Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Unplanned Blogging Hiatus

We've all fallen victim to the feeling of time flying by, events arriving sooner than seemingly possible, and the holiday season barging its way into a perfectly good routine.  For the record, this holiday season seems to have been especially aggressive, and I know I'm not alone in saying that I don't know what happened to December.  

We're halfway through the month already, and I didn't even have the chance to put together a CSA wrap up email after Thanksgiving.  My goal is to finish it up in the next week or so, along with a few blurbs about some new culinary venues.  In the meantime, I've been lucky enough to be busy with fun activities, visits from friends, and spectacular food.  

Out-of-town guests often warrant extra restaurant meals, and last weekend was no different.  We had a phenomenal meal at Tastebuds Saturday night, with amazing hot beignets and a fudgy brownie for dessert, and a unique brunch at The Roosevelt on Sunday.  

I'd tried to get a reservation at The Roosevelt for dinner the night before, but they were booked solid.  The only reason we were able to dine there for brunch was because we sat at the bar, though I was very happy with the bartender's demeanor and service.  

After much deliberation, I opted for the slow-cooked egg with foie gras butter and local mushrooms, as well as a biscuit with vanilla butter.  The egg had a rich flavor and was served in a cast iron pan with a hearty piece of grilled bread for dipping.  Davy couldn't resist the breakfast sausage corn dogs, which were crisp on the outside, savory on the inside, and extra-tasty dipped in maple syrup.  

One of my favorite parts of the meal, aside from the cozy ambiance and creative menu, was the fact that the food wasn't over salted.  I understand the importance of salt as an enhancement tool, but I'm often thirsty for a few hours after I eat at a restaurant.  The dishes at the Roosevelt had a pleasant balance of  flavors.  I'm looking forward to having dinner there - if I can ever get a reservation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Market Mix-up and More Week 8

I blame the time change.  Last week we had a bit of a mishap and didn't get our share on Tuesday.  It's too dark to think!

Fortunately the Saint Stephen's indoor market, which is conveniently nearby, opened for the season on Wednesday.  I scored some crunchy Stayman apples, a fresh head of lettuce, and a dark, leafy bunch of kale.  

I needed something healthy to bring with the chicken and biscuits I delivered to Shannon (which was partially a plot to visit baby Paige), and I made them a simple salad with pistachios and feta.  

The kale was shredded and dressed to make another kale salad.  Lyndsey and I consumed it with our carbo-loading meal of chicken pesto meatballs and pasta the night before the half marathon.

Speaking of pasta, I made a new pasta dish earlier in the week with cabbage and speck (smoked prosciutto).  It was from The Splendid Table's weekly newsletter and a Mario Batali recipe, which are two extremely reliable culinary sources.  We weren't disappointed by this dish, and happily ate a few rounds of leftovers.

Adam and Darbi were gracious enough to save our share for us to pick up at the South of the James Market on Saturday.  We gave about half of it to my mother-in-law, a fellow veggie lover, since we're going out of town this weekend.  There were more delicious apples, sweet peppers, baby bok choy, two kinds of mustard greens, salad mix, a parsnip, and eggplant.  I bet none of you can guess what I chose to give away first.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

CSA Meals - Weeks 7 and 8

I don't fall for all of the pumpkin frenzy that goes on in October, though I'm not opposed to it.  I love squash and pumpkin; I just wouldn't choose them to flavor one of my daily treats if I had chocolate as an option.  

The overabundance of sweet potatoes hanging out on our bakers rack inspired me to bake outside of my comfort zone.  Jamie at Home, one of many in my collection of Jamie Oliver cookbooks, includes a recipe for Butternut Squash Muffins with a Frosty Top that I've had in the back of my mind since I saw him make them on his show. 

Sweet potatoes are close enough to butternut squash that I thought I could make the substitution work.  I used the same amount of potatoes by weight that Jamie calls for in his recipe, and steamed them for about five minutes to soften them a little before pulverizing in the food processor.  

I also cut back on the sugar (I used a scant two cups instead of 2 1/4) and used vegetable oil instead of olive oil.  The olive oil flavor would probably be a nice foil for the sweet potato, but Jamie made muffins, and I was making cupcakes, and vegetable oil just seemed more appropriate.  It made the cupcakes less orangey, which was a little surprising, but I found the color to be appealing.  They were fluffy but not too light in texture, and held up well to the icing. 

