Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Another delicious way for me to use Trader Joe’s pizza dough, courtesy of Cooking Light. Last night was the second time I tried this recipe; the first time, I foolishly disregarded the recipe directions and prebaked the pizza crust for a while before adding the toppings, as I habitually do when making tomato-sauce-covered pizza (I must have been tired, because if I’d been thinking straight I would have realized that this is much closer to asparagus flatbread than to ordinary pizza, with no sauce to keep it moist). Surprise, surprise, it ended up over-browned and a bit dry, still OK-tasting but overall uninspiring, and given such a flawed first attempt, I couldn’t decide whether the recipe was a keeper or not. Of course, when I made it again and actually followed the instructions, it turned out perfectly done, with just the right balance between crispy and chewy. Adding ingredients to the raw dough not only prevented overbaking, but also allowed the cheese and pesto to bake deliciously into the crust. I suppose you could experiment with other ingredients or seasonings (sage instead of dried oregano, maybe?), but I think the different flavors (sweet squash, acidic tomatoes, garlicky pesto, salty cheese) blend together admirably. So, to recap: tasty, moderately healthy, and pretty darn easy to make, especially if, like me, you use premade dough and happen to have some homemade pesto stored in your freezer (I can’t in good conscience recommend that you use store-bought pesto, but do what you must).

One change I did safely make to the recipe was to use chopped fresh tomato instead of canned. With meaty heirlooms still in season at the farmers’ market, I just couldn’t resist. I might consider slicing them instead of dicing them next time, just for a prettier effect and more uniform texture. I also think I’ll try brown sugar instead of white next time. It’s traditional to pair it with squash, and it creates such a better caramelized flavor.

Also, don’t skimp on the squash or cut it too thin. The first time, my slices were too thin (apparently, ¼ inch is bigger than I think) and quite a few burned to a crisp during the initial roasting, leaving me with not much to put on my pizza. This time, I cut about 12 slices from the stem end of the squash (the solid part, that is; I saved the part with the seeds for another use), experimenting with varying thicknesses, then cut each squash round in half to make half-circles. After roasting, I was able to pick and choose the best ones for my pizza, rejecting the few that were too thin and overbrowned or thick and underdone. I used as many as would fit comfortably on the rectangle of dough, which was nearly all of them, which is probably more than the recipe calls for, but hey, if you’re going to make a squash pizza, make a squash pizza! It’s good for you.

About ½ pound butternut squash, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus a little extra
pizza dough for one pizza (1 lb)
½ cup shredded fontina or Gouda cheese
1 tomato, diced or sliced, or 1 (14.5-ounce) can finely chopped tomatoes, drained
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup pesto
½ cup grated fresh Romano or Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine squash slices with sugar and 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium bowl and toss well. Spread squash on a baking sheet coated with a little olive oil (I also coat mine with tin foil, just to minimize mess and sticking). Bake for 20 minutes or until squash is tender.

3. Remove squash from oven and set aside. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

4. Roll out pizza dough to desired size and shape. Sprinkle fontina or Gouda over dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with squash slices, tomatoes, and oregano. Drop pesto by level teaspoons onto pizza, then sprinkle with Romano or Parmesan. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour

Friday, October 26, 2007


Yes, I realize it’s nearly Week 3, but things have been crazy in SoCal lately, what with half of it being on fire and all. In fact, our poor CSA farm is in the fire danger zone and has been evacuated, although as far as we know it hasn’t been burned, thankfully. No word on when CSA box deliveries will resume, but as far as I’m concerned, they can keep my money and use it to rebuild/replant whatever they need to. Tierra Miguel, we’re thinking of you and hoping you're safe!

Box 2 was a bit more relaxing to deal with than Box 1, since less of the food was immediately perishable. My share of the box contained:

4 carrots with tops
5 small red potatoes and 2 medium purple potatoes
5 small beets
2 winter squash (which, after some Googling, I identified as delicata and sweet dumpling, respectively)
mixed cherry and grape and other small tomatoes
salad mix

There was also an onion, cabbage, arugula, basil, and two white potatoes, but I foisted those on P in exchange for having the squash, beets, celery, and cilantro all to myself.

