Recently, I’ve been making my husband  salads to take to work for lunch.  He has been finding that when I make then heartier than normal by throwing on a handful of toasted nuts and some hardboiled egg (or avocado and fresh cheese)  that they keep him from getting hungry later in the day.  Today’s salad was a little more challenging because after it was made, I realized we didn’t have any salad dressing.  I’ve been making dressings from scratch off and on recently and  Better Homes and Gardens has an especially good one in the April 2009 issue:

Ingredients

  • Finely shredded peel and juice from 2 medium lemons
  • 3 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper.

Combine all of the ingredients except the oil and sour cream. Then whisk the oil and sour cream in until thickened.  Easy and delicious.  The zest (or finely shredded lemon peel)  gives the dressing a REALLY lemony flavor. I used a variation of this with Kyle’s salad this morning. I reduced the recipe by roughly two-thirds and instead of lemon, I used half of a valencia orange (with peel)  and about half the amount of sour cream as oil.  I think I might like the variation more than the original!  Kyle’s salad contained spinach, toasted almonds, carrots, and orange wedges so the dressing should go especially well with it.

Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll try to come up with a basil dressing for him.

A new spring season is here and I picked up our first box of produce from Five Leaves Farm on Wednesday. I’m even more excited than usual this year for two reasons. First, I have volunteered for a working share at the farm and hope that some of Ben’s green thumb will rub off on me. Second, a good friend in Greenville (and one of her good friends) have joined a CSA for the first time and we look forward to sharing recipes and good food throughout the season! This week’s box included arugula, spinach, beet greens, radishes,  green onions, sugar snap peas, and mint. The first dish of the season was an unbelievable arugula and snap pea risotto that I made up as I went along. I’ll give you the general idea here and will try to formalize the recipe for a posting later this week. (I guess that means we will have to eat it again…oh, the sacrifice!)

I used general techniques for risotto which included a simmering pot of hot vegetable broth beside the risotto pot. I first sauteed about half of a large onion in two tablespoons of butter. I then added a cup of brown rice (pre-boiled for about 8 minutes) and stirred until well-coated with the butter and shiny – probably about two minutes.  Throw in about a half cup of good white wine and stir until absorbed/evaporated. Then start adding the broth a half cup or so at a time, stirring frequently until absorbed and the risotto is the right texture. It should still have a bit of chew to it similar to good al dente pasta. This will probably take 20-30 minutes and about 3 cups of broth. I then added a grind or two of pepper and a big handful of fresh, shredded parmesan cheese along with another half tablespoon of butter. Once that was fully mixed up and melted,  I tossed in the pre-blanched snap peas and 2-3 cups of fresh arugula torn into bite-size pieces.  (It was about half of the CSA bag for those who are reading.)  Beautiful, rich flavors were the result!

Risotto can be a time-consuming, high maintenance dish. I especially enjoy making it when I have friends in the kitchen with me.  I start the stirring with a half cup of wine for the dish, a cup for me, and a cup for my friend.  The work is made lighter with an extra arm and good conversation. The result is a reasonably healthy, decadent dish that is great for sharing with friends.

Grits I finally got around to making a dish that had been simmering in my mind for awhile. Anson Mills is a local company that has been written up in many fine magazines for their products made from organic heirloom grains. Tonight for dinner, I cooked up some of their Blue grits and served them up topped with sauteed spinach and portobella mushrooms! How’s that for an easy gourmet dish! Kyle was overheard saying something like, “Those are grits??! Really? These are good! More people would like grits if they had grits like this!”  I concur!

Easy dish:

Buy some Anson Mills grits. Put 1 cup of blue grits in your slow cooker with 1 cup of veggie broth and two cups of water.  Stir quickly. Let them settle for a minute and skim off any chaff that comes to the top. Turn the cooker on high and let ’em go for about 2 hours and 10 minutes. Stir once or twice in between.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, saute 2 cloves of garlic,and 2-3 sliced portobella mushroom caps in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper. When the mushroom are ready, toss in 2-3 cups of baby spinach and toss until wilted.

Just before serving, stir about a half cup of shredded parmesan cheese into the grits along with a dash of salt and some fresh ground pepper. Dish up the grits and serve the sauteed veggies on top. Delicious!

Kyle and I went to a great dinner and presentation a few nights ago hosted by the local chapter of Slow Food USA. The owners of Five Leaves Farm (our CSA) gave a presentation on their trip to Terra Madre, a worldwide gathering of farmers and food producers dedicated to sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and high quality food. The dinner was potluck. The assignment was to bring a seasonal dish made with as many local ingredients as possible. Cool – how fun, I thought! It turned out that for someone like me, who is really only peripherally involved in trying to eat local, seasonal foods, this was a much tougher task than expected! The local market that carries lots of local produce in the summer had many products labeled “Made in USA”, but not, “Made in South Carolina”, let alone within a county or two of Richland.  I went home to re-group and take inventory. I have long beans from the CSA in the freezer. I have blueberries in the freezer that we picked this summer. I know that I can get local eggs and I know that I can get local grits. I want to make more of a main dish than a side or dessert because I don’t know how many vegetarian options will be available.  I’ve never made grits. (Obviously, I need to change that.) That leaves eggs. I decided to make deviled eggs seasoned with some of the dried red pepper from the Sweet Briar Community Garden that I was given for Christmas. Not local to South Carolina but certainly within the spirit of the task. 

