Monday, March 30, 2009

Possibility of No New Posts

As those who check this regularly know, I am pregnant. At this point I am not only pregnant, but very pregnant, 38 weeks to be close to exact. What does this mean? Well, I think the answer is a little obvious. At some point, the posts will dwindle down to nothing. I am not sure post-baby how long it will take me to post again. The best way to keep up with it is to become a follower of the blog. That will let you know when I get around to having a new post.

Until that occurs, I will continue to blog approximately 5 days a week or so.

Chard Cheese Bake

This became a combination of chard/spinach cheese bake. I am scraping the bottom of my CSA box and used the chard/spinach from the CSA plus half of the spinach I got at the Farmer's Market to make this. We all enjoyed it, Curtis and I with a little bit of Chipotle Tabasco sauce on top. It was an easy Sunday evening meal without a lot of clean up. I served this with some cooked beets.

Chard (Spinach) Cheese Bake
1 pound chard or spinach (or a combination)
4 eggs, beaten
1 c milk
1 c cheese, shredded
1 c bread, cubed
1/2 c green onions, sliced (optional)
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated

Cook and thoroughly drain chard/spinach. Combine with remaining ingredients. Pour into greased 1 1/2 - 2 quart baking dish. Cover and bake in preheated 375 degrees oven until set, 30 - 35 minutes (it may take as long as 1 hour depending on your oven and the type of dish you use).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roasted Chicken with Fennel

After discovering I would be getting a fennel bulb in the box this week, I planned to make roasted chicken. Today seemed like the perfect day for having the oven on for hours, one of our last cool spring days. I needed to supplement the fennel I got from the CSA though with some from the farmer's market today. We all loved this supper, but I definitely tweaked this recipe and will again more next time. So instead of just giving a link to epicurious, I will type up how I did (and will do) the recipe. If you want to see the original recipe, click here. I think the best part of the recipe was the roasted fennel and potatoes around the chicken. I didn't have all the fresh herbs, just rosemary, but I included them in the recipe because I am sure they would make everything even better!

Roast Chicken with Fennel
2 lg fennel bulbs, fronds trimmed, and cut into 8 wedges
1 T plus 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 T fennel seeds
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
1 T fresh tarragon, chopped
1 T fresh marjoram, chopped
3/4 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
3 -4 medium red potatoes, quartered (or cut into sixths, depending on size)

1 4-5 lb chicken
1 lemon, cut into 1/8ths

Cook fennel in large pot of boiling water until tender when pierced with a knife, about 8 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a bowl. Mix in 1 T oil, garlic, fennel seeds, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, marjoram; then salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse chicken inside and out, pat dry (I never do this). Rub chicken outside with 1/2 of lemon. Rub outside of chicken with 2 T olive oil, and then sprinkle some salt and pepper outside of skin and between skin and meat. Loosely stuff chicken with fennel mixture and leftover lemons. Place chicken in roasting pan. Mix potatoes with remaining fennel mixture and arrange around chicken. Roast chicken for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 325, cover and bake an additional hour or so until a meat thermometer registers 180 in the thigh or 170 in the breast. Allow to stand 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Fish Tacos

I finally did it! After years of unsuccessfully trying to fry foods, I finally achieved success. I discovered the key was finding a recipe that told me exactly how hot to heat the oil. With that information, frying wasn't a problem!

I had been searching for ways to use my cabbage that had been collecting in the fridge. Although the recipe called for red cabbage, I decided that my regular white cabbage would suffice. I must say, I would prefer the fish tacos without the cabbage. I think part of the problem was the sauce for the tacos. It wasn't anywhere nearly as good as the sauce on El Chilito's fish tacos (my fave fish tacos in town). I think if I could find the right recipe for sauce and cabbage I would be happier with the tacos. The kids loved the fish and tortillas, not so much the cabbage. Curtis loved the whole taco. As for me, I was just so proud of finally successfully frying something, the taste didn't matter as much. The fish was really good though, the sauce just needs some work (which was what most of the reviews on epicurious said as well). Prep wasn't very difficult, the most time consuming part was frying the fish.

