Saturday, July 31, 2010

Moroccan carrot salad

I've been on a lookout for good carrot recipes lately, since I tend to come home from the market with at least one bunch every week. This is one of the more interesting ones, and led to my first taste of harissa, which is a very delicious chile paste that would be a welcome addition to a great many dishes. The harissa gives the dish some heat, which is balanced by the coolness of the mint and the sweetness of the carrots. Nothing is too overpowering here - the salad has a really nice blend of flavors. I found this recipe over on Smitten Kitchen, and thought it would be a good way to use some of the mint that my mother-in-law gave us from her garden. The original recipe calls for feta cheese, which is great, but I didn't have feta around, so I tried using olives to contribute some saltiness, with good results. A combination of olives and feta would be good too. I've been mentally toying with the idea of trying a variation using these spices with either roasted or sauteed carrot coins, to change up the texture and shape of the vegetable a little here, or maybe just wilting the shredded carrots a bit in a saute pan. Let me know if you try any variations on this. This salad keeps really well, and I've enjoyed it for lunch in a pita with some hummus.

Moroccan carrot salad

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4-5
3/4 pound carrots, peeled*, trimmed and coarsely grated
4 tbs olive oil
1 crushed clove of garlic
1/2 tsp caraway seeds or 1/4 tsp, ground
3/4 tsp cumin seeds or about half as much, ground
1/2 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp harissa, a North African chile paste
1/2 tsp sugar
3 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
2 tbs fresh mint, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped olives or feta cheese (or a combination)

In a small pan, cook the garlic, spices, harissa and sugar in the olive oil for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Remove pan from heat, discard garlic, and add the lemon juice and a generous pinch of salt. Pour oil/spice mixture over the carrots, add olives, and mix. Add the herbs and mix again. Make sure to salt to taste before eating. This salad keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

*I usually don't bother peeling carrots unless the skins are especially thick or rough

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pesto and fresh tomato pizza

I'm the kind of crazy person who thinks it is completely acceptable to heat the oven to 500 degrees on a hot summer day. It's totally worth it for homemade pizza...right? However, if you are less inclined to spend time in a sweltering kitchen, this could also be done on the grill - I've heard that grilled pizza is fantastic.

We made the pizza dough using Peter Reinhart's recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. This dough is really tasty, plus the recipe makes enough for 6 pizzas (9 to 12 inch, thin crust), and you can freeze the dough to use later. This makes it easy to have homemade pizzas a lot more often.

About the pesto - homemade is definitely much tastier than store bought. Right now is a great time to make some, with all the (cheap) fresh basil that is available. We make ours in big batches and then freeze it in ice cube trays. That way we can take out a couple cubes whenever we want it.


Corn and roasted peppers with chipotle-caesar dressing

This recipe was inspired by one from Gourmet magazine (sigh, I miss Gourmet) that I came across when searching for something new to do with corn. I had a purple bell pepper (I am a total sucker for unusual colors in vegetables) and a banana pepper waiting in the fridge, and thought they would pair nicely with the corn. You could use any peppers for this, although red bell peppers would probably be the prettiest. I kept the dressing just about the same as it was in the original recipe, but changed around the actual salad quite a bit. The original recipe included grilled avocados, which sound amazing - although sadly not local to MA - and would probably be a nice addition to my version of the salad.

Corn and roasted peppers with chipotle-caesar dressing
Adapted from this recipe
Serves 4

3 ears of corn, husks removed, and kernels cut off with a sharp knife
3 small bell peppers
1 tbsp bacon fat or butter (about the bacon fat: delicious - yes, necessary - no.)
2-3 tbsp grated parmesan
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp
fresh lime juice
tsp minced garlic
tbsp minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo (this made this dressing pretty spicy. You might want to cut down on the amount if you are sensitive to heat)

To roast peppers: Heat oven (I did this in a toaster oven to avoid heating the whole kitchen) to 450-500 deg F*. Halve peppers and clean out seeds and membranes. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and lay peppers on sheet, skin side up. Roast until skins are dark brown or blackened and blistering. Remove peppers and place in a ziploc bag, brown paper bag, or tupperware container. Close container and let peppers cool and steam for about 20 minutes. When cooled, remove skins (they should come off easily) and chop pepper flesh.

Meanwhile, melt bacon fat in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn kernels and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes.