The results so far: The carrots, celery, and tomatoes have all been eaten as tasty snacks. The cilantro, garlic, and some potatoes got used in the course of normal cooking. The salad mix was delightful—I’m not a pro at identifying greens, but they resembled baby lettuce: some green, some purple, and some a very cool-looking green-and-purple striped variety I’ve never seen before. We ate as much as we could, but it was a big bag and some of it went bad and had to be thrown out. I roasted the little winter squashes last night with a little butter and brown sugar, and boy were they delicious. I’d never had either variety before (sweet dumpling seems basically the same as delicata, but it’s round instead of oblong). They were pretty, delicately ridged, mostly cream-colored but with green stripes between the ridges. The flesh was firm and yellow, and had almost a nutty taste, less sweet than I expected. My only complaint was that they were so small—I devoured an entire one as a side dish and wished for more. I’ll definitely be buying them at the farmers’ market in the future, or arm-wrestling P for them if they arrive in our CSA box again.

The beets, which I admit I’m suspicious of, remain to be tackled. I’ll tell you all about the adventure as soon as it happens.


(shown with Herbed Basmati Rice and Roasted Asparagus)

Thanks to Cooking Light, here’s another recipe to help use up my big bag of almond meal. Even though it wasn’t crazy-unique stop-the-presses good, it was easy and tasty enough to warrant recommendation to you. I’m not a completely enthusiastic fish eater, so I usually like my salmon more aggressively seasoned—with pesto, for example—but the simple flavors in this recipe were pleasant. (I’m not sure it lived up to the tempting promise of “toasted flavor reminiscent of browned butter” in the recipe description, however…toasted almonds, maybe.) The texture of the coating was the most appealing element to me, uniformly crisp and a great contrast with the tender fish within.

In my usual anxiety about trying new recipes (after all, what if it’s bland and we hate it and we starve to death?), I went hog-wild and served the salmon with a whopping two side dishes—another new Cooking Light recipe, Herbed Basmati Rice, plus the old standby of roasted asparagus. (I know, I know, asparagus is most definitely not in season. I’ll admit I bought it from the stoners at the farmers’ market who grow it year-round in a greenhouse, no doubt as camouflage for their massive marijuana-plant operation. But it’s good quality, and locally produced, so that counts for something, right?) Gone are the days when I plopped a one-dish meal onto the table every night—does that mean I’m finally becoming an adult? It means I’m a genius, anyway, because the three dishes in this scarily grown-up meal complemented one another perfectly, so that even though the salmon and the rice weren’t taste revelations, they added up to a dinner that was, as A put it, “more than the sum of its parts.” And quite healthy, to boot. I win again!

Postscript, December 2009: Yet I've never made this recipe again. I guess it's the dreaded "Not Favorites" label for you, Almond-Crusted Salmon!

¼ cup almond meal
¼ cup panko
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1 inch thick, with skin on
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil or cooking spray
4 lemon wedges, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

2. Combine almond meal, panko, coriander, and cumin in a shallow dish and set aside.

3. Brush tops and side of fish with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Working with one fillet at a time, dredge top and sides with almond mixture and place skin side down on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray (I used a baking sheet covered in tin foil and lightly coated with olive oil. When all four fillets are coated, sprinkle any remaining crumb mixture evenly over fish, pressing gently to adhere.

4. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes


(shown with Almond-Crusted Salmon and Roasted Asparagus)

I’m not a huge rice fan, and consequently, I’m not very good at making it. If you want underdone rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot, I’m your woman. But I do enjoy the nutty taste and less starchy texture of basmati rice, and this recipe intrigued me with its flavorful additions (garlic, chicken broth, pine nuts, green onions, herbs, and cheese) and different cooking method (the rice is sauteed in a skillet instead of being boiled in a saucepan, which helps it cook faster and seems as though it would solve my sticking-to-the-pan problem. So I made it as an accompaniment to Almond-Crusted Salmon, and it turned out to be the best rice I’ve ever made (though considering how rarely I make rice, this isn’t so much of an achievement). I still had some of the underdone/pan-sticking problem (the liquid always seems to disappear to early—what’s my problem? Does the lid not fit tightly enough, or am I stirring the rice prematurely?), but it was fluffy and tasted good. White rice usually seems boring to me except as a backdrop for Thai or Chinese or Indian food, but the extra ingredients here added plenty of interest. It was easy to make, and most importantly, it went perfectly with the salmon. I might not be rushing out to make this over and over again, but I would wholeheartedly serve this particular combination again.

Postscript, December 2009: ...But I haven't. Just don't like rice enough, it turns out. This may be my favorite rice recipe, but since it's not in my regular rotation, it's consigned to "Not Favorites."

¼ cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon olive oil, or to taste
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup green onions
3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast pine nuts in a medium skillet over medium heat. Remove pine nuts and set aside.

