Roasted Olives… and a new CSA!

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Last weekend I signed us up for a new CSA – one that will ultimately be closer to our new home. This CSA is through Sleeping Frog Farms, and so far our first pick-up has been successful! They have sign-ups quarterly, so right now we just started the “Winter” quarter. Although we just did our first pick-up today, I’m already liking this CSA a little more than our previous one simply because it’s located in the Sunday Farmer’s Market at St. Philips Plaza, so there are a lot of vendors to visit and there’s more than enough fresh produce to select from. The St. Philip’s Farmer’s Market is the largest in Tucson, with (according to their website) nearly 70 vendors.

Today we walked away with the following from the CSA:

  • One Pie Pumpkin
  • One bunch of Swiss Chard
  • One bunch of Cilantro
  • One bunch of Beets
  • 3 heads of Garlic
  • One bag of Spinach
  • One bag of Salad Greens

We also walked through the farmer’s market and picked up a few more items to take home with us:

  • Some spicy corn nuts, sesame sticks, and pistachios from High Country Nuts in Sahuarita, AZ
  • Herbed Garlic-Shallot Goat Cheese and Baked Goat Ricotta from Fiore di Capra
  • Roasted Green Chili Peppers – being roasted on site!

All in all, it was a good morning. Half of the cilantro has already been used to make a batch of homemade salsa – as have two of the roasted peppers. I suspect some goat cheese and salad greens will be used for salads tonight. I love that we can get fresh local produce year-round here…

In other news, I wanted to share a recent recipe that has become a favorite around here – Roasted Kalamata Olives. I first came across these at my manager’s holiday party. Just before Christmas, he invited his staff members over to his house for a wine tasting. I quickly became addicted to one of the dishes he served, and have since been making them at home. They’re great as finger foods for a snack, served with a cheese plate, or tossed with a salad. I’ve been keeping a constant supply in the fridge just to have on hand…

Roasted Kalamata Olives

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Ingredients

  • About 2 cups of Kalamata Olives (I buy them at the olive bar in our local grocery store)
  • 1 cup of red wine (whatever your preference is – I’ve used a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Noir – both have turned out quite nice)
  • 1-2 tsps Fennel Seeds
  • 3-4 cloves of chopped/minced garlic

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 350F
  • Toss all of the ingredients together in an oven safe dish.
  • Bake the olives in the oven for about an hour, stirring them every 20 minutes or so. You want to bake them until most of the wine has thickened/evaporated (although there should be some liquid in the bottom of the dish so that the olives don’t burn).
  • That’s it! Once they’re out of the oven, I let them cool to room temperature, and then dump them back into the plastic container I brought them home from the grocery store in. They should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

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Highlights of 2012

2012 was a busy year. It feels nice to welcome a new year with 2013, although today is the last day of my vacation and I’m kind of dreading going back to work after so many nice, lazy, and relaxing days. Anyone have any ideas for what I could do for a living that doesn’t involve working, but still earns a good salary and benefits? Ha! Anyway, here are some highlights from 2012:

1) I got through my first year on a new job! And… Kirk and I celebrated the fact that we’ve now lived in Tucson for a year :) The desert is a suprisingly beautiful and incredibly diverse environment. I love living here – this photo was taken on a recent hike in Sabino Canyon, slightly northeast of the city -

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2) I read what felt like a gazillion books and discovered a new love of pulp mysteries and speculative fiction.

3) Kirk and I bought a house – a 1951 adobe brick ranch house to be precise, with a mature tangerine and pomegranate tree :) We don’t yet have a good photo from the front, but here are some others:

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4) We’re partially tearing apart the new house to complete some flooring renovations before we move in… maple floors, here we come!

5) Several good friends and Kirk’s family came to visit us :)

6) My parents moved here!

7) We closed out the year with our first ever hot air balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert!

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8) Mid-way through 2012 I decided I need to live a healthier lifestyle, and as a result I lost about 25 lbs by eating healthier. Oddly enough, I still feel like I look basically the same, albeit less puffy :)

9) After a great deal of thought over the previous year, I have finally resolved in 2013 to give up eating red meat and pork (for a variety of reasons). Poultry and fish are still on the menu, for now…

10) I successfully completed a fiction writing course as part of the Writer’s Studio in Tucson this past fall.

