Tuesday, August 30, 2011
In an attempt to catch up with my blogging, I thought I'd combine two meals today. More than likely you've seen these both pop up here before, but they're so good they're worth revisiting. The first is fresh sweet corn salad. This is a recipe I have scribbled down on a loose piece of paper, written while my sister verbally recounted it to me. It involves three ears of fresh sweet corn, boiled very briefly (1-2 minutes...you could probably omit this step if you knew your corn was picked within the last 12 hours), kernels cut off the cob. A tomato, chopped; half a red onion, diced; a handful of fresh parsley, chopped; 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar; a dash of olive oil; salt and pepper to taste. The recipe also calls for a dash of hot sauce, but I usually omit this. Stir everything together and you have yourself a beautiful and bright bowl of summer. Actually you have two bowls, or four if it's used as a side. Double up for larger groups.
Another bowl full of summer is my favorite, gazpacho. I've blogged about this ad nauseum before, so check it out here if you're interested. It's so unbelievably delicious, and it always makes me think of the very first time I made gazpacho, for a high school Spanish class project. Back then, the idea of a cold soup seemed so strange and exotic. I fell in love at first bite and have never looked back.
Mmmm...enjoy these fleeting days of summer, my friends!
Monday, August 29, 2011
Check out that pork shoulder!
August in Minnesota means it's Fair time. Now, most people opt to go to the Minnesota State Fair with it's fancy foods on sticks, princesses carved out of butter, and massive, massive crowds. I'm not knocking it, but I do prefer the simple charm of my home town fair. I grew up in Austin, Minnesota which is the county seat of Mower County. That means once a year, the fair comes to town. I haven't been in years, but this year Nick and I planned a visit home to see my parents that happened to fall over fair weekend. We went and checked it out. Admission was free! How do you beat that?
Highlights included Reggie, Minnesota's largest boar, weighing in at 1540 pounds. I don't think Reggie does much standing, and seems to quite enjoy his recumbent position. The people are there for scale.
We also shared a bag of Tom Thumb mini donuts, one of my childhood favorites. No one was in line, I just walked right up to the window, paid $4, and walked away with a bag full of hot, donut goodness. I love small towns.
We walked through all the livestock barns (the poultry was the best by far, who knew people were raising such beautiful and diverse birds in that little corner of Southern Minnesota? Sadly, no pictures...I didn't want to startle the already skittish fowl). I thoroughly enjoyed busting out my dairy cattle judging knowledge while in the cattle barn (gleaned while working the 'night line' at the World Dairy Expo in Madison during my undergrad days. Yes, it's a real thing.). We also checked out the prize winning vegetables, crafts, and flowers. I was particularly fond of the colors of the produce in the display above.
Such an enjoyable, nostalgic outing!
Oh wow, sorry for the long absence Dinner Clubbers! August has been hectic...the good kind of hectic where you try and squeeze everything into a waning summer. I feel terrible that this post is so delinquent. Let's just dive right in, shall we? Last Thursday I picked up our ninth box of veggies. It was HEAVY. I'm guessing it was over 30 pounds, and could have easily been 40, of fresh, green goodness. The biggest contributor to that weight was a beautiful, ripe and sweet watermelon, pictured in the top left corner. Right after taking these pictures I cut it open to find bright, cool, yellow flesh that was almost devoid of seeds. It was so sweet and juicy that I think I ate nearly half of it while cutting it up to put in the fridge. Moving on down the line, we also received green and yellow beans; vitamin greens; some charming goose-necked yellow summer squash; edamame; another melon, this one much smaller; tomatoes; onions; peppers; and cucumbers. Not pictured, but also a big contributor to building up my biceps carrying this box to the car, were six ears of sweet corn; potatoes; and Thai basil (the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back?).
Now, lest you be thinking, '30 pounds! What's this wuss complaining about?,' I should mention that I also had 25 pounds of Roma tomatoes to pick up, as I purchased one of the produce plus options offered by our amazing CSA. Yeah, and I made one trip, one, with nearly 60 pounds of awkward produce, to my car parked two blocks away. I almost didn't make it. It wasn't my finest moment, but all's well that ends well.
