Category Archives: Side Dishes

Jacob’s Kitchen: Pumpkin Patch Picnic (Project Food Blog – Challenge 6)

This post is my sixth entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to create a portable meal on the go. Voting begins Monday, October 25, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first five rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can ever express!

Every year a good friend and I make our annual pilgrimage to our favorite pumpkin patch. The farm itself is about a thirty minute drive, and over the years it’s become something of an agrarian amusement park. Her children  join in on the fun, and we end the day by each carefully selecting our own pumpkins from the field for carving. For me, the pumpkin patch is one of those rare experiences in life that really live up to the charm of the perfect Norman Rockwell paintings. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year, and there is something about that familiar chill in the air, all of those bails of hay, and the mounds of colorful leaves, winter squash and decorative gourds, that fill me with joy. Moreover, this time of year begins the long holiday season where we all, as a community, seem to collectively retain some sense of sentimentality; and people just seem kinder to one another. And on these days, traipsing through the corn mazes and produce stands, feeding the farm animals, and spending time together in the country I somehow feel most like myself.

The children always have their requisite hot dogs and apple cider from the farm stand, but this year I thought I would surprise my friend with something a little bit more special. So I decided to pack up a little picnic to share while the children played in their autumn wonderland. Nothing terribly fancy mind you, just simple, casual, delicious food among friends.

When planning the menu I wanted something light, something best eaten cold or at room temperature, and something that would ultimately travel well. I  decided I would stick to the fall theme and make individual pumpkin and blue cheese crostatas, an autumn inspired green salad, and finish it off with a little bit of seasonal whimsy with my favorite white chocolate dipped caramel apples. To go with our meal, I chose to make a sparkling pomegranate pear punch, and for something extra cozy with dessert I thought my coconut chai would pair beautifully with the apples.  All of the wonderful flavors of fall wrapped up together in one little picnic.

Packing – A few ice packs along the bottom of the cooler is all that I need to keep our food nice and fresh for the ride. I like packing the food in cylindrical deli containers which I purchase at my favorite restaurant supply store. They are inexpensive, sturdy, reusable, and I really appreciate the fact that all of the sizes use the same lid. Hand sanitizer and plenty of moist towelettes are a must for picnics. Not only are they great for keeping your hands clean, but they are also nice to use to wipe down your dishes before repacking them. I always like to use real plates, mugs, and reusable bottles whenever possible. It really isn’t that much trouble and it always feels a little bit more special; besides, it’s just the green thing to do.

Sparkling Pomegranate Pear Punch – This punch is refreshingly tart and sweet; the lemon and pomegranate add a delicious pucker, and the subtle hint of cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger really make the pear flavor come alive. In a blender, combine five ripe pears (peeled and cored), two cups of water, a third of a cup of vanilla sugar (or to taste), the juice of one lemon, a pinch of salt, and the tiniest dash of ground cinnamon. Blend until the mixture is very smooth, then pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove the fruit pulp. Add one cup of pomegranate juice, and two cups of your favorite ginger ale.

Autumn Salad – This salad is the perfect mix of flavors and textures. The rich creamy goat cheese, sweet juicy pears, smoky bacon, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and the tart chewy cranberries all come together perfectly. The spiced apple flavored dressing rounds everything out, driving home the fabulous flavors of fall. To make the salad, toss baby greens with sliced pears (which have been tossed in freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown), crumbled goat cheese, lardons of crispy bacon, dried cranberries, and toasted pumpkin seeds. To make the dressing, reduce one cup of spiced apple cider over medium heat until only one fourth of a cup remains. Add one finely minced shallot, three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a third of a cup of extra virgin olive oil, and a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. (To take the salad on the road pack the lettuce in one large storage container, submerge the sliced pears into the dressing and place into another smaller storage container, pack the crumbled goat cheese into a separate re-sealable storage bag, and combine the remaining salad topping into one small container.)

Pumpkin and Blue Cheese Crostatas –  Pumpkin and blue cheese are a match made in heaven, and together they make an elegant filling for these crostatas. The buttery crust, sweet earthy pumpkin, subtle sweetness from the maple syrup, and delicious piquant creaminess of the blue cheese all harmonize together beautifully. The toasted pine nuts add a great texture and nutty flavor, and the sage leaves are the perfect savory compliment that bring it all together.

