Thursday, July 30, 2009

Improvisation, intentional or otherwise

Because most of you who read this blog are friends of mine, I probably don't even have to say this, but I have no training whatsoever as a chef. I'm just a voracious reader of recipes, cookbooks, and all things food related, and I love to eat. After years and years of closely following recipes, I am now branching out into adapting existing recipes that I know well, and am even creating recipes from scratch.

This is, of course, a great experiment - and things don't always turn out the way I want them to. I'm trying to see that as a learning experience, and most of the time I think it is. By making little notes in the margins of recipes and changing ingredients to suit my family's tastes, I'm not only creating new recipes we can enjoy now, but am making a record for Dora to use someday. Perhaps some day she will be glad to replace half the flour in her recipes with whole wheat and remember how I did that, just as I think of my mom when using almond extract in Mexican Wedding Cakes instead of vanilla.

While I was home earlier this week, I made a lot of food for my dad. I made carrot fennel soup, zucchini walnut cake with cream cheese frosting, carrot potato zucchini kugel, and cabbage potato soup. The cabbage potato soup recipe comes from Mollie Katzen's "Enchanted Broccoli Forest". I specifically picked out recipes that would use up the vegetables in our CSA share, but also went for things that would freeze well or could be considered vegetarian comfort food for someone who is recuperating.

I took home a green and a purple cabbage, but in the end I used the purple one for the cabbage potato soup. The green one, though called for in the recipe, was a bit small and I was worried it wouldn't be enough. I made a huge pot of the stuff - probably at least 8 servings - sweating away in the hot kitchen with the oven on to bake the kugel. It turned out very, very purple indeed. But, with onion and caraway seed, it turned out tasting a bit like a very mild sauerkraut. Also, its not often we get to eat truly purple foods - and I know many people (myself included) swear by the theory of eating a variety of colors of vegetables to get all the nutrients we need.

Improvisation can be unintentional, too, such as when you forget an ingredient, or when you discover that the eggs you thought were in the fridge aren't there. Forgetting ingredients is fairly easy when you're cooking with a toddler wrapped around your legs, which is the state of cooking I find myself in often these days. Dora is usually content for a few minutes sitting on the counter, playing with kitchen utensils or stirring flour in her own child-size pots from Ikea. That usually only lasts a few minutes, after which I am either holding her at the stove (a big no-no, of course, but perhaps this way she will learn to be a great cook!) or chopping something at the counter while she stands between me and the cupboard and pushes at my legs. It is under these circumstances earlier this week that I left the vanilla extract out of the zucchini walnut cake I baked for my dad. I remembered right after sliding the pan into the oven.

In spite of this omission (and a few other small changes I made), it really turned out absolutely delicious, and I'm about to make a repeat performance for the double birthday party we're hosting tomorrow for Brian and Dora (recipe postings to follow).

My piano-teaching husband teaches his students how to improvise right away, because he feels like it gives even beginning students the chance to make music immediately, and gets them interested and excited to play. I think the same is true for cooking. I really love reading and following recipes - I probably always will - but branching out into the territory of adapting recipes and making up my own recipes is pretty exciting, and a little scary, too. As with anything worthwhile, it seems like those two seemingly conflicting emotions are breeding ground for some great discoveries, intentional or otherwise. So, here's to improvisation, and making music right away.

my mother's tomato salad

My mom had this habit of serving very simple side dishes. For years and years she would just go up to the garden in the summer, pick a ripe tomato, slice it, and serve it plain as a side dish to whatever else we were eating. "Salad" was often just fresh lettuce torn up in a bowl. Sometimes we would have grapes on the table and that would be the side dish.

At some point she started making a fancier tomato salad side dish in the summertime. I had forgotten about this salad, but my friend Nick reminded me of it and asked for me to look for it while I was home recently. I found a dog-eared, photocopied magazine article stuck in Mom's copy of the Moosewood Cookbook. There is no identification on the recipe for me to credit either the publication or author. The recipe is titled "my secret tomato salad", but to me it's my mother's tomato salad.

6 ripe medium tomatoes
1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
2 1/2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tablespoons each chopped fresh tarragon, basil, and parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place the tomatoes in a pan of boiling water for 2 minutes, drain, rinse with cold water, peel, and thinly slice. Place in a bowl with onion.

