Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Creamy Parmesan Pasta with Turkey and Kale

Sophisticated enough for adults, reminiscent enough of mac-n-cheese for little ones. You can substitute chicken for the turkey if you like, but I like the turkey's somewhat more assertive flavor in this combination. I used lacinato kale, which worked nicely.

1 lb cut pasta (penne is good)
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk, warmed
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
Olive oil
5-6 cups finely chopped kale
1 1/2 cups diced cooked turkey
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, and cook the pasta. Drain and toss with a little oil.

While you heat water and cook the pasta, melt the butter in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over it and whisk thoroughly to combine. Stir constantly with the whisk for 1-2 minutes, then gradually whisk in the warm milk until thoroughly combined. Ensure there are no lumps. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce and continue to simmer until it reaches about the consistency of heavy cream. Turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the pasta and sauce cook, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet. Add the kale and saute until just tender. Stir in the turkey and saute until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the kale and turkey mixture to the sauce and combine well. Sauce the pasta and serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Tortilla Pie with Roasted Garlic and Kale

This was a quick, last minute inspiration, but it worked well. Plus my six-year-old actually ate the kale along with all the rest of it. Substitute spinach for the kale if you like.

2 large tortillas (burrito size)
1 14-oz can refried beans (1 1/2 - 2 cups)
4-5 cups finely chopped lacinato kale
1 head roasted garlic, cloves peeled and coarsely chopped
4-5 oz shredded sharp cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place one tortilla in the bottom of an oven-proof pan. Spread half the refried beans over it. Top with half the kale, half the garlic, and half the cheese. Add the second tortilla and repeat with the remaining ingredients. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown and the pie is hot through. Slice into eighths and serve hot.

Serves 3-4.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chipotle Turkey Chili

We had a big bird this year, and after finally stripping all the meat off the bones, I've got several meals worth of diced and shredded turkey meat in the freezer - perfect for soup, chili, casseroles, or pizza. Tonight we had this chili, where turkey plays a starring role but in a totally different context than the typical Thanksgiving fare.

Olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cups chopped tomatoes (canned or frozen is fine)
3-4 cups diced or shredded cooked turkey
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 -1 tsp chili powder
3 bell peppers, diced (any color(s))
1-2 cups cooked black beans
1-2 cups cooked kidney beans
Salt and pepper to taste
1 or more chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and minced
Shredded cheddar or jack cheese for topping (optional)

Heat a little olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the garlic and onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and turkey, then stir in the cumin, chili powder, peppers, and beans. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, or longer if desired. Stir in minced chipotle to taste, plus salt and pepper.

Serve hot. Top with cheese at the table if desired.

Serves about 6.

Maple Walnut Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes

This is a simple and easy roasting treatment that brings out the natural sweetness and nuttiness in parsnips and sweet potatoes. Parsnips are generally best in the early spring when they've overwintered in the ground, turning their starch into sugar - but when harvested after several good freezes, they are also worth buying in the late fall.

1 1/2 lbs parsnips, peeled and cubed (cut out woody cores if needed)
1 1/2 - 2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1-2 Tbsp walnut oil
1 Tbsp maple syrup, as dark a grade as possible
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the parsnips and sweet potatoes in a bowl with the oil and syrup, then add salt to taste. Spread out in a single layer (or nearly) on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes (may be longer if you like big cubes).

Serves 4-6.

Easy and Excellent Slow Cooker Braised Beef

This is the simplest recipe I have developed for braised beef, but it is astonishingly good. You can use shanks, short ribs, or a pot roast cut. To speed the morning preparation, brown the beef the night before and refrigerate. Load everything in the cooker in the morning and revel in your forethought come suppertime.

Braised beef shanks with a side of Maple Walnut Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes

3 lbs beef shanks, short ribs, or similar
Canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 head garlic, unpeeled
3/4 cup dry red wine
Beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4-1/2 tsp dried

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Pat the beef dry with a paper towel, then lightly oil all over.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper all over. Place in a baking pan, then brown in the oven for at least 10 minutes per side.  If desired, refrigerate for up to a few days before slow cooking.

Separate the head of garlic into cloves but do not peel. Place the garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker. Pay the browned beef on top of the garlic. Pour in the red wine, then add enough beef stock to cover the meet about three quarters of the way. Top with the sprigs of thyme or a sprinkling of dried thyme. Cover the cooker and cook on Low for 7-9 hours, until meet is very tender.

Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles, or with a side of roasted potatoes or root vegetables, with plenty of the braising liquid spooned over the meat.

Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Carrot and Celeriac Fried Rice with Tofu

Leftover rice + root vegetables + broiled tofu = delicious, quick, satisfying meal.  Toss a few cashews in at the end to jazz it up if you like. This is great with short grain  brown rice, which gives it extra substance. If you want more color, feel free to toss in some greens at the end.

1 lb firm or extra firm tofu, cubed
1/4 cup soy sauce, or more to taste
Canola oil
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp grated ginger root
3 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 large celeriac, peeled and shredded
3-4 cups cold leftover rice, preferably short grain brown rice
1/2-3/4 cup cashews (optional)

Preheat the broiler. Toss the tofu gently with the soy sauce, then spread in a single layer in a baking dish. Broil for 5 minutes, then flip the cubes and broil for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the tofu broils, heat some canola oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for about 1 minute, then add the carrots and celeric. Stir fry over medium-high heat until tender. Add a little soy sauce to keep it from sticking, if needed. Add the rice and stir well. Gently stir in the broiled tofu and whatever soy sauce is in the pan. Taste and add additional soy sauce if desired. Toss in the cashews if using.

Serves about 6.

Curried Beef with Root Vegetables and Spinach

This is one of those dishes that's even better the next day. Hearty and flavorful, chock full of vegetables, it's perfect for a cold November evening. Serve this over brown rice.

Canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp grated or minced ginger root
2-3 tsp garam masala
1 lb ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 1/2 lbs potatoes, diced
Beef stock
1/3 lb spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp corn starch for thickening (optional)

Heat a little canola oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the ground beef and brown thoroughly, then stir in the garam masala. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Add carrots and potatoes, then add just enough beef stock to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted.

If desired, stir together thee corn starch and about 1/3 cup of the broth from the stew, then stir the paste back into the stew and simmer until it thickens to the desired consistency.

Serve stew over rice, preferably brown.

Serves 4-6.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

We picked the very last of the tomatoes before the first freeze a week and a half ago. With a bowl of cherry tomatoes sitting on the counter, it was time to put them to use. These are great with pasta or on pizza.

Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Dried basil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spread the cherry tomatoes in a single layer in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a bit of dried basil. Toss to coat the tomatoes all over, then return them to their single layer.

Roast for 25-35 minutes, until the tomatoes have split open and turned appealingly wrinkled and excess liquid has evaporated - but not to the point where they become glued to the pan.

Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts and White Beans

If you are a Brussels sprouts skeptic, or there's one in your family, this is a good point of entry (I speak from experience, both my own and that of my six-year-old who came back for thirds), especially now that we've had a few good frosts and the sprouts are at their best. This is an adaptation from Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The good health points from the sprouts may well be totally counter-weighted by the cream, but it sure is delicious.

1 quart Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

If your sprouts are large, cut them in half. Otherwise, use them whole.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Salt generously, then cook the Brussels sprouts at a vigorous simmer for about 8 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the sprouts.

In a small skillet or medium saucepan, melt the butter then add the sprouts. Saute for 1-2 minutes, then add the beans and the cream. Simmer until the cream thickens somewhat and the beans and sprouts are nicely permeated with it. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot.

Serves about 4.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pureed Lentil Soup with Roasted Red Peppers and Fennel

This is a warming, hearty soup, and the flavor of the roasted red peppers really comes through in every bite. If you want a version that's less brown, try red lentils (they also cook faster, but don't have quite the same comforting heartiness of their brown cousins).

2 cups brown lentils
7-8 cups beef stock and/or water
Olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
5-6 ounces roasted red peppers, chopped (~3 medium peppers)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Place the lentils in a soup pot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 30 minutes.

While the lentils cook, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the garlic, onion, and fennel, and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted roasted red pepper and set aside.

When the lentils are tender, stir in the vegetable mixture and the red wine vinegar. Puree using an immersion blender or carefully do it in batches in a regular blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4-6.

Variation: Substitute red lentils, chicken or vegetable stock, and white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar for a lighter texture and flavor.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Drying Apples and Asian Pears

I love drying fruit at home - it's easy, and the flavor is like nothing you've ever tasted in dried fruit from the store.

Our little Asian pear tree, planted a few years ago, produced its first harvest of any size this year. The pears are delicious fresh, but we had a few more than we could eat before they would start to get soft and lose their flavor, so I wanted to try drying them. To get a full dehydrator load, I added some apples - they can be prepared the same way and take roughly the same amount of drying time (the apples dried slightly faster than the pears).

