Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Roast Any Squash

 It's squash season!  Let us rejoice!  There are so many things I love about squash, not the least of which is how sturdy they are!  We've been getting squash from our CSA for weeks and I'm building up quite a nice collection.  When stored in the proper environment, winter squash can keep for months.  Want it to last longer than that?  It freezes beautifully.

Some people like to peel the squash, dice up the flesh, and freeze it raw.  This is a perfectly decent method except for one thing - the prep work sucks!  Peeling squash with a vegetable peeler is darned-near impossible, and peeling it with a knife is difficult and time-consuming.  That's why my preferred method is roasting, scraping the flesh from the skin, and freezing it.  Having pre-cooked squash on hand is fodder for practically instant meals, makes squash soup or sauce a cinch, and even makes a great add-in for dog food!  Plus, it doesn't require any fancy knife work, which makes it faster and less dangerous for those home cooks who have less-than-great knife skills!

Whatever you decide to do with it, use these simple instructions as the base for all your various squash creations.  And with all that extra time you saved, you can throw yourself an impromptu dance party!

How to Roast Any Squash

Several lbs. mixed squash (Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup, Spaghetti, Kabocha, Pumpkin, etc.)
large roasting pan with inner-fitting roasting rack

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash squash well, removing any clumps of dirt from the skin.  Using a good, sharp knife, slice a small layer from the base of the squash to give yourself a flat bottom.  Hold the squash firmly and slice in half.  Use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp.

Add about 2 inches of water to your roasting pan (so it comes to just below the roasting rack).  Place your squash halves cut-side down on the rack and place in the oven.  Roast for about 1 hour, or until the thickest part of the squash is cooked through (it should yield easily when pierced with a knife).

Scoop the flesh from the skin and place in a container or plastic bag.  Allow to cool in the refrigerator completely before sealing the container, then freeze, if desired.

Honey Jalapeño Dill Dressing with Apple & Kohlrabi Slaw

You hear a lot of talk about sustainability in food, these days.  It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but not everybody realizes how simple it can be to take steps towards eating sustainably in your own home.

One of the things I like to focus on, because it's something absolutely everybody can add to their cooking routine, is managing waste.  What are we throwing away that we could actually be saving and using?

My friends at The Real Dill, the best pickle makers in the known universe operating right here in the city of Denver, take this concept to new, flavor-packed heights by suggesting that we use what many people probably throw away as an ingredient.  What a concept!  I don't know about everybody else, but I have dumped many a precious jarful of pickle brine down the sink without a second thought.  But why in heavens shouldn't we use the stuff?!  It's absolutely full of delicious flavor!

For this recipe, I used not only the brine but the pickled garlic cloves and jalapeño that can be found in every jar of their Jalapeño Honey Dills.  The result is a refreshingly light, sweet and tangy dressing with the essence of spicy-sweet pickles.  The season is still bountiful with apples and kohlrabi, so I tossed them in the dressing with the diced, pickled jalapeno and a healthy handful of cilantro leaves.  Serve right away for a crispy, crunchy and subtle-tasting slaw or let it marinate for a day or two (leave the cilantro leaves out and add just before serving) for a sweet, tangy and pickled-tasting version.  Still have a couple of pickles left?  Dice them up and invite them to the slaw party!  The more the merrier...

Honey Jalapeño Dill Dressing with Apple & Kohlrabi Slaw
serves 4-6

1/4 cup Pickle Brine
2 pickled garlic cloves
2 tsp mustard
2 tsp honey
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1 small Kohlrabi, peeled
2 apples
1-2 pickled jalapeños, seeded and diced
1 cup cilantro leaves

First, assemble the dressing.  In a blender, combine brine, garlic, mustard and honey and blend until garlic is well-chopped.  With the blender on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.  Set aside.

Using a mandoline with the julienne attachment, cut the unpeeled apples and kohlrabi into 1/4" strips.  Toss together with dressing and diced jalapeño.  If desired, allow to marinate for 1 to 2 days for a more intense-flavored slaw.  Toss with cilantro leaves just before serving.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beet, Carrot & Potato Cakes

I am a beet lover.  It's a good thing, too, because we got more beets than I knew what to do with in the last several weeks of our Grant Family Farms CSA share.  Thankfully, they are one of those hearty vegetables that seems to last forever when stored properly, so I'm still working through my rather sizable supply of them.

My dear husband, unfortunately, does not like beets (one of the very few things he just never had a taste for).  That means I'm always trying to come up with clever ways to hide them, although their vibrant pink color inevitably gives them away!  But their flavor doesn't have to be quite so earthy and strong, if you know how to treat them properly.  My favorite way to sneak beets into a meal is by mixing them with some other vegetables and frying the heck out of them.  Even the pickiest eaters won't scoff at a crispy, salty, fried vegetable cake.  Serve them up with some nice, thick sour cream and sliced green onions and you've got a beautiful, nutritious and super tasty side dish.  Boom!

Beet, Carrot & Potato Cakes
makes about 12

1 large beet, scrubbed & grated
2 small yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed & grated
2 small carrots, peeled & grated
1 small white onion, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup matzoh meal
vegetable oil
salt, to taste

In a large bowl, mix together the grated vegetables, eggs and matzoh meal.  Add about 1/4 cup of vegetable oil to a large frying pan and heat over medium-high.  Form the mixture into small patties and add to the hot oil, gently pressing the cakes flat with a spatula.  Fry until crispy and browned, about 4-5 minutes per side, adding extra oil as necessary.  Allow to drain on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and salt immediately after removing from the pan.  Serve immediately with sour cream and sliced green onions, if desired.

Aged Cheddar Scones

A good scone can be hard to come by, these days.  I am rarely satisfied by the over-sweet, cakey varieties that are available in supermarkets and don't even get me started on the frosted abominations they sell at most coffee shops.  To me, a good scone should be light, crumbly, and not the least bit cakey in texture.  It should be moist enough to have a tender bite but dry enough to crumble.  No frosting allowed!

These scones are of the savory variety and make a wonderful accompaniment to soups and stews.  I also tried mine with a little Sicilian Lemon Marmalade (available at Marczyk's and WELL worth the high price tag!) for a hint of tangy sweetness and it was just delicious.  The cheese I used was Nakhu Cheddar from Windsor Dairy, where they produce old world cheeses from raw, grass fed milk.  Any dry, sharp aged cheddar will do here but if you live in Colorado, give the Windsor Dairy cheese a try!

I assembled these scones like drop biscuits, gently forming the dough into balls and pressing it into little disks.  This enables you to form scones without handling the dough very much, which results in a wonderful, crumbly texture.  Make sure to monitor your moisture levels with this dough - I used a very thick sour cream, so if using a runnier cream you may not need the extra water.  As long as there's just enough liquid to help the dough barely hold together, the end result will turn out just right!

Cheese Scones
makes about a dozen

1 1/2 cups grated sharp aged cheddar
2 cups flour
1 T baking powder
6 T butter, diced and chilled well
6 T sour cream
3 T water
1 tsp salt
3 eggs

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk flour and baking powder together.  Add butter and cut with a pastry blender (or blend with your fingers, working quickly) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add cheese, sour cream and 2 of the eggs, lightly beaten, and mix until just combined.  If dough doesn't come together, add extra water one tablespoon at a time.

Make an egg wash by whisking the remaining egg with 2 tablespoons of water or milk.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in half and set one half aside.  Press the dough into a disk about 2 inches thick and repeat with the remaining dough.  Place the disks on a large baking sheet.  Score each disk into six wedges and brush with egg wash. Bake until just golden, about 20 minutes.  Serve immediately and store at room temperature for up to three days.

