Saturday, July 31, 2010

Green Bean, Walnut and Feta Salad

There are some recipes I've been making for as long as I've been married (almost 24 years).  I'm not sure that this one has been in rotation for quite that long but it has been a standby for a good long time.  I got the original recipe from one of those old Junior League cookbooks - this one was "Savor the Flavor of Oregon."  I'll admit that anymore, I don't really follow the recipe.  I just throw it together using amounts that work.  These green beans were from our CSA last week and were the best green beans I've ever tasted - straight out of the steamer they were crisp and flavorful and just wonderful.

Green Bean, Walnut and Feta Salad

1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup red onion slices
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Steam green beans until crisp tender and still bright green.  Chill.  
Chop mint leaves and add to the green beans.

For dressing:  combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic.  Add walnuts, red onion and feta cheese to beans.  Pour dressing over bean mixture and toss to coat.  Chill until ready to serve.

For a lower  fat option I often will skip making the dressing and just spray the beans with olive oil and sprinkle on some white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.   Then just use whatever amount of walnuts and feta suits you.  The dressing is really good but the nuts and cheese give it plenty of flavor so it's safe to go with the lighter version as well.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Terra Bella Family Farm CSA: week nine

Such a colorful haul yesterday!  I picked up at the tail-end of the appointed time - about two hours later than I usually go and was happy to find that there was still plenty for us latecomers.  This week we came home with:

basket of tomatoes
sweet peppers (had choice of eggplant or peppers))
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 bunch chard
snow peas
1 bunch summer savory
ratatouille focaccia bread

I thought my family showed considerable restraint in not tearing into this beautiful bread the minute I walked in the door:

I saved this for tonight since we already had so many leftovers from the weekend (including some mini pizzas which I topped with the chard like I did a few weeks ago - yum!).  

Things are really coming along in our garden - I get tomatoes pretty much every day now and will soon be picking cucumbers. In the ongoing guinnah v. squirrel battle  I bought a spray product that is supposed to deter the annoying critters.  Of course I don't want to kill the squirrels or even harm them  (or my dogs) so I bought a product that is supposed to deter based on smell and taste.   Sounds good in theory only this stuff smells so good - rosemary, peppermint - they are going to think they are in a spa.  Squirrel pedi - I don't think so!  

Monday, July 26, 2010


In honor of the return of the best show ever (in my opinion anyway) I thought I'd post about a favorite cocktail we've been whipping up this summer.  Now I know there are purists who will say that just because you add "-tini" to the end of a word it doesn't make it a true Martini.  Fine, it's a ginger, vodka and lime cocktail served in a martini glass.  We first sampled this drink at The Walnut Creek Yacht Club (where there is neither water nor yachts) and loved it.   Naturally I set about figuring out how to make them at home.  I pretty much follow a recipe I found on the Food Network site except I use a lot more ginger in the simple syrup.  I made these the other day and let the mixture sit for awhile in the cocktail shaker before adding some ice and shaking it.  I really liked the way the flavors had blended - I think I'll be doing it that way in the future. 

Zentini (Ginger Martini)

2 oz. vodka
2 oz. ginger syrup (recipe follows)
1 sprig fresh mint
juice from half a lime

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and shake to combine.  
Strain into a chilled martini glass.  

Ginger Syrup

4 cups water
2 cups sugar*
good sized piece of ginger (4-5") - original recipe calls for peeling and slicing into coins - I either grate it or shred it in the food processor and use all the pulp it creates PLUS the juice

Combine the water, sugar and ginger in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook at a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Strain into a glass bottle and let it cool before you use it.  I like to use these bottles from IKEA.

*I would love to try making this someday with stevia but haven't attempted it yet

I love the glass cocktail shaker in the picture.  My husband picked it up one day at a shop in San Francisco while killing time between meetings.  Mind you, we don't make many cocktails but it is still a pretty piece to look at on the shelf.  He also picked this up for me one day:

Really not sure what to make of THAT message but it is pretty funny.  My life isn't one in which I encounter a lot of flask-necessitating situations (read: never) but damned if I won't be ready for it if the needs arises.  Cheers and glad to have you back Don and Betty - oh how I've missed you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Terra Bella Family Farm CSA: week eight

I'm so far behind this week...birthday month is in full swing.  We went out for the big 21st birthday on Wednesday, have company coming tonight, going to a 50th birthday party tomorrow and then hosting the whole family for a June/July birthday catch-up on Sunday.   Whew!

