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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hurrah for the white, white and green

Whew. After a crazy week, was I ever happy to get back into the kitchen. Of course, I really didn't stay out of the kitchen last week... the four people I live with have this crazy habit of eating. Which means that I made sure to put food on plates all week. And of course, wash the plates. But I can't really claim to have cooked much.

But as of this weekend, I am thrilled to be back to cooking! It is so nice to stand at the stove and at the counter, chopping and stirring, tasting and adjusting; making fresh, tasty ingredients into something I can offer the people I love.

The box of veggies produce from AH Organics this week is absolutely divine. I am very used to referring to it as our veggie box, but it had to have been at least half fruit this time around. Peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, strawberries. I am in fresh heaven.

Here's the funny thing, though.... As our kitchen filled up with potatoes all winter long, I started to cook some just to save for later. I am starting to wonder, though, if later is ever going to come. I think we have gotten potatoes in almost every single box we have received in the 6 months we have been subscribers. Don't potatoes have a season? Will they ever stop being ready to harvest? No wonder Ireland managed to feed an entire country on the suckers. They are like magic. I can see why Jesus turned a few loaves and fish into food for the masses. No one would have been impressed if he multiplied potatoes.

Since there were indeed more potatoes in the box this week, again I have a potato challenge. Of course, Memorial Day is the day on which our nation not only remembers to switch over to white shoes, but also celebrates heroic feats of barbecuing, is it not? Like most of America, we were invited to a block party. Hello, potato salad!

I went for a version of a red, white, and blue potato salad that I had the pleasure of eating recently at a friend's house. However, I didn't use red potatoes or blue cheese... and I don't even know what the white is supposed to be. I made up the recipe as I went along, and I think the results came out great. I suppose the empty bowl means that most of the neighbors did too.

White, White, and Green Potato Salad
This salad tastes even better the second day, so make it ahead if you can.

4-5 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium zucchini, sliced into thin quarter-circles
a few green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup mayo
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup feta cheese

Put the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover. Place over high heat and boil for about 7-10 minutes, until they are starting to soften. Meanwhile, chop the onions, zucchini, and dill. Mix together the vegetables and the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. When the potatoes are done cooking, drain them and fold into the vegetable mixture. Let it all cool before serving.

Friday, May 27, 2011

a little pasta with wine, hold the pasta

Well, I made it. Today is Friday, and somehow I made it through the week. I just have to get the monkeys out the front door this morning, help out with the California Gold Rush (a reenactment, not the real thing), and I am home free.

We pick up our vegetables on Saturday mornings, and I don't think I have ever looked forward to them as much as I do this week. For the past few Saturdays, we have been running like crazy all over town (and out-of-town), and I haven't been the one who picked up or unpacked the veggies. Somehow unpacking, assessing, and putting away the vegetables helps me make a mental plan of how to use them all week ... or at least what needs to be used.

This week, I winged it. I came up with some combinations I am not real proud of, but my family ate 3 squares a day, and the veggies are more or less used up. (Except a bunch of green bell peppers. Ideas, anyone?)

Like I predicted, it was salads and salads this week. A big salad-bar type ranch-covered mess, an Asian-ish slaw-ish chicken and chard thing, a chicken salad scooped with pita chips.

This week was also... I hate to admit... a frozen pizza, a trip through In-N-Out, and lots of snacking.

What can I say? We made it to Friday alive and intact.

Yesterday, I was supposed to bring heavy cream to the preschool so the kids could try churning butter. I bought the cream a couple days ahead. However, in the morning rush to get everyone out the door, I completely forgot to grab the cream from it's hiding spot in the fridge.

I remembered as I pulled into the school parking lot. Since I only had a few minutes, and there is a market much closer to the school than my house is, I ran over there to buy new cream. As I was wandering the aisles (don't you hate trying to navigate a new grocery store?) looking for the cream, I thought about how I could use the cream that was sitting in my kitchen. I remembered one of my friends from the preschool mentioning a pasta dish she really likes that uses cream. I decided to grab the white wine that I would need for it while I was there. With wine in hand and cream at home, I was all set for actually cooking dinner.

