Thursday, July 31, 2008

Black Bean and Summer Squash Stew

We're catching up to our zucchini production- the plants have slowed down and we keep making recipes like this one. Based on the ingredients and suggested servings (serve with chips, over rice, or in a burrito) I thought it sounded like a zucchini chili. From the Classic Zucchini Cookbook
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 diced onion
1 diced sweet red pepper (forgot to buy one of these)
2 diced green chilis (I used canned)
2 yellow squash or zucchini, sliced and quartered
4 tomatoes
2 15 oz cans black beans, drained and washed
salt and pepper
fresh cilantro (also didn't have this)
Heat oil in a large pan. Cook onion and peppers until onion is translucent (~5 min). Add squash and cook until softened (~5 min more).
Add tomatoes and beans, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over med-low heat 15-30 minutes.
Add cilantro. We served it over quinoa:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese

I must admit that beets aren't my favorite, and I'm trying not to let my kids catch on. I mean, they're sweet. They're such a bold, pretty color. Shouldn't kids be attracted to beets? Shouldn't I? But I keep persisting, thanks to our CSA, in trying to make delicious beet recipes. I doubt I'd go out and buy beets, but when they show up in our share, I figure I'm obliged to try to enjoy them.

This time I decided on Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese, borrowing quite heavily from this recipe. Not my favorite food picture ever, but my kids were pretty amused that I'd used the flowered dessert plates to make the beets look like a flower.

Here is the recipe with my changes:


2 bunches of small-ish beets (about 8-10 beets)
4 small eating onions from the CSA (about 1/3 cup minced) (you could substitute regular onion or shallots)
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
plenty of crumbled goat cheese (for those eating local in MA, I'm in love with Capri goat cheese from Westfield Farm)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove any beet greens, leaving a small amount of stem. Wash the beets and place in a baking dish. Toss with some olive oil until lightly coated. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil (or a lid) and bake about 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are easily pierced by a fork.

While the beets are roasting, mix together all the other ingredients besides the goat cheese. Set aside.

After beets have cooled slightly, cut off the top and bottom and use your fingers to remove the skin. Slice thinly into rounds.

Place the beets onto a serving dish and top with the vinaigrette and crumbled goat cheese.


These were the most delicious beets I've ever eaten. They got rave reviews from everyone who tried them, which unfortunately did not include our children, who are persisting in their vegetable ban.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Green Beans with Lemon and Pine Nuts

This side dish is very simple but really flavorful and a nice way to use fresh green beans. I found it on epicurious and used some beans from the Farmer’s Market and fresh parsley from our garden. As is my usual practice I substituted lemon juice for lemon zest because I’m beginning to think lemon zest is part of some sort of conspiracy by the lemon lobby to get me to remove all the skin on my right hand one recipe at a time via microplane grater. Also it never seems to taste like much, to me.

1 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest (or a tablespoon of lemon juice)
4 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the beans in a pot of boiling salted water for about five minutes. Drain well. Transfer to a bowl and toss with all the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Cilantro Serrano Cream Sauce

Yesterday I got the urge to go to a Farmers' Market. I checked a handy-dandy Massachusetts Farmers' Market list, and saw the only Sunday market was in Charles Square in Cambridge. So it was an easy decision where to go! There were only about 5 or 6 vendors there, and I couldn't find any eggplant, which was the original reason for making the trip, but it was still fun and we got plenty of stuff.

One of the neat things we got was a bunch of squash blossoms. Let's be honest: squash blossoms are one of those ingredients that are a big pain in the patootie. They're a lot of work, they have to be used nearly immediately, and they are relatively expensive (we paid $4 for a bunch of about 12 blossoms). But I just can't resist, at least once a year.

I went with a fairly traditional stuffed squash blossom recipe I came up with based on what I had on hand. Then I battered them and deep fried. My husband made cilantro serrano cream sauce, that was a perfect accompaniment. Here are the recipes:

Stuffed Squash Blossoms:


Approximately 12 squash blossoms
12 oz. ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons finely diced onion (or shallots)
1 teaspoon butter
Freshly cracked black pepper


Gently wash the squash blossoms, then reach in and remove the inside stuff (the stamen, I think it's called). It's fine if the blossom rips down one side.

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Finely dice the garlic and onion, and add to the pan. Saute until slightly softened. You can skip this step if you like the crunch/bite of raw onion and garlic.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, onions and garlic, and black pepper to taste.

Place the cheese mixture in a pastry bag with no tip. Believe me, I used a tip and learned my lesson. Even though I had very finely minced the garlic and onion, about halfway through stuffing the blossoms, a piece that was slightly too large got stuck in the tip and I had to take the whole thing apart to get the tip out. After that, I used the bag with no tip and it was fine. Anyway, load up the pastry bag and fill each squash blossom until about 1/2" from the top. Don't overfill, especially if you ripped the blossoms along one side, as it will just all leak out. Twist the top slightly to seal the blossom. Repeat until all blossoms are stuffed.

For the batter, I used this recipe as a starting point, but had to make some changes. It made far more batter than I needed, so you might want to have some other veggies on hand as well to batter and fry.

Batter ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup ice cubes
1 1/2 cups cold water (or less...add slowly)
additional flour for dredging

Vegetable oil for frying

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the egg, ice cubes, and about 1/2 of the cold water. Stir them together (a single chopstick is the best thing to definitely don't want to over mix). Keep adding water until you've reached a thin pancake batter consistency. Don't make this need to use it pretty soon after you've mixed it.

Place enough vegetable oil in a wok or heavy bottomed pan to fry the squash blossoms. Heat over high heat. I only put enough oil to cover about 1/2 the blossom and then just flip the blossom halfway through cooking.

