Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 8

I walked away from the Hudson Guild on Tuesday with two oversized shopping bags full of vegetables and fruit. During week 8, members of the Chelsea CSA picked up okra (a new experiment for the Kavakos family), green and lilac peppers, dill, lettuce (on the smallish side as lettuce doesn't produce well in the heat- and this summer has been a scorcher), scallions, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, boothby blonde cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes (more to come), cherry tomatoes, Shiro plums (tiny, but tasty), yellow peaches and white nectarines.

Shiro plums, yellow peaches and white nectarines

Tired of the sautés I've been making with the previous weeks' vegetables, I settled on roasted vegetable and tofu empanadas- made with a whole wheat thyme dough (utilizing the thyme from week 7). I started by roasting okra, peppers, cabbage, scallions, summer squash, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. I combined the roasted vegetables with diced extra firm tofu, assembled the mixture on top of readied whole wheat thyme empanada dough (recipe below), and sealed each empanada with the narrow tines of a fork. I finished by brushing the empanadas with egg wash and baking them for approximately 25 minutes in a convection oven set at 350 degrees. As an accompaniment- fried okra with sesame seeds. And for dessert- peach ice cream, homemade salted pecan brittle and a sugar cone.

Whole Wheat Thyme Empanada Dough
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup ice water
1. Combine flours with thyme leaves, baking powder, and salt.
2. In the bowl of a food processor with the chopping blade attached, pulse the flour mixture while adding the butter. Continue to pulse until the mixture is crumbly.
3. Add ice water and continue to pulse until dough is just combined, being careful not to over-mix.
4. Remove the dough and knead on a floured surface to finish- approximately 4-5 times.
5. Roll out dough on a floured surface. Use a round cookie cutter to cut circles for empanadas.

Diced roasted vegetables- seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and red pepper flakes

I added small cubes of extra firm tofu to the vegetable mixture before piling it onto the whole wheat thyme empanada dough

The finished empanadas- with a glossy sheen from the egg wash

To go alongside the empanadas- fried okra with sesame seeds

Salted pecan brittle cooling on a Silpat

The vanilla bean peach ice cream base- recipe from David Lebovitz. I substituted real vanilla bean for the vanilla extract David's recipe calls for

The finished vanilla bean peach ice cream with salted pecan brittle and a sugar cone. The ice cream was not as frozen as I would have liked- but I thought it was a good first effort...with many more to follow

Saturday, July 24, 2010

B³ Beach Burrito

I spent the weekend at the beach with seven friends- each with different tastes and eating habits. While everyone seemed content eating hot dogs and cheeseburgers (the simplest food for such a large group of people), I fought against it. As a result, I was tasked with creating a healthier alternative that would be relatively easy to prepare.

Out of this was born the "B³ Beach Burrito". The three b's- brie, basil, and balsamic (a fig flavored balsamic from Carter & Cavero in the Limelight Marketplace). We worked as an assembly line (I discovered you can ask people to do quite a bit more than they would normally be willing to do if they're hungry enough), layering brie on flour tortillas, topping the brie with several slices of grilled chicken (we used chicken breasts seasoned with salt and pepper), fresh peaches, and torn basil leaves. We drizzled the burritos with fig balsamic and a sprinkling of salt and pepper before wrapping them in tin foil and placing the package on the grill for a few minutes. The B³ Beach Burrito is a little more work than the average hot dog or cheeseburger- but it is also more flavorful and certainly healthier.

The three b's- brie, basil and balsamic (in this case- fig)

We sliced up fresh peaches from my weekly farm share

The assembled ingredients

A paper plate (a necessity for large groups) holds homemade guacamole, tortilla chips and the finished B³ Beach Burrito

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 7

In addition to several newcomers like boothby blonde cucumbers (whitish-yellow in color with a sweet taste and crisp skin), slicing cucumbers, lilac peppers (they trade their purple hue for a dull brown when cooked), fennel, red scallions and yellow cherry tomatoes, week 7's vegetable share delivered repeats of summer squash, green beans, eggplant and thyme. The fruit share yielded more white peaches as well as sugar plums and nectarines.

White peaches and nectarines in the forefront with sugar plums in the background

With the perfect components for a vegetable sauté before me (and my creativity waning) I cut the eggplant in half, hollowed it out and cubed its interior meat. I then sliced a portion of the red scallions, diced the lilac peppers, fennel, summer squash, and green beans, and sprinkled the mixture with fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. I began to sauté the vegetables with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, and once finished, I allowed them to cool as I prepared toasted Israeli couscous. I combined the vegetable sauté with the couscous, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice, scooped the mixture into the hollowed out eggplant, wrapped the vegetable couscous eggplant "boat" in tin foil and baked it at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. Before serving I added a quick drizzle of Meyer lemon olive oil.