In addition to giving up red meat and pork, I have also resolved to spend more time this year doing things just for me – on my list of possibilities: learning the art of urban beekeeping, writing more often (is there yet a year when this hasn’t been on my list of resolutions?), taking up yoga or some other type of meditative exercise, and focusing on gardening in our new house. I have ideas for a completely edible landscape. My western garden book will be hugely helpful.

Happy 2013!

Hello Again!

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Almond Biscuit

It has undoubtedly been some time since I’ve written. Summer was busy (and so hot…) and frankly I just didn’t do much cooking or baking (or at least nothing worth writing about). Now that the weather has started to change (no more days in the triple digits! Hopefully…) I’m starting to feel inspired again to head back out to my garden and spend more time experimenting in the kitchen. It’s nice knowing that turning on the oven isn’t going to send my air conditioning bill skyrocketing – or make the house a sauna…

Over this past weekend Kirk and I went to Native Seeds/Search and I bought a set of “winter garden” seeds for the low desert. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll spend some time in the garden cleaning out the remnants of my summer garden and sowing the seeds for winter.

In the meantime, I’ve also started experimenting with recipes for “alternative” diets. Over the summer I set a goal of losing some weight. Although I’m not yet at my goal weight, I’ve been successful in that nearly every week since June, I’ve lost a little bit of weight. At this point, I’ve lost about 18lbs, and I’d still like to drop about 10 more. I didn’t really diet – I just made some small changes to portion sizes, started making healthier choices, and I haven’t been indulging quite as much. So, although it’s been slow-going, it feels healthy and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

One of the items that I’ve been cutting back on has been bread and pasta. That’s not to say I’m no longer eating bread or pasta (because I certainly do…), but I’m starting to look into ways I can reduce that – maybe consume more foods that aren’t so hard on my body. I don’t support any one particular diet, but I have started experimenting with using alternative flours for baking. The one that I’ve had some success with so far has been almond flour. I recently bought a book at Antigone Bookstore (in downtown Tucson) that’s completely focused on cooking and baking with almond flour. The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook (by Elana Amsterdam, who has a blog here) is really pretty great. Almond flour is delicious – it’s nutty and rich and makes you feel like you’re indulging in a big way, even though you’re not really. It’s full of fiber and protein, and low in carbs (compared to wheat flour). It’s also much higher in various nutrients like potassium, magnesium, niacin, vitamin E, calcium, and iron. Overall, I’ve been surprisingly impressed with it. I’ve never really been a “health food person” (or someone who tries alternatives like this), but I’m glad I’m getting more adventurous.

The recipe I want to share today comes from this book, and it’s for Chocolate Chip Scones. Initially, I wasn’t sure how these would turn out, but they are delicious. I used Bob’s Red Mill almond flour, although the author suggests that there are other brands that are more more finely ground – and that those usually work better. It’s on my list to try, but for now I used what I had in my pantry.

Chocolate Chip Almond Scones (makes 16-18 smallish scones)

Almond Biscuit3

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup light agave nectar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate (I actually used some leftover hershey’s mini chips that I had in the freezer)

Directions:

  • Prehead your over to 350F.
  • Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats (like silpat)
  • In a bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda.
  • In a smaller bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar, and egss.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to mix until everything is well incorporated.
  • Fold in the chocolate.
  • Using a medium-sized cookie dough scoop (the author uses a 1/4 cup measure), drop the dough onto the cookie sheets1-2 inches apart.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes (give or take a minute or two) – until a tested comes out clean.
  • Let the scones cool for 30 minutes, and then serve!

Almond Biscuit2

When I ate one of these Sunday night fresh out of the oven, I thought I was going to eat an entire cookie sheet of them. They really are delicious. Kirk was also pleasantly surprised. So in the end this one is going into the recipe box and I’m sure it will make a repeat appearance in our house.

Tucson CSA – February 15, 2012

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Tucson CSA - February 15, 2012

It was that time of the week again yesterday, and we are absolutely overloaded with produce. I hate to admit this, but we actually had to toss a few items we had leftover from the last two weeks to make room in the fridge for the new produce we got this week :( Yet another reason why I should start composting. At least then I wouldn’t feel so obviously wasteful.

