned because canned vegetables often have a lot of added sodium and the heat from the canning processes destroys some nutrients. Plus, frozen veggies are cheap: I stock up at my local PriceChopper when they go on sale for $1.00 or $1.50 for a two-pound bag, but even at the normal price, they cost about $1.00 per pound.

What's your favorite frozen vegetable? I just love having the little packets of mashed roasted squash on hand; also, lately I can't get enough broccoli!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


When I said the word "stashbusting," my husband yelled, "WHAT?!" and quickly covered his face. You see, he heard "'stache busting" and assumed I was going after his beloved handlebar mustache. I have no such intentions; I actually love his 'stache, as it perfectly expresses his quirkitude. No, the stash I intend to bust is my fabric stash. This weekend I pulled it all out of storage so I could take inventory and actually, you know, use it. Well, it turns out I have amassed over 100 yards (!) of fabric, most of it in lengths of two yards or less.

Some of my 34 different quilting fabrics.

I'm not going to turn Choice of Pies into a sewing blog, but I did want to let you know of my plans. I created a monthly calendar with two or three sewing projects listed next to each month; if I can keep up with this schedule, a good portion of my stash should be obliterated by August. Pictures of all the fabrics are in my Stashbusting 2009 Flickr set, and I will add pictures of the projects (which include a hoodie, five dresses, two blouses, two aprons, and more) as they are completed.

I also have some pantry stashbusting planned; I recently reorganized and realized I have seven different kinds of rice (wild, jasmine, sushi, brown basmati, brown nishiki, long-grain brown, and arborio) and six kinds of dried beans (chick peas, lentils, adzuki, pink, small white, and rattlesnake) just waiting to be used, so I'm probably going to do a lot of variations of rice and beans in the comings week. Clearly I have some packrat tendencies. There's nothing wrong with having so many different kinds of rice and beans on hand - each serves its own purpose, and long-term storage isn't a problem - but it's been a while since I've tried to do anything different with these humble and nutritious ingredients. Best of all, they are all cheap, and even cheaper (free) since I already have them on hand. I anticipate lower grocery costs in February while I shop from my own pantry.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Comfort Food

I have a cockroach of a cold - it just can't be vanquished. It's like the horror movie killer that roars back to life every time you think that you can relax, that he's finally gone. I woke up Friday to find my throat under siege, and even though I managed to be productive, by dinner time, I was completely wiped out. I almost succumbed to takeout but after December's convenience-food spree, we're trying to cut back. I definitely needed comfort food, and after rifling through my pantry, one option jumped to the fore: American chop suey.

Chop suey is a comfort food for me because I ate it a lot growing up. I used to have dinner at my grandparents' house once a week, if not more, and chop suey is one of my grandmother's classics. Luckily it is simple and requires few ingredients, so even in my exhausted state, I was able to throw this together. Eaten on the futon, next to my hubby, while watching mindless TV, it was the perfect ending to a long and tiring week.

***This recipe is an approximation, thrown together with what I have, but the result tasted exactly like Grammy's. I'm not sure, but she might use some tomato paste as well - Mom, if you're reading, can you weigh in in the comments and let me know if I'm missing anything?

Grammy's Chop Suey

1 lb ground beef or turkey
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (I used three or four shallots)
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
28 oz can whole tomatoes
2 teaspoons Italian herb blend
pinch of sugar
4 cups cooked macaroni (about 2 cups dry)
salt and pepper, to taste

Add olive oil to saute pan and warm over medium heat. Cook onions and garlic 3-5 minutes. Add ground beef, crumble, and stir occasionally until meat is cook through and onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, herbs, and sugar. Add up to half a can of water if necessary - it depends on how much juice was in the can with the tomatoes. You don't want the mixture to be dry but you don't want soup, either. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. This is a good time to cook your macaroni if you haven't already. When tomatoes are good and cooked, stir in cooked macaroni and season to taste. Top with grated parmesan or asiago if desired. Serves 4.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dinner, Part 3: Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cake

Here it is: the last (and best?) part of Sunday's dinner. I wanted to make something but had limited ingredients in the house and didn't want to go to the store since the snow was coming down hard. I also wanted something rich and gooey. I had very little butter and only three squares of Baker's chocolate (no cocoa powder), so I couldn't make my usual chocolate cake. After searching for recipes online and scouring my cookbooks, I finally came across a recipe that would work with what I had.