I love Jamie, but my cupcakes were not going to have a frosty, citrusy "top" like his muffins did.  The frosting I made was thick and flecked with cinnamon, and the base was cream cheese instead of sour cream.

We may or may not have dipped gingersnaps in the extra frosting after the cupcakes were gone - I tried to pile as much of it on top of the cupcakes as I could, but we still had some extra.

To counter the indulgence of the cupcakes, I made a veggie soup with the collard greens.  Until my mom made soup with collards, I didn't think they were a viable soup ingredient.  The leaves are tough, but as long as they're cooked long enough, they are delicious in soup.  

I sauteed chopped onion, carrots, and the greens in a little olive oil.  When they wilted down, I added chicken stock and a big cheese rind to the pot.  Everything simmered together, and sat overnight.  Before dinner the following evening, I added the remainder of a box of orzo and a can of white beans, and let the soup boil softly until the pasta was cooked through.  Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the finished product, but it was a hearty and pretty soup.

The roasted broccoli from earlier in the week turned out beautifully, and tasted as great as it looked.  I had it with some pasta and pesto when I was on my own for dinner one night.  

We ate the sweet peppers raw, cut into slices and dipped into hummus with the last of our homegrown cherry tomatoes.

I ate both of the Asian pears for my mid-morning snack, and I wasn't blown away by them.  The smaller one definitely had more flavor, but they were both fairly bland and it wasn't easy to get used to the texture.  I like them better than, say, eggplant, but wouldn't go out of my way to eat them again.

Our kohlrabi and turnips were neglected for over a week, so I decided to roast them with the massive sweet potato.  When I was chopping the turnips, I was surprised to see how beautiful they were inside.

I wish I could say that I liked them better than I have in the past, but I'm still not a big fan of their bitter taste.  Davy and I both preferred the sweet potato to the kohlrabi and turnips after everything was roasted.

We ate them with roasted red snapper and sauteed spinach.

I wish I could say that the subsequent meals were as healthy as that one, but the only vegetable we've eaten at home since them is sauteed broccoli rabe with leftover Belmont pizza.  Don't worry though, I'm still getting my daily (plus) dose of chocolate.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 6

I'm not sure how the past few weeks have been so busy and exhilarating, since we haven't gone out of town, but I don't know where the time is going.  

My efforts in Week 6 weren't so wonderful again, but I did manage to try a few new recipes.  

Since we knew we weren't getting anymore green beans, we decided to just eat them in their crunchy, raw state.  Our spicy salad mix was delicious, and it lasted longer than delicate greens in the summer normally do.  I ate it in salad form, as well as in a sophisticated sandwich that Davy made to use some of our nice salami and cheese from our antipasto night.   

The broccoli we got in our share was bright green, as you may have seen from my pictures last week, and didn't have a weird odor, like most of the broccoli I eat usually does.  We made a delicious macaroni and cheese from 101 Cookbooks, which called for broccoli-studded bread crumbs.  If you've eaten roasted broccoli, you know how sweet and nutty the florets turn after being baked on a high temperature.  That flavor definitely carried over into the casserole topping, and the incorporation of basil lifted the dish without overpowering the taste.  

I would wholeheartedly recommend this recipe to any mac and cheese lover, because it was decadent and hearty without that mild guilt that washes over me from eating an unhealthy children's food. I halved the recipe and omitted the squash for Davy, but we had the opportunity to try a more authentic replication of the recipe later in the week, and it was just as satisfying.

It's been so long since I made the food from this week that I've lost track of one of the recipes I tried with the napa cabbage.  It was basically a slaw with a warm dressing.  If I remember correctly, the dressing consisted mainly of pepper flakes, sugar, and vinegar.  The cabbage we got was absolutely beautiful, and I enjoyed this dish, but it didn't hold up well as leftovers, and was a bit too much for those who don't love spicy food.

Every once and awhile I'll notice a food trend that doesn't interest me or that, for some reason, I resist for awhile.  Raw kale fell into that category for several months.  I'm not sure what changed, although it may just have been a kale salad that was posted in the right place at the right time, and the fact that I had all of the ingredients to make it.  It may also have been that like everything we've gotten recently from Fertile Crescent Farm, the kale looked more vibrant than it does in the spring, and thus more appropriate to eat without cooking it. 

