Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Farmer's Market Dinner

So I am SUPER EXCITED that it is spring and there are beautiful fresh things everywhere and I can go to the farmer's market on Saturday mornings and hang out with hippies and their surprisingly well-behaved dogs. And buy things like delicious butter lettuce and young garlic (which I totally thought was green onions until I read an article in Vegetarian Times. So THAT'S why my green onions were purple!)

Last week I accidentally let all my farmer's market produce sit unused in the refrigerator for a few days and was faced with the dilemma of needing to use ALL of it in one meal so my beautiful swiss chard and maitake mushrooms and dirt-covered carrots didn't go to waste.

The solution was a salad, a sauteed swiss chard with mushrooms and caramelized onions over cheesy polenta (Allison, you know my love for cheesy polenta!) and delicious drop biscuits with young garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. I just made a basic polenta recipe, then stirred in butter and parmesan and a splash of heavy cream at the end. The sautee is pretty self-explanatory--onions, swiss chard, mushrooms, flavored with salt and pepper and a little white wine and balsamic vinegar. Divine.

The standout was definitely the biscuits. They were SO GOOD. I ate like four of them in a sitting. I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and didn't alter anything except that I used dried buttermilk instead of fresh and substituted young garlic (apparently) for the green onions and sun-dried tomatoes for the blue cheese. Go make these. Now. You will be happy you did.

Monday, April 19, 2010

the unexpected perfection of simplicity

Hey Kathryn,

So, it's been awhile. Since, I last posted, I moved to Chicago! I now live in a lovely apartment with two fetching roommates, in an historic Swedish neighborhood called Andersonville. I had a lovely internship at a museum, and am now employed at a wine and cheese shop.

I guess this transition hasn't been all ponies, sunshine, and champagne bubbles. I've struggled a lot with learning how to cooking for myself. On the one hand, it's great! I have complete control over everything, and no longer have to contend with my family (whom, I love so dearly) raiding the fridge and using the ingredients that I had mentally reserved for certain dishes. On the other hand, I have to buy my food. Since, the farmer's markets have opened up again, I've been thinking a lot about the most cost-effective ways to prepare my fresh produce, so that I can extract the most pleasure out of them

Case in point: On my latest trip to the farmer's market, I found an herb vendor that sold lemon verbena. I was tickled to find fresh sprigs, and I immediately fell in love with its scent. I bought it and wanted to find the perfect dessert item that would trap its bright, herbaceous fragrance and translate it into tender lemony morsels. I began my search and found some promising results - recipes for custards, cookies, cakes, scones, but I found some fault with all of them along the way. As my search ensued, the leaves began to brown, and eventually, I gave up and adapted a recipe for lemon raspberry muffins. I thought I was on the right track by substituting the lemon zest with triple the amount of the chopped lemon verbena leaves, and then blooming them in the melted butter. However, the butter masked the flavors, and I was left with muffins with nodes of grass and instead of fragrant sun-kissed lemon fields.

All was not lost though - I saved 12 of the lemon verbena leaves, and stuck them in a tupperware container in the refrigerator with a cup of sugar. After a couple days, the sugar had absorbed the oils and had the same intoxicating scent of the lemon verbena leaves. I ended up using the sugar in a most simple fruit salad of pears and raspberries, finished with a dash of cream. It was unexpectedly complex with the contrasting textures of the fruit and the lingering lemon taste, and totally satisfying. In the end, all you need are fresh ingredients, prepared simply.

Pears and Raspberries with Cream

4 Pears, finely chopped
1 cup Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons Lemon Verbena infused Sugar
The juice of half a lemon
1/4-1/2 cup cream

Combine the pears, raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a bowl. Let marinade either at room temperature (if using frozen raspberries) or in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving. Spoon unto the center of small bowls or ramekins, leaving a small rim clean. Drizzle cream along the rim, and serve. Serves 6.

Optional flavorings to salad:
1/4 tsp Almond Extract, 1 tbsp lemon zest

Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Picnic

Well, this isn't exactly a cooking-related post, but it is FOOD-related, and most importantly life-related and fun-related and awesome-related.

I'm sorry, where was I? Oh yes--I went on a picnic! It was the first picnic of the season, and I had all sorts of plans to make a cold green bean and cherry tomato salad, and homemade lemonade, and cookies. Well, I accidentally slept in, so that didn't happen. However, I learned that sometimes delicious prepared salads from Whole Foods can be just as good as homemade when you're eating them on a blanket in the sun with a friend.

Our Picnic Menu:

Baguette with goat brie
Strawberries & Cocoa Haze (basically organic, fair-trade Nutella)
Salad with candied pecans, feta, and and kalamata olives
Izze sodas

Yum! It was delicious! Macy thought so too. She tried tabbouleh for the first time and was pleasantly surprised. (n.b. Macy is the dog, not the person)

I just hope I get to go on another picnic soon! Now I'm off to pore over my newly acquired copies of this month's Bon Appetit, Clean Eating & Vegetarian Times. While eating cookies & cream ice cream. Well, we can't be virtuous all the time, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lentil Burgers & Oven Fries

What better way to ease back into this whole blogging thing than with a meal that is similarly simple and straightforward? Today I was in the mood for a summery dinner because it has been GORGEOUS here, with highs in the 80's every day since the beginning of April. I spent the day with my windows open, listening to music and having solo dance parties and just generally pretending that I was a character in a Zoey Deschanel movie.
So anyway, what's more summery and low-key than burgers and fries? Of course I adapted that classic combination to be a little healthier and, of course, vegetarian. I adapted a Martha Stewart lentil burger recipe, and served crispy burgers on toasted whole wheat buns, topped with goat cheese, spinach, dijon mustard and sweet onion slices. Plus, I think I discovered the secret to perfect oven fries: just keep baking them. Before, I always got impatient and took the fries out before their outsides got sufficiently crispy--you just have to believe! And leave them in the oven for like an hour. I rounded out the meal with some realllly good strawberries. Good call on my part, I gotta say.

Lentil Burgers (adapted from this Martha Stewart Recipe)
Makes 3-4 burgers

1 Wheat Hamburger Bun
1 Can Lentils (16 oz) (rinsed and drained)
1 Egg (pasture-raised eggs are the most humane and the tastiest)
2 Scallions, chopped
1/2 c. Parsley, chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
Buns, toppings & condiments of your choice

1. Tear the hamburger bun into large pieces and throw it in the food processor. Process into coarse bread crumbs. Add lentils, egg, scallions, and parsley, plus a healthy dose of salt and pepper. Process everything into a coarse paste.

2. Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. For the lentil paste into 3-4 patties and carefully transfer to hot oil with a wooden turner. Cook 4 minutes or until well-browned and crisp, turn carefully. Cook another 4 minutes, then remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towel.

3. Toast up those buns, top your burger how you like it, and enjoy!

Oven Fries
Serves 4

3 large Russet Potatoes
2-3 tbsp. Olive Oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 425. Peel the potatoes if you want to. Cut potatoes into slices length-wise, then turn and slice again.

2. Arrange potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet lined in parchment paper. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle liberally with salt, and toss to coat.

3. Stick the fries in the oven for about an our. Check them every 20 minutes or so to flip the potatoes and make sure they're evenly browned. Don't give up.

4. Remove from the oven, eat way too many dipped in organic ketchup.

Okay, GLEE IS ON!!! I'm so psyched it's back! Gotta go!