Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Coconut Zucchini Blondies

I am fighting the good fight against my backyard full of zucchini, attempting to think up new ways to use it up which brings me to this blondie recipe. I consulted a dozen cookbooks and what I found is that the blondie recipes didn't vary all that much. So with that, I considered how I could incorporate zucchini into them, and then to really jazz things up I threw in ginger, carob chips, toasted coconut and pecans. I was quite proud when I took the pan out of the oven for it smelled wonderful and looked golden brown, flecked with green.

However, once I cut a square for myself I thought, ummm, this is cake. For the rest of the day I referred to them as Faux-Blondies. They were springy, moist, and brimming with all the goodness I put in there - not dense and bar-like. Perhaps part of the problem was that I wasn't judicious in my ingredient additions?

Anyfauxblondie, as the day went on the cake morphed into a denser, more blondie/brownie like texture and I would say that they got even better after a day of rest.

For a large pan of Blondies:

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ cups White Whole Wheat Flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1½ cups coarsely grated zucchini
  • 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup carob chips (or chocolate chips)
  • 1½ cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan or the microwave and then add to the bowl of a mixer. Add the brown sugar and mix thoroughly. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, beating well.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture until just incorporated. Mix in the zucchini, pecans, carob chips and coconut until combined.

Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan. Spread the batter into the pan and bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Let cool before slicing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Mid-Summer Bounty

When I am able to walk into our garden and pull all of these vegetables out of it, I am reminded both how much I love summer and how our hard work pays off. I'm not sure there's anything as gratifying as starting these vegetables from seed, patiently watching them grow, partaking in daily weeding and watering, and then including something that we harvest in every meal.

Maintaining an organic vegetable garden is perhaps a bit more work and expense but knowing that the vegetables we grow were started from organic (often heirloom) seeds planted in an organic topsoil/compost mix, and sprayed with an organic pesticide when necessary heightens the whole experience for me.

I can't say enough about Seed Savers, where we order our seeds from every winter. Call me a gardening geek but when I am buried in February snow, there is something so day-brightening about receiving the spring catalog in the mail and selecting what we will grow.

Pictured above, clockwise from the top is Black Beauty Zucchini, Fin de Bagnol Green Beans, Green Arrow Peas, Wenk's Yellow Hot Pepper, Jaune et Verte Pattypan Squash, Boothby's Blonde Cucumber, Pencil Pod Golden Wax Bean, Borettana Yellow Onion, Red Florence Onion, Chiogga Beets, and Dragon Carrot with a sprig of Purple Dark Opal Basil.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Honeydew Lime Sorbet

It seems like there are four distinct types of dessert people in the world: Chocolate, Vanilla, Fruit, and the people who claim to not enjoy sweets - which really, I can't even get my mind around. The anti-dessert people make as much sense to me as my friend and guestblogger Scott who despises a vast array of perfectly delicious sweet treats. The short list includes: flan, rice pudding, upside-down cakes, and hot fruit...there's really not enough time or sanity available to even broach the subject of his feelings about pineapple and bananas.

I'm a fruit person, no question, and in the summertime there's nothing better than lime in just about anything. I love the frosty green color of this sorbet. The flavor is reminiscent of limeade but more complex because of the mild melon.

For about a quart of sorbet:
  • 4 cups of chunked honeydew melon
  • ¼ cup of cold water
  • 1 lime
  • 1 cup Simple Syrup*
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
In a food processor, add the honeydew and water. Process for about a minute until very smooth. Pour the mixture through a sieve and measure out 2 cups of puree. Grate the zest of the lime into the puree and then juice the entire lime into the mixture as well. Stir in the simple syrup. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and let it do it's thing. Towards the end, when the sorbet is almost done, pour in the vodka while the machine is running. The alcohol keeps the sorbet from freezing into a solid block. Transfer to a quart-sized container and freeze.

*For simple syrup, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil for a few minutes. Cool, and then transfer to an covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep, chilled, for several weeks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thai Basil Stir Fry

We grow four different varieties of basil in our garden: Thai, Genovese, Lemon and Purple. I hold a special place in my heart for Thai Basil because it often provides a perfect stand-in for gag-inducing cilantro in most Asian recipes. When there are plenty of purple-hued, licorice-scented plants I love making this stir-fry. The protein and vegetables can certainly be switched out to suit your own tastes.

