Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I loved our CSA experiment last time around (fall/winter 2007), especially because it was responsible for introducing me to the wonders of roasted kale, but the friend I was sharing the box with went back to school and got too busy to cook, so we didn't renew our membership. Since I have access to a great year-round farmers' market, it wasn't much of a problem for me to leave the CSA, but when my friend approached me about rejoining this spring, I jumped at the chance--not only to support a great cause and encourage myself to cook more spontaneously and adventurously, but also to sample what the farm has to offer at a different time of year.

We opted for biweekly delivered again and got our first box two weeks ago, but I was 36 hours away from leaving on a trip to Minnesota, so I couldn't take on any produce unless it was immediately edible (strawberries) or not very perishable (blood oranges, onions, and radishes), leaving my friend P with armloads of greens to eat (and she gamely rose to the challenge). What I did eat was delicious, but it wasn't a full representation, so I'm counting this week's haul as my first official one.

My half of the box contained:
2 heads lettuce (P, understandably, didn't want any this time around)
1 bunch carrots (in exchange for letting me have all of these, I very nobly allowed P the green peppers and red cabbage, two of my non-favorite vegetables)
1/2 bunch rosemary
2 onions
5 oranges (I think they're Valencias, not blood oranges, but I haven't sampled one yet)
1 pint strawberries (P got 2 pints, since I already have some at home from the farmers' market)
4 avocados! (Yes, we had an astounding 8 total; they grow on trees here, you know.) (Only 3 avocados are pictured, however, because I bartered one to Carpool J in exchange for a favor. Produce is the new currency!)

It shouldn't be too challenging to use this stuff up. The strawberries will get eaten immediately (in my lunch today, actually), and the onions, carrots, and oranges will keep as long as necessary. I can slip the rosemary into something next week. There's an awful lot of lettuce, but if I eat a few salads on the weekend, some BLTs, and maybe tacos early next week, it should take care of most of it (assuming it lasts that long). The avocados are pretty hard still and will probably keep long enough for me to put them on my BLTs, make guacamole, and perhaps whip up some avocado pasta.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Did I mention that A gave me the ice cream maker attachment for the KitchenAid mixer for my birthday last month? It took me a while to clear out enough space in the freezer for it, but in the meantime I checked David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop (much buzzed-about by food bloggers) out of the library...then after taking one look at this awesome must-have tome, I promptly added it to my Amazon wish list, flagged about half of the pages, forced the ice cream maker bowl into a corner of my freezer, and began daydreaming about which luscious-sounding recipe I'd make first. I wanted to start off easy, without having to futz around making an egg-based custard on the stove (custard and caramel are among my top cooking fears)--and luckily, Lebovitz's book offers copious non-custard options for ice cream, as well as frozen yogurt and sorbets. Inspired by the amazing peanut-butter chocolate-chip gelato I had a couple of months ago at our local gelato place, I quickly settled on this simple chocolate-peanut butter ice cream.

Really, it could not be easier. Basically, you make cocoa the old-fashioned way, on the stove, with half and half, Dutch process cocoa powder (I used Droste, like a good little Dutch girl), sugar, and a tiny bit of salt. When it boils, you remove it from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter, chill it, and then churn it in the ice cream maker. The hardest part for me was pouring the ice cream batter into the already-stirring mixer. The second-hardest part was just worrying that I was using the ice cream maker wrong and that my ice cream wouldn't freeze. And while I may have made a chocolatey mess of the kitchen, my ice cream turned out to cream, imagine that! After 30 minutes of churning, it was definitely on the mousse/melted soft-serve end of the continuum, which concerned me a bit, although it tasted delicious regardless. But when I stuck it in the freezer and served up a scoopful the next day, it was really proper ice cream, if denser than the commercial kind. While we were eating it, I kept turning to A and saying, "I made ice cream!" Oh, and the flavor? Delicious enough that it's going to be hard to convince myself to make a different kind next time, even if I do have dozens of tempting options Post-it Noted in the book. Seriously, if you have an ice cream maker and a love for the PB&C, you must make this immediately.

