Archive for April, 2008

Today at the Farmer’s Market

I don’t have a picture to go with this post. I visit my local farmer’s market each week and so going is the norm. A camera wasn’t necessary as I just wrote about CSAs and Farmer’s Markets for Bay Area Bites and expected to only pick up some produce from my favorite stands, along with some meats from Prather Ranch, before making my way back home for a day of gardening. But while there, a couple of remarkable things happened. The first was only a small interaction, while the second ended in a group of people working together to do a good deed.

When I first got to the market, I made my way to my favorite vegetable stand. For years it has been run by two older Asian women, but now their daughters have taken over (I think the older women are sisters and the younger women are cousins). While there, I asked how their moms were (they’re fine), bought some fava beans (which I’ve been craving), and talked about the differences between Japanese cucumbers and pickling cucumbers. Finally I asked why they no longer seemed to carry pea sprouts, which they’ve always had and which I religiously purchased from them for years each Spring. One of the young ladies said that they just didn’t sell that well, but that she’d try to have a bag for me next week. This nice young woman actually plans on bagging up some sprouts for me next week and bringing them to the market, even though they’ve decided not to sell them anymore. I felt very appreciative not only for her offer, but for being part of a food community where this is even possible.

A few minutes later as I was buying herbs at another of my favorite stands, I was talking about the beautiful smelling fresh chamomile with the man standing behind me in line while the young man at the register talked to the woman in front of me about going to college in Fresno. The woman left and as I started to place my purchases on the table, Mr. Chamomile noticed that the woman who was just there had dropped a large wad of cash — which looked to be at least $100 in 20s. He looked at me and said he would go looking for her. We both remembered she had a large straw bag and he would go out into the market in search of her while I stayed behind in case she came back. After he ran off in search of her, I scanned the immediate area and saw she was next door at the Prather Ranch stand. I told her we had found her money, and she went in search of Mr. Chamomile. Within a few minutes, she came back holding her money victoriously in her right outstretched hand, saying the Mr. Chamomile had spread the word and so he was easy to find. If you dropped a wad of cash anywhere else in Oakland, I have doubts that the same situation would have played out in a similar fashion.

I walked away, on this beautiful Saturday, feeling very grateful for my local market. As I walked, I came to the conclusion that people go to the farmer’s market not only because we all want to eat fresh and organic foods, but also because going supports local small farms, instead of trucked-in corporate agriculture. We go to see the same farmers each week to purchase seasonal food grown with care and catch up with how everyone is doing. We’re a hopeful lot, and I can’t imagine not having this little refuge around.

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Stuffed Shells with Bolognese Sauce

There’s a good reason why this picture of stuffed shells is half eaten. After writing about my mother’s Sunday Gravy last week on Bay Area Bites, I was really in the mood for a hearty Italian dish. Although I was tempted to make the gravy itself, I was too exhausted after adopting a puppy last Saturday. Bolognese seemed a nice compromise, and what better way to eat it than with stuffed shells. By the time the dish was finished, my family and I didn’t waste a moment before we dug into this cheesy dish topped with a slow-simmered meat sauce. It wasn’t until we were done eating and I was sipping what remained of my glass of red wine that I realized I forgot to take the picture. Oops.

Stuffed shells is one of those great dishes that looks difficult, but is actually very easy. After making a simple beef Bolognese, it’s just a matter of cooking the shell pasta until it’s al dente and then stuffing them. You can even make everything a day ahead, and then assemble when ready to bake.

My baked stuffed shells with Bolognese really hit the spot, satisfying my craving for a rich Italian meaty sauce without all the work of making a traditional gravy.

Simple Beef Bolognese

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 pound ground beef (preferably not too lean)
1 medium onion diced into small pieces
1 medium carrot diced into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 small can tomato paste
1 (16-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, with the juices
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef or chicken broth or water
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp fresh basil chopped

Preparation

  1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot or pan (I like to use cast iron or a Le Creuset)
  2. Add onion, carrots, and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat or until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add meat and cook until it is lightly browned
  4. Incorporate the tomato paste and herbs into the meat and cook for another five minutes
  5. Add the wine and broth or water and stir, being sure to scrape the pan to deglaze any meat or tomato juices from the bottom
  6. Add the tomatoes and some salt and pepper to taste
  7. Simmer covered for at least an hour, preferably a little longer

Stuffed Shells

1 box of large pasta shells
1 8-ounce container of fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 Tbsp fresh parsley or basil
Salt and Pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Note: Double the ricotta cheese, egg, and Parmesan cheese if you want the dish to be extra cheesy.

