Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pureed Squash and White Bean Soup

I am coming down to my last few winter squashes, right about on time. Here's another tasty squash soup; make it now while the weather is still cold. Use butternut or another easily peeled variety for this; alternatively, cook the squash separately and add it when you are ready to puree. If using beans that were already seasoned, you won't need much extra seasoning for the soup; however, if the beans are plain, you may want to add a bay leaf and a little sage.

1 Tbsp butter
2 medium shallots, minced
1 large winter squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
Water and/or stock (chicken or vegetable)
Bay leaf (optional)
Sage to taste (optional)
4 cups cooked white beans
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the shallots and saute over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the squash and enough water and/or stock to just cover. If using the bay leaf and/or sage, add them at this point. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until squash is thoroughly tender (15-30 minutes).

When squash is tender, add the beans. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender (or do it in batches in a food processor, then return it to the pot). Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Garlic, and Lime

Stew beef from our beef share plus tomatoes, hot peppers, and cilantro from the freezer made a tasty stew with a mild Asian flair. Serve over rice.

1 Tbsp canola oil
2 lbs stew beef, trimmed and cut into bite-sized cubes
10-12 cloves garlic, minced (and divided in half)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 cups chopped tomatoes and their liquid (frozen or canned; thawed if frozen)
2-3 medium hot peppers, seeded and minced (or to taste)
2 Tbsp lime juice (1 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp)
3 Tbsp frozen cilantro (1 ice cube worth) or 1/2 cup chopped fresh

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add the beef and brown well over high heat. Add the half the garlic, salt, and pepper, and sauté briefly. Add the flour and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, the hot peppers, and 1 Tbsp of the lime juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer.

Let the stew simmer, mostly covered, for about an hour. Uncover and stir in the remaining garlic and lime juice. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes or so, then add the cilantro. If it's frozen, simmer, stirring, until it melts. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot over rice.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blueberry Bacon Pizza

And why not? If this sounds odd to you, give it a try anyway. The flavors actually work really well together. Use "wild" low bush blueberries if you can; they are smaller and their flavor is milder, serving more as a pleasing undertone than a star.

1 14-inch pizza crust
olive oil
2-3 oz. shredded Edam or medium cheddar
1 medium shallot, minced
6 slices cooked bacon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup blueberries (frozen is fine)
Black pepper to taste
2-3 oz. shredded or cubed mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Lightly paint the pizza crust with olive oil, then spread the Edam or cheddar over it. Sprinkle the shallot over the cheese, then add the bacon and blueberries, evenly distributed. Add a grind of black pepper, then top with mozzarella. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is done and cheese begins to brown.

Serves 3-4.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Parsnip Pancakes

Spring is here and the ground is thawed, at least at the lower elevations. And that means spring-dug parsnips are in season! Parsnips have their best, sweetest flavor after a winter in the ground, and these pancakes showcase it. Serve them with dinner (I made them to go alongside roast chicken) or perhaps with brunch in place of hash browns.

7-8 cups peeled and shredded parsnips (woody cores removed if needed)
1 medium onion, minced or shredded
2 Tbsp flour (whole wheat pastry or all-purpose)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
Butter or canola oil for frying
Optional toppings: applesauce, sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche

Lightly steam the parsnips (1-2 minutes), then drain and press out some of the extra moisture.

In a large bowl, toss the parsnips with the onion, flour, salt, and cinnamon, then add the eggs and mix until well combined.

Heat some butter or canola oil in a heavy skillet (or two). Spoon parsnip mixture into the pan, flattening to about 1/4-inch thick. Fry over medium heat until nicely browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. Keep cooked pancakes warm on a covered plate or in a low oven while you fry the remainder.

Serve hot. Add optional toppings at the table if desired.

Serves about 6.

Variation: use curry powder or garam masala in place of the cinnamon and top with yogurt, chutney, and/or chopped cilantro.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Early Spring Planting

With the snow no long gone and the soil starting to warm up a little, this weekend was the time for planting the early spring crops - all those things that can either get an early start or that don't like the hot weather of summer. Lots of greens fall in this category, along with radishes, peas, and a few other things.