And look, look what I did with those tomatoes!
It's my first tomato canning experience. Even though I've wanted to put up tomatoes for the last three summers, I've never made the time until now. Twenty-five pounds of Romas gave me 12 quarts of tomatoes, with about five tomatoes left over. This should hold us through the entire Minnesota winter. I've had a very self-satisfied feeling, bordering on smugness, for the past several days now.
A huge thank you, a bit delayed but no less sincere, to all the good folks at Harmony Valley Farm! You've truly outdone yourselves this week.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
This summer has been so brutal that I am starting to get anxious for fall and for cooler weather. Thankfully we seem to have exited the 100s and are now only hitting highs in the 90s, but the famous DC humidity remains brutally swampy. I don't fault the politicians one bit for getting the heck out of this place in August! I can't even imagine what it must have been like in the days before air conditioning...
Since we do live in 2011 and have central air, I'm able to pretend it isn't as bad as it is just by staying inside! I'm craving fall cooking season... looking forward to warming up the house with baked bread, roasts, and stews. So much so that I decided not to wait any longer. Richie's reminder that I needed to pick up sandwich bread at the grocery store inspired the inner homemaker in me to see if I could make a passable home made loaf. I used the very first recipe in The Bread Bible for "Mountain white bread." The recipe makes two sandwich loafs or two round loafs. Since I only have one loaf pan, I made one of each!
I thought it turned out deliciously and look forward to toast and sandwiches made from it all week. Richie said it was good too, but not for sandwiches. He'd prefer to stick with Wonder Bread. Oh well! You can't please them all of the time! Just throwing a loaf of Wonder Bread in my cart is a heckuva lot easier than making my own bread (and probably not much more expensive), so that just means I'll save bread baking for special treats for myself.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Today's bag was really heavy! The note from the farm said that the harsh weather this summer (very hot, not much rain) has been tough on the crops, but that they are pleased with the harvest so far. Clockwise from lower left: watermelon, basil, four different kinds of tomatoes, okra, peaches, sweet corn, and yukon gold potatoes.
I finished my three week allergy elimination trial last week and am now adding back in the suspect foods one by one. So far, I am unconvinced. The symptoms got somewhat but not completely better while I was avoiding all of them, which makes me suspect that it has nothing to do with food but is just coincidence. I'm seeking a second opinion and have an appointment scheduled next month. In the mean time, I'm continuing on the plan and keeping track of what happens. This past week I started eating potatoes again and am going to start corn this weekend. It will be at least another week before I start tomatoes, so I offered these beauties to a neighbor who I know will appreciate them.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
This meal is a crowd pleaser at our house, but I usually reserve it for chilly winter days when you crave some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food, but a tremendous deal on white mushrooms at the grocery store last week inspired me to make it on this August day.
I have played with this recipe quite a bit, using several sources as the base, and now feel like I can call this my own version. I uploaded it to Food52 for all to see and look forward to eventually submitting it for a contest when I see one that is right (your best retro meals, perhaps?).
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
I've always said that I could eat pizza every day and not get bored. Well, that's not quite true, as after this I think I'm ready to be done with pizza for awhile. This does not reflect on the recipe in any way. We've just been having our fair share of pizza around here, and I'm ready for something different. This is another recipe from that handy-dandy back section of Sept 2011's Food & Wine magazine. I told you I had a bunch dog-eared.
Nick and I had some potatoes from the CSA to use up, along with feta and a small jar of olives. I have to say that I didn't really use the recipe other than for topping inspiration. When I make pizza at home I just kind of go on auto pilot, which in this case almost caused a big problem. I had to pull off the potato slices from the first pizza I had made up on the peel in order to cook them first. This step is clearly laid out in the recipe, by the way. I just wasn't paying attention. I ended up sauteing the potatoes in some olive oil for a couple minutes per side rather than baking them, since I had my broiler on, warming up to accommodate for the skillet pizza method we like to use. This worked out fine, but was a lot of extra work for not a lot of flavor. All in all, I guess I'm not much of a potato pizza fan.