January, 2012.  I am editing this because I think I may have figured out the secret to the cabbage!  :)

Fish Tacos
1/4 c mayo
2 T ketchup
1/4 c crema mexicana (sour cream or plain yogurt will work too)

1 c flour
1 t fine sea salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 c dark beer, at room temperature

1 1/2 lbs halibut or other white fish, cut in to 5 x 3/4" strips
1 lime, halved crosswise

6 - 8 flour tortillas

a recipe of Mexican Slaw
lime wedges
bottle hot sauce (Chipotle Tabasco or Chalula are our favorites)

Mix together mayo, ketchup, and crema mexicana, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Whisk together flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Pour in beer, whisking until batter is smooth. Let stand 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Squeeze some lemon juice over each strip. Let stand 15 minutes.

While the fish and beer batter is standing, begin to preheat vegetable oil in a medium skillet (enough oil to reach a depth of 1 inch). Attach a deep-fry or candy thermometer and heat oil to 350.

Mix fish into batter (I did 1/2 the fish at a time so the fish wouldn't fall apart from too vigorously stirring). Slide 4 fish strips into oil. Fry until golden, about 3 - 4 minutes. Transfer fish to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and place in preheated 200 degree oven to keep warm.

While fish is frying, prepare tortillas as desired. I heated each briefly on a comal (a round, flat, low sided black skillet) and covered with a dish towel to keep warm until it was time to eat.

To serve, fill each tortilla with 1 - 2 fish strips. Top with sauce, cabbage, squeeze of lime, and dash of hot sauce.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A New Food Page

I love finding new websites about food. I think that has to do with not only the love of cooking food and eating food, but also my love of reading about food. Curtis and I are both big fans of The Atlantic magazine...the articles are news related but written in a more indepth way than say Newsweek or Time, kinda like NPR news stories vs CNN (or any other news agency). It's not the political bias as much as providing more than just the headlines and a few details.

I am off subject though (well slightly). Through the Austin Chronicle (or KUT or the news last night, I can't remember where, but that too is not important), I learned that one of Boggy Creek Farm's owners is writing for a blog featured on The Atlantic's website. This afternoon, I discovered my new favorite website of people writing about food. It's listed over in the links section or you can check it out here. The site is awesome--it lists blogs it finds (like Georgia on my Thighs---cooking through a Paula Deen cookbook), blog it sponsors (like On the Farm which has Carol Ann Sayle from Boggy Creek Farm), and food articles (on things like what is Healthy Food, Bagels, and the now popular White House Garden). It's the whole enchilada! Check it out when you have a chance!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In the CSA box today

This week's box could be labeled a "Taste of Spring." With most things, there isn't quite enough there to cook with, just enough to taste. Things will get combined in cooking. The butter lettuce will become part of the mixed greens and the chard and spinach will definitely be used in the same recipe.

1 small pint of strawberries
a bag of mixed greens (from the trade box)
small bag of baby chard
2 bunches green garlic (one from trade box)
small bunch of spinach
small bag of arugula
bunch of radishes
small head of butter lettuce
small bunch of pac choi (bok choy type green)
very small fennel bulb
a bunch of kale
3 beets
2 grapefruit
4 oranges
a dozen eggs

I think I may have a menu for the week! It's about a time!

Wednesday: Prosciutto and Arugula Strombolis with a side salad (with radish slices on top). Strawberries for dessert (because they will get no better than they are today!
Thursday: Sesame Tofu Stir Fry with pac choi
Friday: Roasted chicken with Fennel and Garlic with a side of red potatoes and sauteed kale
Saturday: Fish Tacos (with a cabbage slaw) and a side salad
Sunday: Something with spinach/chard??

After the beets were such a big hit this week, we'll definitely have beets as a side one night (unless I get inspired and find a beet/citrus salad type thing which I have seen around...). M is still enjoying oranges so she'll keep getting those for lunches and snacks. The garlic will be used in cooking. That pretty much uses everything up. I think we should eat good this week. I may supplement our box this week with some more spinach and carrots from the Farmer's Market on Saturday. We'll see how motivated I'm feeling!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cabbage Chicken Salad

I don't do coleslaw---something about the mayo/cabbage combo and my general wariness with cabbage. The cabbage was multiplying in my fridge and I had to do something. Enter an easy cabbage salad. Curtis and I loved it. The vinegar (and a little extra added salt on my part) masked the cabbage flavor well enough for me to really like it. The kids picked the chicken out, but I suspect on a day they were hungrier, they may eat the cabbage too. The recipe is simple, has basic ingredients and is a great way to make at least 1/2 a head of cabbage disappear. I didn't use any of the optional ingredients.

