Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Shares and Sunshine

There's been a little bit more cooking around here lately.  This is good for our waistlines and our spirits (though the repeated runs to Frozen Freddie's are less good for our waistlines).  It helps that the sun is shining a little more warmly these last few days, and that we've just gotten our first share from our "Spring Treat" CSA.  My favorite treat:  9 lovely, fresh eggs.  I can't wait to make something with them!

Tonight's dinner was made before Larry got home with our treats, though, so it was back to the freezers for supplies.  Digging around earlier this week I found corn that was blanched and frozen last September, ground beef  from a farm near our CSA in Amherst, roasted tomatillo salsa that was made from the picked-right-before-a-frost tomatillos and jalapenos in the back yard, and roasted tomato sauce.  What great pickings!  All this preserved local bounty...what New England-y thing would I make? 

So, um, tomatillos aren't particularly New England-y.  I made Mexican Lasagna. 

I would have happily eaten the whole thing by myself.  There's something about meat, cheese, and layers of bread or noodles that just makes me positively gleeful.

This recipe changes frequently, depending on what I have on hand, and what whim I'm feeding.  Want (or have) corn tortillas?  No problem.  Have no jalapenos, but have black olives?  Sub away.  Heck, want it meatless?  Cook up a ton of onions and peppers and beans.  We're all about flexibility in this kitchen.

Mexican Lasagna, version 3,212
(serves our house...4)
7- 6 inch flour tortillas, cut into sixths
1 tbsp canola or other light oil
3/4 to 1 lb. ground beef (or turkey, or chicken)
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp to 1 tbsp minced garlic (I go garlic)
8-10 pickled jalapeno slices, chopped
1 tsp chili powder (I used 3/4 tsp of regular, and 1/4 tsp of chipotle chili powder)
scant tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 to 2 cups corn kernels, if frozen, thawed and drained
scant two cups roasted tomato sauce (if you don't have your own, Muir Glen are good)
1 to 1 1/2 cups of your favorite salsa; I used tomatillo
5 oz fat free Greek Yogurt or low fat sour cream (really, use whatever fat content you want)
8 oz. grated cheddar cheese (or Monterrey Jack, or Cotija, or Queso Fresco...)
6-8 pickled jalapeno slices, chopped
1/2 c chopped tomatoes (fresh)

1. In a large skillet, saute onion and garlic until just beginning to soften.  Add 8-10 chopped jalapenos, stir to combine.  Add ground beef, breaking it up with spoon.   Cook until ground beef has very little pink left.  Add spices, chili powder through salt (I used a very scant teaspoon) and pepper.  Mix well.
2.  Add corn and tomatoes to beef mixture.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat and cook five minutes.
3.  Spray an 8-inch square (or equivalent) baking dish with cooking spray.  Spoon about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salsa into the bottom. Place a single layer of tortillas in the bottom of the dish.  Spoon over 1/3 to 1/2* of the beef mixture.  Put a second layer of tortillas on top of the beef.  Spoon over 1/3 to 1/2 of beef mixture, and on that, smooth over the yogurt or sour cream.  Sprinkle over 1/3 of the cheese.
4.  Add a final layer of tortillas; press down gently.  If you didn't use all of the beef mixture, spread about 1/2 cup on top of the tortillas, then spread the remaining salsa.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  Cover with foil, and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. 
5.  When cheese is hot and bubbly, remove foil, add chopped jalapenos and tomatoes, and return to oven, uncovered.  Bake until the cheese begins to brown in places, about 10 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

*I used just over 2/3 of the meat mixture.  Honestly, it's because I overestimated how many layers I'd be making.  But it's okay, because I'll be using the rest of the "chili" in either eggs or roll-ups this weekend.  All's well that ends well, as they say.

Friday, March 25, 2011


At the risk of sounding like a whiner, I've had it with winter.  I know, it's only March and I need to get a grip.  Just because humans have decided that March 20 was Spring doesn't mean Mother Nature is on board.  But ugh, enough already!