The crowded vegetable sauté

The vegetable couscous eggplant boats- before baking

As an accompaniment, I assembled a light salad using the boothby blonde cucumbers (I had trouble not eating the entire lot as I was cutting them up- this was my first encounter with this particular variety of cucumber and it is delicious), yellow cherry tomatoes and the fennel I received from this week's vegetable share. I cut a disc of seedless watermelon, topped it with thinly sliced boothby blonde cucumbers, yellow cherry tomatoes, and cubed feta cheese. I scattered strips of fennel around the plate with green fennel fronds for a contrast of color. To finish the salad- Meyer lemon olive oil (as you can tell- one of my favorite ingredients because it adds a great boost of fresh flavor to any dish). It tasted fantastic.

The assembled watermelon salad

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Squash Crostini

Summer squash has been a mainstay in my apartment over the past several weeks (thank you Chelsea CSA). I love the sweet taste and bright colors of the vegetable. Since its first appearance in my weekly farm share, I typically sauté it with a group of vegetables- a quick, easy dinner fix. This week, I decided to make an appetizer that would showcase the beauty of the summer squash and allow it to stand on its own- the simple instructions for Summer Squash Crostini are below.

Summer Squash Crostini
1 summer squash
15 oz container of ricotta
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 medium lemon
1 loaf crusty bread
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing bread
Fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Salt and pepper
1. Using a vegetable peeler or mandoline, slice summer squash lengthwise- creating several thin strips. Toss strips together with the zest and juice from 1 lemon, salt and pepper, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the mixture to marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
2. Combine ricotta with agave nectar and reserve.
3. Cut several slices of bread, approximately 1/2 inch thick, brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill until crispy.
4. Slather ricotta mixture on each piece of grilled bread, top with several slices of summer squash, torn basil leaves, and finish with a dash of salt and pepper.

The recipe requires very few ingredients

Slice the strips as long or as short as you'd like, but they should be paper thin

The summer squash takes on a fresh taste from the lemon juice and zest

Grill both sides of the bread until crisp, with minimal char

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 6

Each week I look forward to Tuesday afternoon- when I discover the vegetables and fruits the Kavakos Family has delivered to members of the Chelsea CSA. Week 6's vegetable delivery proved to be the best yet- with two varieties of eggplant (the long, thin Orient Express, and the short, stubby Nadia Italian), green beans, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, raddichio, summer leeks, summer squash, and summer savory. The fruit share yielded a basket of yellow and white peaches (I prefer yellow) and a basket of gooseberries (I would liken the taste to a tart grape).

The second fruit delivery- a large basket of white and yellow peaches, and a smaller basket of gooseberries

I like to attempt recipes that will use as much of the share as I can- and I thought the best way to use week 6's produce was to make a pasta sauce incorporating summer savory, leeks, eggplant and summer squash. For dessert- I made a white peach just a tad sweeter by grilling it with some brown sugar and serving it with yogurt, honey and toasted nuts. The recipe for Eggplant and Summer Squash Tomato Sauce and instructions for assembling the sweet dessert are below.

Eggplant and Summer Squash Tomato Sauce (yield, 1 3/4 cups)
1 lb plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp summer savory leaves
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 tsp pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 cup leeks, thinly sliced
1/2 cup summer squash, small dice
1/2 cup eggplant, small dice
water, as necessary
1. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine first seven ingredients (tomatoes through pepper) in a roasting pan and toss with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Roast in oven for approximately 45 minutes then purée with an immersion blender until smooth and fully blended.
3. While the tomato mixture is roasting, sauté leeks, summer squash, eggplant and a dash of salt and pepper in 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until tender (about 8-10 minutes). Add water as necessary if the vegetables begin to burn.
4. When the tomato mixture is fully puréed and the sautéed vegetables are tender, add the tomato mixture to the sauté pan and simmer until the sauce is warm. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Use the sauce with your favorite pasta and top with shaved parmesan cheese.

For a demonstration on properly cleaning leeks, click here

The tomato mixture- after roasting for approximately 45 minutes

The leek, summer squash and eggplant sauté

The puréed tomato mixture combined with the sautéed vegetables

The finished sauce over penne with shaved parmesan cheese

To make this light dessert- cut a peach in half and remove its pit. Brush both halves with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a generous amount of brown sugar. Grill for approximately 5-6 minutes. Serve with Greek yogurt and top with toasted pecans and a drizzle of honey

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sneaking Snacks

"Wow that's really loud," he said with a slight laugh as I reached for yet another pretzel. My husband and I had been snacking on Snyder's Of Hanover's honey whole wheat pretzel sticks, a favorite of mine, when we had to turn up the volume on the television- an attempt to drown out the sounds reverberating from the noisy bag. Clearly, Snyder's Of Hanover had changed it's packaging- a decision I didn't think twice about, until I came across an article by Jacqueline Doherty in this week's Barron's.

