Friday, October 31, 2008

Sugar Cookies

Ok--we didn't eat sugar cookies for dinner, but in my drive away from processed food, it means making more things myself, like sugar cookies and icing. I signed up to bring cookies for M's Halloween party at preschool and whipped up a batch of cookies. The biggest thing to remember about sugar cookies is that almost all recipes need to be refrigerated for at least 4 - 6 hours. I view sugar cookies as a 2 day event....make the dough on one day, refrigerate and then bake (and decorate) the cookies the next day.

Beat together 1 c butter at room temperature and 1 1/2 c sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add 3 eggs and mix well. Beat in 2 t vanilla (and 1 t almond extract if you want to, I never have...). Add 4 1/2 c flour, 1 t baking soda, and 1/2 t salt and mix well. Chill dough overnight.

The next day roll the dough out on a floured surface and cut into shapes. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven on ungreased cookie sheets for 7 - 8 minutes for soft chewy cookies. The softness or crispness of the cookies will depend on how thin you roll the cookies and how long you bake them. If you like cookies that are thin like sand tarts, roll very thin and cook for 7 - 8 minutes. If you like soft, thick cookies, roll thickly and bake 7 minutes.

Once the cookies are cooled you can ice or decorate them however you please. To make your own icing, combine 1/3 c butter at room temperature (or if you often don't plan ahead enough to get butter at room temperature like me, you can soften it by putting it an electric mixer by itself and beating until it is creamy) and 3 c confectioner's sugar. Add 1 t vanilla and 2 T water (or milk) and combine. If the icing seems too thick or thickens as you ice, just add a little more water, no more than 1 T at a time. Ice and let the cookies set before stacking (they are stackable once the icing is dry) or storing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proscuitto and Gruyere Stromboli

What the stromboli looks like as it is being stuffed and then rolled up.

This meal can be as easy or as difficult as you make it. In it's easiest form, use a tube of prepared french bread dough (you know, the kind that pops out of the wrapper in a freaky, surprising way). If you want to head away from processed food, make your own french bread dough. I whipped out that handy, seldom used wedding gift a breadmaker to make the french bread dough. It was quite easy since the bread maker did all the work.

To make the stromboli, roll out the french bread dough (however you choose to come by it) on a cookie sheet. Divide the dough into four quadrants. On each quadrant, put a slice of prosciutto (I just used the packaged, not really expensive un-Italian kind). Then top with about a 1/4 c fresh arugula, a couple of T of grated Gruyere and a few sprinkles of chopped parsley. Roll up jelly roll style and tuck the ends under. Bake in a preheated 425 degrees oven for 10 minutes. Remove and serve. We like to dip ours in spaghetti sauce or ranch dressing because the bread can get kinda dry.

The beauty of this meal? It's just like pizza, you can stuff the stromboli with whatever you like. I used to make 2 different kinds--one for the kids and one for Curtis and I. For Curtis and I, I would use the ingredients listed above (Gruyere by the way is a kind of swiss cheese). For the kids, I would just use pepperoni and whatever non-interesting cheese I had on hand.

This time I made them all the same. The kids loved them! They each ate their half and then M started on a second a half. I had to stop her from eating too much because I was scared she would get a stomachache from overeating. The amazing part was that she didn't try to pick out the "green stuff" which she at first referred to as kale, until I told her it was arugula. The picture demonstrates how much she loved her stromboli!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Old Bay Roasted Fish and Vegetables

I decided on Old Bay Roasted Fish and Vegetables for supper after getting sweet potatoes in our box this week. I had gotten the fish last week, but due to not getting what I had hoped for in the CSA box, I froze it, waiting for a week with sweet potatoes or arugula.

To make this, peel a medium/large sweet potato and cut it in half lengthwise and then crosswise into slices about 1/3" thick (little half moon shapes). Peel a kohlrabi (or repeat the first step with a second sweet potato if you have no kohlrabi. I just wanted to use up a kohlrabi in my recipe!) and dice it into small squares. Peel large onion and cut it in half and then into 1/2 " slices. Stem and seed a bell pepper and cut it into 1 1/2" chunks. In a mixing bowl, toss the vegetables with 3 T olive oil, 1 t dried thyme, and 1 T Old Bay Seasoning. Spread on a greased baking sheet. Roast in a preheated 425 degrees oven for 25 - 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender and browned.

While the vegetables roast, place 4 (6 oz) white fish fillets (I used tilapia, but you could use cod or halibut as well) in a single layer in the baking pan. Whisk the 1 T olive oil with 2 T lemon juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, and 1 T Old Bay Seasoning together. Drizzle olive oil mixture over the fish. When the vegetables have roasted for about 15 minutes, stir them with a spatula to prevent sticking. Put the pan of fish in the oven and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 10 minutes per inch thickness.

This turned out great! The kohlrabi had a wonderful flavor and was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. Curtis and I really enjoyed it. M and J loved the fish. J had a few vegetables. M opted out of the vegetables for just fish. We figured with how infrequently we eat fish, a brief overload of fish was ok. I was worried the Old Bay would make it too spicy for the kids, but they liked it just fine.

In this week's CSA box

Yay! Sweet potatoes again---and arugula and less eggplant that last week. The role call:

4 sweet potatoes (I got two out of the trade box)
4 bell peppers
two small bunches of bok choy
one bunch of kale
one bunch basil
about 6 eggplants of various shapes and sizes and colors
two cucumbers (out of the trade box)
okra and hot peppers left in the trade box
a small bag of arugula
a bulb of garlic
a dozen eggs

I got the cucumbers for M. She was excited today as she pulled them out of the box and had Curtis chop the ends off of them immediately so she could eat one (they were both small snack size cucumbers).

Not many changes in menu based on the vegetables. We are having Old Bay Roasted Vegetables and Fish tonight for supper and Proscuitto and Gruyere stromboli tomorrow night (that has arugula in it). what to do with that eggplant?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cuban Rice and Beans Stuffed Peppers

I had planned on making Mexican Stuffed Peppers tonight for supper. That didn't quite work out once I realized my tomato had gone bad and I knew M wouldn't eat the black beans. After searching the internet for a while for other stuffed pepper recipes, I gave up because most seemed to have ground beef in them, which I had no interest in using. I decided to invent my own variation.

I wanted to use kidney beans because M will eat red beans (just not black beans---typical 3 year old!). I found a basic Cuban red beans and rice and decided to stuff the peppers with that. The recipe called for making your own beans. I just basically sauteed a half a chopped onion and two cloves minced garlic. Meanwhile I cooked white rice. After the rice was cooked, I mixed in 1/2 t cumin (it could have used more) to the onions and garlic and one can of kidney beans. I heated it and then added rice to just heat everything. I stuffed the two bell peppers that I had steamed in an inch or so of boiling water for 6 minutes. I put the remainder of the filling around the peppers in a 9 x 9" baking pan and topped the peppers with crumbled goat cheese and the extra filling with cheddar. I baked it all in a preheated 350 oven for 20 minutes.

All in all it was ok. Everyone ate it. J loved the beans, M was fine with it, Curtis thought it was good, but I thought it was rather bland. I didn't remember to add salt and the beans and rice needed a good dose of salt (or something). I may try again, but I want to find a better way of seasoning it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sun-Dried Tomato Tortellini Soup and Oven Cheese Fondue

I really only needed to make the soup, but I have so many eggs in my refrigerator...I wanted to get rid of a few. It was a soup type of day, so I decided to just make both. I also made Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes (a Paula Deen absolutely terrible for you, based off of processed foods type of recipe. I peeled and cooked my huge butternut squash this afternoon. I just put enough water so that the squash wouldn't stick to the bottom of the pot and simmered it until the squash was very tender. Then I pureed the squash, omitting the juice at the bottom of the pan to achieve the right consistency, until the squash was smooth. I measured out 1 3/4 c which is equal to 1 15-oz can of canned pumpkin. I had enough left over afterwards for about 2 more cans worth. Yippee!!).