I know that I haven’t written as much in the last two weeks – things have been busy! Contrary to what you might think, I have actually been cooking a fair amount. I made some dip using leftover dill, I roasted A LOT of greens, braised some Belgian Endive, made cupcakes for work, and made a cake for Valentine’s day. Oh yeah, and we made two great batches of homemade salsa. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing all this cooking at night – hence no good pictures, which means no posts.

On top of that, I’m working on refinishing a table! It’s a really ugly table, though, so I’m not really sure why I’m spending so much time on it. I guess it’s a good practice project :) Maybe one day I’ll find some really nice furniture to refinish, and then I’ll know what I’m doing. Thus far I’ve learning three things:

  1. Sanding the existing finish off of a table is really hard work, even if you use a power sander (but it’s a good workout)
  2. Sanding anything is really messy business. Dust will cover EVERYTHING. You will have no idea how much dust can get stuck in your hair until you take a shower… (I’m such a girl…)
  3. Our elderly neighbor Pat and her dog Bonnie think I’m pretty cool for using power tools in the driveway.

On that note, let me tell you about the interesting stuff we got in our CSA share this week!

  • Belgian Endive – a nice big baggie
  • Romanesco Cauliflower – this is perhaps the most gorgeous vegetable I’ve ever seen!!! See the photos below…
  • Green Garlic
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi – three big bulbs
  • Lettuce Heads – 2 of them!
  • Shungiku – edible chrysanthemum!
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Yukina Savoy –  sometimes known as “field mustard” or “turnip mustard” and apparently has a slight “mustard-y” bite and the pepperiness of a good turnip; from what I’ve been able to discover, the leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to stir fry.

So the weekly challenge starts again. Already tonight we each ate salad (using up some of our lettuce and two leftover watermelon radishes, along with some feta cheese, sunflower seeds, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and tuna. Exciting, right? I’m hoping the creativity kicks in this weekend.

Happy almost weekend! (and check out this amazing cauliflower! It’s almost a shame to eat it…)

Romanesco Cauliflower

Isn’t that Fibonacci sequence amazing?

Romanesco Cauliflower

Tucson CSA – February 8, 2012

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Tucson CSA - February 8, 2012

It’s amazing. We only started participating in the CSA at the beginning of January, and I can’t believe how much the crops have already started to change in the past 4-6 weeks! I have to admit, I DO NOT miss having piles and piles of seemingly never ending greens (although I do have a lot of fennel fronds).

Instead I have a stockpile of fennel bulbs that I need to use up. We also have a couple of heads of broccoli, and some cauliflower (not to mention a giant head of cabbage, some turnips, carrots, and radishes. Oh yeah, I’m also overflowing with fresh dill…).

Kirk and I apparently need to take it up a notch. I feel like we’re eating a lot of veggies, but I think we can handle more. If we don’t want them to start going bad, we need to eat more veggies! That’s going to be my mantra through the weekend. Folks, this is going to vegetable weekend. We’re getting behind in using up all the produce, and pretty soon we’ll be out of room in the fridge. It’s time.

This week, we picked up the following in our share:

  • Belgian Endive
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chioggia Beets
  • Collard Greens
  • Escarole
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Red Lasoda Potatoes (from the freebie bin – not part of our “official” share)
  • Peasant Bread

Although this is a lot of food, I do have some good idea for using some of it. I’m thinking of making a dill-based dip of some sort (this using up some dill), and then slicing leftover carrots and radishes for diping into said dip :) I also recently saw a recipe for braised Belgian Endive, which might be worth a try. On that some front, I saw another recipe the other day for fennel au gratin – could be tasty as well. Beets… hmm… instead of borscht I might try pickling them! Or I could just roast them, dice them, and have a nice side-dish for a piece of salmon or something.

Does anyone have any good ideas for how I could use up my fennel fronds? I’m thinking of trying a fennel frond pesto, and freezing some of it. What do you think?

Butternut Squash Bisque

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Butternut Squash Bisque

Yipee! I have another successful soup recipe under my belt! I’m not a huge soup person – it’s never something I get cravings for. But I’m starting to think that maybe I just really like smooth, blended soups. I loved my Chioggia Beet Borscht, and now I love this Butternut Squash Bisque.