Cabbage Chicken Salad

1 lb chopped cooked chicken (I baked a couple of chicken breasts to use)
4 c thinly sliced cabbage
1 t salt
1 1/2 - 2 T rice vinegar
1 T sugar
2 - 3 T cilantro or parsley, chopped
3 green onions, chopped (optional)
1/2 c peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage, rub in, and allow to stand for several minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and serve.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A couple of New York Times Articles...

Ok, maybe they aren't the newest gardeners, but they are the highest profile gardening advocates lately. Check out this article from the NY Times about the Obama's garden on the White House lawn. Regardless of your political view, the embracing of gardening and eating locally and in-season by the President and his family is significant. Yay for growing what you eat and knowing where what you eat comes from!

Also from NY Times is this article by Mark Bittman (chef, cookbook author, one of the hosts of Spain:On the Road Again), summing up organic food choices vs. good food choices. It does well at talking about how the label "organic" is not the answer to all our nation's health problems.

(I hope the link opens--I am not sure how long they keep archived articles available for public viewing for free....Thanks to my mother-in-law for clipping the article on the White House Garden and sending it to me!)

Shrimp Scampi and Beets

Thankfully, I remembered today that I had a pound of shrimp in the freezer. We blew through our CSA box this week and going into this evening all I had left was the three beets and a little of parsley (plus all those cabbages I can't quite bring myself to cook. Enough with the cabbage!!!). I reverted back to the standby of mac and cheese and a chef salad last night. A quick run down of the meals for the past several days:

Saturday: Spinach Souffle
Sunday: Mac and Cheese and chef salad (with carrots, hard boiled eggs, and bacon)
Monday: Shrimp Scampi and Beets
Tuesday: Who knows.....

Shrimp scampi is always a hit with M who loves shrimp and J who loves pasta (but not so much the shrimp).

The beets were the biggest hit though. I've found if I wash, peel, and then dice them (into about 1/2" chunks) and through them in a pot of water, they get quite tasty. They need to cook for at least 30 minutes to be good and tender so be sure to give them enough time. I also think a liberal dousing of salt improves them a lot, it cuts the sweet. (No one else in my family salts them, that's just me who isn't a huge beet fan).

Who knows I may come down and make cabbage of some sort for dinner tomorrow night. I have to use it sometime and I don't have anything else that is begging to get used.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mushroom Pizza with a Salad and Roasted Asparagus

The one problem with asparagus is, unless you get a lot of it, it seldom will make a complete meal. Thus, I need to find a main dish to adequately accompany the asparagus. Since we won't get our beef until the end of April, there is still a bit of scrambling. I decided to clean out the fridge and make pizza to go with the asparagus.

Even that was a little scare. I came up with mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, fontina cheese, a little bit of pasta sauce that I stretched by rinsing out the jar with a little water and pouring on the pizza as well, and parsley from our CSA box yesterday. That said, it got pretty good! J and M helped add the toppings to the pizza, at least J "helped" until I chased him away from eating whole handfuls of cheese and not putting it on the pizza. J also had his first attempt at helping me make pizza dough---quite fun to watch him try to knead it.

Since our grill has no gas (it's a natural gas grill that previously had been tied in directly to the gas line at our such amenity here), I had to come up with a different way to cook my asparagus. I didn't really want to risk overcooking it on the stove and making it mushy. Instead I found a very basic recipe for roasting asparagus in the oven that allowed me to make it crisp tender with the asparagus taste shining through.

Roasted Asparagus
a small bunch of asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt (the coarse kind)
a little coarsely ground black pepper

Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Roast in preheated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes or until desired tenderness is achieved (may be more or less depending on how thick the stalks are or how tender you like. Grocery store asparagus probably takes longer than farmer's market asparagus).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the CSA box this week

Have I said yet that I am done with citrus? I am. We got lots this week. However, my lack of enthusiasm for the box (with citrus) was canceled by the total and complete enthusiasm for the small bunch of asparagus we got. Even M greeted it with enthusiasm and asked if we could eat it for supper tonight. Alas, no. It is being saved for dinner tomorrow night.

In the box this week:
a dozen eggs (which we are still going through closer to 2 dozen eggs in a week)
a large and small bunch of kale
a bag of salad mixed greens
2 green onions (scallions)
small bunch of bok choy
small bunch of spinach
small bag of chard
3 beets
2 grapefruit
4 oranges
a bunch of lose broccoli florets
a small bunch of parsley

Some menu ideas:
Stir fry with the broccoli florets, bok choy and scallions plus tofu and mushrooms.
Spinach souffle using a chard/spinach combo (not enough of either to use for a meal)
Maybe have a side of beets with the spinach souffle
Roasted kale to snack on
Homemade pizza topped with mushrooms and served with a salad
Asparagus, just barely cooked (preferably grilled, but I don't think the grill will be working by tomorrow night...we are having some techinical/plumbing difficulties with it since moving).