The soup was pretty easy to make. I sauteed 1 c chopped onion, 1 carrot sliced 1/4" thick, 2 minced cloves of garlic, and the chopped stems of one small bunch of baby bok choy (about 1/2 c I think...) for about 5 minutes. I added 5 c chicken broth (frozen from a much earlier chicken), 2 c water, 1/2 c chopped sun-dried tomatoes (dry packed--not packed in oil), 1/2 t dried basil, 1/4 t black pepper, and bay leaf and brought the soup to a boil. I simmered until I was about 10 minutes away from being ready to eat (in other words, I simmered it until whenever Curtis got home). At that point, I added approximately 2 c chopped baby bok choy leaves (regular bok choy would work fine, I just had the baby bok choy), and 1 1/2 c fresh cheese tortellini--about one 8 oz package of fresh tortellini. I simmered for 7 minutes (or maybe a little less) until the tortellini was al dente. If you use dried tortellini (found in the pasta aisle), increase the liquid significantly. The cooking time will also increase because it takes longer for dry pasta to absorb liquid (and it will continue to absorb liquid for a day or so).

I definitely recommend using fresh tortellini. It is more expensive, but it is so much better in the soup. I had forgotten how much I love this soup until I had it again tonight. It was a hit with both Curtis and I. J wasn't terribly interested in supper---he ate the oven cheese fondue, but we couldn't convince him to even taste the pasta. Maybe for lunch tomorrow. M's flu was back today and she opted for homemade applesauce for supper (we're following the BRATY diet right now...).

For the oven cheese fondue: Beat 5 eggs (which is why I made this recipe) until they are lemon colored. Add 1 t salt, a dash of pepper, and 2- 3 c grated cheddar cheese and mix well. Add 2 1/2 c hot milk and 1 quart (about 4 slices) cubed bread. Pour into greased 7 x 11" baking pan or a casserole dish. Bake in preheated 325 oven for 30 minutes (for a 7 x 11" pan. A casserole dish will take between 45 - 60 minutes depending on how thick the mixture is). Top with chopped parsley just before serving.

Like I said, J loved this part of the meal. I don't think I cooked it long enough, but Curtis also still liked it ok (he said he would have liked it better if I cooked it longer). I used whole wheat bread instead of the white bread I am used to using and that changed the texture of the bread considerably. I didn't particularly like how this turned out. I don't know if it was the whole wheat bread, the slightly undercooking it, or just not liking it tonight.

Menu and Grocery List

As always, this menu is subject to change later in the week depending on what we get in our CSA box.

Monday: Sun-Dried Tomato Tortellini Soup and Oven Cheese Fondue
Tuesday: Mexican Stuffed Peppers
Wednesday: Cashew Chicken and Rice
Thursday: Prosciutto and Cheese Stromboli or Spinach Foccacia (we'll see on either of these...)
Friday: Possibly a dish with fish?

Grocery List:

3 cheese tortellini (fresh from the refrigerated section)
two organic cereals
YoBaby yogurt
yellow cake mix
three packages of cream cheese
butter (three packages)
chocolate wafers
low-fat cottage cheese
whole and skim organic milk
one pound (free) chicken breasts
ramen noodles (for Bok Choy salad)

A lot my list was for desserts I am planning on making: Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake and Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake.

I did go the grocery store in the middle of the week for things like heavy cream (and I am totally blanking on the rest). I am hoping not to need to go in the middle of the week this week. We'll see.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fettuccine with Greens and Sausage

This is hands down, one of my favorite quick and easy fall/winter/early spring comfort meals. I generally use either kale or collard greens in this recipe. Both are equally good. I suppose you could also use chard or any other heavy (not like lettuce-type) green you want. I like using the spinach fettuccine that comes tangled up in a bag (not the straight pasta kind---more like the noodles kind. The pasta kind would be fine I am sure though).

To make this dish, bring a large salted pot of water to a boil. Wash, remove stems and very coarsely chop 1 pound of kale (or any greens). Cook in boiling water for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet brown 1 pound bulk (pan) sausage. Drain fat. Once kale has cooked for 5 minutes, remove from pot with a large sieve. Keep the water in the pot and return it to a boil. Drain the excess water from the kale and add it to the cooked sausage. Once the water has returned to a boil, add the fettuccine. Cook the fettuccine until al dente and the kale until it is just barely tender. Drain the fettuccine and add to the sausage and kale along with 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Heat through. Serve and top with extra parmesan cheese.

Curtis and I love this dish (as I may have stated earlier). If the pasta looks a little dry once it has been added to the sausage/kale, you can add 1/4 - 1/2 c chicken broth or water. I generally don't, but the original recipe calls for it. M had two servings of this tonight---even ate the kale. We were shocked, but are attributing it partly to the fact that it was the first real meal she ate in over a day (she had a slight flu). J loved the sausage and emptied the pasta and kale off of his plate in search of more sausage. Silly boy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

At the Farmer's Market

We are really enjoying our Saturday trips to the Farmer's Market. The apple stand right now has Cameo apples which have been my favorite apples for eating this season. We also are getting more pork products---for some reason a lot of greens recipes are paired with pork, either bacon or sausage. I also got a bag of hearty whole wheat bread and a pound of shelled pecans. Real quick on pecans: if you can find unshelled pecans, they are usually a lot cheaper. I've enlisted by 2 (at the time) year old's help in shelling last fall. I cracked them with a meat tenderizer mallet and she helped pick out the "meat" of the pecan (the edible part). They do take some time to do though, but if time's not an issue, it makes sense to buy them unshelled (or even go gather your own).

I've learned a little bit about getting pork at the farmer's market. First was the sausage that gets cooked in a skillet like hamburger meat has three names and different farmers call it different names. The sausage I get (not links or patties) is either pan sausage, breakfast sausage, or bulk sausage. I've gotten decent response by always asking for bulk sausage, so I tend to stick to that. I also make sure I always get the mild. They tend to season the sausage and it can be anywhere from slightly seasoned (like the mild I bought that my kids to eat) to hot (which is almost too spicy to eat myself). I've also discovered that different farmers season/smoke bacon differently. I need to ask more about this. The farmer I've been able to get bacon from (the other one is out a lot) doesn't season their's much at all. I tend to like a little more seasoning because it does taste different than what I am used to. It works fine for seasoning greens or dishes, but I am not sure I would want to eat it plain (it's not bad tasting, just a little bland).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Butternut Squash Bisque with Bok Choy Salad and fresh whole wheat Bread

As I've mentioned earlier, I've been searching for the perfect butternut squash bisque for a couple of years now. I think with a few adjustments I may have finally found my soup.

I combined two recipes--one from Whole Foods and one from French Food. I sauted 1/2 a chopped large onion and 1/2 T minced fresh ginger (I will decrease that amount next time---use only 1/2 - 1 t instead) in a soup pot for 5 minutes. I added 1 1/2 lbs peeled and chopped butternut squash and 2 large chopped carrots and sauted the veggies for another 3 minutes. Then I added 2 1/4 c chicken stock and 1 T orange zest (again, I will decrease that amount next time to probably 1 t) and brought everything to boil. I lowered the heat, covered the pot, and simmered for about 30 minutes (or until all carrots and squash are tender). Then I added 1/4 c chopped fresh parsley, a dash of nutmeg and about 1/2 t sea salt. I transfered the soup to my food processor and pureed the mixture until it is smooth and creamy (a hint about pureeing hot ingredients in a blender or food processor---take the the cap in the center of the lid out---that will allow the heat to escape without the spewing soup everywhere. I am speaking from experience!). Put it back in the soup pot and add 1 c of heavy cream (Whole Foods recipe stops before adding the cream, but the cream makes the soup thicker). Heat until the bisque is hot. Garnish with croutons (we used Central Market croutons because I was too lazy tonight to make those too).