I had two butternut squash sitting on my counter for the last few weeks. I initially wanted to bake something with them (I was considering an old-fashioned butternut squash pie – like a pumpkin pie, but not), but then I decided that I should probably eat healthier :) Kirk and I have been eating a lot of greens the last few days, and when I got home from work tonight I just didn’t like the idea of having yet more greens for dinner. I looked over at the counter, saw the squash, and decided on soup.

I saw this recipe in a book I picked up a Bookmans last night, “Dishing Up Vermont” by Tracey Medeiros. It stuck in my mind, and is the main reason why I looked at my squash and decided on soup. The ingredients are simple, and together they create an incredibly flavorful soup. I couldn’t believe how creamy it was given that it doesn’t actually have that much cream in it. Overall, I am very pleased. Kirk didn’t want soup tonight (he took one for the team and sauteed more greens for his dinner), but I’m hoping he’ll try it tomorrow and like it :)

In other news, I have some other projects (in addition to cooking) that I am starting to get into. Once I’ve done a little more with them, I’ll definitely share more info. I will tell you this, though: it involves using my shiny new jigsaw!

Butternut Squash Bisque (modified from Dishing Up Vermont)

Butternut Squash Bisque

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of Vegetable Broth
  • 2lbs Butternut Squash (this could be one large squash, or two small squash. I had two small squash, and they actually weighed about 1.85lbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh Ginger
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh Garlic
  • 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • Minced Chives (to garnish)

Directions

Butternut Squash Bisque

  • Slice the tops off the squash. Halve them lengthwise, ad scoop out and discard the seeds. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Cut the peeled squash into 1-inch pieces.
  • Place the squash, broth, salt, and 1 Tbsp butter in a soup-pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until squash is fork tender, about 15 minutes. about 5 minutes before the squash is done, toss in the ginger and garlic.
  • Working in batches (or using an immersion blender) puree the soup in a blender. If you use a blender, be careful to allow the steam to escape while blending – you don’t want to create a kitchen mess when the steam builds up and blows the top of the blender off :)
  • Transfer the puree back to your pot. Add the remaining two Tbsp butter and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring to combine the butter. Slowly whisk in the cream and nutmeg and heat through.
  • Add pepper to taste, and garnish with chives (if you want to…).

Butternut Squash Bisque

Tucson CSA – February 1, 2012

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Tucson CSA - February 1, 2012

We’re back! Yep, and it’s that time of the week again. We missed the CSA last week since we were in chilly Chicago. Compared to Tucson, it was crazy cold in Chicago. However, knowing what we know about winter in Chicago, it was actually a really beautiful and mild week (considering it was January….). We couldn’t have picked a better week to go back to Chicago in the winter – it was in the 30s everyday, and it only snowed on our last night there (it was really just a dusting). Our flights were on time, and my Tucson winter coat sufficed (although admittedly it was risky that it was all I brought with me…). I mean, it’s winter in Chicago, what was I thinking!?!?!? Clearly I have a sense for these things…

Here’s the trip in a nutshell – I like bullet-point lists:

  • Great flight from Tucson to Chicago Midway (check!)
  • Dealing with rental car agency in Chicago and navigating lame city traffic on I-290 (and a faulty railroad crossing on Harlem) on the way to Kirk’s parents house (boo…)
  • Waking up super early to drive into the city and sit in hospital waiting rooms through an seemingly very long MRI (boo…)
  • Getting the preliminary results from our neurosurgeon and radiation oncologist that Kirk is looking good post-surgery (and healing well – remaining tumor doesn’t appear to be growing!), and that we don’t have to come back for a follow-up MRI for a year (yay! check!)
  • Enjoying eating an excessive amount of food at Portillo’s: Italian beef, cheesy fries, and chocolate cake (check!)
  • Having fun and hanging with Kirk’s family (check!)
  • Eating delicious homemade brunch – egg, sausage, and potato bake (check!)
  • Going into the city to visit friends, and eating an AMAZING diner at the Purple Pig  while taking tons of touristy group pictures, even though none of us are tourists (check!)
  • Relaxing and watching the Bernie Mac show while drinking Chai tea (check!)
  • Driving back into the city for coffee with a mentor, and tea & champagne at the Peninsula with my best friend – who doesn’t love scones and tea sandwiches? Especially when they’re so fancy… (check!)
  • Saying goodbye to best friend, again (boo….)
  • Eating Kirk’s tasty homemade spaghetti with family (check!)
  • Realizing I ate too way too much, and getting ill (boo…)
  • Waking up at 6am, still ill, and having to get back to the airport to get on an airplane (boo…)
  • Taking Dramamine so as not to get ill on airplane – that stuff is amazing! (check!)
  • Sleeping through most of flight (check!)
  • Getting back to Tucson, and stepping out of the airport into sunny, clear, 73-degree weather (check!)
  • Arriving back at the house to see that the kitties survived (check!)
  • Feeling happy to be back at our new home (check!)… but still missing friends and family (boo….).