If you've never had an Asian pear, they look a bit like apples - rounder than the classic European pear we mostly see around here - and they are crisp rather than soft. The skin is edible but usually a bit tough, so it's best to peel them for eating.

For both apples and Asian pears, the way to prepare them for drying is to peel, core and slice to about 1/4-inch thick. The easiest way I have found to do this is using an apple machine - you can find these at many stores with kitchen supplies (around here, Wilson's and also the Farmers Coop, among others) - that peels, slices, and cores all at once.

Spread the fruit out in a single layer on the dryer trays and dry for 6-8 hours (maybe slightly longer for the pears), until the fruit is completely dry but still pliable.

Orzo with Leeks

Many types of leeks are quite cold hardy, and they linger happily in the garden after many other things are done. Mine have fattened up nicely, begging to have their delectable flavor added to all sorts of all dishes. This one is a simple side that showcases the flavor of the leeks. The parsley and lemon juice are a nice addition but this is quite excellent with just the leeks and orzo.

 8 oz dry orzo
Olive oil
2 fat leeks, well chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1/2 - 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Cook the orzo in a pot of salted boiling water until al dente, then drain and toss with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.

While the orzo cooks, heat a little olive oil in a skillet and saute the leeks over medium high heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir the leeks into the orzo, then add salt and pepper to taste along with the parsley and lemon juice if using. Serve warm.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Maple Baked Squash Halves

This is a classic New England preparation of winter squash. Everyone gets to scoop squash flesh out of their own half, which makes for an attractive presentation as well as fun for kids.

2 or more 'personal sized' winter squashes - delicata, acorn, buttercup, etc
Canola oil
1/2 tsp maple syrup per squash half (the darker grade the better)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the squashes in half vertically and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves in a baking pan, cut side up. Drizzle each one with 1/2 tsp maple syrup, then spray or brush lightly with a little canola oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Ready to bake
Bake the squash for 40-50 minutes, until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork.  Serve hot, giving eat diner 1-2 halves.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pizza with Roasted Red Peppers, Goat Cheese, and Fresh Arugula

I borrowed a trick learned from the chefs at Mag Pie and tossed fresh arugula on here after baking - delicious, and a perfect contrast to the roasted peppers and goat cheese.

1 14-inch pizza crust
Olive oil
3-4 ounces shredded mozzarella
2 ounces roasted red peppers, sliced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 ounces goat cheese
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh arugula (raw)

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

Sprinkle the mozzarella over the pizza crust, then add the sliced roasted red peppers. Sprinkle with shallots, then dot with goat cheese. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is done and cheese begins to brown. Upon removing from the oven, sprinkle the arugula over the top of the pizza. Serve immediately.

Serves 3-4.

Brussels Sprouts in Butter

This preparation is so simple that calling it a recipe is probably a bit of an exaggeration. But it's good, and it's easy, and my six-year-old professes to like it (as does his dad). Brussels sprouts are available now - at the market and in my garden - but they will get better in a few weeks as the weather gets colder and they experience a few frosts.

1 pint Brussels sprouts (about 2 cups)
1 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim the ragged outer leaves off the sprouts and then cut them in half lengthwise, or into quarters if they are large.

Bring some water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. Boil the sprouts for about 10 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork, then drain them.

Melt the butter (I do this in a bowl in the microwave), then toss the Brussels sprouts with it. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Serves 2-4.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fire Roasted Eggplant

October is still eggplant season! Do up a few on the grill like this, maybe along with some red peppers, and make Fire Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Sauce, a smoky version of Roasted Eggplant Garlic Dip, or make up some Roasted Eggplant Puree with Olive Oil. The fire roasted flesh is also nice just chopped up and added to pasta sauce, a lamb stew or curry, or pizza.

You can use any number of eggplants, depending on how much you plan to use, and virtually any type. Fatter ones will take a bit longer to roast than the skinny kind.

Wash eggplants and pierce in several places with a sharp knife. Leave the calyxes on.  Get the grill going nice and hot and roast the eggplants, turning once or twice, until black all over and very soft.

Remove blackened eggplants from the grill and let them cool.  When cool enough to handle, cut off the calyx end and slice open. Scoop out the flesh and use however you like.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Coconut-Ginger Braised Chicken with Peppers and Carrots

I made this Thai-themed dish inspired by the last of the Thai basil (you can substitute cilantro, which is more plentiful this time of year) in the garden plus the colorful peppers and carrots that are coming in abundantly right now. You can use bone-in chicken parts if you like - no need to stick to thighs - but they will need to braise longer to be fully cooked. Serve this over rice.