I got back to the preschool, and mentioned to that friend that I bought white wine and I would be making her pasta dish for dinner. "Wine? It doesn't contain wine. Just cream, lemon juice, basil, parmesan cheese....."

Of course, I have no parmesan cheese at the moment.


Oh well, don't feel too bad for me. I put the dinner idea on hold for another night (thus keeping my streak alive). I found a decent use for the wine. heehee. The kids at the preschool churned their butter, I brought home a jar of the buttermilk that came out of it, and we all enjoyed buttermilk pancakes for breakfast.

I love happy endings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vegas, baby

I went to Las Vegas for the weekend. I was there with a group of somewhere between 20 and 25 people.  It was a crazy, fun time. There was more than a little imbibing, more than a little dancing, more than a little skin showing.

I pretty much abandoned the usual roles I have... scheduler, taxi service, alarm clock, responsible adult, jiminy cricket to three little people.

I pretty much abandoned my priorities. No thought to conservation, budget, organic living, environment, health. As a matter of fact, I think those may be the only things that are more or less taboo in Vegas.

When they say "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," I think they are referring to my energy and rest. Those certainly didn't come back with me.

And then, I got back home and I halted in my tracks with typical mom-ness.

This week: 1 day of working (for actual money) at my son's preschool, 1 day of attending the preschool field trip, 1 day of volunteering in my other son's first grade play rehearsal, 1 day of volunteering at the preschool running "old fashioned day", and 1 day of helping my fourth-grade daughter's class experience the gold rush. Add to that: running a cub-scout meeting at our house, a pizza party for t-ball, hair cut appointments, an orchestra performance, kung fu classes, piano lessons, a girl scout meeting, and a kung fu demonstration at the opening of Kung Fu Panda. Subtract: one husband who works late almost every night this week. (He works at a high school, and if you think they aren't busy this time of year...)

I am not sure I will find my kitchen this week, let alone produce anything worth sharing with all of you. It will probably be salads for dinner, salads for lunch, and cheerios for breakfast.  That's if we're lucky.

If you don't hear from me for a few days around here, I have either fallen into an exhaustion-related coma, or run away and become a showgirl.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I have found what I was looking for


Is what vegetables are supposed to be. Light. Fresh. Flavorful. Delicious.

This zucchini carpaccio is a recipe I found on the website of Gaby, over at What's Gaby Cooking. I can't remember how I stumbled onto her website, but she is an adorable young cook who lives in southern California... which means that I can cook any single one of her recipes, since I theoretically should have access to all the same foods she does. I think I might just start at #1 and work my way through all of her recipes, as a matter of fact.  She is pretty much my new favorite food blogger.

Speaking of other bloggers, can anyone who uses blogger tell me how I can make a list of the blogs I follow along the right column of my homepage? I would love to link over to some of these blogs that inspire my cooking and my writing. Then their readership would skyrocket, I'm sure.

But getting back to that plate of deliciousness, zucchini carpaccio is side dish/salad made of zucchini cut into ribbons, fresh basil, feta cheese, and a lemon vinaigrette. It is so fresh and cool and delicious that I am really kicking myself for putting zucchini in something so banal as a foil dinner this week. What a waste. I should be taking every zucchini that comes my way and elevating it to carpaccio status. And so should you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On my honor, I will serve mankind

Every summer, my husband and I load up the car with almost everything we own a travel-sized version of almost everything we own, to spend 9 days or so in the wilderness a campground. I truly am not exaggerating... our home away from home is a tent, our beds are air mattresses, and our dressers are suitcases. In lieu of a range, refrigerator, and kitchen sink, we have a stove, a dutch oven, ice chests, and dish pans.

It is roughing it without really giving up anything... just making the stuff all small enough to fit inside a car, and doing everything outside. Ideal, really. If there weren't these pesky things called a job for the adults around here and an education for the little guys, I might sell the house and camp year round. In that one place where it is summer year round.

While we are there, I spend the days relaxing, eating, tanning, swimming in the creek, eating, reading, hiking, eating, and drinking. In order for all that eating to occur I do spend a wee bit of time cooking. But in order for all that relaxing to occur, I try to make cooking pretty simple. 

One of our favorite meals comes from way back when my oldest brother was a boy scout, and it's called a foil dinner. Basically, you wrap some meat and potatoes up in foil and nestle it down in the coals of the campfire until it's cooked through. 