In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Pour over the tomatoes; let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Serve with warm French rolls or Italian bread. Makes 4 - 6 servings.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Love Old Picnic Tables

I'm staying at my dad's house for a few days and am surrounded by many things which remind me of my childhood and of my mom. Being here is like being immersed in all of my memories, both the bitter and the sweet. Today I carefully picked out a perfect rainbow of original Fiestaware plates from my mom's collection to photograph for the header of this blog. In the backyard at my parent's house is an ancient picnic table, that I'm pretty sure my Grandpa Brady, my mom's dad, built for my parents. He and my grandmother owned a lumber company, Gilcher Lumber Company, in Barberton, Ohio. My grandmother was the initiator of my mother's legendary Fiestaware collection, when she would receive complimentary pieces at the grocery store for making purchases of a certain amount when my mom was a kid.

This picnic table and my mom's Fiestaware, and this property in general, are like a beautiful, nostalgiac, perfect photo studio. I just wanted to wander around shooting stock pictures for my blog all day. In reality, I only had about 20 minutes to execute what I envisioned in my mind all day. I promise that not all future blog photos will have that old picnic table as their background, but if I could take the thing home with me, they probably would. It is just SO perfect!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

dandelion jelly

Tonight I am back in Ohio, here for a few days to take care of my dad following his recent surgery. I stayed up after everyone else went to bed with the intention of catching up on work, but instead have spent the evening looking through my mom's old cookbooks, hoping to find a few of her recipes that I have been thinking about lately.

One recipe I had hoped to find is for the Easter bread I mentioned in my earlier blog about leftovers. I flipped through mom's old copy of the Better Homes and Gardens "New" Cook Book (not exactly new anymore) and happened upon a folded, two-page leaflet titled "Sweet Yeast Breads" dated 1983 from CBS publications. I wouldn't guess that "CBS Publications" was any great clearinghouse of culinary expertise, but for whatever reason, my mom saw fit to keep it. The leaflet features holiday and feast breads from around the world - Ensaimadas (Spanish Sweet Buns), Kugelhupf, Houska (braided Czechoslovakian bread), Portuguese Sweet Bread, Greek Feast Bread, Italian Easter Bread, and Kulich (Russian feast bread).

I've read through all the recipes, and none of them matches my memory exactly, but I'm fairly certain the Easter bread I remember my mom making was Kulich. The recipe calls for baking the bread in cans and icing the tops with lemon confectioner's sugar icing. I know my mother did not use the lemon icing recipe, but the hot cross buns icing recipe in the leaflet sounds more like what she would make. I am so excited to have found this recipe - I will post it at some point - and I can't wait to try it.

I also found my mom's recipe for baked pumpkin and her dandelion jelly recipe. I already have a copy of the dandelion jelly recipe at home, but this version has some extra notes that I'm pretty sure are not included in the copy I have. I remember helping my mom make this and violet jelly in the summer as a child. It takes a long time to pick enough dandelions to actually make jelly, and was probably a good job for a busy, active kid who enjoyed being outside. Mom first gave this recipe to me at my wedding shower, to which all guests were asked to bring a favorite recipe. We both got choked up as I unwrapped her gift and told our guests about the recipe she had given me. I'm sure some guests might have wondered why a recipe for jelly would make us cry, but our shared memory of spending my childhood together and the love between us made it a sweet, special, bittersweet moment.

So here it is, in her words - my mom's recipe for dandelion jelly.

Dandelion Jelly

Pick 1 quart of blossos in the morning. Hold each flower by its calyx (the green base) and snip off the golden blossoms with scissors into your saucepan. Discard calyx. Boil blossoms in 1 quart water for 3 minutes. Drain off 3 cups of liquid. Add 1 (1 3/4 ounce) package powdered pectin to the liquid + 2 Tablespoons lemon juice. When it comes to a rolling boil, add 4 1/2 cups sugar and a few drops yellow food coloring. (I don't use food coloring - the jelly is a beautiful yellow without it). Boil about 3 minutes, or to the jelly stage. We all love it. One batch lasts about 1 week. It tastes like honey! Tedious but fun.

