Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roasted Beets

My parents must not have liked beets because they never served them when I was growing up. In fact, the only time I've ever had them before was when my father-in-law had me try some of his pickled beets last year. (Yes, I made it over a quarter of a century before eating my first beet - sad, but true.)

I thought the pickled beets were pretty good, but I'm not big on pickled foods, so I wanted to try something different with the beets I got in last week's time share. Upon the advice of my fine readers, I ended up roasting them. And now having had both pickled and roasted beets - I don't understand why beets get a bad rap. They're good! They were tender but not mushy, and had a slightly sweet, slightly earthy taste. Almost like roasted corn (as one reader previously noted).

To roast the beets, I scrubbed them and cut off the wispy roots. (The greens had already been removed.) I wrapped them individually in foil and then baked them at 425 degrees for about 50 minutes, until they were fork tender. Once they cooled, I peeled off the skins and sliced them up:

You could eat them plain, just like this, but I decided to make them into a little salad for my lunch today, again on the advice of my fine readers. I took a cup of beet slices, drizzled with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar and little olive oil. I let that marinate for about 5 hours, then topped with 2 tablespoons of crumbled feta. Yum!

So, if you think you don't like beets, but have never had them roasted - I urge you to give them another try. You don't know what you're missing! (Eh hum.... Mr. ValleyWriter - are you listening????)

Monday, June 29, 2009

CSA Farm Share - Week 5

In this week's share, we finally got over the "too much lettuce" hump and got several new things to try out.

As you can see, it was another good haul. This week we have carrots, broccoli, summer squash, zucchini, kale, Swiss chard, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and lettuce. I also picked some pretty flowers to brighten up our foyer. I still can't get over the fact that they grow flowers at the farm, too. I'm sure some would think it's too much extra work for no tangible benefit (i.e. food), but the smile it brings to so many faces is clearly worth it!

I've got beets (from last week) roasting in the oven as we speak - so I'll be sure to let you know how they turn out!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CSA Farm Share - Week 4

Last week was a little crazy - so I missed posting the week 3 share. But for those of you keeping score, we got our first zucchini, summer squash and broccoli last week, plus some garlic scapes, lettuce, mixed greens and strawberries.

This week was a similar take - with the addition of beats and spinach (minus the strawberries, which I have to back and pick if it ever stops raining!):

Not sure what I'm going to do with the beets. I've just been told that Mr. ValleyWriter doesn't "do" beets. (Surprise, surprise.) That's OK - more for me, right?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shrimp Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

We've been getting lots and lots of greens from our CSA share, so we have been having lots and lots of salads lately. Most of them are, admittedly, pretty run of the mill salads... but I've finally come up with one that has been deemed "blog worthy" by my chief taste tester (Mr. ValleyWriter).

The best part is that it's really simple and really quick - perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Shrimp Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

3 strips bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1/3 c. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. mustard powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
12 oz. raw shrimp, veins and shells removed
salt, pepper
5-6 cups mixed greens (I had a combination of red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and arugula)
1/2 c. feta cheese, crumbled

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, sugar and mustard powder. Set aside.
In a frying pan, cook bacon pieces over low heat just until crispy.
Meanwhile, in a saute pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add shrimp, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until no longer pink (about 4-5 minutes).
When bacon is fully cooked, pour the vinegar mixture into the pan (do NOT drain the fat) and bring to a simmer. Cook just until sugar dissolves, then remove from heat.
Top lettuce with cooked shrimp. Sprinkle feta cheese over the top, then pour warm bacon dressing evenly over everything.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sometimes, simple is best - Sauteed Kohlrabi, Squash & Garlic Scapes

I mentioned last week that I got a little bulb of kohlrabi in our farm share. This week, I got some garlic scapes (the long, curly green shoots that grow out of garlic bulbs) and some summer squash. Now, I know what to do with summer squash. That's easy. But I'd never cooked (or eaten) garlic scapes or kohlrabi. But, I figured, what the heck, I'll give it a try.

I strongly believe that simple is often best when it comes to cooking, so I decided to just thinly slice the kohlrabi and squash, mince the garlic scapes and saute everything. I served it with a side of country ribs (slow cooked in a honey barbeque sauce). It's not a fancy meal, but it was pretty darn good! The veggies were light and fresh, which turned out to be the perfect complement to the sweet, rich meat.

If you find yourself in possession of kohlrabi, garlic scapes & summer squash - you might want to give this recipe a whirl.