The other day I decided we didn't need to be camping to enjoy foil dinners. We went ahead and did them in the kitchen, and popped them in the oven. Although we weren't following up a day of hiking and swimming, or eating in the great outdoors, they tasted pretty darn good.

Tradtional Boy Scout Foil Dinner in a non-traditional setting:

First, you need to chop up your veggies into bite-sized pieces. The usual suspects would be potatoes, celery, carrots and onion. However, you can use whatever you have on hand. I, of course, used those veggies that came in the box this week.

zucchini, corn, bell pepper
fava beans, potatoes, leeks
(to prep the fava beans for cooking, read this)

Next, get out a sheet of foil for each person who will be eating. Place a patty of ground beef on each foil. The ground beef should be on the shiny side of the foil, so that when you fold it up, the dull side will be out. I am not sure why this is, but the boy scouts say to do it this way, and who is going to argue with a boy scout?

Next, let each diner select his or her vegetables. They should be piled on top of the ground beef willy-nilly. Then sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Now, fold each dinner into a packet. This should be done carefully if you are going to be putting them into a campfire, so that you don't end up eating ashes. 

As you finish preparing each packet, be sure to have the diner write his or her name of the outside of it, so everyone gets the exact veggie combination they created. Or in the case of our family, I draw pictures of everyone. The kids love it. 

May I present to you, my lovely family:

So sorry the pictures look so bad. It turns out it is a little hard to photograph something that is wrinkly and reflective.

It's a good thing we all have distinctly different hair in my family. I am a terrible artist, so the faces look identical.

Once you have marked the packets in a way that will differentiate them from one another, it is time to let it all cook. If you have a good set of coals in your campfire, place the packet in them for about 30 minutes or so, depending on how much meat you use, the heat of your coals, and the air temperature. Feel free to check on them if you need to, as long as you wrap them back up again. If you are doing it in an oven like we did this week, heat the oven to 400 and cook them about 25-30 minutes on a baking sheet.

Here is the magic of it all. No matter which vegetables you use, no matter what the ratio of veggie to meat is, no matter whether you eat it with 40 boys scouts or your own family, no matter whether you are in the dining room or a campsite, it turns out absolutely delicious. Every time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peas Porridge Hot


I love peas! I have been thrilled to get peas in the box the past two weeks. They are so green and sweet and fresh and summery! 

Plus, the kids think that shucking peas is great fun. 

And if the kids are busy shucking peas, you know what that means... they aren't busy spreading every blessed Lego ever created onto the bedroom floor. Or dripping glue and stray crayon marks over the dining table. Or changing clothing. for. the. fourth. time. today.

So this week, we had an unexpectedly cold, rainy day. While everyone around me here in Southern California grumbled about how it just isn't fair to have rain in May, and they just don't know what to wear when they wake up in the morning, I went home, poured my fourth cup of coffee, and got started on some nice, comforting chowder. Green Pea and Potato Chowder, to be specific.

The kids thought the chowder was great... enough to ask for seconds. I am not sure if they were really hungry, or were just having fun talking about Pee Pea Chowder. Either way, I'll take it.

It takes a while to cook it all, but if you have the time and a blustery day, you won't mind standing next to a warm stove, inhaling bacon scent. What could be better than that? It is creamy, hot, and very filling. The perfect antidote to standing in the rain waiting for school to be let out.

2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 pound bacon, diced
6 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh peas
cheddar cheese, shredded
chives, to garnish

Melt the butter in a large stock pot. Add onion and bacon, and cook until golden brown. Add the potatoes, and cook for 10 minutes more. Stir in the flour and cook for another couple of minutes. Gradually pour in the chicken stock and milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add peas, and continue to simmer another 15-20 minutes, until the peas are cooked.

Serve with a sprinkling of cheese and chopped chives as a garnish.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

what's old is new again

My grandmother was green before green was the new black. She had almost no carbon footprint in a time long before "carbon footprint" was the hottest thing in documentaries. She was 21 years old when the stock market crashed and she was a new bride in 1932, at the beginning of the depression. In other words, she knew a thing or two about making do and using what you had. There just wasn't enough around to waste. She didn't set out to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." She just set out to be frugal, careful, and to make ends meet. I am sure that most women who had families during the 1930's were much like her.

