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Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

This Monday, we are staying meatless only because Baby Ruth and Snickers happen to be vegetarian.

Since it is going to be a night full of candy and sweets, I will leave you with one vegetable before we go out trick-or-treating.

Maybe the veggies are growing on the kids after all?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

green bean casserole (with real green beans!

Isn't it funny how different families interpret traditions differently? Like almost everyone I know has Santa come down the chimney on December 24, but not at all in the same way. Does he wrap his gifts or doesn't he? Doe he give the children all of their gifts, or are some of them from Mom and Dad? Does he leave a note on the cookie plate or just some crumbs? Does he bring everything the kid asked for and more? Or does he pick and choose from the wish list?

And then there is Thanksgiving. While nearly everyone has a turkey, there are those families who wouldn't dream of veering from a standard set of side dishes, and those who like to try something new every year. Cranberry sauce or cranberry relish? Canned or fresh? Should the stuffing go int he bird or in a casserole? Can you believe my husband's family doesn't care whether there is a pumpkin pie or not, as long as the chocolate pies are fresh and plentiful?

Anyway, I had never heard of green bean casserole until I met my husband. You know the one, with the French's dried onions on top and the recipe that comes on the side of the onion can? (I mean the casserole has onions on top, not my husband). Well, apparently, in his family that has almost no traditions whatsoever for any holiday, the green bean casserole is not to be left out of Thanksgiving.

So, when I mentioned to my mother that my new boyfriend would come to Thanksgiving and he really loved this green bean casserole stuff, she said, "Just the one with the Campbell's soup and the fried onions? No problem. I can make that." What? You know about that stuff, Mom? I've never eaten it!

Anyway, for better or for worse, the green bean casserole with the mushroom soup and the freeze-dried onions graced the Thanksgiving table unfailingly for many years. Somewhere in the ensuing 18 years it got, ironically, dropped from Thanksgiving at my in-laws. My mother, however, will always make it for my husband if we are going to be at her house on Thanksgiving.

So when we got our first green beans in our Abundant Harvest box at the beginning of the summer, my husband said "We could make green bean casserole!" I made stir-fry. When we got our next batch my husband said "We could make green bean casserole!" I made green bean fries. And one week I made a green bean salad and one week I even wrapped green beans into little bacon-y bundles.  I roasted them and blanched them and sautéed them. But I didn't make green bean casserole. I mean, the point of green bean casserole is to take a bag of green beans out of the freezer, a can of soup and a can of onions out of the pantry, combine and bake. It really doesn't taste good and it is really unimpressive. Why invest a lot of time and effort into that?

Well of course you know where this is going. When I got the fresh box this last Saturday, I went to put the green beans away in the refrigerator... right next to the green beans from the week before. Okay, I said to myself, this is silly. Whatever am I going to do with TWO huge bags of green beans? And then this little voice in my head (that sounded eerily like my husband's voice) said "You could make green bean casserole."

Oh, okay!!! I'll do it!

So I googled it, and I found Alton Brown's recipe for "The Best Ever Green Bean Casserole." I think that is a little like saying "The best ever blank sheet of paper." Or "The best ever square of sidewalk." I'm not going to argue that it isn't the best ever, but really winning that title doesn't give you too much in the way of bragging rights. 

However, (and I feel like I say this a lot on this here blog) although I went into this a little dubiously, I was very pleasantly surprised. This turned out to be very different from the traditional old frozen beans and mushroom soup standard, despite the fact that it is made with green beans, soupy mushrooms, and crisped onions. It is, of course, fresher and crisper. It is creamy and mushroomy, but lighter, and the beans actually taste like beans. I know, it's a strange concept.

At any rate, it was a hit at our house, and I guess if you are going to make green bean casserole, this is the one to make. It is delicious, for a casserole. It is far crisper and more flavorful than the name casserole might connote. And the onions are to die for. It just doesn't hold a candle to green beans wrapped in bacon. But then, bacon is a very unfair competitor.

So, here is Alton Brown's recipe. I didn't change a thing.