I found the recipe in All About Baking, a 1935 publication from the Consumer Service Department of General Foods Corporation, the producers of Swan's Down Cake Flour, Calumet Baking Powder, and other brands. It's a great little book containing about 100 recipes. What I like most about it is the concept: twenty-three "picture lessons" use a recipe to demonstrate a technique, while several related recipes for each lesson follow. For example, after the Lady Baltimore Cake recipe, there are three recipes for different cakes made using the same basic method. For this cake, I used the caramel devil's food cake recipe, transcribed below. The biggest difference between this and other devil's food recipes I have used is that this one calls for brown sugar, which I imagine works nicely with the caramel frosting.

I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle caramel frosting without a candy thermometer, and I'd pretty much decided on making peanut butter frosting anyway. I had a bit of peanut butter from two jars left (salted and unsalted). I only use natural peanut butter, and I usually get the Teddie brand since it is tasty, cheap, and made right here in New England. I started using natural peanut butter a few years ago when I realized how much junk they put in the processed brands: corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and all kinds of unpronounceable chemical compounds. By contrast, Teddie contains peanuts and, if you get the salted version, salt. That's it. Since I grew up eating Skippy, it took a while for my taste buds to adjust, but now natural peanut butter tastes better to me.

Anyway, for this peanut butter frosting, I scraped out the two jars and ended up with about 2/3 cup of peanut butter. Normally for a peanut-butter frosting I would use some butter, but I'd used the last of my butter in the cake. So I just added powdered sugar and milk, alternately, beating well between each addition, until I found a consistency that I liked. I stopped when the frosting had a thick but gooey texture, similar to caramel, and I didn't so much spread the frosting on the cake as drop it on there, the frosting falling in a lazy drape from the spatula and, upon contact with the cake top, oozing to a smooth finish. After some time, the frosting firmed up, and the end result looked somewhat like fondant. To finish the cake, I dusted the top with sifted chocolate malt powder (Ovaltine) and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Some people have asked me about the salt; I think salt intensifies the taste of the chocolate, and injects the rather soft taste of the peanut butter frosting with more spunk. It was a risk, but one I was pretty sure Amanda and Gordie wouldn't mind, since I knew that Amanda likes chocolate with pretzels.

The end result: really good stuff. So good that we each had a small second serving while playing Yahtzee after our guests left. Thankfully Dan took the rest in to work the next morning so we didn't have to face temptation again. And if you were reading last week, you know that I said I was avoiding sweets. For the most part, I have been. But I decided before I made it that I would have a piece (or two) of this cake, and I'm glad I did. So worth it! But don't take my word for it. Try it yourseldf.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Caramel Devil's Food Cake
adapted from All About Home Baking

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter or other shorting
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs, unbeaten
3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour and baking soda. In a separate bowl, cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate and blend. Add flour, alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla. Bake in two deep greased 9-inch layer pans for 25 minutes.*

*My cake passed the toothpick test after only 19 minutes, so I took it out then and it was done. I would suggest checking on your cake around the 20-minute mark just in case.

Gooey Peanut Butter Frosting

2/3 cup natural peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk

Beat peanut butter at medium speed with about 1 cup powdered sugar. Alternately add milk and remaining powdered sugar, beating well after each addition. Adjust amounts until desired consistency is reached.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dinner, Part 2: Chicken with Rosemary and Tomatoes

I don't have a picture of this dish, since I was caught up in hosting and forgot to snap one, but you'll just have to trust me that it looks really tasty. Or you should make it, so you can see for yourself. It's a really simple combination that comes together beautifully, and once you try it, you will want to make it again and again. I was given this recipe by someone on a wedding planning website several years ago. Throughout my senior year of college, I made this dish at least two or three times per month. My then-fiance's apartment was a great refuge from the stress of thesis writing and grad school applications, and using his kitchen to cook for us was my favorite way to unwind. Since the recipe calls for a bit of wine, you also have a great excuse to open a bottle and sip a glass while you cook. On Sunday, I served this with risotto cakes and a simple salad, but it's also wonderful with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Chicken with Rosemary and Tomatoes

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 chicken breasts
1 small can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1/3 cup dry white wine (sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio work well)
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
salt, to taste

Add olive oil to deep saute pan and heat over medium. When hot, add chicken breasts and cook on one side until browned, 5-7 minutes. Flip breasts. Add can of tomatoes (including juice), a generous splash of white wine, and copious amounts of rosemary. Add salt if desired. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Chicken should be very tender and moist. All measurements are approximate, so don't measure too carefully - just relax and have fun with it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Salad Days: Butternut Squash with Spiced Pecans and Roasted-Garlic Vinaigrette

We received several butternut squashes in the first two winter CSA pick-ups; most were roasted, mashed, and frozen for later use. It has been helpful to have on hand; I move it to the fridge in the morning, then heat it up in a casserole dish in the oven while I get the rest of the meal ready. (You could use a microwave, too, but I don't have one, so oven it is!) But I still had a few whole butternuts and I wanted to try something different, so I came up with this salad.