They didn't have to "Reduce"... they never had that much to begin with. Food didn't come in disposable containers, boxes, or freezer cartons. Mainly it came from the garden, the butcher, and the milkman (who picked up the bottles when you finished). They didn't buy pre-made pie crusts, frozen lasagna, cookie dough, cinnamon rolls in a can, pre-shredded cabbage, disposable diapers, paper plates, plastic forks, or mashed potatoes in a box.  They didn't order in a pizza or Chinese. They couldn't pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner, and they didn't pack a Lunchable into a lunch box every morning. Instead, they bought flour, sugar, vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese. They peeled their own potatoes, rolled out their own dough. They let the bread rise, and they shucked the corn.

They didn't set out to "Reuse," they just washed it for the next time. I can remember well into my grandmother's eighties how there were pieces of tin foil and plastic bags, freshly wiped clean, drying on her dish rack. Mostly, though, they had pots and pans, knives and cutting boards. They didn't have 90% of the convenience items we have available today.  There were no crock pot liners, no ziploc bags, no coffee filters. You didn't line your pan with foil to bake something sticky. You scrubbed it later.

By the time recycling became widespread, of course my grandmother put things in their proper receptacles... when she had things to recycle. But since she drank juice from a pitcher, and water from the tap, it wasn't as if she had tons of bottles and cans.  She didn't have tin pie pans, pizza cartons, tons of magazines, broken down boxes from Amazon, salad dressing bottles, paperwork from the school, two liter bottles, tubs from margarine, juice boxes, 100-calorie snack bags, or containers from pre-shredded roast beef. She had a pile of dishes, and a sink half-way filled with hot water. I think even by the time she was an old lady living a modern life with many of the conveniences we have today, she still had only a very small bag of "rubbish" to take out once a week... and maybe a bottle or two to recycle.

I'm not saying my grandmother was perfect, and I daresay that if there had been some of these ways to make her life simpler I am sure she would have embraced them. After all, she bought a modern washing machine, a car, and a TV... all of which came about during her life, and all of which use gas and electricity. Had the option been there, she may well have grabbed a pre-done dinner once in a while.  None of use should life the life of a monk or a miser, eating cold porridge and avoiding anything that might use up any resources. But we need to think about the best use for the resources we have.

Today, living a green life is a "new" thing. We celebrate Earth Day once a year, and we have "specialty" food stores so people can buy bulk beans and bulk oats, to save on packaging. We have to search to find meat that has come from an actual farm, not a factory farm. We have enormous trash cans and recycling cans that get picked up once a week... as often as not overflowing. We think that people who live a carefully waste-free life are amazingly at the head of the curve.

It sometimes seems to me that the biggest problem in all of the concern over reducing, reusing and recycling is not wasting in the first place. I try to buy things without too much packaging. It means a lot more cooking from scratch, but that's a small price and well worth it when the recipes come out right. I am finding more and more ways to buy things the way my grandmother might have... meat that isn't on a styrofoam tray, vegetables that aren't each in a plastic bag. I can reuse a bag over and over again to buy my oats, sunflower seeds, and many other bulk items if I go to the right store. I make my own granola bars with the bulk oats and seeds, instead of buying them prepackaged, and that saves a heck of a lot of plastic and a cardboard box. I can take my egg carton back to the farmer's market and refill it each week.

Of course, this has a limit. There are things I just can't make for myself, because there are only so many resources and so much time in a day. But, I need to make sure that I am truly using those things I buy, considering the impact they have. For example if I buy a carton of sour cream, I need to make sure that I use up all of the cream... because the cow that made the cream used up resources. The factory that made the plastic tub did too. As did the shipping company and the grocery store that got it from the cow to my shopping cart.  If I made sure that I didn't throw out any food, but rather found ways for myself or other people to eat it all before it goes bad, I would be helping out way more than just recycling that tub. (Although of course I do that too). Perhaps if I found a way to use up the rest of the sour cream after the initial reason I bought it, I might end up needing one less thing next time I am at the market.