Canola oil
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
3 Tbsp minced or grated ginger
1 1/2 - 2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
1 14-oz can coconut milk (lite is fine)
2 large sweet peppers, sliced the long way
2-3 large carrots, sliced into rounds or matchsticks
1 tsp lime juice, or to taste
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil or cilantro

Heat a little canola oil in a large skillet or braising pan.  Add the shallots and ginger and saute over medium high heat for about 1 minute, then add the chicken. Brown quickly, turning over once, then add the coconut milk. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through.

Once the chicken is cooked through, add the vegetables and continue to simmer for a few minutes until they are tender but not too soft. Add lime juice and salt and stir to combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  Stir in the Thai basil or cilantro and remove from heat.

Serve hot over rice.

Serves 4-6.

Pizza with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Feta

Tangy, sweet, and salty with Fire Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and feta. A great way to enjoy some of the last flavors of summer. You can, of course, substitute tomatoes roasted in the oven. If you like, sprinkle a bit of chopped fresh parsley, sage, or thyme over the pizza after it comes out of the oven.

1 14-inch pizza crust
Olive oil
2-3 oz shredded mozzarella
1 1/2 - 2 cups Fire Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2-3 oz crumbled feta
Freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh herbs (optional) - 1 Tbsp parsley or 1 tsp sage or thyme

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

Spread the mozzarella over the crust, then add the tomatoes, shallot, and feta, and top with a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until crust is done and cheese begins to brown. Top with herbs if desired.

Serves 3-4.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pickled Jalapenos

This recipe comes from Massachusetts author Sherry Vinton's wonderful preserving book Put 'Em Up. You can use it for any kind of chili peppers. The pickling process mellows their heat considerably, but they still retain a little kick. The hotter the pepper you start with, the more kick retained. I like to use jalapenos and Hungarian hot wax or banana peppers. If you like the pickled flavor but not the heat, try sweet peppers. Once opened, a jar of these will keep for ages in the fridge.  Great for nachos, tacos or quesadillas, scrambled eggs, homemade salsa, etc.

If you want to make more or less than this recipe calls for, just keep in mind that each pound of fresh peppers equals roughly one quart (or equivalent) of pickled peppers.

2 lbs jalapenos or other chili peppers
3 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups water
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar

Stem the peppers and slice them into rounds. You may want to use rubber gloves for this. If you opt to use your bare hands, be sure to scrub them very thoroughly with soap afterwards to avoid unpleasantness the next time you rub your eyes or some other sensitive area.

Prepare the brine by bringing the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar just to a boil then turning off the heat.

Pack the peppers tightly into jars (I like to do this in half pint jars but you can do pints as well). Using a funnel, ladle the brine over the peppers, leaving about a quarter inch of head space at the top. Wipe the rims clean, then place the lids on and add the rings, screwing them until until just 'fingertip tight'.

Process the jars in a boiling water bath, 10 minutes for half pints or 15 minutes for pints. Remove from the water and let cool for 24 hours. If any jars fail to seal, put them in the fridge and use them soon.

Makes 4 to 4 1/2 pints.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fire Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Late blight has done in all of our tomato plants except one at this point - but that one, a Matt's Wild cherry tomato, is going strong and proving remarkably resistant. Plus the tomatoes are great!  Today I fire roasted some on the grill along with some of our very last Golden Sweet tomatoes, a sweet yellow grape tomato that was the second-to-last left. Try these on pizza, tossed with pasta, or on their own as a side dish. 

1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes (slice larger ones in half)
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper until well coated. 

Fire up the grill. Place the tomatoes in a grill basket and grill over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring 2-3 times over the course of the cooking. Remove from heat when tender and nicely browned in places.

Makes 1 1/2 - 2 cups.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Fresh Tomatoes for Sauce

This is not so much a recipe as an advance preparation technique. You can use this for nearly any type of tomato (I don't recommend it for cherry or grape tomatoes unless they're quite large, just because the work involved doesn't seem worth it), including the juiciest slicers, and end up with a product that's good for making sauce without hours and hours of simmering down. You can do this in a small batch for a single dinner or in large quantities to freeze.

Blanched and seeded, ready to drain in the colander
Start by coring your tomatoes and cutting out any bad spots.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  While you wait for it to boil, prepare a large bowl of ice water nearby.