For the topping:

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Nonstick cooking spray

For beans and sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup half-and-half


Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss the onions 2 to 3 times during cooking. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.
While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bok choy and carrot slaw

As I promised yesterday, here is my recipe for bok choy slaw. It has soy and sugar in the dressing, which turns out to be a really awesome combination of sweet and salty.

My inspiration for this slaw (other than the fact that I had a head of bok choy in my Abundant Harvest Organics box to use up) was twofold. One, I just had no desire for sautéing or stir-frying the bok choy. I just wasn't int he mood for limp greens. Two, it was one of those days where I needed most of the meal to be prepared ahead of time, so that I could get dinner all wrapped up and served in just a few minutes once we got home from lessons, classes, and clubs.

It seems, more and more, like most days are one of those days. Oy vey.

Anyway, this slaw was a hit. It was just what I needed... crisp and flavorful, easy to make, and holds up well in the fridge. As a matter of fact, after serving my husband and myself one serving each for dinner, I ate the rest of it with lunch the next two days. I didn't share, and I don't feel bad about it. It held up well for two days, but I doubt it would do much beyond that. The bok choy was absorbing enough of the dressing by the second day that it was starting to go limp.

It would work well as a salad to bring to a pot luck, as you can toss it and dress it ahead of time without it going yucky.

Bok Choy Slaw
from Maine Food and Lifestyle

1 large head of bok choy, cut cross-wise into thin strips
2-3 carrots, shredded
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1/c cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
¼-½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger 

Cut the bok choy into thin strips by rolling the leaves tightly together and cutting thin slices off of the end of the roll. Shred the carrots. Toss the bok choy, carrots, chives, almonds and sesame seeds in a large bowl and set aside.

Make the dressing by whisking together the remaining ingredients.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to make sure the dressing gets evenly distributed.

This is good served right away, and even better a few hours later!

Monday, October 24, 2011

roast eggplant sandwiches

I think I mentioned before that I am not the world's biggest eggplant fan. I don't have anything against the suckers, but they aren't something I ever find myself craving. But see, that's the thing with getting a CSA box. You don't get to just eat the stuff you are craving, or the stuff that's your favorite. You eat the stuff that gets harvested each week, whether you wanted it or not. The amazing thing about Abundant Harvest Organics is that, due to it being a cooperative of sorts between many farms, there is much more variety than any one single farm could provide on its own. As a matter of fact, years ago we tried a CSA share from a small farm located practically in our neighborhood. They were swell folks, but there was only so much kale that my newlywed self and my young groom could eat in a week. On the other hand, Abundant Harvest makes sure that my box has a whole bunch of variety not just within each box, but also between weeks.

Part of what I love about this whole veggie box experience is the creativity and the new experiences it provides for myself and my family. It has certainly made us all try lots of new things we hadn't before... and likely never would have! And even things that aren't necessarily new are sure making their way into our diets far more that they used to.

For example, the eggplant. Whether I was looking for it or not, there it was.

I though about a few different ways I could prepare it, and as I considered and tossed out such ideas as eggplant parmesan and eggplant lasagna, I finally settled on eggplant sandwiches.

I followed the recipe that I found on, and LOVED it! My husband said, "If we were in a restaurant right now, I would already be planning to return... and place the same order." I take that as a compliment in highest form.

Anyway, the sandwich is very simple... it's just eggplant and some other very delicious ingredients stacked up. Somehow they turn out to be an amazing combination that tastes amazing and is very simple to prepare. Other than mixing up the garlic mayonnaise (which I recommend doing in advance to let the flavors meld) and quickly roasting the eggplant, all you need to do is build the sandwich. I served these with some slaw I made out of bok choy and carrots... and I will give you that recipe tomorrow.

For now, enjoy this one!

Eggplant sandwiches
enough for 2 tall sandwiches

1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/2 inch thick
some olive oil (enough to brush the eggplant slices)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic
2 (6-inch) sandwich rolls
1 medium tomato, sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

If you can, prepare the mayonnaise ahead of time and refrigerate. Simply mince the garlic cloves and stir into the mayonnaise. If it is going to sit for any length of time, be sure to refrigerate.

Turn on the broiler element in your oven.