Street Food and Lemon Popsicles

Yesterday afternoon, Dora and I went to Bele Chere. For those of you not living within 100 miles or so of Asheville, Bele Chere is a three-day arts and music extravaganza in downtown Asheville, with lots of booths featuring local artisans selling their wares, free local music, and plenty of local food and brew. When I interviewed for my job in Asheville, in 2005, we unknowingly came to town the Monday following Bele Chere. We had a heck of a time finding a place to eat dinner, because everything literally shuts down after Bele Chere to recover.

Two years ago, Brian and I went to our first Bele Chere. I was very, very pregnant and it was very, very hot. I had just passed my due date, and was hoping that wandering around downtown people-watching and eating ice cream might make something happen. It was a good thing it did not, because by the time we got back to our car I was totally exhausted - hot, sweaty, dehydrated, and in no position to have a baby. In reality, it was an entire week before Dora arrived, but I will never attend another Bele Chere without thinking back on my pregnant self, round and pensive and completely unaware of what was ahead.

A year ago we went with a nearly one-year-old Dora in her red stroller, eating fries, people watching, catching some music. I don't really remember much about our Bele Chere experience last year - things were such a blur at that point. I was still coming down from high anxiety, and we were still trying to figure out what the heck had happened to our world. I'm sure Dora was mainly basking in the attention she was getting, taking in all the smells, sounds, and colors.

This year, Dora and I met up with our friends Mandy, David, and Isaac. Dora absolutely loves Isaac, so she was happy. It wasn't as hot or crowded as in prior years. We walked around, enjoyed the street food smells, ate pommes frites with remoulade from Bouchon. Dora finished off the remoulade with her fingers. I put Dora up on my shoulders to watch the dogs at the Purina dog agility pool. We got caught in a rainstorm on the way home, all of us wet but thankful that we'd only heard thunder and not seen any lightning.

In addition to some street food Dora got to have her first popsicle, a lemon one that she apparently thought was a little tart, because although she ate it she kept cringing about it.

I'm thinking a lot about my pregnancy these days, as I always do this time of year. It's hard to believe how far we have all come in just two short years. I've read that if humans grew as much throughout their lives as they do in the first year, we would be as big as whales as adults. It's true that Dora has changed SO much - but we have changed, too, evolving through highs and lows to our new normal. I certainly know much more about myself now, and I think I know more about Brian. I love being a parent, and I love having Isadora in my life more than I ever knew possible. But I admit that I do miss the way it was before we were parents. I miss the way our marriage was, the simplicity of our life, the snap decisions we could make. I think back on the woman I was two years ago, walking around the crowd with my big belly, standing on the precipice of something I knew remarkably little about. I will probably always miss that woman to some degree, and I will certainly always look back on that time, and that version of myself, with great fondness. But, even though I'm certainly not the perfect mother, and I have a huge list of things I want to improve upon, overall I'm very happy with the parent I've become. I'm certainly loving, caring, patient when I can be, creative and funny on good days, careful about what I let Dora do, see, and eat, and more relaxed now than I was a year ago, which is a good thing indeed. I'll take the lemon popsicle as proof of my more relaxed state, and my guess is that Dora does, too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

potato, onion, and chard frittata

The parade of potatoes has begun in our CSA box, so I'm beginning my search for ways to use them. I love roasted potatoes, and Brian absolutely adores garlic mashed potatoes, but I honestly don't buy potatoes all that often. However, the lovely little potatoes that arrive in our CSA box every week - Kennebec potatoes, fingerlings, new potatoes, even little round purple potatoes - are not like the ones you purchase at the grocery. They are earthy, fresh, with a delicate flavor and texture that I really like.

This week I was looking for ways to use things I already had on hand, and thought I remembered a potato frittata recipe in an old Martha Stewart Food magazine. The recipe I ended up making was loosely based on the MS Food recipe and a recipe from Molly Katzen's "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest".

Potato, Onion, and Chard Frittata

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 small potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 bunch chard leaves, washed and chopped
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 350. In an ovenproof 8 - 10 in skillet (preferably cast iron), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the olive oil, stirring it into the butter and swirling to coat the pan. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and sautee for about 5 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the potatoes, stir, and continue cooking until the potatoes are tender (10 - 15 minutes more). When the potatoes and onions are tender, stir in the chard until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the fresh thyme.