For drop-biscuit style scones, simply form dough into 12 small balls and gently pat down to form a disk.  Brush with egg wash and bake according to above instructions.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rustic Roasted Tomato Soup

Tomato season isn't over yet, folks!  It may officially be the start of the Fall season, but locally-grown heirloom tomatoes are still filling the produce shelves (and, thankfully, arriving by the bagful in our CSA share!).  We won't have these bright, meaty, wonderful fruits much longer, so now is the time to get your fill while they are still here!
To make the soup, I generously coated the tomatoes with olive oil and roasted them until the skins started to split and the flesh softened.  This not only makes them quick and easy to peel but it also adds an extra depth of flavor to the dish.  I also used plenty of little Colorado-grown butterball potatoes, unpeeled.  I like the extra flavor and texture that the potato skin gives to the soup, but if you want a less "rustic" version you can use peeled potatoes.  I served this alongside an onion bagel with a mixture of shredded, fresh mozzarella and Fruition Farms sheep's milk ricotta (one of my absolute favorite locally-made cheeses and a must-try ingredient available at Marczyk Fine Foods).  The whole thing was melted and toasted under the broiler and then topped with a little extra parsley.  Now that's a "grilled cheese and tomato soup" meal that I can get behind!

Rustic Roasted Tomato Soup
serves 6

2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 T olive oil, plus more for roasting
1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs small potatoes (fingerling, butterball, etc.)
2 jalapenos, minced
2 T tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425.  Generously coat tomatoes and garlic cloves with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.  Roast until tomatoes soften and skins lightly brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool until they are ready to handle.  Gently peel the skin from each tomato and squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot over medium-high and add olive oil.  Add onions and saute until they soften, about 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and jalapenos and cook another minute.  Add tomato paste, stock, peeled tomatoes and garlic cloves and bring soup to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.  Use a potato masher (or a food processor, if desired) to break apart the potatoes and tomatoes until a thick, chunky mixture results.  Generously season with salt and pepper and serve hot, topping each serving with a little of the fresh parsley.

Perfectly Hard-Cooked Fresh Eggs

Anybody who has ever tried to hard-cook a very fresh egg knows that there's always one problem you come up against - they're impossible to peel!  The albumen (that thin "skin" between the shell and the egg white) wants to stick.  This means that when you go to peel the egg, the shell clings to that albumen for dear life which will make it nearly impossible to remove the shell without removing chunks of egg with it, resulting in a hard-cooked egg that looks like somebody used it for target practice.

Most people will tell you to just use older eggs (about 7 to 10 days) and that's a perfectly good solution to the problem.  But what if you don't want to wait more than a week to cook your eggs?  The solution is simple:  you quick-age your eggs!  All you need to do is store your eggs at room temperature for 24-48 hours.  Boom!  You've got aged eggs. 

If the thought of storing your eggs at room-temperature freaks you out, here's some food for thought...  Most commercially-produced eggs are washed before they get packaged.  Eggs have a natural coating when they come straight from the hen that protects the insides from bacteria, but when the eggs are washed this coating is removed and the eggs are more vulnerable.  Farm-fresh eggs still have this natural armor and can stand up to the elements better than a store-bought egg.  What's more is that if you ever feel unsure, you can immediately tell if your egg has gone bad by the way it behaves when you submerge it in water:  If it sinks, it's fresh, if it stands straight, it's less fresh but still good, and if it floats, throw it out. 

Perfectly Hard-Cooked Fresh Eggs
makes 12

1 dozen farm-fresh eggs, kept at room temperature for at least 1 day

Place your eggs in a large pot (large enough so that the eggs aren't over-crowded).  Cover the eggs with water and bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and cover.  Allow eggs to cook for 14-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a clean sink or a large bowl with water and add about 5 cups of ice.  When the eggs are finished cooking, immediately place them in the ice water.  Allow eggs to sit in the ice-water for at least 5 minutes before peeling. 

Martha's Apple Scones, Colorado-Style

I love Fall.  Have I mentioned that before?  (I know I've mentioned it before).  I love the cool, crisp weather, the vibrant, colorful leaves on all the Aspens, and most of all... the produce!  So, in celebration of the beginning of my favorite season, here's a recipe that features one of my favorite fall fruits - apples.

While apples are really wonderful in their natural state, when you have a lot of them it's nice to incorporate them into recipes!  I had so many apples on hand from my Grant Family Farms CSA fruit share that I decided to track down this wonderful recipe from Martha Stewart.  These scones are moist but still crumbly and just sweet enough to feel like a treat.  The oats lend a little chewy texture and add a heartiness to the scones.  I tripled this recipe, brought 2 batches to Marczyk's to share with my co-workers, and the third batch I threw in a plastic bag and stuck in the freezer.  Pretty good way to get through almost a dozen apples, am I right?

Martha's Apple Scones, Colorado-Style
makes 12 scones

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups diced apple (3 small apples, peeled)
2/3 cup cold buttermilk, plus more for brushing
Raw turbinado sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, break the butter apart until a crumbly texture results and no butter pieces are larger than the size of a pea.  Add apples and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together.

Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.  Divide the dough into two equal portions and sprinkle with flour so that the dough won't stick.  Flatten each portion into circles about 1 1/2 inches thick (about the diameter of a salad plate).  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and, using a knife or a dough scraper, score each circle of dough into six equal wedges.  Brush the tops of the scones with a little buttermilk and generously sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake until just golden, about 25 minutes.  Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.  Serve warm or room temperature with jam and clotted cream.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Zucchini and Pine Nut Olive Oil Cake

Most of us are familiar with zucchini bread, but when it comes to using zucchini in sweet stuff, many people stop there.  Here is something a bit more elegant than zucchini bread but it is so quick and easy to put together that you don't even need to bust out your fancy Kitchenaid standing mixer.  A bowl and a wooden spoon are all you need to make this moist and delicious summer cake that is just as good for a slightly decadent breakfast as it is for a light, Summery and flavorful dessert.

Zucchini and Pine Nut Olive Oil Cake
serves 6

1/2 cup mild olive oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
zest of 1 lemon (about 1 T)
1 medium zucchini, grated (1 cup packed)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pine nuts

Heat the oven to 350 and grease an 8" skillet or cake pan with a little extra olive oil.  In a medium bowl, mix oil, sugar, egg, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth.  Add zucchini and mix well.  Sift dry ingredients and add to cake batter.  Mix well to combine.  Stir in the pine nuts and pour batter into skillet or pan.  Bake until cake is set, about 40-45  minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Colorado Melon Caprese

It just wouldn't be Summer without a little caprese in my life, but who says you have to make it with tomatoes?  The Italians?  Well, probably...  but I think this version, using some of those sweet, late-summer Colorado melons that are widely available this time of year, is a delicious and beautiful alternative!

This version, pictured, was made as little hors d'oeuvres on lovely metal cocktail skewers (*see note below for skewer directions).  You can also just combine all the ingredients in a big bowl and serve it family style, just don't use all of your oil and balsamic.  I used a marvelous Etnia Spanish olive oil with merquen (a Spanish smoked chile and cumin spice mix) to make this dish more interesting and flavorful, but a basil-infused olive oil, garlic oil, or even just regular olive oil with work fine.

Colorado Melon Caprese

1 medium (or 2 small) heirloom melon, washed
1/2 a lemon, juiced
1 bunch green basil
1 bunch purple basil
1 8-oz. container fresh mozzarella ciliegine (the small, bite-sized balls)
about 1/4 cup olive oil with merquen (or your favorite infused olive oil)
about 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.  Using a melon baller, scoop out little bite-sized balls of melon until no more flesh remains.  Place melon balls in a bowl and gently toss with lemon juice.  Tear the larger basil leaves into small, 1" pieces and leave smaller leaves whole.  Add mozzarella and basil and toss ingredients to mix.  Drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Gently toss and serve immediately.