Snyder's Of Hanover, as well as the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo, began using compostable packaging for several of its products. The renewable materials used to produce the new, much louder, bags are derived from plants- specifically corn, and the energy expended to create the bags is half that used for traditional petroleum based plastic food packaging.

What do the new bags mean for these two companies? Less waste (just this year Snyder's Of Hanover has succeeding in reducing its packaging waste by 18.2%) and two thumbs up from environmental activists (the new packaging will decompose in a compost bin after approximately 14 weeks). And what do the new bags mean for an avid snacker like myself? With the increasing demand for plant based packaging and the inevitable expansion to other environmentally conscious companies- gone are the days of noiselessly sneaking snacks.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 5

As a contributor to the Chelsea CSA's vegetable and fruit share program, my week 5 takeaway was plentiful. In addition to Chinese cabbage, escarole, Bright Lights swiss chard, summer squash, oregano, and newcomers red ace beets and rat tail radishes (not the most appealing name, but very tasty), the highly anticipated first fruit share was distributed. The Kavakos family delivered baskets of plump blueberries, juicy sweet cherries and tart red currants.

The first fruit distribution- a basket each of blueberries, cherries and red currants

While I absentmindedly popped cherries and blueberries in my mouth, I went about preparing a meal inspired by this week's bounty. I roasted beets and sautéed beet greens along with scallions and Bright Lights swiss chard. I added sweet corn kernels and salty feta to make a colorful salad (its colors were a bit more diverse until the feta took on a pinkish-red hue from the beets). To accompany the salad I made an herbed flatbread with oregano and scallions. While my flatbread technique could benefit from a little refining (I thought it was doughy, my husband thought it was delicious), the salad was something that I would happily consume over and over again. The recipes are below.

Beet and Sweet Corn Salad (yield, 2 1/2 cups)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup beet greens
1/2 cup swiss chard
2 tbsp scallions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup beets
3/4 cup sweet corn kernels
1/2 cup feta, small dice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut beets in half and mix in a roasting dish with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Cover with aluminum foil and roast for approximately 45 minutes or until fork tender. Allow to cool, peel, and cut into small dice.
3. Cut beet greens and swiss chard into small pieces. Sauté beet greens, swiss chard and scallions with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper for approximately 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
4. Combine roasted beets with sautéed greens, sweet corn kernels and feta.
5. Season with salt and pepper.

Deep red roasted beets- before removing skins

Sautéing chopped beet greens, swiss chard and scallions

The final colorful salad

Oregano and Scallion Flatbread* (yield, 2 large pizza-esque pieces of flatbread)
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp sea salt, plus additional for baking
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing
1 2/3 cups warm water
2 tbsp oregano leaves, chopped
2 tbsp scallions, thinly sliced
1. Place flour, yeast, sea salt, sugar, oregano and scallions in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
2. Knead on a low speed, gradually adding the extra virgin olive oil and water, until the dough is firm and smooth- about 10 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into two balls, place on parchment paper, cover with a damp towel and allow to rise for approximately 2 hours.
4. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees.
5. Roll out one ball of dough using additional flour as necessary. Position rolled dough on cookie sheet, brush top with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown.
*Flatbread adapted from Todd English's Figs restaurants

The herbed dough- before covering

Rolling out the risen dough

The finished oregano and scallion flatbread- a crisp, golden brown

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grilled Cookies

My husband and I spent Fourth of July weekend with friends in Westhampton. Each of us arrived from a bustling, hot and humid Manhattan and had no problem taking full advantage of our breezy, relaxed surroundings; surroundings that included a holiday necessity- an outdoor grill (simple formula: grill + July 4th = undeniably patriotic). We grilled everything from farmer's market veggies to locally harvested clams.

Enamored with the ease at which our meals were prepared- one friend morphed into somewhat of a grill snob and jokingly (or so he'd have us believe) refused to eat any food that hadn't been grilled. His proclamation led to a delicious new (new to us) discovery- grilled cookies. We took Fresh Direct's frozen chocolate chip cookie dough balls- placed them on tin foil in a grill with a temperature that hovered around 350 degrees- and let them grill for approximately 20 minutes. A simple idea with fantastic results- the final batch of cookies were crisp on the bottom, soft on the top, and gone in a matter of minutes.

The starting point- frozen cookie dough balls

At 12 minutes- still gooey

Done after approx. 20 minutes