Tuesday, June 29, 2010

CSA Cooking: Blueberry and Rhubarb Crisp

Last week we picked up the first share of our CSA for this summer. CSA stands for Community Supported (or sponsored) Agriculture, and it means you buy into a share of the farm and get fresh, organic produce on a weekly (or bi-weekly) basis. It's a great way to get beautiful, fresh produce, and to support local family farms. Also, as someone who loves to cook, it is a great challenge to try new ingredients and recipes. I can give our previous CSA credit for introducing me to kale, which we now eat on a regular basis.
This week's share included rhubarb, garlic scapes, mushrooms, oregeno, snap peas, lettuce, and kale. It was all so fresh!

This year we are doing a half share from Simply Wisconsin, which is actually a group of farms that work together for the CSA shares. It means we get to support lots of different farms, and we should get better quality and variety that we would get from a single farm. Some might say that this is a kind of weak way to do a CSA, and that you should really commit to supporting a single farm, but I really like the idea of getting produce from so many places. And the woman who organizes the whole operation, Deb, is so informative and helpful! I think it's going to be a great experience, and next year we'll most likely commit to more than the half share we're doing this year.
A colorful mix of rhubarb and blueberries

The first pick up included a lot of great looking produce, and I was most excited about the rhubarb, which I have never cooked with before. I thought about doing some kind of muffin or scone, but most of the recipes I found were for sweet desserts or rhubarb chutneys or sauces. I didn't want to do a strawberry and rhubarb combination, because that seemed too easy. I have been eating a ton of blueberries lately, though, because the organic half pints have been on sale at my grocery store a lot lately. I found this recipe for Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp with Pistachio Crust online, and couldn't resist the combination. It came together easily, and was a nice mix of sweet and tart. The crust was buttery and rich, and the pistachio made this a better than ordinary topping. A wonderful summer dessert!

Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp with Pistachio Crust

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 pound rhubarb
2 cups blueberries (about 11 ounces)

For topping
1/3 cup shelled natural pistachios
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. and butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.
In a bowl stir together sugar and flour. Trim rhubarb and cut enough of stalks into 1/2-inch pieces to measure 2 cups. Add rhubarb and blueberries to sugar mixture, tossing well, and spread mixture in baking dish.

Make topping:

Finely chop pistachios. In a bowl whisk together flour and sugars. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and with your fingers or a pastry blender blend into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add pistachios and toss well.
Squeeze a handful of topping together and coarsely crumble in chunks over filling. Squeeze and evenly crumble remaining topping over filling in same manner. Bake crisp in upper third of oven until filling is bubbling and topping is crisp and golden, about 50 minutes.
Serve crisp warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A pizza revelation

For as long as Joe and I have been together, pizza has been an important part of our lives. In college Joe worked at Shakespeare's, the quintessential college town pizza joint in Columbia. Back when I had a crush on him, I dragged my friends to there just so I had an excuse to run into him. On our first date, we spent a couple hours talking over beers at the downtown location. Some of his best friends from college were a result of his pizza making days, and he had plenty of fun nights working and hanging out with that motley crew.

Obviously, this means Joe is the chief pizza maker at our house. He still loves making fresh dough and topping it with various combinations of veggies and meat. I love this, too, because it means I should just get out of the kitchen and let him work his magic. And there are some nights when I've worked a few shifts in a row and have feet that are aching more that usual, when I like nothing more than to let him take the reigns with dinner. The results of this tend to be pretty delicious!

Last week I suggested we grill the pizza, which I've played around with a couple times before. In the summer it is a great way to make pizza without overheating your whole kitchen. We figured out the ideal pizza making technique this time around, and I think I will insist on having Joe grill our pizza from now on. You see, I am not the skilled pizza tosser that he is, and when I've grilled pizza in the past the crust has always been a little bit on the thick side. This never seemed like a problem, but once Joe pulled his thin crust pizza off the grates I knew his pizza had just blown mine out of the water. The thin crust had a perfect chewy texture from being cooked on the grill, since it is hotter than our oven, and it gets little charred bits in spots. It's reminiscent of the fancy wood oven pizzas that you pay $2o bucks for at trendy pizza places, and you can't beat the comfort of your own porch on a beautiful summer night. Even when it gets cold, I'm going to encourage Joe to keep grilling the pizza, because the texture of this crust is something we've never managed with our pizza stone in the oven. Give it a try, and thank me later ;)

Here's what you do. First, roll out your dough as thin as you can get it. Feel free to play around with tossing the dough, but have extra dough available if you're a novice. Get your grill nice and hot, and wipe an oiled rag over the grates to avoid having your pizza stick. Transfer the pizza dough to the grill, close the lid, and walk away for 3-4 minutes. Start checking the pizza every minute, and remove onto a cutting board or pizza peel when you start to see charred spots on the crust. Flip the pizza over, so the well done side is facing up, and top the pizza however you like. Then transfer the pizza back to the grill to finish cooking the bottom of the pizza. If it starts to look too crisp on the bottom, transfer to the upper rack on the grill until the cheese and other toppings are warm. Use the peel to get the pizza off the grill, slice, and enjoy!