Sauteed Kohlrabi, Squash & Garlic Scapes

1 summer squash, sliced
1 kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced
1 (foot-long) garlic scape, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt, pepper and celery seed to taste

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic scape and saute 1-2 minutes until scapes start to become fragrant. Add squash and kohlrabi. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and celery seed (I used about 1/4 tsp. of each). Stir and cook until squash and kohlrabi are tender (about 8-10 minutes).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chicken & Bok Choy Fried Rice

I had a big, beautiful bunch of bok choy from last week's farm share, so I decided to add it to a batch of fried rice. With such a big bunch (probably 2 pounds worth), I was able to cut down on the amount of chicken that I used, so this turned out to be a healthier version of my usual dish. And I love the color the green leaves add:

Chicken & Bok Choy Fried Rice

2 Tbsp. oil, divided
4 oz. boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 egg
1" piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large bunch bok choy (about 2 pounds), separated and chopped into 1" pieces
3 cups cooked white rice
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
3 Tbsp. soy sauce

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a wok over medium heat. Add chicken and cook 3-4 minutes.
Push chicken to the side and continue cooking until no longer pink.
Meanwhile, break egg into the wok. Scramble egg with spatula and cook through.
Remove chicken and egg from wok and set aside.
Add remaining oil to wok. Add garlic and ginger and saute just until garlic is fragrant.
Add bok choy and cook 7-9 minutes until tender.
Add chicken and egg back into the wok. Stir in rice.
Mix rice vinegar, cooking sherry and soy sauce together in a small pour. Pour over rice mixture and stir to mix. Cook 3-4 minutes until mixture is heated through.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a bear invasion! Easthampton Bearfest 2009

Our little town is coming up in the world! Our local arts council, Easthampton City Arts, has put together an incredible city-wide exhibit showcasing life sized bears decorated by local artist throughout the town, similar to the famous Cow Parade in Chicago. Today was the official unveiling of the bears - and they were a sight to behold! There are 20 life-sized bears and 15 smaller bears placed throughout the downtown area - on display for all to see, touch and even take pictures with.

These little (or not so little) guys are on display through October, when they'll be auctioned off during a week-long celebration of art and culture. You can check out all the details online and find BearFest maps at local businesses, like the Big E supermarket (that's where we got ours).

To whet your appetite (or in case you can't make it down to see them in person), here are few examples of these incredible works of art:

"This Bear is Worth a Thousand Words" by Luke Cavagnac

"Bear, Bath and Beyond" by Christopher Woodman

"Aurora 'Bear'ealis" by Michael Fitzgibbon

"Aloha Bear" by Silas Kopf

"Madam Bearterfly" by Jeffrey Calvi

"Peace Bear" by Maria S. Parasiewicz

"Clementine (the Circus Bear)" by Amy Johnquest

"Ursa Major" by Adell Donaghue (I think this might be my favorite)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fresh Pasta Extravaganza - Spinach Lasagna & Cheese Ravioli

I had the day off today and it turned out to be pretty bleak, so I spent the afternoon in the kitchen whipping up some fresh pasta dishes. First on the menu was a spinach lasagna, using the fresh organic spinach from our farm share this week.

It all starts with a basic egg pasta. I use the recipe that came with my pasta machine:

2 1/2 cups flour
3 eggs

Put the flour in a bowl, making a well in the middle.

Add the eggs to the well and scramble them up a bit with a fork. Then starting pulling flour into the eggs with your fork until its fully combined (add a little water if it's dry, a little flour if it's wet).

Pour the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is elastic and consistent in color and texture. Cover with a wet towel and let rest 15 minutes.

After resting, the dough is ready to roll out. I used my pasta maker, but you can also roll it by hand with a rolling pin. The goal is to get nice thin, long sheets of pasta:

To make the lasagna, just cut the fresh sheets of pasta to the size of your pan and use them as you would boxed noodles (no need to cook the pasta first - it will cook when baked).

I don't really use hard and fast measurements for my lasagna, so the amounts in the recipe below are approximates. Lasagna is very forgiving, so you can change things up to your taste - or to what you have on hand.