A kale salad is definitely worth trying, even if it's very simple, like the one I made.  I didn't bother with the mushrooms, and used pine nuts instead of walnuts, but I enjoyed the dressing, and the basic nature of the salad, which could be used as a base for just about anything.

I'll do my best to get a Portland post up soon, as well as a report about Week 7.  I'm still running behind because of Halloween, and a new addition to my Richmond family (Shannon's sweet baby girl!), but it's still comforting to be handed a bag of vegetables every week.


I really can't believe it's November!  The weather has been agreeable for crops, and this week we got a large share:

- sweet peppers

- apples

- broccoli rabe

- cabbage

- sweet potatoes

- spring onions

I gave eggplant to a co-worker, and the kohlrabi and turnips to Josh and Caitlin, because we still have the ones from last week.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday Pictures

The pear/apple fruit - Asian pears - we got in our CSA this week

Gigantic 1.5 lb sweet potato dwarfing a cherry tomato

Beautiful broccoli almost ready to be roasted

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Fruit

There isn't really a good word that combines "pear," and "apple," but I'm looking forward to trying the hybrid fruit we got this week.  Does anyone know if there's an official name for this?

Update: the mystery fruit are Asian pears!

In addition, we took home:

- sweet potatoes

- kohlrabi

- a tomato

- collard greens

- butternut squash

- sweet peppers

- Japanese turnips

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 5

I'm almost embarrassed to post about last week because it was so uneventful in terms of vegetables, and I didn't take any pictures.  Davy grilled green beans on Tuesday night to go with some of Keith's venison and goose, and we ate the rest raw as snacks. 

There was tons of basil, and I barely made a dent in it.  I put some in a baked pasta dish that I threw together from ratatouille Davy made for my birthday dinner (sans eggplant), linguine, mozzarella, and parmesan.  

On Thursday we ordered pizza and made a salad and used some of the share tomatoes, which still have great flavor even though they're winding down.  We used the remaining tomatoes in another salad that was my attempt to balance out some delicious fried seafood in Chincoteague.  The candy binge that occurred later that night probably undid any good from the salad, but at least I tried, right?

Davy carried on the makeshift dinner trend on Monday when we decided to have a wine and cheese night.  Again, to offset the rest of the meal, I prepared some mustard greens with onion, garlic, chicken stock, and sesame oil.  We both had to add soy sauce to avoid having our sinuses completely cleared out by the spicy greens.  The rush from eating them was comparable to an intense horseradish flavor, or the fiery sensation one gets from wasabi.  

I froze the okra, and still had plenty of basil and mustard greens to experiment with at the end of the week, and hopefully Week 6 won't be quite as boring. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spicy Salad Mix

I think spicy salad mix is my favorite name of any item we've received in the share.  It's also visually appealing (pictured).  In addition, we received:

- sweet potatoes

- the last of the green beans and wax beans

- last of the tomatoes

- napa cabbage

- kale

- broccoli


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Rain

Adam and Darbi said that they had a tough time with all of the rain we had in the past few weeks, but we still got a great share this week:

- two huge bunches of basil

- pretty mustard greens

- assorted tomatoes

- onions

- beets

- okra

- green beans

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fall CSA - Weeks 2 and 3

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a stomach bug a couple weeks ago. Combined with attending several concerts last week, our CSA routine was considerably disrupted, and we didn't use any of our Week 2 produce until Week 3.  Luckily, I was still on my stay-in-the-kitchen-and-off-the-couch kick, so we ate just about everything.

On Monday I made Jacques Pepin's Quick-Roasted Chicken for the second time, and this time I had enough foresight to let the butcher remove the chicken's backbone.  I love this recipe because it really is quick enough for a weeknight, which makes anything extra satisfying.  We made roasted potatoes and a salad with pistachios to go with the chicken.  The salad mix from Week 2 was very crisp, and the leaves stayed fresh for longer than usual.

The next night, after going to the market, I made carbonara-like dish with the fresh pasta (spinach and plain fettuccine and black pepper linguine).  I sauteed the cremini mushrooms, removed them from the pan, and then cooked the yellow squash with garlic and chopped homemade bacon.  