*To assemble skewers:  make individual caprese bites using reusable metal cocktail skewers.  First, spear a melon ball, followed by a purple basil leaf and then a green basil leaf.  Follow with a piece of mozarella, then drizzle each skewer with oil and balsamic and lightly season with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Crispy Fingerling Chips

Who doesn't love fingerling potatoes?  They're starchy and filling like a regular potato, but in a cute, rustic-looking little package!  I love them and I don't care who knows it.

While fingerlings are often kept whole and simply roasted, sometimes I like to turn them into homey, crispy, little chips.  These are wonderful served alongside scrambled eggs, as a side dish with any kind of sandwich, or just eaten as a snack by themselves.  The funniest-looking, knobby little potatoes can make for some interesting shapes, so don't just pick the perfect ones!

Crispy Fingerling Chips
makes about 2 cups

1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes, washed and scrubbed
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Using a mandoline, slice the potatoes lengthwise so they are thin but still sturdy, about 1/16th of an inch.  In a medium bowl, toss potato slices with olive oil until they are well-coated and arrange in a single layer on 2 large baking sheets. 

Bake chips until the potatoes shrink and start to crisp on the bottom, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and flip each slice, then return to the oven and bake until potatoes are golden-brown and crispy all over (smaller slices will take less time than larger ones), about 20 more minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste, and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Zucchini and Corn Pancakes with Brown Butter Yellow Tomato Sauce

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to have for dinner was breakfast.  Every now and then my dad would make a huge mess of waffles or pancakes with jam-sweetened sour cream (it's a Scandinavian thing) and usually some bacon or sausage.  The prospect of a sweet, doughy treat in the evening was somehow even more exciting than when he made them for breakfast!

As an adult I still enjoy breakfast for dinner, or "brinner" as we like to call it.  This dish is a bit of a departure from your average breakfast but a simple meal of hot pancakes topped with sauce is still decidedly brinner-esque.  These gluten-free pancakes are crisp on the outside thanks to the brown rice flour and soft, toothsome and packed with vegetables on the inside.  You can make these with any ol' flour you have on hand, but I highly recommend giving the rice flour a try.  It's nutritious and it tastes great!

The tomato sauce in this recipe is a great way to use up all those late-summer tomatoes you may have on hand that are starting to get soft.  I used smallish yellow ones to yield a beautiful golden, buttery sauce but any kind of tomato will work well.  Just use a sharp knife to make an "X" on the bottom of the tomato, toss it in boiling water for a minute or two, then plunge into ice water immediately.  Once the tomato is cool it's a cinch to peel and you'll be moments away from this luxurious sauce.

Zucchini and Corn Pancakes with Brown Butter Yellow Tomato Sauce
makes about 8 large pancakes

1 medium zucchini, grated
1 medium yellow squash, grated
3 ears of fresh corn
2 large eggs
3/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Tomato Sauce:
3 T salted butter
1/2 a yellow onion, diced
5 medium yellow tomatoes, shocked and peeled
salt and pepper, to taste

First, prep your vegetables.  Toss the grated zucchini and squash with about a teaspoon of salt and allow to drain in a colander for at least 20 minutes, periodically giving the squash a gentle squeeze to release the excess liquid.  Cut the corn kernels from the cob and toss with the squash.  In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, flour and milk until smooth.  Heat a large, flat-bottomed pan over medium-high and add about 3 T of the olive oil (enough to coat the bottom thoroughly).  Add veggies to the pancake batter just before you are ready to fry the pancakes, season with salt and pepper, and mix well to combine.  Spoon the batter directly into the pan and fry each pancake until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.  Add more olive oil to the pan as necessary and keep the pancakes warm in a 250-degree oven.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high.  As soon as butter has melted, reduce heat to between medium and medium-high and cook until the butter is browned, stirring often, about 8 minutes.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes to the pot and crush with a wooden spoon until a chunky sauce results.  Cook another 5 minutes (longer, if you like) and season with salt and pepper.  Serve pancakes with tomato sauce on top and garnish with chopped parsley.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eggplant, Zucchini and Potato Moussaka

Ah, favorite month of the year!  It is in these late summer days that all the good stuff is in season - eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, and especially tomatoes!  I have a real passion for fresh tomatoes and often enjoy them best in their simple, raw state.  This time of year, however, when they're so abundant that you can't always eat them fast enough, I love a good tomato sauce!  You can always use canned tomatoes in a pinch, but really it's a shame not to enjoy the fruits of the season at their peak.  The taste is something wholly different and completely wonderful!

This tomato sauce for the Moussaka is simple and crazy-delicious.  The fresh tomatoes become rich and sweet when they simmer with the onions and butter.  The sauce gets a subtle hint of spice from the cinnamon stick which adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the Moussaka.  Roasted vegetables are layered with the sauce and some breadcrumbs to create this delicious summer casserole.  The whole thing is covered with a velvety topping that is part bechamel part custard and turns this all-vegetable dish into something rather luxurious! 

When I make this Moussaka, I like to leave all the skins on the vegetables.  It gives the dish a more rustic, colorful look and also saves time, but if you prefer you can peel the potatoes and eggplant before slicing. 

Eggplant, Zucchini and Potato Moussaka
9 small servings

1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
6 T butter
6 T flour
3 cups whole milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Tomato Sauce:
about 10 small tomatoes, blanched and peeled (or 1 28oz can whole tomatoes)
2 T salted butter
2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper, to taste

First, make the tomato sauce.  In a medium saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-high until butter is melted and bubbling.  Add onions and saute until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add tomatoes and their juices and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and add cinnamon stick.  Simmer the sauce until the tomatoes can easily be crushed apart with a wooden spoon.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and the cinnamon stick is soft, at least 30 minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick just before using the sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables.  Heat the oven to 350.  Using a mandoline, slice the eggplant lengthwise about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Arrange on a wire rack and sprinkle salt on both sides.  Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, then blot the eggplant dry with a towel.  Slice the zucchini and potatoes lengthwise, the same thickness.  Toss sliced vegetables with olive oil and arrange on baking sheets in single layers.  Roast for about 15 minutes, then flip the slices over.  Continue to roast until the edges become lightly golden (a little longer for the potatoes so they become lightly crispy).  Remove from oven and allow vegetables to cool.

Next, make your bechamel topping.  In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Switch back to the whisk and slowly pour in the milk.  Turn the head up slightly and whisk until sauce is smooth.  Stir with the wooden spoon until the sauce starts to bubble.  Cook for 3-5 minutes until the bechamel is thick and creamy.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolk in a small bowl until blended.  Add to bechamel once it is only warm to the touch and whisk vigorously until well blended.  Set aside.

Turn oven up to 400 degrees.  In a 9x13 lasagne pan, add about 1/2 cup tomato sauce and spread evenly along the bottom of the pan.  Arrange half the eggplant and follow with a layer of potatoes.  Add all the zucchini, then top with half the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle with half the bread crumbs, then layer with remaining vegetables.  Top with remaining sauce and breadcrumbs, then pour the bechamel sauce on the top of the casserole.  Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake in the oven until the bechamel is lightly golden and set, about 45-50 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, then slice into 9 equal portions. 


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Simple Peach Salsa

There's something about summertime that makes me want to eat lots of salsa.  Maybe it's because the magical condiment is such a quick and easy way to assemble lots of fresh, ripe summer ingredients into a wholesome, raw sauce that adds tons of flavor to seemingly endless ingredients.  This peach salsa is so easy to put together and so tasty that I've already made it twice this week!  Now is the time to stock up on all those perfectly beautiful Colorado peaches that are in adundance this time of year. 

This version is more on the spicy side and is wonderful in savory applications such as black bean and grilled vegetable tacos, served atop grilled fish, steak or pork chops, or just simply used as a dip for a good, salty tortilla chip.  However you decide to use the salsa, you might want to think about doubling the recipe.  You'll want to have leftovers! 