The butternut is cubed and roasted. Near the end of the cooking time, some garlic cloves are tossed in the oven; they become the basis for a crunchy, garlicky vinaigrette that is drizzled over the warm squash and fresh greens. The finishing touch is a spicy, sweet, crunchy sprinkle of pecans, pan-toasted with some butter and garam masala (yes, I love this spice mix!). The end result is a hearty and satisfying mix of textures and flavors. This salad was an experiment, and I would call it a success; Dan managed to wolf his down before I could even ask if he liked it (about five minutes after handing him the plate).

Butternut Squash Salad with Spiced Pecans and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

1 small butternut squash
salad greens (enough for two people)
four cloves garlic
1 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
salt, to taste

Set oven to 350. Roast whole squash for twenty minutes; remove and set aside until cool enough to comfortably handle. When cool, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and stringy bits. Peel and chop into large (1") chunks. Spread on cookie sheet lightly greased with cooking spray (such as Pam). Return to oven and roast for another thirty minutes or until very tender, stirring occasionally.

While squash is roasting, wash and spin your greens and place in salad bowl.

When squash chunks have about fifteen minutes left, toss garlic cloves with one teaspoon olive oil in small baking or casserole dish; place in oven.

While garlic and squash roast, prepare your pecans. Melt butter in large saute pan over medium low heat. Add pecans and garam masala, stirring frequently for about five minutes, or until pecans smell nice and toasty.

Remove squash and garlic from oven. Place garlic in food processor with one tablespoon olive oil, cider vinegar, mustard, and salt, and blend. Add squash and vinaigrette to salad bowl and toss. Sprinkle pecans on top before serving.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dinner, Part 1: Roasted Chickpeas

Yes, today's post is late, late, late! I had some technical difficulties, but if you're reading this, then I finally got everything worked out. Anyway, here's the first part of the menu from Sunday's dinner with Amanda and Gordie: roasted chickpeas. I wouldn't exactly call them an appetizer - more a light pre-dinner snack, something to nibble on during the last few minutes of cooking.

Chickpeas are great because they are packed with both fiber and protein; roasting them makes a tasty, crunchy snack that is akin to popcorn but more nutritious. You can use canned chickpeas for convenience, but they are more expensive than the dried ones and often have lots of added salt and preservatives. I buy Goya dried chickpeas in one-pound bags from my local Price Chopper, where they usually cost between $1.00 and $1.50 per pound, but you might be able to find them even cheaper in the bulk section of your co-op or supermarket. Cooking them takes some time, but it's basically hands-off, so it's great for a day when you are doing things around the house: I'll usually soak them overnight on Friday, cook them Saturday, and freeze whatever I don't use that day. They keep well frozen and if placed in the fridge in the morning, they'll be thawed and ready to use by dinner.

Roasted Chickpeas

2-3 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 1/2 pound dried chickpeas, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil
garam masala* or spice of your choice, to taste
salt, to taste

Set oven to 375. Toss chickpeas with olive oil and spread in one layer on a cookie sheet. Season liberally with spice of your choice; sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chickpeas are ready when they are golden, crispy on the outside, and tender inside.

*A note about garam masala: garam masala is an Indian spice blend that is readily available in most supermarkets. If you can't find it in the spice section, check the natural foods section, which is where I found mine. The specific combination of spices can vary widely but often included are cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and coriander. The version I have also includes cloves and black pepper. It's a wonderful way to add sweet and savory flavors to a dish. Roasted chickpeas can be made with any seasoning you think you'd like - for instance, chili powder or garlic salt - but garam masala is by far my favorite.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wild Weekend and World's Healthiest Foods

Wow, what a busy weekend we had! Yesterday our friends Gordie and Amanda came for dinner (Amanda posts wonderful recipes at!). Since our apartment looked like a federal disaster area, we spent a lot of time fixing things up beforehand. Saturday afternoon was occupied by a special project that you'll see here on the blog at some point in the next week or two. And late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, our cat Ashley discovered an uninvited guest in our apartment and made such a ruckus that she woke us up. She had trapped something under my dresser. When I got up to see what all the fuss was about, I peered underneath and saw what I thought was a mouse. Only in the light of day, when the little creature escaped from the dresser and ran a few laps around the apartment while we made several attempts to catch it, did we realize that this was not any ordinary mouse. In fact, it's a dormouse (and it's still here, hiding behind the trash can). Since dormice are not native to this area, this little fella must be someone's pet. I've been emailing local small mammal breeders to see if anyone wants to rescue him. In the meantime, he stays hidden and Ashley occasionally makes a half-hearted attempt to catch him, then proceeds to go back to sleep for another four hours. Looks like our pampered puss has lost her hunting skills.