Slice the eggplant and lay out on a baking sheet. Brush both sides with oil. Place the baking sheet in the oven, about 6 inches from the broiling element. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until nicely toasted.

Split the rolls in half and toast. (I do mine by simply placing them, cut side up, directly on the oven rack and leaving for about 3-4 minutes to toast under the broiler). You can use your toaster or toaster oven if you prefer. It's less risky, since they go from toasted to black pretty quickly.

Spread the mayonnaise on the roll. Stack up the roasted eggplant, tomato slices, feta, and basil leaves.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

dorset apple cake

I am trying out this idea of a blogging party. I think. Is that what you call it?  Or is it a link party? It's called the Improv Challenge. But it's planned very well in advance, so I am not sure where the Improv part comes in. Anyway, I was invited to this ... um, event, and I felt so very much like I am in the "in" crowd. Of course, I let them know that I would have to check my schedule and maybe pencil them in, just so I could seem even cooler. Really, though, who doesn't like being invited somewhere? Or sometime, as the case may be? I was rather touched.

I guess there will be a link to me, and down below all of my incessant rambling I am giving you a link to them. And by "them" I mean a whole bunch of other people who are participating. You need to click on that link and see what other, more creative people did to rise to the challenge. I can only imagine how inferior I am going to feel when I see what everyone else comes up with.

The challenge this month was to create something with apples and caramel. I think these people might be more of bakers than vegetable artisans, so we'll see how long our relationship goes before we have to claim artistic differences and go our separate ways. However, I must say we are off to a fabulous start. Maybe it's just the honeymoon stage, but they want me to use apples, and my Abundant Harvest Organics box this week contains many many tart green apples. You know how much I love to use up the items in that box! And if you don't know, welcome to my blog. This is where I complain about using up the vegetables and fruits that pour into my home at alarmingly speedy rates.

So, I was planning to cook something with these tart apples long before I got the invitation to be challenged. Or to improvise. Or to party or link or play along. 

One Thanksgiving, many many years ago, my sister-in-law hosted both sides of her family at her home. One of the guests was her grandmother, who had met her grandfather while he was stationed in Germany during World War II. She fell in love with the American soldier and followed him to the land of the free. Along with all of her worldly possessions,  her grandmother brought a recipe for apple cake from the Motherland. And then, she did some other things for 50 years, before she brought apple cake to my sister-in-law's house for Thanksgiving. The cake was very very dense and rich and delicious. And it had apples in it. And I remember Großmutter mentioning that the cake called for no wet ingredients, but rather the moisture came entirely from the apples that were mixed in with all of the dry ingredients. Other than that, about all I can remember is that it was brownish (probably from cinnamon?), it was an entire sheet cake, and the dog ate all of the leftovers before morning.

Well, I always meant to get that recipe. But like many things I mean to do, I kept putting it off. And since my sister-in-law's grandmother died a few years later, I waited too long. I tried googling apple cake recipes. I tired search parameters like "German" and "no liquid" and "dense" and everything else I could think of. But I haven't found anything that seems like the right cake.

In other words, the cake I made here, today, has absolutely nothing to do with the old German grandmother I met at Thanksgiving long ago.

But it is a very delicious, not-too-sweet, dense apple cake, from the other side of the pond.

This one just happens to be small and round as opposed to a sheet cake. It happens to contain no cinnamon whatsoever. And it is from Dorset, in England, which is on the same continent but the other side of Germany in WWII. So, basically the similarities are that it is made with apples. 

I found the recipe for this when I was searching for that other cake. And although I tweaked it here and 
there to fit my needs, I am sure glad I stumbled on Dorset Apple Cake. I flipped it upside down by putting the apple slices in the pan first, sort of like a pineapple upside-down cake. I left out the sultanas, once I learned that they are actually raisins (yuck!) and I added some brown sugar to the top (which became the bottom) before baking, so it would have a nice caramel-y layer. I don't know this counts as a recipe with "apples and caramel" for this party/link/improv/event, but it's what I am submitting. 