Simple Peach Salsa
makes about 3 cups

6 firm but ripe peaches, peeled and diced (3 cups)
1/4 cup lime juice (3-4 limes)
2 T jalapeno, minced (1 large pepper)
1 T garlic, minced
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
large pinch of cayenne
1 tsp. ancho chile powder
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss well.  Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Purple Sunrise Cocktail

I love a good brunch cocktail.  This one reminds me of a Tequila Sunrise (hence, the name!) but perhaps a little more elegant.  I added lots of pretty little fresh plum slices and used a good-quality agave tequila.  Any type of soda that uses some real fruit juice will do the trick here.  I used an organic Italian blood orange soda made with real juice and cane sugar.  This cocktail tastes ripe, sweet and refreshing and is a fun way to put to use the beautiful, juicy plums that are perfectly in season in Colorado right now. 


Purple Sunrise
makes 1 drink

1 part 100% Agave Tequila
2 parts blood orange soda
1 plum, sliced

Pour tequila and soda over ice and stir.  Add plum slices

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer Pasta

These hot days of August are enough to make even the most passionate cook want to stay away from the kitchen.  When I find myself needing a simple, quick and delicious meal to put together because it's just too hot to spend a lot of time by the stove, I will often turn to pasta.  Sure, you have to boil water.  But that's literally the only heat that gets applied to this meal!  Once the pasta is cooked, your time near the stove is over (hooray!).  The warmth of the cooked pasta gently heats the zucchini and the rest of the ingredients get added after the pasta has cooled so they maintain their bright, raw flavors.

I used Maestri Pastai's Cavatelli pasta for this dish, but any small-shaped pasta such as macaroni, farfalle, or penne will do.  If you can't find mozzarella pearls (the smallest-size, fresh mozzarella balls can be found at Marczyk's in Denver and most Whole Foods markets) you can always dice up the larger versions.  Either way, be sure to add the cheese when the pasta is only slightly warm to the touch so it doesn't immediately melt and form your pasta dish into an unappealing cheese glob.  To turn this pasta into a meal, I topped it with a fried egg.  It would also be delicious with just about any added protein such as cannelini beans, chicken, or shrimp. 

Summer Pasta
serves 4

1 lb. Cavatelli Pasta
2 cups zucchini, grated (about 3-4 small zucchini)
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (about 1 pint)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 T basil, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
3 T olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup Mozzarella pearls
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add pasta.  Cook according to package instructions, drain, and place in a large bowl.  Place grated zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  Toss well and squeeze the zucchini gently, allowing the moisture to drain.  While pasta is still hot, toss with grated zucchini.  Set aside.

Once pasta has cooled, slightly, to just warm, add tomatoes, parsley, basil, lemon juice and olive oil and toss well to combine.  Season with salt and pepper and add a little extra olive oil if necessary.

When pasta is only a little warm to the touch, add mozzarella and toss well to combine.  Serve with the parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on the top.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beet Latkes and Dill Creme Fraiche with Grilled Corn and Salmon Salad with Dill Butter

One thing that's definitely abundant this time of year is beets.  We've been getting them from our CSA in copious amounts, and I see them on the shelves at the grocery store in lots of beautiful, colorful varieties.  I happen to love these sweet, earthy root vegetables, but this meal is a great way to convince somebody who thinks they don't like beets (far too many people) that they can, in fact, enjoy eating them!  When mixed with potatoes and fried until crispy, they add an extra depth of flavor to latkes without being too over-powering.  I topped them off with a rich and flavorful dilled creme fraiche to make these simple root vegetable cakes into something special.

The salad makes a light, crunchy and delicious accompaniment to the latkes.  I grilled some rich Coho salmon and sweet Colorado corn together and mixed them with a generous helping of melted butter with lots of fresh dill.  The salad has even more fresh dill, parsley, and a hint of champagne vinegar to add a little tang.  For a lighter meal, the salad would be delicious on it's own, or perhaps with some grilled zucchini slices added.

Beet Latkes with Dill Creme Fraiche topping
makes 12-14

5 medium beets, grated (about 4 cups)
2 large yukon gold potatoes, grated (about 4 cups)
1/2 large yellow onion, grated
1/2 cup matzoh meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil

1 7.5 oz package creme fraiche (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped dill
2 T whole milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Place a large cookie sheet in the oven and heat to 200 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix beets, potatoes, onion, matzoh and eggs until well combined.  In a large, shallow pan, add about 3 T oil over medium-high heat.  Form beet mixture into patties by hand and place in hot oil.  Fry until each side is crispy and golden-brown, about 5 minutes per side, adding a splash more oil if the pan gets dry.  Once cooked, allow latkes to drain on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.  Place on the baking sheet in the oven while you fry the rest of the latkes and keep warm until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, make topping.  Combine ingredients in a small bowl and mix until combined.  Serve latkes hot with a dollop of the topping.

Grilled Corn and Salmon Salad with Dill Butter
serves 4

1 lb. salmon 
2 T olive oil
4 ears of corn, shucked and washed
3 T salted butter, melted
1/4 cup dill, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 head leaf lettuce, washed and chopped
1 T champagne vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat grill to medium-high.  Drizzle salmon and corn with olive oil.  Place salmon on grill, skin side-down.  Arrange corn on grill.  Cover grill and cook salmon for about 10-12 minutes, flipping over after about 5-6 minutes or until the skin becomes crispy.  Grill corn until lightly charred on both sides, about 7-9 minutes per side.  Remove salmon and corn from grill and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to cool, slightly, then cut corn kernels from cob.  In a medium bowl, flake salmon meat into bite-sized pieces and add corn kernels.  In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 2 T of the chopped dill and drizzle over the salmon and corn.  Mix well to combine. 

In a large bowl, combine remaining dill, parsley, chopped lettuce, and vinegar and toss well to combine.  Add half of the salmon and corn mixture and toss again.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Dish out the salad servings and top each with more of the salmon and corn mixture.  Serve salad on its own or alongside Beet Latkes.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Goat Cheese Polenta with Zucchini and Chard "Ratatouille"

Ah, polenta.  The quintessential Italian comfort food!  Ok, maybe pasta is the quintessential Italian comfort food, but I feel a bit partial to the warm, creamy concoction that results from simmering frangrant, toasty cornmeal in water and mixing in some rich, tangy chevre (I used the always-delicious and Colorado-made Haystack Mt. Boulder Chevre).  Broil an egg on the top and you reach a whole new level of awesomeness!

To make this dish even more comfy-cozy, I topped it off with my take on a classic French comfort food, ratatouille.  This version is composed of all the delicious Grant Family Farms CSA ingredients I had on hand, although typically ratatouille is made with zucchini, bell pepper and eggplant.  This version packs in a healthy dose of just-cooked greens, instead, and gets a nice, bright punch of flavor from the addition of sun-dried tomatoes and freshly chopped parsley leaves.  Definitely not traditional but decidedly less fussy and totally delicious!

Goat Cheese Polenta with Zucchini and Chard Ratatouille
serves 6

6 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta grain
4 oz chevre, softened to room temperature
salt to taste
6 farm-fresh eggs

2 T olive oil
3 cups mixed zucchini, diced
1/2 large red onion, diced
2 T garlic scapes, sliced
2 T sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1 28-oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes
2 cups chard leaves, chopped (about 4 large leaves)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

In a large pot, bring water to a boil.  Pour in the polenta in a slow, thin stream while whisking vigorously.  Switch to a wooden spoon and stir polenta until mixture returns to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover pot.  Cook polenta, stirring vigorously for 1 minute every 7-8 minutes or so, until grain is tender and most of the water has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.  Add chevre and salt to polenta, breaking up the cheese with the wooden spoon, and stir until chevre is incorporated, about 5 more minutes.