Roll the squash blossoms in flour to coat, then hold the stem and dip the blossom in the batter until coated. If the batter doesn't cling to the blossoms, it's too thick. Add a little more cold water to thin it.

Place the blossom in the hot oil. Repeat until all blossoms are in the oil. It'll probably be time then to start flipping the first blossoms you added to the oil. The batter should be golden brown when finished, about 2 minutes per side.

Remove to paper towels to drain.


You can eat the squash blossoms plain if you'd like. We served ours with a cilantro serrano cream sauce, following the linked recipe. It's a perfect recipe for all you Waltham Fields members as we're getting Serrano peppers now as well as garlic. Our garden is also full of cilantro, so it's really the ideal time for this recipe.

We thought the recipe as written was slightly too mayonaisse-y. If we make it again (and we will), we'll probably replace some mayo with milk or cream. Oh, and we only used one serrano pepper to make it less spicy for our kids, and more importantly, because we only had one serrano pepper. It was just slightly spicy. If your kids will eat spicy foods, I'd probably use at least two peppers. Or make it with one, take some out for your kids, then add an extra pepper or two to the rest of the sauce for the adults.

The cream sauce was delicious over chicken as well. Probably not of interest to all you vegetarians, but I figured I'd mention it for any other omnivores who pop by.


I should add why I thought this was a kid-friendly meal. I figured: flowers, neat. Cheese, always a hit. And deep-fried, that's a home run! The flavor of the stuffed blossoms is fairly plain. Good, but not overwhelmingly flavorful for young palates.

Of course, my kids would have needed to taste these to realize they would have liked them. Ah well...maybe people with more adventurous kids will have more luck! The adults in our house loved these, and one of my sons really loved to help prepare them even if he didn't try it. So it wasn't a total loss.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Caprese salad, Grilled herbed squash, grilled corn on the cob

When your veggies are very fresh, sometimes the less you do with them the better. These three dishes aren't really recipes aside from methods of cooking or presenting the food.
As I mentioned in an earlier post we usually grow a basil plant on our porch to have fresh leaves on hand. It's not enough to do batches of pesto but it's good for adding to sauces or for this traditional Italian salad.
Two large fresh tomatoes
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella
fresh basil leaves
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
Obviously, the higher quality all of these are, the better this will be. I got the tomatoes from the Friday Harvard square farmer's market. The mozzarella wasn't great, it was from costco. We've been making our own cheese and mozzarella is one of the easier ones, but I didn't have time to make a batch for this. (The other cylinder in the picture is our first attempt at cheddar, check back in 6 months to see how it turned out.)

The preparation is just to slice up everything evenly and layer it together, then drizzle some oil and vinegar over it. I always try to get equal numbers of things (although certain people around the house don't mind when there's extra slices of cheese.) Slice up the limiting reagent, in this case the tomatoes, then calculate how many times you'll need to cut the other ingredient. Cut the tomatoes vertically in half, then cut each half into slices. In this case I had 28 slices of tomato so I quartered the cheese then cut it into 7 slices. I actually used a whole pound instead of a half so the slices are think. Put alternating layers of tomato, cheese, and basil on a plate- if you really want to get anal about presentation you can pay attention to things like alternating which direction the half moons of tomato are facing on each layer, or using whole basil leaves if you have a lot.
In our continuing efforts to use up zucchini from the garden, I grilled some of them along with the summer squash from the Kendall market. Cut them fairly think or they'll fall apart on the grill- each squash into three or four slices the length of the fruit. Layer them in a container and sprinkle with oil, vinegar, and herbs (in this case rosemary, basil, and oregano from the porch.) Here's the batch marinating, along with the finished salad:

People have different opinions about grilling corn. I cut off the tops with the husks still on, cut off most of the stem, remove the tougher outer leaves, then soak in water to avoid charring on the grill. This corn was also from Kendall- corn from local farms tends to have ear worms, another good reason to cut off the tops. Soak for about an hour, then wrap each in foil. Everything then went on the grill:

For cooking the squash, flip when the edges appear cooked, then take it off when the juices start to bubble from the middle of the slice- that means it's cooked through. Rotate the corn every five minutes or so. The whole cooking took about 15 or 20 minutes. Unwrap the corn and husk- again, for presentation, you can leave the open husk on as a handle if you want. Here's the final result:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Artichoke and Asparagus Sauté with Toasted Bread Crumbs

Here’s another recipe from my beloved “Local Flavors” (now recently re-released and available in paperback!) Of course, the author, Deborah Madison is from Santa Fe so artichokes are “local” to her. Not so much for us New Englanders. But most of the rest of the ingredients can be had locally grown -- asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini and scallions.
I liked the looks of this recipe on the page because I’m always a fan of those vegetarian recipes that tend to strike fear in the heart of meat eaters. (No meat! No pasta or rice! Just a pile of green stuff on a plate! *cue running, screaming carnivores*) The very best ones are able to transcend their ingredients to become something more, and this dish does not disappoint.
I made a few changes, of course, because I always do. I used baby artichokes and ended up using about five of them, and I wish I’d used a few more. Instead of regular zucchini I used these chunky globe ones I bought at the Farmer’s Market, but I don’t imagine that made much of a big difference in taste. In the original recipe she says to slice the asparagus thinly on the diagonal and since a. I wasn’t really sure what that meant and b. there are not enough hours in the day for me to spend one of them slicing a pound of asparagus into slivers, so I just cut them into pieces like I normally do for recipes.
Also, she isn’t really clear on how you use supposed to use the bread crumbs, once you make them -- so I tossed some in at the end with the parsley and then added a few more as garnish, with the cheese.
I found it difficult to figure out what the meal would actually be *like* from the recipe so I’ll let you know that it ends up as a hearty summer stew. I served it with a yummy loaf of sourdough bread and it was perfect. No pasta required.