Yesterday we planted: snow peas, snap peas (sugar snaps and extra-early dwarf varieties), fava beans, kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, mizuna, arugula, sylvetta arugula (an extra-spicy "wild" variety), claytonia, mache, Persion cress, carrots, radishes, cilantro, fennel, scallions, and lettuce.

Today we are working on starting seeds for the warm weather crops that will grow inside from now until Memorial Day: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melon, pumpkins, summer squash, basil, parsley, etc. I am probably forgetting a few. And at some point we are going to plant potatoes, a new crop for us. Yippee for spring!

Scrambled Eggs with Chives

So simple I can't exactly call it a recipe, but local all the way! The chives in my garden are just big enough now to start harvesting a bit here and there. This morning I went out and picked some to go in our eggs. After plain scrambled eggs as winter, the chive flavor was like a lovely little jolt to the palate - and so full of spring!

About 1-2 tsp of snipped chives per egg works well, depending on how much chive flavor you want. Beat the eggs in a bowl, stir in the chives, then cook in butter, scrambling as you go, over medium heat.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pesto Potatoes

I wouldn't have thought this possible, but I might have actually frozen more pesto than I really needed. We still have a ton of it--several different kinds--in the freezer, and it will only be another three months or so before basil is available fresh. I think I'm up to the challenge of using it, though! I made this tonight with standard basil pesto, but it would be good with other kinds, too.

2 1/2 lbs boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
3/4 cup pesto

Boil the potatoes in a pot of salted water for 15-20 minutes or under tender. Drain, then return to the pot and gently toss with the pesto until well coated. Serve hot or room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Variation: Mash the potatoes and pesto together, adding olive oil and/or milk as needed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Slow Cooker Chicken Stew with Tomatoes and Fennel

Quick and easy from the freezer, but one of my better crock pot creations. If you used frozen tomatoes, be sure to thaw them first--you'll need their liquid. You can serve this on its own as a stew or over rice (obviously, you'll get more servings out of it if you serve it with rice).

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs (frozen is fine)
2 Tbsp green olive tapenade
4 cups chopped tomatoes and their liquid (canned or frozen)
1 cup chopped fennel (frozen is fine)
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken thighs in the slow cooker. It's fine if they are in a solid block (or two). Spread the top sides with the tapenade. Add the tomatoes and fennel and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook on Low for 7-9 hours. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Break up the chicken thighs into chunks with a spoon.

Serve alone or over rice.

Serves at least 6.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pizza with Winter Squash and Pesto

Sweet and savory, yum. You could use whatever kind of pesto you like here: kale pesto, green garlic pesto, parsley-mint pesto, or, of course, regular Italian basil pesto.

1 14-inch pizza crust
olive oil
1 cup cooked and mashed winter squash
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup pesto (whatever kind is in your freezer), thinned with water if needed
2-3 oz. shredded or cubed mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Paint the pizza crust lightly with olive oil. Spread the squash over it and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the pesto over the squash (thin it with water first if needed to get an easily spreadable consistency). Spread the mozzarella over the pesto.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is done and cheese begins to brown.

Serves 3-4.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I just picked a few baby sorrel leaves from the garden, which I will add to our store-bought local salad mix. Sorrel is a perennial, which means that once it's in your garden, it will come up year after year by itself, like chives. Also like chives, it will be one of the very earliest edible things out there. As the season gets along a little further, you can use sorrel in soup and so forth, but for my money it can't be beat as a salad addition. I love the tangy, slightly sour flavor. It's easy to grow and you can just harvest leaves off it all summer long and into the fall until a hard freeze.

Pot Roast a la Alice Waters

I took some liberties with the ingredients, but the technique here comes from Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food, a cookbook that I have so far found to be infallible. Every recipe I have tried has turned out spectacularly delicious, and the name is apt.

Season the meat as far in advance of cooking as you can - a couple days would be ideal, but I have to admit I rarely think this far ahead. Try for at least an hour, which shouldn't be too hard since the meat needs to come out of the fridge then anyway. Serve this over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes. If you like, you can cook some vegetables separately when the meat is nearly done, and add them in after you return to the roast to the pot in the final step. Otherwise, serve the vegetable dish of your choice on the side.

