Monday, September 15, 2008

More end of summer bounty

Have I mentioned that I love arugula? Yes, I'm sure that I did. So why, oh why, do I never think to buy it at the grocery store? So, many thanks to Kelly Saxer over at Desert Roots Farm (my CSA) for reawakening my interest. I don't know what it is about this leafy green that is so intriguing. Maybe it's the smell--as distinct as cilantro, but more earthy and mysterious. Or the slap-your-face bite of the raw leaves, which mellows with just a bit of heat. Or could it be the way it plays an outstanding supporting role to almost any other vegetable? Could it be that it's just fun to say, or makes people look at you like you're crazy (because most of them have NO idea what it is)? Or maybe it's all of those things.

All I know is that I now have a mighty craving for arugula. Today, I was sitting in the hospital with my mom (who, thank God, is okay, but we had quite a scare involving hot--according to her--paramedics and an ambulance ride) and trying to figure out what I could throw together for dinner when I got home. I knew it MUST contain arugula. A recipe for a roasted potato salad with arugula came with my CSA delivery, but I knew that I had other vegetable delights that needed to be used. Once again, for instance, I have the most gorgeous, tiny eggplant--some of them only about 3" long. And there was that bell pepper half. And an onion starting to look tired.

Perhaps it was sleep deprivation, or maybe just inspired instincts, but I tinkered with the recipe to include all the things I had on hand. The result--an amazing, simple, and delicious dinner of Roasted Vegetable Salad with Arugula. The potatoes, eggplant, bell pepper, and onion were chunked and cooked to a crispy turn in a very hot oven. A light dressing of olive oil, grainy mustard, and wine vinegar was whisked together with just a few turns of the fork. The vegetables came out of the oven, danced through the bowl of torn arugula, and were kissed by just enough dressing to enhance the flavors. Another keeper was born.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Arugula and Eggplant--A Marriage Made in Heaven

First, I have to apologize for no pictures. This was beautiful, but it disappeared in a flurry of flying forks before I got the camera out. This is another recipe that came from efforts to combine and use the CSA bounty. We got more eggplant this week, along with a new treat--arugula. I love arugula, and I'd forgotten how much. If you want to have your taste buds send thank you notes, toast a whole wheat English muffin, spread with some cream cheese, and top with a roasted red pepper half and some arugula. But I digress. This particular harvest burst with the earthy heat this green is known for. I started looking around at what I had in the cupboard and the refrigerator, checking out the crisper drawer, and digging deep for inspiration.

Ratatouille came to mind, but it just sounded like more work than I was interested in. I knew I liked the preparation of the eggplant I used in the stir-fry with the ginger-pepper sauce, as it resulted in a nice, meaty texture. I wanted to try that again. What else did I have? Half a bag of bow-tie pasta. A container of roasted grape tomatoes. Pine nuts. Onions from the CSA. So, I put on a pot of water to come to a boil for the pasta, sliced up the eggplant and got it in a skillet, then let inspiration take it from there.

One important step is the deglazing of the pan once the eggplant, onions, and red peppers are finished. I used a dry white wine, which added a nice undertone to the finished dish, but I'm sure you could use white grape juice, apple juice, vegetable broth, or another liquid of your liking just as successfully.

In the end, it only took about half an hour to complete the Ratatouille Pasta Toss and sit down to dinner. For now, there's nothing left but the memories.


Sometimes, the planets just align for a soul-satisfying meal from elements that should be just so-so. This was one of those times. With the summer season of the CSA coming to a close, I am trying to make sure I don't let any of that organic goodness go to waste. So, I started thinking about what I could do with another bag of Anaheim chiles. While we really did enjoy them stuffed with rice and beans, I wanted something else. And a dinner was born.

I thought of Mark Bittman's bean burgers that we hadn't made for awhile, and how good they would be topped with some cheese and dripping with sauteed chiles and onions. Of course, the bean burgers call for Moomie's buns. Every time I make them, I ask myself again why I EVER buy buns from the grocery store. These just couldn't be easier, and they taste 1,000 times better. Literally five minutes in the KitchenAid mixer, some rising time, slapping the dough around a bit, another half hour of rising, then into the oven to bake.

