Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Almond Soba Noodles

Since we wanted to experiment more with soba noodles (and maybe follow some directions this time) I decided to try the Almond Soba Noodles from 101 Cookbooks.  We had broccoli from our CSA and used that in place of the pea shoots.  Rather than bother with a separate pan (cooking tofu is enough of a struggle) I just tossed the tiny florets in with the soba noodles in the last minute of cooking - they came out perfect.  My rule for cooking vegetables is this: if you think they're going to be underdone, they are probably ready.  Only a taste will tell, but better a crunchy veg than a mushy one.  Broccoli undergoes an extreme personality change when overcooked, at which point we no longer get along.

The dressing for this recipe uses almond butter and Thai red curry paste.  I thought it was very good, but Ken wants to try it with peanut butter instead.  I think it just needs more of the curry paste.  I thought the basil was crucial - it complements the flavor of Thai red curry paste perfectly.

Since this was such a quick and easy meal (delicious too) I'm sure I will be making it again - the openness to variation makes it very inviting to me as well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ma France Creperie

This is my blog, and so I can write about whatever I want.  Whether or not anyone reads it, I write it mostly for myself and so I can choose whatever topics I want.  Mostly I write about things I have made, but I want to write about some things that inspire me as well.

When I visited France, I was a vegetarian.  They don't understand what that means.  Most conversations went like this:
"I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat meat."
"So chicken, OK?"
"No, I don't eat meat.  Chicken is meat."
"Then fish?"
"No, I don't eat meat.  Fish is meat."

Then I ended up eating delicious, but not so nutritious "crepes avec Nutella" literally every day for lunch.

There is a little place in Ocean City called Ma France Creperie that brings that back for me.  Even after a week of "crepes avec Nutella" I wasn't sick of them.  Sweet crepes... mmm.  We've been there a handful of times and I've gotten to try some delicious varieties of dessert crepes.  (Savory crepes, and savory breakfasts in general, do not appeal to me at all.)  I've had the simply prepared sweet crepes with lemon juice and powdered sugar, the "tatin," with grated apple, the "Melba," with sliced pears and a delectable homemade dark chocolate sauce.

 La Pomme Figue

This past weekend Ken wanted to go, which worked out perfectly since I was hungry, and he ordered a classic - La Pomme Figue, which I'm fairly certain is the only thing he's ever ordered there, and if you could taste it you would understand why.  Sliced apples, sliced dried figs, brie cheese and almonds folded neatly in a dark, buckwheat crepe.  This is what I meant when I said I wanted to write about things that inspire me - I would love to find a way to recreate this at home.  I'm not sure it's possible, but I would certainly like to try.

Crepes with Nutella, fresh fruit and whipped cream

I ordered the crepes with Nutella, fresh fruit and whipped cream.  I walked in desperately wanting Nutella and bananas, but that particular combination wasn't on the menu.  When my plate arrived in front of me I saw a mound of sliced strawberries - yum.  I was fairly satisfied, but as I dug deeper into the dish I found the sliced bananas I had been wanting.  It was amazing.  The whipped cream was delicious, too - something I can normally do without, but it had a fantastic texture and wasn't too sweet at all.

They have some lovely espresso drinks as well - Ken likes the caffe ligeois, espresso with whipped cream.  I had a soy mocha.  I love how they serve the lattes in a bowl.  :)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Arugula Pesto, Two Ways

With all the arugula we got from our CSA this year, I had a few opportunities to make arugula pesto.  I tried a few different recipes from various sources.  (They are listed in the order I made them, not by preference.)

The first recipe I tried was one from my mom's new seasonal Cooking Light book.  (The recipe happens to be available online, here.)  This particular recipe uses pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.  Because I freeze my pesto, I exclude the cheese and just add it in when I actually use it - it freezes better that way.  The recipe also calls for lemon juice.  We tried it with regular pasta as well as ravioli.  It was good, but I wasn't blown away.

Next, I tried a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma book, New Flavors for Vegetables.  The recipe is for sauteed yellow pear tomatoes with arugula pesto and feta, but I made just the pesto since the tomatoes are not yet in season.  This pesto excludes cheese, because it's meant to be served with feta, and adds basil leaves.  Here, walnuts are used instead of pine nuts, and the zest of the lemon is used instead of the juice.  (I think I added a little splash of juice anyway, as I was multiplying the recipe and didn't have enough lemon zest.)  I tried this pesto only with a spoon, not in an actual dish (so far) but it was delicious and I liked it much more than the first recipe I tried.  I look forward to making the sauteed tomato recipe as intended.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I haven't been cooking lately.  Sometimes I just am not in the mood - this time it's lasted for weeks.  I haven't even baked anything.  I'll plan to, and then when the time comes I just don't feel like doing it.  Now it's time to break out of the rut.