Remove from heat, and add beaten eggs to the skillet. Add cheese, and stir lightly. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until set.

You could add lots of other types of vegetables or fresh herbs to this frittata. Add an egg or two more if you go much beyond the volume of the vegetables I've listed here.

On the first night we had this with a tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella salad and some sliced cucumbers. It also goes really well with a fresh fruit salad and makes great leftovers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

In Defense of Leftovers

My usual weeknight cooking routine involves making recipes that we can eat for two days in a row. I work full-time and my husband often works in the evenings, so I'm usually solo with Dora, trying to juggle pets, dinner, bath, and bedtime. The every-other-day cooking routine means a couple of nights per week of leftovers, easier nights when I can focus on spending time with Dora and relaxing. We can sit down to eat together, instead of her snacking on Bunnies while I try to cook.

This week, with a fridge full of vegetables waiting to be used, a new food blog I'm excited about, and because I'm so happy to be back in my own kitchen, I ambitiously planned to make something new every night. Garlic rosemary eggplant, pasta with homemade pesto, potato and chard frittata, carrot fennel soup. I made it through the first three recipes, faithfully taking pictures and making notes so I can post the results to my blog (which I will do soon!). I had planned on posting last night, but then Dora refused to go to bed until very late, so by the time she did go to bed I was too exhausted to write.

So, with half the frittata still looking lovely (and tasty) in the fridge, that's what we had tonight, along with a little fruit salad I threw together.

I remember as a kid hating it when my mom would answer the "what's for dinner" question with "leftovers". It was just so uneventful, especially if dinner the night before had not been one of my favorites. When I was little, my mom wasn't really that into cooking. I liked her food, but it was not really very sophisticated. On weeknights we ate what I would call middle class, mid-western food - things like rigatoni with red sauce, spaghetti with clam sauce, grilled cheese and tomato soup, macaroni and cheese (called yellow noodles in my house) with tuna fish patties. Mom would make fancier things for holidays and other special times - pot roast, leg of lamb, roast chicken, oyster stew.

And even though my mom probably wouldn't have called herself a great cook, she definitely made some meals that I still remember fondly. In the summer, my mom would make cheese sauce and serve it over toast and thick slices of tomato from our garden. This was my absolute favorite meal that she made. We would also have fish from the pond - sunfish, bluegill, and the occasional trout. Dad would fillet the fish in the backyard, and mom would dredge it in cornmeal and fry it. With that we would have corn on the cob. My brother and I would shuck the ears and feed the silk and husks to our donkeys. I was always a little afraid of getting bitten by one of them, but they would gently take the husks out of our hands, brushing our skin with their soft lips, exhaling sweet breath on us as they ate.

My mom was a good baker, and I think her interest in baking was probably what first got me interested in cooking. She always made a yeasted sweet bread for Easter that was cooked in an old coffee can. She would ice the top and decorate it with sprinkles. The rule was the oldest child got to eat the top, which I always thought was unfair because I would never be the oldest child. I remember making homemade cinnamon pastries with her - it was basically a soft bread dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, rolled up, sliced, and baked. She would let me sprinkle on the cinnamon. We made many cookies at Christmas - always with her old copper-colored cookie press. She would count each cup of flour out loud - she would say, "onie, onie, onie, two-ey, two-ey, two-ey", etc. I really loved baking with my mom, and I still make the same cookies she always made at Christmas.

When I was in college, my mom and I started getting interested in cooking at about the same time. We both loved Martha Stewart's Food magazine (I still have a subscription). We each got a copy of Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, and together we tried out her recipes. We had really great meals on vacation - fresh seafood from Carawan's market, fresh vegetables from Grandy's. I have a photograph of our dinner table on the deck at one of the beach houses we stayed in, before dinner, chilled glasses of white wine beading in the heat. I love to imagine us all together, sitting down at that table, listening to the ocean sounds while we ate.