As with all stir-fries, all the ingredients must be prepped and ready to go before the cooking starts. Also, fair warning, when adding the garlic and pepper to the ripping hot wok make sure that all windows are open since the spicy fumes made me choke/cough/cry like a lunatic.
  • 2 cups of lightly packed Thai Basil Leaves
  • 3 cups chopped mixed vegetables (I used wax beans, green beans, peas, pattypan squash)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 red jalapeno peppers, minced (seeded if you're a wimp)
  • 1 package extra firm tofu (not silken)
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 5 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup roasted salted cashews, coarsely chopped

Cut the tofu lengthwise into 3 slabs and place between a couple sheets of paper towels. Press down, blotting as much water off as possible. Cube the tofu into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Set aside.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok over high heat and add the tofu. Stir frequently until the tofu is golden on all sides. Remove the tofu with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add the additional tablespoon of oil and then add the garlic and pepper, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Add the tofu back to the wok and stir for a minute. Turn the heat down to medium and pour the reserved sauce into the wok. Stir frequently for another minute. Add the thai basil leaves and stir until wilted.

Serve the stir-fry over steamed jasmine rice with the cashews sprinkled over the top.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Four Berry Jam

Us Minnesotans have been annoyed as of late that strange, Autumn-like weather descended upon us, bringing cold, cloudy gray days right smack in the middle of July. I knew that this cool weather provided optimal conditions for my least favorite hobby so, comforted by the knowledge that I wouldn't be sweating over pots of boiling jam and water, I set off to can the afternoon away.

I can't give the exact proportions of each type of berry used but can say that for this jam, you will need 5 cups of crushed fruit. What I ended up doing was crushing a single layer of each fruit (which is always how you should crush fruit for jams to ensure uniform texture) and then added it to a large measuring cup, repeating until 5 cups was reached. The end result was tasty indeed: dark burgundy in color with a rich berry flavor.

For 8 Half Pint Jars:
  • Strawberries, stemmed, cored, and quartered
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries (I pushed half of the crushed raspberries through a sieve to take out some seeds)
  • Blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh strained lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1 package liquid pectin

In a large 8-quart pot, combine the 5 cups of crushed berries, lemon juice, butter and sugar over low heat. Start stirring the mixture, turning the heat up in small increments until all the sugar is dissolved, not bringing the heat up past medium. Turn the heat to medium-high and stirring constantly, let the mixture come to a full, rolling boil. Quickly squeeze in the pectin, and stir briskly for one minute. Take the pot off the heat and set a timer for 5 minutes. Each minute, stir the mixture gently to distribute the fruit throughout the jelly.

Ladle the jam into the prepared, hot, sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

For detailed canning and sterilization procedures, click here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Yukon Salmon and Summer Vegetable Sauté

Sometimes for dinner, especially when I eat alone which is often, it's easiest to make a grilled cheese sandwich and call it a night. If I'm particularly lazy I'll have a bowl of cereal (or two, or three). However, my abundant garden demands I step it up and regardless of who or how many I'm cooking for, I've been doing a pretty good job of making the most of our summer produce.

Yukon Salmon is in season right now and I love it so. According to The Chef, there are two kinds of Yukon Salmon, the deluxe version, and the lesser "chum" version I had tonight. I found it to be delicious and absolutely recommend it. Here's a link to a story out of Seattle that explains the difference between the two varieties: Click Here

For the vegetable sauté I of course used zucchini which I eat pretty much every day now. Since we are in the dog days of (zucchini) summer, I have my sauté perfected. The components can be switched out at will but must start with the caramelized shallot base.

This dinner was a one pan meal too thanks to my trusty cast iron skillet. In about 20 minutes I had a fine dinner which I paired with a Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. I love summer.

For one serving:
  • 5-6 ounces Yukon Salmon
  • 1/3 cup fresh shelled peas
  • 1/3 cup small diced zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Caramelized Sherry Vinaigrette (optional, but yummy-honey might work here too)
  • Salt to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallot and stir frequently for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for a couple minutes more. Add the peas and sauté until the vegetables have caramelized a bit and the peas are bright green. Add salt to taste and transfer to a plate.

Add the bread crumbs to the skillet and stir constantly until golden. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Turn the heat up to medium high and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Add the fillet of salmon skin side down and cook, undisturbed for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the top of the fillet with salt. Flip the salmon over and cook until it has reached the desired level of doneness. Flip back over, spoon the vinaigrette over the fillet and turn the heat off. You should be able to separate the fillet from the skin fairly easily.

Place the salmon on top of the reserved vegetables. Sprinkle the bread crumbs around the plate and on top of the salmon. Garnish with the fresh basil.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Squash and Whole Grain Pie

I decided that being overrun with just zucchini wasn't going to be enough this summer so I also planted some pattypan squash plants. Every day when I leave the house, I peer into the very large, palm-like plants and encounter a bevy of golden squash blossoms staring back at me. Underneath the blossoms there are many, many, many squash growing. I will try and practice restraint but I apologize in advance for the multitudes of future recipes that will undoubtedly contain zucchini and/or pattypans. They must be eaten. This at least is an unconventional way to use up some of the harvest. This recipe also provided an opportunity to finish off the last of my spinach which I had blanched and frozen last week.