Carefully drop the tomatoes into the pot of boiling water to blanch them for peeling - as many as will comfortably fit.  After 1 minute, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them into the ice water. After a couple minutes, scoop them out of the ice water. Repeat with as many batches as you have.

Peel your blanched tomatoes. The skin should slip right off.

Once peeled, slice each tomato open. If you're using paste tomatoes, you can just scoop out the seeds and place seeded tomatoes in a colander over the sink or a large bowl.  If you're using slices or the like, break them into a few pieces and squeeze carefully in your hand - do this over a bowl! You want all the seeds and much of the excess liquid to go into the bowl below while holding onto the tomato flesh. Once you're satisfied with the amount of seeds and liquid squeezed out, toss the flesh into the colander.

Let the seeded and squeezed tomatoes sit in the colander for a bit, shaking or stirring them a few times to encourage excess liquid to drain off.  Once this is done, the tomatoes are ready to use or freeze. (I free them in quart freezer bags, about 3 cups per bag, pressed out kind of flat for tidy storage and faster thawing. You can thaw them in warm water.)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Roasted Tomatoes for the Freezer

There are lots of ways to freeze tomatoes. Every year I experiment a little, seeking the magical nexus between up-front effort and quality of the end product. This one is a bit more up-front work, but I'm very optimistic about the end result.

Like all tomato freezing and canning, this will yield the best results with paste tomatoes rather than the much juicier slicers or the too-fussy-to-handle cherry tomatoes.  (Both of those work well in salsa or dried.)

I have come to the conclusion that it is best to peel the tomatoes, despite the extra work involve (it's not that bad) - frozen tomato skins end up tough and they inevitably peel off the chunks of tomato and float around in whatever you've cooked with them.  Not a huge deal, but better to peel them before freezing.

Before peeling the tomatoes, core them and cut out any bad spots.  This is far easier to do before blanching than after.

To peel tomatoes easily, bring a Dutch oven or other large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready nearby. Dunk the tomatoes for about 1 minute each in the boiling water, then lift them out with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl of ice water.  (This is called blanching.)  Remove from ice water, and you'll find that the skins slip right off.

Blanched tomatoes ready to peel
 Peel off the skins, squeeze out the seeds and excess liquid, and place the tomatoes in a roasting pan.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let them cool.  

Roasted tomatoes ready to drain and package
Scoop cooled tomatoes out with a slotted spoon or dump them into a colander to remove more liquid.  When ready, scoop them into freezer bags. I like to use quart bags, freezing about 3 cups of tomatoes per bag - that seems to be about the right amount for most recipes I use them in.  Squeeze excess air out of the bags, then press the tomatoes out flat - they will store more compactly and thaw more quickly this way.

When you are ready to use these tomatoes, thaw them in a bowl of warm water until you can get them out of the bag.

Drying Basil

The basil is tall and bushy in the garden.  Last weekend I made pesto for the freezer; this weekend I dried basil for winter use. In the past I have experimented with hanging basil stems to dry, but it hasn't worked out well.  You really need a warm dry space like an attic to do that, or better yet, an arid climate.  This year I got out the dehydrator, and the results were both fast and great.  Unlike tomatoes, peaches, etc., you can dry herbs in about 2 hours.

Ready to dry
Choose leaves that are still reasonably tender and are not insect-eaten or yellowed. Spread them out in more or less one layer on the dehydrator trays. It's okay if they overlap because they will shrink considerably as they dry.

Dry for about 2 hours, checking periodically after the first hour and a half. When done, they should be brittle and crisp with no trace of moisture remaining.  Store in an airtight container, crushing them as you fill it.

Post drying - the leaves have shrunk
Ready for storage in the pantry

Monday, August 19, 2013

Raspberry Peach Cobbler

Our raspberry bushes and peach tree have both been producing in abundance this summer, and our freezer is loaded. These two fruits also work nicely together, whether in jam, smoothies, or a dessert like this one. This recipe is for frozen fruit - thawed and then drained, it makes for a nice thick cobbler that is dense with fruit.  If you choose to use fresh fruit, you can reduce the initial quantity somewhat and you will probably end up with a juicier cobbler. If you like, substitute whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour for up to half the all purpose flour.

A double batch of raspberry peach cobbler in a 9x13-inch pan.
2 quarts frozen peach slices, thawed
2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, in small pieces
1 pint heavy cream
1-2 Tbsp confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an 8x8-inch baking dish.