To make dressing: Put parmesan in a small bowl and add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking. Whisk in lime juice, garlic, chipotles, and 1/8 tsp each of salt and pepper.

Toss corn and peppers with dressing and serve.

* You could do this on a grill if you have one. In this case, leave the peppers whole while you grill.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thai red curry with tofu

This is a fairly quick, and very adaptable recipe. I made it vegetarian (except for the fish sauce - see substitution below if you want it totally vegetarian), using tofu for the protein, but it would work well with shrimp or chicken. I used green and yellow string beans and potatoes for the vegetables - other good ones would be carrots, bell peppers, peas, maybe eggplant...lots of possible variations. If you make this, let me know what you used!

We used a prepared curry paste that we bought at Whole Foods, (or a similar store - can't quite remember). I would like to make my own at some point, but haven't tried it yet.

Some cooking notes: I like to pan fry the tofu so that it develops a nice crust and retains some texture when it is mixed with the coconut milk. Make sure to pat it dry before this step. For the potatoes, there isn't enough liquid to submerge them to simmer in the coconut milk mixture, so I like to pre-cook them, either by steaming or microwaving.

Thai red curry with tofu
Serves 4

1/2 lb. green and/or yellow string beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch segments
2/3 lb. (about 2 medium) Yukon gold or red potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (or you could use little new potatoes, like I did)
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
7 oz. extra-firm tofu (this is half of a standard tofu package), cut into 3/4 inch cubes and patted dry with a paper towel
1 inch-long piece of ginger, peeled
1.5 tbsp Thai fish sauce (or soy sauce)
2 tbsp brown sugar
Vegetable oil
Basil and cilantro, chopped

In a heavy skillet (cast iron works great), heat vegetable oil (enough to coat bottom of skillet) over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add tofu and cook, tossing frequently, until tofu develops a golden-brown crust.

Meanwhile, steam potatoes until just barely tender. If you are cooking rice, it works nicely to do the steaming at the same time.

In a large saucepan, simmer coconut milk, ginger, and red curry paste over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add fish sauce, brown sugar, and 1/3 cup water and simmer for 5 minutes. Add beans and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add potatoes and tofu and cook until heated through (make sure potatoes are fully tender at this point). Remove ginger, and top with basil and cilantro. Serve hot with rice.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cheese straws

This is a fun recipe to make for a party. It's not complicated, but rolling out and handling the dough is a bit tricky. I had this bookmarked from Smitten Kitchen for just over a year, and then finally made it as an hors d'oeuvre for our last dinner party. They taste like spicy Cheeze-Its and make a nice snack to enjoy with some beers.

Cheese straws
Adapted from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor, mix together the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper in 5-second pulses until coarse crumbs form - this took about 5 pulses. Add the cream and process until the dough forms a ball, 10 seconds or so.

On a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an approximately 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. A warning: if you do this on a hot summer day, this gets tricky. Keep flouring the rolling pin as needed and work as quickly as possible. With a sharp knife (I used a pizza cutter), cut the dough into 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide (dipping the knife in flour very often helps with this). Carefully transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them. Transferring the dough is a bit tough - it's delicate and breaks if it sags too much. From my experience, it is easiest to cut a strip and transfer it immediately, rather than trying to transfer multiple strips together. I used a bench top scraper to lift half the strip and draped the other half over my hand. Anyway, even if you do break them, it doesn't really matter. They'll still bake correctly and will taste good, they'll just be shorter.

Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are just barely starting to brown. I tried baking two sheets at once, and the pieces closest to the sides of the oven started to brown before the middle was done. It is probably best to do one sheet at a time and keep it in the middle. When finished, remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
Serve at room temperature. These can be kept in the fridge for a couple days, but they were best on the first day.

White beans and sausage

We made this with some leftover sausage and tomato sauce from a pizza night - it's easy to throw together and makes a good weeknight meal. The sausage was from a local farm and was really tasty. The tomato sauce was homemade, and I'll post a recipe at some point. We at this with soft polenta - yum.