This recipe takes some effort, no question, but the end result is creamy, loaded with vegetables, and whole grain hearty. This keeps well and can be sliced and eaten at room temperature or reheated for lunch the next day.

To serve 6-8 as a side dish:

  • 1 1/2 pounds squash (I used zucchini and pattypan squash)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup short grain brown rice
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 5 ounces chopped, frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 pint half & half
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pattypan squash, for garnish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grate the squash on the large holes of a grater and place in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle the salt over it and toss with your hands to mix. Let the squash drain.

In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa and rice and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium high heat and add the shallots and leeks. Saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium.

With several paper towels, press down on the squash in the colander until most of the moisture is squeezed out. Add the squash to the skillet, along with the spinach, and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over and stir continuously, cooking for a minute more. Stir in the reserved grains and cook for a minute more. Add the half & half and the 1/2 cup of cheese, mixing well. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper, stir and taste, adjusting the seasoning accordingly. Turn off the heat.

Thinly slice the remaining pattypan (or zucchini) on a mandoline and place the slices on the top of the pie, overlapping the edges slightly. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese over the top and place in the center of the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The top should be golden and bubbling around the edges. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cherry Lime Cocktails

Now that I have officially drank my way through my Rhubarb Slush supply, I needed to move on to the next boozy, fruity, seasonal cocktail. This time, bing cherries are the featured player. I love a cherry on a good day, so soaking them in black cherry vodka and lime juice heightens their summery deliciousness.

I know that black cherry vodka seems like an obscure thing to have, and regular old vodka can certainly be substituted, but the subtle cherry and vanilla notes add a cohesive dimension to this drink. This cocktail is great to have on hand for guests as the cherries can be soaking away for hours before friends arrive.

For 6-8 cocktails:

There was a sad period of my life when I didn't have the super efficient OXO Cherry/Olive Pitter. If you don't have one, step away from this recipe and go remedy your situation before continuing.

Pit the cherries and pull them in half as you go along, placing them in a medium-sized bowl. Zest one of the limes into the bowl over the cherries, and then juice all 4 limes into the same bowl. Add the simple syrup, red wine syrup, and the vodka. Stir together and taste. Feel free to add more simple or red wine syrup if so desired. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld.

Fill a highball glass halfway with the cherry mixture, add some ice, and top with the sparkling water. Give it a good but careful stir and garnish with a couple fresh mint sprigs and a spoon, for the cherries.

* For about 2 cups of simple syrup, stir together one cup sugar and one cup water in a saucepan. Let boil until the sugar is dissolved and then chill until very cold. The syrup will keep, covered in the fridge for at least a month.

Adapted from a recipe from Martha Stewart Living.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Roasted Tomato and Lentil Salad

As much as I complain about winters in the Midwest, I am reminded why I live here during the absolutely perfect summer days we have been experiencing as of late. Not too hot or sticky, sunny, slightly breezy; in other words, picnic weather.

Some of my favorite people and I headed down to Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, spread out some blankets and proceeded to unveil the best picnic food...maybe...ever? The menu included Ginger Bourbon Cocktails, the best Pressed Sandwich I have ever had, Potato Salad with Mint, Bacon and Snap Peas, 3 Bean Salad, incredibly delicious brownies, and the lentil salad pictured above.

I have made this salad many times before after getting the recipe from a friend years ago. I have changed it a bit over the years to suit my tastes and believe that the combination of roasted grape tomatoes, toasted walnuts, dried currants, fresh basil and a delicious caramelized vinaigrette is a keeper. I will say, this isn't the easiest salad to whip together, but I always appreciate its tastiness while eating it.

To serve 6-8:
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 cups of French lentils (lentils de puy), well-rinsed
  • 1/3 cup of toasted, chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/3 cup of chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • Caramelized Sherry Vinaigrette (see below)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, add the lentils and enough water to cover by several inches. Add a large pinch of salt and bring them to a boil. Lower the heat to a strong simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes until tender but still chewy. Drain, then add to a large bowl.

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle the olive oil over them. Sprinkle with a pinch each of salt and sugar and toss the tomatoes on the pan to coat. Place in the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes. Add to the bowl with the lentils.

Add the basil, walnuts, currants and shallot to the lentil mixture and combine thoroughly but gently. I usually add about 5-6 tablespoons of dressing, stir again, and taste, adding salt, pepper and more dressing if needed. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Garnish with more chopped fresh basil if you like.

