Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Salad

This is the lovely salad I made after visiting the farmer's market.

Arugula (real arugula tastes so different from the baby version in the prepackaged salad section of the store)
Roma tomato
Goat cheese with herbs
Sweet and dry Italian salami
Freshly shelled and blanched fava beans

Drizzled with a Spanish olive oil and sherry vinegar.
And sprinkled with a bit of salt and a crack or two of pepper.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lemon Almond Cake

I made a cake for dessert a couple times recently. Just for regular-old dinners. No one's birthday, nothing interesting to celebrate, although someone did learn how to do a cartwheel here recently. We don't eat dessert very often so I surprised the whole crew right to smiles. I didn't want to exclude Baby, who is still not eating dairy protein. No dairy, no cake, right? How do you make a cake worth eating without butter or buttermilk or sour cream?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Quick Meal Friday: Herbes de Provence Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin and Roasted Veggies

Those herbes de Provence finally got some use in my kitchen. I couldn't wait for fall! The nights are still cool so roasting isn't completely off the wall for another month or so. (I'm in the San Diego desert, where all seasons are short except for the one called "meltingly hot.")

For this simple meal, I roasted some potatoes, turnips, and carrots seasoned with herbes de Provence while I did a little easy work on a small pork tenderloin on the stove, finishing that with a simple *hold your breath* herbes de Provence-scented pan sauce. This magical herb mix really tastes like spring in a jar, with the sweet fennel seed and fragrant lavender shining through. (I'm very glad I went easy on the lavender though, just something to keep in mind if you mix up a batch yourself.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lentil Soup

This meal has it all for us. Veggies, protein, fiber - all in one gorgeous pot. A huge batch costs very little and is an opportunity to use produce nearing the end of its optimal fridge life. I've had success with so many vegetable combinations, but this particular pot was a favorite. Even the lunchbox containers came home scraped clean.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Farmers Market

The 20-min drive, the three kids, the packed weekends all interfere with my favorite thing to do on Sunday mornings: Visit the farmers market. Unfortunately the one close to my house is not a great market. I have tried to enjoy it - even forced myself to stay longer than I wanted - many, many times. Our local farmers market is a little heavy on the Tupperware sales and junk food and similar booths of low interest to me. Competition must be stiff among Saturday morning markets, and ours draws few farmers, usually just 2 or 3 booths. So my quarterly trip to the La Jolla market is quite a treat, and this time I had only the company of my littlest one.

Our take-home loot today:

  • one bunch each of orange gerbera daisies and orange ranunculus
  • an artichoke
  • pound of fava beans
  • half-pound of sugar snap peas
  • bunch of basil on the root
  • a pot of Italian parsley to plant
  • a head of red oak lettuce
  • a bunch of baby turnips with greens
  • a bunch of kale
  • a pint of #2 (oddly-shaped) strawberries (cheaper and taste just as good)
  • a bag of lentils
  • a bunch of carrots with greens

Since Baby is fighting her next bug, she was more than happy to ride in the Baby Bjorn and offer the use of her stroller as shopping cart. Everyone was happy :-)

Have you been to a farmers market lately?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Quick Meal Friday :: Sweet Potato Hash

Here's a new idea I'm trying for Friday posts: A meal that pulls together quickly. This sweet potato hash was inspired by a recipe in the recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. But it had to get a little twist. The my-kids-need-to-eat-this-too twist.

Sweet Potato Hash
Serves 4.

one large sweet potato
3 tsp olive oil, divided
one small onion, chopped
one red pepper, chopped
one clove of garlic, diced
one 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 eggs

Peel sweet potato and cut into large chunks. Microwave on high, loosely covered, for 5 min or until softened. Meanwhile, warm 1 1/2 tsp oil in skillet over medium heat. (I like to use a nonstick pan because eggs will soon be involved). Saute onion and red pepper until softened, about 3-5 min. When sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, chop them and add to pan with garlic. Stir occasionally, letting the vegetables brown and crisp slightly. Divide among 4 plates.