3 large, 4 medium, or some number larger than five baby artichokes, trimmed and quartered
salt and pepper
1lb asparagus, cut into small pieces
1/2lb mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, including an inch of the greens, chopped
2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I used lemon juice instead)
1/2 cup fres bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 white wine
1 cup water
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook the artichokes in one quart of salted water until tender-firm, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and slice thinly. Cut the rest of the vegetables as described.
Chop the parsley and garlic together and add the zest or lemon juice. Brown the bread crumbs in 1 tablespoon of oil and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet (and I do mean large, this dish almost maxed out my biggest chef’s pan) and add the artichokes, asparagus and zucchini. Cook over high heat for a few minutes, then add the scallions and mushrooms, and cook for five minutes more. Add some salt.
Add the wine and let it sizzle and reduce. Then add the water and simmer for a few more minutes until all the vegetables are cooked. Toss them with the parsley and garlic mixture and the bread crumbs and then garnish with the cheese.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Orzo with Zucchini

I'm almost ashamed to post this recipe as I can't believe it's taken me this long to get around to making my first post here! I have been faithfully reading everyone else's posts and enjoying the recipes. Great stuff—thank you.

As we all know, 'tis the season to eat zucchini. I don't know about you, but I don't find very many recipes that include zucchini that make me go WOW. Just last night, I was watching Iron Chef America and one of the judges commented that he was not sure how the chefs were going to showcase zucchini because it really doesn't have that much flavor. Personally, I agree. I find it watery and bland. But it's good for you and there's always plenty of it—and then some—at this time of year.

A couple of months ago, my book club read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegatable, Miracle. While I didn't love the book, I did enjoy some of Kingsolver's recipes, including the following for Orzo with Zucchini. I've made a few changes from the original (most notably, I've upped the cheese content significantly). Here's what's great about this recipe:
  • It uses a TON of zucchini.
  • It's very forgiving.
  • It tastes good hot, warm, or at room temperature.
  • It's really easy.
  • It can be a main course or a side dish.
  • It's kid-friendly.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Orzo with Zucchini
1/2 lb. orzo
3 T. or so olive oil
a lot of zucchini: five or six small ones, two or three large ones, or even more
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 c. or so grated/shredded cheese of your choice (the original recipe calls for parmesan, but I've used goat cheese, parmesan, asiago, or feta)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook orzo according to package directions.
2. Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. Squeeze out excess water.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute grated zucchini and onion over medium heat until well-cooked and beginning to brown.
4. Combine cooked orzo with cooked zucchini and onions. Stir in cheese.

That's it! Told you it was easy. Enjoy.

Zapple bars

We're getting deep into the zucchini cookbooks now. Due to a miscommunication Katie bought some zucchini and summer squash at the farmer's market on Thursday, when we still had two from the garden in the fridge. Then the next day we got six more from the garden, giving us a total of 10 (followed by six more today.) We had a party to go to yesterday so we looked for some dessert dish to make and found Zapple bars in the Classic Zucchini Cookbook:
5.5 cups peeled diced zucchini
1/2 cup lemon juice (recipe says fresh, I used bottled)
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

2.5 cups flour
1.25 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter
1 tsp vanilla (the recipe has this in the ingredients but never says to add it, I assumed it went in with the butter)

Heat oven to 350F.
5.5 cups of zucchini was three large ones. As you can see here, it hardly made a dent in our zucchini stocks:

Cook zucchini and lemon juice in a saucepan (not iron- boiling acid + iron is bad.) Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes until zucchini is tender. Add sugar and spices, cook 2 minutes more. This came out very watery but I didn't drain it, which led to the "bars" being more like a pie or crisp. It couldn't be cut into bars that could be held, so if you really want bars maybe drain excess liquid at this point.
Mix dry ingredients for crust in a food processor. Add butter and vanilla, mix until crumbly. Press half of this mix to cover the bottom of a greased 9x13 glass dish and bake 10 minutes. Pour filling on top and crumble rest of crust mix on top. This amount of crust didn't quite cover the whole thing and also dissolved some in the watery mix, so you could either make more crust mix or use a smaller pan for thicker bars. Bake 40 minutes. Cool completely before cutting- we had to go to the party so we brought the whole dish along and ate it like an apple crisp:

People at the party couldn't believe it was zucchini, the only way you could tell this wasn't green apple filling was the presence of zucchini seeds. This suggests two principles for future recipes:
1. Lemon juice + sugar + zucchini is a reasonable substitute for cooked apples. Probably less healthy than the real thing.
2. If you add enough sugar and butter to anything, it will taste good. This recipe had a half a pound of butter and about 2 cups of sugar, so don't be fooled into thinking the zucchini makes it good for you.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Beans with Peanuts, Eggplant with Plum, and Zucchini Pancakes

This week, I had a lot of different vegetables to use. I still had some leftover eggplant from the previous week, and couldn't resist buying green beans again from the farmers' market. They actually weren't all green beans, since they also had yellow wax beans and beautiful purple beans. I was tempted to make the curry recipe from last week again, since it was so good, but decided to try something new. We also had a ton of zucchini to use up from our garden. I couldn't find a recipe that looked interesting and included all these ingredients, so I made decided to make zucchini pancakes with two different vegetable side dishes.

I got both side dish recipes from the Moosewood cookbook Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Kantzen. I love this cookbook, but find that there isn't much protein in many of the dishes, perhaps because they are meant as sides.  I found a recipe for the beans with a protein component called Green Beans with Crunchy Peanut-Lemon Coating, which I found posted online here.

