Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perfect Summer Dinner

Insalata Caprese

Just picked summer tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, fresh basil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Perfect Summer Dinner

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Colors of Summer

In addition to vegetables I get to pick my own bouquet at the CSA this summer. They have about 4 rows of different flowers. Snap dragons, Black Eyed Susans and a bunch of other varieties I don't know. I borrow shears from the farm's shop, leaving my car keys behind so I won't steal them, and trot out to the field. It's sweltering around lunchtime and the plants are covered in ladybugs, beetles, bees, and butterflies. I cut the stems long and rip off any lower foliage so it's less work at home, wrap a rubber band around and toss them in with the herbs and veggies. I went for a purplish theme last Friday and have enjoyed some food for the eyes on my kitchen table all week!

Another colorful summertime treat was available last week: tomatoes! While they were few in number, we got a wide variety of hues. I'd love to do a taste test and see if we can pick up the subtle differences in flavor of multi colored tomatoes. Like peppers, I think the yellow and orange ones might be sweetest to my buds.

I decided to try one of the recipes share by the chef on staff at the CSA: Tomatillo Salsa Verde. We had quite a few tomatillos in the share, but not enough for the salsa so I increased the recipe by 50% and added all the lovely fruits in my basket. For peppers I had hungarian hot house and jalepeno. It made a delicious salsa and a tangy base for gazpacho. Ole'!

Tomatillo Recipes Galore from a California CSA:

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

1 pound tomatillos, husked
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 serrano chile peppers, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 cups water (use less for a thicker salsa to coat your chips)

Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chile pepper into a saucepan. Season with cilantro, oregano, cumin, and salt; pour in water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatillos are soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Using a blender, carefully puree the tomatillos and water in batches until smooth.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"What does this look like to you?"

In line at the farm to collect my CSA 1/2 share harvest, the older gentleman in front of me held up a squash, similar to the one pictured here and asked, "What does this look like to you?" While I was certain there was no inappropriate innuendo in the question, I couldn't think of what could resemble the likeness of this crookneck squash. Lamely I answered, "I don't know."

"A duck!"

Sure enough, I could picture the duck's body in the plump half of the squash and it's neck curving up with an imaginary beak. That is what you thought of too, right?

Curious about this and other varieties of squash, I did a little searching. Like the tomato, squash is another fruit commonly referred to as a vegetable. According to every part of the squash plant, winter or summer, can be eaten! The site provided basic descriptions, but I don't agree the summer and winter affiliations were "deceptive and confusing". After all, our Garden State is host to many farms that produce both types exclusively in their affiliated season. It's an important term if you're considering planting your own garden or choose to source your produce locally. And if you considered this option, how many varieties would you have at your fingertips? At least 34 according to I tried naming them all and got only 13...9 of which I came up with on my own! How many did you come up with?

Better tips and recommendations on squash were on Each type of squash has characteristics that lend well to specific recipes. Considering it's 90+ degrees outside, thin skinned summer squash abound! They are delicious on the grill or in my mom's cousin Antonietta's fritelle recipe: grate 2-3 zucchini and squeeze some water out. Mix with Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, an egg, salt and pepper until you manage a slightly thickened mixture. Fry in hot vegetable oil. It's a delicious appetizer! Throw thinly sliced squash in your salad or saute with onions and garlic for a quick pasta topping. Zucchini bread is another crowd pleaser.

The game of squash has no relation to the food--it simply refers to the squashable nature of the ball in play.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Who are you calling a tart?

When I told Chris I was making a tart to bring to his uncle's house for lunch he thought I was referring to dessert. When I told him it would include CSA summer squash and local tomatoes he thought it was going to be a gross dessert. This tart was meant as an appetizer, or canape as his grandma put it, and the consensus was it tasted quite the opposite of gross. I explained a tart is like a shallow pie with no crust on top. And like any pie, it can be made sweet or savory.

Puff pastry dough is an inexpensive time-saver that gives simple dishes an elegant touch. Make sure you don't pick up phyllo dough by accident! They're similarly packaged in the freezer section of your grocery store, but they're not interchangeable. For this recipe I used 1 + 1/3 packets of the dough to fit my the large pan. Instead of prepared pesto I made my version with green and purple basil. I required a few more tomatoes and bigger squash than the recipe suggests, too. Next time perhaps braised artichokes or roasted asparagus would be good! I forgot to top mine with the chopped olives, and it could have used the extra tang since the goat cheese was so mild.

Summer Squash and Tomato Tart-- from Food and Wine Annual 2008

2 Tbsp evoo
1 lb small yellow squash sliced 1/4 in thick
1 large onion, halved and thickly sliced
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 Tbsp pesto
5 oz fresh goat cheese, softened
All Purpose flour, for dusting
14 oz puff pastry, chilled
1 plum tomato, very thinly sliced
1 large egg beaten with 2 Tbsp water
10 small pitted green olives, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large skillet, heat the evoo. Add the squash and onion and season with salt and white pepper. Cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash and onion are lightly browned, about 5 min. Transfer the vegetables to a strainer and press lightly.

2. In a small bowl, blend the pesto with the goat cheese. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a 13 inch square; trim the square to 12 inches. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and invert it onto the parchment lined baking sheet.