Add remaining oil to pan and heat to medium-high. Crack the eggs into the hot pan, two at a time, and fry for 1-2 min. With a spatula, gently break the jelly-like sac around the yolk to release the remaining egg white. Swirl the pan gently to spread the white, and fry for 1-2 min more until the bottoms begin to crisp and turn golden brown on the eggs. Top each plate's hash with a fried egg. Serve with toast.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thinking About Soda Bread

When I lived in Limerick, Ireland way back when (it really just can't be possible that was 18 years ago), I regularly ate the most delicious scones. I would treat myself to a bakery trip once a week on my very long walk from Mary Immaculate College to the bus stop near Henry and Roches Sts. That whole 4-month stay seems a bit cloudy as I'm shocked to see the length of that walk on the Google maps I had no access to in 1992!

I cannot recall what my single scone cost but know it was a significant dip into my shrinking savings for this study abroad trip, as well as a block or two off that daily route. To step in that warm bakery smelling of cream pastries in my rain-soaked jeans... It was one day of heaven in a wet and lonely week!

One of my housemates in my dorm at University of Limerick had a knack for cooking. She could imagine what she wanted to eat and just make it happen. I can do that now, after years of practice, but it is a testament to the differences in our upbringings that she was able to do so at the tender age of 18. I asked her to teach me to make Irish scones, noting that they were so different from what I knew in America. What did she want to learn from me? Chocolate chip cookies and macaroni and cheese. A true cultural exchange.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Herbes de Provence

Heavy spring rains have led to a burst of growth in our neglected So Cal yard. Our lavender is slowly taking over the sidewalk! I decided I needed to enjoy this beautiful flower, especially since it has looked near death most of its first 3 years of life. My 8-year-old and I have clipped a bunch of stems. She is drying buds for sachets, and I dried a few buds with some other herbs for a batch of herbes de Provence.

With a quick web search and glance at a few cookbooks, I found a huge variation in the specific herbs used for this classic mixture. Some contained just six herbs and other recipes had over 15! My version? I simply used what I already had.

Here I've combined:

  • lavender and rosemary from the garden
  • thyme from the fridge
  • bay leaves from the farmers market
  • oregano, tarragon, and fennel seed from the cupboard

I really don't care for dried tarragon, but over the past few years I've had no luck with 1) finding starter plants at the nursery or 2) growing it from seed. Leave me a comment if you have a good source. (BTW, you can spot my empty garden boxes out the window! Hope to show those filled with veggies and herbs in a few months.)

You can see how much the volume decreases when the herbs are dried, stemmed and crumbled in this step 2 baby food jar.) If this particular mixture turns out to be tasty, I'll plan on a bigger batch before the lavender blooms fade. I'm thinking of rubbing a pork tenderloin with it.

I would also like to try the Lavender Honey Ice Cream from  A Platter of Figs by David Tanis. Any other suggestions for lavender?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bread Baking Continues

The adventures in bread baking continue over here. Here is the Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread from this book. Our favorite version of this recipe uses white whole-wheat flour and soy margarine. The latter ingredient was new to me since I headed on a non-dairy path. (Incidentally, my willpower could only go so far, and after 2 1/2 months I am back on the dairy wagon - and lovin' my cheese!) The texture of this bread is smooth, and it toasts beautifully. I love the nutty smell of toasted whole wheat bread. It goes so well with a spread of Bonne Maman strawberry preserves. Note that this is not a 100% whole grain bread; about 1/3 of the flour is white. This dough is also enriched with eggs and sweetened with honey. We love this but some may find that too rich or too flavorful for an everyday sandwich bread. King Arthur offers an alternative 100% whole wheat recipe without eggs, which I haven't tried yet.

I am still taken with the master bread recipe from this book. As of today, March 12, we still haven't bought bread at the store, other than bagels. I've even done a few calculations to make sure I'm not going underwater in this bread madness, and it's certainly working in our favor. I typically make 3 loaves from one batch of the master recipe (rather than the four suggested - we burn through this quickly). Each loaf costs me approximately $.30 to make. A similar loaf at Trader Joe's costs $2.99!

Here I shaped mini-boules of the master dough to make rolls for salmon cakes.

Salmon Cakes

3 slices of whole wheat bread (I use homemade, but the fresher the better)
2 7-oz cans salmon
1 large egg
2-3 scallions, chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 tsp olive oil

With a food processor, whir the bread to fine crumbs (should be moist). Stir together flaked salmon, egg, scallions, red pepper, black pepper and bread crumbs until well-combined. Shape into 6-8 patties (my kids like little ones).

Warm the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties for several minutes until slightly browned and crisp; flip to brown the other side.

Serve on buns with mayo or tzatziki or over greens.