And I vow to eat grapefruit for breakfast and force my kids to eat oranges as the fruit for snacks/lunch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gratineed Gnocchi with Spinach

I love gnocchi. It's one of my absolute favorite Italian pastas. If I go out to eat and gnocchi is on the menu, it is a no-brainer that is what I am ordering. I was excited to find this recipe on Epicurious yesterday to fix my constant gnocchi cravings. An added bonus was that I was able to use my black skillet in the oven for a nice broiled cheese.

It didn't disappoint. I didn't have 15 oz of spinach, more like 8 oz. The dish was missing the extra spinach. It was very, very rich from the heavy cream and and all the cheese (and as usual, I put in more cheese that what was called). I think next time, I'll be sure to use all the spinach called for and less ricotta than it calls for. I may also play around with the cream sauce to see if less of that makes it less rich (thus, allowing me to eat more!). I think gnocchi can stand up pretty well by itself without it needing to be drowned in anything. You can click here for a link to the Epicurious recipe (I like reading other people's reviews before I cook something) or you can just check out the mostly original recipe below...

As for the kids? J ate it great, spinach and all. M didn't surprise us by not eating any of it. She has tried several different gnocchis with different sauces and has yet to like any of it. She had jelly bread and carrots for supper. Curtis and I thought it was great, although a little rich.

Gratineed Gnocchi with Spinach
1 (1-lb) package gnocchi (found in the dried pasta section of most HEB's, etc)
2/3 c heavy cream
1/2 t all purpose flour
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
15 oz baby spinach or regular spinach (coarsely chop the regular spinach)
1/2 c part-skim ricotta
2/3 c shredded mozzarella
1/4 c Parmesan, grated

Preheat broiler. Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water according to package instructions (you will know the gnocchi is done when it floats to the surface). Drain in a colander. Whisk together cream, flour, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a 12 inch ovenproof skillet (a cast-iron black skillet is perfect!), then bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Continue to boil, whisking frequently until reduced in half, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach in handfuls, tossing with tongs, and cook until wilted, 2 - 4 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in gnocchi. Spoon ricotta over gnocchi in 5 large dollops and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Broil 4 - 6 inches from heat until cheese is browned and bubbling in spots, about 2 - 4 minutes. Season with pepper.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Easy Sunday Supper

Sunday suppers are one of two things---super easy or enough to feed an army so we have leftovers for the week. Tonight we went with super easy because I didn't feel like cooking and because we had a big lunch. The supper? Sandwiches, salad, and strawberries. Curtis and I had egg salad, resting on a bed of baby arugula and nestled between two pieces of toasted challah bread. The kids had PB&J because I didn't really want to encourage them to eat something I didn't want to share with them (plus they love PB&J so they were happy). I also pulled out some carrots I had in the fridge and some strawberries I had sliced for waffles this morning. I didn't have a lot of the ingredients I needed for the egg salad and I halved the recipe because I didn't want to use all our eggs for supper, but it was still great. I left out the basil, celery, and red bell pepper.

Egg Salad
8 eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c red bell pepper, minced
3 T fresh basil, minced
2 T pine nuts, roasted
1/4 c celery, diced
1/4 c mayonnaise
1 t red wine vinegar
1/2 t salt
black pepper, to taste

Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer about 10 minutes. While the eggs cook, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Submerge the cooked eggs in cold water and crack the shells to facilitate peeling (rolling the eggs gently on the counter helps a lot--older eggs also peel easier than just laid eggs). Peel the eggs as soon as they are cool enough to handle and transfer to a medium bowl. Mas the eggs with a pastry blender, potato masher, or fork. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir everything gently to combine and serve.