So, even though many of my mom's cooking routines were simple, not sophisticated or fancy, I have wonderful memories of them. And together our cooking evolved into something really special that we both enjoyed. I wouldn't say that any of the food that I make is all that fancy or sophisticated, either, and certainly the leftovers we have every other day aren't exactly revolutionary. But I think it's good material for Dora's memories of childhood. Someday she can look back fondly on my cooking (I hope) and recall that we had leftovers every other day. And even though in a few years she might not enjoy my leftovers as much as she does now, perhaps someday she'll think back on those patterns and find comfort in them. After all, what's more comforting than mom's home cooking times two?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

garlic rosemary eggplant with green beans and tomato basil salad

I had seven hours in the car today to contemplate what I would make for dinner. After 5 days away from home, I was really looking forward to being back in my kitchen, making food the way I like to make it. I wanted to create a meal using only kitchen staples and vegetables from our CSA share, both to be economical and to avoid a grocery store trip on the way home. In addition to the vegetables in our share, I wanted to use some rosemary. On a recent trip to visit my friend Maria in Georgia, I bought a beautiful little rosemary plant, which is now making its home in my backyard along with mint, thyme, and basil. So, aside from staples like olive oil, salt, and pepper, this meal is made entirely of vegetables and herbs from nearby, some as close to my kitchen as about 10 feet.

Garlic Rosemary Eggplant with Green Beans and Tomato-Basil Salad

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small eggplants, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
1 medium tomato, cored and cut into thin wedges
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
coarse sea salt
balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 425. Combine garlic, rosemary, and 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a medium bowl. Add eggplant, and toss gently until eggplant is coated. Spread eggplant in a single layer onto a rimmed baking sheet brushed with olive oil. Bake until bottoms are lightly browned, 7 - 10 minutes. Turn over, and bake until browned on both sides, 5 - 7 minutes more.

Meanwhile, steam the green beans for about 4 minutes, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of coarse sea salt. For this recipe, I used some lovely french gray sea salt given to me by my friend Nick.

In a small bowl, combine the tomato and sliced basil with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.

This is simple, easy, and quick, a light summer meal perfect after a long day of traveling. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Old Favorites

Tonight I have been thinking about how food is about so much more than feeding yourself, and how food, memory, and home are all so tied to one another. I have spent the last several days in Ohio, most of that time spent at a hospital in Columbus with my dad, who has just had surgery. My family and I also spent a few days at my husband's family's farm in central Ohio, surrounded by corn, soybeans, and freshly harvested wheat fields.

Throughout this journey I've had meals that I did not enjoy, meals that I enjoyed and then regretted, meals that I thought were quite wonderful, and meals which I ate solely for the purpose of eating something, but which did not feed me in any other sense of the word.

When you are staying with someone in a hospital, your sense of time and space begins to revolve around eating. Nothing else in the hospital is on schedule - it is in perpetual motion. Your own schedule - work, life, routine - is also disrupted. And even as you sit by your loved one's bedside, focusing on them and hoping for good news, you cannot turn off your own human needs. So, you find the cafeteria, you eat the grilled cheese, the tomato soup, the tapioca parfait pudding cup. You have eaten, but you have not been fed. And your loved one, recovering from surgery, struggling back to health - they're eating that same cafeteria food - overcooked, fried, or otherwise unhealthy. This is not to disparage the food service workers in hospital kitchens - they are working as hard as they can, within parameters which limit their creativity - but I wish that we could find a way to de-institutionalize the food that we serve in all institutions where good nutrition is most needed - schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.

When you are visiting your family, or your spouse's family, you are immersed in their food traditions, love them or not. At my husband's grandmother's house, there is always hot chocolate and doughnuts at breakfast, even in July. There are always things like slices of cheese and celery with peanut butter at their meals. When we go out for a meal, we go to the kind of place where you can get homemade noodles, or hamloaf, or hard-boiled eggs pickled with beets. This is not to say these are not good food traditions - they are just different from mine, and my digestive system says they are different.