If you make a pizza with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, the leftover ingredients can be tossed with pasta, tuna, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar to make a quick and easy lunch!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quinoa Loaf

I love grilling out and dining al fresco during the summer months, but there are times when traveling and enjoying the season with friends leads to too much indulgence. We've already had a few weekends full of excessive eating and drinking, and by Sunday night I'm swearing that the upcoming week we'll only eat vegetables and drink water. This healthy dinner recipe is perfect for when you need to detox a little without sacrificing flavor.

This quinoa loaf caught my attention on the Whole Foods website a few months back, and I've enjoyed it a few times already. It is a vegan recipe, with minimal fat and tons of flavor. The loaf is satisfying without being too heavy, and works great for lunchtime leftovers. You can play around with the vegetable mix-ins, although it's really good as the original recipe is written. And it was a great excuse to use some of the fresh thyme from my tiny little patio garden!

Quinoa Loaf


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup rolled oats
2 cups cooked quinoa ( How to Cook Quinoa)
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley and/or 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
10 sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 cup (about 1 onion) chopped red onion

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch loaf pan with oil; set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, put beans, oats and 1/2 cup water into a food processor and pulse until almost smooth. In a large bowl, combine mushrooms, bean mixture, quinoa, peas, parsley, tomatoes, onion, salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to prepared loaf pan, gently pressing down and mounding it in the middle. Bake until firm and golden brown, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Set aside to let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Homemade Vegetable Stock

This homemade vegetable stock has been a part of my soups, risottos, and other vegetarian cooking for a couple months now. Before this I was pretty addicted to the Trader Joe’s vegetable stock concentrate packets, but they’re only sporadically available in the stores. I live in fear of them being discontinued, so I decided I needed to try my hand at making my own veggie stock. This version was recommended to me by a coworker, who had developed the recipe for a vegetarian cooking class. It does take more time (and potentially money) to make this stock, but I love knowing exactly what is in my food! And I took another coworker’s advice to reduce the stock by about half, and then to freeze it in ice cube trays. These little concentrated cubes are great to have in my freezer, ready for any vegetarian cooking needs.

Homemade Vegetable Stock
from The Chopping Block

Yield: 8-10 cups stock

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, large dice
3 medium carrots, large dice
3 stalks celery, large dice
2 bulbs fennel, large dice
3 cups cremini mushrooms, rough chopped
1 cup white wine
12 cups water
3 roma tomatoes, cut into large pieces
1/2 bunch parsley stems
6 sprigs fresh thyme
10-15 black peppercorns
1. Preheat oven to 425º.

2. In a heavy roasting pan, toss together the olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, fennel and mushrooms. Roast until lightly caramelized, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a stockpot.

3. Deglaze the roasting pan with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits. Add the wine to the stockpot.

4. Add the water, tomatoes parsley, thyme and peppercorns to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.

5. Strain the stock through a fine sieve, chill until room temperature and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Fruit Crostada

Last summer I worked numerous kids and teens cooking camps with my friend Allie. We had a lot of fun with the little ones, and I think we would both agree that this crostata is one of the best recipes that came from those curriculums. The sweet crust has a great texture thanks to the cornmeal, and you can’t beat making this with fresh summer berries. I love the rustic look of this dessert, and think it is a wonderful end to any summer cookout or dinner party. Allie and I finally made this over spring break, and used a combination of strawberries and blueberries. It is sweet and indulgent, and is an especially good treat now that fresh local fruit is starting to show up in the markets.

If you live in Chicago and have children, check out the kids and teens cooking camps at The Chopping Block. They're so much fun, and the kids learn a lot!

Fruit Crostatas

1 1/2 pounds seasonal fruit, such as strawberries or peaches, cut into 2” pieces
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
Cornmeal Pie Dough (see below)
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

1. Preheat oven to 375º.
2. Toss the fruit with the zest, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, allspice and melted butter until evenly coated.
3. Roll pie dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Mound fruit filling into the middle of the rolled out dough, leaving a 1 ½” border.
4. Fold edges inward, partially covering the filling.
5. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown about 30 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve slices with a dollop of whipped cream.