Tomorrow I'll write more about last night's dinner, but today, I want to share with you one of my favorite food-related websites. World's Healthiest Foods is a great resource for information about the foods we all should be eating. The site is packed with nutritional information and tasty recipes for over 120 nutrient-dense whole foods, including not only fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains but also such categories as sweeteners and spices/herbs. I often search the site when confronted with a new ingredient so I can learn more about it and get ideas for using it. If you're looking for healthier ways to prepare your favorite foods or new ways to include healthier foods (such as, for instance, flax seeds) in your diet, this site is a great place to start. Are there foods that you know you should eat more often, but are difficult to work in to your diet? Search for them on the World's Healthiest Foods site and let us know what helpful ideas you find!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let's end the week on a sweet note!

Here is the long-awaited shot of some amazing German pastries!

The one on the left was a moist cake topped with a cream layer and a gelatin layer studded with fresh raspberries. On the right is a classic cream puff. Both were amazing. The cream puff was hands down the best I have ever had (and I make a damn good cream puff). These came from a bakery on Rosegartenstrasse in the old town section of Konstanz. It was actually some sort of chain coffee shop. We went back several times during our short stay. Can you imagine having such spectacular treats available at your generic Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Don't get me wrong, they have their place, but these pastries left those from most specialty bakeries in the dust.

It's been a sweet-filled week here on the blog - first chocolate pretzel tart, then biscotti, and now these. I guess I have sugar on the brain, which is only fitting, I guess, since it's not in my tummy. I've been relying on flavored teas (including pomegranate, tropical fruit, and caffeine-free vanilla) to trick my taste buds and stay off the sweets. It's working so far.

We're having friends over for dinner on Sunday, so I'll post about that next week. In the meantime, have a sweet weekend!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last Christmas

Last Christmas post, that is. Not the cheesy synth-song that's been covered by every pop star for the past twenty years. Yes, I know we're well in to the new year, but I couldn't post about these biscotti until the last of them reached their final destination. You see, I made several batches of these to give as Christmas gifts to Dan's co-workers and a few friends who had done us enormous favors this year. We also sent an almond-anise batch (not pictured) to Dan's parents for Armenian Little Christmas (Epiphany).

I don't know why I started making biscotti - I think it was because they charge so much for them in coffee shops and gourmet stores, but they just didn't seem that difficult to make. And - surprise! - they aren't. They are simple cookies, and yes, they are twice-baked, but it's one extra step and not so bad. I made my first batch of biscotti a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Now baking biscotti is a part of my annual Christmas preparations.

I dipped the chocolate-peppermint biscotti in white chocolate and crushed Starlight mints. The other kind is orange-almond, dipped in dark chocolate. Both were delicious, although very, very rich. We left some plain for ourselves. I almost like the plain ones better, since you can get away with having one at breakfast, but it's nice to go decadent for gifts.

Biscotti for Dan's co-workers, Mike and Michael (aka "The Mikes"), went in brown paper bags that I decorated with a silver Sharpie. I also doctored up some plain address label stickers to indicate what lay within. I had fun coming up with different design motifs. I don't doodle enough anymore.

The ones for friends were wrapped in parchment paper, tied with twine, and decked with hand-drawn labels. The labels would not stick to the parchment paper, so I had to bust out my trusty dollar-store glue gun to attach them.

When I first started baking biscotti, I must have tried eighteen or twenty different recipes. This one was by far the best. I use this as a jumping-off point for all biscotti, changing the flavorings as necessary. One other change: instead of brandy, I've always used Captain Morgan spiced rum. It just happened to be what I had on hand the first time I tried this recipe, and it's so perfect I can't imagine using anything else. Although if you really want to taste something amazing, try a little of the raw biscotti dough. Cookie dough + liquor = so divine it must be sinful!

I leave you with one last glamor shot and an exhoration to give these a try. Once you do, you'll scoff at ever paying $3.00 for a coffee-shop compressed-sawdust version again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Salad Days: Wilted Baby Spinach with Toasted Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

In the winter, when root vegetables dominate, I try to make sure that we have salad as an entree at least once a week - there's something so refreshing about fresh greens breaking up the starchy monotony. In this spirit, I'm introducing a new series: salad days. Once a week, through the winter, I'll post a different salad recipe that is hearty and filling enough to serve as a main dish.