Making deviled eggs is not as easy as I thought it would be, either! My eggs were too new. I couldn’t get them peeled without gouging out portions of the white.  Now what? I can’t serve eggs that look like this!  Inspiration strikes and the whites get chopped up and mixed with the deviled egg filling. I’ll call it deviled egg salad. A quick stop at the store for organic crackers and we’re off to the dinner.

The presentation was great and the variety of food was unbelievable. Five Leaves Farm had slaughtered a lamb for a lamb stew. Someone else had successfully made deviled eggs.  Another farm brought a blackberry cobbler using preserves they had made from their berries and nuts from the farm. There was an excellent red bean dish with our local grits. I would never have thought to put beans and grits together like that and can’t wait to try it! Someone had come up with potatoes from a local farm and made a big bowl of mashed potatoes. And there was so much more….. This is food! This is community! This is what we are losing…..

I am learning more and more that food is not just about food and progress is not necessarily progress.  I went to the grocery store with my 84-year old aunt recently and she was happily picking out frozen mashed potatoes, frozen macaroni and cheese, and pre-chopped fresh broccoli. Look how lucky you are that you don’t have to slave in the kitchen all day to get good food, she said. We went home and she made me some of her special mashed potatoes… microwaved with the fresh broccoli, and some pre-shredded cheese and garlic sprinkled on top. Yes – it tasted good. It was also loaded with sodium, and bad fats, and ingredients whose names are pronounceable only by scientists. I am conflicted. I suppose I am thankful that she has that choice. I suppose I am thankful that I should have that choice if I really needed it.  I am certainly thankful that for this assignment I could go one mile down the road to pick up mayonnaise and eggs and that I did not have to be completely dependent on what we had grown ourselves and put away this summer.  I am thankful that I have the time to make more things from scratch and that Ben and Kristen are willing to grow good food for me. I am thankful for these choices.  Not everyone has these choices though and if we are not careful, we may lose the ability to make these choices as well.  That is a topic for another time.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner

 This post is for anyone who would like to see a Thanksgiving dinner plate in a vegetarian home! The main dish was a bulghur and mushroom pilaf  cooked in a veggie/apple juice broth and topped with feta cheese. Next was potatoes au gratin made with an herbed goat cheese and topped with parsley, and then finally a side of buttered peas. The bread was home baked and came out of the oven less than 5 minutes prior to the picture being taken. Yummmm! Our dessert was an organic pumpkin pie from Earthfare with fresh whipped cream and coffee ground from whole beans that had been locally roasted the day prior.

We had a second Thanksgiving dinner with friends on Saturday night. For that, I took the pilaf and Pat’s jalapeno corn casserole since someone else was already bringing mashed potatoes. That was a pretty good veggie plate too! Pilaf, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, green beans, cranberry goo, coleslaw and macaroni and cheese. I wonder if anyone noticed that my husband who is NOT a vegetarian didn’t have any meat on his plate! There were too many good “side” dishes! We were all so stuffed that we had to save the many desserts for breakfast the next morning.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What other day is focused solely on staying home and eating good food all day with friends? In all seriousness, both Kyle and I love the chance to slow down and focus on all of the things for which we are so thankful.  A summer of abundant fresh food and the time to prepare it, great friends, beloved family, a warm and comfortable home, and a free country. (And that’s the short list!)

Comments: This recipe was born of a desire to use up a small bit of lentil broth that I had saved from cooking lentils earlier in the week. I also had some leftover swiss chard and something told me that those two ingredients might go really nicely together in a soup.   Swiss chard is high in lots of vitamins. For more detail, check out “The World’s Healthiest Foods”.  Lentils are high in protein and a great vegetable source of iron. Put the two foods together and you have a powerhouse of a soup.  All of the ingredients cook together to form a rich broth, chock full of nutrients. Swiss chard is already a little bit salty so you will not need to add any additional salt to this recipe. Honest.  Serve this with some good bread and/or a salad. This makes about 3 big servings. (You could stretch it to four with a big salad and some good bread.)

Ingredients:

1 cup of french lentils or any dark lentil

1/2 a bunch of swiss chard

1 bay leaf

2 gloves of garlic

1/2 tbsp of thyme

fresh ground pepper to taste

5-6 cups of water

Preparation:

1. Rinse and sort through the lentils for any small stones. Peel the garlic gloves and crush them slightly if desired.  Rinse the swiss chard and tear the leaves into pieces slightly larger than bite size. Do not use the stems.