Outside Purple Pig - January 2012

(Above) With some of my Chicago ladies outside of the Purple Pig!

Tea - January 2012

(Above) Fancy pants tea at the Peninsula. I have dreams about this tea service…

And that sums it up! We were gone Tuesday night – Saturday morning. in retrospect, it was a pretty quick trip. I’m glad I was able to see most of the people that I wanted to :)

Honestly, after getting back (and not feeling well) I didn’t do much cooking over the weekend (except to make toast). I spent Sunday afternoon in the backyard, gardening. I’m really getting into gardening – there’s something very calming about it. But it’s so confusing trying to keep track of the seasons here – what should be planted when? I have no idea. Since the weather is so strange, I feel like I really don’t know what I’m doing.

I’ve been doing some research on gardening in a desert climate (specifically in the Sonoran Desert), and there are a few local resources that offer gardening classes – some are focused on organic gardening more broadly, some are focused on homesteading, others on permaculture. Permaculture has always been kind of interesting to me, so I may explore that a little more.  Who knows? As I learn more, I’ll fill you in. For now, check out this and this. What do you think?

Back to the topic at hand, though. I love CSA night! Wednesdays are one of my favorite nights of the week for that reason! I love seeing what we’re going to get, and it’s exciting that it’s slightly different every week. It’s fun to see what’s coming into harvest at different points of time during the year. Maybe over time it will help me get a sense of my own gardening…

Today we got the following as part of our share:

  • Lettuce – so delicate and sweet!
  • Cabbage – please! I need some good cabbage recipes!
  • 2 Bok Choi
  • 3 Fennel
  • 2 Broccoli
  • 3 Purple Turnips – does anyone have any suggestions for what to do with these?
  • 9-Grain Bread (I <3 this stuff – I’m so glad it’s in regular rotation)
  • 2 huge bunches of Mustard Greens (I was actually supposed to get one bunch of greens, and two more daikon radishes. The daikon was HUGE this week, and we still have one left from a few weeks ago. I’m not really a big radish person, so I asked if I could trade the daikon for another bunch of mustard greens. Thus, I have two bunches of mustard greens!).

The entire top shelf of our fridge is, yet again, full of green things. In fact, green things are now starting to take over other parts of our fridge. I foresee lots of healthy meals in our future…

This is me, signing out. I hope to have some more fun stuff to post in the next few days. Happy February!

Panna Cotta = Creamy Deliciousness

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Panna Cotta

This past weekend our house was christened with it’s first official “local” guests! These were’t our first guests ever – my parents helped us move and stayed with us for a while, and Rebecca (my good friend from Chicago) came to stay with us for a few days just before the holidays. But on Friday night we had our first locals over to the house! It was exciting for us since we love to cook but for some reason we rarely entertain company.

Kirk is in a band (he’s clearly way more social than I am). He’s a drummer, and in the time since we moved here he already joined a band, just like that! Can you believe it? I don’t know really how the whole music/band thing works, but apparently it’s a good way to meet some pretty cool people. So, we had two of his band-mates over for dinner. As it turns out, they appreciate Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and that is something Kirk and I are actually pretty good at making. We’ve been working on recipes for the last several years, and we’ve got it down pretty good.

The pizza turned out pretty good – though our crust recipe oddly turned out really light and airy, which was kind of unexpected (could it have something to do with the elevation difference here in Tucson versus Chicago?). It was still good – just different than we expected it to be. The cheese carmelized nicely, and the sauce was tasty in all of it’s tomato goodness. But, I’m not here to talk about pizza – I think Kirk and I still have some work to do now that we’re living in a new environment. Bread recipes can be really finicky like that, and it seems like our crust might need a little re-working.