The first offering, warm spinach salad with pomegranate and pine nuts, is one I first came across about a year ago. After making it once, I was hooked. I made this salad several times last winter while pomegranates were in season, and I've been waiting all year for them to come back so I could make it again.

I found the recipe in The Armenian Table by Victoria Jenanyan Wise. I've tweaked it slightly. I use pomegranate juice instead of pomegranate molasses; I couldn't find the molasses and I think it would be too sweet for my taste, anyway. I love the sour tang of the juice. Also, Wise's recipe calls for walnuts, and I've made it that way, but once I substituted pine nuts, I could never go back - it just added so much more depth and contrast of flavor.

Wilted Baby Spinach Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
adapted from The Armenian Table: More than 165 Treasured Recipes That Bring Together Ancient Flavors and 21st-Century Style by Victoria Jenanyan Wise

8 cups baby spinach leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
seeds from one pomegranate

Rinse and spin dry spinach and place in salad bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until toasted, 2-3 minutes. When the smell becomes strong and the nuts start to turn golden, they are done. Turn the heat off, add the pomegranate juice and vinegar, and stir to mix. Add hot dressing to spinach and toss. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Here it is! Winter CSA, Month 3

We picked up our January share at the monthly indoor winter farmer's market in Norwich, VT. It's nice that it continues through the winter, but it's not nearly as interesting as the weekly summer market. In winter, we basically go just to get our share (and maybe a scone and a cup of coffee for the road). We're in and out in fifteen minutes, tops. At the summer market, however, there's so much more to look at and there is usually live music, as long as the weather is good. We like to take our time, check out all the booths, and do a few laps.

Anyway, January's share is not too bad. No more parsnips (woohoo!). The rundown:

-two cabbages
-four rutabagas
-four celeriacs
-six beets of varying size
-one enormous daikon radish (it must be at least 15" long!)
-about four or five pounds of carrots
-about five pounds of potatoes, some small (great for roasting) and some large (great for baking)
-one random bulb of garlic thrown in at the last minute

We also purchased some fingerling potatoes. Yes, five pounds of potatoes is plenty for the two of us for a month, but I just can't resist those wonderful fingerlings. I toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs, and roast them until the skin is golden and crackling and the flesh is meltingly soft.

I think this is a good assortment. I'm working on a new carrot soup recipe, and the daikon will come in handy when I make something from one of my Japanese cookbooks (per my resolution). We used to eat rutabagas a lot when we lived in London, although we didn't know it at the time: the Brits call them "swede," and we used to get this pre-chopped carrot & swede blend that we could steam or roast. I'll have to do a little research on new (to me) ways to prepare them. I'm also looking for new beet recipes; I usually roast them, but the antioxidant levels drop when exposed to heat, so I'd like to add some raw beet recipes to my arsenal.

Anyone have any good root vegetable recipes to share?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming...

I promised a picture of this month's share, which we just picked up on Saturday, but due to technical difficulties (i.e., I left my camera elsewhere and can't get it back until this afternoon), that will have to come tomorrow. Instead, I offer a sweet and salty treat to perk up your Monday morning.

Remember the chocolate pretzel tart I mentioned in my review of the Harrison? Well, Food and Wine got The Harrison's pastry chef to share her recipe as part of a feature on milk chocolate in this month's issue. The recipe is online here, so you can try it at home! I would, but after a December filled with cookies and biscotti and all kinds of indulgence, I'm trying to cut back on sweets for a while. If you don't like chocolate with pretzels (shock! horror!!), you can try one of the other recipes, found here, such as milk chocolate pots-du-creme, or milk chocolate cookies with malted cream, or... okay, I'd better stop before my willpower disappears. Back to my sugar-free, caffeine-free, vanilla tea, which tastes like cake batter and can hopefully distract me from all that chocolatey temptation.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Winter CSA, Month 1

I have been remiss in posting pictures of our winter share. This is a shot of the first winter share, which we picked up in early November:

Pretty incredible, isn't it? And yes, those are my pink-stockinged feet in the corner. I had to stand on a chair in order to get far enough away to get everything in frame. And this isn't actually everything: we also had a huge bag of onions, shallots, and garlic bulbs (to last throughout the winter), a bunch of dried rattlesnake beans, still in the pods, and as much basil as we could pick.