As usual, the CSA was full of wonderful things.  Our schedule was a little different this week at home and Tuesday didn't really feel like Tuesday - but once I picked up our share - all was well, it was Tuesday after all.  This week I brought home:

green beans
summer squash
gypsy peppers
eggplant (variety of choices)
yukon gold potatoes
red speckled troutback lettuce
honey wheat bread

Our own garden is coming along nicely though I am beginning to feel a bit like a losing contestant on "Are You Smarter Than a Squirrel" - they were so pleased with their harvest of our nectarine tree that they have moved onto the tomatoes.  I spotted this at the base of our rose 

The next day it was gone.  I usually call the dogs off when they are barking at the squirrels but at this point it is game on.  woof.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Golden Girl!

And by Golden Girl I don't mean Betty White!  Today is my girl's "Golden Birthday" (turning the age of your birthdate) so she's the big 21!  Which is weird because I don't think I'm old enough...wait, yes I am.

This kid was the baby people fantasize about - she slept through the night right off the bat and had such a happy personality.  She was what our pediatrician called a "sucker baby" because they are so easy they sucker you into having another.  Of course she was occasionally a little bit naughty but even then it was cute

She suffered through first time parents who tried their best but surely had some missteps along the way
  She's going to Disneyland for her birthday - her happiest place on earth!

Happy Birthday lovely Ana - we love you!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pizzeria Delfina's Spicy Cauliflower

I was an odd child as far as food goes (okay, in many ways, but this is about food).  There were certain things I didn't like the texture of (tomatoes for one) but I have always loved cauliflower.  I loved to eat it raw - also loved raw cabbage and turnips.  Like I said, weird.  So I often find myself picking up a cauliflower without any plans for it.  Many years ago I had a favorite Moosewood recipe that was a macaroni and cheese with cauliflower and tomatoes.  Then a few years ago I stumbled upon Crackling Cauliflower at Whole Foods and that became a household favorite.  I love to roast cauliflower with just some olive oil, salt and pepper -  it's amazingly good.  A couple of weeks ago I tossed it on the grill - equally delicious.  In our CSA this past week we were given a beautiful golden cauliflower called "Cheddar Cauliflower" so I needed to find a good recipe for it.

I really wanted to try something new so after a bit of poking around online I found this recipe from Pizzeria Delfina.  I don't usually fry anything but I did want to give it a try as written.  I would definitely make this again but I think next time I would just roast it in the oven. I find that roasted at a high heat it gets every bit as good this fried in oil one.

Pizzeria Delfina Spicy Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
Extra-virgin olive oil or mixture of canola and extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup drained capers, dried
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon chile flakes
Thinly sliced pickled Calabrese peppers (optional; see Note)

Cut the cauliflower in large even-size florets by cutting around the core, down around the stem. Dry well with a clean dish towel if wet or damp.
Place a metal strainer over a bowl. In a wide shallow pan with a heavy bottom, pour 1/2 inch oil. Heat the olive oil on high heat until very hot but not smoking.
Place the cauliflower in the pan and cook on high heat until it begins to brown, about 1 minute, then reduce to medium/medium-high and continue cooking until it is deeply brown all over, flipping over to fry all sides, 8-10 minutes total. Season well with salt. The oil should stay bubbly hot. By the time the cauliflower is deeply browned, it should be pretty much cooked through.
When the cauliflower is 1-2 minutes from being done, add the parsley, capers and garlic. Cook until the garlic has browned, then add the chile flakes.
Immediately drain into the strainer. Allow to drain well before seasoning with salt to taste and tossing with the peppers, if using.
Note: Tutto Calabria whole jarred chile peppers are available at Lucca Delicatessen in San Francisco and online.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I will admit - I've never been much of a chilled soup fan.   I've tried several and always enjoyed the flavor but just couldn't see myself indulging in a full bowl.  But while meandering through some favorite food blogs I stumbled upon this recipe at thatveganblog.com.  I don't know if it was the way she described her own previous feeling on the whole gazpacho thing or what, but I was suddenly very motivated to make this!  I think mine ended up being a little more blended - I kept adjusting the seasoning and would give it another pulse each time - but it was truly outstanding.  I had to adapt it a bit to what I had on hand but we loved it (and when  I say "we" I am not including little miss soup hater) - I can see this getting a lot of replay this summer!  The cucumber, onion and garlic were from our CSA, half the tomatoes were a gift from someone else's CSA and half were from our garden as was the lemon and chile. The recipe as I made it is below:

Crystal's Gazpacho

8 oz "sweet 100" tomatoes
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
2 peeled Persian cucumbers
1 bell pepper (or an extra cucumber)
1 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
1 serrano chile
fresh cilantro to taste - I used about half a bunch as she suggested
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
juice from 1/2 of a lemon
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
diced avocado
Roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and onion into large chunks
Add the veggies and everything else to a food processor and pulse until you have very small pieces (the size of a kernel of corn or smaller).
Taste and add more vinegar, lemon, olive oil and/or salt & pepper if necessary.
Top with diced avocado, guacamole, a dollop of sour cream, sprinkle with corn kernels cut right off the cob or all of the above!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Terra Bella Family Farm CSA: week seven

Once again - an amazing collection of goods.  Driving home from the CSA pick-up my mind starts to wander as I think about what I'll make with all this wonderful food...

1 basket of baby plums
2 baskets of strawberries
1 bunch of carrots
1 bunch chard
summer squash
head of red leaf lettuce
herbs (I chose marjoram)
herb focaccia

In our own garden the tomatoes are ripening - I've managed to get a few each day the past few days.  We have a serrano chile that is sort of going crazy which is just fine for my pepper loving husband.  I'm still mourning the loss of the nectarines (too dramatic?) but feel better armed for next year.  I'm very excited about  our pomegranates this year.  Last year I think we got five pomegranates - this year it looks like we'll have at least twenty (provided there's not some roaming critter in the neighborhood who fancies pomegranates).  It's a really fascinating process - the growth of a pomegranate:

Our established citrus trees (two lemon, two orange) are full of tiny fruit and our new trees (grapefruit, lime, tangerine, another orange) are well on their way.  Even the little volunteer fig tree that we transplanted to the front yard seems to be very happy.  I love having these things to look forward to in the fall and winter.  There is nothing like pulling in to your driveway and picking a few oranges before you head inside!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grilled Onion and Blue Cheese Risotto

Monday nights have become "go through the fridge and use everything up" night because I get my CSA share on Tuesdays and I want to make sure I haven't overlooked anything.  I came across two open packages of arborio rice in the pantry - they each had a cup of rice left so that was the start.  I had a few onions - two red and one white; no parmesan but a container of blue cheese, no broth on hand but a couple of vegan bouillon cubes.  Hmmm...the weather has cooled considerably so the notion of standing at the stove and stirring risotto didn't sound so bad.  And the result was really good...

Grilled Onion and Blue Cheese Risotto

2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable broth, warmed
3 onions (I used two red and 1 white)
2 oz blue cheese, crumbled
olive oil

Heat up gas grill - about a medium flame.  Peel onions and cut into quarters - toss with some olive oil and salt.  Place them on a grill pan and close the lid.  While those are cooking heat up some olive oil (I just used my sprayer) in a large saute pan on medium heat and toss the arborio rice, stir until every grain is shiny and covered with oil (you can do a more traditional part butter, part olive oil but this works just as well).  Add the white wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed.  Add the vegetable broth one cup at a time, stirring each addition until the liquid is absorbed.  Don't forget to check on your onions!  I stirred mine occasionally until they were soft and the quarters had fallen apart.  Some pieces get a little darker than others but that's fine.

Continue adding broth until the rice is still a bit firm - al dente - but not chalky inside.  If you run out of broth you can use some water to finish it.  Once the rice is cooked, stir in the blue cheese and combine until melted, stir in the onion and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

We had a lovely insalata caprese with this - using tomatoes and basil from the garden.  I did a panicked picking of the tomatoes because yesterday our nectarine tree was stripped clean of fruit - presumably by squirrels - I was worried the tomatoes would be next!  It's not a large tree so it's completely plausible.  We have deer in the area but they don't come into the backyard (we have a very tall fence) and it's not a tree that is visible to anyone so I doubt a hungry (and greedy) person wandered into our yard.  I'm always scolding the dogs for barking at the squirrels but I've changed my tune today - go get 'em! (don't worry - they never catch them - in fact the squirrels get up high in the trees and just tease the dogs incessantly).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Beet Roesti with Rosemary

Most people I know either love beets or they hate them - it's really not a neutral vegetable.  We love them - hot, cold, roasted, raw - it doesn't matter.  This is by far our favorite recipe - it's pretty simple and tastes amazing.  The only problem is everyone always wants more!  I tried something different this time - the recipe calls for sliding the beets out of the pan onto a plate, flipping it over and then back in the pan.  Well this time I cooked it on my panini maker.  I cooked it until the bottom was almost ready and then closed the lid on it to cook the top. It worked really well.  These lovely beets were from our CSA share this week.  I have yet to take a good picture of this recipe because you really want to eat it immediately - I guess I'll just have to keep trying :-)  Make it - you won't be sorry!