Monday, August 15, 2011
I have a friend* that, like me, enjoys thrifting. She, of course, finds amazing things like a set of four fiberglass shell Eames chairs in aqua blue for $100 and mint condition mid-century modern credenzas in beautiful walnut. I, on the other hand, find things like this:
A $1.69 popsicle mold set.
Oh well, when life gives you vintage kitchen ware, you should make nectarine-buttermilk pops. Or something like that. This thrifty find is actually quite fortuitous, as Sept 2011's Food & Wine has a delicious recipe for said pops. While Nick and I do own another popsicle mold set and could have made these in it, I so prefer the style of this mold compared to the rocket ship shape of the other, for this particular recipe anyway.
The pops turned out really well and they are so sweet and delicious. I especially like the buttermilk layer. I did make some minor changes to the recipe, most notably using my homemade ginger syrup in place of the ginger liqueur called for in the recipe. After this one small modification, I thought I was ready to go, but then remembered that alcohol changes the freezing point of liquids and thought I'd better add a bit to make sure these turned out right (hooray for chemistry!). I ended up adding vodka in the amounts specified for the ginger liqueur. I think it was a good decision, as these pops, while frozen solid, still have a nice slushy consistency to them. In fact, the nectarine bit reminds me ever so much of the peach brandy slush my Grandma used to make (and that my Grandpa would make sure our little 16 year old selves had glasses full of) at the holidays. Ahh, nostalgia. That's what thrifting's all about, right?
* You know who you are ;) Hope you don't mind the shout out!
Friday, August 12, 2011
The September 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine arrived at our doorstep this week and it has a great spread on the 'Art of Summer Cooking.' Many of the recipes sound interesting and delicious, and use produce that is at it's peak right now. The recipes are all nicely organized in the back of the magazine to be contained wholly on one page with picture included, which is a layout I would like to see more of in monthly food publications as it's so much more user friendly than having to flip back and forth when one half the recipe is on page 57 and the other is continued on page 163. I have a few of the recipes dogeared, but the first one Nick and I tried was 'Grilled Squash Ribbons and Prosciutto with Mint Dressing.' It was terrific and quite flavorful.
I used a grill pan rather than outdoor grill, as these are pretty delicate. Our mandoline got to see some action in order to get the slices of summer squash as thin as possible. The lime and mint dressing really makes the dish pop, and I got to use homegrown mint and garlic. No homegrown zucchini though. I think some kind of insect has bored into my zucchini stems and perhaps ruined them completely. That is a typical result for my gardening attempts, so I was pleased as punch that my garlic made it.
Three whole heads of garlic survived my decidedly amateur attempt at cultivation. That's a 100% success rate as I planted three cloves in the ground last fall. They triumphed over a miserably cold and wet spring, a dreadfully hot and humid summer, and several attempts to be eaten by backyard rabbits. I did learn after speaking with a very helpful woman at a farmers' market this summer, that I should have cut off the scapes to allow more energy to go into producing the bulb. Oh well, now I know what to do next year. Since this little experiment worked out so well I am planning on planting a lot more garlic this fall.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Our first tomatoes and melons are here! I'm quite excited as it seems like tomatoes this year have been a long time coming. That's not all, though. We got quite an assortment in our box this week. Starting in the top left we have onions; celery; sweet corn; one of the melons...I think this one is a 'mini musketeer,' but I guess I won't know until we cut into it; little sungold tomatoes; Sweet Sarah cantaloupe; large tomatoes, including a golden slicing tomato and perhaps some Japanese Pink or Black Velvet varieties; Italian garlic; little yellow cucumbers; summer squash; gold potatoes; and raspberries.
Not pictured are the Thai basil and arugula.
Thank you, as always, to the hard workers at Harmony Valley Farm, and at the delivery sites, who make all of this bounty possible.