Drain excess liquid off the fruit.  Combine the peaches (hold raspberries aside) in a mixing bowl with 1/4 cup white sugar, the corn starch, cinnamon, and nutmeg and toss well to coat.  Set aside while you make the dough for the topping.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or two knives until it is peas-sized or smaller.  Add 3/4 cup cream and stir with a fork until the dough just comes together.  If it's too dry, add more cream a little drizzle at a time until you can form the dough into a rough ball in your hands.  Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and press it out with your hands until it is a size that will more or less cover the baking dish.

Pour the peach mixture into the baking dish, spread the raspberries over it, and place the dough over everything (it should be contained within the dish, not hang over).  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and golden brown, and the fruit is bubbling.  Let cool on a rack.

While the cobbler bakes, whip the rest of the cream with the confectioners sugar and refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve the cobbler warm or room temperature with a generous helping of whipped cream on top.

Serves 6-8.

Sauteed Summer Veggies and Olives Over Polenta

Instead of the usual basil with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and summer squash, I took it in a different kind of Mediterranean direction with olives and feta. The veggies are served in a pile over a bowl of soft polenta and topped with feta and, optionally, pine nuts.  Delicious! If you like, substitute quinoa for up to half of the cornmeal in the polenta.

4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups coarse corn meal/polenta meal
1 1/2 tsp salt

Olive oil
1 large eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large summer squash, sliced into 1-2" strips (or substitute zucchini)
2 medium sweet peppers (ripe), sliced into strips
1 1/2 - 2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp good quality minced olives or olive tapenade (or to taste)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Crumbled feta for topping
Toasted pine nuts for topping (optional)

To make the polenta, bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the cornmeal (and quinoa if using) and salt and whisk to prevent lumps.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the desired thickness.

While the polenta cooks, heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.  Add the eggplant and squash and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until partially tender.  Add the peppers, garlic, and tomatoes, plus a bit more oil if needed, and continue to saute until the vegetables are pleasantly tender. The eggplant should be quite soft.  Stir in the olive or tapenade along with the oregano and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the veggies in mounds over bowls of soft polenta. Top with feta and pine nuts (if using) at the table.

Serves about 6.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mushroom and Apricot Risotto

Earthy mushrooms, tender Arborio rice, and sweet bits of apricot.  This is hearty enough to serve as a main dish. Be sure to use completely ripe apricots or they'll be too tart. I used a combination of shiitake any oyster mushrooms, but use whatever you find that's good and flavorful.

Olive oil
1 large shallot, minced (or 1/2 onion)
2 cups Arborio rice
4 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
12 oz mushrooms, stemmed and diced
4 small apricots, pitted and diced
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in your pressure cooker. Add the shallot and saute for about 2 minutes.  Add the rice and saute for a minute or so, until translucent.  Add the stock and stir well, then cover and bring the cooker to pressure.  Cook for 7 minutes at pressure, then release.

While the rice cooks, heat a bit more olive oil in a skillet, then add the mushrooms.  Saute over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, until tender, then add the apricots and cook for about 1 minute more.

Stir the Parmesan into the rice once it's cooked, then stir in the mushroom and apricot mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot.

Serves 4-6 as a main dish.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sweet and Tangy Asian Shredded Pork with Mushrooms and Onions

Here's what to do if you have leftover Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder. This would also work pretty well with leftover pork chops or even pork loin if you slice it up thinly; you just won't get the same shredded texture. Serve this over egg noodles or rice.

Canola oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3/4 - 1 lb leftover Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder or other pork, shredded or chopped
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
About 1 cup water
Salt to taste

Heat a little canola oil in a large skillet or braising pan.  Add the garlic and saute over medium high heat for 1-2 minutes, then add the onion and shiitakes and saute until tender, 5-6 minutes or so.  Stir in the pork and reduce heat to medium-low.

Combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a small bowl, then pour over the meat the veggies and stir well.  Pour in about 1 cup of water and stir to combine everything well, then simmer until the sauce thickens a bit (this shouldn't take long).

Serve hot over egg noodles or rice.

Serves about 4.

Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder with Soy-Tomato-Ginger Sauce

This was easy and really delicious, plus it made enough for leftovers the next day.  If you don't have the Tomato Ginger Chutney available, substitute a couple tablespoons of ketchup or tomato paste plus 1/3 cup of some other chutney or jam plus a tablespoon or grated ginger root.  You can also substitute ribs for the pork shoulder, but you'll need more like 4-5 lbs.  Serve this over rice or noodles.  You can toss in some veggies at the last minute, or prepare them separately, if desired.