One of my favorite signs of Spring each year actually has nothing to do with nature, though.  Here in the Boston area, most locally owned ice cream places close for the winter; ours is no exception.  Near the beginning of March, Larry and I start driving by the shop and looking for the sign, "Spring is almost here!  Re-opening on ___________." This year, it was today!  So even though it was 40 degrees out, and even though it doesn't quite make the healthy list, we had ice cream for dinner.

On the off-chance that we got hungry after ice cream, I decided to use the last butternut squash we had from our CSA and make a creamy soup.  I had a few sprigs of basil left, and remembering how much I liked the basil in the butternut risotto, I decided to incorporate it.  This is another easy recipe, and the portions/times are kind of flexible. 

We didn't actually get hungry again but I gave the soup a taste, and I'm looking forward to having it for lunch tomorrow!

Butternut Squash Soup with Basil
by Me

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes; about 7-8 cups
2 small or one large shallot, peeled and root end trimmed but not completely removed
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth, or water
water, to adjust thickness to taste
5 large basil leaves, or equivalent

Preheat oven to 425.  On a large sheet pan, toss the squash and shallots with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast, stirring occasionally, until squash is softened; about 25 minutes total depending on the size of your cubes.  During the last five to ten minutes of roasting, pour in 1/2-1 cup of the vegetable broth. 

Let squash cool for about 15-20 minutes.  Add to blender with 1 cup of broth and half of basil, and blend; if necessary, add more liquid to get blades going.  Mine used all of the broth, plus about a cup of water to make it our desired consistency. 

Pour into a saucepan and gently reheat over medium-low.  Before serving, chop the rest of the basil and add to the soup.  Voila--a creamy soup with out anything resembling cream!

3/27/2011: Had it for lunch yesterday; it was great!  The basil was a great addition.  This one's a keeper!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sad, but true

Lately, dinner has been more about surviving our jobs than anything else.  We're eating lots of stuff put by in  the freezer for just these kinds of days, and we're eating out more than is particularly healthy.  I'd beat myself up for it, but the job does it for me so why add work to my list?!

BUT!  This weekend I made raspberry jam, and with a lot of it, I made a raspberry jam crostata (which is a free-form pie/tart, not the technical description...).    It's remarkable how good it made me feel to put the jam and the crostata together.  Like I am more than just my job. 

I didn't have a camera handy, so the picture you're looking at is of reheated, 2-day old crostata.  It's just as good!

If you've ever watched Giada on Food Network, she makes crostatas from all kinds of things.  Don't feel like you have to use raspberry jam, or even jam for that matter.  You could spend an enjoyable hour or so searching the creations on the net...I highly recommend it!  We had raspberries in our freezer from our awesome neighbors' (they of the bumper zucchini crop) raspberry patch, so that's how the decision was made.  (The neighbors are awesome, and so are their raspberries.)

Even better?  It's really easy.  We like our raspberry jam a little on the tart side, so you can adjust the sugar to your tastes.  See the note below.

Raspberry Jam

3 to 4 cups of frozen raspberries
1/2-1 1/2 cups of sugar (I used a mix of brown and granulated)*
a squirt of lemon juice  (I probably used 2 tsp)
a teeny, tiny pinch of salt...1/8 tsp maybe?
a shot of cinnamon (optional)

Place the raspberries, sugar, juice, and salt in a saucepan, covered.  Heat over medium until mixture starts to bubble, and raspberries start to break down.  Remove cover, reduce heat to a bare simmer, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until jam begins to thicken.  You'll know it's ready when it coats the back of spoon thickly, without sliding off.  This will depend on how much moisture is in the berries; mine took about an hour and a half to two hours of slow cooking.  (And whooee did the house smell good!)

If desired, pour jam into a sieve, and using the back of a ladle or large spoon, press the jam through into a bowl.  Larry and I prefer seedless raspberry jam, so I did this.  Taste, and add sugar if desired; can be put back on low heat for a few minutes to make sure sugar completely dissolves.  Stir in cinnamon to taste, if desired, and refrigerate until completely cool.  Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of jam. 