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cook pasta in salted water until it’s al dente
  3. Rinse pasta under cool water
  4. Mix the ricotta cheese, egg, herbs, and some salt and pepper together in a bowl
  5. Ladle some of the Bolognese sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside
  6. Stuff each shell with some of the ricotta mixture and then place in the prepared baking dish
  7. Cover the stuffed shells enough sauce to cover the pasta
  8. Top with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese
  9. Cover with aluminum foil, oiled on the bottom side
  10. Bake for 35 minutes covered, and then 10-15 more minutes uncovered or until the cheese are bubbling and the dish looks done.
  11. Serve with any extra Bolognese sauce

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Vegetable Crepes for Dinner and Fruit Crepes for Dessert

Spring has arrived, which means that asparagus and strawberries are in full season. Today I received a delivery from a local farm and in the box of organic vegetables and fruits, sat a bushel of perfectly tender asparagus. I also had some fully-ripe and sweet strawberries sitting on my counter. As I stared at both the asparagus and strawberries, I knew I had to have both of these ingredients tonight, when they’re at their peak of freshness. Trying to figure out what to make with these two ingredients was easy as they are both perfect fillings for crepes.

Now don’t let the idea of making crepes from scratch talk you out of cooking this dish. If you use a hot skillet and a little oil, crepes are very easy and fast to make. Also, the great thing about making crepes is that it’s almost as easy to make enough for both dinner and dessert as not, so make sure to have some berries and Nutella on hand for after dinner!

Crepes

Ingredients

1 cup of flour

1 whole egg

1 cup of whole milk

1 dash of salt

Olive oil

Preparation

1. Whisk all ingredients except the oil.

2. Heat a medium lightweight skillet. When hot, drizzle it with olive oil (only use about a 1/4 – 1/2 tsp)

3. Pour about a half cup of batter in the hot pan.

4. Quickly pick up the pan and tilt it on it’s side so the batter starts to spread out. Tillt in a circle so you make a roundish crepe.

5. When the crepe’s air bubbles start to pop and the crepe looks like it’s golden on the underside, turn it over with a spatula (or flip it if you’re very talented, which I am not).

6. Cook on the other side for 30-60 seconds, or until the crepe is cooked fully.

7. Remove crepe from the pan and continue cooking the batter until it’s all gone. If the pan starts to dry out, add a little more olive oil.

Asparagus and Cremini Mushroom Filling

Ingredients

About 8 asparagus

5 medium cremini mushrooms (or more if they’re small)

3 green onions

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Chop up all the vegetables into smallish pieces (about a 1/4-inch), reserving the asparagus tips so they remain about a 1/2-inch long.

2. Heat skillet on medium heat and then add olive oil and butter.

3. When butter is melted, add vegetables and cook on medium low for about five minutes or until they start to soften and meld.

4. Add heavy cream along with some salt and pepper.

5. Shake pan so the cream coats the vegetables and simmer for about five minutes.

6. Set a cooked crepe on a plate and fill each with about a 1/4 cup of vegetable filling.

7. Fold up and serve.

Strawberry, Banana and Nutella Crepes

Ingredients

1 cup strawberries (cleaned and quartered)

1 whole banana (sliced)

1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 cup nutella (heated until soft and pourable)

Preparation

1. Mix fruit in a bowl with the sugar. If you like your fruit slightly heated, just put everything in the pan you used to make crepes and heat for about 1 minute. Don’t cook too long or the strawberries will start to release too many juices.

2. Place fruit in a crepe, fold up, and top with Nutella

3. Serve

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Fresh Tomato and Herb Pasta: Feed a family of four for about $11

We got a new puppy this week (who is absolutely adorable), so after getting up a few times each night with him and spending a lot of time carrying him into the backyard, I wanted to make a quick dinner. This evening I decided to make a fresh tomato and herb pasta with a simple side salad. After spending less than 15 minutes to make the entire dinner, I realized that in addition to the meal being quick, it was had also cost me less than $11 to feed my family of four (really!).

The tomato and herb pasta uses fresh grape tomatoes, basil and parsley, along with some olive oil, garlic and nonfat milk. The combination of the tomatoes and herbs gave the sauce a clean sweet flavor, while the milk added some creaminess.

The salad was straightforward to make, with a light and lemony flavor. I also used homemade croûtons, which were essentially just toasted pieces of day-old baguette with olive oil and salt, to add some crunch.

The pasta was tasty and filling, while the salad’s lemony flavor and crisp croûtons accompanied it nicely. Here are the prices of the ingredients along with the recipes. I hope you enjoy this quick, healthy, and inexpensive dinner soon.

Fresh Tomato and Herb Pasta

Ingredients
1/2 pound Capellini pasta (~$1.00)
1 large package grape tomatoes ($2.69 at Trader Joe’s)
3 garlic cloves smashed with a knife (~$.50)
1 small handful of fresh Italian parsley chopped ($1.00 for a bouquet at the farmer’s market)
1 small handful of fresh basil chopped ($1.00 for a bouquet at the farmer’s market)
2 Tbsp olive oil (not sure about the price for only 2 Tbsp)
1/2 cup milk (less than $.50)
Salt and pepper to taste
Top each plate with a little Parmesan cheese (~$1.00)

Preparation
1. Boil a large pot of salted water and cook pasta until it’s al dente.
2. In a large frying pan, cook tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and herbs until the tomatoes soften (about 3 – 5 minutes).
3. Blend the tomato mixture with the half cup of milk in a blender and then add everything back in the pan. Simmer covered until pasta is ready.