I added sungold cherry tomatoes and pasta when the squash was done, and stirred in tempered egg yolks and parmesan to finish it off.  

Unfortunately, the fettuccine was overcooked, and the noodles clumped together when I stirred everything together.  It was still pleasant to eat, and was fine leftover, but I was disappointed since I'd gotten special ingredients from the market to make dinner.  

We ate raw wax beans on the side to finish off the bag from the previous week, and had our apples as mid-morning snacks the next day.  As in the past, they were far superior to any grocery store apple available.  

On Thursday I gave eggplant another chance in this recipe for Eggplant Tian. Kerry Saretsky, the author, describes it as "easy" and "awesome," but I'm not sure I'd agree with it being "easy."  The techniques are simple enough: slicing, marinating, broiling, baking, but it took several steps to complete the recipe, and took longer than I'd like for a work night.  

As you can see, I baked it in one dish instead of four.  I was very happy with the results, and had no problem eating a few rounds of the leftovers with generous dollops of pesto on top.  This is a great way to use up eggplant, and it's almost as comforting as lasagna.  We enjoyed it with bread and a salad with homegrown peppers and tomatoes.

We munched on our green beans raw and also included them in a Saturday morning veggie scramble.  The eggs were also mixed with sweet peppers, feta, and eggs for a delicious and filling brunch.  

That afternoon, in anticipation of a special dinner on Sunday, I julienned and pickled our daikon radish and a large carrot.  

The radish emitted an not-so-pleasant odor that lingered in our fridge and freezer for most of the weekend, but it did add a nice crunch to shrimp spring rolls.  Below are a few shots of Davy's spring rolling handiwork.  We served them with a peanut butter and hoisin dipping sauce.

We also made homemade chicken pho from a recipe we made in a cooking class, and I got so caught up in preparing and eating it that I didn't take any pictures.  It also deserves its own post, which hopefully I'll have the time for at some point, but it turned out well and was comforting on a chilly Sunday night.

Monday was our wedding anniversary, and I made a simple dinner since we're going to Portland, OR for a long weekend.  I prepared two recipes from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman: sole meuniere (made with flounder) and a braised leek and rice dish (made with bok choy instead of leeks).  

Both were subtly flavored and allowed the quality of the ingredients to really shine through.

I'll be taking Week 4 off, but plan on some Portland posts for next week!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Spicy and Sweet...Mostly Sweet

Two weeks ago I came down with a nasty 24-hour stomach bug. For most people, that would mean avoiding the Food Network and anything else with edible references, but I got just as much out of watching the daytime lineup as I would have if I'd been healthy.  By the weekend, I was itching to get back into the kitchen and start eating the way I wanted.  

My first task was to make good use of the seven habaneros given to us by a friend.  I never got around to making jerk seasoning last fall, and I wasn't going to make the same mistake again.  I'm also not going to make the mistake of letting a short Saturday afternoon project prompt a long-overdue organization session with my spice cabinet again, but that's a different story.

Following my dad's tried and true recipe, I prepped and gathered spices, scallions, onion, and the peppers - I left half with seeds, and gutted the others.  

Everything went into the food processor, and I pulsed it for a few minutes until the jerk was almost smooth but still had some texture left.  

It's not the prettiest of seasonings, but it's got a luxurious layering of flavors, and there are two jars worth of it that I'm impatient to use on some grilled chicken or fish.

The next item on my post-sick list was a batch of The Pioneer Woman's Knock you Naked Brownies.  I had my eye on these since she posted the recipe, and was feeling just sorry enough for myself that I felt the time was right to try them.  These are interesting because the bulk of the ingredients is composed of German chocolate cake mix, and doesn't really have anything to do with brownies.  The end result, however, is quite brownie-like.  

I added more chocolate chips to my middle layer, of course, and changed the caramel filling.  Instead of making my own caramel sauce, I used the remainder of the Trader Joe's jar I bought a few months ago.  It had the right flavor, and added some stickiness to the brownies, but it didn't have the same oozing quality as The Pioneer Woman's filling.  After the first few days of eating them, I discovered that microwaving the brownies achieved the desired level of gooeyness.  They wouldn't be first on my list of desserts to make again, but they were well-liked by others and were fairly easy. 