To make the pastry dough, combine one and a half cups of all purpose flour, one teaspoon of salt, and three tablespoons of sugar. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse this mixture along with twelve tablespoons of cold diced butter and one half of a cup of cold vegetable shortening until the flour is evenly coated with the fat (about twenty seconds).  Add another cup of flour and pulse to combine. Empty this mixture into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the dough with one fourth of a cup of very cold vodka, one fourth of a cup of ice cold water, and gently fold to combine.  Flatten the dough (which should still be pretty tacky) into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour (or up to a week in advance).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over medium heat, sauté three cups of peeled diced fresh pumpkin in two tablespoons each of butter and extra virgin olive oil until it is soft and beginning to brown around the edges. Add two tablespoons of finely chopped fresh sage leaves, three tablespoons of pure maple syrup, a third of a cup of toasted pine nuts, one large garlic clove (grated on a microplane zester), three fourths of a teaspoon of salt, a fourth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a fourth of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Continue sautéing for two to three minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the pumpkin mixture to come to room temperature.

Roll out the pastry dough on a floured board to one fourth of an inch of thickness and cut out four rough seven to eight inch rounds. In the center of each round add one fourth of the cooled pumpkin mixture and top each with two tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese. Bring the dough up around the sides of the pumpkin filling, forming a rustic pie. Brush the dough with a beaten egg and bake at 400° for twenty to twenty five minutes, or until golden brown. Garnish with fried sage leaves. (To take these crostatas on the road carefully stack them on a small plate, separating each with a piece of parchment paper, and wrap the stack tightly with plastic wrap. In a separate sandwich sized storage bag, separately pack the fried sage leaves for garnishing.)

Jacob’s Favorite Caramel Apples – These decadent apples are really just our childhood favorite dressed up for company. The tart apple, rich caramel, creamy white chocolate, and sweet cinnamon sugar all meld together in your mouth to create a flavor that really is very reminiscent of apple pie. Perfect for this time of year, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be happy to be surprised with one of these beauties.

To make them, begin by thoroughly washing and chilling your apples (if you suspect that your apples have been waxed, scrub them with baking soda as the wax can prevent the caramel from properly adhering). Insert a stick into the core of each apple (you can typically find these at bakery and craft supply stores).While I will often go to the trouble of making my own caramel for dipping, since I was in a bit of a hurry, I decided to take a fool proof short cut and use melted caramel candies instead. I start by melting one and a half pounds of soft caramel candies over a double boiler along with two tablespoons of whole milk, one tablespoon of pure vanilla extract, and a half a teaspoon of salt. Dip each of your apples to coat, and allow the excess caramel to drip off. Hold the coated apples upside down for forty five seconds or so to allow the caramel a chance to set up slightly before placing them on a baking sheet lined with lightly buttered parchment paper.

Once all of your apples have been dipped, place the baking sheet into the refrigerator for thirty minutes, or until thoroughly chilled (if your caramel covered apples are not cold enough, the melted white chocolate will not adhere to the caramel). Next, melt one and a half pounds of white chocolate chips over a double boiler with one tablespoon of canola oil, and allow it to cool slightly. Dip each of your caramel apples three fourths of the way into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off (holding each apple upside down just as in the caramel dipping step). Before returning the now chocolate covered apples to the baking sheet, carefully sprinkle each with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar (two cups of sugar mixed with one and a half tablespoons of ground cinnamon).  Once the apples have dried and hardened, transfer each to a small cellophane bag and tie with raffia. (While these apples are perfectly fine on their own, to aid in the ease of picnic eating I think it’s nice to pack an apple slicer.)

Coconut Chai – This chai is rich and flavorful. It has just the right amount of spice, and the honey and coconut milk take it far beyond just your ordinary cup of tea. To make it, in a sauce pan, combine six whole cloves, six allspice berries, six green cardamom pods, one half of a nutmeg nut, four star anise, and three cinnamon sticks. (Here I had the luxury of instead using one four inch length of real cinnamon which a fabulous friend sent to me from her recent trip to the spice markets of Dubai. In the United States you can often find it labeled “ceylon.”) Over a medium low flame, slowly toast the spices for two minutes or until fragrant.  Add six cups of water, one fifteen ounce can of coconut milk (whole or light), one vanilla bean split down the center, and two half inch slices of peeled fresh ginger. Bring this mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for seven to ten minutes. Add five and a half tablespoons of loose leaf black tea, and continue simmering for another five minutes. Add one fourth of a cup of honey (or to taste), and strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Ladle it into a thermos to keep it piping hot and ready to serve whenever you are.