Recently I went with my sister's Girl Scout troop on a few field trips.  They are learning about local and sustainable foods, so we visited Griggstown Quail Farm, Cherry Grove Farm, Whole Earth Center, A Better World Cafe, and the Highland Park and Rutgers Gardens farm markets.  I frequently go to the Rutgers Gardens market, but the rest of these are places I've meant to visit and hadn't had time (motivation?) to go.  At Whole Earth Center I was reminded by the wide selection that I had been meaning to try soba noodles.  One of my favorite recipe sources, 101 Cookbooks, has several recipes using soba noodles, but I chose the one that is also in her cookbook, Super Natural Cooking.

This was an interesting recipe.  We followed it pretty closely, except that we ignored the step of rinsing the soba noodles to cool them down.  We thought it would be better warm.  Well, we were wrong.  It would definitely have been better at room temperature, especially since the hot noodles warmed up the cucumber (yuck).  We also put in the amount of cayenne pepper called for in the recipe, which turned out to be way too spicy for me.  The tofu also kind of fell apart - definitely not what was meant to happen.

I think I would try this again, but do it right, and with a LOT less spice.  Soba noodles are yummy - I am looking forward to experimenting with them more.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

I came across the root beer float cupcakes right when I was thinking about what dessert to make for Ken's graduation party.  I initially planned on a cake (I just felt like making a cake, and a party is the only occasion when that is really appropriate) but these cupcakes sounded like something he would like.

I am so glad I did a test run of these.  They were lumpy and weird, did not really taste like root beer, and were just not right.  The recipe says the batter will be "slightly" lumpy but this goes beyond "slightly."  I decided that when I made them for the party I would whisk the flour mixture into the liquid mixture rather than the other way around.  This worked much, much better and obviously fit the definition of "slightly" lumpy.  So I was no longer concerned about the quality of my dessert and was able to bake them and do everything else I needed to do without stressing.

Before we went to the party, we dug little holes in the cupcakes.  The goal is to sit a tiny ball of ice cream in the hole, surround it with whipped cream, and top it with a cherry.  The original picture looks much nicer than mine, because I was not about to make my own whipped cream in 85 degree weather at a party, so I used whipped cream from a can, which made a ginormous mess.  It was also quite difficult to get people to eat these cupcakes when there was so much other food.  Those who did try them said they were delicious although I was told the root beer flavor was not really there.  (I thought the chocolate was overpowering to begin with, but when we looked up root beer ratings on google, the brand I used was frequently described as "watery" and "tasteless."  Oh well, how was I supposed to know?  I don't even like root beer.)  They were certainly fun to make, though, and since people enjoyed them I was happy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

CSA: May 2010

My family joined an organic CSA this year.  I had been looking into doing this anyway, but I don't like doing things all by myself, especially when they involve waking up early and driving long distances weekly and having to cook more food than I can eat without really knowing what it will be until I get it.  So since my family has been going organic and trying to eat more healthy foods (thanks to my influence, although I haven't been able to blockade the house from Oreos and such) I talked to my mom about it and she signed us up.  She wasn't (and still isn't) quite as excited about it as I am, and probably isn't pleased with the flood of emails I am sending her every time the farm updates its website showing what is available this week, or the fact that I try to confirm our departure time (8:30AM, right? right? will you be ready?) every time we speak.  But we have had a good time so far, especially with the pick-your-own strawberries :)

I thought it might be nice, and probably helpful to us or someone else later on, if I document what we've been getting in our share and how we used it.  I figure I'll keep it to a monthly update so as not to bore you TOO much.

Week 1 (5/13/2010)
- 1 quart strawberries (PYO)
- a handful of mint
- 1/2 lb arugula

Week 2 (5/20/2010)
- 1 pint strawberries (PYO)
- a few sprigs of mint, thyme, oregano, catnip
- a bunch of chives with purple flowers :)  (see photo)
- 1 lb arugula
- 6 heads (!) green leaf lettuce

Week 3 (5/27/2010)
- 1/2 lb arugula
- 2 lbs spinach
- 6 heads of lettuce (2 green, 4 red)
- a few sprigs of mint and rosemary
- a bunch of chives
- 2 quarts strawberries (PYO)
- 1 pint snap peas (PYO)
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 bunch radishes
- 2 heads of bok choy

The strawberries have been eaten out of hand.  There haven't been enough so far to frustrate us into doing anything else with them.  Jersey strawberries are notably different from the giant monster California strawberries in the supermarket in that they are vine-ripened by the sun.  How can you tell?  That white core in the middle of your supermarket strawberries shouldn't be there.  You should have a red berry all the way through.  Those berries are picked white in California or Florida and shipped over to you, ripening in the truck on the way and sitting in the back of the store if they're not ripe enough.  Just another reason to choose local foods whenever possible.  Now that I've said my piece, I am hoping the strawberries will be around for another few weeks in copious amounts so that I can try my hand at canning in a hot water bath to preserve some of these delicious treats for the winter.