Spinach Lasagna

6 5" x 11" sheets of fresh pasta
6 c. spinach, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
salt & pepper
1 c. fat free ricotta cheese
1/3 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 c. mozzarella, shredded
4-5 cups of your favorite red sauce (I used a meat sauce made with ground turkey)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add spinach, sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until wilted. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan and egg.
Coat the bottom of a 9" x 11" casserole dish with a small amount of sauce. Place 2 sheets of pasta on top of the sauce, fully covering the bottom of the dish.
Spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the pasta. Sprinkle 1/3 c. mozzarella over ricotta. Top with 1/2 of the spinach. Spoon about 1/3 of the red sauce on top of that.
Repeat with another layer of pasta, ricotta, mozzarella, spinach and sauce.
Top with remaining sheets of pasta. Pour remaining sauce over pasta and sprinkle remaining mozzarella on the top.
Bake for 45-50 minutes at 350 until sauce is bubbly and cheese is starting to brown.

The pasta recipe I gave above makes more than 6 lasagna-sized sheets of pasta, so I used the extra sheets to make some cheese ravioli.

The filling was just a mixture leftover ricotta and parmesan. I popped them in the freezer for another night - can't wait to try them!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Brocceroni Calzones

What the heck's a "brocceroni" calzone, you ask? It's broccoli & pepperoni - and it's delicious!

Cooler weather has come back to the Valley today (along with rain - predicted to stick around the rest of the week), so I decided a nice hot, cheesy, carb-filled meal was in order. This recipe makes 2 VERY large calzones - so come hungry!

Brocceroni Calzones

Dough ingredients:
3/4 c. warm water
1 1/2 tsp. active yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. flour

Filling ingredients:
1 c. fat-free ricotta
1/2 c. part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 c. cooked broccoli florets, chopped
about 15-20 slices turkey pepperoni

Oregano and red pepper flakes for topping, if desired

In a small bowl, proof the yeast by combining it with 1/4 c. of the warm water and sugar. Let sit about 10 minutes until frothy.
Pour proofed yeast into a large bowl and add remaining water. Stir in olive oil, salt and flour. Mix until well combined.
Turn out dough onto a well floured surface. Knead 5-8 minutes until dough is elastic and uniform in color and consistency.
Place dough in oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 1 hour or until doubled.
When dough is ready, turn the oven on to preheat to 425 degrees and lightly grease a pizza stone (or baking sheet).
Split the dough into 2 equal pieces.
Toss or press each piece into a large circle, about 8" across. Place on greased pizza stone (or baking sheet).
In a small bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella and broccoli. Spoon 1/2 of mixture onto one side of each circle of dough. Top with turkey pepperoni slices.
Fold the remaining dough over the top of the filling. Roll the edge of the bottom piece of dough over the top (so it looks like a rope - see the picture below).
Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper flakes and bake for 20 minutes at 425.
Serve with a side of tomato sauce for dipping.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mountain View Farm CSA - Week 2

I picked up our 2nd week's share tonight on the way home from work. Lots of greens again this week (romaine, green leaf lettuce, arugula, bok choy and spinach), plus a few surprises....

Those splashes of color are kohlrabi (in purple) and strawberries (in red, obviously). The strawberries were pick-your-own, which, for future reference, I don't advise doing in 2" heeled shoes. But I managed to tip toe around and get my 3 quarts worth. They are sweet, juicy and absolutely beautiful:

I'm sure there will be strawberry shortcake in our future, and I might try my hand at strawberry jam. As for the other veggies, I see lots of salads over the next week. Not sure what I'm going to do with the kohlrabi (having never prepared it before), but I'll be sure to share whatever I come up with. If you have any ideas - let me know!

Before I run off, I thought I'd share some pictures from our hike up Mt. Tom yesterday. It was a beautiful day for a hike and we were treated to some incredible views:

Ready to hike!

A view of UMass Amherst

The town of Easthampton

Mountain View Farm - our CSA farm

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Maybe radishes & turnips aren't so bad, after all...

I mentioned earlier in the week that I really wasn't sure what to do with my radishes and baby turnips, as they're not something I eat very often. Radishes just aren't something I seek out, and I tend to outright avoid turnips (which is pretty easy since I only ever see them at Thanksgiving dinner). But I wanted to at least give them a try to see if I could fix them in a way I would like.

I ended up simply roasting them in olive oil, salt and pepper - and they were actually pretty tasty! Unlike the somewhat bitter cooked turnips I've had before, these little baby turnips were very mild and light. I included the radish greens, too, which added a bit of a peppery bite.

