Nov 8 2010

What’s for Dinner

Saturday in our veggie box we got: spinach, lettuce, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, six apples, five plums, two little artichokes, two leeks, and seven Yukon Gold potatoes. But it rained all weekend and I’m sick (I got a cough from Davy; he’s fine now and I’m on the mend, but I felt pretty bad for most of last week). So we didn’t manage to drag ourselves to grocery store. Instead we had Swedish meatballs from IKEA on Saturday night (and we were very grateful to Nonna and Pappy who stocked our freezer with the meatballs!) and pizza last night. Tonight, I have chicken stock and some leftover cooked chicken on hand, so I think I’ll put them together along with a couple of carrots, a handful of rice, and the celery that’s been sitting at the bottom of the crisper for a while to make a soup: it probably won’t be the best chicken soup ever, but hopefully it’ll still be passable. Then after dinner we’ll hit the grocery store.

Tomorrow, if it’s not raining, I want to grill some chicken breasts—well, I’ll get Sam to grill the chicken breasts, as everybody knows that applying fire to meat is man’s work. But I’ll make an apple-mustard grilling sauce, and a salad to go on the side. Tuesday I’ll use the spinach in a pasta recipe that Cook’s Illustrated calls “Skillet penne with spinach and sausage”—it’s really good, I should post the recipe. Wednesday we’ll have a cauliflower/potato soup with leeks and a loaf of home-made bread. Thursday, a veggie dinner of green beans and potatoes and roasted broccoli, and Friday, leftovers.

Jul 24 2010

A Picture and a Recipe

Here’s your daily baby:

He’s got quite some nose on him, hasn’t he?

And here’s the recipe for zucchini fritters, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated:

First you need to shred a pound of zucchini. You can do this with a box grater, but it’s a lot easier if you have a food processor with a shredder attachment. Toss the shredded zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and let it drain in a colander for ten minutes. Then wrap it in a kitchen towel and press out as much liquid as you can.

Put the dried zucchini in a large bowl with half a pound of feta cheese and two eggs, lightly beaten (or you can do what I do, which is crack the eggs to the side of the bowl and just stir them up a bit right there). Mince up a couple of scallions, two tablespoons of dill, and a clove of garlic, and add it to the other ingredients in the bowl. Grind some black pepper on top (about 1/4 teaspoon). Mix up everything in the bowl: it’s easiest to use your hands, to be honest, but you could use a spatula if you don’t want to get messy.

When everything is reasonably well combined, sprinkle 1/4 cup flour on top and stir that in too.

Put three tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and heat it (over medium flame) until shimmering. Drop your zucchini mixture in by two-tablespoon spoonfuls: you should get six fritters in the pan at a time. Use a spatula to press the fritters down into the shape of small, fat pancakes. Fry ’em until they’re golden brown, about five minutes per side. Put them on a paper-towel lined plate while you fry the second batch of fritters (add more oil to the pan if you need to).

The recipe can be easily doubled if you have more zucchini.

Apr 23 2010

Chicken Stock Two Ways

It occurs to me that since I keep rhapsodizing about what a difference home-made stock has made to my cooking, I should maybe post a recipe for chicken stock.

I make it two different ways. When I have a roast chicken carcass on hand, I just put the whole thing in the pot along with a chopped onion, a couple of sliced carrots, a couple of sliced celery ribs, one or two peeled (but whole) cloves of garlic, 5-10 peppercorns, and sometimes a star anise. I cover it with water, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. This makes a fairly light, delicate stock that is particularly good for things like cooking rice in, or when you just need a cup or so of stock for a pasta recipe or something.

For a thicker, richer stock that is fan-freaking-tastic as a soup base, I start with raw chicken necks and backs (about four pounds) and brown them on both sides in a little cooking oil. This has to be done in batches and takes a little time, but the browning makes the final stock much more flavorful. I also sauté the onion, carrots and celery, and then return the chicken to the pot with the vegetables and let it all “sweat” over medium-low heat for twenty minutes. Towards the end I bring two quarts of water to boil in a second pot, and then add it to the first pot (this is a Cook’s Illustrated trick for cutting down the total cooking time on the stock, but obviously you could also just add cold water and bring it back up to boil). Everything boils for another twenty minutes, and then it can be strained and put in the fridge. After refrigerating overnight, all the fat will form a thick layer on top that can be easily skimmed off with a slotted spoon.

And that’s how I make chicken stock! I know there’s a great art to perfect stock, and would be interested in hearing how any of my foodie friends make theirs—any tips or tricks to share?