Beet Roesti with Rosemary
From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1 to 1 1/2 lb. beets (I used one bunch that had two large and one smallish beet)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (I think fresh is essential here)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp butter (works fine with Earth Balance for vegan)

Trim the beets and peel them as you would potatoes; grate them in a food processor or by hand. Begin preheating a medium to large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Toss the grated beets in a bowl with the rosemary and salt, then add about half the flour; toss well, add the rest of the flour, then toss again. Place the butter in the skillet and heat until it begins to turn nut-brown.

Shape the beet mixture into the skillet, shape it into a nice circle, and press it down with a spatula. Turn the heat to medium-heat and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the bottom of the beet cake is nicely crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Slide the cake out onto a plate, top with another plate, invert the two plates, and slide the cake back into the pan. Continue to cook, adjusting the heat if necessary, until the second side is browned. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Terra Bella Family Farm CSA: week six

I've come to love Tuesday afternoons!  This week's CSA share included:

 1.25 pounds peaches
1.25 pounds nectarines
3 cucumbers
1 bunch beets
summer squash
1 bag of arugula
1 head lettuce
1 bunch radishes
herbs (I chose Italian parsley)
2 seeded cheese breadsticks

The radishes are absolutely beautiful (the hubster loves radish greens!)  I can't wait dig in...and I did on the breadstick on the drive home - just a bite though :-)

Yesterday we also had the first nectarine of the season off our tree:


Monday, July 05, 2010

Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes

Okay...one more birthday related post and then I'm done (for a week or so...).  Our most recent birthday girl has been working at a day camp this summer - more specifically, she is a counselor teaching circus skills to kindergarteners.  Ah, there is some justice in the world :-)  Since she had to work the next day, her actual birthday celebration was not a big one - out to dinner with her friends and then to a friend's house for the evening.  I made a batch of these mini lemon buttermilk cupcakes and sent them along for the group.   As a  tribute to her circus camp I made cupcake picks using vintage circus images I found online - silly, but cute.

I've made this cupcake recipe many, many times - we love them.  Just the right amount of lemon and the tiny size makes them a great party dessert.
Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes
(I double this recipe and get about 7 dozen mini cupcakes - unfrosted, they freeze well!)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line mini cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Beat in egg.  Add vanilla and lemon extracts into the buttermilk and pour half into the sugar mixture.  Mix in half of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining buttermilk and the rest of the flour.  Stir until just combined.  Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick tester comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk (I use vanilla soymilk)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a mixer bowl, cream the butter, lemon rind, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy - about 2 minutes.  Add powdered sugar alternately with milk until the mixture is creamy and smooth, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon juice.

I use a frosting gun to keep it simple.  I line them all up and fire away.  

I originally found the cupcake recipe at slashfood.com and the frosting recipe at cooks.com.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Buttermilk Cheesecake Tarts

Since it is officially birthday month around here there is definitely some baking going on.  With two July birthday girls we kick off the month on the 1st and tend to drag it out as long as possible!  Friday night we went out to dinner to celebrate Hallie's 19th birthday - to the Cheesecake Factory.  So why would I bake cheesecake if we were going to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner?  Well for one, everyone is too full right after dinner to even think about a monstrous slice of their cheesecake - even a sharing slice.  And two - I like doing the whole presents and cake thing at home.