As your polenta is cooking, in a medium bowl, use your hands to crush the San Marzano tomatoes into rough chunks.  In another large pot, heat oil over medium-high.  Add zucchini and onion and cook until softened, about 6 minutes.  Add garlic scapes and sun-dried tomatoes and cook another minute.  Add the tomatoes with their juice into the pot and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens, about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Place your oven rack on the highest level (make sure there's enough room for your pan to fit below the burner).  Heat oven to broil.  Once polenta is cooked, spray a 9x13-inch lasagne dish (slightly smaller is OK) with cooking spray.  Pour polenta into the dish.  Crack one egg into a small cup and place the other eggs nearby.  Make a well in the polenta with your spoon and slide the egg into the well.  Repeat with remaining eggs, working quickly so the polenta doesn't solidify.  Place under broiler and cook (watching closely) until egg whites are set, up to 5 minutes.

When the ratatouille has cooked down, remove from heat.  Add chopped chard leaves and stir for a few minutes until the chard has wilted.  Allow polenta to cool and solidify (at least 10 minutes), then cut and serve with ratatouille and fresh parsley on top.

Zucchini Frittata

Whenever I want to put together a quick and easy meal, I almost always go with eggs!  Frittata, in particular, is such a simple and nutritious dish that I have an abundance of variations in my recipe arsenal.

This frittata makes good use of one of my favorite summer vegetables - zucchini.  I really love the texture and flavor zucchini adds to baked eggs and the fresh herbs make it bright and fresh-tasting. If you wanted to give the dish more heft you could add some parmigiano reggiano cheese or some sliced ham.  Serve it alongside a fresh green salad and you've got yourself a delicious, nutritious meal!

Zucchini Frittata
serves 4-6

2 T olive oil
1 1/2 cups mixed zucchini, diced
1 large red potato, diced
1 garlic scape, sliced (or 2 garlic cloves, minced)
8 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 T parsley, finely chopped
2 T dill, finely chopped

In a large, oven-proof pan or skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add zucchini and potato and cook until potatoes are slightly tender, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic scapes and cook another minute.  Heat oven to 400 degrees. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whisk eggs and milk together until well combined and eggs gain a little volume, about three minutes.  Distribute vegetables evenly around the pan and pour egg mixture over vegetables.  Place pan in oven and bake until frittata puffs up and becomes golden-brown around the edges, about 15 minutes.  Slice into wedges and top with chopped herbs.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Black Bean, Zucchini and Roasted Garlic Cakes

We've all had them before.  Just about anybody who has ever eaten more than a few vegetarian meals has probably eaten a black bean burger.  I've always been quite fond of the protein-packed patties, but most of the store-bought versions really fail to satisfy.  Even the all-natural black bean burgers usually have an ingredient list that is far too long for me to feel good about (and often has a lot of unnecessary soy or corn-based fillers), not to mention the texture is usually dry and over-firm.

These black bean, zucchini and roasted garlic cakes, on the other hand, might become your new favorite meat alternative!  They are perfectly moist, thanks to the addition of shredded zucchini and the roasted garlic gives them a wonderfully savory aroma and flavor.  They have a nice, soft texture on the inside but get a crispy coating of panko to give them some crunch.  I served mine with Romaine and Radish Slaw and Cilantro-Lime dressing to make for a really fresh, crunchy and tasty meal.  The recipe can easily be doubled and the leftovers frozen, which makes for a super-quick and easy meal later on in the week. 

Black Bean, Zucchini and Roasted Garlic Cakes
makes 8 cakes

1 garlic bulb
2 T olive oil
4 cups black beans, soft-cooked
1 1/2 cups zucchini, shredded and blotted dry with a towel (about 1 medium zucchini)
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 egg
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Slice about 1/4 inch from the top of the garlic bulb so that a little bit of each bulb is exposed.  Add olive oil to a small ramekin and place the garlic bulb, cut side-down, in the ramekin.  Roast garlic until it becomes fragrant and soft, about 30-40 minutes.  Leave oven on and allow bulb to cool for at least 15 minutes.  Once cooled, squeeze garlic bulb from the bottom so the garlic cloves pop out of their skins.  Mash garlic with a fork to make a paste.

Next, assemble your cakes.  Add beans, garlic paste, zucchini, 1/2 a cup of the bread crumbs and spices to a large bowl.  Using your hands or a potato masher, mash the ingredients together until combined.  Season with salt and pepper and taste.  Adjust seasoning, if desired.  Lightly beat the egg with a fork then add to your bean mixture.  Mix well and set aside.
Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil and heat in the oven for at least 5 minutes.  Place remaining 1 cup of bread crumbs on a medium-sized plate.  Divide bean mixture into 8 balls.  Taking one ball at a time, flatten into a patty and coat each side with bread crumbs.  Place each patty on the heated baking sheet and place in the 450-degree oven.  Bake until the bottom of the cake becomes golden and crispy, about 12-15 minutes.  Flip the cakes and bake another 10-13 minutes.  Allow to cool, slightly, then serve atop the slaw (recipe below) with an extra drizzle of dressing, if desired.

Radish and Romaine Slaw with Tangy Cilantro-Lime Dressing

Summertime is slaw time!  I just love a cool, crunchy slaw on a hot summer day.  There's something so refreshing about lots of crispy, thinly shredded vegetables tossed with a light and tangy dressing.  This salad is full of good stuff like spicy radishes and mellow, sweet Romaine lettuce with a hit of stringent cilantro.  

Although mayonnaise is synonymous with slaw dressing I like to use it sparingly, if at all.  This recipe uses just enough to give the dressing that signature mayo tang but without the heavy, oily weight of it.  I used light coconut milk (no pantry should be without it!) to thin the dressing out but keep it creamy, and lime juice adds a hint of sweet and sour.  I had this salad along with some Black Bean, Zucchini and Roasted Garlic Cakes and used the extra dressing to drizzle over the top. 

Radish and Romaine Slaw with Tangy Cilantro-Lime Dressing
serves 4-6

1 large head of Romaine lettuce
1 cup radishes, shredded (1 small bunch)
2 cups red cabbage, shredded (1/2 a small head)
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup cilantro leaves

1/4 cup good-quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup cilantro (leaves and stems)
juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper, to taste

First, prep your Romaine.  Slice off the bottom core and soak leaves in a clean sink full of tepid water, stirring the leaves occasionally, until the dirt settles to the bottom - about 15 minutes.  Use a salad spinner to dry leaves, then slice them into thin shreds.  In a large bowl, mix Romaine with remaining ingredients and set aside.

Add dressing ingredients to a blender and puree until the cilantro is well-incorporated.  Add anywhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of the dressing to salad, reserving the rest for drizzling on top of the black bean cakes or reserving for another purpose*.  Serve immediately.

*If you are making enough for leftovers, only dress the amount of salad you will be eating right away.  Keep the dressing and slaw ingredients separate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Green Polenta with Spinach and Herb Pesto

Don't get me wrong, I love a good, traditional pesto.  But sometimes I just don't feel like forking over $30 per pound for pine nuts and $20 per pound for Parmigiano Reggiano.  That's why I love this version, made with spinach leaves, garlic scapes, mint and parsley.  It's full of flavor from the pungent garlic scapes and sweet spinach and gets a nice tang from the addition of champagne vinegar.  A traditional pesto, this is not, but is it delicious?  Heck yes it is...

If you are somebody who has spent their days in fear of slow-cooked polenta, give this method a try.  It yields a fantastic result without you having to constantly stir the pot and compared with the instant stuff, the flavor is infinitely better.  My absolute favorite brand of polenta is Anson Mills Polenta Integrale, a coarse-milled heirloom flint that has a wonderful, complex flavor and toasty aroma.  If you can't get your hands on Polenta Integrale, just look for coarse cornmeal - you can find it just about anywhere.