When I come home to the town I grew up in, where I went to college, where Brian and I met and were married, and where my father still lives, there are several restaurants that I literally arrange my life around. Dinner at Casa, breakfast at the Village Bakery, lunch at China Fortune, pizza from Avalanche. We have actually timed our departure from Asheville to get to Athens at the right time for dinner at Casa Nueva. I love going to these places for the food - I will always miss the mixed vegetables with crispy tofu at China Fortune - but I love going to them for what they represent, too. So many memories are tied up in those places - first dates with Brian, drinks with friends, meals with my parents when my mother was still living. I now have a much greater understanding of why my mom would get so emotional when visiting places she used to live. It is so bittersweet returning to these places - I love it and I can't wait to leave all at the same time.

Tonight we are on our way back to Asheville, having left the hospital and returned to Athens for the free lodging and to shorten tomorrow's trip. We were both too tired to sit in a restaurant, so we opted for a Veggie Rainbow pizza from Avalanche for dinner. It was delicious, and looked beautiful on my mom's original FiestaWare plates.

Dora loved it, too. This weekend my mother-in-law commented that she has never seen a kid so willing to eat all kinds of healthy foods as Dora. It's true - she loves fruits and vegetables, and loved the brocolli and corn on the Veggie Rainbow tonight. I consider my mother-in-law's comment a wonderful compliment, and I hope that it can always be true. We do NOT always eat healthy - the tapioca parfait pudding cup is proof of that - but I hope that part of our food tradition can be enjoying a wide range of foods, many of them healthy, and finding a way to come back to our old favorites again and again, even when the taste is bittersweet.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

mixed summer vegetable roast

One of the first recipes I really remember falling in love with is Molly Katzen's Roasted and Marinated Green Beans from her Still Life with Menu Cookbook. I was introduced to this recipe by my friend, Nick, who said you could eat the roasted green beans like french fries. Thus began my love affair with roasting vegetables. Almost all vegetables taste wonderful roasted. It's so easy yet the taste is so sophisticated, roasted vegetables can be the perfect dish for guests. You can roast vegetables any time of year, too, just by varying the vegetables used according to what's in season and adding different herbs. With a few simple changes you can transform the same base recipe from a side dish for a spring brunch to an accompaniment for grilled fish to a hearty fall stew.

The box from Flying Cloud Farm is getting heavier each week, with more vegetables and fewer greens. I'm leaving town tomorrow, so tonight seemed like a good night to use up a variety of vegetables in a mixed summer vegetable roast. And although I have SO many chores I should be doing, I couldn't resist allowing myself some extra time in the kitchen tonight knowing I'll be on the road for a few days. Just look at these beautiful vegetables I used for tonight's meal. So colorful, and all local, organic, and delicious. Who wouldn't want to spend an evening with them?

You can use almost any vegetables you have on hand (except for cucumber - sorry, Kramer!). Cut each type of vegetable at roughly the same size so that it cooks evenly, and start the longest cooking vegetables first, followed by softer veggies added towards the end. Patting the rinsed vegetables dry is also important to prevent steaming.

Mixed Summer Vegetable Roast

2 fennel bulbs, cored, quartered, and fronds removed
4 medium carrots, scrubbed, halved lengthwise, then cut into quarters
2 small potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, trimmed, halved if large
1 summer squash, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 in rounds
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. Brush with olive oil. On the first baking sheet, toss the fennel, potatoes, and carrots. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and bake for twenty minutes, tossing occasionally. On the second sheet, toss the green beans with the onions and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt. After the first sheet has been in the oven for about twenty minutes, add the sheet with the green beans and set the timer for ten minutes. After ten minutes, add the summer squash to the tray with the green beans, tossing to coat with olive oil. Return to the oven for an additional ten minutes, or until all vegetables are lightly browned and tender. Combine all vegetables in a large bowl, season with freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle with 2 - 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

Tonight I served these roasted vegetables topped with Bilinski's All Natural Apple Chardonnay Chicken Sausages. I love Bilinski's because they are all natural (some flavors are organic), fully cooked, and come in a wide variety of flavors. Plus, I just adore the cute little bee on the package! Dora loves them, too.

I used to be a vegetarian, but currently do eat some meat as long as it is produced naturally, and preferably locally and organically. These vegetables can easily be served vegetarian, however - as a side, over pasta or brown rice, on pizza, pureed into a soup, tossed over greens. They taste great as leftovers, too, and keep well in the fridge for several days in a covered container. Happy summer harvest!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One Sweet Journey

I first stumbled across some beautiful food blogs about a year ago looking for the perfect carrot cupcake recipe for Isadora's first birthday. I was looking for something sweetened with maple syrup, because at that time Isadora had barely had any refined sugar at all. I found a recipe I liked on buttersugarflour, an Australian food blog dedicated to baking which I find myself going back to often.