2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1. Whisk together the half-and-half, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full, rolling boil (it will start to foam up). Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter, stirring until thoroughly blended.

2. Chill mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Yield: about 1 quart (for us, about 6 servings)
Time: 20 minutes, plus churning and freezing time
Leftover potential: medium (tastes great no matter when you eat it, but it's hard to control yourself to even have leftovers in the first place; we made it last three days, but it was a struggle)

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Oops. When I promised an end to the asparagus recipes yesterday, I had forgotten that I had this one waiting on deck. But I assure you, it’s worth breaking my promise for. I adapted it from a Bon Appetit tart recipe I saw at Serious Eats. The topping sounded deliciously springy with the lemon, thyme, and crème fraiche, but I didn’t really want another recipe that involves puff pastry. It’s delicious and all, but it’s also expensive, pretty high in fat, and markedly less tasty when reheated—not to mention that Trader Joe’s seems to have retired its all-butter puff pastry sheets, the only non-trans-fat puff pastry product I could find. Give me a pizza crust any day, I thought as I read the recipe. Then I realized that this would probably work pretty well as a pizza, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try. And I’m glad I did, because I really liked the result. The ingredients complemented each other beautifully, and the crème fraiche added a silky texture that, while a bit unusual for a pizza sauce, was pleasantly addictive. I almost think this would almost be too rich as a tart, with that cream and cheese atop a buttery pastry crust (not to mention that the original recipe used twice as much butter as I did for sautéing the mushrooms), smothering the poor fresh vegetables. Pizza crust provided a lighter, more neutral platform the allowed the flavors to shine.

Dough for 1 pizza (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, halved and then thinly sliced
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
½ pound thin fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
¾ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
¼ cup crème fraîche
¼ cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (about 1 ounce)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon coarse salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Add asparagus, chopped thyme, lemon peel, ¼ teaspoon coarse salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and crème fraîche to mushrooms and mix well.

3. Roll out dough and place on a baking sheet or pizza pan. Spread mushroom-asparagus mixture evenly over dough and sprinkle Gruyere over the top.

4. Bake about 15 minutes, until crust is browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Another step in my continuing quest to collect a pasta recipe for every possible vegetable combination. Sure, I have many asparagus pasta recipes already, but this is the only one with tomatoes. This is how you end up with a pasta archive so massive you could eat a different pasta dish every week for a year.

Actually, this recipe is another oldie from Jack Bishop's Pasta e Verdura that I've been making for many years, but not often enough lately to get it onto the blog. There are certainly no surprises here, just spaghetti, steamed asparagus, tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, and Parmesan in a lightly creamy sauce. But it is extremely delicious. The prep work seems a little fussy, but once you've toasted your pine nuts, steamed your asparagus, and chopped your tomatoes, everything flies together quite quickly with a minimum of cooking.

Did you notice that this is my third new asparagus recipe in the past month? I've been on a kick, cooking asparagus once a week, sometimes twice! If you're not a fan, don't worry; the season is nearly over here in SoCal, so my mania will be subsiding soon.

1½ pounds asparagus
1½ pounds plum tomatoes
¼ cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup minced fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pound spaghetti
⅔ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Set a large skillet over medium heat, add the pine nuts, and toast—shaking the pan occasionally—until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside.

2. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus, cut spears in half lengthwise, then slice into 1-inch pieces. Steam until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

3. Core and seed the tomatoes and then chop them into ½-inch chunks and set aside.

4. Bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente.

5. Meanwhile, in the same skillet you used for the pine nuts, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook until tomatoes are just heated through, 2–3 minutes.

6. Stir the basil and cream into the pan and cook until cream has thickened and reduced a bit, about 1 minute. Stir in the asparagus and mix well. Cook until heated through, 1–2 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.

7. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce, the toasted pine nuts, and the Parmesan. Mix well and serve with more cheese if desired.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: High

Friday, May 08, 2009


Now that you can make your own pesto (you’ve all been doing your homework from last time, right?), here’s something easy to do with it. I guess I made this one up, in that I didn’t follow a published recipe, but pizza crust + pesto + tomatoes + cheese is hardly rocket science. Throw anything else on there you like. Go ahead, see if I care.

I mainly make this in the summer when I don’t feel like sweating over the stove, or when I have leftover canned tomatoes to use up (Trader Joe’s only sells diced ones in 28-ounce cans, so this is fairly often).

Dough for one pizza (about 1 pound)
1 batch pesto (about ¾ cup)
2 sliced fresh tomatoes, or about 14 ounces diced canned tomatoes (drained)
Shredded mozzarella cheese to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Roll out dough to fit on a baking sheet (or pizza stone, or whatever). Spread pesto evenly over dough, lay tomatoes on top, and sprinkle with cheese.

3. Bake until crust is browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Medium.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I’ve already given you my directions for making pesto, but they’re embedded within another recipe. The other night, as I was putting together an easy pizza with pesto, tomatoes, and mozzarella (to use up the leftover canned tomatoes I had in the fridge), I realized that given the frequency with which I use pesto, it deserves its own post. Also, I find this photo of the bright green pesto in its little bowl very cheerful.

This recipe ain’t no fancy thing—it’s just from The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, my default resource for making standard foods like pancakes and eggs and chicken noodle soup. It’s simple as all get-out to whip up—just throw some stuff in a food processor or blender and puree away. But, like homemade chicken stock, it makes worlds of difference in a recipe. I’ve never tasted a pre-packaged pesto, even at Trader Joe’s, that’s even half as good. Whenever I have spare basil, I make a batch of pesto (or a half-batch, even) and throw it into the freezer for later, which makes it darn near convenience food. Serve on pasta, pizza, meat, veggies, bread, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup firmly packed fresh parsley sprigs, stems removed
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
¼ cup pine nuts
1 large clove garlic, peeled and quartered
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil

1. Place basil, parsley, cheese, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until the mixture forms a paste.

2. Add the olive oil and continue to process until the pesto is smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Yield: about ¾ cup
Time: 15 minutes
Leftover potential: High

Friday, May 01, 2009


As the five-year anniversary of this blog approacheth (that’s how we used to talk in the olden days before the Internet, you know), I wonder how this is still possible: Here we have a very nice pasta recipe (from my old standby, Jack Bishop’s Pasta e Verdura) that I feel I’ve made many times, but somehow I’ve never posted it. Has it really been years since I last cooked it? Or did it just slip through the cracks?

I was reminded of this pasta while eating my recent asparagus, ricotta, and salami pizza, so I had to make it this week and finally share it with you. It’s creamy, delicately flavored, springy, and remarkably easy—no sautéing required, even: just boil, steam, and mix. There are no bold tastes here, so be sure to use a generous hand with the salt and pepper; in fact, I found myself thinking that a little lemon zest mixed into the ricotta might be the very thing to take this up to the next level. But in the meantime, I have been eating the leftovers all week and can vouch that the current level is very nice indeed.

2 pounds asparagus
1⅓ cups ricotta cheese
⅔ cup freshly grated Parmesan
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne pasta

1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta.

2. Meanwhile, snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and cut the spears in half lengthwise, then slice them into 1-inch-long pieces. Steam until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.

3. Combine the two cheeses with the basil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

4. Cook the pasta until al dente. Just before it is done, carefully remove ⅓ cup of the cooking water and stir it into the cheese mixture. The cheese sauce should be smooth and creamy.

5. Drain the pasta, making sure some water still clings to the noodles. Toss the hot pasta with the ricotta mixture and asparagus. Mix well to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: High.