1/2 cup Tomato Ginger Chutney
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 tsp Asian hot sauce (e.g. sriracha), or to taste
3 lb bone-in pork shoulder

Combine the chutney, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and hot sauce in a small bowl or jar and mix well.

Place the pork in the slow cooker and spoon or brush the sauce all over it.  Pour any extra over the meat. Cook on Low for 6-8 hours, until the pork is falling apart when you stick a fork in it.

Serves 6-8.

Pizza with Blue Cheese and Grilled Summer Veggies

I made an extra large batch of Grilled Summer Squash and Onions last weekend and use it in a couple recipes over the course of the week.  Feel free to substitute other veggies (eggplant, tomatoes, red peppers once they come into season). This is a good one if you are a blue cheese lover like myself.

I liked this with the tomato sauce, but you could skip it and put the mozzarella on the bottom if you like, to emphasize the flavors of the veggies more.

1 14-inch pizza crust
olive oil
3/4 cup tomato sauce (optional)
2 cups Grilled Summer Squash and Onions
2-3 oz crumbled or diced blue cheese (Gorgonzola or local blue of your choice)
2-3 oz shredded mozzarella

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

Spread the sauce over the crust, then top with the grilled vegetables.  Sprinkle with blue cheese and mozzarella, then bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is done and the cheese begins to brown.

Serves 3-4.

Parmesan Roasted Fennel and Zucchini/Summer Squash

Sweet, nutty, and a little salty from the Parmesan.  You might even get kids to eat this.

1 1/2 lbs zucchini or summer squash, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  If desired, place a sheet of parchment paper over a large baking pan.

Place the zucchini or squash and the fennel in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the olive oil, then sprinkle the salt and pepper and the Parmesan.  Toss until the vegetables are all well coated.

Spread the veggies out in more or less a single layer on the baking sheet (use two if you need to). Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender and partly browned.  If desired, finish under the broiler for about 2 minutes for additional browning.

Serves about 4.

Peach Ginger Ice Cream

This recipe requires an ice cream maker and is calibrated for the 1 1/2 quart size.

I'll definitely be making this again - the peaches (straight from our tree) and candied ginger are excellent together, all against the backdrop of sweet local cream. Make sure you use a nice, soft, ripe peach.

3 cups cream (or 2 cups cream + 1 cup milk)
1 medium peach, pitted, peeled, and mashed
3/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so.  When you're ready, process in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.  Serve immediately or freeze in an airtight container for later.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Orzo Salad with Raw Corn, Zucchini, and Feta

This salad is light, fresh, and refreshing, full of the flavors of summer.  Feel free to substitute summer squash for the zucchini.

8 oz. orzo
Olive oil
2 medium zucchinis, shredded
Kernels from 3 ears of corn (sliced off)
5 garlic scapes, minced (or 1-2 minced garlic cloves)
5-6 large scallions, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh basil
4-6 oz crumbled feta
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup grated Parmesan (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the orzo in a pot of salted boiling water.  Drain, then cool by rinsing in cold water and drain again.

Drizzle the cooked and cooled orzo with olive and toss to coat.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat.

Serves about 6.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Raspberry Peach Jam

My son takes a cream cheese and jam sandwich to school for lunch most days, so we go through jam at a pretty good rate at our house.  This batch used up the last of our frozen peaches from last year, just in time for the new crop that will start coming in in a few weeks, plus some of the wealth of raspberries our bushes are producing.  The end product is a lovely color, and delicious.

If you use an immersion blender for a more uniform consistency, you do not need to skin the peaches. If you plan to leave the jam chunky, I recommend skinning them first.  If you don't like seeds in your jam, you'll want to use the blender and then press the jam through a sieve to remove the raspberry seeds.  Personally, I don't mind the seeds and I skip this step (which is kind of a pain).

I would recommend using pectin in this, as both raspberries and peaches are very juicy and not high in pectin themselves.  Alternatively, you simmer it for a really long time and end up with less of the final product.  If using pectin, follow the instructions on the package for how much to use per unit of fruit and when and how to add it.

8 cups sliced peaches (thawed if frozen)
4 cups raspberries (thawed if frozen)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (optional)
Pectin per package directions

Combine the peaches and raspberries in a Dutch oven or other large pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until cooked through.  Use an immersion blender to puree the fruit.  Stir in the sugar (combined with the pectin if that's what your pectin instructions call for; otherwise stir the pectin in afterward). Bring to a rolling boil, then remove from heat.

This recipe is suitable for canning, processing 1/2-pint jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Otherwise, refrigerate or freeze.