I also made a bok choy salad to go with it and a loaf of rustic whole wheat bread. I found the bread recipe online and as I made it, I realized it didn't make a lot of sense---the process was much different than typical bread recipes and the ingredients contained no oil or no sugar, which was also very unusual. I won't repeat the recipe so I am not going to post it.

The kids didn't like the bisque. They ate bread with homemade jelly on top. Curtis and I loved the bisque and we enjoyed a nice complete meal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In the CSA box today

Fall continues to briefly show up in our CSA box--like the weather though, summer lingers.

This week:

2 bunches of bok choy (I traded my okra for one)
a bunch of kale
more eggplant than I care to count
one butternut squash
several bell peppers
a dozen eggs (they continue to back up---I have 23 eggs now)
a couple of kohlrabi
okra and hot peppers I left in the trade box

I was hoping for some arugula or sweet potatoes to make with my fish. Now to use my fish, I will need to hunt for a recipe or make multiple dishes for a meal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

The title of the recipe is a little deceptive. I didn't use any acorn squash in this recipe. From my best guess I used a sweet dumpling squash and possibly a carnival or kobucha (or maybe a turban squash---but I don't think the turban part of it was pronounced enough for that) squash. The larger one was the one I pegged as the carnival squash. I am glad I stuck to two different squashes instead of using two little orange ones like my first inclination was. The larger squash had much more "meat" in it, the orange didn't really have any squash insides to eat. It was very stringy and didn't appear to be very edible. (or maybe I did something't be that!)

How I got from the top picture to the bottom picture. First time I tried to cut the squash in half I could barely get my knife in. So I pierced the skin of the squash with the knife and microwaved it for 1 minute. After that it was easier to cut in half. I scooped the seeds and strings out of both halves and placed them cut side down on a cookie sheet. I baked them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes until they were soft inside but not mushy.

While the squash baked, I made the filling. I sauted 1 lb of bulk (also called breakfast sausage---not links or patties but it cooks more like ground beef) in a skillet. I added one chopped onion and one chopped green apple (I actually added two because they weresmall) and sauted until they were just tender (again, not mushy). While those cooked, in a separate bowl I combined 2 c toasted bread cubes (I toasted 3 slices of the whole wheat bread I had on hand and then cut it into cubes), as many pecans as I had (the recipe calls for 3/4 c---I didn't have that much so I used the little bit I had), 3/4 c raisins, 1 - 2 T sour cream or plain yogurt, 1 t fresh chopped thyme (1/4 t dried), 1 t fresh chopped oregano (1/4 t dried), and 1/4 t dried basil.

At this point, I had to leave to go to soccer. The squash was done in the over so I left it to cool on the counter, I put the sausage/onions/apples in the refrigerator, and left the bread cube mixture (minus the sour cream) on the counter as well. When I got home, I preheated the oven to 375 and combined the bread cube mixture (plus the sour cream) and sausage mixture and then stuffed each squash half. I baked them for 20 minutes.

On the side we had kale gratin with our leftover kale and tomato slices. I was disappointed the small orange squash didn't taste better (or we were able to eat it at all), but the larger squash was incredible---tender and flavorful (it absorbed some of the stuffing's flavors). Everyone ate and enjoyed it. J didn't like the sausage or squash much (he picked out the bread, apples, and raisins), M didn't care for the squash but ate everything else. Curtis and I had no problem finishing our plates.

Monday, October 20, 2008

On Fresh Air Today

I somehow managed to hear Fresh Air on NPR this afternoon. There was an incredible interview with Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. (To listen to the whole interview, click on Listen Now.) He talked about eating sustainably and a letter he wrote to the next president of the United States (which was published in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday). He covered many other topics, those are the ones that managed to stick while I was in the car. If you haven't read his books, I would highly suggest them. The Omnivore's Dilemma describes three different meals---a corn based, a grass based (better than it sounds) and a foragers meal. In Defense of Food talks about his guidelines he follows for defining what food is and how he chooses what food to buy. There are some repeated material between the two books, but both are great reads.

Kohlrabi Curry

We hadn't had a curried flavor meal in quite a while so this was a nice change of pace. This was pretty easy meal to make. I would suggest having all your vegetables chopped before you start cooking.

To make the curry, saute a 1/2 c chopped onion and 1 clove minced garlic in 1 T olive in pot or large skillet (I used a skillet) for 3- 4 minutes. Add 1/2 t dry mustard, 1/2 t ground cumin, 1/4 t ground turmeric, and 1/4 t ground coriander and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add 1 c diced, peeled kohlrabi bulbs (cut all the little ends off) and 1 c chopped potatoes and stir briefly. Add 2 c chopped tomatoes (or 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, drained), 1/2 c water, 3/4 t salt, and 1/2 t sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. If you remembered not to just compost the leaves of the kohlrabi (which is what I did, so I omitted this part. It's good either way), add a couple of handfuls of finely chopped kohlrabi leaves and simmer 8 - 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 c edamame (or you could also use regular peas) and cook until edamame is tender. Serve over rice.

Curtis and I enjoyed this meal. J really like the potatoes and kohlrabi (and the rice). In this meal, the two are indistinguishable. Just make sure you peel enough of the skin off the kohlrabi. Otherwise, you will find fibrous bites spread throughout the meal. M somewhat liked it. She didn't dislike the flavors. She ate the rice great and picked out all the edamame. She claimed she liked the kohlrabi, but she didn't take more than a couple of bites of the kohlrabi and potatoes. Maybe next time she'll be more enthusiastic.

Menu and Grocery List

This week's menu:

Monday: Kohlrabi Curry with Rice
Tuesday: Stuffed Acorn Squash with Kale Gratin
Wednesday: Either Old Bay Roasted Fish or Fish Tostadas (depends on what we get in the box)
Thursday: Left open to plan around what's in the CSA box
Friday: Parent's Night Out
Saturday: Intentionally left open (I'll cook since I won't Friday night)

At the grocery store today, I had an important lesson reinforced for me....never go to the grocery store when you are hungry and pregnant. That's a lethal combination almost guaranteeing you will buy things you don't need. Enough said, here's the list.

sesame oil
aluminum foil
organic black beans
organic kidney beans
bulk cinnamon (50¢ worth)
organic bulk whole wheat flour
whole almonds (both salted and unsalted)
all natural peanut butter
olive oil
unbleached white flour
organic rice
cheddar cheese
a pound of organic potatoes
2 Texas lemons
organic edamame
1 1/2 pounds of tilapia
spinach fettuccine
green olive bruschetta spread
a small assortment of bulk halloween candy (I had a coupon---still really no excuse for this one)
whole wheat tortillas
two kinds of organic milk (whole and skim)
riccotta cheese
mozzarella cheese
sliced almonds

A few of things were planning in advance, just because I was thinking about it, like the hazelnuts. I'll possibly use the fettuccine later in the week depending on the contents of the CSA box.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Whoppie Pies

Friday is the new I'm not cooking Saturday. We are going to a potluck at the farm where we get our produce tomorrow so I knew I'd need to cook for that. So, instead, I didn't cook supper tonight. I do however have a recipe to post.

The recipe is Whoopie Pies. I know, the name doesn't make sense to most Texans and I've gotten teased a lot about the name since being here. However, where I am from in the East (Virginia-Pennsylvania), whoopie pies are a common thing that you can find at Old Order Mennonite and Amish farmer's markets in addition to your regular Martin's grocery store. I can't find them here so I've had to make my own. (In the pictures, the whoopie pies are the cake and filling looking things. The other star shaped cookies are Linzer cookies which I'll explain more about at closer to Christmas cookie time).