3. Spread the goat cheese all over the pastry, leaving a 1 inch border all around. Top with the squash mixture. Arrange the tomato slices on the tart and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Fold up the sides, pressing the corners together. Trim any excess pastry at the corners. Brush the pastry with the egg wash and bake in the lower third of the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until the edges are golden and the bottom is completely cooked through. Sprinkle with the olives, cut and serve right away. This tart can be assembled and refrigerated for 2 hours before baking.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Red, White and Blueberry

Banana walnut is probably my favorite muffin, followed by a tie between cranberry walnut and lemon poppy seed. But Blueberry Muffins are a classic. I cooked a lot on the Fourth of July...Considering it was over 90 degrees outside, Chris and I decided to stay put in the AC (air conditioning, not Atlantic City like Mom thought). While he fought off the wraiths and Medusa on his new video game, I cooked up a storm. In celebration of our country's Independence Day, I'll focus on the blueberry since I made their famous muffins.

Is there a more American berry? Some history from "For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The Northeast Native American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed around them. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent "star berries" to relieve the children's hunger during a famine.The juice also made an excellent dye for baskets and cloth. In food preparation, dried blueberries were added to stews, soups and meats." I've purchased dried blueberries before, but at $16.99 a pound I enjoyed them in my homemade granola but haven't ventured to introduce them to any stews, soups or meats and probably never will. In fact, it will be only fresh blueberries entering our home and peak of the season is now!

I remember picking blueberries with my middle school BFF and her dad. We'd return with pounds of the dark blue jewels and they'd make their way into pancakes, pie, sauce for ice cream and of course, the classic muffin. Wherever there's an American bakery, there is a blueberry muffin. I highly recommend this recipe from Alton Brown. The cake flour makes the muffins melt-in-your-mouth-light between the bursts of blueberries. I used a combination of sugar, maple syrup and honey; blueberries and raspberries...again, whatever I have available! I purchased cake flour from the local Pennsylvania Dutch market but here is an easy substitute: 1 C - 2 Tbsp all purpose flour + 2 Tbsp cornstarch = 1 C cake flour. This recipe makes 12 muffins.

  • 12 1/2 oz cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • heavy pinch salt
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 C yogurt
  • 1 1/2 C fresh blueberries
  • vegetable spray for muffin tins

Preheat oven to 380 degrees F.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg and yogurt. Add the dry ingredients reserving 1 Tbsp of the dry ingredients and toss with the blueberries. Stir mixture for a count of 10. Add 1 C blueberries to mixture and stir 3 more times. Reserve the 1/2 C of blueberries.

Add the mixture to the greased muffin tins. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 C blueberries on top of muffins and press down lightly. Place into the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Remove from the oven and turn out, upside down on a tea towel to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pan Asian Ingredients

In Plainsboro we have an Asian Food Market. It's a huge grocery store with a rainbow of fresh but cheap vegetables and fruits. I got 9 limes for 99 cents! Herbs are bright green and squeezed into big plastic boxes; not like the tiny bundle you get a Shop Rite. A whole row of greens: bok choy varieties, sprouts, mushrooms, snake beans. There are aisles and aisles of prepared foods--organized by type and country of origin. Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Korean, and somewhere I stumble upon Goya and Campbells brands that simply look out of place. Hundreds of noodle varieties, bean pastes, bamboo shoots, spices, snacks of dried fish and seaweed many of which are not translated into English. Fermented soy curd, anyone? Sometimes I want to walk up to someone with an unusual ingredient in their basket and ask how they plan to prepare it. But I'm shy, often the only non-Asian person in the market, and worried they won't speak English. One day I'll be brave!

Here are a few ingredients I picked up and added to my farm fixin's for a Thai Zucchini and Tomato Red Curry dish last night. CSA zucchini, basil and chicken breasts, local farm tomatoes, conventional onion and lime, Thai coconut milk, Indian basmati brown rice, and Thai red curry paste. The recipe is from a Food and Wine cookbook; I halved the recipe since we're just 2 people and it took only about 45 min total to prepare. In fact, the rice probably took the longest to wash, soak then boil and simmer for 25 min. In the meantime I skinned and seasoned the chicken breasts, cooked them in a hot, deep pan then set them aside on a plate. Half the sliced onion went into the chicken's pan to stir fry and in 2 minutes was joined by zucchini, tomato, curry paste, lime zest and juice and unsweetened coconut milk. The aroma was amazing! The chicken simmered back in it's pan with the veggies and I served portions over brown rice with a little extra sauce and basil. It's amazing how much flavor and tang the lime zest gives to the whole dish! The chicken was tender and veggies still had some firmness to the bite. When I lived in Boston with my friend Heather we had several great Thai restaurants, but none around here.
Frankly, who needs them now?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back to Frugality

Chris and I took a spontaneous vacation to Montreal from Thursday to Tuesday. It was energizing and relaxing at the same time! It wasn't our first visit, so we were able to relax more...enjoy the whirlpool and room service. We definitely indulged! Crab cocktail, roasted salmon, gazpacho, creamy tomato soup, grilled eggplant and caeser salad with bacon! Call me a traditionalist but not everything is better with bacon. All this yumminess enjoyed with a martini, glass of wine or local beer. Or all of the above. Meci beaucoup Montreal!

Now it's back home and back to reality...and frugality at that.

Picked up the CSA share today and a few castaways in the arugula. Leaner and greener meals ahead of us! Like this potato-greens gratin from a recipe my Dad's cousin Mary Moses shared. It's a great way to sneak in broccoli rabe or other bitter greens for the non-fans. Saute the mixed greens with evoo and garlic and layer with sliced cooked potatoes and spicy cheese. Bake in the oven until brown and melty--who can resist? Yellow, green, and crookneck squash are on the menu this week. Salads with cucumber and fennel, more home made pesto and mint tea. Other nearby farms offered cherries and berries galore!

Stay tuned!