It's not too sweet. It is really like a coffee cake. It doesn't have much in the way of liquids, and that turns out to be okay, because it has tons of apples that release their juices as they bake. This particular cake happened to go to the second grade teachers at my kids' school, after taking all 80 second graders on a field trip to the Nature Center where they met owls and went on hikes. If those teachers don't deserve a token of my appreciation, who does? And now I have hit two of the grade levels at school. Kindergarten, I am looking at you next!

The measurements are a bit wonky (as they say in and around Dorset, England), because I had to calculate all of the measurements from grams and ounces and tins to cups and teaspoons and cake pans. Bear with me, it's worth it.

 Dorset Apple Cake
(which mostly came from this recipe here.)

1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 teaspoons cornstarch
1 stick cold butter (plus more for the pan)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 pound apples, peeled, cored, and diced (about 2 cups)
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 more apples, skins still on, sliced into very thin wedges
1/4 cup brown sugar

First, preheat the oven to 375 fahrenheit, and prepare a 9-inch round baking dish by buttering it.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Cut the butter into small pieces and cut it into the flour mixture with a couple of forks or a pastry blender. The result should be a coarse, crumbly mixture. Stir in the chopped apples and sugar. 

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Stir in the milk. Add this mixture to the flour and apple mixture. It will be very dry, but do your best to get it evenly distributed. Set this batter aside.

Slice two apples into very thin slices, and arrange them in concentric circles in the pan.

Carefully (so as not to disturb the arranged apples), put the batter into the pan. It is very dry and lumpy, so lightly press down on it to make it take shape.

Sprinkle the brown sugar over it all. This will caramelize in the oven, and give the cake a nice sweet, caramelly bottom once it is inverted.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until it is just starting to turn golden.

Let it cool before taking it out of the pan. If some of the apples stick in the pan, just gently release them and tuck them back where they belong of the top of the cake!


And now, go enjoy some other ways people interpreted "apples and caramel."


The Improve Cooking Challenge

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


What do salsa the condiment and salsa the dance have in common?

They're both made better by a margarita.

Although I wish I could say that I spent the day dancing the salsa with a handsome man named Javier, I can't. What I can say is that I spent a day canning salsa. As a matter of fact I canned enough salsa to last far longer than any relationship with Javier would.

When I say I spent a whole day, I really mean it. It was one of those days where I was in and out a lot, but in between, from 7 in the morning until 8 at night, I was chopping vegetables and boiling jars. This salsa recipe, that I got from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, is not complicated. It doesn't need crazy ingredients or require unheard of steps. It just makes an enormous batch of salsa, and therefore requires an enormous amount of time chopping. As a matter of fact, when the kids asked what was for dinner, I looked around the kitchen and said, "hmmm...salsa?" There wasn't anything else to be had!

Actually, I felt a little bit like a pioneer while making this. Not like Pioneer Woman (she can do anything With élan and verve that I ain't got.). And not like those Mormon pioneers who came across the plains with their 18 children and covered wagons. Goodness knows I couldn't have done it without a drink at the end of one of those days of trekking across the wilderness. I felt rather like the kind of pioneer who "puts up" the veggies at the end of the harvest.  The person who had to preserve the food because when the summer ended, there would be no more tomatoes for another 9 months, and the would need it to last through the winter.

We only had four tomato plants, but they were prolific this year! Those tomatoes plus the tomatoes I got in the Abundant Harvest box turned out to be more than we could use all at once for a couple of weeks there. And so, the canning. Like I said, this recipe makes a heap of salsa. It used up all the tomatoes that were threatening to fall apart on the kitchen counter, plus some other spare parts slowly dying in the fridge. It does take a ton of chopping, but it makes a ton of salsa. And around here, a ton of salsa is a good thing (balancing out those margaritas and all). In the end, I had 6 pint jars plus 3 8-ounce jars of salsa. Yum.

I followed the Ball recipe exactly. I rarely follow a recipe 100%, but with canning I wasn't going to take any chances. If you want to preserve it, you have to be really careful with acid levels, so that bacteria doesn't grow when it's in the jars. Since botulism doesn't go as well with margaritas, I decided to just be safe. And so, here it is:

Zesty Salsa
Use whatever type of chili peppers your family prefers, and add hot pepper sauce if your tastes are even more daring.