So, we got that bit out of the way, and it seemed like a great excuse to try Crash Hot Potatoes, the latest potato craze making its way around the Internet. These were pointed out to me on the Pioneer Woman's blog--a site well worth checking out if you are not already a regular visitor. This is actually the second time I've made them, the first being (in my opinion) a greasy failure. So, I'd like to share a couple of things with you that will probably make your attempt rise to the pinnacle of crispy roasted potato goodness that I reached the second time around.

I think the most important thing is to not overcook the potatoes in the boiling stage. They should cook only until they don't give too much resistance to a skewer (or fork, if you live in my kitchen). I cooked them until they were soft the first time, and they just stayed too wet and mushy.

Second, drain them really well before transferring to the baking sheet. See "wet and mushy" comment above.

Third, don't worry too much about how you mash them, BUT you do want the white part of the potato to come out on top. I tried several items to mash with--my potato masher, a glass, my hands protected with paper towels, and my meat mallet. They all mashed them, but I was always left with skin on the top, with the potato flesh sticking out the sides. This time, I mashed them until the flesh popped out, then flipped them around to get that part on time, and then mashed a little bit more. It worked out SO much better.

Fourth, do get the oven really, really hot. I did convection roast at 500 degrees. And these, my friends, were incredible. Crispy. Crunchy. Golden. Roasty. Worth the effort.

So, all of those pieces, none of them difficult or requiring any real skill, came together to a plate of goodness that made me glad to be a vegetarian, because I get the BEST food!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Global Warming

Another CSA treat the past two weeks has been eggplant. Not the big, spongy, take-over-the-world eggplant. No. We've had tiny, tight-skinned globes no more than 4" long. I wanted to do these more justice than just roasting them, so I went to the cookbooks that started this blog. The winning recipe came from Mollie Katzen's book, Vegetable Recipes I Can't Live Without. This recipe is simplicity itself. The eggplant are cut into 1/2" x 1/2" sticks, then sauteed in a very hot skillet until they are brown on all sides and meltingly tender. Off the heat, a plum sauce made of plum (what else?) jam, Dijon mustard, and freshly grated ginger is stirred in, along with the standby salt and pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

What an incredible burst of flavor this recipe delivers with such a small smattering of ingredients. The spicy mustard plays off the sweet tang of the jam, and the eggplant plays a great supporting role. This would also make a great base for Moo Shoo vegetables. I'd love to have leftovers for lunch, but it's all gone. I saw the Husband standing in the kitchen, finishing off the last of it.

If you're tiring of the summer eggplant standards, and would like to finish the season on a strong note, this recipe is worth a try.

Back into the magical world of the CSA

After getting burned (no pun intended--well, actually, it was) by my previous CSA experience, I have stuck my toes back in the water with Desert Roots Farm Summer Survivor Season--just four weeks to see if this one is going to work for me. So far, so good. We purchased a whole share, even though there are only two of us, thinking that, as vegetarians, the more vegetables the merrier. I still don't know if it's too much, considering my crazy work schedule. I have to decide soon, though, because it's time already to sign up for the fall season. Perhaps while I can't sleep tonight, I can figure that one out!

For those of you who haven't heard of, or aren't sure about, CSA's, I'll tell you what I like about mine:

  • It's absolutely local and organic eating.
  • Things come to me fresh from the farm, so there is no sitting around losing nutrients in the grocery store.
  • My CSA farm is run by a womah. I like that.
  • My share comes each week with a compostable bag, so all my scraps from the farm (or other organic produce) go in there, and get picked up to add to the farm's compost pile when my new week's worth of goodies is delivered.
  • It stretches me and forces me to cook, as I really hate to throw food out. Essentially, I nurture myself through nourishment, forcing myself to take time to cook instead of just work all weekend.
That last part gives me the heebie-jeebies a little bit, though. Right now, I have things cooking everywhere, knowing that the weekend may be the only time I really get to do much in the kitchen. Today, for example, I roasted butternut squash. I approached the task with some trepidation, as neither the Husband nor I have ever really been butternut squash lovers. However, they were in the bag and needed to be used, so what'a girl going to do?

I got out a big, giant knife and started working on skinning those varmints. Even though mine were small, the skin was still hard. I started with a paring knife, and quickly graduated to my 9" chef's knife. I hacked off the skin, scooped out the seeds, chopped the flesh into big chunks, then tossed the whole bit with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and tossed into a 450 degree oven. I have to admit to thinking the whole time that this was a total waste, as we don't LIKE butternut squash.