Green Polenta with Spinach and Herb Pesto
serves 6

6 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta grain
1 T salt

2 1/2 cups packed spinach leaves (about 1/2 a bunch)
1/4 cup garlic scapes (about 4 scapes), chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves (2/3 oz package)
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T champagne vinegar (or lemon juice)
salt and pepper, to taste

1 poached egg per serving

In a large pot, bring water to a boil.  Add polenta in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to loosen any clumps.  Switch to a wooden spoon and stir until mixture returns to a boil.  Lower heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer, stirring well every 5-7 minutes, until much of the liquid is absorbed and the grain is tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pesto.  Add spinach, scapes, mint and parsley to a food processor and pulse to chop.  Turn processor on and slowly pour in the olive oil.  Add vinegar, salt and pepper and pulse a few more times to combine.  Set pesto aside.

Once polenta is cooked add pesto and stir well to combine.  Remove from heat and allow to thicken, stirring occasionally, for about 5-10 minutes.  Serve while still warm, with a poached egg on top, if desired.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Two uses for Chimichurri

Parsley.  The word doesn't always inspire excitement when one hears it.  In fact, the humble herb has often been used for decoration rather than food!  Then we all found out about chimichurri...

This tangy and bright-tasting condiment hails from Argentina and is generally considered a sauce for meat, particularly beef.  It's similar to pesto in method of preparation but the result is lighter, more vinegar-driven and distinctly spicy thanks to the red pepper flakes.  Either way, it is an easy way to make parsley taste awesome and this recipe uses up a lot of the herb at once, which is great news for all my fellow CSA friends that have been getting the stuff in abundance from Grant Family Farms!

As with any popular recipe, there are lots of different variations.  This one uses only parsley, but I've seen chimichurri recipes that have the addition of cilantro, oregano, or even chives.  Most chimichurri calls for garlic but I used grilled garlic scapes, instead.  They add a wonderful, smoky-garlic flavor to the sauce and the extra step of grilling the scapes helps to mellow them out a little.

This recipe makes a little over a cup of chimichurri and I used it two different ways:  one was simply as a dipping sauce for some home-made breadsticks (thanks to some leftover pizza dough).  The second is in the recipe, below, as a dressing for a hearty, grilled vegetable and chorizo salad. 


2 bunches of parsley (curly or flat-leaf)
3-4 garlic scapes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more, if desired)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat your grill to medium-high.  Wash garlic scapes and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Cook on the grill for about 2 minutes per side (scapes should get a little char but not too much or they will dry out).  Remove from heat and allow to cool, slightly.

Cut parsley leaves away from stems and add to a food processor.  When scapes have cooled, roughly chop them and add to the food processor along with vinegar and pepper flakes.  Pulse several times until parsley is well-chopped, then turn processor on and slowly drizzle in the oil.  Turn machine off and add salt and pepper to taste, then stir with a spatula to combine.

Grilled Vegetable and Chorizo Salad with Chimichurri Dressing
serves 3-4

1 large head lettuce (red leaf, romaine, or a mix of both), washed and chopped
1 medium zucchini
2-3 large red potatoes
1 8-oz Spanish chorizo (I used Palacios Hot), sliced
1/4 cup chimichurri
extra olive oil

Heat your grill to medium-high.  Using a mandoline, slice zucchini and potatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices and toss with a little olive oil.  Grill sliced vegetables until nice char marks form, about 2-3 minutes for zucchini and 4 minutes for the potato slices.  Remove from grill and set aside.

Place a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chorizo slices and cook until heated through and just barely browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk about a tablespoon of olive oil (or more) into the chimichurri to thin the mixture.  Toss half the dressing with the lettuce.  Portion the lettuce out into servings and top each with zucchini and potato slices.  Drizzle chimichurri on top of the vegetables, and top with chorizo slices.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Apricot-Almond Flaugnarde with Brown-Butter Apricot Glaze

Growing up in the central valley of California, almost everybody we knew had a fruit-bearing tree at their house.  My parents grew pomegranates, plums and citrus (not to mention a garden lush with tomatoes, garlic, squash and a lot more) but I always looked forward to the days when we'd swap something out for a big bag of apricots.  Those sweet little gems were and still are among my favorite things to eat with their peach-like sweetness, soft texture and fuzzy skin.

We've been getting apricots by the bagful from our CSA and they are delectably ripe and sweet.  I save the firmer ones for eating by themselves.  The softer ones are better for cooking - anything from jams and chutneys to meat marinades or desserts.  Apricot adds a bright, summer sweetness to a huge diversity of recipes.

Lately I have been experimenting with different ways to make Flaugnarde.  Some of you may be more familiar with the dessert called Clafoutis, which is traditionally made with cherries (if you really want to make it authentic, un-pitted cherries).  The same method applied to any other fruit is Flaugnarde and if you are a fan of fruit-forward and only slightly sweet desserts, this recipe is definitely for you.  The egg batter puffs up like a souffle as it bakes and then sinks down again as it cools to create a firm, almost custard-like texture.  By itself, it's lightly sweet and eggy with lots of crunchy almond.  With the rich and fruity glaze it becomes a rather elegant dessert.  Have the leftovers without the glaze for breakfast the next morning, as this dish will only keep for a day or so.  But let's face it, we probably would have finished the leftovers in one day, anyway! 

Apricot-Almond Flaugnarde with Brown Butter Apricot Glaze
serves 6

3/4 cup slivered almonds
1 T butter
2 1/2 cups ripe apricots, sliced into small wedges
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 tsp almond extract

3 T salted butter
1 cup ripe apricot halves
agave or honey, to taste

Heat the oven to 375.  Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 6-8 minutes.  Keep the oven on and set almonds aside.

Butter a 9" pie pan or square baking dish and arrange apricot slices on the bottom of the dish.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar with a whisk.  Beat in the eggs, then gradually add the half and half and almond extract, whisking until smooth.

Pour the batter over the apricots and sprinkle the almonds over the top.  Bake in the 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze.  Add the butter to a small pan over medium-high heat.  Cook the butter, stirring often, until foam subsides and the butter solids get toasted and brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Add apricots and cook, mashing the fruit with a wooden spoon, until they gently caramelize on the outside, about 5 minutes.  Add a splash of agave or honey and puree mixture with an immersion blender (if your apricots aren't super-ripe you may need to add a little water to thin the glaze).  Taste and add more sweetener if necessary.  If you like it on the less-sweet side it will amount to about 3 T of sweetener.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Refried Bean Pizza and Romaine Salad, part deux

The fabulous thing about home-made pizza dough is that once you have all the elements (cheese, beans, salad fix-ins) it becomes the quickest dinner ever!  Heat your oven up nice and hot, roll out the dough, spread out the toppings and dinner is done in twenty minutes.  Boom.

This version has some extra elements of awesomeness with the addition of Haystack Mt. chile jack cheese (a tangy, spicy goat jack that's well worth the high cost!) and some fresh chorizo sausage from Marczyk's.  The only difference between this salad and last night's is that it's heavier on the lettuce and gains an extra depth of flavor from grilled garlic scapes and grilled corn.  It's a little more refined and quite delicious!

Refried Bean Pizza and Romaine Salad, part deux
serves 4

1/2 batch fresh pizza dough (or one large store-bought pizza crust)
2 fresh chorizo sausages
2 cups refried beans (homemade is preferable)
1/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled
1/2 cup Haystack Mt. Chile Jack cheese, shredded

1 head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1 bunch breakfast radishes (about 8-10 very small radishes), thinly sliced
1 red pepper, grilled and chopped
1 green pepper, grilled and chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked and grilled
1 garlic scape, grilled and sliced
1 avocado
juice of 4-6 limes
2-3 T champagne vinegar (or other white vinegar)
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a large pan over medium-high.  Remove chorizo from casings and add in small pieces to the hot pan.  Fry until lightly browned and cooked through, about ten minutes.  Remove chorizo with a slotted spoon and reserve fat.