Strawberry Vinaigrette
1 c strawberries, sliced
4 t rice vinegar
4 t lemon juice
1 T sugar
1 1/2 t honey
1/4 t salt
1/8 t each garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil leaves, dried parsley flakes, pepper (all or any combination--I used garlic powder and fresh parsley I think)
1/4 c olive oil

Puree strawberries in a food processor or blender. Add remaining ingredients except oil. Blend, then gradually add oil while blending on low speed. Serve over salad and store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Turkish Spinach and Lentil Soup

Although the rain subsided today, it was still cold (for Austin in March) and overcast, definitely a soup day. I have a lot of spinach hanging out in the fridge, so I was looking for a soup that used spinach. While this recipe doesn't use a lot, it used spinach nonetheless. I found this recipe in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook and decided to use the chicken stock I had been cooking off the bone this afternoon (instead of the vegetarian version from the cookbook) Curtis and I thought it was perfect for this evening with a side of salad with strawberry vinegrette and a challah toast. J ate it eagerly. M needed to coerced (this seems to becoming a ritual. I am not enjoying it) but ate her soup as well. I made this as a very thick soup, almost a stew because I wasn't after something brothy. When we eat the leftovers, I'll probably add more liquid so it isn't too thick.

Turkish Spinach and Lentil Soup
1 c dried lentils
5 c chicken stock
1/4 c olive oil
2 c onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 c raw bulghur
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
2 c tomatoes, chopped
2 T tomato paste
pinch of fresh chopped rosemary (or to taste)
salt and black pepper to taste
2 c fresh spinach, stemmed, cleaned, and coarsely chopped

Bring the lentils to a boil in a pot of salted water. Simmer, covered for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot. Saute the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and raw bulghur. Stir the mixture on medium heat until the onions and bulghur are lightly browned. Mix in the parsley and tomatoes. When the tomatoes begin to give up their juice, stir in the tomato paste. Pour the lentils and the stock into the soup pot with the onions and bulghur. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the rosemary, salt, and pepper. Add more stock or water if soup gets too thick. Just before serving, stir in the spinach and let it wilt.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In the CSA box today

I missed getting carrots this week. I left a bunch of radishes in the trade box and took an extra bag of mixed greens for salads---now I am wondering why, but it seemed like an awfully good idea at the time! Need to eat lots of salads this week!

2 bags mixed greens
1 small bag of arugula
1 bunch of chard
1 grapefruit
2 oranges (I am done with oranges! They are accumulating here rather quickly!)
a large bunch of parsley
a large bunch of mint
a small bag of spinach
a cluster of young green garlic
2!!! small heads of cabbage
1 large tomato
a dozen eggs

I used some of the parsley tonight for Cioppino. The mint will become tea. The chard will become another swiss chard tart. The grapefruit will become grapefruit cake. I am using the garlic in place of the dried garlic bulbs I normally buy at the store. I need to figure what the spinach and arugula will become. I think we'll have another chef salad night this weekend to use some of the salad (and I will remember to post the strawberry vinegarette). I need to come up with a menu to post---hopefully in the next day or two. I love the produce this time of year! (except for the lingering cabbage---it's the gift that keeps on giving....).


We had a wonderful March cold front blow in today, complete with RAIN! (Something that's been sparse lately). That, combined with a coupon I had for $10 off seafood, convinced me that it was a perfect day for cioppino--an Italian seafood stew over pasta (or even just a nice crusty toast. This meal doesn't take particularly long to make and presents as a fancy meal. Everyone loved it--J drank the tomato sauce/broth out of his bowl--he wasn't as fond of the seafood, which was fine with M (who preferred the shrimp and scallops to everything else). He did enjoy making the mussels into vicious creatures that went "Raar!" and chased M. Curtis and I thought it was fabulous and more or less ate it all up!

2 T olive oil
1 c onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c green bell peppers, chopped (optional)
1 1 /2 c (1-14.5 oz can) tomatoes, chopped
2 T tomato paste
1 c dry red wine
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t red pepper flakes (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 T dried basil
1 t salt
1 c water
1/2 b mussels, rinsed and cleaned (optional--we actually usually don't use often these because Curtis doesn't like them)
1/2 lb clams, rinsed and cleaned (optional--we don't ever use)
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and rinsed
1/2 lb scallops, rinsed and drained

1/2 - 1 lb linguine (or toast...1/2 lb was enough for us tonight)
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
lemon wedges (optional)

Heat 1 T olive oil in a medium soup pot. Add onions and saute on medium heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and bell peppers and continue to saute until peppers soften, about 2 - 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, herbs, salt and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer while preparing other ingredients. Tonight my sauce simmered for over 45 minutes while I worked on other things besides supper.

Bring water for pasta to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente.