For years, I just made my family's whoopie pie recipe, somewhat hesistantly since it had raw eggs in the filling. I stumbled across this recipe on Epicurious last year rather by accident, tried it, and these have become our favorite whoopie pies. I use an alternate filling to the marshmallow fluff that was in the review section of the recipe. Measure 1 cup of whole milk into small saucepan. Add 5 tablespoons of sifted flour. (I use Wondra flour. No lumps) Cook on medium heat until thick. Cool. Cream together 1/2 cup (a stick) butter & 1/2 cup shortening till creamy. Add 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 cup sifted powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated. With mixer on slow speed, add the cooled flour mixture one tablespoon at a time. Beat on medium high for 3 - 4 minutes or until mixture has a fluffy-creamy texture. The filling is ready to use.

The filling isn't as sweet (which we like) and the cake isn't quite as moist (which is ok, because they are still really moist), but I don't feel bad letting my 3 year old and 1 1/2 year old eat them. No worries about salmonella poisoning with these cookies. I also don't make them quite as big as the recipe calls for. When I make the recipe, I get about 18 - 24 finished cookies instead of just 8 (that's dropping rounded tablespoons of batter onto the pan).

I think one is calling my name now!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Autumn Vegetable Soup

Today would be what I would consider our first truly wonderful fall day. After a trip to a park this morning watching my munchkins run around happily in long sleeves and long pants, I decided soup was definitely in the cards for tonight. Curtis had to work late again, so I was a little unsure about how the soup would go over. Last year, M would not eat soup so for a while I thought about backing out of soup and doing something more kid friendly. But I just couldn't pass up our beautiful fall day.

I chose a soup that used both kale and bell peppers. I was also hoping to sneak some kohlrabi in, but decided against it. To make the soup, I sauted a half a chopped onion in a medium saucepan (nothing huge necessary--only 4 c of liquid and 4 c of veggies). Once the onion was soft, I added two minced garlic cloves and sauted for an additional minute. Then I added approximately 3 c chopped kale, 1 c chopped bell pepper, 1 T chopped fresh basil, and 1 T chopped fresh oregano (or 1 t basil and 1 t oregano). I briefly sauted for a few minutes, then lowered the heat, covered the pot, and simmered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (I know this sounds strange to cook the vegetables without liquid, but it turns out great). I then added 3 c of chicken broth (the recipe called for 1 c water and 2 c vegetable stock, but I had 3 c of chicken broth in the freezer that I wanted to use), 1 c tomato juice (that I had canned earlier this summer), 1 1/2 T red wine, 2 c kidney beans (pretty much any kind of light bean works---black are a little too heavy), and 1/4 c small shells (or any other small pasta). Bring that to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. I served it like this, topped with parmesan.

The recipe does call for 1/2 c chopped fresh tomatoes and 1 T chopped fresh parsley to be stirred in at the end of the cooking time. If I would have had tomatoes, I would have added them (I've used them in the past as you can see in the picture). If you aren't ready to eat right away, you can let the soup simmer for as long as you need to.

I needn't worried about the kids response to the soup. M loved it. She didn't eat the kale (no surprise there) but she did eat the kidney beans I used which surprised me. J ate it very well as well and I had two bowls. There's nothing like the first soup of the fall.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sesame Beef Stir-Fry

I dug into the CSA box this evening for supper. Mmmm....It's been a while since we've had stir-fry so this was especially tasty. For the meat, I used New York Strip steak because I didn't have any flank steak in the freezer. It made very tender meat and thankfully, Curtis didn't complain at all that I used a steak for stir-fry.

To make this recipe, I thinly sliced 1 lb of beef (New York strip steak or flank steak) and marinaded it for an hour in 1 T toasted sesame seeds, 1/4 c soy sauce, 2 T sesame oil, 2 T sugar, 1 minced green onion, and 2 minced cloves garlic. After the beef marinaded for an hour, I began stir-frying the meal. It is easiest to make if everything is chopped before you start cooking. In a large skillet, I heated 1 T sesame oil and then stir-fried 3 minced cloves of garlic for 2 minutes (if you choose to use fresh ginger, also include 1 1/2 T fresh minced ginger at this time). Add the beef and 1 t ginger and stir fry for 4 minutes. Add 4 c of sliced bell pepper strips and stir fry 2 more minutes. Combine 1/4 c water and 2 - 3 T soy sauce. Add to stir fry along with 4 c thinly sliced bok choy (use both stems and leaves). Cook 1 minute or until bok choy wilts. Remove from heat, stir in sesame seeds and serve on rice.

If you want a thicker sauce, increase the water to 1/2 c of cold water and stir in 1 T cornstarch and 3 T soy sauce. Stir into stir-fry and stir constantly until mixture thickens.

Everyone ate this meal. Curtis, J and I loved it. M really liked the meat, but picked out the bok choy and bell peppers.

In the CSA box today

As the rain is here and the weather turns cooler, I think fall may actually come to our area soon. Looking inside our CSA box today was another reminder that 80's and 90's temperatures may soon be gone!

The summer vegetables are waning---less squash and cucumbers and the fall veggies are showing up. The boxes are full again, leafy greens take up lots of space! There are several photos today because some of the produce are not your common everyday school cafeteria lunch variety.

In the box (M helped inventory by counting and sorting):
a dozen eggs (which brings my grand total of eggs in the fridge to 20!!)
a bunch of bok choy (plus a second bunch I got from the trade box--pictured at top)
bunch of basil
bunch of kale (I am guessing between 1/2 lb and a 1 lb)
three kohlrabi (the second picture down)
6 eggplant of various colors, shapes and sizes (third picture down)
a bulb of garlic
6 bell peppers of varied colors
a butternut squash
2 cucumbers (not the best looking)
1 summer squash
hot peppers (left in trade box)
okra (left in trade box)

I am glad I left the menu for today and tomorrow open! Tonight for supper we are having Sesame Beef stir fry using bok choy and bell peppers. Tomorrow night we are going to have a soup/stew using kale. I need to check the recipes to see what other things I need. If I can, I'll include the kohlrabi in the kale recipe.

A brief description of kohlrabi--it's a root vegetable. I have recipes for it using it as substitute of sorts for potatoes in a kohlrabi salad (that highly resembles a potato salad). I also use it chicken pot pie and a main dish with edamame (soy beans). I don't know a lot about it, but have found it tolerable to eat.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sweet Potato Burritos with Rice

I love being able to cook recipes I haven't made in 6 - 9 months again. One problem of that though is that M has forgotten that she likes sweet potatoes. She is slowly remembering that again.

This is a great recipe which takes a while but requires little work. Most of the time that goes into it is spent with cooking time. While this cooked, I unloaded the dishwasher and washed dirty dishes (in addition to solving the country's economic crisis). To make this burritos, saute approximately 3 c of uncooked peeled and diced sweet potatoes with 1/2 c chopped onion 1 T oil in a large skillet. Cover and cook on medium low for 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes tender, adding water as needed to prevent sticking. Add 2 c cooked black beans (one can of black beans), 1 t cumin, 3/4 t cinnamon (the secret ingredient to this recipe), and 1/2 t salt. Cook until heated through. Divide bean mixture and 1 1/2 c cheddar cheese among 8 burrito sized tortillas (if you use the regular HEB/Central Market tortillas, you'll either need more or will have left over filling, which is fine, just top leftover filling with cheese and bake to melt cheese) and roll up. Place in a 9 x 13" baking pan. Put damp dish towel over top of the burritos, then cover pan with foil. This steams the burritos and prevents them from drying out. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 25 minutes. Top with sour cream, salsa, and/or fresh chopped cilantro.

The verdict of the meal? I love it and Curtis thinks it's a good meal (not quite the enthusiasm of me, but that's ok, he still likes it!). J loves the sweet potatoes and ate the entire burrito rather well. M didn't eat the black beans (following her pattern), ate some of the sweet potatoes and all of the cheese crusted tortilla. I hope we get more sweet potatoes in our box this week!