The recipe was fairly easy to make, although I did have to bring out the blender to chop up the peanuts. I wondered how it would have tasted if peanut butter had been used instead of the chopped peanuts, since I think it would have coated the beans better. It was a great recipe and we all liked it for dinner. It said to serve hot, so I prepared the peanut mixture ahead of time and then cooked the beans right before dinner. The leftovers tasted great right out of the fridge the next day, so I might just make the whole dish in advance next time, especially on a warm summer day. The only disappointing thing was that the beautiful purple beans turned green when I cooked them, which was kind of fun to watch, but my 3-year-old had been excited about eating purple beans. Thankfully he munched on a few raw before I cooked them!

The eggplant dish I chose from the cookbook was even easier to make, and really good. It's called Stir-Fried Eggplant with Ginger-Plum Sauce.

1/3 cup plum jam (don't use the big chunks)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (I just used regular mustard)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggplants (about 3 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
red pepper flakes to taste (optional) -- I left these out

1. Mix the first four ingredients in bowl.
2. Cut the eggplant into small slices. I used a Japanese eggplant so I cut it in half and sliced it, but with a larger eggplant the recipe says you can make 1/2" thick sticks.
3. Heat oil in a pan and add eggplant and salt. Stir continuously to keep from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the eggplant is tender and half the size it was when started.
4. Mix in the sauce. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Since this part could be served at room temperature, I made it in advance. It was really easy to make and really good. The only tough part was finding plum jam, which I found at Whole Foods. (After tasting the plum jam, I realized that I probably could have substituted baby food prunes, which we always have on hand, but that certainly didn't sound as delicious as plum jam.) I was thinking this dish would be great with tofu added too, and then it could be a main dish if served over rice or quinoa. This also tasted great right out of the fridge the next day.

The last thing I made was Zucchini Pancakes, using this recipe. The nutritional information was a little frightening, but I decided to skip the step where you rub the pancakes with butter. The recipe was easy and the pancakes turned out great. The kids were very excited to be eating pancakes for dinner, and we served them with a bit of sour cream on top. I thought we'd be having the leftovers for breakfast, but there weren't any leftovers!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Herbed Butter

This is a simple recipe to use up some of the vast quantities of herbs you have in your garden, or CSA distribution, or just when you have to buy a whole bunch but just need 1 teaspoon for your recipe. Sure, you could dry them, or freeze them, but where's the fun in planning ahead? Eat 'em!

At our last CSA this week, there was you-pick basil. Well, by the time we got home the basil was already looking pretty wilted, probably due to the 95 degree weather. So my husband looked around online to see what he could make with it right away, and this is the recipe he decided to try. You don't really need a recipe...just mix a bunch of chopped basil and garlic into butter. The linked recipe calls for using a food processor. That's too much work. Just slightly soften some butter in the microwave, or in this heat, just leave the butter sitting on your counter for half an hour before making the recipe.

We've made similar recipes with other herbs in the past. My favorite is to mix garlic, rosemary, chives, and parsley together, which happen to be the herbs growing in my garden. You can try it with any herbs you have on hand, though.

Herbed butter is suprisingly versatile. You can melt it over lightly steamed vegetables to add some extra flavor. If you added garlic to your butter, you can use it to make a delicious herbed garlic bread. You can add it to mashed potatoes for some extra zip. You can put it over corn on the cob. But let's be honest: mostly, ours gets snacked on, spread on crackers or bread, until there's not enough left to do anything else with it.

And if you're feeling especially pioneer-ish, you can even make your own butter. It's suprisingly easy, and fun for kids (and adults, too. In fact, adults are usually more intrigued than the kids in my experience). I posted directions over on my blog a few months ago, so head on over there if you feel like shaking, shaking, shaking.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pasta With Leeks, Peas and Pecorino

This recipe came to me via my friend Leen, a fellow vegetarian Mom from Seattle who responded to my request for something yummy to do with fresh peas. It's originally from Real Simple.
It’s a pretty straight-forward and simple recipe, perfect for a busy weekday night. The hardest part is shelling the peas, which I gather some people actively dislike doing but I don't really mind. I substituted light cream for the heavy cream because using heavy cream in cooking anything other than desserts kinds of squicks me out (note to self: maybe this is why no one seems to like my Alfredo sauce?) and I underestimated the amount of peas I would need grabbing them by the handfuls at the Farmer’s Market. It’s a nice find too, if, like me, you always see certain things at the Farmer’s Market but don’t know what you would do with them. I feel that way about leeks and peas, (and, now that I think about it, mint).
My husband especially loved this dish. He felt since we both cook so many vegetarian pasta dishes that it’s great to have something for dinner with a whole other set of flavors than the normal tomato-eggplant-mushroom triumvirate.

1 pound dry pasta
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves torn
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 leeks, white and like green parts only, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic (on the suggestion of my friend, I doubled the garlic to four cloves -- do it unless you loathe garlic)
2 lbs fresh peas (two cups shelled)
3/4 cup heavy cream (I used light cream)
1 cup grated pecorino
2 teaspoons lemon zest (being fresh out of zest, I used a tablespoon of lemon juice added at the end instead)

Cook the pasta as normal.
Heat the oil, and add the leeks with the salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about five to seven minutes. Add the garlic and peas and cook for two more minutes. Add the cream and 3/4 cup of the cheese. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about four minutes.
Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce, mint and lemon zest (or in my case, juice). Top with the rest of the cheese.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We interrupt this blog to bring you very local produce