These days it seems like most of the food that we eat is on the go.  But just because we are on the move doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy the food that we love to eat with the people that we care about most. This pumpkin patch picnic is a perfect example of how investing a little bit of extra time can turn any ordinary meal into something really special. In this economy, where money is tight for all of us, a little thoughtfulness can really go a long way. Luckily, preparing someone’s favorite meal, surprising a friend with a beautifully wrapped jar of homemade jam, or baking something extra special is often even more appreciated than the most extravagant gifts.  This season brings out the best in all of us, and it makes me want  to spend as much quality time as possible with the people that I care about. Food sets the stage for our time together. And with a picnic like this, what a beautifully charming production it is.

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Filed under Beverages, Desserts, Project Food Blog, Salads, Side Dishes

Pumpkin Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Since I happened to have this bounty of homemade ricotta cheese (pats self on back), I was anxious to put it to work in a fabulous recipe. And what better way to showcase it than in these delicious, fall inspired ravioli. For me, making ravioli is like making lasagna. When I make them, I spend an afternoon assembling as many as I possibly can (within my budget and time constraints) and freeze them to be used as a quick, delicious, homemade meal later on down the road. It takes a little bit more time now, but I save myself a great deal of time and energy in the future, which I am always extremely grateful for, when life becomes a little too hectic to spend much time in the kitchen.

If you are the kind of person who enjoys making your own homemade pasta, well, God bless you. I, myself, am not that person. I certainly have made my own pasta in the past, and likely will again in the future, but for the most part, for me, I find the process to be tedious. Luckily, I needn’t sacrifice flavor, as the grocery store can do all of the work for me, in the form of fresh won ton wrappers. (You can also often find sheets of pasta in the frozen section of your grocery store, which also work equally well.)

I begin by making the filling by combing one cup of homemade ricotta cheese, one cup of canned pureed pumpkin, a half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, one large garlic clove (grated on my microplane zester), a third of a cup of toasted pine nuts, one egg yolk, a small dash of salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper, some freshly ground black pepper, and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. I then taste the filling and make any necessary adjustments.

Next, I make an assembly line on my cutting board. I line square won ton wrappers up six at a time, brush the entire surface with water, place a a small dollop of the pumpkin filling (about a rounded teaspoon’s worth) in the center of each, then place another won ton wrapper over the tops. I gently work out any air bubbles, and press around the filling, to ensure a good seal. I then cut each ravioli out using a medium, fluted biscuit cutter, and crimp each  along its outside edge with tines of a fork. I repeat this process until I run out of filling.Once you get into the rhythm of it, it really doesn’t take that long to assemble all of them.

To freeze the ravioli, I place them in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet  and freeze, uncovered, until they are frozen solid, and then transfer them to a zip lock freezer bag. For those that I wish to serve right away, I gently place them in a pot of boiling, salted water, and boil for about two minutes or until they float (you will want to add a minute or two to your cooking time when you are preparing them from frozen).

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan I melt one stick of butter over medium low heat, and allow the butter to brown. When it is fragrant and nicely golden brown I toss in a small handful of fresh sage leaves (either whole or coarsely chopped depending on your presentation preference), and allow the sage to sizzle away in the butter for a minute or so before adding the cooked ravioli.

Serve them up on their own (with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan cheese) or with a simple green vegetable. Here I decided to serve them with sauteed spinach. (To make the spinach, in a large skillet placed over medium heat, I heat several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, and a large pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the garlic has browned, I remove the cloves from the pan and discard them. I add two thinly sliced shallots and cook until they are soft. I then add a big bag of pre-washed baby spinach, and toss to coat it in the oil. Once it is wilted, I season it with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.)

The ravioli are rich and unbelievably creamy with the homemade ricotta cheese. The toasted pine nuts, and salty Parmesan really round out the subtle pumpkin flavor, and it all beautifully harmonizes with the nutty brown butter and sage. All of the fabulous flavors of fall on a plate. This is elegant comfort food at its best. Simple to prepare in advance, and extremely quick to bring together before serving it is also perfect for entertaining. Enjoy!