It's raining outside, which is even more exciting now that I am willing my little seedlings to develop into full fledged plants. Eating seasonally and gardening definitely makes you feel more connected to the weather and seasons than otherwise. It is a good reminder of how little we really have control over and how sometimes, that's ok.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hamburgers and Kale Gratin

This evening's meal was pretty easy.  All the prep work went into the kale, and that was minimal.  This is one of my favorite ways to eat kale.  Curtis doesn't like at as well this way--he says it is too rich.  I think it's perfect!  Unfortunately, neither child eats this at this point--M has a leafy green avoidance.  We'll keep working on that.

To make the kale gratin, start by removing the stems from the kale (this recipe is for 1/2 lb of kale).  This is actually really easy.  Just hold the stem in one hand (I am right handed and hold it in my right hand) and with the other hand, starting at the stem, pull the leaves off.  Once all the stems are off, chop the kale.  Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a pot.  Add the kale and a dash of salt and cook 5 - 6 minutes.  Drain and squeeze excess water off the leaves.  Meanwhile, fry a couple of slices of bacon.  When crisp, break into small pieces (if you want you can use a little ham.  If you use ham, cut into 1/2" pieces before frying it).  In a separate pan (I used the same pan I cooked the kale in), pour 1/2 c cream (or if you don't have cream you can use 2 T melted butter plus enough milk to make 1/2 c), 1 clove minced garlic, and black pepper.  Add the crispy bacon.  Cook and reduce to about 1/4 - 1/3 c about 7 - 8 minutes.  Pour the cream evenly over the cooked greens and stir to coat evenly.  Transfer to a shallow casserole.  Stir 1/4 c breadcrumbs and 1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese together and sprinkle on top of kale.  Bake in a preheated 425 oven for 5 -10 minutes.

Sorry there are no pictures tonight.  The photographer got home after we had eaten supper so pictures didn't happen.  Hopefully we'll do better tomorrow!

Menu and Grocery List

Monday: Hamburgers and Kale Gratin (one of my favorite ways for kale!!)
Tuesday: Sweet Potato Burritos (or else quesadillas---probably burritos though)
Wednesday: (leaving W and Thursday open to see what comes in the box!)
Friday: Beef Enchiladas

Extras: Eggplant-Black Olive Dip, Zucchini Bread

The corresponding grocery list:
coriander (about 18¢ worth)
organic butter
whole wheat hamburger buns
ground black pepper (about 25¢ worth)
organic honey nut O's
other organic cereal (I can't remember which kind)
muffin papers
roasted, salted almonds (bulk) to snack on
raisins (bulk)
whole wheat multi-grain bread
stoned wheat crackers
dried fruit for Curtis

I did make a mid week grocery trip last week to get:
black olives
mozzarella cheese
ricotta cheese
cheddar cheese
whole milk

(It was basically a dairy run!)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Baked Eggplant Marinara

This blog could also be titled the night we had appetizers for dinner.  I found the recipe from Epicurious.  Epicurious, in case you haven't noticed, is my favorite recipe website.  I like it because they don't use many processed ingredients and they have a wide variety of recipes, often based on vegetables  (they had so many eggplant and acorn squash recipes for example).  This recipe was chosen tonight because it looked easy and it looked like a good way to use eggplant when I was sick of eating eggplant.

All in all, the recipe was quite easy to make.  In essence, it was like eating little lasagna or pizza circles---fried eggplant topped with ricotta, then marinara sauce (I used my homemade sauce) and finished with mozzarella.  I realized when I was past the point of no return that these were meant to be an appetizer, but I decided they could past for a Friday night supper.  It led me to make a tomato basil salad to go with it to make it seem more like a meal.  Curtis and I loved them.  After he had eaten one (or two?) I asked him if this was a pretty good eggplant recipe.  Curtis's response,  "This is eggplant?"  It was that good.  I ate three and I currently can't stand eggplant.  J ate one before we even noticed and was asking for a second.  M proved to be a slightly pickier eater, but I'm going to blame that on being 3---she didn't like the ricotta and she definitely didn't eat the eggplant.  My favorite part of the meal?  I used FOUR!!! of my small eggplant in the recipe.  The recipe says 8 small rounds, but you can really make as many as you want if you have plenty of marinara sauce and mozzarella (I did).  

I will repeat this recipe next time I need comfort food and have eggplant I need to eat.  Now I just need to figure out what to do with my other 4 eggplant!  :)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mac and Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, and Apple Muffins

The biggest hit of the day was Mac and Cheese with the Apple Muffins a close second. I also thought the sweet potato fries were great but M and J weren't too sure of them. I think that's because they've been spoiled by actual fried sweet potato fries at one of our favorite burger places.

I'll hit today's food in chronological order.

It was my turn to host playgroup this morning. We went to a couple of parks (long story) and I took apple muffins. It had been years since I made this recipe and I played with it a little, so I was somewhat nervous. However tasting a couple of them before we went, let me know they were ok. (One muffin wasn't enough for 3 people to share!). In a mixing bowl, I beat 2 eggs. I then stirred in 1 c milk, 1/2 c melted butter, and 2 c coarsely chopped, unpeeled apples. In a separate bowl, I combined 2 c unbleached all purpose flour, 1 c whole wheat flour, 1/2 t salt, 1 c sugar (if you use red, sweeter apples, use less sugar), 4 t baking pwoder, and 1 1/2 t cinnamon. I added the dry ingredients to the wet ones all at once and stirred just enough to moisten everything. I then spooned the batter into greased muffin tins and put the muffins in a preheated 400 degrees oven. Twenty minutes later they were done! The recipe makes about 22 not very big muffins.

Curtis worked this evening so it was just the kids and I . I decided it would be a good mac and cheese night. I have two easy mac and cheese versions. One is the super easy stove top version, the other is just as easy but a little longer baking time oven version. I opted for stove top tonight. I experimented for years about the best way to make stove top mac and cheese. The challenging part was always to get the cheese to melt correctly without making a white sauce. I finally just reverted back to my Grandma's version. Cook however much macaroni you want in a pot of boiling water as long as the package says. Drain and reduce the heat to low. Add a decent amount of Velveeta cheese (the inside of the box actually tells you pretty well how much to add) to the macaroni, plus a little milk. My Grandma always made her mac and cheese on the runny side, so I add more milk than some would prefer. I've found that you can add other cheeses to the Velveeta as well, but the Velveeta provides just the right melting consistency without getting too stringy like mozzarella or too clumpy like cheddar. You can't go wrong with that one. (And a person can have one processed food fall back, right?)

To make myself feel better about mac and cheese for supper, I used one of my sweet potatoes to make oven sweet potato fries. A real quick lowdown---cut the sweet potato into fry size pieces or wedges...the recipe I used called for 4 medium, I just used one large (it was just for 3 of us!). Throw the sweet potatoes in a bag of plastic container with a lid with 2 T oil and 1 t sea/kosher salt and shake. I then seasoned it with 1 minced clove garlic, about a T of fresh oregano, and 2 T fresh lemon juice and shook the bag some more. I baked them in a preheated 425 degrees oven for 30 minutes, flipping them every 10 minutes so they wouldn't get too dark on any one side. You know they are done when they are tender and a little browned. that the kids are both asleep, I think it's time to go have another apple muffin!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Black Bean Tostadas

It seems like I am starting every dinner blog this week by saying this is one of our favorite meals. Well, tonight's meal was no exception. :) Some weeks are a greatest hits type of week, some weeks are a recently released type of week, and some weeks are Ekletikos. This week is a Greatest Hits week.

I used to think of this meal as taking awhile to make and being a lot of work. I've since figured out ways to make this a quick and easy meal. Originally I made guacamole for this, but since I can't find avocados locally, I have let the guacamole go by the wayside. I also made the salsa for this the night before (a very basic salsa--a couple of tomatoes coarsely chopped, a couple of T chopped cilantro, a little bit of chopped Poblano peppers, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime). So this meal took no time at all.

To make it, I sauted one chopped onion, one large clove of minced garlic, 1 t cumin, and 1 t coriander in olive oil in a large skillet. Once they were tender, I added one can of black beans (drained) and mashed them with a potato masher/pastry blender. Then I added the juice of one orange and one chopped tomato. I turned the heat down to low and let simmer until the tortillas were fried.