Because we did pizza for dinner, I decided to stick with the “Italian” theme as I thought about dessert. I knew I wouldn’t have much time after work on Friday to prepare anything, so I wanted to pick a dessert that I could make Thursday night that would survive in the fridge overnight. Ideas? Ideas? Have you been able to guess yet (I’m just ignoring the fact that the post title gives it away)

Panna Cotta!

Panna Cotta

What could be better, really? Quite simply, it’s a dessert made of gelatin, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla. That’s all you need. It’s so insanely easy, I have no idea why more people don’t make it at home (except for the fact that they don’t want to feel like they’ve immediately gained 5lbs from eating it). Serve it in a beautiful glass, spoon some fresh fruit on it, and there you have it. It just might be one of the easiest desserts ever!

I should warn you that the cream is absolutely decadent. Panna Cotta is so incredibly delicious it’s addictive. This recipe makes enough for 8 servings. I’m not going to lie… we enjoyed the leftovers for the remainder of the weekend.

Yay!

Panna Cotta (courtesy of David Lebovitz)

Panna Cotta

Ingredients

  • 4 cups heavy cream  – – – or half-and-half, if you’re trying to lighten it up, (although I have no idea why you would). If you’re going to do Panna Cotta, my recommendation is to just go all out :)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 6 Tbsp cold water
  • Mixed fruit with sugar or honey, for serving

Directions

  • Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let for about 10 minutes.
  • While the gelatin is absorbing the water, heat the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat.
  • Pour the very warm Panna Cotta cream mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  • Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into your serving cups (I used little vintage crystal tea cups), then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours. If you’re going to chill them longer, cover them with plastic wrap once they’ve cooled down.
  • If you want to create Panna Cotta molds, lightly grease the interiors of your selected molds (using a neutral tasting oil) before pouring the mixture in. Then, once it’s set, you should be able to run a sharp knife around the edge of the mold and drop the set Panna Cotta onto a plate or bowl.
  • When you’re ready to serve your Panna Cotta, spoon some fresh fruit over it, and maybe a sprinkling of sugar or a dollop of honey (or whatever else you want to serve with it!)

Panna Cotta

I hope you enjoy it! If you’ve never tried Panna Cotta, maybe now is the time :)

Kirk and I are traveling to Chicago tomorrow, so I’m signing off until next weekend. I’ll be enjoying an evening with friends at the Purple Pig and an afternoon of tea and a fashion show at The Peninsula (if only I also had time for Ethiopian DiamondHot Chocolate, and Sweet Maple Cafe – – – I guess there’s always our next trip). I’ll tell you all about it when I’m back. I hope everyone has a great week!

Chioggia Beet Borscht… I actually liked it!

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Chioggia Beet Borscht

Who knew? Going into it, I honestly had no idea how I would feel about borscht. Pureed beets and broth? Meh. However, since I had chioggia beets on hand from last week’s CSA share, I figured there was no better time like the present to give borscht a try. I won’t hold you in too much suspense – I actually really liked it! (As though you couldn’t figure it out already, given the title of this post).

I first heard about borscht when I was in college. My roommate, Lilly, was studying International Business with a focus on Russia, and as her study abroad time was approaching, she kept making cracks about how she’d have to eat borscht everyday (I had no idea what it was, but I could tell that she didn’t seem pleased about it). After she referred to it several times, I finally asked her what she was talking about, and she explained that it’s pureed beet soup – a specialty in Russia that she was certain she would have to eat all the time… (and from what I understand, she did end up eating a lot of borscht….).

Of course, as I’ve “matured” (ha!) and gained experience in a variety of international foods, I’ve come to realize that borscht is more broadly found in eastern and central Europe (not just Russia), and each country has it’s own unique recipe. Many traditional borscht recipes actually seem to include meat, but mine doesn’t. I’m not sure which country’s version mine is most like, but I tried to keep it simple and took inspiration from several recipes I found in my cookbooks.