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Filed under Pasta, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Jacob’s Signature Salad (and $45 CSN Giveaway)

The generous people at the CSN stores have given me a great opportunity to give back to all of you, by offering a $45 gift card giveaway!!! Yay!!! If you are not familiar with the CSN online stores they have everything you could ever possibly need and more, like these beautiful dutch ovens. I have purchased many a kitchen gadget from them, and have lots of other wish list items to go. They are fabulous! You can peruse their entire selection from all of their stores here, and I encourage you to do so.

To enter the giveaway simply leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite fall inspired recipe (a brief description will suffice).

For additional entries you can:

1. Follow Jacob’s Kitchen on facebook and/or twitter.

2. Subscribe to Jacob’s Kitchen via email/rss (you will find a link on the upper right hand side bar)

3.Retweet: “Check it out: $45 CSN gift card giveaway from @Jacobs_Kitchen http://tiny.cc/aycd9

4. And, last but not least (in a transparent and shameless act of bribery) you can vote for Jacob’s Kitchen in Project Food Blog challenge 2 by clicking here.

Please leave one additional comment for each additional entry, telling me which you have done. Unfortunately, only US and Canadian readers are eligible to win. (For the rest of you, check back soon for more giveaways!) Comments can be received up until 11:59pm on Tuesday, October 5, 2010. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Wednesday, October 6, 2010.

In the meantime, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you one of my most requested recipes, which I call Jacob’s Signature Salad.

In order to give credit where credit is due, this salad was actually first invented by the culinary genius Kristi Chauvin Baker, a deeply fabulous friend from college. I have, of course, put my own little spin on it over the years, replacing the toasted walnuts in her recipe with glazed walnuts, and by re-imagining the dressing.

The salad itself is very simple, but packed with the great flavor. Baby greens are topped with sliced fuji apples, dried cranberries, glazed walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese, and then drizzled with a tangy balsamic blue cheese dressing. People really go crazy for this salad, and it’s not difficult to understand why. The combination of flavors and textures make it feel really special.

To make the dressing… in a blender I combine one cup of crumbled blue cheese, three tablespoons balsamic vinegar, one tablespoon mustard (preferably Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Honey Spice, though dijon works equally well), one tablespoon of granulated sugar, one third of a cup of extra virgin olive oil, one third of a cup of apple cider, and some freshly ground black pepper. I then blend until smooth. (Be casual about making the dressing. If it is too thick, add a little more cider; if it is too thin, add a little more cheese. Taste it, and adjust to your own palate. In your kitchen you get to make the rules.)

As a first course, side dish or light lunch this salad is always a big hit. It is elegant in its simplicity, and since everything can be prepared in advance  and dressed right before serving, it is perfect for entertaining. (Simply toss the sliced apples in freshly squeezed orange or lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.) Enjoy!

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Filed under Other, Salads, Side Dishes

Watermelon Salad

As the summer winds to a close, I long to capture the freshness of the last of the summer produce that remains. This week in our CSA shipment we got the cutest, little watermelons ever in the history of the world, each about the size of a large magic 8 ball (remember those?). They were almost too adorable to cut open, but I thought what a  charming idea it would be to hollow them out and use them as bowls. Natural bowls really speak to me for some reason, be they vegetable, fruit, or bread. A hollowed out lemon filled with sorbet, a stuffed bell pepper, a red cabbage “bowl” mounded with vegetable dip, I’m not sure exactly what it is about them that is so alluring to me. I think at the heart of all of my cooking is a desire to have an end product that reads as simultaneously effortless, rustic, earthy, and chic. And, for whatever reason, natural bowls accomplish that beautifully. I started by carefully slicing one end off of each melon to create a flat, standing surface. I then cut the other end, and, using a spoon, scooped out the fragrant, ruby flesh. In a large mixing bowl I combined the watermelon (which I cubed), with half a red onion (sliced), one small English cucumber (seeded and sliced into half moons), a handful of halved kalamata olives, a generous handful of crumbled feta cheese (preferably French or Greek), and a shower of a fresh basil chiffonade (stack your basil leaves, roll them up like a cigar, and slice as thinly as possible).  In another bowl, I whisked together the zest of one lime, the juice of two limes, about a fourth of a cup of extra virgin olive oil, a couple of teaspoons of honey, four or five dashes of Tabasco (thanks to Brian at A Thought For Food for the spicy suggestion!), a dash of salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I poured the dressing over the salad, and gave it a gentle toss (as not to break up the feta any more than necessary). This salad is so fresh tasting. The sun sweet melon, salty olives, tangy cheese, the slight heat from the onions and Tabasco, the brightness of the lime juice, the ever-so-slight sweetness from the honey, and the minty, fresh basil all harmonize together perfectly.  It’s crisp, crunchy, and flavorful. And the melon bowl, well, it kills me. Enjoy!  (If you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to enter for your chance to win my first giveaway – a $50 gift card to Williams-Sonoma!!!)