White beans and sausage
Serves 4-6, depending on portion size

One 28 oz. can cannellini beans, or other white beans
2 hot Italian sausages, cut into small pieces (sweet Italian would be fine, and turkey sausage would also work)
1 small onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 - 3/4 cup red wine
2 cups tomato sauce (this is approximate - feel free to adjust to your taste)
Basil, roughly chopped
Parsley, chopped
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, for serving

Add some olive oil to a heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add sausage and saute until browned and almost cooked through (but not quite fully cooked). Add onions and garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup wine and stir, scraping up brown bits from bottom of pan. Continue to saute until onion is tender. If the mixture begins to dry out and stick to the bottom of the pan before the onion is done, add the additional 1/4 cup wine and continue as before. When this step is done, you want the mixture to be kind of glazed and sticky, but there should be no liquid at the bottom of the pan. After onions are cooked, add tomato sauce and beans and heat through. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Top with herbs. Serve hot, with grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese.

The simplest bread

This is the simplest bread recipe I have baked: total of 4 ingredients - flour, yeast, salt, and water. I complicated things a bit by making it partially whole wheat, because I have a tendency to do that, but it's still pretty easy. You get two loaves out of this, so lots of payoff for the effort!

Simple wheat bread
Adapted from here on Joy The Baker.
Makes 2 loaves

2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water

Reserve 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour, and place the remaining 3 3/4 cup flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment. Add the salt and yeast, and pour in the warm water. Mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.

When the dough comes together in a mass, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Dough should clear the sides but may stick to the bottom a bit. If the dough feels too sticky or too dry, add a bit more water or flour by the tablespoonful. After 2 minutes, let the dough rest for five minutes.

After the five minute rest, knead the dough again for 3 minutes on medium speed (I did this step for 5-6 minutes, just because the dough didn't look ready after 3). Place the dough on the counter and, using the 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour that was reserved in the beginning, hand knead the dough. You may not need to use the whole 1/4 cup, just knead until the dough feels firm and solid. Form dough into a smooth ball.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn the dough over to coat the entire dough lightly in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to rest for 1 1/2 hours. The dough should double in size. Remove from the bowl, punch down and reform into a ball. Return to the bowl, cover and allow to rest for another 30 minutes.

Here's what mine looked like before and after the 1 1/2 hour rest:

After the second rest, place the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece into a smooth, round ball, tucking any rough edges underneath the dough. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rest on the lightly floured surface for about an hour.

During the resting period, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking rack in the lower third of the oven and leave either a baking stone or an upside down baking sheet in the oven to preheat as well. I didn't have a baking stone when I made this, so I used a cookie sheet.

Just before the loaves are set to go in the oven, slash the top of the loaves with 2 slashes, like in the picture below, using a sharp knife. Remove the hot baking sheet or stone from the oven. Carefully transfer the dough onto the baking sheet or stone and return to the oven. (Now that I think about it, if you are using a stone, it might be difficult to remove it from the oven because of its weight. In that case, it might be easier to pull out the oven rack and carefully put the loaves on the stone.)

After you put the bread in the oven, take 1/4 cup of water or a couple ice cubes, open the oven, quickly throw the water or ice onto the oven floor and immediately close the oven door. You want to keep the steam in the oven. Wait 2 minutes and repeat the process.

Bake loaves for 20-25 minutes. They should be golden brown and should measure 190-210 degrees F in the middle.

Let bread cool completely on a rack before eating. The crust is great the first day, and if you store it for longer, a light toast is nice.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quinoa and lentil salad

This salad came together in an effort to use up some red quinoa* and lentils that had been in the pantry for a while, as well as some green beans and corn that were still in the fridge at the end of the week. Andrew made the dressing, which was inspired by Mexican flavors. This is definitely a nutritionally balanced meal in itself, and the leftovers make great lunches.

Unfortunately, since we created this dish ourselves, I can't write out a detailed recipe - neither of us is in the habit of measuring ingredients as we cook. So this will be a general description of the dish, with only very approximate amounts listed for the ingredients - sorry about that. I'll try to do this better in the future!

*Quinoa is a grain-like seed that offers more protein than most other grains. Great for vegetarians who struggle with getting enough protein in their diets.

Quinoa and lentil salad

All amounts listed here are very approximate. Because the quinoa and lentils expand quite a bit when cooked, we got dinner and several lunch portions out of this.

For salad:
1.5 cups quinoa (I used red because that's what I had on hand, but the regular ivory one would be fine)
1 cup lentils
Green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch segments
3 ears of corn, husks removed (frozen would also be fine)
1 small onion, chopped
Cilantro, chopped

For dressing:
Lemon juice (lime would probably be better, but we didn't have any)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Lime zest
Hot smoked paprika
Extra virgin olive oil

Neither of us can really estimate the amounts of the dressing ingredients. I'd say about a 1:1 ratio of oil to lemon/lime juice is a good start. Spices and salt can be done to your taste - we went pretty heavy with the paprika, so that was the dominant flavor. You want enough dressing to lightly coat, not soak, the salad.