Nick and I made our last visit to Madison for the summer this past weekend. I know, I'm choked up about it too. It's a good thing that we have our Madison Dinner Club reunion to look forward to in October or I'd be in a deep state of depression. Among the many pleasantly unexpected things that happened over the weekend, including bumping into fellow Madison Dinner Club alumni Matt and Nikki at Memorial Union (I squealed in delight!), we happened to luck out and find local Door County cherries at the Dane County Farmers' Market. Vendors were selling both the sweet and tart varieties and so I loaded up on a pint of each. The sweet cherries were consumed while sitting in a lovely patch of shade on the Capitol Square, watching our fellow market goers pass by, and revelling in summer time in Madison. The tart cherries travelled home with us and on Monday I made up a batch of Maraschino cherries for use in future Old Fashioneds.
Except, I didn't actually use Maraschino liqueur. I substituted amaretto, which we've had around for ages (I only bought it because I loved the colorful tin that it came in). Despite my love of all things almond, I am not a big amaretto drinker, and neither, it turns out, is Nick. I toyed around with using brandy, but ultimately the amaretto won out because I really wanted to find a use for it.
I haven't yet tried these, as they are still curing in our refrigerator, but I believe Old Fashioneds are in order for the weekend, so I'll have a report for you all soon.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
You forgot about the bacon jam, didn't you Dinner Clubbers? Well, Nick and I didn't, and we've been looking for an excuse to use some. Since I had a whole bunch of pizza dough made up and in the freezer from our last pizza night, this was a really quick meal. Truth be told, we almost ordered out this particular night (one of our bad habits), but since ordering delivery involves either Chinese, which was nixed because we'd had it not too long ago, or pizza, I decided I could actually make our second option and it would be ready faster than it would get to our doorstep anyway. Then I remembered the bacon jam and that was all it took for me to hop up off the couch and get to work. So, it seems to be pizza week here at Madison Dinner Club and here's another skillet pizza, this time with saute greens, basil, and bacon jam. It was delicious.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Inspired by Nick and Jess's basil, onion, and feta pizza, I decided to try my hand at pizza making this week. I had several small eggplants of miscellaneous varieties hanging out in the refrigerator that I wasn't sure what to do with and this seemed like a good way to turn them into something delicious. I consulted several recipes on the web and ended up mostly following this one, with a few variations.
I do have a pizza stone but don't have a peel and am totally intimidated by the whole transferring to the stone bit, so I just made my pizza on a cookie sheet and just put the pan on top of the stone. I figure it still has the intended effect of transferring heat up so the crust gets a nice crisp. Worked like a charm.
I also cut back the amount of red pepper flakes to maybe 1/4 teaspoon and would probably eliminate them altogether if I were to make this again. I didn't succeed in spreading them out evenly so a couple bites had a very heavy dose of pepper, which wasn't pleasant at all.
Otherwise, my first at-home pizza was a success! And it was a great way to dispatch with a veggie that isn't one of my favorites.
As promised, here is our second meal utilizing that flank steak I wrote about yesterday. We had some white rice in our fridge, leftover from a recent Chinese food delivery (I know, sometimes we're naughty, but sesame chicken is sooo good). I mixed the rice with salsa and lime juice from a sad and shrivelled partial lime that I scrounged up, it's better half having been used previously as garnish for gin and tonics, and reheated the mixture in the microwave. There you have it Dinner Clubbers, 'cheaters' Mexican rice,' almost as good as the real thing and ready in a fraction of the time. I also shredded some sharp cheddar and some Napa cabbage, cut up an avocado, and grilled some onions. All of this got piled onto flour tortillas with the reheated flank steak. The tortillas were, in turn, wrapped up and everything ended up happily in our bellies. Even though this meal involved leftovers almost exclusively, it was still my favorite of the two flank steak meals. I love a burrito!
Monday, August 08, 2011
For once, Richie is traveling for work this week while I'm home alone... usually it is the reverse! That means that you will see me preparing dishes with ingredients that I love, but my picky eater love does not! Tonight that is shrimp.