Apr 22 2010

Creamy Green Garlic Soup with Potatoes

This is the soup I made last night: I modified a Cook’s Illustrated recipe to use the green garlic from our veggie box. It came out really tasty! I will say up front that this is not a low-fat recipe—it calls for three tablespoons of butter and half a cup of cream. To be frank, though, in the world of creamed soups, that’s actually not too bad. I have a recipe for vichyssoise that calls for half a stick of butter, three cups of whole milk and two cups of heavy cream. Plus this is a really hearty, filling soup; a bowl of it makes a meal.

The recipe could easily be made vegetarian by substituting another garnish (such as garlic croutons or crisp-fried onions) for the bacon, and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. As always, home-made stock makes for infinitely better soup.

Take about a pound and a half of leeks and chop up the white and light green parts—you should have about two cups. Also chop one bunch of green garlic (the white part, discarding the tough outer peel). My “bunch” had four stalks of green garlic, but you could use more, or less. Compensate by varying the amount of regular garlic, below.

Put a Dutch oven over medium heat and add three tablespoons of butter. When the butter melts and foams, add the leeks and green garlic, and sauté until soft (about five minutes). Meanwhile, peel and mince—or put through a garlic press—three cloves of (ordinary, mature) garlic. Again, you can vary the amount of ordinary garlic to suit whatever quantity of green garlic you have on hand. Keep in mind that green garlic is milder in flavor than full-grown garlic.

When the leeks and green garlic have softened, add the garlic cloves and stir until fragrant, about a minute. Add six cups of chicken broth, two bay leaves, and a teaspoon of salt, and turn up the heat a bit to bring the soup to a boil. Meanwhile, chop two pounds of red and/or yellow potatoes into half-inch cubes. You can use russets if you want, but you’ll have to peel them, as the papery skin of russet potatoes isn’t tasty like the red and yellow potato skins are. And I think the potato skins add a nice texture and taste to the finished soup.

If the soup comes to a full boil while you’re still chopping potatoes, just turn it down and let it simmer until you’re done. Add the potatoes to the soup and cook at a low boil until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes.

If you’re planning on garnishing the soup with bacon—and really, unless you are vegetarian and/or kosher, you should—you can go ahead and fry some up now. I used a strip of bacon per person, except I counted Davy as a person, and then I added an extra strip of bacon for everybody in the house who really loves bacon. Which is everybody. Your bacon may vary.

When the potatoes are cooked, turn off the heat and stir in half a cup of cream and about two teaspoons of fresh thyme, or however much of it you can be bothered to pull off the stems.

Use an immersion blender to process the soup until it’s mostly smooth. You can also do this in a blender or food processor, but you’ll have to do it in batches to avoid a face full of hot soup. An immersion blender is really a handy gadget, especially if you make a lot of soups, and they’re not super expensive: it’s only about $25 for the Cook’s Illustrated-recommended Kalorik Sunny Morning Stick Mixer. While you’re blending, don’t be anal about getting all the lumps. It’s actually nice to have a slightly irregular texture to this soup; it’s supposed to be a potage.

Taste the soup. It’s going to want a boatload of pepper and probably lots more salt (unless you are using storebought chicken stock that’s already loaded with salt), so put that in. Taste it again.

Pretty tasty, eh? Dish it into bowls, sprinkle your bacon bits (or other garnish) on top, and enjoy a nice immune-boosting meal of garlicky spring soup.

Feb 19 2010


I just noticed that on the Capay Valley site, you can check and see what will be in your box for the upcoming week. That could be really handy if, for example, we switched to doing a big grocery shop on the weekends instead of me walking to the store every day like I do now.

Anyway, it looks like next week they’re planning on sending us another butternut squash. So I just called them up and asked, please, no more squash for the time being. The lady on the phone was super nice and asked if there was anything in particular we’d rather have: I said we’re loving the potatoes. Gold star for customer service, Capay Valley Farms!

But we still have to eat the three squashes we have. I’ve done lots of squash soup recently; I’ve done mashed squash with butter and ginger; I’ve done baked squash with brown sugar and apples; I’m kind of at my wit’s end for new and enticing ways to prepare squash. Does anybody have a good butternut squash recipe they’d recommend? This one for squash and potato chunks roasted with garlic and herbs looks like something I might try…

Nov 30 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto with Chard and Leeks

I made this using kind of a mash-up of two recipes: this one and one from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a nice way to use the last of the fall harvest. Somewhat labor intensive but it makes a lot of food (we have enough leftovers for several lunches).

Peel and seed one butternut squash, and dice up the flesh of the squash. In a large, deep skillet or dutch oven heat two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat; add the squash along with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sauté until golden-brown and tender, about ten minutes.

While the squash is cooking, chop up two leeks (or onions) and two cloves of garlic. Wash and stem one bunch of chard.

Also, put four cups of chicken or vegetable broth and one cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Once it’s at a simmer, turn the heat down as low as you can to keep it warm while you continue cooking the vegetables.