Fill two pots (3 quart size or so) with water and bring to a boil. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and run water through it until water runs clear. When water is boiling, add quinoa to one pot and cook uncovered until quinoa is tender. The germ (white curled sproutlike thing) will come out of most of the seeds when they are close to done. When quinoa is finished, drain well and allow the grains to sit in strainer for 5 minutes before spreading onto a plate to cool. In the other pot, boil lentils until tender. Drain and cool.

While quinoa and lentils are cooking, bring another large pot of water (sorry about the many pots involved here) to a boil. Add ears of corn and boil for 5 minutes. Remove corn (don't drain water), and run under cold water until cool enough to handle. While corn is cooling, add beans to boiling water in the same pot used to cook corn, cook for 5 minutes or until crisp-tender, drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Cut kernels off of corn.

In a large bowl, mix together quinoa, lentils, corn, green beans and onions. Whisk dressing ingredients together until well mixed and then toss with salad. Top with cilantro and salt to taste.

Marinated beets

I had never tasted a beet until last summer when I picked some up at the farmers' market on a whim, figuring that if I'm going to try this weird looking vegetable, I might as well start with a fresh, local specimen. Well...turns out that I love beets. I'll eat them hot, cold, plain, marinated, even grated raw in salad. But I've never ever eaten them out of season, because I'm afraid that the somewhat dull-looking ones at the supermarket just won't be up to par. I generally roast them using Alice Waters's recipe, and lately have been tossing them with sherry vinegar and olive oil. We've eaten them prepared like this as a side vegetable on their own, or put them in salads.

Marinated beets
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters

Trim the greens and stems to about 1 inch from 1 bunch beets (I usually get 4-5 beets per bunch - it's easiest if they are all about the same size. I like to use red beets because they're nice to look at, but Chiogga beets are tasty too). Wash thoroughly. Put them in a baking dish with enough water to cover the bottom of the dish to a depth of 1/8 inch and sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly with foil and bake the beets in a 350 deg F oven until they can be easily pierced with a sharp knife, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size. Uncover and cool. Cut off their tops and roots and slip off the skins.

Cut peeled beets into small wedges and sprinkle with sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (about equal proportions of oil and vinegar work well here. Use enough to coat the beets but not much more than that). Red wine vinegar would also work if you don't have sherry vinegar. Let stand for a few minutes and add more dressing and/or salt to taste. These can be served immediately, but also last in the fridge for a few days.

Classic whoopie pies

There is not a vegetable, whole grain, or local ingredient to be found in this recipe, but that's ok, because these are delicious and should be eaten anyway. For those who don't know, a whoopie pie consists of two cake-like cookies sandwiching a layer of creamy filling. Think of a softer, more yummy Oreo. I got this recipe from a cookbook aptly named Whoopie Pies, by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell, that was recently given to me as a gift (thanks Katie!). I made a classic version with chocolate cakes and a buttercream filling. We served them at a dinner party with homemade cheese straws (post coming soon) and pizza -- kind of a gourmet junk food theme. I wasn't really a huge whoopie pie fan before, but I am now! I'm looking forward to trying some more creative flavor combinations...

Classic whoopie pies
Adapted from Whoopie Pies

I got about 17-18 whoopie pies from this recipe.

Chocolate cake:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tbs vegetable shortening
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 deg F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (I tried parchment paper as well as Silpat mats, and found that the Silpat resulted in a thicker, more rounded cake, which I liked better).

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar on low speed until just combined. Increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes (this took less than 2 minutes for me, fyi). Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes.

Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary. Add remaining flour mixture and milk and beat until completely combined.

Using a spoon or cookie scoop, drop about 2 tbs of batter onto the baking sheets, spacing them at least 3 inches apart (for smaller cakes, you could do 1 tbs of batter spaced 2 inches apart). Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until pies spring back when pressed gently. Remove from oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Buttercream filling:
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tbs heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the confectioners' sugar with the butter, starting on low and increasing to medium speed, until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream, vanilla, and salt and beat on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Note: I had a good amount of filling left over after I assembled the pies. I'm guessing that we used about 2/3 of the amount this recipe makes. But if you like a thicker layer of filling, go for it.