If you don't want to fry your own tortillas, you can probably find fried tortillas at a grocery store. I just fry my own. I am a lousy fry-er so I figure all the practice I can get helps. Use corn tortillas. I figure on about 2 per person (we like leftovers). There is enough beans for about 6 - 8 tortillas. Fry each tortilla in a small pan of hot canola (or your choice of oil) briefly on each side--until the tortilla is crispy but not browned.

To serve, take a tortilla. Top with some beans and then follow with some grated cheese, the salsa, and sour cream. If you have lettuce, that is great on top of the cheese (before the salsa). Curtis and I vary slightly on the order--he likes his cheese right on top of the tortilla so the beans are more likely to melt it. Curtis, J, and I loved the meal. Madeleine complained because it had black beans. We offered her leftover chicken from the night before, but all she wanted was a tortilla with cheese on top. She had one of those and then was cut off until she ate something slightly more nutritious.

In the CSA box today

As the weather cools down, I am greeted with something new in our CSA box every week. This week, it was green I had difficulty identifying (I narrowed it down to either kale or mustard greens, but it didn't seem curly enough for either and the stalks looked very kale-like). However, after e-mailing, Brent, the farmer, I learned it was in fact a variety of kale. Easier to identify were the two beautiful large sweet potatoes we got. Keep the sweet potatoes coming!

One of the things I am enjoying about the CSA box is unpacking it from my cooler and putting everything away. It has become a weekly event for M and I---something she really enjoys doing. We go through the cooler and she sorts things. She's getting pretty good at knowing that squash comes in all colors and shapes as does eggplant. The basil this week she tried to identify by smelling it. She thought it smelled pretty good. :)

So, in our box:
a bunch of kale
two sweet potatoes
more eggplant than I know what to do with it
4 tomatoes
a couple bulbs of garlic
a small variety of summer squash (a zucchini and several small patty pan squash)
5 or so bell peppers
a bunch of basil
okra that I left behind
hot peppers I left behind

Like I said, I am not quite sure how to use all the eggplant before it goes bad. We still have some baba ganoush left from last week and there weren't any of the long skinny Japanese eggplant I like grilled with fontina cheese. Maybe I'll need to try eggplant sandwiches (slice an eggplant, soak in olive oil, grill, and top with fontina cheese, maybe a tomato slice and put on bread). The summer squash is going into zucchini bread.

I also went by a Wednesday Farmer's Market and picked up a couple of butternut squash. I had used all my mine and wanted my pumpkin desserts. I learned the squash were just picked this morning so I will have to wait a couple of weeks to use them to let them sweeten. Bummer. Pumpkin chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin gooey butter cakes, and pumpkin flan---I don't know if I can wait two weeks (this is why I can eat relatively healthy and still never lose weight!).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chiles en Nogadas with Rice

This is, hands down, one of Curtis's and my favorite late summer meals. I usually start making this around the time the poblano peppers on my plant start getting nice and big (in the summer they are smaller because of the heat). The chicken is incredible. If you don't want to go to the work of stuffing peppers or making the sauce, the chicken is still worthwhile making, whether you just serve it with rice or use it for some of the best quesadillas you'll ever have. Having cooked chicken on hand makes this recipe a lot quicker (than having to cook some chicken before starting the recipe). I start rice cooking when I start the peppers roasting. I also start the chicken mixture at the same time the peppers roast as well.

For the poblano peppers themselves, start by roasting four of them. I do this by putting them on the grill and turning them occasionally until the peppers are charred on all sides. Once they are charred, immediately put them in a plastic bag and let them steam for 5 minutes or so. When they are cool enough to handle, carefully take the blackened skin off. As tempting as it may seem, don't rinse the peppers off, if a little skin is left, that's ok. Cut a slit in each pepper along one side, lengthwise, so that they can be reconstructed after they are stuffed.

For the chicken (the best part!!), saute 1 small chopped onion and 1 clove minced garlic in little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until they are soft. Then add 2 c cooked, chopped chicken, a scant 1/4 c raisins, 3 T brown sugar, 1/4 c chopped pecans, a dash of ground black pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Mix together and cook 3 - 5 minutes. Stir in 1 t white vinegar, 1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro, 1 T tomato paste, and about 1/2 c water. Reduce heat to low and let all simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool so you can stuff the peppers. Stuff each pepper with cooled chicken mixture. Put rice on a serving platter and then the chiles on top. I always keep some chicken separate for the kids, since they don't like spicy foods. I arrange that on the plate as well and then put the plate in 250 degrees oven to keep the peppers warm until the sauce is made.

For the sauce, combine 4 oz cream cheese, 3 T goat cheese, 3 T sour cream, 3 T chopped pecans, a pinch of nutmeg, and 2 T sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring for 5 - 7 minutes. To serve, pour sauce over warm chile peppers and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro.

I was my own sous chef tonight. I cut the onions and garlic while the kids slept and combined the raisins, brown sugar, pepper, pecans, and bay leaf. I knew we would get home late from some errands and didn't want a repeat of last night's supper (being ready at 6:45). It made cooking a lot easier and made me feel a little like I was on one of those cooking shows where they never measure and just dump cute little containers of ingredients in. Curtis and I loved it (and I ate way too much). M decided she didn't like chicken tonight so she ate the rice and picked out the raisins. J ate some chicken, rice, and some sauce (in fact, he loved the sauce and would have eaten just that if we would have let him).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Roasted Chicken-Part II

In addition to roasted chicken being a fabulous one evening meal, I see roasted chicken as the meal that keeps on feeding! Once we are done eating supper, I put the pan juices (from the roasting pan), the entire leftover chicken, and enough water to cover the chicken in a large stock (soup) pot. I don't bother taking the chicken off the bone or anything. I simply throw the whole thing in. I turn the heat up to high on the stove until the water is boiling, then I turn down the heat and let it simmer for awhile (pretty much until I feel like dealing with it--sometimes as little as 30 minutes, sometimes a couple of hours).

Once my energy is back (after fixing supper and getting one or two kids into bed) or when I am doing something mindless like watching tv and I am distracted by the fact that is 9:00 and I am still working, I take the chicken out of the pot. I usually put it on a large cutting board and get two medium size bowls to help me work. Using a couple of forks (or just my fingers after it is cool enough), I take the chicken off the bones. If you've cooked the chicken long enough, this is easy work, it basically falls right off. I am picky about my chicken--I don't like non-meat parts like tendons or the like, so I make sure I just get meat. (That's one huge advantage of taking the chicken off the bone yourself, you control what meat you keep). Once I'm done, the leftover chicken goes in freezer containers for a later date, making a recipe that calls for cooked chicken a snap!

Then I deal with the leftover water in the pot which has become a rich chicken broth. I use a sieve to strain the broth (again, leaving skin and non-broth matter out). The broth then goes in a large quart class measuring cup and whatever other containers it takes and into the refrigerator. I let it sit in the refrigerator a day before freezing the broth. Before I transfer the broth from the measuring cup to smaller, usually 2 c containers, I skim the fat off the top of the broth using a spoon. As the broth cools, the fat separates and will float on the top. Waiting a day before freezing lets you get more fat off than if you just froze it right after you cooked it.

From the remains of a roasted chicken, you are left with cooked, chopped chicken, ready for a quick and easy meal and lots of chicken broth ready to season rice or make a tasty soup.

Roasted Chicken-Part I

Roasted chicken is on our our favorite meals. Sometimes M eats the potatoes, sometimes she doesn't. We love the onions that have cooked with it. It's rather simple to make, you just need to give yourself enough time to cook it (which is exactly where I ran into trouble tonight, but more on that one later).