So, in light of my renewed commitment to using less and wasting even more less, I chose not to throw out the leftover mashed potatoes the other day. Instead, I thought of my grandmother. Like I said, having lived through the depression taught her a lot about making do. But being Irish must have taught her a thing or two about a potato.  I remembered that she used leftover mashed potatoes to make a sort of potato pancake. For the next time you have leftover mashed potatoes, here is the version I came up with:

Let your leftover mashed potatoes cool overnight. Put a frying pan over medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Lightly beat an egg and stir it into the potatoes. Add a green onion, finely chopped, and salt and pepper to taste.  Form into patties, and place into the hot buttered pan. Cook until they are golden brown on both sides, turning once. Serve with sour cream.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

grapefruit marmalade

Sometimes I wonder how much I am eating the fresh produce each week, and how much I am just moving around, cooking, freezing, and canning to eat later. I feel like the little kid who keeps pushing food into new places on his plate so it will look like he has eaten something. I haven't thrown out any lately... barely. I have given some to friends in the form of dinners. I doled out quite a few jars of jam during teacher appreciation week. I have also fully stocked my freezer with lasagnas, casseroles, and potatoes. I think I will be glad to have these things when the long winter months bring me more and more squashes, turnips, and parsnips. It will be nice to open a jar of strawberry jam when the only fruit I have seen for weeks is an orange. It will make things easy when I can pull a veggie lasagna out of the freezer while my kids are staging a mid-winter cabbage revolution. But if we are eating the strawberry jam and veggie casseroles next January, who will eat the acorn squash and the beets? Am I going to end up with enough prepared food to feed an army, but only a family of three reluctant kids?

At any rate, for now I am having a blast canning my jams and marmalades. Let's leave the worrying about who is going to eat it all for another time.

This week, I got some big beautiful grapefruits in my box. I decided to try them out in a grapefruit marmalade.

The result is a delicious, slightly  bitter, beautiful orange-colored marmalade! I am so happy to have this on hand.

It is made much like an orange marmalade. However, unlike with oranges, you don't use the whole grapefruit. Because the pith is so much more plentiful and more bitter, it needs to be removed. This is done by first peeling the outer skin off with a vegetable peeler (to use),  and then peeling the inner pith layer by hand (to throw away).

Once you have your peeled zest, you chop it up very finely. Do this for both your grapefruits and a lemon. Then you cut the remaining fruit into smallish chunks, saving as much of the juice as you can. From here on out, it can be treated just like orange marmalade.

I made this recipe with 4 large grapefruits and one lemon.

First, combine the grapefruit zest, the chopped up fruit, reserved juice, and 5 cups of water. Bring it all to a boil and then remove from heat. While it is still hot, stir in 5 cups of sugar. Leave this all on the counter overnight, to soften the fruit and the zest.

The next day, return the pot to the stove and cook over medium heat. Stir it occasionally, and bring it to a boil that reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. This will take at least half an hour.

When it reaches 220 degrees, remove from heat. Skim off any foam that has formed, and ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe clean the rims and screw lids on until they are finger-tip tight.  Process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes (15 minutes for altitudes above 1,000 feet and 20 minutes above 1500 feet). Remove jars from the boiling water and let them sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours. You will know if they are properly sealed if the lid doesn't give at all when you press on the center.

This makes 6 half-pint jars of delicious marmalade.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This post is brought to you by the letter C

When I picked up the veggie box this week, I wasn't exactly surprised to see a cauliflower. I think the good folks at AHO predicted that some of us might not have any ideas as what to do with a cauliflower this week. There have been quite a few of them lately after all.... the past four weeks have brought me a cauliflower. So, along with the cauliflower, they included a recipe for roast cauliflower in the weekly newsletter.

I think that the person who came up with this recipe had Sesame Street playing in the background. Or there was a sale on all items that start with C at the market that week. It includes no less than six "C" ingredients... cauliflower, cilantro, coriander, cumin, curry powder and cayenne pepper.

Although, since I keep my spices arrange alphabetically on the shelf, it sure made it easy to get everything ready. Hmm... maybe the creator of this recipe does the same thing? That could explain it too.

