Monday, May 31, 2010

(Almost) Sunday Suppers: Spinach & Bacon Souffle

Here I am, sitting down at the end of another gorgeous weekend getting ready to do my "Sunday Suppers" post, when I realized - it's not Sunday. As they say - time flies when you're having fun! I don't know about you, but Monday holidays often end up feeling like Sundays to me - a chance to relax and gear up for the week ahead. So, as part of that, we had our Sunday Supper tonight.

I had planned this dinner out last week when I picked up some baby spinach from the Farmers Market. I found this recipe and thought it would work great for the 2 of us, since it was only 3 eggs. (Most of the other recipes I found had 5 or 6 - way too much for 2 people.) I was all set to go... until I realized I'd used the last of the butter in a batch of cookies I made for a BBQ we went to on Sunday. I didn't want to go out, so I got creative with what I had on hand (dangerous when you're making a recipe for the first time!). I nervously put my goat & neufchatel-cheese-subbed-for-butter creation into the oven and was so excited when I opened it 30 minutes later, I took a picture right then and there. Drum roll please.... my Spinach & Bacon Souffles:

Big and puffy just like they're supposed to be. And they tasted yummy, too! As a happy accident, they also happen to be lighter on the saturated fat (never a bad thing in my book) owing to the lack of butter. To boot, they were really easy to make. I'd say if you can beat egg whites, you can make souffle.

On to the recipe -

Spinach & Bacon Souffle
(Serves 2)

3 slices turkey bacon
1 lb. fresh spinach, stems removed
1 Tbsp. goat cheese
1 oz. neufchatel cheese
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup low-fat milk
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
3 eggs, separated
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground pepper
olive oil spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut turkey bacon into 1/2" pieces and tear spinach into bite sized pieces. Spray a frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add bacon to pan and cook 3-4 minutes until bacon starts to crisp. Add spinach on top, reduce heat to low and cook another 2-3 minutes until spinach is wilted.
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine goat cheese, neufchatel and 2 Tbsp. of milk. Stir until cheese melts. Add flour and whisk constantly until smooth. Slowly add remaining milk, then the parmesan cheese, whisking constantly until mixture thickens. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and spinach and bacon mixture.
Separate eggs, reserving whites in a clean, cold bowl. Beat egg yolks in a small bowl. Add about 1/3 of the spinach/milk mixture to the yolks and whisk. Slowly add this to the remaining spinach/milk mixture.
Beat separated egg whites into stiff peaks. Slowly fold the spinach/yolk/milk mixture into the egg whites just until combined. (There may be lumps of egg white - that's OK. You don't want to over-fold.)
Pour mixture evenly into two well-greased, 2-cup ramekins. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 25 minutes (no peaking!) until souffle is poofy and eggs are cooked all the way through. 
Serve in ramekins.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Northampton Tuesday Farmers' Market

This summer, we decided not to join the CSA and to instead check out the local farmers' markets for fresh produce. We're lucky enough to have quite a few markets within a 15 mile radius, so I'm hoping to check out as many different ones as a I can.

My first stop this year was to the Northampton Tuesday Farmers' Market behind Thorne's Marketplace. (There's also one on Saturdays, but in a different spot - hence the distinction in the name.)
As I expected for early in the season, I found mostly salad greens, seedlings and flowers for sale. It worked out, because that's just what I was looking for. I loaded my bag up with mixed organic greens and bok choy from Old Friends Farm in Amherst, spinach from Town Farm in Northampton, and kale and boston lettuce from Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton. I also was lucky enough to find Sangha Farm (in Ashfield) offering chevre (goat cheese), which I gladly picked up a tub of.

It turned out to be perfect timing to have all these fresh, wonderful greens - because we're having some HOT weather this week. Tonight, I wanted nothing to do with the stove, so I turned to a bunch of these great ingredients for a quick and simple -yet delicious - salad. It's a true tour of what western MA farms have to offer, featuring the mixed salad greens from Old Family Farm, spinach from Town Farm and chevre from Sangha Farm.

Roasted Red Pepper & Chevre Mixed Green Salad
(Serves 2)

3 cups leafy mixed greens
1 cup baby spinach
1 roasted red pepper, sliced
2 oz. chevre
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts

3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Combine greens and spinach in a bowl. Sprinkle pepper slices, chevre and pine nuts evenly over the top.
To make the dressing, combine vinegar, mustard in garlic powder in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until well combined. Add salt & pepper to taste. Drizzle over salad and enjoy right away!

(I must give a special shout out to Casey from Old Friends Farm who I was lucky enough to have a nice, albeit quick, chat with. I told him about my project and he shared his own wish, if it were possible, to take some summers off to visit all of his friends' farms. He's always so hard at work during the growing season, he's never had a chance to see them in full bloom. He made me realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity to "travel" the various farms through these markets - not only to get to see all their offerings, but also to hear some of their stories. Here's a special thanks to all the hard work that people like him do - thank you!!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spice-rubbed grilled pork tenderloin

With all the gardening we've been doing at night after work (I swear every day it's something - mulching, watering, moving, transplating, oh my!), I've been looking for easy, no fuss recipes for dinner. This grilled pork tenderloin definitely fits the bill. Using the grill means pans to clean (yay!) and a much quicker cooking time (as compared to the oven). It comes out super juicy and flavorful. Add some veggies & a starch and you've got a complete meal in less than 30 minutes.

(Yes, those are frozen mixed veggies. Don't knock 'em until you try them in a pinch. Less than 10 minutes cook time, add a little butter and yum! Tastes pretty close to fresh!)