I served the roasted radishes and turnips with pan-seared pork chops and rice pilaf (for a surprisingly well rounded dinner considering I'm running on 4 hours of sleep today!). Here's the recipe:

Roasted Radishes & Baby Turnips

6 radishes with greens attached
6 baby turnips, greens removed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Drizzle 1 Tbsp. olive oil in the bottom of an 11 x 7 roasting pan.
Cut greens off radishes and chop in half.
Cut radishes and turnips in half (if small) or quarters (if large).
Place greens, radishes and turnips in baking dish. Grind fresh sea salt and pepper (about 4-5 grinds of each) over the top. Drizzle remaining olive oil on top and toss to coat.
Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes until radishes and turnips are tender.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Southwest Turkey Wraps & Homemade Fig Bars - A healthy dinner & dessert!

Last night we dove into the huge head of green butterhead lettuce from our farm share to make Southwest Turkey Wraps.

These are based on the Southwest Chicken Wraps recipe from Good Housekeeping, except I used ground turkey. Normally I use the red pepper the recipe calls for, but I didn't have one, so I left it out. It was still just as good - and a great way to use up the lettuce without feeling like we were eating salad for the 4th day in a row!

I've been on a Fig Newtons® kick for a couple of weeks now (thank you prednisone), but I wasn't exactly thrilled with some of the ingredients (high fructose corn syrup & partially hydrogenated oils). So for dessert, I decided to make my own fig bars.

They turned out really delicious - I don't think I'll be going back to store bought any time soon! And since they're made with agave nectar, I feel a little less guilty about indulging in my cravings :-) If you want to try them out but don't have agave, I've posted the sugar equivalents at the end of the recipe.

Fig Bars
(Makes about 24)

1 cup dried figs, chopped
2 cups water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup agave nectar

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 egg white
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour

In a small saucepan, combine chopped figs, water, orange juice and 1/4 cup agave. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer about 1 hour until figs are soft and spreadable. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine butter and 1/3 cup agave nectar. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes until mixture is light and creamy. Beat in egg white and cream of tartar until mixture starts to stiffen. Add in vanilla and flour. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
After dough and filling have chilled, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
On a well-floured surface, roll dough out into a large rectangle, about 1/4" thick. Cut in half lengthwise.
Spoon filling down the center of each strip. Fold sides of dough over the filling to fully cover.

Cut these long strips into smaller (1"-2") squares. Place each square seam side down on greased baking sheets.
Bake 14-16 minutes until lightly golden.

To make with sugar instead of agave nectar: Use 1/3 cup white sugar in the filling and 1/2 cup white sugar in the cookie dough.
Also raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees and reduce baking time by a couple of minutes if using sugar.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scallion, Ham & Brie Omelettes

Tonight was our first foray into the not-oft used vegetables we got in our CSA share this week - scallions. Mr. ValleyWriter doesn't like onions, so I generally stay away from anything onion-related. But he said he was willing to try the scallions, so I took a cue from my friend Prof. Kitty's Ramp & Nettle Omelets. She said ramps were like scallions - and who can resist brie? - so I figured I'd give it a shot. I added ham to help make the hubby happy.

I served it with a side salad made with the butterhead lettuce we also got in the share this week. I was very happy with how the omelettes turned out. The brie was so gooey and creamy - absolutely delicious. Mr. ValleyWriter, however, has not turned over a new leaf when it comes to onion-like vegetables. He quickly declared "the scallions just get in the way." Oh well, can't make them happy every time. But if you do like scallions or onions, give this combination a try. It's delish!

Monday, June 1, 2009

First CSA Share Pick Up of the Season

As I've mentioned a couple of times before, we bought a share of the harvest from our local community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm here in Easthampton - Mountain View Farm. Today was our first pick up of the season and we netted quite the bounty considering how early it is in the season (many people don't plant around here until Memorial Day!):

The official haul this week was 2 heads of lettuce, a bag of mixed salad greens, 2 bunches of bok choy, a bunch of broccoli rabe, 6 scallions, 6 radishes and 6 baby turnips. Now, we normally eat a good amount of veggies in this house - but I think this is a bit more greenery than I originally bargained for. No worries, we'll just be eating lots of salads this week!

Beyond the lettuce, I don't have a lot of experience cooking with the other veggies, but I'm excited to try some new recipes. To me, part of the benefit of joining the CSA was to stretch myself in the kitchen, and it's nice to see we're starting the adventures right off the bat. The biggest challenge this week, I think, will be figuring out what to do with the radishes and turnips. I normally wouldn't choose either (and Mr. ValleyWriter has already declared he has no interest in any dish made with them), but I'm willing to give something a try. Maybe I'll do some maple roasted veggies or something. If you have any ideas - please let me know!