When the squash is done, remove it to a bowl and set aside. Add one teaspoon olive oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the chard; cover the skillet and let steam for a couple of minutes, then uncover and stir until chard is fully wilted. Move the cooked chard to a strainer.

Melt three tablespoons of butter in the skillet and, when foaming subsides, add the leeks and garlic along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Sauté until leeks are softened, about five minutes. Add two cups of Arborio rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is translucent around the edges. This only takes a few minutes.

Pour in one and a half cups of white wine and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid, about five minutes. When the wine is fully absorbed, add three cups of the hot broth and the reserved squash and stir it up. Let simmer, stirring every few minutes, until the rice has absorbed the broth and the bottom of the pan is almost dry. Then start adding the rest of the broth, one half cup at a time, stirring and simmering, adding more liquid every time the bottom of the pan gets sticky, until the rice is al dente. If you run out of broth and the rice isn’t tender yet, just start adding water.

While you’re letting the rice simmer, you can grate 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese: or better yet, have somebody else grate it for you.

When the rice is done or almost done, turn off the heat and stir in one more tablespoon of butter, the Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (you get much better flavor if you buy whole nutmegs and grate them fresh), and two tablespoons minced fresh sage. Squeeze any extra liquid out of your chard, chop it roughly, and fold it into the risotto. Taste the rice and adjust the seasonings as you like (I added more salt).

Serve topped with pine nuts, if you want.

Nov 20 2009

Persimmon-Apple Pie


This recipe was included in the veggie box last year, but I can’t find on the Farm Fresh to You site, so I’ll reprint it here.

First, either make a pie crust or thaw a frozen one. I used the frozen crust this time. Bake the pie crust in a 350 degree oven until it’s lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter.

Peel 4 firm-ripe Fuyu persimmons—and they do have to be Fuyu; the other types of persimmons are too astringent to work well—and slice them up. Peel and slice two tart apples (such as Granny Smith or Pink Lady) as well. Mix the fruit in a large bowl with 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and the juice of a lemon.

In another bowl, mix together 1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies, 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons flour. Mix in the melted butter and squeeze with your fingertips to form lumps.

When the pie crust is ready, fill it with the sliced fruit. Scatter the gingersnap mixture on top.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, or until pastry is browned and filling bubbles.

Nov 12 2009

Pumpkin Muffins

I finally got around to making pumpkin puree from the pumpkins we got in our box a few weeks ago. I made two batches of pumpkin muffins and froze the rest of the puree.

The recipe for the muffins is one I clipped from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch probably around ten years ago. You preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl beat together 6 tablespoons melted butter, two eggs, two tablespoons molasses, 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree, and 1/2 cup orange juice. In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in 1/2 cup walnut pieces and 1/2 cup dried cranberries. Spoon into a greased muffin tin and bake for 30 minutes.

This week veggies included spinach, collard greens, red leaf lettuce, a fennel bulb and fronds, a bunch of leeks, a bag of bok choy, a butternut squash, five satsuma mandarin oranges, four persimmons, and five pink lady apples. Tonight we’re working on leftovers from last week’s cabbage and white bean stew, but tomorrow I’ll do pork chops alongside creamed spinach with leeks. Saturday, we’ll have a green salad with sauteed fennel and grilled steak tips, and then Sunday black-eyed peas with bacon and collard greens, and apple-persimmon pie for dessert. Monday, butternut squash and sage risotto; Tuesday, leftovers. Robin and I will have the bok choy at some point for lunch.

Oct 5 2009

Really Great Squash Soup

So that Hubbard squash turned out to make a fantastic soup. I started with the recipe given here, roasting the squash as they suggest with garlic cloves, a drizzle of honey, and sprigs of fresh thyme:

I scooped out the roasted squash flesh into a food processor, and processed it with a splash of cream until it made a nice even puree.

I didn’t have a ham hock, and I was dubious about the amounts of cream and milk called for in the original recipe (a quart? Really?), so I made some variations. I started by chopping up four pieces of thick-cut bacon into half-inch pieces, and frying them over in the bottom of a stockpot over medium-high heat. When the bacon had darkened in color and released its grease, I added the diced onion and two ribs of diced celery, and sauteed them in the bacon grease (I think I also put in a splash of olive oil, because there wasn’t that much fat in the pan, and I think about half a teaspoon of salt) until the vegetables were soft. Then I peeled the four garlic cloves that had roasted with the squash, mashed them up, and sauteed them with the vegetables and bacon for just a minute, until fragrant. Then I added the squash pulp, stirred everything up, sauteed it all for a few minutes more, and then added the five cups of chicken stock and another sprig of fresh thyme (I didn’t have the savory the recipe called for).

