Granola bars! and this Sunday’s shopping

I think I snapped sometime last week, when I dug yet another tasteless supermarket granola bar out of my work drawer. It tasted like cardboard and chemicals, a mockery of the big chunks of chocolate and round red cherries on the plastic wrapper. I grumpily ate it anyway (I was hungry, after all), but promised myself I would find a better way.

The internet (specifically, Smitten Kitchen) came to the rescue! I won’t copy her recipe over because I barely changed it, but if you want to click through, I recommend doing so. The recipe takes almost zero time to come together, it’s easy as anything, and you’ll never eat a supermarket granola bar again. (Well, you might. But you’ll resent it.)

On top of the oat base, the recipe calls for 2 to 3 cups of dried fruits and nuts. All we had in the house were Craisins and chocolate chips, so I used 1.5 cups of Craisins, 1/3 cup of chocolate chips, and 1 cup of Rice Krispies cereal to pad things out.

granola bars

They turned out amazing. Yes, even though I messed up and forgot to add the melted butter until the very end (and, in my haste, tried to melt said butter in the microwave and it exploded, leaving greasy streaks everywhere). Anyway, they’re dreamy creations, peanut buttery and oat-y and sparkling with fruits and chocolate. It’s like eating an oatmeal craisin cookie in bar form.

I made them this past Sunday, and we’re already practically halfway through the batch. I used a 9×9 Pyrex dish, but I think next time I’ll use a 9×13 to make an even thinner granola bar (closer to supermarket size). And I’m looking forward to using dried cherries and cashews for the next batch. (Oh, Ann’s House of Nuts, how I miss you.)

We also went to the farmer’s market in Oakland Mills on Sunday. I went for strawberries and bread, and came away with thyme and radishes as well.

Sunday market haul

That’s Popeye bread from Great Harvest (spinach in bread = no guilt about breakfast sandwiches), and both French and English thyme. I’m horrible with plants, but I think if I plant the thyme outside, Mother Nature will take better care of it than I can. And I love thyme on chicken in the summers.

The strawberries lived up to my expectations, by the way; they were wonderfully sweet, juicy, and dark red all the way through. Every year, I’m amazed anew by the taste of ripe strawberries. There’s really no comparison to supermarket ones.

(And if you send your kid to daycare with strawberries to snack on, he’ll smell deliciously sweet when you pick him up in the afternoon. He might even have sticky red streaks on his cheeks, perfect for kissing. It’s adorable.)

Ahem. Anyway. We also made a stop at Linda’s Bakery for assorted cupcakes, since we were going to see family later that day. The people manning the counters are always so patient with me while I dither around figuring out what flavors to get. (Really, I’m just trying to convince myself that I don’t really need to order one of everything.)

Linda's Bakery purchases

Since I hadn’t tried the passionfruit macarons before, we got a couple to sample. (Verdict: very sweet, not terribly passionfruity.) And as a bonus, next time I go in there, I’ll get a free cupcake! They have a frequent buyer card with which you can get a free cupcake after every 10 cupcake purchases. I’ve somehow miraculously managed to hang onto the same one since I started. On the other hand, I must have five or six frequent buyer cards from Great Harvest floating around the house. Someday I’ll find them all and have a bread party.

Anyway, it’s great to live in a place where such good food is so easy to find.

summer CSA week 8, and zucchini adventures

Last week’s CSA brought us cantaloupe, 3 beets, 6 ears of corn, 2 pounds tomatoes, a single large eggplant, peaches, zucchini, and nectarines, as well as the usual eggs and bread (Great Harvest challah).

summer CSA week 8

We’ve already made pretty good progress; the cantaloupe was ripe and perfect, so K and I ate it up within the first couple of days. The peaches and nectarines disappeared similarly quickly (Maryland summer peaches are absolutely wonderful). I made the Lee Bros. Creamed Corn recipe* with the corn, and K made two stir fry dishes: one with shrimp and tomato, and another with ground beef and cubed eggplant. Fantastic dishes, both.