I've been wanting to try to make risotto for a while. I don't know a lot about it really, except that people are always getting sent home from Top Chef for making a bad risotto. Just the other night one of the contestants on the Next Food Network Star (yes, I am a food-related-reality-TV junkie!) was embarrassed by having none other than Wolfgang Puck take her to task for making a poor risotto and gave her an on the spot lesson.
I'm not sure what Chef Puck would have thought of my risotto, but my inexperienced palate thought it was tasty. I kept it very simple, basically following the recipe in The New Best Recipe book, but cut the portion in half since I was the only one eating it tonight. The ingredients were chicken broth, butter, onions, rice, white wine, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. I can see how people would screw it up as it requires lots of attention. Just one second seemed to elapse between it having plenty of liquid and being boiled dry.
To complete my meal, I pan seared some shrimp with salt and pepper, and threw in a few steamed green beans from the CSA for color and crunch. Simple, delicious!
Even though I cut the recipe in half, I still have some leftover. Considering experimenting with making arancini... Stay tuned!
Nick and I hardly ever prepare beef at home, and when we do it's almost always hamburgers. For a special treat, I picked up a 100% grass-fed flank steak at the co-op last week. I choose a small one, but we still got two meals out of it. The first you see above. To prepare the steak, I rubbed it with salt and pepper and threw it on a hot cast-iron grill pan. I could have done it on an actual grill, but was lazy and decided that I didn't want to pull the whole thing out for one little flank steak. I cooked, flipping once, until the meat was medium rare (that was a lucky guess, but it turned out perfectly). While the steak was 'resting,' I made up a little salad dressing using tamari, lemon juice (only because we were fresh out of limes), and a little stir-fry oil, which is a combination of toasted sesame, peanut, and soy oils infused with green onion, ginger and garlic. This I tossed over some of our saute greens. I thinly sliced the steak, placed it on the bed of greens and threw some chopped cucumber on top to finish our salad bowls. I didn't come up with all this by myself, but loosely followed the preparation instructions for a similar salad recipe in How to Cook Everything. It turned out quite well, although I wish we would have had limes. I'll post our second flank steak meal tomorrow.
Saturday, August 06, 2011
The apple tree in the back yard is not nearly as prolific as the peach or the pear tree (though no less tasty). This year we have harvested two apples so far, with two more still to come! I decided to use the first two in dinner tonight and made a apple and shallot reduction to put on some broiled pork chops. No recipe, just one big shallot cut into slivers and sauteed for about 5-6 minutes with butter, then I added the two apples, peeled and sliced, along with some water (would have done broth, but don't have any on hand that is allergy-free) and about a quarter cup of brandy. Cooked for another 5-6 minutes or so and then set aside until the pork chops were cooked.
On the side we had some tossed salad with cucumbers from our patio garden and a fresh herb and lemon vinaigrette. I also cooked up some quinoa, cooked with cinnamon sticks and dried cranberries. The leftover quinoa will make delicious breakfast this coming week.
It was a pretty good meal... the pork and apples flavor is a classic combination, though I thought these apples could have used some acid... perhaps a dash of apple cider vinegar or a squeeze of lemon.
Friday, August 05, 2011
This week was a little blip in the CSA schedule where we had back-to-back deliveries, probably because the summer produce is coming in at a fast and furious rate. This week's delivery included the following: sugar pears, cucumbers, sungold tomatoes, heirloom and early girl tomatoes, several different colors of eggplant, an ambrosia melon, snap beans, and peaches. No more eggs for a while... apparently chickens are like the rest of us and get rather lazy when the hot weather hits!
I'm still not eating tomatoes and our neighbors who took last week's share are out of town, so I'm not sure what I'll do with these. I wish modern technology had perfected e-food delivery and I could just shoot them across the internet to share with my fellow dinner clubbers!