At any rate I went off to sail the six C's,  and the recipe turns out to be as delicious as it is alliterative. Here you go:

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry Viniagrette
(as provided by AHOorganics and [of course] mucked up and changed around by me)

1 head of cauliflower cut into florets
1 red onion, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick, and separated into rings
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash cauliflower and cut into florets. Place in a  roasting pan and add onions. In a glass jar, measure out oil and vinegar.
Even though I couldn't figure out how to get a good shot of this, the layers of oil and vinegar are very very pretty. Take a moment to enjoy this, because it isn't going to look that great in a minute.

Add your C spices.

And shake it all up.
See? Enen though it is more photogenic, it's not nearly as pretty. It looks rather mucky, actually.

Drizzle this delicious-and-photogenic-though-not-beautiful-vinaigrette over the vegetables.

Roast in oven until tender buy not mushy, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

desperate times...

Oh yes, I did.

My husband was working late, and I didn't feel like bothering to make a big dinner.

Which is not to say that I was about to let the kids off veggie-free. After all, that box of veggies keeps coming at me. At mach speed.

May I present to you:

Chard Pizza.

Actually, it was pretty dang good! Everyone had seconds.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It would be better if you could put a candle in it.

It is a friend's birthday today, and I wasn't sure what to give the girl who wants nothing. I settled on a jar of strawberry jam and a night off of cooking for her. In order to give her family a dinner that would travel well, I went with my old standard: pasta. In order to give her family a dinner that would be tasty and fresh, I incorporated some of this week's fabulous fresh organic produce.

Now I know that some of you are thinking that I was just trying to get rid of some of my veggies. A few weeks ago, you would have been so right. But I actually have gotten to the point where I use up almost all of it myself. This week, for example, all I have left is some lettuce, an onion, and a few potatoes. I can't say whether the kids have gotten better at eating their veggies, but I sure have. So when I made this dinner, it was out of thought for my friend. On her birthday.

But while we're on the topic, anyone want some slightly old potatoes?

This pasta dish is loosely based on a recipe from the New York Times a couple of years ago. I made a few distinct changes to it, though, so I'll give you my version. Just remember that I was making enough for two families (mine and hers) so you may want to cut everything in half.

Buttermilk Pasta with Cauliflower and Chard

1 head cauliflower
1 bunch chard, leaves and stems separated
2 pounds penne or other similar pasta
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk

First, start a pot of salted water to boiling. Wash your chard and cauliflower. Cut the cauliflower into large florets, and cut the stems of the chard into 2 inch lengths.

Boil the vegetables until they are soft but not mushy.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over low to medium heat in a large skillet, and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is golden. Add the chard leaves to the skillet, and sauté until the chard is wilty. 

When the cauliflower and stems are done, remove them from the boiling water with a handled sieve or a slotted spoon. Put the pasta into the boiling water and cook until it is about 2-3 minutes away from being completely done. Drain the pasta.

Set the vegetables aside until they are cool enough to handle, and then chop them up into smallish pieces.

Mix the cauliflower and stems into the skillet of leaves and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, and stir to mix thoroughly. 

When the pasta is done, combine the pasta and the veggie mixture. Add the buttermilk and salt and pepper to taste.

Top with parmesan cheese and serve with a simple salad.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Strawberry Jam

There is an art to making food beautiful. Some people know how to arrange a plate just-so. They know how to combine colors and textures, portion sizes and ratios.  I have never been to any sort of culinary school... as a matter of fact, I haven't even taken a single cooking class (although I would LOVE TO). I believe, though, that there are courses just on plating the food. It is definitely an art form.

And then there are those who can bake beautiful creations. They not only bake a level, beautiful cake or cookies, they are then able to frost it smooth, without a wrinkle or drip. On top of that, they know how to make it beautiful, with just the right amount and combination of color, decoration, shape, texture. Those people are simply amazing, and occupy a space in my esteem where I will admire, but probably never aspire to join their class of artistry.

I was in Oxnard the other day. If you aren't from Southern California, let me give you a little background. Oxnard has traditionally been a manufacturing and agricultural center in California. Which means that it is largely populated by laborers from both factories and farms. In other words, its a working town, not a vacation destination. In the mid-2000's, the city decided to get ahold of its growing gang problem and invest in development. Suddenly, people began to notice that Oxnard, despite its name, is actually a beautiful location. It's hard not to be, only about 30 miles or so down the beach from Santa Barbara. Lately it has gained some beautiful neighborhoods and commercial areas, and is becoming a destination for relaxing beach weekends and wonderful retirement homes.