To my surprise, though, it started to smell pretty good. While the squash was cooking, and winning me over with its aroma, I chopped some walnuts and toasted them in a skillet. In a short time, the squash chunks were roasted, with crispy exteriors and meltingly soft interiors. I tossed them with a bit of walnut oil and the toasted walnuts, then took the bowl to DH with two forks. And you know what? We ate it. All of it. Every last, little bit (well, except for the two bites DH gave the dog, who wagged appreciatively.) So, I think we have another winner.

Isn't it crazy how we work ourselves to death sometimes with recipes when really simple preparations are also delicious? While I can see a riff on the plain roasted squash with walnuts being a possibility (sauteed onions, browned mushrooms, delicate frisee of sage?), it was good-really good-just as it was. I have to admit to frantically looking through cookbooks for something to do with that squash, then falling back on our standby of roasting when nothing else sounded all that good.

Speaking of recipes, though, I do have one to share. It started off with a bag of Anaheim chiles from the CSA. I poked around on their website a bit and found a recipe for chiles stuffed with a can of pinto beans, white rice, and salsa. That sounded like a good starting point, but not a good way to finish. So, I borrowed the idea and improvised heavily, and the results were delicious.

I started by blanching the Anaheim chiles in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. I almost skipped this step, but I'm glad I didn't. The final recipe doesn't have much liquid in it, and I think the peppers would have been tough and fibrous without their first soak in the Chile Spa. The hot bath was followed by a quick dip in ice water to stop the cooking. I stopped there and bagged the chiles to use one night during the week. I also cooked a generous handful of basmati rice with some salsa added as part of the water, also setting that aside in the refrigerator.

On the night I made this, I got home from work and got into the kitchen. They were in the oven in about 20 minutes. I did use the can of pinto beans from the original recipe, but then went to work on some seasonings: onions, garlic, chopped green chiles, and tomatoes to moisten the mix. And cheese, of course. Hello. Beans and rice without cheese is like Thelma and Louise without a car. (I did have more filling than would fit in the chiles, so I just packed it into a small casserole dish and baked it right along with the stuffed chiles. While they were baking off in the oven, I chopped some tomato to toss over the top. About 30 minutes later, we had a dinner that we both enjoyed tremendously. Another one to go into the rotation, based on what came in my CSA bag. What's not to love?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mashed Potatoes meets Artichoke Dip

The last few weeks, I've pretty much eaten garbage, albeit vegetarian garbage. It's taken a toll on my wasteline AND my finances, as that Wendy's egg, cheese, and tomato panini with a large diet Coke costs about $5--every day. Lunches have been nonexistant or have come from the school cafeteria, neither of which is a good choice. Dinners have been a boring blur of quick standbys or take out. So, this weekend I decided I really wanted to get some cooking done ahead of time so that I could eat something that at least came from my own kitchen.

Add to that that I've had this weird craving for artichokes. I don't know why. I never had artichokes as a child, and my exposure as an adult has been limited. Nonetheless, artichokes in anything have made my ears perk up. At the same time, I've been craving some of the creamy comfort of mashed potatoes, but when you don't eat meat, it can be hard to find something to serve them with.

It was destiny, I suppose, to find this recipe for Parmesan Artichoke Potato Casserole over on the CLBB. It goes together quickly and uses few ingredients. It makes a large casserole full, so it is even economical. But best of all, it's good. There's something about the piquant tone of the artichokes that offsets the potatoes perfectly. There's just enough tang, just enough creaminess, to make it all work well together.

I put this together this morning, just to take for lunches. Then we had an impromptu gathering of our children and grandchildren. I still tossed the casserole in the oven to finish it off. Frankly, I didn't think they would eat it. Artichokes? Faggidaboutit. Mayonnaise? Their proper raising doesn't always stop them from making gagging sounds. My nice full pan of casserole? Down by 1/4. And I didn't serve it to them, which explains why there are so many spoons and little bowls in the dishwasher. Like little chicks, they just kept going back and pecking at it while we waited for our "real" lunch to be ready. So, I would say this one definitely qualifies as a winner. Sorry I have no pictures yet, but you can see it in your head. My pretty green casserole dish filled with white creamy goodness, with that crispy-cheesy topping of bread crumbs, parmesan, and paprika baked to crackly goodness. Mmmmmm....lunch will be good this week, for sure!