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Filed under Salads, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Zucchini Pancakes with Horseradish Cream

These last several weeks I have been absolutely inundated with farm fresh zucchini in our weekly CSA bins. Mountains of them! I have been grilling them, stuffing them, roasting them with Parmesan cheese, making them into a roasted vegetable tian, and anything else I can possibly think of to use them up in some form of non redundant fashion. In searching for recipes, I stumbled across Ina Garten’s zucchini pancakes recipe, and thought, yes! That’s it! And while her recipe is, I’m sure, positively delectable, I decided to sort of come up with my own take on them, based on what other ingredients I had from the CSA. I started by grating about a pound of both green and yellow zucchini in my food processor fitted with the grating disc. I then placed the shredded zucchini in a colander and sprinkled it with about a tablespoon of salt, and allowed it to sit for about twenty minutes. I then rinsed the zucchini in cold water, and squeezed out as much liquid from them as I could, using my hands. In a large mixing bowl I then combined the drained zucchini, about a cup or so of chopped green onions, a handful each of chopped fresh basil and Italian flat leaf parsley, two large garlic cloves (grated on my microplane zester), four large eggs, a little salt, a healthy grind of black pepper, a dash of chipotle powder, and enough flour to pull it all together (about a half a cup or so). I then heated some extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, and,while it was heating, mixed together a half a cup of sour cream, a half a teaspoon or so of prepared horseradish (or more depending on the strength of your particular brand), and a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. I placed heaping spoonfuls of the zucchini mixture into the hot pan, and cooked them for about two minutes per side, or until nicely golden brown (placing them onto a sheet pan in a 250º oven in between batches to keep them warm). I serve them up with a dollop of the horseradish cream, a sprig of fresh parsley, and a few lemon wedges for squeezing over them. The pancakes are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The delicious, savory flavor of the garlic and herbs hit you in waves, with a gentle little nudge from the chipotle powder. The creaminess of the sour cream, and the subtle kick from the horseradish perfectly compliment the pancakes, without overwhelming them.  These are perfect as an appetizer, first course, or lite lunch (and I imagine that they are a great way to get vegetables into your kids).  Now if only I can come up with a use for the REST of Mount St. Zucchini I will be in good shape. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Filed under Foodbuzz Top 9, Side Dishes, Snacks, Vegetables

Green Beans with Hollandaise

After having had a busy couple of days of non stop baking in the scorching summer heat, I (thankfully) finally found some time last night to go out with some fabulous friends and have a good time. Upon returning home we found the CSA bin on our doorstep, as if left by magical little elves. As I rummaged through the box of produce I was elated to find an enormous bag of farm fresh green beans (our first of the season!). I have always been a lover of green beans. As a child, while they were always horrendously overcooked or (gasp! dare I say) canned, I still gobbled them up as if they were candy. These days I prefer my green beans to retain a little bite to them. Some people out there disagree and feel the need to cook their beans until they are brown and practically falling apart. But, you know, that’s fine, to each their own.  I have also recently seen several different recipes for “fool proof” hollandaise sauce, that can be made in advance. Now I have never had a big problem with the making of the sauce, but I have always found that it has to be made seconds before it is served, which often takes me away from the pleasures of mingling with my dinner guests. So the idea that I could make the sauce an hour in advance and then just refresh it with a little hot water was very appealing to me. I started out by blanching the trimmed green beans in boiling salted water for four to five minutes, and then shocking them in salted ice water to stop the cooking and to lock in their green color. Meanwhile, in the blender, I combined (or should I say blended) four egg yolks, three tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a generous grinding of black pepper, a small dash of salt, a little freshly grated nutmeg, and a couple of hearty pinches of chipotle powder (though cayenne pepper would work equally well). Once that was thoroughly mixed, with the blender still on, I slowly drizzled in fourteen tablespoons of hot, melted butter (which I heated in a glass measuring cup in the microwave) through the pour spout. And voila! It really couldn’t be any simpler to make.  Since I was testing this recipe to see if it did, in fact, have the staying power to be made in advance, I left the mixture in the blender at room temperature for one hour. I returned to a sauce that had the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. I added two tablespoons of extremely hot tap water (as directed by at least five of the recipes I have recently seen), and gave it a thirty second whirl. And, wouldn’t you know, exactly as promised, the sauce came right back together and was ready to serve. I warmed the green beans by dropping them back into boiling salted water for about thirty seconds, drained them, and lined them up like soldiers on a warm, white platter. Now is there anything in life better than hollandaise? It is so sinfully rich and luxurious, it really does make even the simplest meal feel special.