To make a roasted chicken you need a 3 - 4 lb whole chicken. It should be completely thawed. If it has a neck, remove it--the easiest way I've found is just to cut it off with a kitchen shears (I know--that's gross, it's my least favorite part of the whole thing). Then, starting at the neck cavity (where you just removed the neck), loosen skin from the breasts back to the drumsticks by inserting your fingers and gently pushing between skin and meat. Combine 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper and rub under loosened skin. Stuff the internal cavity (again, that will be opened up considerably after removing the neck in the front and the tail in the back) with 4 sprigs oregano, 1 lemon cut into 1/4's or 1/6's and 1 celery stalk cut into 2 inch pieces (which I often omit). Place chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan. In a bowl, combine about 2 pounds of red skinned potatoes, cut into small chunks and 2 lbs yellow sweet onions, cut into 1/8's. Toss with 2 T melted butter, 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper. Spread the veggies around the chicken in the roasting pan. Bake in a preheated 425 oven for 20 minutes. Then, lower the heat to 325, cover, and bake an additional 1 hour, 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 180 in the thigh or 170 in the breast. Allow to stand 15 minutes before carving/serving.

Like I said, normally this is a favorite meal of ours. If you want you could make a gravy with the broth at the bottom of the pan after the chicken is roasted. I am not a big gravy maker, so I've yet to attempt that. One of these times. This evening, we ran into trouble with our bird. I usually use a 3 - 4 pound chicken--one on the smaller side. Tonight I had the poultry-farmer's pride--a 5 and a quarter pound chicken. I knew for a 3 pound chicken it didn't take that long to cook. I learned tonight that a five and a quarter pound chicken will take about 30 - 45 minutes longer to roast than a skinny, less than 4 pound chicken. Thus 6:45 rolled around and the chicken was finally ready (instead of 6:15 which still pushed dinner back a little). I was home with the kids by myself, J was fussy and M was just hungry. So, before the chicken was ready we snacked on cereal. Neither was particularly hungry when the chicken was ready. Lesson learned. Thus, I was left without a just barely eaten chicken and no pictures of my masterpiece (and it was beautiful!).

Menu and Grocery List

I have a tentative menu for the week, knowing that the latter half of the week's menu could change depending on what arrives in the CSA box.

Monday: Roasted chicken with potatoes, onion, and bruschetta
Tuesday: Chiles en Nogadas
Wednesday: Black Bean Tostadas
Thursday: Beef Enchiladas
Friday: Possibly something with Acorn Squash (it's accumulating in my pantry)
Saturday: Official I'm Not Cooking Day

And the accompanying grocery list for the week looked like:
baking powder
unbleached all purpose flour
organic black beans
Texas lemons
organic honey nut O's
local goat cheese
corn tortillas
oranges (not a good time for oranges---only ones available were from Australia!)
organic orange juice
honey whole wheat bread
organic red potatoes
Grana Padano cheese
organic whole milk
brown sugar
whole wheat pita
locally made salsa

I got more produce this week than usual because this week's coupon was for $10 off produce. Like I've said earlier, I can't turn down free stuff, evidently even if it is Australian oranges (oh, they places they've gone!). They were for a recipe though, and they really do improve the recipe considerably so I gave in.

Someone asked me what snacks for my kids look like. This week snacks will probably be:
Baba Ganoush and pita
cucumber slices
Crackers and cheese
Cheese and Apple Slices (a great combination---especially with a nice sharp cheese like cheddar or manchego)
O's and raisins/dried cranberries mixed together

Snacks aren't a thrilling thing for me. They end up being an after thought, a little like, "Oh no! I need a snack now, what do we have?" M could eat Baba Ganoush and pita and crackers and cheese for every single snack for ever, so we do a lot of repeating snacks as well. Desperation snacks include giving M trail mix, knowing she will only eat the M & M's out of it (so for the next little while, there are no more M & M's to eat out of it). Occasionally, if I bake, some baked good may be a snack as well. Last week we had very small slices of apple cake for a morning snack a time or two.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Record Time!

This morning when I went out to water my freshly planted seeds, I was greeted with a surprise. Some of the seeds M, J, and I planted on Thursday (it could have been Wednesday, but I am pretty sure it was Thursday) morning had already broken the surface of the ground. I saw some bok choy, lettuce, and possibly spinach poking through. Yippee! I ignored the instructions of how far apart to plant the seeds, partly because I had the eager help of a 3 year old and a 19 month old. Once the plants get a couple of permanent leaves growing, I'll thin the plants out to a more reasonable distance apart. I am quite excited though. I wasn't sure what sort of success I would have this year because I shoveled half the garden myself and my shoveling skills leave much to be desired. (Curtis laughed at my shoveling. It took him 15 minutes to finish shoveling the other half of the garden when it took me 45 minutes for my sorry excuse for shoveling). We'll have greens this winter! (pictured is M helping to plant basil seeds last spring--a failed experiment unfortunately).

If you haven't planted any seeds or transplanted any plants, it is not late in this region. If you haven't done much before, transplanting herbs are a great place to start. The key to herbs is knowing how much sun and water they need. I learned quickly that while on the container, it may say full sun, it doesn't mean full Texas all day sun. (pictured are herbs from last June--mint, basil, and dill--all in full sun).

The following herbs do well with some afternoon shade, especially in the summer: oregano, mint, parsley, basil, and lemongrass. All are very fragrant and rather pretty so they could easily go in a bed in front of your house. All of the above except basil will also winter over in our mild TX winter. If the mint dies, give it a little time, it may just come back. Basil needs to be planted every year. Our mint typically looks like it dies each summer, but this time year, we see new plants coming up, just begging to be made into mint tea. The week long ice storm we had a couple of years ago couldn't even kill our oregano (we were hoping it would! That plant is huge!). The oregano is pictured to the right with lemongrass behind it. You get a bit of an idea of the size of the plant.

These herbs can survive with full sun, in fact like it just fine: rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and basil. Again, all but the basil will easily survive our mild winters.

There are a few herbs that do the best this time of year--dill and cilantro are the two that come to mind. Dill is used in a lot of Greek/Mediterranean food and is a nice seasoning for baked pot pie or soups. Cilantro is just super fabulous. The sad thing is, when cilantro is going strong there are no good tomatoes to be found any where.

If you haven't tried planting herbs before, now is the time to try. Use a flower bed or even just a pot on the back porch. Have a kid help transplant and water (it's important to water daily for a week or two after you transplant to help the plant get used to being in the new location). Wait a couple of weeks or so and enjoy a little extra seasoning to your meals!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne

Before I get into the nitty gritty of tonight's meal, may I just sing the virtues of the butternut squash a little more? I've talked about it being roasted and cooked in cubes (tonight's recipe was also cooked in cubes). Did you know also that butternut squash makes killer pumpkin pies? Really! It tastes better and has better consistency in pies than say the large pumpkins you use for carving. I have now used up almost all the butternut squash in my pantry. Next week, I plan to scour the Farmer's Market for more butternut squash because I am dreaming of making pumpkin (aka butternut squash) flan and pumpkin chocolate cheesecake. Plus I hope to make a butternut squash bisque (which, by the way, I am still searching for the ultimate butternut squash bisque recipe so if you happen to have one that isn't too runny and has the perfect blend of spices, please, let me know!). In case you have never seen a butternut squash peeled and cut open, here are two pictures. The first one is with seeds, the second is after it has had the seeds removed.

Tonight's meal was time intensive. The recipe was from Epicurious. I did a few things differently, some I think were good choices, some weren't. The recipe is basically 4 parts you assemble (not unlike most lasagne's): the filling (squash and hazelnuts among other things), the sauce (a white sauce, also known as a bechamel sauce), the noodles, and the cheese. A quick recap of what I did that varied from the recipe. For the filling, I was sure I had hazelnuts so I didn't get any at the store on Monday. Upon looking, I did in fact have hazelnuts. Just not the 1 c that was called for; I only had about 1/4 c. Next time, I will use a full cup. I love the flavor of hazelnuts and suspect the combination of hazelnuts and squash is wonderful. The recipe calls for the hazelnuts to be toasted. To do that, just put the nuts in a 375 degrees oven and cook for about 6 - 10 minutes. Remove, place in a dish towel, and vigorously roll/rub to get the skins off. It's ok if not all the skins come off. The recipe also called for the no-cook noodles. I had the other kind (the old fashioned, cook first kind) on hand, so I cooked the noodles and reduced the baking time to 15 minutes without covering the dish at all. The cheese was no different.