10 cups of chopped, cored, peeled tomatoes
5 cups chopped, seeded green bell peppers
5 cups chopped onions
2 1/2 cups chopped seeded chili peppers, such as hot banana, Hungarian wax, serrano, or jalapeno
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)

1. Prepare canner, jars, and lids.

2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine tomatoes, green peppers, onions, chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, cilantro, salt, and hot pepper sauce, if using. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

3. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase until finger-tip tight.

4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process both 8-ounce and pint jars for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait five minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

apple chips

Got a couple of hours to sit back and let your oven work for you? Want your house to smell great? Want to make a treat that is healthy and delicious?

Well, step right up! This here is the greatest snack ever invented. It will cure bad weather blues, scurvy, and all kinds of aches and pains. It will give your skin a healthy glow, reverse air pollution, and empty the landfills. It will even make your dog mind you.

Okay... at least it is healthy and delicious. And it does make the house smell good. All appley and cinnamony and delicious.

These apple chips require just apples. If they are particularly tart, you may want to add some sugar (I did), and if you like cinnamon with your apples, by all means don't hold back. You won't regret it.

For me, they translate into a good way to transport apples in lunch bags without getting complaints about them turning brown and yucky.

Really, all you do is core the apples and then slice them really thin (get out your mandolin), and bake them for a long time at a low temperature. They are so easy, the hardest part is keeping the kids from eating them before you have a chance to pack them into lunch boxes.

Set the oven to 250. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. This is a must. You will never scrape them off the pan if you don't.

Lay the apple slices out in a single layer, and sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon as desired. Bake them for 2 hours, until the are dried and crispy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

bell peppers stuffed with quinoa, tomatoes, beans and cheese

Woo hoo! I got meatless Monday back on track. I got lost for a couple weeks there, but now I am back. One in a row.

For our Monday dinner, I wanted to find a way to use up some green bell peppers from the AHO box, but most recipes for stuffed peppers that I could find are made with rice and ground beef or turkey. After thinking a while about this, I decided to use one of the oldest vegetarian tricks in the book... substitute beans for meat, and therefore lose the animal, but retain the protein.

Instead of rice, I went for my new favorite grain, quinoa. (Okay, technicality police, I know it's not a grain. It's the seed from a plant related to the tumbleweed. But really? Tumbleweed? Let's just think of it as a grain. It goes down a little easier that way.)  Ever since my fist quinoa experiment, I have been using it instead of rice just about everywhere. I like it better, and supposedly it is nature's miracle. So I feel better about eating it.

Anyway, I took the quinoa and I took the beans and I saved some tomatoes from death on their vine, and I added some cheese and I stuffed the peppers. Oh my oh my. What a delicious dinner. Lucky for me, there was enough for two days of leftovers! (You may not end up with so much to eat tomorrow. I have kids who won't tough most of what I make, and that leaves more for me. This recipe should serve 4-8, depending on whether you are using it as a main dish or a side.)

This recipe is loosely based on one I found at Vegetarian Times.  I have to warn you, it takes about 2 hours from start to finish!

Stuffed Bell Peppers

4-5 tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped

3 carrots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/4 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth
pinto beans (again, I used some that my husband cooked, but you could use a can. I used about the equivalent of one can of beans)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
bell peppers (I used 9 very small peppers, because that is what I had. I imagine that 4-5 average peppers would use up this amount of stuffing. But if you have some extra stuffing leftover, lucky you! It makes a great burrito for lunch!)

First, chop the tomatoes. Reserve as much liquid as you can from the cutting board. Place a small colander into a baking dish on your counter.  Put the tomatoes into the colander and let the juice drain into the baking dish. This will help steam the peppers when you bake them, as well as keep them from sticking to the dish). Set this aside to drain while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and then the carrots, onion, garlic, and cumin. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the carrots and onions are soft. 

Add the quinoa and vegetable broth and bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Let it simmer for 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy. At this point, start heating the oven to 350.

When the quinoa is done cooking, stir in the drained tomatoes, beans, and about half of the cheese.