Most of the vegetables we're using in this project are from farmer's markets or local farms. So far we've hit Drumlin farm, Land's Sake farm, the Kendall square farmer's market, Pound Ridge NY (lame!) and last year we also did some of Central and Harvard Squares and BUSA farm.
But the most local produce is from plants you grow yourselves. I've mentioned the herb plants we have on our porch (basil, chives, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and we also have alpine strawberries, 4 tomato plants, and a sweet red pepper. I put in fresh soil this year (the previous was 3 years old) and the results are pretty good- no tomatoes or peppers yet, but the grape tomatoes are starting to ripen.
What if you don't have a sunny porch, roof deck, or yard in the city? We also have a plot in a community garden that we got several years ago. It's an 8x12 piece of dirt with a water source, and we pay $5/year for common expenses. Cambridge has many of these (14 according to this) but it's not always clear how to get one. You need to contact the Cambridge Conservation Commission and they'll put you in touch with the coordinator for the garden you're interested in. When we got an apartment in mid Cambridge, we signed up for several and ended up with a plot pretty quickly, and then back about others over the subsequent years, so it seems like the waiting time can be anywhere from one to several years.
Other cities also have similar programs. Boston has several with available plots, including one near the Publick Theater in Allston and an enormous one in the Fens. Somerville also has 8 small ones.
So what can you fit in an 8x12 plot? More than you might think. Here's a view of the whole thing with different crops labeled.

The key in a small space is to grow vertically. Cucumbers, pole beans, peas, and tomatoes can all be trained up a stake or cage.
Here are some of the tomatoes we're growing, which includes some standard (super 100 cherry) and some heirloom (Brandywine pink, Mr. Stripey red & yellow striped) and one I forgot to label- it will be a surprise!

They seem to be doing better than ever this year. Last fall I added peat moss, manure, and lime (to balance the pH of the peat) and I also grew winter rye which was turned into mulch in the spring. I've also been aggressively pruning and staking them which seems to work very well.
Other climbers are cucumbers, peas, and beans. Both of these were grown timed with other crops, the cucumber was planted as the peas were maturing and is now climbing their trellis, and the pole beans were planted over the edamame and are climbing as the soybeans are fruiting. (This was an accident, I thought the soybeans weren't growing so I planted some pole bean seeds I had then ended up with both.)

We usually do some kind of squash, either yellow (summer) or green (zucchini) because they're very prolific. They do take up a lot of space but the yield per square foot is very high- if you can avoid powdery mildew and slugs. The geraniums help repel slugs, and I also use iron phosphate (sold as Slug Magic or Sluggo) to control slugs and snails.

We're also trying some experimental crops this year. The 3 year old grew carrots at his school this year so he wanted to try some- they seem to be doing well, I wasn't sure if the soil was deep enough so we'll see what the roots look like when they're ready. Finally, we had a small crop of spinach in the spring then replaced it with cantaloupe. I've never done any melons or large things like pumpkins, so I don't know what will happen. I just read that you can train them to climb, but then need to put the melons in a net (like a piece of pantyhose) to support them. They need a ton of water and they also tend to attract rats and mice. That is not a good thing in a city garden, but they supposedly can be controlled with chicken wire (the larger rats, anyway.)

Finally, here's the first crop of the summer plants- 1 cucumber (they're the pickle sized variety, easier to eat the whole thing) and 3 zucchini (one of which ended up in the zucchini cake below.)

How does the cost of a garden compare to farmer's markets? It's hard to say- labor aside, I spend a lot on the garden. I haven't had much luck growing most things from seed- peas and carrots and beans are fine, but tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchini don't seem to work for me. So I buy those as seedlings, which is about $3 per tomato plant or per zucchini 6-pack (the above bush is all six grown together in a mound.) So plantings this year were about $25. We have bamboo stakes that have been used for many years, I just got some expensive permanent steel/plastic ones that will last a long time- say $10 per year on stakes, string, and cages. Then there's fertilizer, manure, peat moss, etc., which may be another $20 for the year. With the $5 garden fee, that's $60 total so far. So far we have 4 pickle cukes, 4 zucchini, only about 25 peas and a half pound of spinach (the early warm weather ruined the cold-loving crops, usually we have over 100 sugar snap peas.) At the end of the season we'll see how much we got for the $60 plus hours of planting, watering, and weeding.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mixed Squash on the Barbie

Is there anything better than fresh summer squash? I love it, and have loved getting a few new varieties to try from our CSA this year. I've been experimenting with quick, simple ways to prepare delicious squash side dishes, and I've found one that has become a favorite in our house. The best part is it can be cooked outside on these hot days!

As with many recipes, quantities here are footloose and fancy-free...adjust them to your own tastes or what you happen to have on hand. That said, here's how I made it:

Approx. 2 lbs of squash, I used patty pan and crookneck since that's what we'd gotten at our CSA
1 red onion
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme (I'd probably use more in the future, but that's all we had)
Zest from 1/2 a lemon

Dice squash into bite-sized pieces large enough not to fall through the holes of a grill basket. There's no need to peel them; just wash the skin well. Dice onion into similar sized pieces. In a large bowl, stir together all the ingredients. If it seems too dry, add some additional olive oil and vinegar.

Transfer squash to a grill basket. Grill over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until squash are fork-tender (but not mushy).

Alternately, you could cut large slices of big squash and grill directly on the grate. Or you could wrap all the veggies inside a double layer of grill foil and steam them directly on the grill. Or you could cook it in a pan on the stove. Or if you wanted to pay a lot of attention to it, you could even stick it under the broiler. You have a lot of options, but if you have a grill basket, that's probably the easiest.

Enjoy, and just keep repeating that you can never have too much squash!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vegetable Curry Dish and Zucchini Cake

Part 1: Eggplant, Green Beans, Pumpkin, and Basil in Coconut-Tomato Curry

At the farmers' market last week, we got some eggplant, beans, and greens. The sign had blown off the eggplant, so I wasn't sure what kind it was, but from looking at this site have decided it was Japanese eggplant, which conveniently was what the recipe I used had called for. It was long and skinny, but had a dark skin like in the picture.