Cornmeal Pie Dough

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold water
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and water.
3. Add butter to flour mixture and process until the consistency of wet sand. Slowly add in egg mixture until a ball is formed.
4. Form into a flat disk, wrap in plastic, and allow to rest in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Moules a la Portugaise

A major perk of my job with The Chopping Block is the delicious food I get to sample. Usually, it's a bite of this or a little plate of that at the end of class. Sometimes the employee fridge has leftover treats that trump the sandwich or yogurt I brought to work with me. And every once in a while, the food gets to come home with me. That was the case on Sunday night, when 4-5 pounds of live mussels were leftover and headed towards the trash. They were still in good shape, but since we were closed on Memorial Day it would have been too long before we could have served them to students. Obviously, I couldn't let the little guys meet their demise any way except by being steamed in delicious broth!

We realized this was a perfect excuse to use Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook, which has at least 5 or 6 different recipes for preparing mussels. After careful consideration we decided on Moules a la Portugaise, or Portuguese style mussels. We were mostly swayed by the chorizo in this recipe, because who doesn't love that greasy, smokey, amazing sausage?

I wish you could really grasp how huge this bowl was. And we ate every last one, soaking up the flavorful broth with torn pieces of baguette. What a feast! White wine, braised carrots, and roasted fingerling potatoes rounded out our Memorial Day dinner. I'll admit that mussels are a bit of work to make at home, but this recipe will really wow any of your shellfish loving friends. Next time I stumble across multiple pounds of free mussels, I'll be testing out another Bourdain recipe from the cookbook. (Hell, this was good enough I might even buy the mussels!)

The fingerling potatoes were another fresh find at Saturday's Green City Market. Joe cut them in half lengthwise, then tossed them with olive oil, dried oregano, and salt and pepper. They were roasted for about 15 minutes, turned, and roasted for 10 minutes more. When they were just about done, he sprinkled pecorino romano cheese on top. Perfect with the mussels!

Moules a la Portugaise
from the Les Halles cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 oz chorizo sausage, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (feel free to double this, as we did)
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper
6 lb mussels, scrubbed and debearded (just before cooking)
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, rough chopped
4 sprigs flat parsley, finely chopped

In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onion, and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and the chorizo and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the wine. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the mussels and cook with the lid on until the mussels are all open, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shake. Add the cilantro and parsley (and 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter). Shake again. Serve with crusty bread for soaking up all the amazing broth.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summertime Chilled Asparagus Soup

On Sunday I had to work until 6:30, so Joe volunteered to make us dinner. He wanted to use some of the beautiful produce we'd purchased at the Green City Market on Saturday, and decided to try out this asparagus soup from Jamie at Home. The soup came together really easily, and since it was chilled it was perfect to make in advance. It tasted so light and fresh, which was wonderful on a humid evening. It's so nice that Joe and I both love to cook and appreciate good food, because it makes a simple night at home into such an enjoyable experience! And, I have to brag a little... Joe even poached the eggs for on top of the soup! I've actually never poached an egg before, so I was really impressed!

The chef! In addition to a wonderful dinner, he bought me roses, and a grower of Daisy Cutter Ale from Half Acre brewery. I'm too lucky!

The soup was really a beautiful bright green color, but I was too excited to take time for better pictures! It looked so pretty, and tasted even better!

The soup was served with rosemary and garlic grilled chicken thighs, and grilled vegetables. A beautiful summer meal!

Creamy Asparagus Soup with a Poached Egg on Toast
from Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver

• 1 lb asparagus, woody ends removed
• olive oil
• 1 medium white onions, peeled and chopped
• 1 stick of celery, trimmed and copped
• 1 leek, trimmed and chopped
• 1 quart good-quality chicken or vegetable stock, preferably organic
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 5 small very fresh free-range or organic eggs
• 4 slices of ciabatta bread
• a knob of butter
• extra virgin olive oil

Chop the tips off your asparagus and put these to one side for later. Roughly chop the asparagus stalks. Get a large, deep pan on the heat and add a good lug of olive oil. Gently fry the onions, celery and leeks for around 10 minutes, until soft and sweet, without colouring. Add the chopped asparagus stalks and stock and simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on. Remove from the heat and blitz with a hand-held blender or in a liquidizer. Season the soup bit by bit (this is important) with salt and pepper until just right. Put the soup back on the heat, stir in the asparagus tips, bring back to the boil and simmer for a few more minutes until the tips have softened.

Just before I’m ready to serve the soup, I get a wide casserole-type pan on the heat with 8 to 10 cm of boiling water. Using really fresh eggs, I very quickly crack all 10 into the water. Don’t worry about poaching so many at the same time. They don’t have to look perfect. A couple of minutes and they’ll be done, as you want them to be a bit runny. Toast your ciabatta slices. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the poached eggs to a plate and add a knob of butter to them. To serve, divide the soup between eight warmed bowls and place a piece of toast into each. Put a poached egg on top, cut into it to make it runny, season and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.