We have just two more shares in the summer subscription and I have decided that I will not sign up for the fall subscription. One reason is that the delivery is going to be far less convenient as my yoga studio is not participating as a pick up location, but the main reason is that the experiment just didn't work very well for us. On top of the potential food allergies, I was recently diagnosed with a kidney stone and may be restricted on what I can eat even further. I think I'll be better off just making a point of buying what I can eat from the farmer's markets on a week-by-week basis. This would bum me out more, but I also haven't been terribly impressed with the freshness or quality of many of the CSA items. The peaches in this week's share, for example, aren't nearly as flavorful as the ones we grew in our back yard. I'm still glad to have done the experiment though and think that perhaps, if we are living somewhere else and life has settled down for us again, I will try a CSA again.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Friday night was pizza night here at Chez Jess and Nick. Since I had grabbed some fresh basil out of the choice box at our CSA delivery site, I thought I would put it to good use. I made up a batch of pizza dough and we decided to use onions and feta in addition to the basil to top our pie. It was simple but quite tasty. We used our favorite cast iron skillet method, which involves heating an empty cast iron skillet on the stove for 10 minutes, sliding the pizza in it, and then popping the whole thing under the broiler for about 2 minutes. It turns out great every time.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Remember those radish seed pods Nick and I received in CSA delivery #6? After adding a few of them fresh to salads and enjoying their spicy crunch, I decided to pickle the rest. I found a recipe for pickled peppers in August 2011's Bon Appetit and simply substituted the radish seed pods for the peppers. They turned out great and were delicious on some all-grass-fed-beef franks that we grilled awhile back. These are just refrigerator pickles and we'll need to eat them within one month (similar to when we pickle ramps in the spring), but it's still nice to preserve things to last a bit longer.
Monday, August 01, 2011
Last Thursday I made a little day trip just north of the Twin Cities to pick some blueberries. My sister had been sending me taunting pictures of the 25 pounds she had picked the weekend before out in Oregon. I spend two hours in unpleasant heat and humidity and got just 1/5th of that amount. Five pounds, however, was enough for me to make a half batch of blueberry jam, freeze enough for two future pies, and to keep a little jar of fresh berries out for Nick and I to eat at our leisure over the weekend.
Blueberry and Strawberry-Rose Jam
In addition to the quick batch of blueberry that I made up on Thursday, I also made some strawberry jam, using berries that I had frozen when my stove was on the fritz, on Monday. I know you're not supposed to mess around with jam recipes because they are scientifically formulated and all, but I couldn't help myself from adding a teaspoon of rose flower water in with the strawberries because that sounded like a great flavor combination. The jam did indeed set, so the rose flower water did not interfere with the chemistry, but I haven't opened any yet, so I don't know how it will taste. I'll get back to you.
Richie bought a 4-pound case of strawberries at Costco, so I felt compelled to turn some of them into a baked treat. I didn't feel like strawberry shortcake or a typical strawberry pie - plus these strawberries weren't the most flavorful so I thought they would probably come out better in a baked application that added lots of sugar and butter! That led me to the internet where I found yet another Martha Stewart recipe, this one for a simple strawberry cake made in a pie pan.
This is a nice recipe to hold onto for strawberry season when you are looking for one more way to use those delicious berries.
I failed to take a picture of the 6th bag of delicious produce, in part because I was pressed for time but also because I was totally bummed that I couldn't eat some of the yummiest looking stuff in it, due to my possible food allergies. Just 12 more days (no, I'm not counting!) on the total elimination diet and then I can start adding back in the potential offenders and see what happens. So far, the jury is out. I seem to have had fewer incidences of swelling and the ones I have had have gone away more quickly, though that could be because I'm being more agressive about treating them immediately with ice and rest when possible. Anyway, I'm keeping an open mind!
The things I couldn't eat this week were: three kinds of tomatoes (which I shared with the appreciative neighbors), sugar dot sweet corn (Richie ate one ear, the rest I cut off the cob and froze), and a couple kinds of summer squash (I'm saving these for the add-in phase of the elimination diet).
We also got okra, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, an Italian zebra eggplant, and some scary looking black radishes. Our own patio garden is also producing cucumbers at a fast and furious rate. I foresee more refrigerator pickles and cucumber drinks in our future!
I'm not a huge fan of okra and I struggled to find an application for it that didn't use tomatoes or corn. I eventually settled on an okra fritter recipe from Martha Stewart.
These were OK, but I'm still not an okra fan.