I always have trouble finding good recipes for eggplant, so I turned to a new cookbook I have from Moosewood: The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen. There were many interesting recipes for eggplant, but most looked like side dishes. I decided to make a dish called Eggplant, Green Beans, Pumpkin, and Basil in Coconut-Tomato Curry. I found a copy of the recipe online here.

I can't say I followed this recipe too carefully. Since I was also planning on baking a cake from scratch, I decided to take some major shortcuts. They didn't have curry paste at Trader Joe's, and the thought of hauling the kids on another shopping trip was not appealing, so I got two bottles of Red Curry Sauce from Trader Joe's. I also thought the dish was lacking in protein, which seems oddly common in vegetarian recipes, so I added tofu to the recipe. Rather than seek out a kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin), I used frozen butternut squash cubes that I already had at home.

Since the recipe only called for one eggplant, and I had a few, I decided to double the recipe. I started by stir frying three pounds of tofu, and then let it simmer in the curry sauce for a while. Since I used store bought curry sauce, I just added in the vegetables from the recipe. I put in two cut-up eggplants, four cups of chopped beans, and four cups of squash from the freezer that I steamed first. After 10 minutes, the vegetables still didn't look fully cooked, so I let it go for another 10 minutes. Since it said the recipe reheats well, I did all this prep early in the afternoon, and then reheated at dinnertime and added in the basil. I also cooked up a pot of brown basmati rice from Trader Joe's. The dish looked like this:

For the kids, I left out some ingredients while cooking and gave them their own plates with separate foods, in addition to a bowl of the vegetables with curry.

The results were quite good. I thought I might have overcooked the vegetables, since they looked pretty wrinkly, but everything tasted great and you could really taste the freshness of the beans. I'm not a big fan of spicy food, so I thought the curry might be too intense, but it was a good amount of spice. Josh thought the curry distracted a bit from the flavor of the vegetables, though. The kids ate a lot of food from their plates, and the toddler surprised me by eating tofu and vegetables from his bowl of the curry dish. The tomatoes and squash pretty much disappeared into the sauce, but probably added to the flavor even if I didn't necessarily notice it. It was a fairly easy recipe to make, and if vegetables are chopped ahead of time could be done rather quickly.

I thought the dish would go well with Indian bread, like the frozen naan we often get at Trader Joe's, but Josh had already started making no-knead bread the night before, so we had that instead.

I would definitely make this dish again, and would like to try making the curry sauce from scratch and using an actual kabocha squash, since it sounds really good. If anyone knows where to find one locally in Cambridge, I'd love to hear about it. I think the tofu was a great addition and would include that again. The meal reheated great and we ate it again for dinner the next night.

Part 2: Zucchini Cake

It was my husband's birthday, and I decided to keep with the theme of cooking local for dessert as well. We have zucchini growing in our community garden plot, so I decided to make him a zucchini cake. I found a recipes in The Classic Zucchini Cookbook for chocolate zucchini cake which sounded great, but my husband is unfortunately not a big chocolate fan, so I decided to make this one instead. It's supposed to be a three-tiered cake, but that sounded huge and too complicated, so I did two-thirds of the recipe and made a two-tiered cake instead, which was still way too big for our family of four.

As you can see, my cake decorating skills leave much to be desired, and I certainly can't compete with the beautiful work done at Mark Joseph Cakes. (Pardon the shameless plug for relatives who recently started their own business.)

The cake was fairly simple to make, and my 3-year-old was thrilled to be involved in the process, though not surprisingly did not manage to keep the cake a secret when his dad got home from work. He ran right over to me and whispered, loudly, "Can I tell him about the cake? Can I tell Daddy the secret?". It took much longer to bake than the recipe called for. I baked it for 35 minutes and still looked underdone in the middle. Otherwise, the cake turned out fine. It was moist and sort of dense, and the cream cheese frosting was really good. I don't think I'd make it again, unless I had a cake to make and extra zucchini around. My real issue with cake that includes vegetables is that I think of it as healthy, which means it seems like appropriate breakfast food or snack food the next day. However, I doubt with a cup of oil and four total cups of sugar, that this was much healthier than a traditional cake.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tomato Pie

I was visiting family for the 4th of July last weekend, but determined to meet my goal of trying one new recipe a week. On the way home, we stopped at the farmers' market in Pound Ridge, NY, hoping to stock up on vegetables for the week. Unlike the farmers' markets around here, the one in Pound Ridge was lacking in vegetables. It was just a few stands with jams, plants, and other random stuff. It made me realize that the area where I grew up just doesn't have many farms around, and I'm grateful to live in an area where my kids can really get a sense that food comes from the ground, rather than the supermarket.

The only vegetables for sale were tomatoes, so I bought a few pounds of tomatoes to bring home to Cambridge with us. I looked up recipes to try when we arrived home, and decided on this one. It looked fairly easy to make, and the kids were very excited by the idea of having pie for dinner.

It definitely could be make with a store bought pie crust, but Josh is a big pie maker, and made me a crust easily. One nice thing about this recipe is that it was very easy for my 3-year-old to help. He laid all the tomatoes out in the pie, and scooped the cheese/mayo mixture on top. They didn't have green onions at Trader Joe's so we used chives from our front porch instead.

It took a little while longer to cook than I thought it would, but the pie crust started to brown so we decided it was ready. The 3-year-old, who had been very excited to eat pie for dinner, got very upset when he saw it since he thought pies must have crusts on top, so he refused to even try it. It was a little soupy when we served it, and didn't quite hold it's shape. My toddler likes to try eating everything with a fork, and he had trouble eating this on his own, but seemed to like what he managed to get to his mouth.

I thought it tasted OK, but wasn't too crazy about the tomato/cheddar combination. I've since seen similar recipes that use different cheeses, and I think it would be better with goat cheese or mozzarella (especially fresh mozzarella). We joked that with mozzarella it would be a pizza pie. I think we if end up with lots of tasty tomatoes, I'll give this concept another try, but with some changes in the ingredients. I think basil would have been a nice substitution for the green onions.