UPDATE: I have also found that you can make your hollandaise as directed above and store it in a thermos (which I first fill with very hot tap water and then empty in order to pre-warm it) and the sauce will stay hot and pourable for up to three hours (depending on the quality of your thermos). Just give your thermos a shake before serving. Enjoy!

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Filed under Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Zucchini Carbonara

While my posts might typically suggest otherwise, I actually do like to prepare and eat dishes that are, at least moderately, figure friendly. In fact, ironically, I myself don’t actually eat most of what I post. A dear friend of mine has been telling me for months how she makes pasta for her family and, since she is watching her carbs, eats the same sauces only on ribbons of zucchini instead of noodles. What a great idea. Yesterday, as I sat staring at my seemingly endless pile of CSA produce (the majority of which was green and yellow zucchini), I thought why not borrow her idea and make some zucchini carbonara. My mother (who is a lover of purchasing random, useless As-Seen-On-TV gadgets) gave me one of those julienne peelers a while ago, which I have never actually used. I thought I would give it a go and see if it did not in fact make the making of the zucchini “pasta” a little bit easier. And while, to be fair, it did score all of the slices, I still had to manually separate each stand, so the process took longer than one would hope. Next time I will just try slicing them with the julienne blade on my mandaline and see if that doesn’t prove to be easier(using a vegetable peeler would also work well, just be sure to leave the seeds behind as you slice). Once I had a nice pile of the zucchini strands (about 4-5 zucchini’s worth), I blanched them in boiling salted water for about two minutes, and then shocked them in a bowl of salted ice water. Meanwhile, I beat four extra large eggs, a handful of Parmesan cheese, a generous dash of freshly ground black pepper, a healthy pinch of pimentón (to sort of emulate the missing smoky bacon),and just for fun, a tablespoon of homemade basil pesto.  I poured off the water from the blanching, reserving about a cup of the liquid, and return the pan to low heat. I add in about a third of a cup of the cooking liquid, and whisk vigorously while slowly adding the egg mixture. (If I were making this with actual pasta I would add the eggs over the cooked pasta, after it had taken a twirl in the traditional pancetta or bacon fat, but since I omit the bacon, and since the zucchini isn’t quite as sturdy as the pasta, I make the sauce separately to avoid breaking up the “noodles.”) Cook over low heat whisking constantly for about two minutes, or until thickened. Add the zucchini, stirring gently, along with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, and cook long enough to warm it through, adding a splash of extra cooking liquid if it needs it. It is creamy, rich, flavorful, and surprisingly satisfying. Giving you that same experience of pasta, without any of the carbs. In a way, it is sort of like a stove top gratin. This makes both a delicious side dish or vegetarian main course. What a great new way to eat your vegetables.  Enjoy!