I happen to love arugula and its peppery flavor so I was THRILLED when I saw it in the farm stand.  In the beginning of the season, there usually isn't much down there, and you mostly go for the PYO stuff.  I was so excited to see something down there!  I first reached for one of my favorite recipes, Ottolenghi Red Rice and Quinoa, which is meant to be served over arugula.  The recipe makes quite a bit and I was able to eat this several times over the next few days.  This was awesome because I got to really taste the arugula - it was the BEST arugula I have ever had, hands down.  What a difference it makes to eat fresh greens the very day they were picked.  The following week I made an arugula pesto using a recipe from my mom's new Cooking Light book (one of my new favorites) which is organized by season.  By week 3 I was getting sick of it, since apparently I'm the only one who wants to eat arugula.  I ended up making another pesto from a neat book I got as a gift called New Flavors for Vegetables.  It's a Williams-Sonoma book.  It's meant for a recipe where you saute little yellow pear tomatoes and toss them with the pesto and feta cheese, but I just stuck it in the freezer (tomatoes aren't here yet).  I did taste a bit and it was delicious - I liked it better than the first pesto I made.  (You can read more about my arugula pesto in my post about it - when I get to posting it!)

The herbs are such a departure from those sold in the supermarket and even in our local farm markets.  It is amazing what a difference it makes!  The thyme was used in another recipe from the above mentioned Cooking Light book, a chicken breast stuffed with caramelized scallions, thyme and goat cheese with a delicious pan sauce poured over top.  The chives were served at the same meal, in another dish from the same book, sprinkled atop balsamic roasted spring vegetables.  The mint was used in mojitos, a zucchini fritatta, and cucumber and mint tea sandwiches for Mom's reading group.  The oregano was substituted for dried in our Four-Cheese Baked Penne (from Ellie Krieger's So Easy).  And of course Chipotle got the catnip :)

What do you do with 6 heads of lettuce?  Eat a LOT of salad.  Luckily, with 7 people down the shore we were able to finish off a big bowl of it.  I made a delicious balsamic vinaigrette from Clean Food, where I replaced the agave nectar with dijon mustard and emulsified it in a blender.  My little sister loved it so much she actually took home the tiny bit that was left over.  The great thing about freshly picked lettuce such as this is that it keeps longer than the lettuce you see in the store, so we weren't rushing to finish it and even after a few days it still looked much fresher than the storebought lettuce I had gotten a few days earlier (before I knew we would soon be swimming in greens).  By the second week of lettuce, I was doing mental calculations about how much we would each have to eat to get rid of all this lettuce by the next week - as a family, we would have to eat a head per day.  One woman in the farm stand said she was eating lettuce for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  I am glad we didn't take it quite that far.

I made a wrap on lavash bread using some of the lettuce, a few leaves of spinach, feta, roasted red peppers, and hummus.  It was pretty yummy.  The greens tasted really fresh.  I used only 3 or 4 leaves of the spinach, though.  Luckily, 2 lbs of spinach may sound like a lot, but it cooks down substantially! We had it cooked with garlic and olive oil with steak and potatoes.

I made the bok choy according to a recipe from New Flavors for Vegetables.  The recipe has you sautee the bok choy with sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and tosses it with toasted sesame seeds.  It was too spicy, so next time I would use less for sure, but I might make it again.  It would be nice with a drizzle of sesame oil to finish as well. 

Snap peas were much more fun to pick than strawberries!  Less leaves, less bugs, easier to reach.  We used them in one of our current favorite recipes for a Pork and Mango Stir Fry from So Easy.  (Someone has posted the recipe here.)

There were two types of radishes available - regular red ones and French breakfast - and we selected the more interesting bunch.  The week before, we had purchased regular radishes for a roasted baby spring vegetable recipe from the seasonal Cooking Light book, so we tried it again with these.  They were a bit more bitter.  I would probably choose the regular type next time.  None of us like raw radishes, but they are yummy when roasted.

We forgot about our little bunch of kale -- we were only reminded by two new bunches from the first June pickup.  We plan to use the older bunch to make kale chips.