The pie held up well for leftovers, and we all got a second meal out of it at lunch the next day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tofu with swiss chard; Beets & greens

This is a recipe we've been making for a few years. The wife informs me that she made it up herself by adapting a recipe from the first CSA we joined several years ago. It's a good mix of flavors and very nutritious- along with the beet greens I made, apparently this meal includes two of the top three foods we should eat more of, although it seems I'm a bad person for cooking my beets. The other thing about beets is that they can result in interesting visual effects one to two days later, but since this is a family blog I won't post pictures of that.
First, preparing the beets for cooking- I like cooking beats with their greens because the leaves usually have a salty/bitter flavor that goes well with the sweet root. I cut the pointy part of the root off, then cut at the base of the stem and got rid of the tough stems while keeping the leaves:

Next, I thinly sliced the roots to make them easier to cook through. Cooking them until they are just slightly browned gives them a good crisp outside-soft inside, but again is probably evil health-wise:

Now for the main dish:
1 lb firm tofu
1 large onion
1 bunch swiss chard
1 large tomato
fresh herbs (basil, oregano)
olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 lb pasta (I did spaghetti)
Here's everything laid out for slicing- this is a double recipe, and my onions were small (2 red, one white) so I used 3. The tomatoes and chard were from the Kendall farmer's market and the herbs from the porch (see the previously-photographed plant, which is getting larger each week.) The chard leaves got the same treatment as the beet greens, removing the stems. In fact, I had some deja vu cutting up the chard since it was of the red variety; It's easy to tell the difference by taste, since chard is more cabbage-like as opposed to the aforementioned salty/bitter beet greens.

First, dice the garlic and saute in the olive oil. Then add the onion and cook until somewhat tender, but not too much since there's more cooking ahead. Next add the tofu, toss, and cook about 5 minutes so it firms up, especially if you're not using extra firm. Next come the greens- whenever we cook greens we always overestimate the amount we'll be able to fit into the pot. They always cook down, as you can see from the before and after shots below of both the main dish and the beet greens.

The key is to carefully invert everything so your already cooked stuff ends up on the top and the greens are under it exposed to heat. Cover and cook a few minutes until the greens are darker and more tender. Last add the tomato and chopped herbs, toss and cook about 2-3 more minutes. The tomato's juice along with the water from the greens will make something like a watery sauce. Serve over the pasta. For the kids we kept everything segregated, with uncooked tofu, which they prefer over tofu that "has stuff on it- wash it off!" Also, again with the non-local corn- some people don't like the starch overload of pasta and corn at the same meal, but having both increases the odds that the kids will eat something. Don't let the dog get the corn cob, though.

Pasta with baked tofu and pesto

I'm behind on my homework. This was made on June 22.
This is the basil plant on our porch.
We grow various herbs on our porch which means they're available fresh for cooking, but we can't grow too many plants because of space. The problem with growing one basil plant is that most recipes I've seen use just a couple leaves, while pesto requires the whole plant. (The exception is caprese salad.)

At farmer's markets, they tend to sell entire basil plants. We picked one up at Drumlin farm, so of course I went with pesto. I used the recipe from the NYT cookbook:
2 cups basil leaves
2 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/3 cup grated parmesian cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
pinch of salt
Mix all in a food processor.

To add more protein, we searched for a recipe mixing pesto with tofu in some form and found this one which involved baking the tofu with oil and vinegar.
The tofu came out tasting like not much, but mixed with the pesto was not bad.
We also had some ears of corn lying around (I think it was from Whole Foods where they had been on sale- not local though, from Georgia.) The final result looked like standard pesto and pasta with some tofu blocks on it:

We also had many pounds of fresh strawberries because we had gone to the Land's Sake Strawberry Festival the day before. I made strawberry shortcake, although I made the cake as one big sheet instead of biscuits as in this recipe. Unfortunately, by the time we remembered to take a picture, it looked like this:

Scalloped Kale and Potatoes

This recipe is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. I used a mix of two varieties of fresh kale purchased from Busa Farms.

1 lbs (or more) fresh kale
5 medium-large potatoes, thinly sliced
2 minced garlic cloves
1.5 cups grated cheese (the recipe calls for swiss, i used cheddar)
6 tbsps cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
salt and pepper to taste
1.25 cups milk

Wash the kale, remove from stalks, and cook in 1/2 cup of water for 7 minutes, until it is just wilted. Drain and cool, squeeze out water, and roughly chop. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees, and butter a large shallow baking dish. Layer 1/2 the potato slices, then all the kale, the garlic, 1/2 the cheese, butter, salt & pepper. Top with other 1/2 of potato, cheese, butter, and salt & pepper. Pour in the milk and bake 50 minutes uncovered.

Very simple, and really tasty. Next time, I might try adding some chopped tomatoes, or some nuts (pine nuts or almonds). If you do try either of those or another variation you like, let me know. :-)


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Strawberry Coffee Cake

We went strawberry picking last weekend at Connors Farm so I wanted to find a recipe that would use a lot of them, since we returned with several pints. Initially I was looking for strawberry breads, but came across a few versions of this strawberry coffee cake recipe on some other blogs and recipe sites and was immediately hooked. It has almost everything I like in a recipe -- it’s easy, yummy, and something my daughter can help me make. Of course, it’s loaded with fat and sugar and it’s pretty much impossible to have just one slice, but that’s just is proof that you can’t have everything.

The crumble topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick cold butter

Mix the flour and sugar together and put the stick of butter in the bowl. Mush the butter with your fingers into the flour and sugar until it’s separated into pea-sized bits. If your three-year-old is anything like mine this is the sort of task that he or she will desperately want to help with but not be remotely good at, so do it when they aren’t looking.
Refrigerate until needed.