4. Add pasta to the pan, covering all the noodles with the sauce.
5. Serve with some grated Parmesan cheese.

Simple Green Salad with Lemon Dressing

Ingredients
1/2 head of green lettuce cleaned and dried (~$1.50)
1/2 cup of fresh croûtons (~$.50)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (~$.50)
1/4 cup fresh olive oil (~$.50)
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
1. Cut about a 1/4 of a fresh or day-old baguette into 1/4-inch slices. Cover with a sprinkling of olive oil and bake at 350 degrees for about 3-5 minutes (or until toasted).
2. Place cut up lettuce in a bowl along with the croûtons.
3. In a separate small bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Top the lettuce and croûtons with the dressing and serve.

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Bay Area Bites Posts

I’ve been very lazy about linking to my posts on the Bay Area Bites page. I will try to do better, but in the meantime, here’s all the ones I missed.
Resist the Box Redux: Homemade Chocolate Pudding
Hidden Villa
The Ahwahnee Dining Room
Easter Bread

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Crispy Homemade Fries

Fries hot out of the oven

For years I was disappointed with my homemade french fries. I tried using different types of oils and frying twice, but they always turned out a little soggy. It wasn’t until I stopped frying all together that I ended up with the crispiest fries of all. Yes, I realize you are wondering how in the world I could make crispy french fries without actually frying my potatoes, but the answer is quite simple: roasting!

My discovery occurred one day when my husband was grilling burgers. I really wanted French fries, but only had about ten minutes before dinner. I threw a few potatoes in the microwave for five minutes so they half baked. I then sliced up the potatoes. Just as I was going to fry them, I remembered I had just used the oven to bake a pie and figured I might as well see how they turned out baked. I laid the potato wedges on an oiled baking sheet and then sprayed them with olive oil and dusted them with salt and some chili powder. Tossing them into the oven, I hoped for the best. 7 minutes later, I took out the tray and was pleasantly surprised. These fries were crispier than any “fried” french fries I had ever made. The centers were fluffy and the outsides crisp. Ever since that day I haven’t turned back. I now make all my fries with partially baked potatoes that are then roasted in a nice hot oven.

One nice side benefit is that these fries are also much healthier than the fried variety. You also won’t get splattered with hot oil.

Roasted French “Fried” Potaotes

4 baking potatoes

olive oil

salt

chili powder


Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2. Poke potatoes with holes and microwave for five minutes. Note: I don’t peel my potatoes as they don’t bake as nicely in the microwave if they are peeled. If you prefer to have the skin removed on your fries, just let the half baked potatoes cool a bit and then peel them before slicing.

3. Slice potatoes into wedges or julienned pieces (whichever you prefer). Note: be careful not to burn yourself as the inside of the potatoes are hot.

4. Oil a baking sheet

5. Lay potato slices on the baking sheet and spray some olive oil on top. If you don’t have a sprayer, just toss the potatoes in some extra oil from the pan.

6. Top with salt and a dusting of chili powder

7. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the fries are crispy

8. Serve

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Sorry for the long delay in posts. It seems like someone in my house (including me) has had he flu for the past two weeks. I’ve only started to really cook again in the last few days, but when I did I knew I had to use a forlorn butternut squash that had been sitting on my counter for a couple of months. So, with only a half appetite and a whole squash, I decided to make soup. Unlike other butternut squash soups that I’ve made in the past, I first roasted the squash in the oven with some olive oil and sea salt. I also incorporated some spring onions as I just bought some at the farmer’s market and they looked so beautiful I couldn’t resist. Here’s the recipe. I hope you like it. The soup was creamy and the Gruyère cheese really accented the sweetness of the squash.  With a hunk of delicious bread, this soup made me excited to eat again.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 whole butternut squash

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup whole milk

Gruyère cheese (grated)

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Peel the squash and cut it into 1/4 inch slices (tossing out the seeds)
  3. Lay squash on an oiled pan. Top slices with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is roasted, but not browned.
  5. Add remaining Tbsp olive oil to a stock pot.
  6. Saute white part of onion for a minute, or until softened
  7. Cube the butternut squash and add it to the pot
  8. Stir and add broth
  9. Bring to a boil, cover, and then simmer for about 20 minutes
  10. Blend soup in a food processor or blender until smooth
  11. Add milk and stir
  12. Add green part of onion
  13. Serve in individual bowls, topping each with a sprinkle of Gruyère cheese

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