Spice-Rubbed Grilled Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb.)
1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine spices and olive oil in a glass dish (that will fit the tenderloin) or large locking plastic bag. Remove any silvery skin from the tenderloin, then add it to the spice mixture. Work the spice and oil mixture over all surfaces. Cover (or close the bag) and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
When ready to cook, heat grill over medium-high heat. Pull pork out of the marinade, letting any excess drip off (do not wipe it off, though). Add to the grill and cook tenderloin for 15-18 minutes, turning 1/2 way through, until internal temperature is at least 145 degrees (for medium, slightly pink pork). Cook longer if you prefer well done pork (but know that it will be drier). Cover with foil and let rest at least 5 minutes before cutting.

The longer you can leave your pork in the spice & oil mixture the better. This time mine was only in there for about 5 hours, but it still turned out great!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spring happenings...

We've just past the last frost date here in the Valley (or so 3 out of 4 sources tell me...), so Mr. ValleyWriter and I have been busy planting up a storm. We've been doing mostly shrubs and flowers this year. My favorite new additions so far are these tea roses:

I've also planted lots of summer bulbs, including stargazer lillies, fresia, calla lillies and acidanthera. It's my first time planting summer bulbs, so we'll see if they ever come up... (crossing fingers!). I already have had some success with my seed plantings. I'm not doing a CSA farm share this year, so I decided to plant my own herbs. After a couple of weeks of tender loving care (OK, watering & bringing them inside at night; not exactly rocket science), they've started to sprout:

(Sweet basil)
(A lowly little sage seedling)

My plan is to transplant the herbs into a big planter in the garden this weekend. Then I think the planting will truly be complete for the spring. After that, it'll be wait-and-see-and-water... Fortunately, if the herbs don't work out, I know I can find them at the local Easthampton Farmer's market. I got some chives there last spring from Ravenwold Greenhouse and they're up again this year, going strong. (If you're in the area and find yourself free on a Tuesday afternoon, swing by the Easthampton Farmer's Market on Union Street, across from the 7-11. Plenty of free parking and neat things to check out!)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Suppers - Chickpea Curry

After a couple of weeks of gloriously warm weather, it's turned cool again here in the valley. And what's better on a cool day than a meal that fills the house with warm spicy smells and fills your belly with the same? Not much, I'd say!

Tonight's dish is a vegetarian curry with just the right amount of heartiness coming from chickpeas (not too heavy, but still very filling). It also has carrots and peas for some color and interest. But the chickpeas are the star - and they're my fav!

Dried beans still kind of scare me, but having had success before with black beans, I decided to take the plunge and try dried chickpeas, too. This time I used my crockpot and they turned out great (without me having to worry about them scorching on the stove while I napped on the couch... gotta love lazy Sundays!).
I soaked them overnight in cold water for about 7 hours, then drained and rinsed them, put them back in the crockpot on low covered with about 3" of water and let them bubble away for a good 10 hours. Now they're just like the canned ones, but cheaper and without any salt (or who knows what else). That said... if you're short on time or scared of beans, the canned kind will do in a pinch.

Another note - I lightened up this curry by using 1/2 coconut milk and 1/2 almond milk, which I saw on "Ultimate Recipe Showdown" a while ago. You really can't tell the difference in taste, but it does significantly help lower the fat. That said, it's fine to use all coconut milk, as I have many a time. OK.. now on to the recipe!.

Chickpea Curry
(Serves 3-4)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. curry paste
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 clove garlic, minced
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
3/4 c. lite coconut milk (about 1/2 of a can)
3/4 c. unsweetened almond milk
1 (15 oz.) can tomatoes with green chilies
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup green peas

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine oil, curry paste, cumin, cayenee, coriander and garlic. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until garlic and spices become fragrant. Add carrots, coconut milk, almond milk and tomatoes. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 30 minutes, add chickpeas and green peas. Continue cooking on low for 15-20 minutes until sauce has thickened and chickpeas and peas are heated through.

Serve over white or brown rice.

P.S. Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there! I hope someone is cooking dinner for you wonderful ladies tonight.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pancakes Made Even Easier

As soon as we got back from vacation, I came down with a cold that turned into a sinus infection, so I've been under the weather the last few days. This time around, this infection has really sapped my energy - so much so that I don't feel like going to the store to get groceries (I normally love grocery shopping) or doing much cooking (which I, again, normally enjoy). So, it's been a "clean-out-the-fridge" week for us. And meals have been simple. But sometimes, those are the best! For example.. how about pancakes for dinner?

Just before I was about to make these, I had cleaned out an ketchup bottle for recycling. Then I remembered some show (maybe it was even a commercial?) where I saw a woman reusing these squeeze bottles to make perfectly round pancakes. So, I thought I'd give it a try.

First - the pancake recipe:

Basic Pancakes
(Makes about 8 3" pancakes)

1 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 c. milk
1 egg
1 Tbsp. oil

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine milk, egg and oil. Add wet ingredients to dry and whisk until well combined and no longer clumpy.

Now - for the neat trick: Pour your pancake batter into a well-cleaned squeeze bottle (the ketchup bottle worked great - I just used a funnel to make getting the batter in there easier).

Now lightly oil your frying pan and heat it up over medium-low heat. Open the top of the batter bottle and squeeze the batter out into the pan:

Through the magic of gravity, the batter spreads out into perfectly round little pancakes. Let them cook until bubbles form, flip and cook 1 more minute, then add syrup and enjoy.

I think the best part of this is that, if you've got leftover batter, you can just close up the top of the bottle and store it in the fridge for a few days. I can see this making weekday mornings a breeze (if you do a cooked breakfast). Plus, I bet it would work great for making shaped pancakes with ease (dear Mr. ValleyWriter: do not be surprised if Mickey Mouse pancakes suddenly begin appearing on your plate...).