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Filed under Side Dishes, Vegetables

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

As a child I really loved to eat vegetables. Brussels sprouts, Lima beans, spinach, and other foods that typically repulsed most other children were always a delicious staple in our house. (Though as a child I never enjoyed fish, of any kind, though at the heart, I believe that this might have been an issue of never having well prepared fish). I remember wandering the stalls at our local farmer’s market growing up, and always being mesmerized at the stalks of fresh Brussels sprouts. They seemed so mysterious and magical, caught somewhere between a cabbage and a snap dragon. While today it is rare for me to be able to find fresh Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, they remain one of my favorite vegetables. While I will most often just steam them (out of laziness), and eat them dipped in coarse grain mustard (which I have been doing since I was a child, strangely enough), I do like to make them in a variety of different ways. One of my favorite ways, as taught to me by my good (but imaginary) friend Ina Garten (who lives on TV), is to roast them in the oven until they are crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. I start by cleaning the Brussels sprouts and removing the tough tip end, and any outer leaves that are less than beautiful. I toss them with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper (and sometimes a dash of pimentón, just for fun). I then lay them out in a single layer on a sheet pan, and pop them into a preheated 400º oven for about forty five minutes (or until nicely tender), tossing them several times to ensure even browning. Once they come out of the oven I give them an extra sprinkling of coarse sea salt, and (sometimes) a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Even people who claim not to like Brussels sprouts enjoy them cooked this way. They are really a revelation. Delicious and good for you! Happy eating everyone!

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Fried Risotto Balls (Arancini di Riso)

I purposely made extra mushroom risotto last night knowing that I would make these delicious fried rice balls today with the leftovers. For my risotto I start with one chopped, large yellow onion, six or seven minced garlic cloves,  a mixture of cremini and oyster mushrooms (or whatever you have on hand) that roughly measures one pound or so, which I sauté in butter and extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and dried thyme (since I didn’t have any fresh thyme on hand). Once those are nicely softened and starting to brown, I add about two cups of arborio rice, and cook the rice for about two minutes. I then add one cup of a good quality, dry white wine and a large pinch of saffron threads, and cook until the wine has been absorbed by the rice. I then ladle in hot, homemade chicken stock one cup at a time, stirring constantly, being sure that the previous liquid is absorbed before my next addition. In total the process takes about thirty minutes, and approximately eight cups of stock. Once the rice is tender, I add a generous handful of both Parmesan cheese and chopped Italian flat leaf parsley. Is there anything more delicious than risotto? Perhaps deep fried balls of cheese stuffed risotto? Indeed!

Today I took two cups of the leftover risotto and mixed it together with a handful of both panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, along with two large eggs. I rolled the rice mixture into balls, and shoved a small cube of cheese into the center of each (here I used extra sharp cheddar, because it is what I had laying around, though mozzarella would perhaps be more appropriate), I then rolled each ball in panko bread crumbs, and fried them in vegetable oil until golden brown (in about two inches of oil…somewhere between a pan fry and a deep fry, turning half way through to ensure even browning), and drain them on paper towels. Serve these up as a delicious hors d’oeuvres, first course, or side dish with a puddle of homemade marinara, or sun dried tomato pesto. They are crisp, tender, creamy, and packed with great flavor. Never have leftovers tasted so good. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Garlic and Herb Polenta – Two Ways

Polenta is one of those versatile foods that (while it can be a little time consuming) is inexpensive, and easy to prepare. You can flavor it up any number of different ways, and you can serve it either creamy, like you would cheese grits or mashed potatoes, or you can chill them, cut them out, and pan fry them, so they are crisp on the outside, and creamy on the inside. Whether as a side dish, first course, or vegetarian main dish, a bag of polenta is a pantry staple in any home. I start out with some extra virgin olive oil and half a stick of butter in the bottom of a large saucepan. I add seven or eight cloves of minced garlic, and 1-2 teaspoons each of minced fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, and red pepper flakes. I then add three cups of homemade chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you are making this vegetarian), three cups of half n’ half, a little salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Once the mixture comes to a boil I slowly add two cups of course ground polenta, and cook, stirring regularly, for about thirty minutes or until the mixture is very thick and the polenta is tender. (If it thickens too quickly before it is tender don’t be afraid to add up to a cup of water as needed). When they are done, stir in ½-¾ of a cup of Parmesan cheese, and then taste it for salt. Serve it up hot and creamy as a delicious side dish one night, and then the following night reinvent the leftovers. The polenta will set up in the refrigerator over night. Cut out rounds (I just used a fluted biscuit cutter), dust them with flour, then fry them on both sides in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and butter until a deep golden brown. Serve them up hot on their own, or on a puddle of your favorite marinara (or, in this case, sun dried tomato pesto). It is rich, creamy, and packed with great flavor. Enjoy!

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