Meanwhile, prepare the seafood. To clean the mussels (or you could also use clams as a substitution or in addition to the mussels--prepare them the same way), discard any that are open or broken (before cooking). Rinse the rest with cold water and scrub. Remove and discard the stringy beard of the mussels. In a separate saucepan, bring 1 c water to a boil (or enough to completely cover mussels). Add the mussels. Cook 2 - 5 minutes or until shells open. Remove with tongs and set aside. Discard any that do no open along with cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce and discard. Add shrimp and scallops and cook until shrimp turn pink and scallops are opaque, about 5 minutes. Remove sauce from heat.

Serve immediately. Put pasta (or toast) in a bowls. Arrange mussels (and clams) around the edge of bowl, ladle sauce over pasta. Garnish with fresh parsley and lemon wedges.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake

Tuesday night's dinner was strawberry shortcake. I needed to use some of the strawberries and this was a classic when I was a kid. Curtis still is a little unsure about a shortcake as a main course, but I am working on convincing him. I didn't eat with the family last night and was looking forward to strawberry shortcake for breakfast (it has milk on it, which also makes it a breakfast food!). However, there was just a taste left when I got home. That meant that I had to take the time to bake this morning so I could enjoy strawberry shortcake. It was worth all the very short amount of time it took. The shortcake is more like a slightly sweet biscuit than a cake. My mom's family pairs fruit with a bread and milk in lots of different combinations to make a meal (and the men they marry are always wary of the combination at first). This is my favorite strawberry season meal.

Strawberry Shortcake
2 c flour
3 T sugar
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
6 T butter
1 egg, beaten
2/3 c milk

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a pastry blender/cutter-thing (the name is escaping me at the moment). Cut in butter until crumbly. Combine egg and milk in a measuring cup, then add all at once, stirring just until moistened. Spread into greased 9" round cake pan. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 18 - 25 minutes. Serve topped with fresh strawberries (or any other berries) and milk (or whipped cream if it's a dessert).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Swiss Chard Tart

Sometimes, I cook a meal and realize how much my cooking has changed in the past 2 years. Once upon a time (in fact the first several times I made this recipe), I thought about it as time intensive and hard. When I made it Sunday night for supper, I was amazed at how little prep time the whole thing took and how relatively easy it was. The one suggestion I would give is to remember to take out the puff pastry dough before you start making the tart. It takes 40 minutes to thaw and preparing the filling will not take 40 minutes. Overall the family loved it. J ate the filling without a fuss, even seemed to enjoy it (green leafy things still scare my kids...). M needed some coercion, but ate the filling so she could have more of the puff pastry. Curtis and I loved it and we're looking forward to having this more often this spring!

I take the lazy way and don't follow all the trimming instructions for the pastry. I just fold the two pastry's over onto the top.

Swiss Chard Tart
1 lb Chard, stems and ribs removed
1 1/2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (15-oz) container Ricotta cheese
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large eggs
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t fresh thyme, minced
1/4 t fresh oregano, minced
1/8 t nutmeg

1 (17.3-oz) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

Thaw pastry sheets--will take at least 40 minutes.

Cook chard in a large pot of boiling salted water until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain, squeeze out liquid, and chop chard. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, saute 1 minute. Add chard and saute until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile combine ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, salt, black pepper, thyme, oregano, and nutmeg. Mix the chard mixture into the ricotta mixture. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 14 inch square. Transfer to 9" diameter tart pan (with removable bottom, however, I don't have that so I use a 9" pie pan). Trim edges, leaving 1 inch overhang. Fill pastry with chard mixture. Roll out second sheet to 13" square. Trim pastry square to 10 inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges and fold in. Bake in preheated 375 oven on rack positioned in bottom 1/3 of the oven until pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Strawberry Freezer Jam

There are a couple of very different methods of making strawberry freezer jam. The first way is what my grandmother would consider the real way (and the only way that really garners the respect of having made jam) involves cooking berries, lots of stirring, and lots of time. The second way involves fruit pectin and takes about 30 minutes to make, most of the time being spent on cutting the tops off the berries. I make my jam the second way----easy enough I made a batch this morning before making pancakes with fresh strawberries on top and taking the kids to preschool.

To make the quick freezer jam, you need only a handful things and no special tools, except for jars to put the jam in. In my better times, I save jars and lids throughout the year so I don't need to buy any jars. However, in the midst of the move this year, lots and lots of lids got thrown out. I have many interesting looking jars and no lids to match them. If this is your case, or you have no lids, period, you can buy jars at the grocery store. Most grocery stores have tucked away, usually close to the vinegar and on an upper shelf, out of normal view, Mason or Ball 1/2 pint jars, which I find work best for jam.

