Archive | September, 2013

A Platter of Veg

25 Sep

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I have to say, I am really missing our Wintergreen Farms CSA basket from Oregon.  The beautiful greens of the Oregon summer and fall are nowhere to be seen at this point in the Florida growing season, and the heat is still as persistent as ever.  However, that being said, a few weeks ago, a small local market opened up in our housing community that has filled up our crisper with almost as many goodies as our Oregon CSA baskets did.  For $20, we can get 9 baskets of fruits or veggies, each about the size of holding 3 beefsteak tomatoes.  Good deal?  I think so. 

We made a point to go to the little market last Saturday, as friends were coming into town to stay the night.  All week I had been flipping through my recipes, trying to get inspiration from many a cookbook, all with no avail leaving an empty, white plate sans what to cook for dinner.  I hate that feeling.

Back when I lived in Irvine, CA, the UCI Farmers Market was a Saturday must.  Every week, I’d stock up on the season’s freshest, and would jump into my car with loads of cooking ideas – some of which I had to write down before even driving away.  I would come home to my little 710 square foot apartment (a fourth of which was the perfectly one-person-proportioned U-shaped kitchen) that overlooked the Portola Foothills, and cook the Saturday away.  Most dishes were vegetarian, most were written down, and if I deemed the dish good enough, I’d bring it to my parents’ house to share.  I learned how to cook this way, and found it invigorating.  Thinking about it, even now, I get that same comfortable excitement, motivation, and inspiration.

Rob called it my “Saturday Routine.”  He knew not to mess with it.  When we moved to Oregon, we created our own Saturday Routine together by visiting markets up and down the Coast, stopping at a fabulous winery for a glass of Pinot, and cooking our bountiful veg from our weekly basket.  Occasionally we’d have friends over for a low-key night, or hold down a local dive watching Oregon play that week’s losing team.  While it was never officially mentioned, I could totally see Rob saying, “Oregon’s Saturday Routine totally kicks California’s Saturday Routine’s BUTT!” 

So this past Saturday, filled with the overflowing emptiness and panic ensuing from what to make my guests for dinner, we went to the little market in our neighborhood.  I got excited.  So much so, that I started talking in circles about ideas and recipes; Rob knows from experience when this happens, to just let me have at it.

“Rob, what do you think if I grill some eggplant – should we do eggplant, or would zucchini be better?”

“Babe, I thin-“

“Wait, why don’t I do both!”

“Ok, then.”

“Look!  The Honey Crisp apples are out!”

“Aren’t those the ones that – “

“I LOVE THOSE!  Remember how they were all over the Pacific Northwest?”

“Yeah, I – “

“Ooooooo tangeloes!!!”

The poor lady helping us out had the patience of a Saint, and I’m sure she was happy to see us go – mostly for the reason that she wouldn’t have to hear my voice anymore, but also that I walked away with 3 baby eggplant, 4 zucchini, 3 apples, a basket of pluots, a basket of tangelos, 2 bunches of green onions, 4 heirloom peppers, 3 beefsteak tomatoes, and a basket of cherry tomatoes.  YUM. 

So dinner with our friends consisted of a rustic, marinated, grilled vegetable platter.  With the zucchini, baby eggplant, carrots, green onions, apples, mushrooms, and heirloom peppers, we mixed in some turkey sausage for the omnivores, and paired it with a lovely kale and dill pesto.  Really, it was the marinade that made this dish amazing – it is tangy, sweet, and perfectly complimentary to the smoke of the grill, leaving the veg addictive.  The leftovers were amazing, too.  I simply heated up the veg with some feta cheese, but I can completely imagine the second round as a lovely grilled vegetable soup, or a fantastic Panini.   Yum again. 

The night, and the dinner, was a hit, and it felt so good to be inspired again.  Feel free to use any vegetable you would like in this dish – really anything that can hold its integrity on a hot grill will work fine.  Fruit works, too, and please enjoy with good company.  Hopefully a giant platter of veg will inspire you as much as it did for me.  

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Grilled Veg Marinade
(makes just over a pint) 

  • ¼ c olive oil
  • ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of one tangelo (or an orange)
  • 3 whole sprigs of thyme
  • 1 large garlic clove, slightly smashed
  • about 10 peppercorns
  • a 4-fingered pinch of kosher salt

Pour all ingredients in a quart-sized mason jar.  Seal tightly, and shake well to mix.  Put in the fridge for a few hours to marry the flavors. 

About 30 minutes before grilling the veg, pour over the marinade, and mix well so all the juices sink in and impart the flavor.    

NOTE: cut your veg into pretty thick pieces, and large enough that they won’t fall through the grill grate.  Go straight from the marinade to the grill, medium heat, and grill each side.  Mix with, or without a protein of your choice, and serve on a big platter.  And extra sprinkling of fresh basil on top adds a nice touch. 

Enjoy! 

Serious as Pie

11 Sep

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So there really is something magical about the South.  The culture, the music, of course the food, but also the people here can leave a lasting impression on a gal from the west.  Take, for example, the accent – it’s fantastically infectious.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself rolling words like “mama” and “y’all” off my tongue like they were vernacular I grew up hearing, let alone saying.  It gives me a feeling of fitting in and being one with the locals.  Silly, I know.  I’m not usually one to conform.  But have you ever had a conversation with a lovely Southerner?  If so, you know what I mean. 