At any rate, there is still plenty of agriculture surrounding Oxnard, and it is considered to be the main supplier of strawberries and lima beans in the state of California. While I won't hold the lima beans against Oxnard, I will luxuriate in the strawberries.

It has been gloriously hot the past few days, and all of this early summertime means that the strawberries are ripe for the picking. I stopped at a farm stand to pick up a half-flat of the freshly ripened berries, and now I wish I had gone for the whole flat. After letting the kids have their fill, I made a batch of strawberry jam, and there are only a couple left! Oxnard is a bit too far for me to drive just to get berries, (I calculate that the 50 miles each way must take about $732 in current gas prices). 

I went ahead and made my jam using pectin. I know the world is divided into two types of people:
Those who add pectin to their jam, those who feel adding pectin isn't authentic, and those who buy their jam already made.  Pectin is a natural ingredient, derived from apples, that helps the jam to set, which decreases cooking time. The way I see it, using pectin isn't that different than using a stove hooked up to a gas line. Both methods have been developed since my great-grandmother made her jam, and both help out a lot in the kitchen. If it tastes good and helps with consistent results, I'm all for it.

We very much enjoyed strawberry jam on our toast this morning. And now you can too:

Strawberry Jam

5 cups of mashed strawberries (about 7 cups whole)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 packet pectin (available in the grocery store right next to the mason jars and lids)
7 cups sugar

1. Rinse and hull the strawberries.

2. Using a potato masher, mash enough strawberries to make 5 cups.

3. Mix together the strawberries, lemon juice and pectin in a large pot. Bring it all to a rolling boil (so that even while stirring, the mixture boils). Add the sugar, and bring it back to a rolling boil.  Continue to boil for one minute, scraping off the foam.

4. Ladle into hot jars (The jars need to be hot so that the glass doesn't crack when the hot jam is poured in.) Fill each jar to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe the edges of the jar clean. Place a lid on each jar, and screw on the band until it is finger-tip tight. Place the jars into a large pot of water, and boil for 15 minutes. The water level needs to be 1-2 inches above the top of the jars. After 15 minutes, remove from the water using a jar lifter (or tongs). Let them sit, undisturbed for 12-24 hours. You will know if they are properly sealed if you press on the lid and it doesn't give at all.

5 Enjoy your strawberry jam! If properly sealed, it should be good for up to a year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's eight o'clock somewhere

When I was a little tyke I hated going to bed at night, much like every little kid does. I was pretty much convinced that the minute my light was off, my parents were going to scoop some ice cream and enjoy it in front of the TV. As a matter of fact, I believe that the minute my light was off, my parents did enjoy a bowl of ice cream and some TV shows I wasn't supposed to watch.

The other day, as I was tucking my own kiddos into bed, my five-year-old said, "After I go to bed and you go downstairs to do your sweeping, will you try to find my baseball hat?" I am not sure why he thinks I run off to do some secretive pleasure sweeping at night, but I am not about to set the record straight.

Can you keep a secret? My evenings look more like this:

The best guacamole ever

2 avocados
1-2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 green garlics, sliced thinly (Is that how you pluralize it? I would say green onions, so I guess it is right. It just sounds funny.)
2 Tbsp. fresh chives, sliced thinly
A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped up real small
salt and pepper to taste.

Just mash the avocados, stir in the rest, and get ready to dip your chips. Or your spoon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

this is not your state fair

We have gotten asparagus in the veggie box six out of the past eight weeks. I am a huge asparagus fan, and it is one of the vegetables that my kids tolerate. But still, we are all getting a bit tired of it.

I have grilled it, roasted it, pureed it into pasta sauce, steamed it, and rolled it up with cheese and bread.

And yet, I was able to find another way to prepare it! Actually this turned out to be one of my favorites. (Best if you are looking for yummy. Not so much if you are looking for healthy).