Cut each pepper in half, and remove the ribs and seeds. Stuff each pepper with a mound of the filling, and place them in the baking dish with the tomato juice.

Cover the pan with tin foil, and bake for an hour. After the hour, remove the foil, sprinkle the rest of the cheese evenly on the peppers, and bake for another 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned.

Enjoy with some crusty bread and a big green salad!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned some of the things I love, and some of the things I hate about being in the kitchen.

One of the things I love is fixing after school snacks for my kids. I only have one or two mornings that I am home alone while everyone is at school, but I try to use those days to have a little surprise treat for when the kids get back.

Here is a new recipe I tried the other day which was happily gobbled up by some hungry young scholars. Over the summer I had experimented with making some strawberry jam without added sugar. It didn't go over so well. I can't blame the kids, actually. The flavor was good, but the consistency was closer to apple sauce than to jam. Needless to say, the peanut butter and jam sandwiches weren't very much appreciated. As a matter of fact, they weren't very much consumed. (Heh... remember the part where I hate packing lunch boxes?).

Well, the no-added-sugar jam went into these bars, and as long as you promise not to tell my kids, they shall never be any the wiser. Of course, you can make these bars with any jam or jelly that you like best.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
(from Family Fun Magazine)

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinamon
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups peanut butter
1 1/2 cups jam

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In your mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Mix on medium until well blended. Reduce the speed to low, and add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until it is all incorporated.

Spread about 2/3 of the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spread the jam evenly on top of the dough. With the remaining dough, form mounds and place them in three rows of 8. This will allow you to cut 24 squares with one mound on top of each. Sprinkle any remaining crumbs evenly over the entire pan.

Bake it until is is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let it cool, and then cut into squares to serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Soup

If you don't live in Southern California, you may want to just skip down to the next paragraph. It feels so wrong to say it, but I am getting so weary of warm sunny days! I am not in the mood for Halloween (which may explain the lack of work on the costumes that need to be done in time for a party in 10 days). I put out some decorations, but only because the kids asked me to. I wasn't feeling it. My friends and acquaintances are full of stories of apple and pumpkin and baking and roasting, and I am just not feeling it. I need to at least put on a sweater before I feel like having pumpkin pie. I know this is a silly complaint. I know I would be lamenting the rain or the wind or the snow if I lived anywhere else. But I don't. I live in Los Angeles and I am tired of sunshine. I want fall to feel like fall so I can feel like doing fall things.

One day last week it actually did rain. For one day it felt a little more like we were getting to a new season... time for roasting squash and baking apple pie. However, the vegetables are still coming off of summer. Which makes sense, because right after that rainy day we shot back up to sunny days in the 80s and 90s. I'm no farmer, but I imagine we have to have a few cool days in a row before the fall and winter veggies can ripen.

For one day, though, it was cool. For one day, I felt a desire to make a crock-pot dinner. It seemed like a good day for some comfort food, and we had a busy schedule, so coming home to a ready meal worked out great.  Instead of a stew with carrots and potatoes, though, it was going to have to straddle seasons... a slow-cooked, warm, comforting meal made all out of summer veggies like tomatoes and corn.

I have to stop and wonder, though... why does "Crock Pot" cooking need to be "Canned Food" cooking? Just because I want something to be cooked slowly and to be conveniently ready for me when I get home, doesn't mean I want to just open a few cans of food and stir them together.

All of the recipes I found for taco soup asked for canned corn, canned tomatoes, canned beans, and a packet of taco seasoning. Instead, I went for the fresh(er) equivalents of those ingredients. It worked out great, and I am sure we saved at least a heart attack's worth of sodium by not getting all that stuff out of a can! (I did, however, include the bottle of beer that was in most recipes. I'm glad I did! It gave the soup a sort of yeasty, malty flavor.) I'm almost embarrassed to still call it Taco Soup. Somehow I feel this revamped, fresh-ingredient meal deserves a loftier name than "soup that is named after quasi-Mexican, Americanized food."