2. Place the lentils, the bay leaf, and the garlic in a soup pot along with 5 cups of water. (You can add more water if you prefer a thinner soup.) Bring to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat so that the lentils are boiling gently, just past a simmer – too hard of a boil can cause them to break up.  Set your timer for 20 minutes. After about 5 minutes, throw the swiss chard, the thyme, and a dash or two of fresh ground pepper into the pot. Stir it up and put a lid on it.

3. That’s it! When the timer goes off, enjoy! Remove the bay leaf and garlic before serving. (Or – if you really like garlic, crush one of the cloves against the side of the pot and mix it in before serving)

If I had known last night was going to be such a momentous occasion, I would’ve taken a picture. As is often the case when given a dish he’s not sure about, my husband gave me a funny look when I handed him the plate with stuffed squash and long beans. I was very excited about this dinner. The squash was from our CSA as were the long beans. I had fixed a pilaf like rice dish cooked with vegetable broth and filled with cashews and dried fruits, inspired by my friend Pam at a Thanksgiving dinner several years ago. After splitting the butternut squash in half and roasting it, I stuffed it with the rice. The long beans were blanched, topped with herbed goat cheese, and served on the side.

 

After taking a few bites, my husband told me how much he was enjoying the squash.  After scraping every last bit of squash off the peel, he told me he didn’t like squash. Not only that, this was the first squash he had ever eaten! No wonder he gave me a funny look… what a great husband I have that he was willing to take a risk on it! He has requested that the same dish be on the menu next week. Perhaps then, I’ll take a picture.

Time flies and I promised an update on all the great things we’ve been eating with our CSA food! By the way, there are some nice recipes in the newsletters provided by Five Leaves farm each week.

1. Stir fry: The eggplants, long beans, pepper, and basil went into a stir fry that was served over some Carolina Gold rice. I started with sesame oil and thai red curry paste then added the veggies along with a bit of soy sauce, coconut milk and lime juice. I bought the curry paste this time. There is a vegetarian version available from Thai Kitchen, which is a brand carried at our local grocery store, but it is just not as good as making it from scratch. Having said that  – I’ve only made Thai curry paste once because it was such a hassle to track down the ingredients. it’s really too bad – the commercial version has a lot of heat but very little flavor and every time I use it, I feel like something is missing from the dish. I think we each got two meals out of this.

2. Creamy squash linguine: The squash was cooked down into a creamy pasta sauce spiked with hot red pepper and served over linguine. This recipe was included in our CSA newsletter and was quite good! We each got one dinner and then I had leftovers for lunch.

3. Pink-eyed peas and okra: The okra was nice and small so I roasted it and sprinkled herbed goat cheese on top. (The next week I braised it and sprinkled herbed goat cheese on top – that was a little better.)  The peas were cooked with some diced tomato, onion, and spices (cumin and cayenne). This was one dinner for each of us.

4. Cucumbers: My husband is not a huge fan of cucumbers so I made a tzatziki-like sauce for myself and had veggie gyros all week for lunch. A friend had given me a head of lettuce and I picked up some good flat bread and hummus at the store. I layered the hummus, lettuce, and cucumbers on the flat bread, sprinkled with feta cheese and poured the tzatziki sauce over the top.

blueberries

blueberries

Why haven’t I ever done this before? Blueberries fresh off the bush are heavenly. Sweeter than any blueberry I’ve ever tasted before. And the scent when I got 6 pounds of berries home to clean and freeze. My word – I cannot even describe how amazing these berries smelled. I’ve always liked blueberries….now I have to say that they are my new love in the world of berries. I’ve had a bowl in the refrigerator this week that we’ve been grabbing handfuls from when we crave something sweet. My husband even said the other morning, “These are better than chocolate!”

I just picked up our CSA box for the week and what a bounty it is! I looked all over Columbia a year or so ago for Asian long beans and what do you think I found in my box this week? That’s right – a bundle of long beans! I’ll have to get that Thai cookbook out again.  We also got small eggplants, Japanese Soyu Cucumbers (the biggest cucumbers I’ve ever seen!), a large yellow squash, green peppers, mixed bag of basil, pink-eyed peas (yummmm…can’t wait for these!), okra….and I’m probably leaving something out. We will be eating well this weekend.  Since I don’t usually have time on Wednesdays to do lots of cooking, tonight will be a big salad and leftover homemade pizza loaded with basil from the garden.  Stay tuned for an update on the good eats we will enjoy over the weekend!

A few nights ago, we came home from a two night excursion to find that our refrigerator and freezer had completely defrosted. It was warmer in the freezer than in the kitchen itself. We lost almost everything which was very discouraging…the okra I had picked two by two all summer and frozen until we had enough to do something with….the strawberries I had picked earlier in the summer….the pizza sauce I’d made from a friend’s fresh tomatoes…and on and on.  God is good…with the bounty in our box today, I feel like we could start all over again now and still have some good, fresh food saved for winter.

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