* Note on the Lee Bros recipe: if you try it, go easy on the salt. I think the Diamond brand of kosher salt they have down south is less strong than the Morton’s we have up here. I salted to taste and used barely half of what they did.

This past weekend was notable for two things: 1) K cooked an entire ham on the grill, and it was amazing (went well with the creamed corn, too); 2) I used up four pounds of zucchini.

See, we had a giant zucchini sitting in the fridge; a friend of ours picked it from his garden. Apparently zucchini gets really big if you don’t pick it in time…

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summer CSA, week 5

I’m late with the update, but here is last week’s pickup anyway:

CSA week 5

Aren’t the colors beautiful? That’s kale, romaine lettuce, yellow summer squash, green peppers, peaches (!!), blueberries, and cucumbers, as well as the usual bread (honey whole wheat) and eggs. Oh, and after I’d mostly finished putting everything away, I realized that I’d neglected to take a picture of the corn:

CSA week 5: corn

Getting CSA corn is always a bit of a crapshoot because they don’t like it if you peel the leaves back, so you can’t always tell if you have a worm at the top or not. (Worms: the price of organic gardening.) Fortunately the worms only eat a little bit of the corn, so you can just snap off the top inch or two and still have a perfectly good cob left over.

Fortunately, this week I didn’t find any worms in the corn, and I was able to make my favorite creamed corn recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. It’s so savory, with a tang of lime zest and a bit of heat from cayenne pepper. I won’t type it out for you, but it’s really easy, and you can find it at this link.

dinner for four on a CSA pantry

I hope everyone had a lovely Independence Day weekend. I only had to cook one meal over the weekend, but it was an adventure.

The problem with splitting a CSA share is that you often end up with an awkward number of vegetables. They give you four beets, but after the split, you keep two. Three kohlrabi and two cucumbers in the share, but you keep only one of each. After a few weeks, the produce drawer is a hodgepodge of mismatched vegetables, none of which really look like they can turn into a side dish of any substance.

On the spur of the moment, we invited some friends over for dinner, and in the fridge I had:
– four tiny beets
– four small pattypan squash
– one solitary kohlrabi
– two cucumbers

Instead of trying to combine the vegetables into one big vegetable side dish, I decided to make up several smaller dishes, served family-style. Cold pickled dishes are welcome in summer; I made Mom’s cucumber salad out of the two cucumbers, and used up the beets in this pickled beet recipe. Another great thing about pickled vegetables: you can make them well ahead of time.

(Quick recipe review: I’ve never had any luck peeling the skins off of beets after they’ve been cooked, so I peeled them raw first, then cubed and steamed them. I executed the rest of the recipe as written and was pretty pleased, but if I try it again I’ll use less mustard and maybe add a bit of powdered ginger instead; the mustard flavor was a bit strong.)

Pattypan squash cooks up more or less like zucchini, and as far as taste and texture goes, kohlrabi is essentially a giant overgrown broccoli stem, so I figured they would both roast up quite nicely. I cut both squash and kohlrabi into about 1-inch chunks and tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of dried oregano. I also added some roughly chopped pieces of garlic for flavor. Then I spread them on a foil-lined pan for roasting. K likes cooking steak on a cast-iron pan according to the Alton Brown method, so we quickly defrosted four smallish steaks. Since the oven was hot anyway, I just tossed the squash and kohlrabi in to roast up as well, and pulled them out when the edges were just starting to brown.

It turned out to be a really good meal. The steak was great, there were no vegetable leftovers, and our guests declared themselves full. Success!

Swiss chard tuna salad

I had some Swiss chard from week 1, with gorgeous dark pink stems, and used them in Farmgirl Susan’s recipe for Swiss Chard Tuna Salad. She mixes the chard leaves into the tuna salad, and chops up the stems and uses them like celery. I figured it would be a nice way to appreciate the chard without having to cook it down.

Changes: I used cilantro instead of Italian parsley (I really meant to buy parsley; I just grabbed the cilantro instead), reduced the amount of green onion (ten stalks, really?) and I used 5-oz cans of tuna instead of 6-oz.

It’s good on a piece of toasted sourdough bread.