2-3 lb beef roast (chuck or similar)
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 large onion, in large chunks
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
2 Tbsp dried porcini mushrooms (optional but good)
1/2 tsp dry thyme
1/2 cup red wine (optional but recommended)
Water or stock (beef or veggie)

Remove the roast from the refrigerator an hour before you plan to cook it. Pat it dry with paper towels and season generously on all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat a Dutch oven or other similar pan with a lid (cast iron is great) on the stove. Ideally, use something a little larger than the roast but not a lot larger. Add the olive oil, then put the roast in. Brown for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then add the butter and sprinkle the roast on all sides with the flour. Continue to brown for a couple minutes on each side. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, porcinis and thyme, then pour in the wine and enough water or stock to almost but not quite cover the meat. Bring to a good simmer, skim off the foam, then cover and reduce heat to very low. Simmer on low for 3-4 hours, turning the meat occasionally, until very tender.

When the roast is tender, remove it from the pot to a platter and cover with foil to keep it warm. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a bowl or another pot. Press as much liquid out of the vegetables as you can, then discard.

Cut the roast into chunks and return it to the pot, then pour the strained liquid over it.

Serve the meat over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes and add a generous amount of broth.

Serves at least 6.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Maple Cinnamon Rice Muffins

Rice is never going to be local in Western Massachusetts, but it's one of those items I'm not ready to give up (and probably won't ever be). But most of the other ingredients in these muffins can be local - from the whole wheat pastry flour to the milk, eggs, and maple syrup. This is a nice way to use up leftover rice, and these muffins work well both in the morning and with lunch or dinner--serve them in the same types of contexts in which you would serve cornbread.

1 cup cold cooked rice (white or brown)
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional but nice)
1/4 cup maple syrup (preferably grade B)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease tins for 18 medium or 12 large muffins.

Combine the rice and milk in a medium bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, and maple syrup and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

Spoon the batter into muffin tins. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 large or 18 medium muffins.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thai Red Curry with Beef, Potatoes, and Green Beans

The beef share we got in the fall came with a large quantity of ground beef. Great for tossing into pasta sauce or chili, but I've also been trying to come up with new recipes using it. This one worked out well. It's not fancy, but it's easy and delicious; humble but exotic at the same time. I added green beans because I had some in the freezer from last summer, and they worked well with the flavors and textures. But you could substitute whatever other vegetables you have available. You can find Thai curry pastes (usually green as well as red) in almost any grocery store these days. If you keep fish sauce on hand, a small amount would not go amiss here. Serve this over rice, preferably jasmine.

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb ground beef (thawed if frozen)
2-3 tsp Thai red curry paste
2 lbs potatoes, peeled, in 1-inch cubes
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
2-3 cups chopped green beans or other vegetables
1 Tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onion and saute over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring frequently, until thoroughly browned. If there's a lot of fat, pour it off (if you're using local grass-fed beef, there probably won't be). Stir in the curry paste, making sure it is well distributed, then add the potatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add the green beans and simmer until tender. Stir in the lime juice and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Serve hot over rice.

Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pizza with Corn, Green Pepper, and Bacon

I am down to my last few packages of frozen corn from last summer. Every time I use some, I am blown away by the sweetness and flavor. It's in a completely different league from the frozen corn you buy at the store. Here I combined it with some frozen green peppers from last year's garden and a little Bostrom Farm bacon. Use a tomato sauce that is fairly plain, if you can, with flavorings that don't scream Italian too loudly. Alternatively, try a light coating of salsa instead. In summer, you could make this with chopped fresh tomatoes in place of sauce.

1 14-inch pizza crust
olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3/4 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
1/2 cup diced green pepper (frozen is fine)
3-4 slices cooked bacon, chopped
2-3 oz. mozzarella, shredded or cubed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly paint the pizza crust with olive oil.

Spread the sauce over the crust, then top with corn, pepper, and bacon. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for about 18 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese begins to brown.

Serves 3-4.