Spread filling onto the flat side of one cake using a knife, spoon, or pipe filling with a pastry bag (a round tip or no tip at all should work). Top with another cake, flat side down.

Caprese salad

So this one really isn't a recipe so much as a few good quality ingredients put on a plate, but I thought I'd post about it anyway because its such a good way to enjoy summer tomatoes and basil. We used some delicious olive oil and 18-year aged balsamic vinegar that we bought on our honeymoon in Bar Harbor, Maine. Definitely a dish to enjoy during tomato (and basil) season!

Caprese salad
Top sliced tomatoes with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and whole basil leaves. Drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuna nicoise salad

(My hand looks freakish in that photo...sorry)

This recipe is perfect for late July, when the market is full of fresh green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. This version is adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook -- I took out the lettuce because I think the salad is great (maybe even better) without it, and also took out the green pepper. I added the olives, but not capers, because the two of those together is a bit too strongly flavored for my taste. I also changed the cooking process a bit to cut down on the number of dirty dishes, and a number of smaller adaptations are noted in the recipe...this isn't the quickest salad to put together, but it makes a filling, complete meal.

Tuna nicoise salad
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

I don't measure my ingredients for recipes like this -- I just use what we have on hand and estimate the amounts needed to make the dish balanced. Its hard to go wrong with this one.

3 tbs chopped shallots (I used onions instead)
1 1/2 tbs fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
5 tbs good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbs coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 pound fingerling potatoes or small boiling potatoes
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed (I cut these into approximately 2 inch segments)
3 hard-boiled large eggs*, cut into wedges
2 (6-ounce) cans tuna in oil, drained and broken into chunks (I only used 1 can, Genova brand)
1/4 cup Nicoise olives (I used Kalamata)
2 tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley

Dressing: Blend shallots with lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper in a blender. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream, scraping down sides of blender as necessary, and blend until well combined. Add parsley and blend until finely chopped. (I used my mini chopped for all of this, and added the oil all at once. Everything came out fine)

Salad: Combine potatoes and cold well-salted water to cover by 2 inches in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 15-20 mins. Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.

Add beans to the same saucepan and boil until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, drain and pat dry.

When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes (if you want, I never do) and halve or quarter them, depending on their size. Toss potatoes with beans and 2 tbs dressing in a large bowl, and salt to taste. Top with eggs, tomatoes, and tuna chunks. Drizzle more dressing (as much as you want, you don't necessarily have to use all of it) over salad, and top with olives and parsley.

This is best served immediately, but makes a decent cold lunch the next day.

* To make the perfect hard-boiled egg, according to Gourmet, and tested by me with success, put the eggs in a large heavy pot and cover with 1 1/2 inches of cold tap water. Partially cover the pot and bring water to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot completely, and cook eggs for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and let eggs stand in the hot water, still covered, for 15 minutes. Then run the eggs under cold water for about 5 minutes to stop cooking and prevent yolk discoloration.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Zucchini with almonds

This is another one of those recipes that takes the simplest ingredients, and transforms them into something unexpected. I came across this one on Smitten Kitchen, which is my favorite food blog. The julienne cut of the zucchini is essential here, because the toasted almonds get caught among the zucchini strands. I've tried cooking veggies with almonds before, but the almonds inevitably fall to the bottom of the dish, no matter how much I toss the mixture -- that is not a problem here. The julienne is no problem if you have the right tool, but I imagine it would be a real pain with just a knife. The original recipe has the option of adding cheese, but I think it's better without.

(If you are curious, next to the zucchini in the photo is sauteed pea tendrils with radishes - yum)

Zucchini with almonds
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, original post is here

The amounts are really variable here -- any amount of zucchini and almonds will come out fine, so adjust to your taste.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced almonds
1 to 2 small zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch matchsticks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil on high heat in a skillet. When it is hot but not smoking, add the almonds. Cook them, while stirring, until the almonds are golden-brown, approximately a minute or two. You want them nicely toasted and crunchy, but not burned, obviously.