I like it, but the olive flavor is really strong. If I make this again, I’ll reduce the number of olives, or at least take out the bit where she adds two extra teaspoons of the olive brine. The mixture was pretty watery, too, which might be because I didn’t use enough tuna. Still, it’s a pretty tasty way to eat chard.

(Related story: I tried to share this recipe with a friend and fellow CSA subscriber who was underwhelmed with his chard, which he had simply sauteed. He said, “It sounds good, but my wife doesn’t like olives.”

“That’s okay,” I said, “I don’t think the recipe really needs the olives anyway.”

“And I don’t like canned tuna,” he said. “When I make a tuna salad, I put all sorts of stuff into it to disguise the canned tuna taste… sriracha sauce, mustard, lots of pepper…”

I gave up. “Forget it. Between you and your wife, you’d ruin this recipe.”)

lemon chicken fail

…okay, it wasn’t exactly a failure, but it wasn’t entirely delicious either.

We made dinner for some good friends yesterday. Bringing dinner is a great excuse to meet a new baby. You get to feed the new parents and catch up on things, and they let you coo over the new arrival. (Who was, incidentally, adorable.)

Thinking that bright flavors would be welcome on a warm day, I made a recipe for lemon chicken that I’d been meaning to try, and accompanied it with lemon snap peas and curried apple couscous. Everything turned out well except the lemon sauce for the chicken, which was… interesting. The table gave the lemon chicken a resounding “it’s okay,” as in, “if I ordered it at a restaurant, I’d finish it, but I wouldn’t necessarily order it again.” The women seemed to like it more than the men. Fortunately we’d brought the sauce in a separate container, and our friends scrounged up some alternate sauces: barbecue sauce and a tiny bottle of habanero salsa.

Other than using boneless skinless breasts, I followed the recipe exactly. The chicken was moist and tasty (in part because K had put it in a brine all day), but the sauce was a disappointment. The blog entry accompanying the recipe calls the sauce “bright,” but I’d call it “sour.” The sourness from the lemon juice and the tang of the creme fraiche combined for a taste that had K shaking his head and saying, “Don’t make this for me again.” (K tells it like it is.)

The sauce wasn’t great by itself, but I found it was better when accompanied by the salt and pepper on the chicken. The new mother and I mopped up the lemon sauce with the chicken while the men made good use of the substitute sauces. The lemon snap peas were just quickly boiled and tossed with a bit of butter and some lemon zest, and the curried apple couscous was flavorful and tasty as always. The couscous is adapted from this recipe, in that I left out the pine nuts and mint, used vegetable stock in place of water, and used Israeli couscous instead of regular. I like the bigger grains.

The lemon chicken recipe wasn’t great, but it was easy. I would even make it again, if someday I find myself with lemons, creme fraiche, and chicken, and (most importantly) it’s a night when K has other dinner plans. Though next time, I’d use significantly less lemon juice in the sauce.

pork and potatoes

This recipe for colcannon may well supplant my standard kale recipe (blanched and sauteed with bacon and onions). It’s so good, and you don’t have to fuss around with boiling and ice water for blanching. The buttery potatoes are flecked throughout with kale, and the fresh tang of the green onions keeps it from being too heavy. Great way to eat your vegetables.

We also tried a recipe for Roast Pork Shoulder, Puerto Rican Style from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. You make a wet rub from garlic, onion, spices, and vinegar (I used orange juice for that last one), cover the roast with it, let it sit for at least an hour, and then bake it at 300F, turning every half hour. The pork came out tender, juicy, and flavorful. I didn’t feel like getting out the food processor, so I spent a long time mincing an onion and some garlic cloves and chiles. (Sometimes I just get into a zen state at the chopping board.) The recipe is very like this recipe for pernil, except that it uses 2 chiles (I used a jalapeno and a dried Korean red chile) in place of the cumin and ancho.

I did try to take pictures of the cooked food, but I think I need to work on lighting and/or technique. The only decent picture was this shot of the minced garlic, onions, and peppers (and, um, a teaspoon).

minced vegetables

Anyway, it’s a perfectly decent recipe; we’ll probably make it again if we get another pork shoulder from the ranch. Michael Chiarello’s Forever Roasted Pork is still my favorite, but Bittman’s recipe is significantly less fussy, and quicker as well.