2. In the same skillet, heat olive oil (I might have used more like 2 teaspoons) over medium-high heat. Add rice and garlic to the pan and sauté 2 minutes or until rice is lightly toasted. Add water, broth, and salt to pan, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

3. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in onions, pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, thyme, and pepper.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I was a bit resentful that my very first CSA delivery contained cabbage, but mollified by the fact that the CSA newsletter contained this palatable-sounding recipe for it. I made it on Sunday night, along with meatloaf and slow-cooked carrots, and it was…not bad. I’m not saying I’m going to actually intentionally buy cabbages to make this again in the future, but if cabbages appear on my doorstep or I have to cook a summery picnic meal for a group of coleslaw fans, this is certainly the recipe I would turn to. It didn’t taste like cabbage, and it wasn’t drowning in mayonnaise (ew, mayonnaise); in fact, it seemed more like a fresh shredded cabbage-and-veggie salad with a lightly creamy sweet-and-sour dressing, a far cry from that drippy white stuff I think of as coleslaw. But while I might have eaten my Sunday-night serving with grudging admiration, and A claimed to heartily enjoy it as well, the leftovers still sit uneaten in our fridge. We coleslaw-hating leopards can’t change our spots overnight, you know.

1 small head green cabbage, shredded (about 6 cups)
1 large carrot, grated (about 1 cup)
½ cup green onions, chopped (green parts only)
¼ cup minced fresh chives
¼ cup buttermilk
2–3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1½ tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon (or to taste) dry mustard powder
1–2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Toss the cabbage, carrots, green onions, and chives in a large bowl.

2. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients. Pour this dressing over the cabbage mixture and stir well.

3. Allow salad to rest for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Serves: 6–8
Time: 15 minutes (plus 2 hours for flavors to blend)

Friday, October 05, 2007


Months after being inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, my friend P and I have finally gone ahead and joined a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. We’re both regular farmers’-market-goers, but this takes eating organically and locally to a whole new level: we are now essentially shareholders in the Tierra Miguel Farm near San Diego, receiving our dividends in the form of regular deliveries of seasonal organic produce assortments. We’re starting cautiously, sharing a box every other week until the end of the year, but if we like it, we can sign up for a longer period or more frequent (weekly) deliveries. As awesome as I think CSAs are, I definitely have some reservations about giving up this much control over my shopping, menu planning, and cooking. For a die-hard planner like me, this is difficult. I’m at the mercy of whatever the box happens to contain—and while one of the perks of living in California is that our CSA continues all year round, as winter approaches our boxes are bound to contain some of the less glamorous, harder-to-love members of the veggie world. The coolest yet most terrifying aspect of the whole enterprise is that I’ll be confronted with a series of foods I haven’t cooked with before, and perhaps haven’t historically liked very much (beets, kale, cabbage, I’m looking at you). Of course, if I remember to write about them, these new challenges could be interesting fodder for this site and quite entertaining for those of you following along at home. Watch a recovering picky eater sample new foods! Watch new recipes tested or even improvised! Watch me learn important lessons about the joy of spontaneity! It’ll be like a cross between Iron Chef and an ABC Afterschool Special!

The plan is that P will pick up our CSA delivery every other Wednesday, divvy up the goods, and bring my share to work on Thursday. This first week, I received a bit more than half of the box’s contents, since P and her husband are about to leave town for a weeklong vacation. I was excited when P presented me with the bag of veggies, but as I surveyed it all, I realized that I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my normal cooking schedule. Usually, by Thursday I’m winding down my week of cooking. I don’t go grocery shopping until Saturday morning, and I don’t cook for real again until Sunday night—the weekend is when we go out to eat, or coast along on leftovers, or assemble simple meals like sandwiches. Originally, I’d thought it would be helpful to get the CSA box on Thursday, because then I can know what’s in it before I plan next week’s menu (this usually happens on Friday). The problem with this is that produce is perishable, particularly in the non-peak season when half of it is greens. I hadn’t counted on the fact that I might have to deal with some of the box’s contents immediately before they spoiled—that they wouldn’t wait around to patiently submit to the structure of my menu. I see a lot of experimental weekend cooking in my future.