My next two brownie efforts, which came about a week later, will probably stay in my regular baking rotation.  One of my co-workers changed departments, and I made Reese's cheesecake brownies in her honor, because she likes cheesecake, brownies, and peanut butter.  And I hate all of those things.  This wasn't about me at all.  This also wasn't an excuse to buy a box of Ghirardelli brownie mix from Costco.  Who even likes that stuff?

My brownie layer, true to the guide on the box for two mix packets, was extra thick.  I think next time I make these, I'll use a different recipe (not another mix - I'm loyal to Ghirardelli) or just not use as much of the batter so they're a little thinner.  Some of the brownies in the middle weren't even cooked through, though I didn't see that as a problem, and neither did many others who consumed these.

The top layer, melted chocolate chips and a little bit of cream, wasn't really soft enough to cut through with a fork without dismantling the whole square.  I'm not sure how to adjust that, but it wasn't so distracting that it took away from all of the rich flavors in the brownie.  These are no joke, as Jillian Michaels would say.  

Last but not least, the Peanut Butter Fudge Brownie Trifle from How Sweet it Is.  I don't think this warrants much of an explanation.  I will say I messed up and got regular cream cheese instead of whipped cream cheese, although I think I would do it with the regular again.  My layers weren't exactly even, and I ended up making a side trifle, because not everything fit in my dish, but I am not complaining.  

It's genius to have chocolate pudding as one of the components instead of excessive amounts of whipped cream, because it prevents each bite from being overly sweet.  Make this ASAP.  You will be able to feed a crowd with it, and no one will be disappointed.  

Davy's anxiously awaiting a taste as he sits in a tub of trifle.

Who's ready for dessert?

The Whole Branzino Phenomenon

I feel as though I'm missing something.  Last month, I ate in three or four restaurants, two of which specialize in seafood.  At all of them, the "whole fish special" was always branzino.  It just seems a little silly to me that all of these places have the same whole fish, and one of them wasn't even in Richmond, so I know it's not because of a local trend.  Mamma Zu and Edo's Squid have had branzino on their menus for years, so I don't think it's a recent trend.  Why is it so common to feature whole branzino?

Photo from

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rainy September

Despite all of the rain we've been getting, Fertile Crescent Farm still presented us with lovely, varied veggies yesterday:

- eggplant

- daikon radish

- watermelon radish

- okra

- sungold cherry tomatoes

- bok choy

- green beans

I also bought:

- fresh eggs

- fresh pasta (spinach and plain fettuccine, black pepper linguine)

- cremini mushrooms

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall CSA - Week 1

Last week reinforced my love for the CSA, and I was so grateful to have our share back that I even decided to try eggplant again.  Since Davy and I both didn't hate last year's fish-fragrant eggplant, I decided to try it again.  There was also a small amount of okra that I hadn't really planned anything for, and it made sense to throw them in with the eggplant.  

The okra worked very well with this preparation.  It retained its texture without being slimy, and the seeds popped pleasantly when I bit down on them.  It's not the prettiest dish, or at least it wasn't when I made it, so I didn't take any pictures of the final product.  Our main course that night was Asian turkey burger sliders which didn't photograph well but were flavorful and moist.  We topped them with sauteed onions and a delicious carrot habanero hot sauce from our friend Travis.

Our yellow wax beans were crunchy and made a refreshing accompaniment to takeout from 8 1/2 (pizza, spaghetti carbonara and an arugula/mozzarella/prosciutto hero).  Similarly, I blanched and sauteed the broccoli rabe to have alongside a leftover sandwich from Secco.  Lunch at Secco is just as delectable as dinner, and the prices are just as reasonable.  I even threw in the remaining fried chickpeas with the broccoli rabe, and they added a lovely saltiness and contrasting texture to the greens.

On Tuesday we had a large dinner salad with romaine, grilled chicken, feta, tomato, sweet peppers, and cucumber dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. It was simple but extremely fresh and satisfying, especially as we grasp at the end of summer vegetables.

Davy used the other sweet pepper and some of the basil to make me an omelet with lots of feta.  Again, it was nice to taste summery flavors even though the temperatures are cooling off.

This is one of my favorite times of the year because I'm excited about so many types of food - the last of light, summer meals as well as the more comforting dishes that suggest autumn and colder weather.  I feel fortunate to have the CSA as an excuse to take advantage of it all.