The cake:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
3 cups of strawberries, trimmed of leaves and cut in half

Mix together all the dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk the wet ingredients together, then add to the dry, mixing with a spoon or hand mixer.
Pour the batter into a greased 13 by 9 pan. Lay the strawberry halves on top of the batter and cover them with the crumble topping. (This is a better job job for preschoolers who want to help)
Bake at 350 for 35 to 45 minutes. Just smelling it cook you’ll know you have something good on your hands.
When it’s finished you’ll find that the cut fruit will have melted into pools of liquid strawberry yumminess and that the cinnamon flavor is really highlighted -- my one regret is that I didn’t have really good cinnamon on hand, just some random supermarket stuff. That’s a mistake I’ll rectify the next time I make this because I think some high quality cinnamon is the one improvement my version of this cake needed.
We ate this coffee cake as a summer evening dessert since I didn’t get my act together to make it in the morning but it would also be excellent (maybe even better) for brunch. Eat it warm or cooled, your preference. I served it with whipped cream but that’s not even necessary.
The recipe is pretty simple and foolproof, and parts of it (like the topping) can be made in advance. I also think this cake would work well with other kinds of fruit -- I can’t wait to try it with raspberries later in the summer, and my husband thought peaches would be great in the cake as well. This recipe is a wonderful find if your family likes picking fresh fruit in the summer as much as mine does.

Monday, July 7, 2008

polenta with beet greens and bleu cheese

hi everyone,

i have enjoyed the posts so far and was inspired to post today since i
had a great lunch using greens from our farm share today.

i purchased a "roll" of polenta from whole foods and cut 3 slices for
myself (about 1/2 inch thick) and sauteed them in a little olive oil in
a nonstick pan for about 3-4 minutes on each side. until they are warmed
through (polenta in this kind of packing is already cooked). this
polenta is located in the dairy case, perhaps near the cheese & tofu.

last night when we were putting away our farm share, i decided just to
wash the beet greens and sautee them (in butter) and put them in the
fridge for use during the week. so the greens were already in the fridge
and i just microwaved them for 10 seconds to bring them to room temp. i
chopped the greens up a bit and put on top of the polenta pieces.

finally, i added bleu cheese. it was really nice combination - the
polenta has flavor, but it's not overpowering. beet greens have a nice
and not bitter taste. very earthy. and the bleu cheese i used was called
costello. it has a lot of flavor and totally made the dish.

my friend ceilidh and i made this once before a few weeks ago with
totally different things on top. the one i remember best was the sauteed
mushrooms and onions with shredded cheddar on top. and sauteed spinach
with a dollop of creme fraiche. you can use anything you have in the
fridge - pesto, feta cheese, avocado, etc.

i didn't feed it to the girls since they saw the mac and cheese in the
fridge and demanded it. but i think they would have liked a slice with
cheese, at the very least.

lastly, i have a method for washing greens from the farm that i like. i
clean the sink and fill it about halfway with cold water and put the
greens in. swish around and then leave them to sit for a few minutes.
the dirt will sink to the bottom and you can scoop up the greens and dry
and bag them, ready to use. last night i did two heads of lettuce
(breaking off the bottom so the leaves would separate). and then used
the same water for the beet greens. i didn't feel like drying and
bagging them, i felt like sauteeing them was just as much work and would
save some time later.

i am posting by email (there is a setting in blogger). hopefully the
picture comes through. if not, i'll add it later.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Curried Hakurei Turnips

First things first -- these turnips are adorable. I know that’s not saying much, considering what turnips usually look like, but these are really the Hello Kitty of turnips. Small, plump and bright white. I wish I’d taken a photo of them before I chopped them up, because then you, our readers, would understand better why I spontaneously bought a vegetable that I had a. never heard of before and b. had no idea how to cook.
When I decided to make them I had to Google “Japanese white turnips” since I had managed to forget the name between buying them and bringing them home. I learned a few things -- like the fact that these turnips are sometimes called Tokyo turnips, or kabu, and that they are are a popular hybrid due to their mellow flavor and hardiness in colder temperatures.
Most of the recipes that came up were variations on a theme. Onions, the turnips, and sometimes chopped apple, cooked with curry and served with lemon wedges. In some places the recipe was credited to the Vegetarian Times cookbook. A couple of the sources were CSA Web sites, so I guess these little guys are popular with CSAs. And it makes sense -- they’re a mild root vegetable available in June, something to add to the mix besides just salad greens.
So I decided to make a version of this curry recipe, despite some initial misgivings,. I used a red onion instead of the recommended white because the white onion I bought for this recipe was commandeered by my husband for a (sadly, ill-fated) corn risotto. I used a non-apple version because it seemed like overkill and a little too autumnal for a muggy day in June.
Even in mid-cooking I was already coming up with a ton of other ways I’d like to cook these turnips -- they seem pretty versatile. After eating the dish I’m even more sure they could be used in a variety of ways. Stir-fry, definitely. But also, perhaps, grilled with some other veggies on shish kabobs and served with some sort of curry-lemon sauce? Yum.
I will definitely buy these turnips again but probably for a main course, not the side dish I made, which was flavorful but not especially innovative for such a cute and unique vegetable.

One chopped onion
2 tablespoons oil
5 or 6 harkurei, peeled and sliced thin (all the recipes said to peel them but it seemed sort of pointless, since they were so tender throughout)
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
one lemon, cut into wedges

Sauté the onion in the oil for a few minutes until translucent. Add the turnips, the curry powder and salt and cook until everything is tender. Squeeze some lemon juice over the dish before serving and serve with extra lemon wedges.