Since this is actually the first time I’ve tried borscht, I’m not even sure if it tastes the way that it should. It definitely wasn’t the deep red color I was expecting it to be, but that made sense as soon as I peeled my beets and saw that they were actually white and orange striped (I wish I’d taken a photo of them – just look up “Chioggia Beets” on Google and you’ll see what I mean). All I know is that I thought it tasted pretty good. I’m not a big soup person (especially when it’s pureed vegetables), but I had two bowls!

I should tell you, though, that Kirk won’t try it – he hates beets and won’t even entertain the idea of sampling it. That’s why I was sneaky and made it on a night when he was out at band practice (although he could smell it when he got home). Anyway, that’s just my warning to say that I don’t have a second opinion on this one, so I guess you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that I thought it turned out pretty good, but sometimes I like things that are kind of weird :) Take all of this with a grain of salt (ha! grain of salt – what a nice play on words! I crack myself up sometimes).

I think the secret to the success of this recipe is that I kept it simple – that seemed to work well for me. Simplicity paid off!

Chioggia Beet Borscht 

Chioggia Beet Borscht

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb fresh beets, cleaned with greens removed
  • 3/4 Tbsp dried Thyme
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • Sour Cream, for garnish

Directions

  • First, roast the beets :)
  • Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the beets (they should still have about a 1 inch stem, and DON’T PEEL THEM YET! The skin helps retain color and keep them moist) in a large bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil then sprinkle salt and pepper. Make sure the beets are well coated in oil. Empty them onto the prepared baking pan and cover with aluminum foil.
  • Roast the beets for about 1 hour or until they are fork tender. Allow to cool and then carefully peel of the skins off and cut into chunks (I actually roasted my beets the night before. So then the night I made the soup, I just had to peel the skin off and chop them).
  • Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onions, carrots and the rest of the dried thyme and allow to soften for 8-10 minutes (until lightly browned) Add in the chopped garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add in the stock and the roasted beets, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes to allow everything to really soften up (this will make pureeing so much easier).
  • After the soup has cooked, carefully transfer it to a blender and puree in batches (I did this in two batches. You don’t want to overfill the blender when you’re blending hot liquids – filling it halfway full is a good rule of thumb. Steam needs to escape, and you don’t want to get burned wen your soup explodes out of the blender). An immersion blender could work here as well.
  • Return soup to the pot over a low heat and stir in the vinegar and honey, check for seasonings and add salt and pepper if necessary. If the soup seems too thick, add more vegetable stock. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream!

Yum. I’m still in awe and pleasantly surprised. Why didn’t I make borscht sooner?

Tucson CSA – January 18, 2012

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Tucson CSA - January 18, 2012

Woohoo! We’re at week 3 of the CSA, and still going strong! We still have some leftovers from last week (fennel, some greens, fresh dill, one daikon radish), and I’m yet again feeling overwhelmed (is this becoming a trend???). I thought we had gotten a lot of veggies the past two weeks. Well, this weeks tops it all (so far). See that photo up there? That produce is taking up just over half of our kitchen table. That’s a lot of produce.

Here’s what we picked up today:

  • A nice big bunch of colorful Swiss Chard
  • a HUGE head of cabbage (hmm… I’m not really a fan of cabbage… any suggestions?All I can think of is coleslaw).
  • Tatsoi: I had no idea what this was until I got home and looked it up on the internet. Apparently it’s a dark green Asian salad green that “…has a spoon like shape, a pleasant and sweet aroma flavor tlike a mild mustard flavor, similar to bok choi. Tatsoi is generally eaten raw, but may be added to soups at the end of the cooking period. When tatsoi is mixed with other greens it enhances the flavor and nutritional value.” (food.com)
  • Another bunch of Carrots (this one is significantly larger than the previous two – carrot cake anyone?)
  • A big head of lettuce (yay salads!)
  • Watermelon radishes (it’s all about beauty with these radishes – perhaps we’ll thinly slice them and make a nice dip for them…)
  • Peasant Bread
  • 2 Grapefruits (perhaps some of the most fragrant grapefruit I’ve ever come across – perhaps candied grapefruit peel is my future?)
  • 8 Red Lasoda Potatoes

So, what do you think? Do I have enough stuff to get me through the rest of the week and this weekend? I think so. Kirk and I are traveling back to Chicago next week, so we’ll need to get through most of this by Monday night. I’m ready for the challenge – bring it on!

Now I just need to make room in the fridge…

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