For the crostata, roll out your choice of pie dough (I used a half recipe of Martha Stewart's pate brisee) to about a 14" circle.  Preheat oven to 425.  Put the dough on a large sheet pan.  Spoon 2 cups of jam into the center, leaving a 3 to 4" border of dough around the edges.  Starting on one side, fold (without pressing down on the jam) a side of the dough in toward the center.  Overlap the second fold over the first, and repeat until the filling is covered around all sides, but open in the middle.  (See the picture)  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until crust is golden and flaky.  The jam will puff up in the oven, but subside as soon as it starts to cool.  Resist the urge to eat it right away, since the jam is so hot it will seal itself to your skin...

*Sugar:  I started my jam with about 1/2 cup of brown sugar, because I wasn't sure how sweet the raspberries would be.  About halfway through the cooking process, I tasted a bit of it and added about 1/4 cup.  At the end, I tasted again and put in about 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  Why did I use both sugars?  I'm not quite sure-I know that I like the depth that brown sugar brings to things, so that's probably what I was thinking.  This was kind of a dump-it-in-and-let's-see-what-happens kind of jam.  But it worked, so I'm passing it on.  You could probably use all of one or the other for equally fabulous results.  You can keep adding sugar until it tastes the way you want it to, but I don't think I'd go much beyond 2 cups; you'd lose a lot of the raspberry taste.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Water Safety?

Well, I now have a new meaning for water safety after being almost run down by a Belmont Springs water delivery truck the other day.  He couldn't wait to make his left, and decided to do it while I was making my right.  Fortunately, I saw him and braked hard and quickly enough that I still have the front end of my car.  Imagine my horror as he then proceeded to speed through a neighborhood and a school zone (active with people), make an illegal turn, and then cut off another vehicle while pulling into a parking lot.  If you get water delivered, you might not want it from this company...their drivers might take out your mailbox, or worse.

But this blog is about food, not water or erratic drivers!  Tonight's dinner:  hamburger meat with freezer sauce!  Larry has been teasing me about this all week, since he saw it on the board where I write down our possible meals for the week.  What exactly is freezer sauce? depends.  In this case, it was the leftover sauce from a Milanese Braised Beef recipe that I got from Cooking Light.  There was almost two cups of the tomato-y, beefy goodness left after we ate the original dinner and I just couldn't bring myself to throw it away (no, my parents did not grow up during the Depression).  I thought that if I froze it, it might make a quick Hamburger Helper-style meal one night, and indeed it did.

I sauteed some onion and carrot to up our veggie quotient, browned the ground beef, dumped in the sauce and brought it to a boil.  Dumped in a cup of frozen peas and some cooked egg noodles, grated over some parmigiano, and we had dinner.  I have to admit that I do feel faintly ridiculous posting this...but dinner was fast, cheap, and easy.  (Just like...insert appropriate joke here.)  My main advice is to make sure you skim most of the fat off of the sauce before you freeze it, or dump it into your ground beef, so your final dish isn't too greasy.  I thought to do this at the last second before pouring it in, and was relieved that I did. 

I think "freezer sauce" would work with a lot of different kinds of sauces from braised dishes, and might be just the time-saver you need on a Friday when you just want to go to sleep early!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Inside!

I think I've already mentioned my predilection for freezing things.  It's how I preserve summer and my favorite flavors on into winter, when I'm less inclined to buy fruits and vegetables out of their New England season.  I dole these things out and try to make them last until the end of winter, when I can start buying things like local asparagus and lettuce.  Don't get me wrong, this is no Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which I not-so-secretly aspire to accomplishing...a girl can dream...).  I have a looooong way to go before I'm putting by enough vegetables and fruits to get us through winter.  But it's like opening precious jewels when I take out a quart of tomato sauce or make blueberry pancakes with the fruits from last summer.