But the real reason I made cheesecake even though we were going to Cheesecake Factory - when I went to the store on Thursday to buy ingredients for my other recent baking endeavor I made a careful list of what I needed - and left it on the counter at home.  I did pretty well getting what I needed, but for some reason I also thought I needed cream cheese.  And since I couldn't remember how much I needed I bought two packages - you know, just to be on the safe side.  Well as it turns out I didn't need it.  So...I looked online until I found a recipe that would work with what I had on hand.  I modified it quite a bit but this is the recipe I worked from and this is what I came up with:

Buttermilk Cheesecake Tarts

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sugar
3 8oz packages Neufchatel cream cheese*
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt 1/2 cup butter.  Add cracker crumbs, mix thoroughly.  Using 8 individual tart pans, put 1/4 cup of crumb mixture into each pan and press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Bake for 5 minutes on a cookie sheet, remove from oven and set aside.
Cream remaining butter and 1 cup sugar with cream cheese until smooth.  Add buttermilk and vanilla and beat until well mixed.  Add eggs and beat slowly until combined.  Do not overbeat.
Pour batter into tart pans (I used probably about 1/2 cup of batter for each tart and had leftovers). 
 Bake for 20 minutes.  I cooled these for several hours in my other oven.  I just put the pan in there and let them sit for  3 to 4 hours and then put them in the refrigerator to chill.
*I actually used 2 packages Neufchatel and 1 8 oz tub of soft cream cheese because that's what I had on hand.  I know they don't recommend baking with the tub cream cheese but it worked fine.

I had some leftover batter so I used some cupcake liners and a cupcake tin to make some more mini cheesecakes.  I put a gingersnap in the bottom of the liner and filled with the batter (I got 8 of these from the leftover batter).  I baked these a little longer - probably 25 minutes.  I wasn't paying close attention to these and they did crack and sink a little bit but it made a perfect dip for fruit!  You could make more graham cracker crust and get a couple more tarts out of it.  This was all an experiment so I didn't know what I would end up with!

We all loved these tarts.  Not nearly as sweet as a restaurant cheesecake but still decadent enough to feel a wee bit guilty.  A really good vegan cheesecake can be found here.

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Grilled Pizza with Swiss Chard, Black Olives and Feta

This isn't so much a recipe as an idea for using this week's CSA swiss chard.  I had some small "take and bake" cheese pizzas that I wanted to doctor up a bit.  So I washed and dried the chard,  removed the stems and chopped it into ribbons.  This was sauteed with two minced garlic cloves in a small amount of olive oil with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  I cooked it until the chard was completely tender (nothing worse than greens on a pizza that you can't bite through!).  This went on top of the pizza along with some sliced black olives and a sprinkling of feta cheese.

The crust on these was labeled as flatbread so it was probably a little sturdier than your average pizza crust - I figured it would stand up to going on the grill.  Most grilled pizza recipes call for grilling the crust first and that adding toppings once you've turned the crust. But since these were already made that wasn't an option!  I figured I'd take a chance. I sprayed my grill pan with olive oil (off the grill) and put the pizzas on over low heat and closed the lid.  After about five minutes the bottom was already dark and crisp.  I moved them away from the flame and let them sit a few minutes more (again with the lid closed) so that the cheese would melt.  The top wasn't browned and bubbly like it would be in the oven but the flavor was really good - definitely an option for those warm summer nights when turning on the oven sounds like a really bad idea!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Birthday Girl

I'm not sure where the time has gone.  One minute I had this tie-dye wearing infant who refused to sleep for longer than a minute and next thing you know she's a college sophomore!  She was a sweet little girl

who was always a little sassy as well
She's grown into an amazing young woman
and I hope she's still speaking to me after seeing these pictures :-)
Happy Birthday Circus Girl - we love you!

Terra Bella Family Farm CSA: week five

A little behind on posting this week's CSA.  We took a quick trip to Portland to see my dad (and other family, but mostly my dad).  To prove how much I'm loving the CSA I booked my return flight on Tuesday afternoon so I would get in on time to make the CSA pick up.  The fact that I got to fly on this plane just confirms that I made the right choice:
I know I could have asked a friend to do it but I really like going and picking out my produce - I like the process of it all.

This week I came home with:

1.5 pounds peaches
1.5 pounds pluots
1 bunch chard
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 bunch broccoli
red torpedo onions
gypsy peppers
summer squash
double olive bread

It was 100 degrees while we were gone and the garden looked a little unhappy to have suffered through that kind of heat.  Our nectarines should be ready in a week or so and we had the first two mulberries off the tree yesterday (we don't get a lot of berries on this tree so every single one is a treat)!  I finally had enough sweet 100's to use in our salad for dinner last night and it looks like there will be plenty more to follow.  I think I'll be cleaning up the mint today so maybe it will be a mojito night??