Add the zucchini to the pan, tossing it with the oil and almonds until it is just heated through, about one minute. The short cooking time is important here -- you want the zucchini to retain some crispness.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Caramelized corn with fresh mint

I found this recipe on The Wednesday Chef, a beautifully written food blog by Luisa Weiss that I read frequently. Luisa kind of freaked out over this one, with good reason -- it's a fantastic, simple recipe, and the cooking method has become one of my favorite ways to prepare corn. The recipe is actually written for frozen corn, but I used fresh corn that I picked up at the farmers' market. The mint here is kind of unexpected, and really good, but I've found that the browned, caramelized corn tastes great with basil instead of mint, or even with nothing but salt. I could imagine other variations too -- maybe cilantro, or some smoked paprika...

Caramelized corn with fresh mint
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef, the specific post is here
Serves 2-3

I'm including instructions for both fresh and frozen corn.

1 10-ounce package frozen corn, or 3 ears of fresh corn, husks removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (I think bacon fat would be a great to use instead)
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

If using frozen corn, defrost the corn in a colander, tossing occasionally, for about 30 minutes. This is important -- if you don't defrost enough, the corn doesn't caramelize well. If using fresh corn, cut kernels off with a sharp knife.

In a large, wide skillet, melt the butter over high heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring often, until golden and browned (kernels will probably begin to pop, which is super fun). Stir in the mint and sprinkle with salt to taste. This is best served immediately, but still tastes pretty good reheated a day later.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eating local

Before I get to posting some recipes, I thought I'd share a bit more about my personal reasons for wanting to cook locally and seasonally:
  • Taste: I think the fresh produce and meat sold at the local farmers' market tastes much, much better than what I get at the supermarket. That's by far the top reason for me to jump on the local food wagon.
  • Variety: There is so much delicious produce grown in MA that I could never find at the grocery store...heirloom tomatoes, kohlrabi, purple potatoes, pea tendrils, fava beans, all kinds of apples...I can't get enough!
  • Supporting local businesses: I love where I live, and I think its great to be able to support the farmers in Massachusetts.
  • Humane treatment of animals: I want to be comfortable with where my meat comes from. This means I spend more money on meat from local farms with ethical practices, and eat meat less often.
  • Opportunity to talk to the people that actually grow the food: at a farmers' market, I can ask questions about growing practices (do they use pesticides? fertilizers? do they practice crop rotation?), as well as get tips on how to prepare the produce I'm buying (what do I do with fiddleheads? which type of plum is better for baking?)

There are other reasons that I've heard people talk about -- the biggie is the claim that eating locally is more environmentally friendly, because reducing the amount that food travels means less consumption of fossil fuels. There's some controversy about this (an example here: ) -- it really depends on the specific item in question, how it was grown and stored in addition to how far and by what mode it was transported -- and I'm not going to make any generalizations about this.

I think the bottom line for me is that eating locally and seasonally gives me a connection to and appreciation for the food I'm eating. Every time I go to the market, I'm reminded that real people grow this food, that the crop yield changes every week, and this can't be fully controlled. I can't get tomatoes in the winter or apples in the spring. This makes me respect my food more, and that's important. Food is precious, and it shouldn't be taken for granted. Thinking a little bit about where my food comes from helps me remember that. Here's to eating with the seasons!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Let's get this thing started!

So...I'm starting a food blog. I've been looking for a project to help focus my interest in food, and this is it. I love, love, love to cook, and I've got a notebook and a brain full of (hopefully) delicious ideas. I've always enjoyed cooking for Andrew, friends, and family, and I want to keep track of and share the recipes I'm making.

I've been loving the farmers' market this year, to the extent that I had to put myself on a budget to keep from buying too much produce. Yeah, my excess spending goes towards vegetables. I'm weird like that. Since the beginning of June, I have been buying all of my produce from the farmers' market, with the exception of things like lemons which are staples but don't grow here. Add in a few other factors -- a growing interest in understanding food systems and where my ingredients come from, working with MIT students and the Shape Up Somerville program to open a winter farmer's market in Somerville, the opening of local-foods store Sherman Market in Union Square -- and I've decided to start using as many locally produced ingredients in my cooking as my budget allows.

That's where the blog comes in. I'm hoping this space will help me document the dishes that come out of my kitchen, and will motivate me to keep buying local even in the winter months. Can I really cook seasonally when squash and root vegetables are the only options for months on end? I guess we'll see...While my interest in local food is the larger theme here, I also want to find a place where I can share my general love of food and cooking, and become a better cook in the process!

Now on to the fun part. Recipes and food photos coming soon!