This past summer, I had great luck with green beans and Romano beans, and we're just now finishing up the few packages I put by.  I socked away about 2 pounds of roasted red peppers, and 2 quarts of blueberries.  I also freeze greens like kale, chard, and collards, and I freeze as much tomato sauce in varying forms as I can possibly cram into the freezers we have. 

Another way that I like to freeze things is baked into muffins, scones, quick breads and things like lasagnas.  I found a zucchini-orange bread recipe last summer that I LOVE, and I put by about 10 loaves of the stuff.  We're down to our last few of those, as well as our last batch of peach-blueberry muffins. 

My least successful frozen "treat" would be the zucchini.  I followed the guidelines from one of last summer's "Eating Well" issues, but I have to say, the zucchini was a in tonight's dinner.  That's okay, though, because the green beans were fabulous, and the stew over all was delicious.  Herbes de Provence is a new blend for me to play around with--I'm typically an Italian Seasoning kind of girl--but I enjoyed it and will look for new ways to use it.
French-Style Chicken and Vegetable "Stoup"
by Me (inspired by Rachael Ray)
Serves 4-5
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion (I used red) chopped
1/2-3/4  c chopped carrot
1/2-3/4 c chopped celery
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and sliced about 1/4" thick  (I'd increase this to a whole bulb next time, I think)
1 heaping tsp Herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 tsp total salt and 3/4 tsp total pepper)
1 small fresh zucchini, chopped*
1/4 c dry white wine
1- 14.5 oz can low-sodium diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 to 1 1/2 cups water  (could leave out if you want it more like a stew)
2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1/2 pound, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 to 1 1/2 cups frozen chopped green beans
1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for grating over top

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saucepot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  When oil shimmers, add onion through Herbes de Provence.  Sprinkle with salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the zucchini, and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Raise heat to medium-high.

2.  Add white wine and cook until almost evaporated.  Add bay leaf, tomatoes, broth and water, if using.  Bring to a bubble, add chicken, and reduce heat to medium.  Add more salt, and some pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 7-10 minutes.  Add green and white beans and heat through, about 3 minutes.  Serve with grated cheese on top, if desired.

*I used frozen zucchini from last summer's bumper crop (okay, it was the neighbor's bumper crop...).  I can't say I'd recommend it, because I like my zucchini to have a bite to it, but if you've got it, add it when you add the beans, and bump up the cooking time by a few minutes to make sure all the frozen things are heated through.  From now on, I'll just freeze the zucchini inside my baked goods. :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Stay with me...

Many of you may have more adventurous palates than I do, but hopefully you won't think badly of me that it took me until my late 30's to give sardines a chance.  I first had them in Palermo, Sicily on a trip with my family.  They were served in a fennel and tomato sauce: heavy fennel and sardines, light tomato.  I loved the dish: Pasta con le sarde e finocchio (not to be confused with Pinnochio, which I don't think I'd enjoy as much).  Obviously, if you've never tried sardines, I'd recommend a trip to Sicily post-haste...what better way to eat them for the first time?!

But for those of us who won't be venturing to Sicily anytime soon (sob) may I recommend another version?  In Sicily, the dish is primarily made with the wild mountain fennel that is ubiquitous to the island...and kind of hard to get here.  I just use regular bulb fennel, with the understanding that it's technically a different dish but equally tasty.

I'm proud to say that since our trip, and since my adventurous dive into previously untasted foods, I've been a wild child.  I had wood-grilled fresh sardines at a local seafood restaurant (lovely!), I had sweetbreads at a local French-inspired restaurant, and while in San Antonio, I had Tex-Mex versions of pancreas, sweetbreads, and other kinds of offal.  None of them were anywhere near as unpleasant as I thought they might be, and some were actually things I'd happily eat again.  Watch out world!