The recipe suggests letting everything simmer for 45 minutes, but I gave it like five because I was hungry, and it already tasted really good. Then I put in a cup of cream (hey, it’s better than a quart!), some more salt, a lot of fresh-ground pepper, and I put it into bowls and we ate it. It was easily the best squash soup I’ve ever had. Sam was enthusiastic about it too, although Robin wouldn’t even try it. He’s getting pickier, unfortunately. Maybe he didn’t like the color?

We had leftovers, but they disappeared quickly too.

Oct 2 2009

Tocaya’s Arroz con Pollo

My great-grandmother was a remarkable lady. Her name wasn’t actually Tocaya: it was Herlinda, or Linda for short. Tocaya means “namesake” in Spanish, and it was what she asked my aunt Linda to call her when her granddaughter Linda was born. Then all the other grandchildren—and, later, the great-grandchildren—grew up calling her the same thing, because as far as we knew it was just her name.

Tocaya was born and raised in Sinaloa, Mexico; her mother was a descendant of the Spanish nobility there and her father an American surveyor and engineer who became a naturalized citizen of Mexico. She married an American diplomat and traveled extensively engaged in her husband’s work—which apparently included espionage as well as diplomacy—before finally settling down in Texas. She lived to be 100 and left behind a thriving family that multiplied in every generation: I think she had two children, six grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren, though I may be forgetting someone. I remember her as a grand and stately lady, always carefully and respectfully attended, presiding benevolently over her brood. She was very proud of her Mexican heritage—although she always referred to herself as Spanish—and kept careful genealogical records that, according to her, went back to Christopher Columbus.

I recently asked my grandmother if she had any of Tocaya’s recipes, and she was kind enough to send me this one. It came typed on an old-fashioned recipe card:

I made it last night and it was delicious. Here it is, with my own notes:

1 chicken, cut up into 8 pieces, neck and back removed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup rice (I used brown rice, and as you can see it still comes out a lovely golden color)
1 medium onion, diced
1 sweet pepper, diced (the original recipe calls for half a green pepper, but the red/yellow/orange peppers are sweeter, and I don’t see any reason not to use the whole pepper. The original recipe also tells you to mince the onion and pepper, but in a rustic dish like this one I think slightly larger pieces are nicer.)
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press (originally called for one, but I’m of the opinion that any time you’re going to use one clove of garlic you might as well use two. I really like garlic.)
1 bay leaf
2 cups water or chicken stock (Tocaya calls for two cups of water and three chicken cubes. It seems to me that since there’s a whole chicken and an onion in there that plain water is fine. It’s going to turn into chicken stock by the time it’s done cooking anyway!)
4 tomatoes, diced
1 cup peas (I didn’t have the peas on hand so I left them out, but I can tell they would be nice if you have them. Frozen is probably fine.)
1/4 teaspoon saffron or tumeric (I used saffron, because I am thrift-challenged as we have already established, and cooking with the most expensive spice in the world gives me a thrill.)
pinch oregano
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pat the chicken pieces dry and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Pour enough olive oil (the original recipe called for “salad oil,” which I think could mean any kind of light-tasting oil, but olive oil is good for you) into a skillet to coat the bottom and heat the pan over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, place chicken pieces in skin-side down (you might have to do this in two batches) and let cook until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Turn the chicken and brown on the second side. Set aside.

There should be enough chicken fat left in the pan to cover the bottom; if not, add a bit more olive oil. When it’s up to heat, add your rice and saute, stirring constantly, until the rice turns light brown. (If you’re using brown rice you’ll still be able to see the color change when it’s slightly toasted. Turn the heat down to medium or medium-low if the rice seems in danger of burning.) Add your onion, pepper, and garlic, and saute until the onion is softened and the garlic is fragrant, a few minutes. Add the water or stock along with your tomatoes, saffron, oregano, and about 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Stir it all up and bring to a simmer over high heat.

Combine the rice mixture and the chicken pieces in a large covered casserole dish (or a large casserole dish which you have covered tightly with aluminum foil!) Try to get the rice submerged in the liquid, because any grains of rice that are left out are in danger of coming out crunchy.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. (Tocaya recommends checking and stirring it after 15 minutes.) Then uncover, give it a stir, and bake 40 minutes more, until the rice is nice and fluffy. Dish the rice out into individual servings and place the chicken pieces on top: or if you like you can let the chicken cool first, remove the meat from the bones, and shred it into the rice. Serves 6.

I think you could probably do this in a Dutch oven to make it a one-pot meal, although the chicken would have to sit on top rather than being distributed throughout the rice and liquid, and that might affect the flavor. Also, the chicken-to-rice ratio in this dish is quite high. You could probably double the amount of rice used if you wanted, though of course you might want to boost the seasoning as well if you did that.