For the Caramelized Sherry Vinaigrette:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 6 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar and water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until slightly syrupy, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the syrup to a blender, along with the remaining ingredients, and blend until emulsified. The vinaigrette will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Peaches with Red Wine Syrup and Honey Ricotta

I had a couple partially drunk bottles of red wine laying around and since they were perhaps a day or so past prime drinkability, I decided not to let them go to waste. I didn't know if it would be against nature to stir together an Argentinian and an Australian, but I risked it and the tannic Shiraz and Malbec notes got along quite amiably.

This dessert (or brunch dish which is when I ate it) is perfectly elegant for guests and couldn't be better for summer as all the effort goes into composing it on a plate rather than cooking. Of course, there has to be some creamy fresh ricotta in the refrigerator, perfect peaches on hand, and the tart and lovely red wine syrup at the ready to drizzle. I can imagine that this syrup will come in handy to liven up other fruits, as a mixer for cocktails, and even with grilled red meat.

For the Red Wine Syrup:
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 1/4 cup of sugar

In a saucepan, bring the mixture to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally until reduced by half and syrupy. Refrigerate until cold.

For the Honey Ricotta:

Stir together until fairly smooth and creamy.

Place sliced peaches on a plate and drizzle the syrup over them. Add a dollop of ricotta on the side. Serve immediately.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Brown Rice with Poached Egg, Romesco and Greens

June has been the month of unhealthy, uncharacteristic behavior: several nights where I saw the sun come up, tequila, almost non-existent exercise and lots and lots of gatorade consumption. Sometimes it goes like that and there is no better way to rally then to make a satisfying, healthy and impromptu weeknight dinner.

I got home from work the other night, weary, and took a peek at the garden and fridge, trying to decide what could be made fast. This dish is the result and I am pleased to say that I will definitely make it again. The trick here was to have many of the components ready to go. The leftover rice was steamed the night before, the Romesco Sauce had been made several days before, so all I had to do was soft poach an egg, chop up some basil, saute some greens, and I was set.

I have always loved the classic Spanish sauce, Romesco, and it's what makes this whole dish special. After The Chef whipped it up for me the other day, I think I now always will need some on hand in the fridge. Romesco Sauce livens up roasted potatoes, grilled seafood and much more.

For one serving:

  • 1 soft poached egg
  • A few tablespoons of Romesco Sauce (see below)
  • 1 cup of steamed brown rice
  • 2 cups of lightly packed spinach
  • 1 medium sized kale leaf
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped lemon basil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the rice until warm and if you want to get fancy, pack it into a ramekin and then unmold the rice onto a plate. Meanwhile, while the egg is being poached, heat up the olive oil and saute the kale for a minute or so, then add the spinach and stir until just wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place on the plate next to the rice.

Place the poached egg on top of the rice, spoon some of the Romesco over it, and sprinkle the chopped basil over everything.

For a couple cups of Romesco Sauce:

  • 4 Roma tomatoes cut in half and roasted until soft and caramelized
  • 8 hazelnuts toasted, with the skins removed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled, placed in a heavy skillet and toasted on each side until softened
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pimentón
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ¾ cup olive oil

Puree all ingredients until smooth. Store in the fridge for a week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good Greens

Years ago when we first signed up to get our weekly box of vegetables from a CSA, I carried a lot of guilt with me when the deliveries started. I would peer in and feel slightly nervous at all the leafy greens. I'd make plans, find recipes, admire their sturdiness...and then throw them out at the end of the week when they were quite soggy and accusatory looking.

Perhaps out of a need for redemption, I planted greens I used to toss with the idea that I would learn to eat them, and I can say, having them in my own back yard has made a difference in my bad behavior.

First of all I am more endeared to them from a gardening standpoint because greens are easy to grow, which certainly explains the bounty of greens in most farm-share boxes. They thrive in most conditions and take well to blanching and freezing if there is just too much to eat.

Although varying greens have different cooking times, they all drastically shrink in size when cooked and therefore make a very healthy, easy addition to soups, pastas, or sauteed with any grains of your choosing.

I particularly like growing spinach because it's done early, upon which time I pull it out and either eat it or freeze it, and then replant a new row of seeds and repeat the process. Come late fall and winter, having some blanched garden greens in the freezer is a welcome sight.

To freeze greens, rinse them well, cutting off any tough stems. Place a large pot over high heat until boiling and add the greens. For tender greens, like spinach, blanch them for 2 minutes. For sturdier greens like, kale, blanch them for 3 minutes. Transfer the greens to a bowl of ice water, then to a colander to drain. Place them in plastic freezer bags making sure to squeeze the air out and freeze for up to 6 months.

Pictured above is Lacinato Kale, America Spinach, Chiogga Beet and a zucchini flower just because it's pretty.