At any rate, here is Taco Soup that doesn't require a can opener whatsoever. Unless you buy canned beans. I am lucky that my husband likes to cook beans and freeze them, so that is what I use. If it were up to me, I would open a can of beans. So I am certainly not going to judge you canned-bean eaters.

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 onion, chopped finely
1-2 cups (or 1 can) beans of your choice (I used pinto beans, but black or kidney would be good too)
4 cobs of corn, kernels removed from the cob
6 tomatoes, diced (and try to retain as much juice as you can)
1 bottle or can of pale beer
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons dried cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 chicken breasts
shredded cheddar cheese

In your Crock Pot, combine the onion, beans, corn, tomatoes (and as much of the juice as you can keep), and beer. Add the garlic, chili powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Place the chicken breasts on top of it all, and push them down until they are just covered in liquid. Cook on low for five hours. Take the chicken breasts out, shred them with a couple of forks, and stir the shredded chicken back in. Let it cook for a couple more hours.

Top each serving with a bit of cheddar cheese. Serve it with a big green salad and some quesadilla wedges.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

zucchini and herbed ricotta torte

A few weeks ago I made a hummus and roasted vegetable torte that just rocked my world.  Actually, it was the simple, four-ingredient, flaky delicious crust from Soma at ecurry that was the world-rocking part.

And so, on meatless Monday yesterday, at about 4:45, when I had no idea what to make for dinner, I remembered Soma's awesome torte crust. Luckily I had all the ingredients on hand, and away I went!

After making the crust (this time with rosemary), I went about loading it up with the vegetables that are still lingering from last week's box. Ahem. That is to say that this week I am somehow faced with catching up on all the stuff we somehow didn't get around to eating last week, and at the same time tackling this week's bounty. I am not sure how this is all going to work out, but I guess there are worse problems in the world than having too much delicious, fresh, organic produce on hand.

Back to 4:45 yesterday. With my crust safely baking in the oven, I had 12 minutes of free time to figure out how to top it. We have no hummus on hand right now, but while rooting around in the fridge I found some ricotta. Perfect! Mixing the ricotta with some fresh herbs gave it plenty of zip, and topping it with a couple of the veggies I needed to attend to made it perfectly tasty. Again, I think it would make a perfect appetizer, cut into  small squares. However, though, this time it was the main course here, served alongside a big salad.

And so, I give to you, my zucchini, tomato, and herbed ricotta cheese torte!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (or any other herbs you have on hand)
1/3 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons very cold club soda
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup basil leaves, cut into thin slivers
2 tablespoons chives, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium zucchini
about 12-14 cherry tomatoes
crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the flour, salt, pepper and herbs together. In a separate small bowl, whisk the club soda and olive oil for a couple minutes, until they become creamy and well incorporated.

Pour water-oil mixture into the flour mixture, and combine with a fork just until there is no dry flour left. Using your hands, form the dough into a ball.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each one separately. Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper, and roll in only one direction (not back and forth). Last time I did it, I went for a rectangle. This time, I let it take on the shape it wanted... a sort of loose oval.

Bake it for 12 minutes, until the crust is starting to become golden.

While it is baking, prepare the toppings:
First, mix the ricotta with the garlic, chives, and basil, and set aside.
Using a vegetable peeler (I used my new y-shaped peeler. For $4.99, it is giving me a whole new happy life in the kitchen! Why didn't I invest in this baby sooner?), cut the zucchini into thin ribbons. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half.

When the crusts are done, remove it from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes to cool a little bit.

Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over both crusts.

Spread the zucchini strips in an overlapping layer over the torts, and sprinkle with the crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Place it back in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the zucchini starts to soften.

When it comes out of the oven, top it with the tomatoes, and cut into pieces.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chewy Granola Bars

This recipe, I must admit, has nothing to do with vegetables. I know I am supposed to be the box lady and write all about the fresh fruits and veggies I muddle through   deal with   enjoy from my big box of Abundant Harvest Organics each week. But it seems to me that the one recipe I end up giving to friends more often than any other is this recipe for chewy granola bars. 

I wish I could remember where I got it. I feel bad that I am not giving credit where credit is due. It was a long long time ago, and I can't seem to find it on the internet anymore. 