The most accurate way to make the jam is to buy a box of Sure-Jell or other type of fruit pectin. (To learn more about fruit pectin, click here to read a wikipedia article on it. It is a naturally occurring plant substance). There is a powder form and a liquid form (called Certo by Sure-Jell). On the back of the box, it will tell you exactly what ingredients you need. For the powder, all you need is a lot of sugar, berries, water and the pectin. If you get the Certo, you will also need lemon juice in addition to the ingredients for the powder form. Follow the directions exactly so the jam gels correctly. For 2 c of crushed berries (I use a food processor and try not to puree them, but leave chunks so it is actually jam), you need 4 c of sugar. This is the reason people tend to shy away from fruit pectin as a thickener (vs. cooking to thicken). However, you can buy boxes of Less Sugar fruit pectin which lets you use less sugar. If you use less sugar with regular fruit pectin, you could end up with strawberry syrup instead of strawberry jam. One batch makes 4 half pint jars.

The method varies slightly between the liquid and powder form, but both ways are equally easy. Last year I froze approximately 24 half pints of jam and we used most of it over the year. I know I could have given it as gifts to my in-laws, but by Christmas, I was wondering if we would have enough to make it until the start of strawberry season (we did).

We don't buy much jam in our house, unless we need some raspberry or blackberry jam for a recipe. However, this year, I hope to tackle blackberry jam as well. We'll see about that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

It Finally Happened or How my Daughter Made her Own Snack

As I was neglecting my children this morning (not really, they were watching Curious George on PBS), I discovered the strawberry patch was officially opened for business starting today. As you probably have been able to tell, I have been totally jonesing for some strawberries....serious cravings. I enjoyed the citrus of the winter, but since it is now spring in Central Texas, I need strawberries. I was relieved that no playgroup got planned this week, sped up the morning routine and told the kids we were going to pick strawberries.

M was quite excited. She remembered picking strawberries from last year. J was just happy to go somewhere in the car (he is so much like a little puppy!). We made the hour plus drive to the Marble Falls Farm (the one in Lexington, which we actually prefer, isn't open yet). We were one of 3 or 4 cars there. It was wonderful. I would go to Marble Falls all the time if it was always that quiet. We picked our strawberries--M helping very well, J learning about the color red, taking two bites out of many, many strawberries and then putting them in the basket, and wanting rides in the wagon. I wasn't sure how well I would do, being 34 weeks pregnant and all, but I am pioneer woman! :) I picked more strawberries than I intended to, which is always the problem.

If you only eat grocery store strawberries, you need to venture out to a strawberry patch this spring (or a farmer's market) and get some freshly picked strawberries that haven't been shipped to your locale from the far away reaches of California (unless you live next to a strawberry farm in California). There is really no taste comparison. These berries are red the whole way. J's shirt was filthy from the strawberry juice running down his chin onto his shirt (which is why he wore a shirt that was already stained). They aren't too hard and the flavor, oh the flavor, is worth waiting months and months for. Pick strawberries, bring home more than you know what to do with and look for posts in the next few weeks (as our house gets taken over by strawberries) on how to freeze strawberries and make strawberry jam.

We are having a salad tonight topped with strawberry vinagrette dressing to go with our pizza. Also in our near future (the next 2 months of strawberry season) is homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry panna cotta (Italian custard), strawberry bread, strawberry shortcake (as a meal---Curtis is still getting used to that one, but it's a strawberry season staple at my parent's house). Plus, there is always the benefit of strawberries for snacks--M made her own snack this afternoon--a bowl of fresh picked strawberries.

Aaahh...strawberry season. How I love thee!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In the CSA box today

The box was a little sparse today, but there are weeks like that periodically. I am going to need to supplement the box with some produce from the Farmer's Market, like chard and spinach, but I like excuses to go to the Farmer's Market!

In the box:
a small bunch of spinach
a beautiful bunch of larger carrots
an avocado (grown organically in South Texas)
two grapefruit
a couple of oranges
a bunch of parsley
a bunch of mint
broccoli florets
a cabbage (always, cabbage....)
a small bunch of kale
a bag of salad greens
plus a bunch of radishes I left behind

Not many changes to the menu, I made the broccoli stir fry tonight. I think tomorrow we will have pizza and a salad. I am going to save the swiss chard tart for the weekend. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spinach (Chard) Cheese Burritos

Like I said yesterday, I use spinach and (Swiss) chard interchangeably. Sometimes this works better than others. They do have two distinct tastes. I think spinach has a less distinct, milder taste, but that could be because I am more used to the spinach than chard.