However, there is one thing that I am missing in my budding southern lingo, and that is the cheeky, snazzy, completely amazing phrases that are used down here to describe anything from ripe fruit to an extraordinarily humid day.  For example, I would say:

“O.M.G. It’s. So. SO. Hot.”  With a big, yucky sigh. 

But a local’s tone would ring more like, “It’s hotter than a billy goat’s butt in a pepper patch,” with a sweet-as-Tupelo-honey smile.  

Now really, which one more effectively, and creatively, gets the point across? 

The problem is, I’m not originally from ‘round here, and my natural inclination to witty –isms are left to the likings of literature, art, and (my favorite) food descriptions.  So rather than wallow in the tall grasses of being an outsider, I figured if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em.

So I’ve been making up my own. 

Walking across the black, cast-iron asphalt that is called the Target parking lot, I found myself mumbling, “It’s hotter than Crisco in a frying pan.”  To get my students’ attention, I’ve been telling them things are as “Serious as pie.”  My favorite was when I told a co-worker that I would “chase a hog through a turd field” for a piece of chocolate.  Hmm.  All my made-up –isms naturally run to food. 

Kind of like me.

Part of what spurred on this wave of concocting cheeky phrases to replace mundane meaning has been the unbearable heat we’ve had.  I guess to many native northern Floridians, the 102-degree heat index – WITH humidity – is what they call, “normal.” I see nothing normal about it, and both Rob and I have suffered bouts of heat stroke until we realized that any sort of electrolyte drink was a new best friend.  On the plus side, we’ve also taken to paddleboarding like crazy, hanging out in the water with sand sharks, pods of dolphins, sting rays, and alligators.  Yes, we are in Gator country, folks. 

So, while the heat continues, and my tan gets better, my new creative crush for finding witty -isms has only grown.  As has my cooking repertoire. 

Years ago, when I was a pretty strict vegetarian, I learned how to cook using local and seasonal ingredients, matching my taste buds to that of the day’s farmers market.  Opposed to some classical points of view, my foundation in cooking was not based on veal stock and beef rafts, but on figuring out ways to bring out the genuine, complimentary flavors of foods without the natural flavor imparted by fat.  Jump forward a few years, more cooking techniques, a great Thanksgiving turkey, bacon broiling at my mom’s house, yada yada yada, and now I’m cooking a very flexitarian diet, full of grains, greens, with all the foundational vegetarian cooking I love, as well as using simple animal proteins.  And bacon.  Yes, bacon.  Mmm, bacon. 

Tonight’s dinner took the hog for the most flavorful bacon accompaniment.  Was bacon the main ingredient?  Hardly.  Did it overwhelm?  Not in the least.  Did it add a smoky goodness to my Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes?  Absolutely. 

The weather has just started to cool down, enough that, when combined with the continual rise and fall of the start-to-football-season-on-the-tv hum in the background, it has hinted to fall at times.  So this dinner was perfect for our kind-of-cool Monday Night Football casual evening.  The applewood-smoked bacon added just enough fat, smokiness, and salt that rounded the veg-stuffed tomatoes so well, it would be a shooting match with a BLT.  As a two-pot meal consisting of a huge vegetable serving, and healthy grains, these stuffed tomatoes are sure to delight even the meatiest of meat-eaters.  I mean, the meal was slap my ass and call me Sally – good. 

(Ok, I may have stolen that last little –ism, but it totally applies). 

So make these as soon as you read this.  They are easy and so good.  Do it before the fresh, summer veg runs out.  Your health buds and taste buds will thank you.  Really.  I’m being as serious as pie. 

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Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes
(serves 4)

  • 4 beefsteak tomatoes, tops cut off, and insides (ribs and pulp) removed (a serrated knife works best for this)
  • 1 ear corn (grilled preferably, but fine raw also)
  • 1 medium sized zucchini, diced
  • ½ small red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 strips of bacon, sliced into lardon (1/2-inch width) pieces
  • 2 tbsp good quality mayo
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 package frozen brown rice medley, or any sort of barley/rice grain mixture (found nowadays in most grocery stores)
  • 3 big sprigs of fresh dill, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon.  When almost fully browned, add the onion and zucchini.  Let the veg soften, stirring occasionally, then add the corn, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  After the corn has warmed through, transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, and add the mayo.  Taste for seasoning (maybe pepper is needed, but the bacon and mayo are fairly salty). 

Put the tomatoes into a baking dish (I used a round cake plate), and spoon the bacon and veg mixture generously into the tomatoes.  Bake in the oven until the tomatoes just start to loose their sturdy, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat/cook the rice mixture.  When done, add the dill, apple cider vinegar, and s&p. 

When the tomatoes are done, spoon a bit of the rice onto a plate, and nestle the tomato on top.  Pour a yummy, light, Tuesday-night wine, and serve warm (but also great as a cold salad the next day). 

Enjoy! 

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