At one point I sent this recipe to a friend through her facebook inbox long long ago, and I have no idea where else I might have saved it. That means that every time I make them (although I pretty much have it memorized, I make them so often), or every time someone asks me to give the recipe to them, I go get it from facebook.  I then have to search through my inbox to find the message thread that I started over a year ago. It's one of those "first-world problems," no?

Well, lucky for me, I have a first world solution. I will put the recipe here. Instead of searching through my facebook archives every week or so, I will search through my blog archives! Aha! I got you, internet!

Why do I share this recipe so often? Because it is awesome!! These granola bars are easy to make, and last quite a while (shelf-life, that is. They don't last long with my kids around eating them). Plus, they travel well in lunch boxes and backpacks. And although they do contain quite a bit of sweetener and butter, I feel better that it is honey and brown sugar and butter instead of corn syrup and hydrogenated corn oil and preservatives. Or whatever that stuff is that we aren't supposed to be eating.

Plus... and this is no lie... my kids prefer these to every single kind of granola bar we have ever purchased. And believe me, we have purchased quite a plethora of granola bar varieties.

This recipe makes 24 medium-sized bars (although you can cut them larger and make fewer). I wrap them up in snack-sized bags, re-usable snack bags, or plastic wrap, depending on what I have clean and available. By individually wrapping them from the start, it makes it easy to pack a lunchbox or a picnic. They last a couple of weeks in the pantry, or you can freeze some.

Chewy Granola Bars

2 cups oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup cashews, crushed
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
4 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

Stir together the oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and cashews on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast them in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, stirring twice or more.

Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Stir it all together, making sure the wet ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the dry ingredients, so it all sticks.

Line the bottom of your pan (I used a jelly roll pan but you could use a cake pan. They would just be thicker.) with waxed paper, and spray with cooking spray. Press the granola mixture into the pan. Put another piece of waxed paper on top, and press it all well so it all sticks. I use a rolling pin to make it all even and well pressed, but you can just use your hands.  Peel off the top waxed paper as soon as you finish pressing the bars, so it doesn't get stuck.

Let it all cool, and then invert the bars onto a cutting mat. Peel off the remaining waxed paper and cut into bars.

You can wrap them individually, or you can keep them in an airtight container. If you plan to store them all together, layer parchment paper or waxed paper in between the bars.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eggplant fries

Eggplant fries? Sure! Why not?

Why should the potato, the sweet potato, the zucchini, the green bean, and even the asparagus have all the fun of being cut up and fried?

I saw a recipe for eggplant fries, which struck me as fabulous... and not just because I happened to have 2 large and 4 small eggplants in my fridge. Honestly, who needs 6 eggplants?

Anyway, I am never going to be the person who says "You know what sounds good right now? Eggplant!" However, I am really not opposed to it either. My husband, on the other hand, is an eggplant fiend. I think he ordered eggplant on our first three dates together. No lie.

But these fries turned out to be so delicious, that I ended up eating them all myself. That is right. I took a large eggplant, cut it up and baked it, and proceeded to eat every bite of it myself. In a million years I never could have seen that coming.

I didn't really follow the recipe I found. I decided to go with my past experience of making various veggie fries, and try a couple of those tricks.... I dredged them in milk and then bread crumbs, like I did the asparagus. And I baked them rather than frying, like I did the green beans and zucchini. I think the result is a very delicious, very easy, mostly good-for-you snack. Or side dish. Or entire meal for one, as the case may be.

Eggplant Fries
1 large eggplant
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 450. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet, and spray lightly with non-stick spray. (I don't think it would be necessary to keep them from sticking, but it helps them get nice and golden brown).

Cut the eggplant into sticks about 1/2 inch wide, and as long as the eggplant.

Stir together the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley, and garlic powder.

Dip each piece of eggplant in the milk and then in the bread crumb mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes, then flip them all over. Bake another 10 minutes, until they are nice and golden brown, and crispy on the outside.

I dipped mine in ranch dressing ('Cause it was easy), but I can only imagine how great they would be in aioli or ketchup or marinara sauce. Enjoy!