I present to you... deep fried asparagus. Or asparagus fries, if you will. It reminded me a little of tempura vegetables, although it is made with buttermilk instead of egg whites.

First, wash and trim your asparagus.

Dip each stalk into buttermilk, and then dredge in flour.

Gently drop each stalk into hot oil, and let it fry until it is golden brown. Then let it drain onto paper towels.

Enjoy them hot, with ranch dressing or a mixture of plain yogurt and herbs.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

the seven year itch

I took a little break from cooking this weekend, and here is my excuse, Ma'am.

After my big day of cooking and grilling and cooking and baking and cooking and freezing, I was ready for a pretty low-key dinner the next day. I threw a pork tenderloin in the oven, and got out some lettuce to rinse for a salad.

As I rinsed it, I noticed there were some aphids. There weren't just a couple, but there weren't so many that I freaked out, either. Although I am pretty much a city girl, I get that there are bugs out there, and I get that they like to eat vegetables. I also understand that this produce is all organic, and that the presence of the pests just shows the lack of the pesticides. Okay, I get it. I can just wash the aphids away and move on.

Next, I got out some broccoli. Since two out of three kids won't eat salad, and since I want them to have a veggie with their meal, I decided to go with a tried-and-true steamed broccoli side dish.

I ran the broccoli under the water, placed it on my cutting board, and began to slice. Wait, is that an aphid? Why yes, it is! A broccoli-colored aphid that I hadn't noticed. I guess I had better clean the broccoli a little more carefully. As I put it back under the running water, I realized that the broccoli was. covered. with. aphids. I wish I had taken a picture of it, looking back, so I could show you that I am not exaggerating.  I just have to ask you to trust me, though. There were more aphids than broccoli. It was swarming with the little green suckers. I freaked out, wrapped the broccoli into a plastic bag, and threw it all away. And then spent the rest of the day scratching at phantom itches, as I imagined all the aphids crawling up my arms.

In defense of AHOrganics, who are the loyal provider of the vegetables (and the occasional stowaway bug), when I went to pick up my kids from school, I ran into a couple of friends who also subscribe to the AHO box. They explained to me that there had been an email that I had missed, accepting that the broccoli had escaped, aphid-laden and unnoticed, but that they were now aware of the problem. They promise to make up for it in the near future, and the farmer is working on his aphid problem.

I feel bad for the farmer. I am sure that this is a major setback for him. Organic farming can't be easy, and to have a crop harvested, sold, and distributed, only to be tossed out and to have to replace it later, must be discouraging. I imagine it's how I feel when I get dinner shopped for, cooked, and served... only to have the kids complain and to end up tossing their portions in the trash anyway, and to still have to go back and scrub pots and pans.

At any rate, whether I feel sorry for the farmer or not, I there were still imaginary aphids crawling up my arms, and I was ready for a vegetable break. A kitchen break, actually.

So I spent the weekend doing this:

And this:

And some of this:

Until the bugs sent me back into the safe haven of my house.

Monday, May 2, 2011

summertime and the livin's easy

Wednesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week. It is the one day that all three kids go to school and I don't work. It is also the one day that we have no classes, lessons, practices, or games. I get the majority of my cooking done on Wednesdays.

This week was no different. I spent the morning in the kitchen, getting a few things ready for the week ahead. Then, I spend the afternoon in the backyard, barbecuing and playing catch with the the kids.

Grilled Ribs on a bed of grilled greens:

Use your favorite rib recipe, or buy your ribs precooked. (Don't tell anyone I used the precooked ribs this time. I just couldn't do it all today, okay?)

Place them on the grill to cook.

While these begin grilling, prepare your greens:

No, not those greens. That's just the ivy that grows behind my barbecue. These greens:

I can see where you would make the mistake, though. These greens are a mixture of collard greens, beet greens, and who knows what else (thanks to the mix that AHOrganics provided my this week).

To prepare them, simply toss them with a little bit of olive oil and some sea salt.

When the ribs only have a couple of minutes to go, it's time to grill the greens. Toss them into a grilling basket, and keep stirring/tossing until they are all wilty.

Place the greens onto a platter, and place the ribs on top. All of the sauce and drippings from the ribs will soak down into the greens, making them absolutely delicious! That right there is the taste of summer.