The basil was turned into pesto and frozen in cubes; likewise, I roasted most of the squash and steamed all of the kale to freeze for future use. I have a few pictures of meals made from this harvest, which I will post eventually. A lot of my pictures from this time did not turn out very well. The days were getting shorter and the light more elusive, and by mid-November, it was usually dark out before I even started cooking dinner.

What about month 2, which we picked up in early December? Well, I never photographed it. As I mentioned, I kept getting sick, and I was very busy, and frankly, what we got in month 2 was just not as pretty. Think parsnips. Lots and lots of parsnips. Plus carrots, potatoes, and more cabbage than I will ever know what to do with. We still have some cabbage in the fridge, and we're going to pick up month 3 tomorrow!

Check back Monday for a picture of tomorrow's haul, and have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sorta-Stuffed Squash

Here's the stuffed squash post I mentioned last Friday. I call it Sorta-Stuffed Squash because every stuffed squash recipe I've ever seen involves stuffing the squash and then baking it. Sometimes the squash is partially baked first, but it always ends up in the oven after being stuffed with some sort of mixture, usually rice-based. This recipe cheats by cooking the filling separately from the squash and just throwing them together at the end.

You might think cooking the squash and the filling separately is more complicated, but both steps are actually very easy and totally hands-off once you've got them on the heat. After halving the squash and scooping out the seeds, put a pat of butter in the hollow of each half and roast them, cut side up, for about 35 minutes at 400 degrees. The exact time will vary from squash to squash, but they should be tender when you stick a fork in them.

Once the squash is in the oven, make Rebecca Blood's brown rice and lentil recipe, which I've mentioned before. It couldn't be simpler - just lentils, rice, and water - then add salt and/or a little red wine vinegar when it's done. The lentils take about 25-30 minutes to cook, so your squash and your lentils will be done around the same time. Meanwhile, rinse and spin your lettuce, make your dressing, and you've still got twenty minutes to check email, watch the news, or - my favorite - enjoy a glass of wine.

When both the squash and the lentils are ready, scoop the lentils into the squash hollow. Tada! You're done. The rice and lentils absorb some of the melted butter from the squash, and the sweetness of the roasted squash nicely complements the salted, earthy taste of the lentils. This meal is a hat trick: easy, healthy, and cheap.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Year in Review: Cooking in North Carolina, Part 2

At the beginning of the week, Dan, Rob, and I went to the closest grocery store in order to stock up on cereal and sandwich provisions and the like for breakfasts and lunches. This grocery store happened to be inside a Super Walmart. When I went to select some fruit for snacks, I was disappointed to see that the peaches were from California. It just didn't make sense to me. When you are in one of the best peach-producing states in the country, at the peak of peach season, why are you shipping peaches from three thousand miles away? Yes, peaches are delicate, and they don't travel well, but it seems like madness to me to waste all that gasoline trucking things across a continent when better-tasting ones are growing an hour away. Okay, rant over.

Since the market wasn't until later in the week, for the first few days we reluctantly snacked on the California peaches, which were firm enough to survive the cross-country trip but frankly not that exciting. When Wednesday finally came around and we could purchase local peaches, they did not disappoint. They were twice the size of the California peaches with one hundred times the flavor. I am not exaggerating. All the peaches I've ever eaten in my life, added up, would not have the impact of a single bite of one of these peaches. It was like eating the sun.

So it was with great reluctance that Dan and I sliced up all these peaches to make gallettes. We briefly debated not serving dessert and eating all the peaches ourselves - they were that good! - but decided that would not be in the spirit of the week. With such excellent main ingredients, I wanted to keep the preparation as simple as possible, so we tossed the peaches with a small amount of brown sugar and a generous dose of cinnamon and piled them on top of roll-out pie crusts, casually folding over the edges to hold in the juices. We baked them at around 400 for twenty-five minutes or so: until the smell was unbearably good and the crusts were golden. We went with gallettes instead of regular pies for a few reasons. One, the open face shows off the beautiful color of the peaches. Two, with peaches that good, who wants a double pie crust? This kept the fruit-to-crust ratio high. And three, there were no pie pans in the rental, so this was also a practical decision that allowed us to use the pans on hand.

The gallettes were served a la mode. Sorry for the lousy final picture: we were in a rush to serve and eat these. I'm sure you can understand.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Year in Review: Cooking in North Carolina, Part 1

Last summer, Dan and I had the pleasure of spending four days on the beach in North Carolina with his extended family. They've been renting a beach house on the same little island every summer for years, and this was the first time since Dan and I got together that we'd been able to attend. There are a lot of traditions associated with the Holden Beach week, and one is that each night, a different couple cooks dinner for the entire family. Dan's dad Rob teamed up with us, and the men agreed to follow my lead. Now, at this point, we were several weeks in to our first CSA experience, and so I was excited to find out what North Carolina had to offer in terms of fresh, local produce. I used this search tool to find a farmer's market in the Holden Beach area.