Spring is Coming

Suddenly the weather has turned spring-like! Here in Greenfield, where the elevation is low, the snow is all gone. The crocuses are coming up in the yard, and chives, rhubarb, and garlic are coming up in the garden. Another growing season is upon us. We might still get some more snow before we're through, but all these plants can handle a bit. In the meantime, the sun and warmth are pulling us outdoors to clean up the garden and prepare for planting the earliest crops - this year it will be snap peas, snow peas, fava beans (a new crop for us that I am excited about; they are so yummy), carrots, radishes, and a slew of cold hardy greens. And we need to get seeds started indoors for the warm weather stuff. We're a little behind on that this year, but still within the window. The Johnny's order just came yesterday. This year we're also going to experiment with using some row cover material over hoops for some of the early plantings, like peas, to see if it helps them along a little faster.

On the culinary scene, last night I made squash and sweet potato soup (slightly varied; I added a bit of ground cinnamon and nutmeg, to good effect). The squash that I used was one that I bought at the farmers market back in October and have been storing in a cardboard box in my mudroom ever since. It was in perfect condition. There a few more squashes left in the box and they're all doing fine - we don't have a root cellar, but this storage method seems to be working well.

At the same time, we are still working through veggies and fruits in the freezer. I am actually starting to wonder if we'll end up with more than we need when the spring crops start showing up - but then I remember that it's nice to have a bit more to work with than greens and asparagus. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes, but it is gratifying to see that our fairly small, 10-cubic-foot chest freezer has stood us in such good stead.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fajita Stir-Fry

Some steak from our beef share, peppers from the freezer, and onions from Winter Fare added up to some excellent south-of-the-border flavor. If you want to do this properly, serve with fresh warm flour tortillas. I didn't have tortillas on hand and didn't feel like making them (not hard, but too much time), so I served it over rice instead, which worked great. You don't really even need the toppings, but they do add to the overall experience. Flank steak is traditional for fajitas, but really any relatively inexpensive boneless steak will do. Be sure to cut across the grain.

1 1/2 lbs steak, trimmed and thinly sliced across the grain
2 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper
canola oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, sliced
3 cups chopped bell peppers (multiple colors is nice)
Salsa for topping (optional)
Shredded cheddar or jack cheese for topping (optional)
Sour cream for topping (optional)

Toss the sliced steak in a bowl with the lime juice, chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper. If you have time, let it marinate for up to an hour. If you don't have time, even a few minutes helps.

Heat some canola oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. Cook the steak over high heat, stirring periodically. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan, then add the garlic and onion. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes over high heat (you want it to brown a bit), then add the peppers. Continue to cook over high heat (again, browning a bit) until tender. Add the beef back in and remove from heat.

Serve over rice or with warm tortillas. Pass toppings at the table.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Minestrone from the Freezer

Tonight I felt well enough to cook - and eat - a proper meal for the first time in a week. But I still wanted something sort of comforting. I pulled kidney beans, chickpeas, red peppers, green peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes out of my freezer and made this yummy soup. The frozen ingredients work great. You'll need to thaw the tomatoes and beans (at least partially) but the others can go in frozen. You can also try this again in the fall, when the weather has cooled enough for soup but the veggies are still all available fresh; you might even be able to score some fresh shell beans to use then.

olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chopped tomatoes and their liquid
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans or cannellini
2 medium carrots, in thin rounds
1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 cup diced or shredded zucchini
Water or stock (chicken or veggie) as needed
1 cup dry elbow macaroni or similar pasta
1-2 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat some olive oil in a soup pot. Add the garlic and onion and saute over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, beans, carrots, peppers, and zucchini, and enough water or stock to generously cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the veggies are tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Add the pasta, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper. Return the soup to a boil, then simmer again until the pasta is tender, about 8-10 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves at least 6.

Variations: substitute other vegetables with whatever you have.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

CSA Shares and Summer Farm Camps

Well, dear readers, there has been a stomach bug making its way through our household, so I haven't been doing a lot of creative cooking over the last two weeks. With any luck, we're just about done and I'll feel up to getting back into the kitchen.

In the meantime, the CISA's March newsletter brought a reminder that it's time to think about signing up for CSA shares for this season. Check out their list of Pioneer Valley farms offering CSAs.

And if you have kids, you might be interested in this list of local farms offering summer camp experiences. My guy is still too little for this sort of thing, but it sounds really cool and I will definitely be keeping it in mind for a few years from now.

And on a final note about CISA, if anyone is job hunting, CISA has an opening for a Program Coordinator.