I used chard in this recipe, just because that was what I had on hand. I prefer this recipe with spinach, but the chard worked fine. We ate this with the Brussels Sprouts Gratin (which I now realize was a lot of cheese for supper!). I liked it ok, but Curtis thought it was really good (he is so easy to cook for--thank goodness! I think I prefer to be the picky eater). M ate just the tortilla, but she was in a picky eater mood. J ate several bites really well and then was done. Salsa goes well on top.

Spinach (Chard) Cheese Burritos
1 bunch scallions, chopped (or 1/2 a sweet onion, chopped)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T vegetable oil
10 oz spinach, chopped (if using chard, remove long stems at bottom)
1 t ground coriander
generous pinch of nutmeg (optional)
3 c cheddar cheese, grated
3 oz (1/3 c) cream cheese
4 burrito sized flour tortillas or 6 - 8 taco sized tortillas

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the scallions and garlic in oil for 2 - 3 minutes or until scallions are tender. Add the spinach and cook until the leaves are wilted and the water has been evaporated. Stir in the coriander, nutmeg, cheese, and cream cheese. Soften tortillas so they won't crack by microwaving 2 - 4 at a time for 10 - 15 seconds. Place 1/4 of the filling in each burrito sized tortilla (or 1/2 c filling on taco sized tortilla). Fold the bottom up and the side in to encase the filling. Roll up and place seam-side down in prepared 9 x 9" baking pan. Repeat for remaining tortillas. Cover with a damp dish cloth and then with foil. Bake until hot in preheated 375 oven for 20 - 25 minutes. Serve topped with salsa.

Brussel Sprouts Gratin

As a relative newcomer to brussel sprouts, I am still a little unsure at time. I've found a recipe or two that I love, but branching out leaves me a little hesitant. I found this recipe in Fresh from Garden and I figured I couldn't go wrong with a cream sauce and lots of cheese.

I was right. I didn't love the Brussels sprouts, but I loved!! everything else about it. Curtis thought it was tasty. We managed to get M to try it, but weren't surprised when she didn't like it, especially she wanted a Brussels sprout without the cream (that's the best part!). Now I have another Brussels sprouts recipe in my arsenal. It's more expensive and unhealthy than the roasted Brussels sprouts I love because of all the cheese. However, it doesn't involve having to find fresh rosemary somewhere (grow little herbs! Grow!).

Brussels Sprouts Gratin
1 1 /2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed (and removed from stalk)
4 T unsalted butter
1 1/4 c heavy cream
1/4 lb fontina cheese, cut into 1/2" dice
4 T mild goat cheese, crumbled

Simmer Brussels sprouts in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water for 10 - 12 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and cut in half through the root end. Place in bottom of 6 c baking (preferably oval gratin, but I didn't have one) and set aside. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the cream and simmer until reduced to 3/4 c, stirring occasionally. Pour over the Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle with fontina and goat cheese. Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 15 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 425 and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the cream is absorbed by the sprouts and the top is nicely browned. Serve hot.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Menu for Week

Can I blame my sporadic blogging on being 33 weeks pregnant? Energy levels are diminishing quickly and I am finding myself conserving my energy for the essentials. Sorry for the lack of consistency. I'll try to do better, but can promise nothing at this point (and the points forward).

Menu for the week:
Sunday: Cabbage Bread Soup, which is quickly becoming a definition of comfort food for Curtis and I. J ate the cabbage this time and with some motivation (cake and ice cream) M ate most of hers (she decided last night she didn't like wet bread. Silly girl).
Monday: Swiss Chard Burritos and Brussel Sprouts Gratin
Tuesday: Braised Collards with White Beans
Wednesday: Swiss Chard tart
Thursday: Broccoli and Tofu Stir Fry with Cashews (served over rice)
Friday: Parent's Night Out---kids eat at church--woohoo!

I am excited about the increased frequency of spinach and chard. I enjoyed looking through my cookbook this afternoon and dreaming about spinach/chard dishes (I use the two interchangeably in recipes that have cooked spinach/chard in them). I am also looking forward to the start of strawberry season. It looks like the Marble Falls location of Sweet Berry Farms is opening March 12. That isn't too far away! They were actually open last weekend (only) for the first picking and expect to be opened full time in the middle of March. We'll see if I can manage to pick strawberries in my enlarged, pregnant state. I know the kids will be able to! :)