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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hot-Weather Treat: No-Fat Chocolate-Cherry Shake

Here in Virginia summer has descended with its usual wallop—scorching temperatures and high humidity without even the occasional thunderstorm to cool things off. Fortunately, we've come up with a recipe for a cool summer treat.

Our inspiration came from Dr. Joel Fuhrman's book Eat to Live, which advocates a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Though some of his recommendations are a bit extreme for the likes of us—we're not sure a longer life would be worth living if it did not include olive oil—we're all in favor of fruits and vegetables, so we've been looking over his recipes with interest. One, for a chocolate spinach smoothie, gave us the idea for this chocolate-cherry shake, which we've been happily slurping for weeks.

Although this calls for quite a bit of spinach—a couple of fat handfuls—you'll never taste or see it in the finished product. You'll just have the invisible satisfaction of knowing that this cold, chocolatey deliciousness packs a lot of nutrition.

Chocolate-Cherry Shake

3/4 cup coconut water (you can also use any kind of milk)
Heaping 1/2 cup frozen pitted cherries
2 T. cocoa powder
2 dates, pitted
2 ounces baby spinach (about two good-size handfuls)
1/2 cup ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender, and let it rip. Makes two decent portions or one monster portion.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's Summer: Greens, Greens and More Greens

Even if you don't receive a CSA box full of greens every week like we do, you probably either grow them yourself or you find your supermarket produce section sprouting some interesting leafy greens this time of year.

They're cheap. They're really good for you. And they're versatile if you use your imagination: in salads, steamed, cut up in soup or roasted into appetizer chips.

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Mark Bittman published a matrix of greens by type and offered dozens of ways to deal with them. Here's the gist of his article and matrix.

Romaine is fine. But dandelion, tender lettuces, chard and arugula (real arugula, not the “baby” kind they sell in most supermarkets) are all ubiquitous this time of year, and they can be as flavorful as the juiciest tomato. You can make a different salad every day for weeks without repeating yourself.
Whatever strange green you find in your kitchen this time of year, the article suggests a tasty way to eat it. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Good Fast Food: White Beans with Greens and Sausage

How versatile is this dish? For one thing, it can be served cold as a salad* or hot as a stew. Room temperature also would work just fine. The ingredients are nearly infinitely adaptable, depending on what you crave or happen to have on hand.

Our last batch was inspired by some leftover greens from the CSA box. We still haven't identified them—they resembled broccoli raab sans blossoms—but after we sautéed them we decided that they were a bit too chewy and strong-tasting to eat on their own, even with a splash of fruity fig vinegar. Though we were definitely not crazy about them, we're committed to using every molecule of our precious (and not inexpensive) CSA produce, so tossing them was out of the question.

We remembered that greens go well with white beans, so we cooked a pound of Great Northerns with plenty of crushed garlic and sage. When the beans were done, we removed most of the cooking liquid (saving it for soup) and added the mystery greens (cut in smaller strips to mitigate the bitterness), a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, four crumbled veggie sausages, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

(Though we cooked our beans from scratch, you could use a few cans of rinsed white beans for a nice fast meal.)

Our impromptu stew was wonderful; the bitter greens played well with the mild beans and salty sausage. But any kind of greens would do—chard, kale, collards—and roasted red peppers would have made an excellent substitute for the tomatoes. Plain diced tomatoes or halved grape tomatoes also would have worked. Chunks of Italian sausage (or Tofurky!) would have been delicious.

The lesson: Don't give up on something you've cooked, no matter how much it has disappointed you—chances are that with a little tweaking, it can be part of another dish that you'll like much better.

If you opt for a cold salad, remove all of the bean cooking liquid and add a little more olive oil.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bloody Mary Salad Dressing: Apéritif without the Alcohol

You never know where you are going to get inspiration for a recipe you love. On our recent visit to South Dakota — not typically a land of culinary distinction — we found two recipes we now love.

One was the result of a visit to a Vietnamese-run, Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant in Rapid City where the chef-owner showed us how she made the delicious sautéed tofu (recipe to come) we enjoyed.

The other was the Bloody Mary dressing served on our green salad at Jake's in historic Deadwood. Jake's is right on main street but is hard to find because the sign is small — but the reward is huge. We had a great meal. And, if this sort of thing helps you go there, it is owned by Kevin Costner, who fell in love with Deadwood while filming "Dances With Wolves."

Our green salad was bathed lightly in a Bloody Mary dressing that awakened our taste buds.
With a little experience making Bloody Mary's, a little imagination and some vague help from the waiter, we've reconstructed the dressing:

Bloody Mary Salad Dressing

4 Tablespoons juice from a can of diced or whole tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons horseradish
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons tomato paste
pinch celery salt
Salt and pepper, to taste

Shake the above ingredients in a small jar or container.
In a bowl, mix greens with a little feta (optional) and halved cherry tomatoes (optional), then dress with some of the Bloody Mary dressing.

And, of course, if you want some alcohol with your salad, this dressing goes nicely with a Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp Chardonnay.