Where I had my difficulties with the recipe was the white sauce. I have only started making sauces in the past 6 months so I am still figuring the whole sauce thing out. I suspect (although I am not 100% sure) my problem was using skim milk instead of whole milk. I think skim milk takes longer to boil and thicken than whole milk because what was supposed to take 10 minutes took closer to forever (or at least 20 minutes). It turned out fine, just took a long time. I found myself cursing the recipe as I stirred and stirred and stirred, telling myself this better be darn good if I was going to spend this long of a time making it.

The final result? Curtis and I loved it, although I was missing the hazelnuts. J ate the squash and a little noodles. M? Well, her response was, "Mommy, something's wrong with this." Hmm...I think I struck out with her!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pappardelle with Roasted Winter Squash

If you start everything at the same time, the meal will hypothetically be finished in about 25 minutes. The butternut squash needs to be peeled, seeded, and cut ahead of time to prepare the meal that quickly.

Butternut squash has quite a thick skin and aren't the easiest vegetables to prepare for cooking. After several different experimentations over the years, I have found a vegetable peeler (one that doesn't move, some wiggle, some are stationary. The stationary vegetable peelers work best) to work the easiest. After the squash is peeled, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Again, after much experimenting I found the easiest way to get the seeds are is to cut around them with a serrated steak knife and then scoop them out with a serrated grapefruit spoon. The serrated edge lets you get just the seeds and stringy membrane without losing the wonderful fleshy part. Once that is done, cut the squash into 1/4 - 1/2" cubes.

To actually prepare the meal, combine 4 c of cubed squash, 2 T balsamic vinegar, 2 t olive oil, and 1/2 t sea salt (or kosher salt or just regular salt) in a large bowl. Toss well to coat. Grill in a grill basket over a medium hot grill until they are tender and browned, stirring occasionally to prevent charring (if some get a little charred that's ok, it brings out the flavor). If you prefer you could also roast the cubes spread in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet in a preheated 475 degrees oven for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the squash roasts, cook 8 oz (1 package) papparedelle pasta according to package directions. Drain in colander, reserving 2 T of the cooking liquid. While the pasta cooks, melt 1 T butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 T pine nuts, 1 T fresh chopped sage (optional--sometimes I add it, sometimes I don't), and 2 cloves minced garlic and cook for 3 minutes or just until the pine nuts begin to brown, stirring occasionally. Place pasta, 1 T reserved cooking liquid, pine nut mixture, and squash mixture in a large bowl. Toss gently to coat. If pasta seems dry, add second reserved T of cooking liquid. Add 2 c arugula and 1/2 c Asiago or Parmesan cheese. Toss gently to combine and serve immediately.

Curtis and I love this meal. The butternut squash is very sweet when roasted/grilled and almost tastes like sweet potatoes. M just ate the pasta and cheese. J just ate the squash. It worked out perfectly!

To please the public...

I am now trying to include pictures of finished products, produce, or other things I talk about. My sister informed I was too text heavy and needed to reformat my layout. Rather than reformatting my layout, I decided it would be easier to just start adding pictures.

I feel like I must add a disclaimer about my pictures. It is really hard to take good pictures of food! Getting the angle and the lighting right eludes me most of the time, so please accept my sorry attempts at photography! When possible, I will talk Curtis into taking the pictures because he does a much better job (his picture was off the veggies, mine was of the cake).

Feel free to ask questions if I use a word you don't know or understand or if you are just wondering what a certain vegetable looks like. I still need to look up what julienned means when I still use it in a recipe, so it would be nice if it was just explained in the recipe. When I first joined the CSA I was constantly looking up veggies in cookbooks trying to identify what the mystery produce may be. I at first mistook swiss chard (a leafy green with sometimes red stems, it can be used as cooked spinach) for rhubarb (a red stalk that is used in pies and sometimes as a thickener). We're all friends here! (or at least friends of friends). :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jewish Apple Cake and Zucchini Frittata

I published the recipe for zucchini frittata in an early post, so I'll just tell you about a couple of adaptations I made to the recipe. I needed a quick supper and once I started cooking I realized the recipe called for cooked brown rice. Bye, brown rice. That was omitted. To be sure I had enough food for us, I used 6 eggs instead of 4 and I substituted goat cheese for feta cheese. Despite all my tinkering with the recipe, it was still great and everyone (but the one who is boycotting suppers) ate at least one piece of frittata. I must admit the big hit of supper though was homemade strawberry jam on a slice on squash least until dessert.

Dessert was Jewish Apple Cake. For a cake, it is not very difficult to make from scratch and if you use the right apples it is oh, so good! Curtis ate a piece for breakfast with a glass of milk. I would have if 2 children weren't watching me (and I would have had to share!). It has apples, so it's healthy right?

Here's how to make it. Peel, core, and thinly slice enough apples to equal 2 quarts. (This is the most time consuming step of the whole recipe! A mechanical apple peeler/slicer/corer speeds up the process considerably). Sprinkle with 2 T fresh lemon juice, 5 T sugar, and 1 T ground cinnamon. Toss gently to coat all apples with lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together 2 c sugar and 1 c oil. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, mixing well. In a third separate bowl, combine 3 c flour and 3 t baking powder. Add alternately with 1/2 c orange juice to creamed sugar mixture. Add 1 T vanilla and combine. Pour 1/3 of the batter into a very well greased bundt pan or large tube pan. Top with 1/3 of the apples. Repeat layers 2 more times, ending with the apples. Place the pans on doubled up cookie sheets (2 stacked cookies sheets) and bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 1/2 hour. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in its pan for 20 minutes before inverting it.

A couple of quick notes on the recipe. The cookie sheets prevent the bottom (which becomes the top) from becoming burnt, keeping it instead a nice golden brown. It also doesn't matter if your layers don't come out exactly in thirds. I always some how manage to have just barely enough batter for the final layer. All that means are there are more apples closer together at the bottom. It still tastes great. The cake could take as long as an extra 1 1/2 hours (instead of just one hour). The best apples are the "hard" apples or those that are green or tart.

In the CSA box today

Finally some new produce in our box this week! Arugula! Aaahh...arugula, how I love your peppery flavor, your tender leaves. I am inspired to write a haiku for you...

Frail Arugula
Tender ragged-edge leaves
Delights taste buds.

So I am not poet, but that gives some idea about exactly how exciting a leafy green is for me after months and months of squash, eggplant, and bell peppers.

Also in our box this week (although, I must say I hardly noticed the other veggies. Sorry! It's like the new baby in the just draws my attention):

4 tomatoes
2 small red onions
2 small white onions
a large myriad of eggplants
a winter squash--I believe a carnival squash
2 small patty pan squash
2 small zucchini
2 small yellow squash
ARUGULA (did I mention that yet?)
3 small to medium sized cucumbers
okra (which was left behind in the trade box)
several bell peppers
many hot peppers (also left behind)
a dozen eggs
a bag of basil

In the picture are the vegetables that went onto the counter, instead of the refrigerator. The winter squash went into a cupboard to wait for a cooler day. I think the prettiest eggplant are the light purple ones (hidden at the top of the bowl).

My menu for the week has changed slightly to accommodate the arrival of arugula. This evening we are having a zucchini frittata and squash rolls from yesteray. Tomorrow night, I plan to make a roasted butternut squash and arugula pappardelle (a thick pasta Curtis calls tapeworm pasta). Other than that, the menu remains the same.