The nearest market turned out to be in Southport, a short drive from Holden Beach. Southport, you may remember, is where we enjoyed a wonderful meal over the water at Provision Co. It's an idyllic village on the coast, and the farmer's market is held on Wednesday mornings at a park overlooking the harbor. It was a small market but the produce selection was more than satisfactory and a bluegrass band on the steps of the town hall enthusiastically provided the soundtrack throughout our visit.

When deciding what to cook, I originally thought of ribs, but it turns out Uncle David and Aunt Maureen always make the ribs. So then I thought maybe fajitas. Well, Scott and Melanie do tacos. So then I decided to stop making plans and just see what was available at the market. The first thing we bought, and the best, I think, was the amazing peas pictured above. Mississippi red crowder peas, according to the farmer who sold them to us.

The farmer recommended shelling the purple (drier) ones, slicing the green ones like green beans, steaming both lightly, and tossing them with any kind of oil. She also said a bit of bacon would bring out a natural smoky flavor. I followed her directions almost exactly, but instead of just oil, I used Newman's Own Balsamic Vinaigrette. These peas were amazing. I never thought I would enjoy peas so much. For me, a big bowl of these would have made a satisfying dinner on their own. I'm drooling just thinking about them.

But just peas wouldn't cut it, I knew. Nevertheless, at least we had our one local dish. Looking around the market, I found great vegetables for grilling and decided we would do kebabs as a main dish. We picked up big, fat, Vidalia onions, red and green peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini. Later we got chicken, mushrooms, and grape tomatoes from the grocery store and spent the afternoon chopping almost everything into large (1-1.5") chunks (leaving the mushrooms and tomatoes whole) and threading them on skewers. Kebabs look prettier when you mix everything up, but the reality is a mushroom and a chunk of zucchini and a piece of chicken all cook at different rates, so for the best taste, we threaded like with like so everything could cook how long it needed to, no more and no less. When it was all done, we dumped it all on a huge platter. I had planned to make Thai peanut sauce but when we found out there were a couple of people with peanut allergies, we switched that to an apricot-mustard dipping sauce (recipe below).

Part two, which covers the dessert we made, will be published tomorrow.

*learned from Alexia in college

2 tablespoons apricot jelly
1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
1 cup plain yogurt (fat-free, lowfat, or whole milk is fine)

Put everything together in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until warm and blended.

That's it. It couldn't be easier, and it's very yummy. Adjust the jelly and mustard amounts to your taste. Serve over poached chicken, or grilled chicken or shrimp, or with grilled veggie kebabs. Whatever you can think of, it will probably taste good with this sauce.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Scones Are Simple

If you look at the new banner above you'll see a close-up of one my homemade scones. Scones are actually really easy to make and require only a handful of ingredients. My super-easy customizable recipe follows; have fun experimenting with different flavors and let me know what your favorites are (I like almonds, dried cranberries, almond flavoring, and orange zest).

1/2 c. butter, COLD
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. milk
flavorings of your choice

Preheat oven to 400.

Cut together butter and flour into a fine meal. You can leave it coarser if you want; it makes for a more crumbly scone.

Stir in baking powder, salt, and any dry flavorings (i.e. nuts, citrus zest, dried fruit, chocolate chips, ground tea leaves - whatever you can think of!).

Add any liquid flavorings (e.g., vanilla or almond extract) to the milk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid. Stir just until the dough comes together.

Now comes the time to make a decision: do you want crumbly scones, like you get in American coffee shops? Or do you want a fluffier scone, which is more English-style?

For crumbly scones, immediately turn dough on to a floured surface and knead about eight times. Do not over-knead! Form into a cirle, about 3/4" thick, and slice into six or eight triangles. Separate the triangles and place them on a lightly-greased cookie sheet and bake 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

If you want fluffier scones, you can knead immediately a lot more than 8 times, or you can take the lazy route and let the dough sit for 25-30 minute before kneading 8 times. The more you knead it (or the longer you let it sit), the more the gluten gets activated, the more fluffy and less crumbly the scones will be. Form in to triangles and bake as described above.

Serve with butter, jam, lemon curd, or clotted cream. Enjoy!