Refrigerate the leftover dressing and use again the next day or within a week.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Box of Great Meals

Last night we managed to polish off our first half-share box from our CSA. Here's how we did it:

Asparagus Risotto

Crispy Noodle Cake with Kale and Mushrooms (we included our single CSA garlic scape, minced)

Grilled Spring Onions

Green Salad with Bloody Mary Dressing

Strawberries for breakfast

As we move into the summer, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to finish a boxful of vegetables and fruit in a week, but we promise to give it our best shot.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Food Store Shopping Binge Receipt: $65 and More Veggies Than You Can Carry

Here's the receipt from a recent trip to the store where we buy our produce. The booty was almost too much to carry, but it will feed us for some time.

The store's produce is typically inexpensive (if they can do it, why can't the big supermarkets?). Some items are not cheap: apples $2.79/lb.; grape tomatoes $2/pint. But broccoli crown was $1; cilantro $.50; strawberries $1/1.5 pint; limes $1/7.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Broccoli "Rice" Side Dish

Broccoli has its detractors, but we've always liked this year-round vegetable. The worst we could say — and we often did — was that it is BOH-ring.

Broccoli crowns were ridiculously cheap the other day at our local market, so we loaded up with a couple, and then checked our ever-growing shelf of cookbooks for a different way to love its green goodness. We ran across something called Broccoli "Rice," which wasn't rice at all.

The broccoli is minced into small pieces the size of a grain of rice, and the preparation gives broccoli a very fresh taste and creative presentation. It makes this winter vegetable into a summer surprise. And who would have ever thought of putting mint in a broccoli side dish? Brilliant.

The recipe is the brainchild of Eric Gower, author of "The Breakaway Cook." Serve this side next to any meat or protein, or under it as we did last night, as shown in the photo above.

Broccoli "Rice"

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, minced
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 medium head of broccoli, minced to rice size

2 Tablespoons Greek or plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon citrus juice (we used lime)
2 Tablespoons minced fresh mint

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat.
Add the onion and salt and pepper liberally.
Cook, stirring once in a while, until softened but not browned.
Add the broccoli and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetable is cooked through.
While it's cooking, blend the dressing ingredients, and add to the broccoli when it is done. Cook for another couple of minutes to blend flavors. Test for seasoning.

Serve under meat, fish or tofu and with a fresh, crisp white such as sauvignon blanc, viognier, or light chardonnay.

We served it with scallion-coated tofu and grilled spring onions from the CSA box.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Asparagus Risotto: Using the CSA Box Veggies

With the arrival of the weekend one day after our first CSA box of veggies, we decided to open a swell bottle of Zinfandel and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and make something delicious with our first bounty of the season.

We decided to alter one of our favorite risotto recipes to take advantage of what we had. Instead of the green beans the recipe called for, we subbed in our large bunch of asparagus, which we steamed lightly to soften it up and cook it just a bit. Then we cut it into 3/4-inch pieces, saving the cute tops for garnish.

People avoid risotto because it requires more or less constant attention for 20 minutes, but it's really pretty easy. And we've never made a risotto that we didn't love.

The Recipe is from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. It's actually pretty low-fat and healthy.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
5 cups broth
1.5 cups arborio rice
1 bunch asparagus, lightly steamed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 small onion
1 tomato diced
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup pesto (optional), either basil- or cilantro-based

Start with a Tablespoon of Olive Oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven on medium high. Add a chopped small onion until it softens (not browned). Add a cup and a half of rinsed arborio rice and stir it to coat the rice with the oil.

While you're getting ready to cook, heat 5 cups of broth (chicken or veggie stock will do) to a simmer in another saucepan.

After the rice is coated, add a cup of the hot broth and stir until all of the liquid is pretty much gone. Add another cup and stir until almost gone. Add a third cup and stir. When the broth from the third cup is almost gone, add the asparagus, which has been steamed and cut.

Add the last two cups of stock, one at a time, or even half a cup at a time, stirring to absorb the liquid each time. This slow cooking will cook the rice. Test to see that the rice is tender but still a bit al dente. Add salt to taste.

Add the tomato, parmesan and optional pesto. For pesto we used our fave cilantro pesto because we had some on hand, and it added a marvelous tang. (The original recipe calls for 12 cup parmesan, but we lowered the amount to 1/3 cups and it was great.)

We served it with steamed swiss chard with a splash of fig-infused vinegar. The sharp chard was a nice balance to the almost sweet and tangy risotto. They tasted great with both the red Zinfandel and the white Sauvignon Blanc.

Friday, June 3, 2011

New CSA Season: A Box of Veggies a Week Through the Summer and Fall

We finally found a local farm that sponsors a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program — after two years of being without the basket of local goodness.

The CSA farm is in a town fairly far away (considering the horrendous traffic), but has a pickup arrangement with a local farmers market where we can pick up our box.

The first week's box is always small and predictable, but we consider it a warmup for the mid- and late-summer boxes that are a challenge to eat in one week. In fact that's the biggest CSA hurdle: eating everything you are given.

This week the box contained a large head of red leaf lettuce, a small basil seedling for planting, a bundle of asparagus, a box of strawberries, a bunch of kale and several spring onions. All grown locally and tasting great because they are fresh picked.