Makes 9-10 half-pints (less if you opt to simmer instead of using pectin to thicken).

Southeast Asian Grilled Flank Steak

I was really pleased with how this marinade came out.  Serve the steak on its own or as a topping for Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowls. Substitute top round, hangar steak, or skirt steak here if you like.

2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp lime juice
A 1 1/2 - 2 lb flank steak

Combine the garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, and lime juice and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Lay the steak in a baking pan large enough to hold it laid out flat.  Pour the marinade over it and turn it over a few times to coat.  Let sit for at least 15 (but not hours because the lime juice will start to break down the meat and give it a less pleasing texture).

Grill over high heat, about 4 minutes per side for medium rare.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Raspberry-White Currant Syrup

I was inspired by the red currant syrup, which has proven to be a huge hit at our house with a spoonful or two in a tall glass of seltzer during the recent heat wave. This version uses the slightly sweeter white currants plus raspberries that are coming in thick and fast in our garden right now.  It's delicious!

4 cups white currants, stemmed and washed
4 cups raspberries
2 cups white sugar
Splash of water

Place the currants, raspberries sugar, and water in a Dutch oven or similar large pan.  Cook over medium heat until the currant skins start to separate from the fruit and it gets pretty soupy.  (Keep cooking it longer if you desire a thicker end product.)  Strain the syrup through a fine sieve into a bowl, then use the back of a spoon to mash and press as much of the remaining flesh and liquid through the sieve as you can. Scrape the bottom of the sieve periodically to get the nice, thick, pectin-rich gel that collects there.  When you're done, pour the syrup into a jar(s).  This is suitable for canning (5 minutes for half pint jars, 10 minutes for pint jars), or just keep it in the fridge.

Makes about 5-6 cups.

Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowls with Shiitakes and Bacon

Back in our California days, my husband and I ate a lot of Vietnamese food, especially these wonderful cool vermicelli bowls in hot weather.  If you get the noodles, veggies, and sauce right, you can put pretty much anything on top.  Here I've used flavorful shiitake mushrooms and bacon because I had them on hand, but you could just as soon use grilled chicken or steak (some nice marinated flank steak would be excellent), leftover roast pork, marinated tofu grilled or broiled...etc.

If you like, you can double or triple the Nuoc Cham recipe - it keeps well in the fridge for weeks at a time.

Nuoc Cham
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili paste
2 Tbsp lime juice (ideally fresh)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt

Make the Nuoc Cham first (unless you have some from a previous batch in the fridge already) so the flavors can meld while you prepare the bowls.  Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or jar and let sit.

Vermicelli Bowls
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 lb Asian rice vermicelli
1 large cucumber, shredded
A few carrots, shredded
2-3 cups shredded lettuce
1-2 cups chopped fresh mint, cilantro, and/or Thai basil

Start by preparing the shiitake-bacon topping. Heat the olive oil in a wok or large skillet.  Add the mushrooms and saute for 3-5 minutes, until mostly tender.  Add the bacon and stir-fry until cooked but not crispy.  Add the soy sauce and cook for another minute or so.  Pour off excess bacon fat (or remove with a baster) and set aside.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 6 minutes, until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.

To assemble the bowls, place a generous quantity of noodles in the bottom of each bowl. Top with tidy mounds off cucumber, carrot, lettuce, and herbs, then add a spoonful of the shiitake-bacon mixture.  Top with Nuoc Cham at the table.

Serves about 4.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Snow Pea Stir Fry with Thai Basil

Our snap peas are just about done, but the snow peas, which we planted slightly later, are still going.  I took a big pile of them and made this simple stir fry, where they are shown off to good advantage.  I used chicken for the protein here, but feel free to substitute beef, pork, broiled tofu, etc. Alternatively, skip the protein and serve the snow peas as a side dish. Serve this over rice if you're making a meal out of it.

Canola oil
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp grated ginger
1 lb chicken breasts, cubed
6 cups snow peas
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp (optional) soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch (optional)
1 cup Thai basil leaves, whole or cut into ribbons

Heat a little canola oil in a wok or extra large skillet.  Add the garlic, ginger, and chicken, and stir fry over medium-high heat until the chicken is cooked through.  Add the snow peas and stir fry until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce.  If desired, combine 1 Tbsp soy sauce with 1 Tbsp corn starch and stir into the stir fry.  Cook very briefly, just until the sauce thickens. Stir in the Thai basil.

Serve over rice.

Serves 4-5.