Place a baking stone into the oven and heat to 500 degrees.  Meanwhile, roll out your fresh pizza dough on a lightly floured surface until crust is about 1/4-inch thick.  Slide dough onto a large, lightly-floured cutting board.  Brush the crust with chorizo fat and spread on the beans in an even layer.  Top with queso fresco and chile jack and finish with chorizo pieces.  Slide pizza from the cutting board onto the baking stone in the oven and cook until crust is crisp and lightly browned, about 8-11 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes, then slice.

Meanwhile, assemble your salad.  Slice corn kernals off the cob.  In a large bowl, combine romaine, radishes, corn, garlic scape, and peppers.  In a blender, combine the avocado with lime juice and blend.  Add just enough vinegar to loosen the dressing (it will be very thick).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss salad with about 5 T of the dressing.  Serve salad alongside the pizza.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Refried Bean Pizza with Romaine, Radish and Pepper Salad with Avocado Vinaigrette

When I have a day off and nothing planned I almost always seize the opportunity to make something tasty that takes just a little extra time.  Making things from scratch isn't always realistic in our busy, day-to-day lives but it's always well worth the effort.  So today I made fresh, whole-wheat pizza dough and slow-cooked and refried beans. 

You don't have to take the time to make pizza dough from scratch (although if you have a standing mixer it's a snap to put together) but I would highly recommend making your own refried beans as opposed to using the canned ones.  Not only is the flavor and texture infinitely better but most of the time that it takes to make them is inactive, anyway.  I like to freshen up homemade pizza by topping it with a light, chopped salad.  In this case, using the bright cilantro, crisp and flavorful romaine lettuce and the spicy, crunchy radishes we received from our Grant Family Farms CSA as well as some grilled peppers.  The dressing is as simple as can be - just an avocado blended with lime juice and vinegar. 

If you are serving a crowd, this recipe can easily be doubled so you can make two pizzas.  You are already making enough beans and pizza dough (most pizza dough recipes yield enough for two pizzas) and even dressing.  Just double the amount of lettuce, radishes and peppers you use and you've got enough food for about 6-8 people.  If you want to make this vegetarian, simply replace the bacon fat with more canola oil.  I, however, couldn't resist using the bacon fat!  It adds a rich and homey flavor to the beans and provides a hearty base for this wholesome and tasty dish.

Refried Bean Pizza with Romaine, Radish and Pepper Salad 
with Avocado Vinaigrette
serves 4

Refried Beans:
1 lb. dried pintos or black beans
vegetable bouillion
1 T bacon fat
1 T canola oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp mexican oregano
pinch of cayenne
pinch of cinnamon
salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 batch fresh pizza dough (or one large store-bought pizza crust)
olive oil, for brushing
2 cups refried beans
1/2 cup queso fresco, crumbled

1/2 head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1 bunch breakfast radishes (about 8-10 very small radishes), thinly sliced
1 red pepper, grilled and chopped
1 green pepper, grilled and chopped
1 avocado
juice of 4-6 limes
2-3 T champagne vinegar (or other white vinegar)
salt and pepper, to taste

Cover beans with several inches of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Add enough bouillion to flavor the water and stir to combine.  Reduce heat to low, cover and allow beans to simmer until very tender and water is thickened, about 2 hours.

Once beans are tender, heat oils in a large pan over medium-high.  Add diced onions and cook until slightly browned, about 6 minutes.  Using a large slotted spoon, add about 1 cup of beans.  Fry until a light film coats the bottom of the pan, then add another cup of beans.  Continue to fry in batches until all the beans have been added (adding a little more canola oil, if necessary), then add enough of the bean broth to barely cover the beans.  Add remaining ingredients and reduce heat to medium-low and mash and stir the beans with a flat-ended wooden spoon until they reach a creamier consistency, about 10 more minutes (if beans get too dry, just add more bean broth until it reaches desired consistency.

Place a baking stone, if using, into the oven and heat to 500 degrees.  Meanwhile, roll out your fresh pizza dough on a lightly floured surface until crust is about 1/4-inch thick.  Slide dough onto a large, lightly-floured cutting board.  Brush lightly with olive oil then spread on the beans in an even layer.  Top with queso fresco.  Slide pizza from the cutting board onto the baking stone in the oven and cook until crust is crisp and lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes, then slice.

Meanwhile, assemble your salad.  In a large bowl, combine romaine, radishes and peppers.  In a blender, combine the avocado with lime juice and blend.  Add just enough vinegar to loosen the dressing (it will be very thick).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss salad with about 3 T of the dressing.  Top pizza slices with a handful of salad and serve immediately. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Balsamic Grilled Vegetable Salad

It's Summer and grilling season is in full swing!  This salad makes the perfect accompaniment to all things grilled - burgers, chicken, fish or just about anything else you can think of.  I used the beautiful lettuces, spring onions and parsley that we've been getting from our Grant Family Farms CSA share, but you can use just about any combination of vegetables that you have on hand.

The best thing about this recipe is that the "dressing" makes itself - no whisk or blender necessary!  Once you toss the oiled vegetables with the balsamic you have just enough moisture to lightly dress the lettuce when everything gets tossed together.  How simple is that?!  

By the way, if you prefer your salads dressed with a heavier hand, you can always drizzle some extra olive oil on the salad before you give it the final toss.  Enjoy!

Balsamic Grilled Vegetable Salad
serves 4

2 ears of corn, shucked
1-2 large red potatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch-thick
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
4 spring onions
1/2 head Romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1/2 head red leaf lettuce, washed and chopped
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the grill on high for about 15 minutes, then clean the grates with a grill brush.  Blot a paper towel with vegetable oil and, using a pair of grill tongs, rub the grates with the oiled towel to create a non-stick surface.  Reduce heat to medium-high.

Meanwhile, prep the veggies for the grill.  Slice peppers into large, flat chunks and drizzle corn, potatoes, pepper slices and onions with plenty of olive oil.  Allow veggies to char on each side.  Peppers need about 5 minutes per side, potatoes about 7 minutes, and corn about 10.

Allow veggies to cool slightly.  Cut corn kernels off the cob, slice onions, and chop peppers into bite-sized pieces.  Set potatoes aside.  Place corn, onions and peppers in a plastic bag and add the balsamic vinegar.  Allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Add marinated vegetables and parsley to the chopped lettuce.  Season with salt and pepper and toss well to combine.  Place potato slices on top of the salad and serve.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Classic Chili

Every home cook needs at least one great chili recipe in their arsenal.  It's the ultimate comfort food - hearty and wholesome with tons of flavor and universally crowd-pleasing.

This chili was inspired by all the beautiful organic beans that we have been getting from our Grant Family Farms CSA share.  I used the mixed black and pinto beans we got this week and some of the kidney beans from last week, which is a pretty classic trio of legumes for chili.  I like the color and texture that results from this combination, but just about any bean you have laying around in your pantry will do!

I used 100% grass-fed beef and Niman Ranch pork to make the meal a little more special (we don't eat a lot of meat in this house, after all!) but this chili is quite flavorful and delicious without the meat, too.  I love topping each serving with lots of fresh cilantro and queso fresco.  Use whatever toppings you like best - some might prefer a good aged cheddar and red onions or a heaping spoonful of sour cream and green onions.  The best thing about chili is, it's easy to make it your own!

Classic Chili
serves 6
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups mixed beans (I used pinto, black, and kidney), rinsed and picked through
1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes
6 cups vegetable or beef stock
1 T chili powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 T tomato paste
salt & pepper
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1 pound ground pork

Optional garnishes:
Cilantro and queso fresco
Aged cheddar and diced red onions
Sour cream and sliced green onions

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add onions and cook until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds, or until fragrant.  Add beans, the liquid from the can of tomatoes, and increase heat to high.  Crush the whole tomatoes by hand in large, rustic chunks and add to the pot along with the herbs, spices and tomato paste.  Stir well and allow mixture to come to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer until beans start to become tender, about 1 1/2 hours. 