Pasta con le sarde e finocchio
(Pasta with Sardines and Fennel)
by Me  (my version, anyway)
serves 2-4*

4-8 oz linguine or fettucine, reserve water*
2-4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large fennel bulb, stalks cut off and fronds reserved, bulb halved and sliced no more than 1/4 inch thick
1/2 large onion, sliced into thin half moons, no thicker than the fennel
salt (I used about 3 tsp total between pasta water and sauce)
1/4 c dry white wine
1  14 1/2 oz can diced tomatoes, preferably low sodium
pepper to taste
1 (or more) tin(s) of skinless, boneless sardines in water**

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil; when at a rolling boil add salt (I used about 2 tsp).  Add pasta and cook until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of pasta water.

2.  While water comes to a boil, heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When oil is warm, add onions and fennel, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Cook, stirring, until onions are almost translucent and fennel is softened, about 5 minutes.  Add white wine; cook until evaporated, about 1-2 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and pepper and heat through.  Add sardines, stir into sauce, breaking them up into desired sizes (I leave a few grape sized chunks in ours).

3.  Drain pasta and toss with sauce, adding cooking water until sauce is desired consistency.  Mix in 3/4 of the reserved fennel fronds, and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 on top.

*I made the full amount of sauce tonight, but only 4 oz of pasta.  We ate a heavy sauce, light pasta dinner.  The sauce would easily mix with 8 oz of pasta, and would lightly-but-nicely coat 12 oz.  It might be pushing it with a full pound, though.

**I'm still not sure how much Larry loves sardines, so I only used one 4.3 oz tin for our sauce tonight.  I have his permission to add another tin next time I make it, and we'll see how it goes.  I've tried a few different brands, but my hands' down favorite is the Crown Prince Natural Wild Caught.  They're more ecologically friendly than some that are available, and the sardines are meaty and not overly fishy (though being sardines, they are fishy).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What?! No Bread?!

I am a dunker.  A mopper and a dipper.  If there's sauce or dip and something to dunk, I'm a happy lady.  Imagine my consternation when I realized that we had no suitable bread for dipping into tonight's sauce.  And then imagine my surprise when I realized that, really, dinner was just fine without the bread.  I may have to take to my bed at this shift in my universe.

But before I do, let me tell you about dinner.

(Thank heavens you're probably not here for the photography.  On the camera display, I couldn't tell that the center mushrooms so resembled slugs crawling across the chicken...)

I had grand plans of a chicken and mushrooms dish, with mustard greens and mashed potatoes on the side.  Sadly, with the headache that ate Manhattan, I had to scale my plans back some.  The mashed potatoes: out.
The greens: in with the chicken and mushrooms.  It actually turned out pretty good, so I wanted to pass it on.

I'm a bit new to mustard greens, but I love them.  They are this curious mix of peppery and bitter and sweet, and I think they smell amazing, both raw and cooked.  While you could absolutely substitute your favorite greens here, I hope you'll give the mustard a go.  As you can see, I hope to have plenty of them in the garden this spring!  (You can probably also see that nothing has sprouted yet!  But it's only been four days, so I'm being patient.  Kind of.)

Chicken with Mushrooms and Greens
by Me

3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lb chicken cutlets, or chicken breasts halved horizontally; pound to an even thickness
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tbsp butter
1 lb mixed mushrooms (or whatever you want, really), halved
a few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves chopped, or 1/2 tsp dried
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch mustard greens, stems removed, chopped roughly into bite sized pieces

1.  Preheat oven to its lowest setting (mine is 175).  Heat 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and Italian seasoning.  Cook chicken until browned on one side, about three minutes.  Flip and repeat.  Place chicken on a sheet pan and place in oven to keep warm.  (If using thin cutlets, keep a close eye on them so that they're just browned, otherwise they'll dry out in the oven.)

2.  Add remaining oil and butter to pan; add mushrooms and cook until browned all over, about 4-5 minutes.  You might want to do this in two batches if your pan isn't large enough to hold the mushrooms loosely.  You don't want them to steam.  Add thyme through lemon juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to soften. 

3.  Add chicken broth and greens; bring to a bubble.  Reduce heat, return chicken to pan, nestling into sauce.  Cook until greens are wilted and chicken is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.

(I still say that bread to mop up the little bit of sauce on the plate would have been brilliant...but this was good just as it was, too.)