My share of this week’s box contained:
6 stalks pink chard
1 head cabbage
1 small head Romaine lettuce
1 bunch arugula
various small (Roma, pear, cherry) red tomatoes
small-leaf basil
5 carrots
3 potatoes
2 light-green summer squash
1 yellow onion
1 head garlic

Here’s how I strategized: The chard looked a bit weary from its travels, and I was interested to try it (I’m not sure I’ve ever deliberately tasted it before), so I shelved my original dinner plans and, after reading what all the cooking blogs had to say about chard, I improvised an onion and chard frittata—sauteed the onion in some olive oil until limp and browned, added the sliced chard leaves and cooked until wilted, then added this mixture to a large bowl containing 5 beaten eggs, ½ cup grated Parmesan, and salt and pepper. Heated a little more olive oil in the frying pan, poured in the frittata mixture, and cooked over low heat until set and browned on the bottom, flipped it over, and browned the other side. It was pretty tasty—a bit thinner than I’d expected, like a big fritter. The chard tasted fine to me; we’re not in love yet, but I’d accept another date. (Next time maybe I’ll save the stems—I’m intrigued by the uses for them that Jack Bishop lists in Vegetables Every Day. Apparently you can bake them into tasty gratins with cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs. But then, what wouldn’t make a tasty gratin with cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs? If I had to eat a shoe, I might cook it that way.)

I made a salad from the arugula, following a recipe from Vegetables Every Day (which I can see is going to be my bible in this enterprise, since it includes recipes for every vegetable you can think of, organized alphabetically by vegetable). I tore up the leaves, added some tomato wedges (I could have used the little CSA tomatoes, but I already had an extra heirloom aging on the counter), sprinkled with salt and pepper, and drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. It was good, but very assertive. I think I prefer arugula in a supporting role, rather than as the main ingredient.

So that dispatches the onion, chard, and arugula. I’ve just been munching on the tomatoes as snacks, and the garlic, potatoes, carrots, and squash should keep well into next week. I’m crossing my fingers that the lettuce and basil do, too. I might try freezing the oregano. That just leaves the cabbage. I really hate cabbage—or, in the interest of being fair, I should say that I’ve disliked it in all forms in which I’ve tried it so far. But the CSA newsletter has a not-bad-looking recipe for coleslaw made without mayonnaise (I really hate mayonnaise), and A likes coleslaw, and I will try at least one bite. So I’m making that on Sunday. Wish me luck! I promise to tell you all about it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Besides being aptly and adorably named for our favorite local fault line, these crackly-topped cookies fulfilled two important requirements for me: (1) They resembled the addictive chocolate crinkle cookies my roommate S used to make when we lived together, which I’ve been remembering fondly and itching to re-create. (2) They used almond meal, and I’ve got a big bag of the stuff in my cupboard, left over from an uninspiring curry recipe I once tried. Also, of course, they contained chocolate, which never hurts.

The recipe is from L.A.’s Grand Casino Bakery, via the Los Angeles Times, via The Wednesday Chef. It’s pretty easy to make—it requires some advance planning because you have to do it in two parts, with the dough chilling overnight in between, but on the plus side, that means the work is divided over two days and easier to fit into your schedule (and thus easier to handle if, like me, you’re so impatient that halfway through any task you’re already itching for it to be over). I used Ghirardelli dark chocolate, which is available from Trader Joe’s in big, ridiculously cheap chunks and is great for baking. All the recipe steps went smoothly, and the result was awesome. These cookies are plump (I don’t like huge cookies, so I didn’t quite use two tablespoons of dough for each cookie—maybe one and a half—and so got a few more than 2 dozen) and intensely chocolately; the dough seems very fudgy, but thanks to the whopping 2 tablespoons of baking powder, they bake up light. The interior texture is almost cake-like, tender but ever-so-slightly nubbly from the almond meal, surrounded by a thin, pleasingly crisp sugar shell. I can’t get enough of that texture, and I also love the fact that they’re not too sweet. I can maybe taste the barest hint of almond, but mostly it’s just a good straightforward chocolate fix.

I have read that almond meal can be used to replace part of the normal flour in most cookie recipes, which would be interesting, but now that I’ve tasted San Andreas cookies, I may just be tempted to devote the rest of my almond-meal supply to making of the same!

2 ounces (½ stick) butter
12 ounces dark chocolate
3 eggs
7 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus ¼ cup for coating
¾ cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup almond meal
6 tablespoons milk
¼ cup powdered sugar

1. Melt the butter and dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and 7 tablespoons sugar at moderately high speed until the mixture reaches the ribbon stage and is pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter.

3. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then stir in the almond meal. Alternating with the milk, add these dry ingredients to the batter. Spoon the mixture into a container, cover tightly, and chill overnight.

4. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the ¼ cup granulated sugar and the powdered sugar in two separate shallow bowls. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and form into a ball. Roll each ball of dough in granulated sugar, then in the powdered sugar.

5. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake 20–24 minutes, until the dough is no longer gooey in the center when tested with a toothpick. Cool on wire racks.

Yield: about 2 dozen
Time: A couple of hours, with at least 8 hours chilling time in between