Meanwhile, heat a large shallow pan over medium-high.  Add ground beef and pork and break apart with a flat-ended wooden spoon.  Cook meat until lightly browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Once cooked, drain the fat from the meat in a colander.  Add to chili.

Continue to simmer the chili with the meat until beans reach desired level of tenderness - for slightly al dente, cook another 30 minutes.  Season well with salt and pepper and serve with garnishes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Curried Spinach and Cilantro Soup

The spinach recipes continue!  

This is a perfect meal for a scorching summer day.  The creamy texture of coconut milk and pureed potato and the mellow sweetness of spinach pair nicely with the cooling, almost stringent taste of cilantro and tangy lime to make a decidedly light and refreshing soup .  Use your favorite Thai-style curry powder or curry paste and make sure to adjust the salt level at the end of the cooking process so as not to over-season.  I like to garnish with a healthy handful of cilantro leaves to really give the soup a bright, vibrant flavor.

Curried Spinach and Cilantro Soup
serves 4-6

2 1/2 T butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 garlic scapes, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can light coconut milk
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 1/2 T Thai curry powder
5 cups tightly-packed spinach leaves, tough stems removed
1 cup cilantro stems (about 1/2 a bunch)
Juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro leaves

Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high until melted.  Lower heat, slightly, and add onions.  Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic scapes and potatoes and cook until scapes are fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add coconut milk, water, and curry powder and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

When potatoes are fork-tender, add spinach leaves and cilantro stems and stir until leaves are wilted and soft, about 5 minutes.  Using an immersion blender (or a food processor, in two batches) puree soup until smooth and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper, stir well, and remove from heat.  Add lime juice and stir to combine.  Serve soup hot with a handful of cilantro leaves in each bowl, to garnish.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Creamed Spinach with Garlic Scapes

One of the things I enjoy the most about getting my produce through CSA shares is the way it challenges me in the kitchen.  This week we got a massive amount of spinach, which I happen to love, but I've literally been thinking for two days straight about just how I want to go about cooking and eating it all in just a week.  My solution?  Cook it down!

Spinach can seem more overwhelming in quantity than it actually is, but when you cook it down it becomes far less intimidating.  I love this recipe because it uses a ton of spinach and it makes it taste magical.  The salty, meaty flavor of bacon fat mingles with the creamy broth to create a hearty base for the sweet, earthy spinach and pungent garlic scapes.  The uses for this side dish are numerous.  I decided to mix some chicken sausage into mine and pour it over a baked potato, which was delicious and filling.  You could also serve it with a poached egg on top for breakfast, add it to grits or polenta, or use it as a sauce for chicken.  It's versatile!

Creamed Spinach with Garlic Scapes
serves 4

3 T bacon fat
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic scape, sliced (about 2 T)
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
8 cups tightly packed spinach leaves, stems removed

In a large pot, melt bacon fat over medium-high heat.  Add onions and saute until lightly browned and soft, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic scapes, salt and pepper to taste, and corn starch and stir to coat the onions.  Slowly add the milk and stock and bring mixture to a gentle boil.

Add spinach leaves and stir well to distribute heat evenly.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 4 minutes or until all the spinach has wilted and shrunk.  Using an immersion blender, chop spinach until it reaches a slightly chunky but uniform consistency (alternatively, you can chop it in a food processor).  Serve hot.

Serving suggestion:  Add 2 cooked chicken sausages, sliced, to the creamed spinach.  Pour over a baked potato. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Christmas Beans

It's here!  My favorite time of year has finally arrived... CSA season!  For anybody who has never participated in Community Supported Agriculture, let me just give my enthusiastic recommendation - DO IT!!!  Not only does it help you pack more fresh, organic, local produce into your diet but it also really gets the creative juices flowing since you have no say in what kind of vegetables you are getting. 

One of the things we got in abundance this week was spinach.  The thing I love about spinach is that it goes well with so many different things.  You can chop it up and throw it in pasta sauce, minestrone or other soups, pesto, or a pot of beans like these simple and tasty Christmas Beans (y'know... 'cause they're green and red!).  The spinach adds lots of good nutrients and beautiful color to the dish, but is also rather unassuming when incorporated into beans, which makes it perfect for people who think they don't like the stuff (heaven forbid!).

I used the absolutely beautiful Red Mexican Heirloom beans that came with our CSA share, but any 'ol red bean will do.  I never pre-soak my beans because I've never found it necessary (and also because Rick Bayless told me not to and if there's any Cabacho I'm going to trust with my beans, it's him!).  Try these beans over cooked brown rice, or just about any other cooked grain you have on hand, and you've got yourself a protein-rich, wholesome, delicious meal that's also nice and filling.  What's not to love?

Christmas Beans
serves about 6

2 cups dried red beans, rinsed well
12 cups water
2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 T cumin
dash of cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste
4-5 cups chopped spinach (stems removed and washed well)
sliced green onions

In a large pot, cover dried beans with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until beans are tender but not mushy - about an hour.  Drain beans, reserving 2 cups of liquid, and set aside.

In another large pot, add olive oil and cook on medium-high.  Add onions and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds.  Add beans, reserved bean liquid, and spices and turn the heat up to high.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Just before serving, add chopped spinach and mix well so that the leaves get a chance to gently wilt.  Serve with cooked brown rice, if desired, and top with plenty of sliced green onions.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mango, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Ancho-Mango Dressing

Ugh, another quinoa and black bean salad?!  Have no fear... although quinoa is a ridiculously healthy grain it does NOT have to taste awful - and I think this recipe can serve as proof!  My inspiration came, in part, from the sudden abundance of Haitian mangoes appearing at my nearest Whole Foods (and probably yours, too!). These mangoes are sweet, deliciously floral and are also Whole Trade certified. This recipe would work with just about any mango you can get your hands on - just make sure to buy one that's medium-ripe and one that's very ripe (one for dicing and one for blending).

Although this salad is by no means authentic, it makes excellent use of the fresh, vibrant flavors of Mexican cuisine. The sweet, mellow crunch of jicama lends a wonderful contrast to the soft, juicy mangoes and the ancho-infused quinoa and beans add a gentle, fragrant spice to the dish. The dressing is a luscious, thick concoction of ancho chiles and mangoes with lots of vibrant, bright-tasting cilantro and tangy lime juice. If you are like me and you like to dress your salads lightly, you can use the leftover dressing to marinate pork or fish, or you can add some chopped onions, jalapeno and diced mango to make a tasty salsa!

Mango, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Ancho-Mango Dressing
Serves 6


Mango, Black Bean and Quinoa Salad:


1 cup dried black beans
2 dried ancho chiles
1/2 cup red quinoa
a dash of chile powder
1 cup diced medium-ripe mango (1 large mango)
1 1/2 cup diced jicama
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 cup cilantro leaves, stems reserved for dressing
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste


Ancho, Mango and Lime Dressing:


1 ripe mango
1/2 cup leftover cilantro stems, loosely packed
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons rehydrated ancho chile, seeds removed and chopped (use the chile from the beans or quinoa)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 4 small limes)
1/2 serrano pepper, minced (optional)
splash of tequila (optional)
salt to taste
In a medium pot, cover the black beans with several inches of water and add the dried chile. Bring to a boil, then simmer until beans are tender (about 1 1/2 hours, or 8-10 minutes in a pressure cooker). Drain the beans and remove the chile. Season with salt and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan cover the quinoa with 1 cup of water and add the other ancho chile. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and a dash of chile powder, fluff with a fork and allow to cool. 
Assemble the dressing: combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Combine the beans, quinoa and remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add desired amount of dressing (I used all but about 1/4 cup for a lightly-dressed salad) and toss well to combine.