Friday, January 2, 2009

I had planned to write about a simple stuffed squash recipe today, but last night, the sniffles that I thought were just from allergies developed into a full-fledged headbanger of a cold. I'm holed up on the recliner with my fleece blanket and my hubby's gone to get me cold-fighting provisions. So I wanted to ask, what are your favorite home remedies? Dan's getting me chicken soup, of course, which is probably helpful because it's warm and mild and slides easily down an irritated throat. I've also requested ginger tea, which we usually have on hand but just used up, and fresh lemons.

In high school, whenever I got sick, which was a lot, I'd get the fresh lemon slices from the dining hall salad bar and mash them with hot water and honey. Both honey and lemon are packed with immune-boosting antioxidants, and some studies suggest that honey may also function as a cough suppressant. This page recommends adding onion broth to your hot lemon and honey drink; maybe it works, but I won't find out, because just the thought of that makes me gag! I guess I'll stick to ginger tea with honey and lemon -- ginger has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And of course, my number-one sickness fighter: sleep. I'm going to settle in for a long nap right after I get my chicken noodle soup.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I'm not usually the New Year's resolution sort. I've made a few half-hearted attempts in the past, but they never seem to stick. I guess I find something odd in the idea that this date is somehow different from any other when it comes to making a change. I've certainly made resolutions in the past that I have successfully met, but never on January 1. I've found that making one small change at a time, when the time is right, works for me.

That said, I do have a few changes I would like to make in terms of food and cooking choices. And I might as well announce them now, since I hope you'll see a difference here, although I am by no means promising to take on all these challenges fervently and immediately. Instead, I'll try to make these changes a little at a time, gradually building speed, until they become habitual.

1) Eat more fish. A few years ago I started cutting back on meat. I had no intention of going completely vegetarian, but after reading a lot on the subject, I became convinced that most us here in the US eat way more meat than is necessary or healthy. I also wanted to cut back on my grocery bills, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to buy less meat. Pretty soon, we were down to about one meal with meat per week and still getting a balanced diet thanks to other protein sources like beans and dairy.

However, with all the strength training I've been doing this year, I really needed to increase my lean protein consumption, and for health reasons, I can't eat too much soy, so we're back to eating chicken or turkey two or three times a week. Fish is an excellent alternative, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart and your brain, so I'd like to work my way up to eating fish at least once per week.

2) Drink more green tea. I drink A LOT of tea. Seriously. I give my husband a hard time about drinking a whole pot of coffee by himself every day but I definitely rival that with my tea consumption. Especially now that I work from home, it's all too easy to pop in to the kitchen and fix another cup of tea. Now, there are worse vices, of course, but since I drink so much tea, I'm going to try to swap some green tea in for my normal cups of Irish Breakfast or Constant Comment. I drink my black tea, whatever the flavor, with some milk and one teaspoon of sugar. It's not terrible, but when you drink as much tea as I do, it sure adds up. Switching to green tea for two or three cups per day will help me cut back on sugar and its empty calories. Also, while tea in general is loaded with antioxidants, higher levels are found in green tea, so that's a plus. For more on the health benefits (and risks) of green tea, go here.

3) Use my cookbooks more. I have a great collection of cookbooks, some handed down to me, some purchased, and some received as gifts. I particularly love my regional Italian cookbooks (Tuscan and Istrian) as well as the Thai, Armenian, and Japanese ones. With the exception of the Japanese, I've made at most one recipe from each of those books - and some I have never used. I love to look through the books, read the recipes, get ideas, and drool over the amazing photography, but ingredient lists of fifteen or more tend to earn a "no way" from me. As I've mentioned before, patience isn't one of my strong suits, and I'm more apt to fake it by picking out the few strongest flavors and tossing together whatever I have in a simplified mock version. While there's no way I'm going to start grinding exotic spice blends in my mortar and pestle on a daily or even weekly basis, I really ought to try to make some of these recipes as written once in a while. If I'm feeling up to the challenge (and the cost of the unusual ingredients), I may even have to look for the most complicated recipe from each book and give each one a shot. At the very least, this year, I want to make one recipe from each book that I have not made before and without cutting corners.

So there we go. Three food-related resolutions that I hope to achieve at some point over the next year. What about you? What changes do you want to make in 2009? Don't forget, you don't have to have a Blogger account to comment!

What do you think?

Here's the new look! Please bear with me as I tweak it over the next few days. Some older posts might look a little odd with the new formatting, so I'm going back in to the archives and making adjustments. I've also added a list of some of my favorite blogs and websites, which you can find on the right if you scroll down.