I adapted the recipe slightly and used toasted pecan pieces to decorate the tops.

It might have looked a little silly and amateurish, but I loved it. Incidentally, Isadora loved the cupcakes as well.

Food blogs have some qualities I really love. The good ones have really good writing, as well as appealing, simple photographs. Of course, as a great lover of all things food-related, I find the subject matter equally enticing. As I perused the world of food blogs, I began thinking about how much I would enjoy doing something similar, but I questioned my ability to do it. After all, I have a 9-5 job that doesn't involve much in the way of creativity or food, unless you count lunch meetings, and between working full-time, taking care of Dora, keeping my marriage going, and trying to prevent total chaos at home, my time is limited.

What I saw in the world of food blogs made me a little jealous, and a little doubtful of my own ability to do something like that. However, I know I have some skills that lend themselves to this endeavor. For one thing, I have spent a good deal of time blogging about motherhood over on MySpace, back before it became passe and out of style like tapered-leg jeans (oh, wait, those are, unfortunately, coming back). I loved writing those blogs so much, loved the way it was a living tribute to Dora, loved the comments and encouragement I got from friends. I didn't write in Dora's baby book - I admit it - but I did record nearly every milestone on my blog, at least for her first year. I had hoped and still hope to bring all those blogs together into something more, and perhaps will re-publish some of my favorites here.

Beyond that experience with writing, I am always searching for some good creative outlet, which is why I enjoy cooking and baking so much. I have a degree in photography, although I rarely get to use it any more.

After mulling this over for a while, I shared my ideas with Brian, who quickly encouraged me to set it up. I shyly showed him some of the blogs I had discovered, those that I aspire to, a bit embarassed to suggest I was capable of something so lovely. Instead of saying it might be something good to do some day, he said he believed I could do it right now. I had a number of excuses for waiting - I don't have a good digital camera, I don't know that much about web design, I'm not a chef, etc. etc. He shot all my excuses down, I thought of a great name for the blog courtesy of Isadora, and I decided to go with it.

So, here we are. In reality, this is a horrible time for me to start a new project - new responsibilities at work, a 2nd birthday party to plan, an illness in the family, and a vacation coming up. But if we always wait until we're "ready" to do something, it never happens. If I've learned anything in two years of being a parent, its that sometimes the best, most surprising results come when you relax, let go, and dive right in. And although I successfully kept refined sugar out of Dora's diet for the first year, and I aspire to limit it for her as much as possible, I've also learned that parenting is about letting go, relaxing, and trying for a great photo when your child gets hold of some overly sweet, totally not natural or organic, artificially colored cake at a family picnic.

Here's to one sweet journey. Thanks for coming along!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

mushroom ravioli with rainbow chard and herb butter sauce

This is it, my first food blog. Tonight I made mushroom ravioli with sauteed rainbow chard in an herb butter sauce. This colorful rainbow chard came in this week's CSA box from Flying Cloud Farm in Fairview, NC. Isn't it just beautiful?

Chopped chard stems add extra texture to this dish. Begin by warming some olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet. I love using my Griswold No. 8 cast iron skillet for sauteeing greens. Sautee two cloves crushed garlic until fragrant, then add the chopped chard stems. Sautee for a few minutes, then add the chopped chard leaves. Sautee over medium until wilted, adding coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

For the herb butter sauce, melt two tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan. Add two cloves crushed garlic and sautee until fragrant, about one minute. Add 1/4 cup dry white wine and simmer until alcohol dissipates. Swirl in several tablespoons of olive oil to taste. Stir in one tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil and one tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, or add whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

I didn't make my own ravioli, but I am sure that someday I will! I love Rising Moon Organics wild mushroom ravioli. After lightly boiling, toss with olive oil, top with sauteed chard, and herb butter sauce.

This meal tastes lovely with a glass of chillled Sauvignon Blanc and some warm crusty bread. Enjoy!