Finally, since we had even more potatoes, I consulted my faithful standby, The New Best Recipe. Although it was disappointingly unhelpful on the subject of pork shoulders, it did have a recipe for scalloped potatoes. They had a version that incorporated chipotle chiles and smoked cheddar, and we just happened to have some smoked cheddar that we picked up from the Dutch Country farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago. Score!

To make the potatoes, you cook a minced onion in butter until soft, then add in flavorings. When those are incorporated, add in thinly sliced potatoes (I used our Borner V-slicer, which is a fantastic tool provided you keep your knuckles well clear of the blade) and simmer in cream and broth until tender. Then you pour everything into a baking dish, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake until the top is browned.

It’s a luxurious recipe, creamy and buttery, but it’s also dang spicy. It’s amazing how one chopped chipotle chile can just infuse itself throughout the potatoes, and it produces a lingering burn that permeates every mouthful. Definitely serve this one with something more mild. Cook’s Illustrated has the recipe behind a pay wall, but this one here seems like pretty much the same thing.

Deb’s mom’s apple cake

Man, I have to start taking pictures of my food; no one reads a food blog for the text. But the apple cake is mostly gone. Does anyone really want to see a picture of a mostly empty baking dish?

Anyway, I made Deb’s mom’s apple cake for book club, using some of the CSA apples, and it was well-received. I halved the recipe and it fit a 9×9 Pyrex perfectly, browning and puffing up in about an hour. The only change I made was to substitute applesauce for half of the oil.

It’s really tasty, guys. The batter came together without any fuss and it baked up like a charm. The apples are sweet with cinnamon but don’t dry out in the oven, and the cake part is sweet and light and just a tad eggy. I think that the bits remaining will be good for breakfast tomorrow, too.

three oven recipe reviews

This morning, K found me making quenelles of leftover pesto and dropping them into an ice cube tray for freezing. “Why are you bothering with the tray,” he asked, “when you could just drop the quenelles straight onto a sheet pan and freeze them there?”

He had a very good point, so I switched over. (Once frozen, they’ll pop right off the pan and won’t stick to one another in the freezer bag.)

Anyway. Sunday did not bring the wintry weather that everyone had predicted, but I gamely stuck with my plan of oven cooking. After all, the more I cook on Sunday, the less I have to cook on weekday evenings. All of the following recipes are great for times when you’ve a couple of spare hours to man the oven (prep doesn’t take too long, so you can do other things while the food is in the oven… like attacking homework, however unsuccessfully).

I’d put off dealing with the beets for a while, but then I saw this recipe for roasted beets with a balsamic glaze and gave it a shot. It turned out surprisingly good; I had been worried that the balsamic would be too strong, but instead it went all sweet and tangy and complemented the beets very well. The orange zest was a nice touch. The only thing I’d change is that next time, I’d just go ahead and peel the beets with a vegetable peeler before roasting them. After roasting, the skins are so caramelized that it’s hard to tell skin from flesh, and I missed more than a few shreds of skin while trying to peel the beets.

This week’s paltry pound of spinach made a smaller version of the best baked spinach, and I gotta say, it really was the best baked spinach ever. I used Parmesan instead of Swiss cheese, vegetable broth instead of cream, probably halved the amount of butter, and the gratin was still sinfully, wonderfully delicious. I can’t wait until we get spinach from the CSA again — I might even ask if they can sell me a little extra. I kept sneaking bits of gratin from the baking dish, and finally had to force myself to package it up in lunch containers before I ate it all right there.

Finally, since the oven was going to be on for a while and we had half a head of cabbage left, I made a dish that’s turned into a standby: this braised cabbage with carrots and onions. The cabbage turns soft and picks up a lot of flavor from the broth. Goes very well with just a little bit of protein for completeness (leftover corned beef, in this case), and reheats nicely for workday lunches.

Didn’t get around to the potato and caramelized onion gratin, but we’ll try to get this pesky homework done first…