Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Green market items don't necessarily equal healthy items. Oh sure, you can get your salad greens and bean sprouts and wheat grass juice, but you can also get ice cream and cookies and scones -- lovely, sugar encrusted scones -- at my local farmer's market.My guilty pleasure at Union Square are scones from Our Daily Bread (their chocolate chip cookies, Sunflower Millet Bread and Whole Wheat Sourdough Baguettes are pretty darn good too). And on Saturday's ODB sometimes sells bags of day-old scones for 3 for $2.50. Magically, the presence of flaked coconut and chocolate chunks really make a day-old scone taste, well, maybe half a day old. And a short spin in the microwave takes even more age off. Alas, not every Saturday is a scone Saturday, so recently I tried to recreate the flavors in an untraditional way – using my ice cream maker.I was late to the ice cream maker craze. Really late. In fact, I only bought one on September 6 of this year (yes, after summer). I actually inherited an ice cream maker and it sat on top of my cabinet for two years until a steamy July day when I pulled it down, inspired to make frozen yogurt based on David Lebovitz recipe. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I had the yogurt mixture in the freezer canister that I realized the top would not go on. Yep, the canister was warped (it was my first foray as an ice cream chef. How was I supposed to know the bottom of the canister should be flat?). Williams-Sonoma to the rescue. Within days I had churned out a blackberry frozen yogurt, a mango strawberry frozen yogurt and honey ice cream. But I soon realized that it’s pretty much impossible to make low cal ice cream at home that tastes as good as Edy’s Slow Churned. Eggs, cream, fruit: all expensive for the wallet, and waistline. But then I saw a recipe calling for coconut milk and evaporated skim milk on Chocolate & Zucchini. By subbing light coconut milk, and adding some chopped bittersweet chocolate chunks at the end, I had a creamy, low fat scone in ice cream form.
Calorie and Cost Conscious Coconut Chocolate Ice Cream (adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini’s Glace Coco du Placard) Ingredients 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted 14.5 oz. can of light coconut milk 14.5 oz. can of evaporated skim milk 1 T. rum 2 t. of almond extract (you could also use vanilla) 1/2 cup sugar 6 oz. of bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped Method Toast the coconut by placing in dry pan over medium heat until fragrant and light brown, cool completely. Wisk together remaining ingredients and chill well. Add liquid mixture to your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Add cooled toasted coconut flakes approximately 10 minutes before freezing cycle is complete. Add chocolate pieces approximately 5 minutes before cycle is complete. Note: The end product will be very soft and will require “ripening” in the freezer.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surplus "Squash"

I was at Union Square this weekend juggling an armload of red pepper, squash and cucumbers when a lady stopped me and said "that's a lot of zucchini." But look close, that's only three zucchini. The other six? Persian cucumbers.
As a child, I was always a pickle eater but hated cucumbers and related fruits, like tomatoes, for the longest time because of their watery, slimy seeds. It wasn't until I was in high school that I learned how to scoop the seeds out of your standard cuke. For some reason, I don't remember the English or seedless variety being available back then. But once I started life in my own kitchen, and using Fresh Direct, I discovered the Persian cucumber. Crunchy, sweet and compact -- easy to use up all in one sitting so none is left moldering in the crisper.
My Fresh Direct days are long over (because of the increasing price of Fresca, but that's a story for another day), but thanks to Oak Grove's green house growing, I have at least a few more Persian cucumber days...
Savory Cucumber Yogurt Salad
While most of my Persian cukes end up in salads, I do like this savory yogurt dish alongside Indian curries or a Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala burger.
1 Persian cucumber, peeled and shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c. red onion, finely diced
1/2 c. Greek-style yogurt (I use Trader Joe's brand 2% Greek Yogurt)
1 t. cilantro (optional)
Other spices (I like a dash of Penzey's Turkish spice blend)
Pile shredded cucumber in a kitchen towel or small strainer, squeeze out all the liquid you can. Combine shredded cucumber, minced garlic, red onion and yogurt. Season liberally with salt and pepper and an other spices desired. Chill for at least 30 minutes to let flavors combine. Use as is or use as a sandwich spread, dip or topping for spicy food.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Soup's On

I made soup five times last week – four different varieties in all. Yes, I know. I am crazy. I was up visiting my parents for the weekend and hit up their local farmer's market in the library parking lot. Small yet very popular, the vendors sell everything from homemade granola and baked goods to corn and apples and some more "exotic" offerings like hydroponic lettuce and heirloom peppers. So picked up some softball size red peppers, a luscious head of cauliflower, several long, skinny leeks and a compact bunch of tuscan kale (that cost a buck!). I whipped up a huge batch of Cheddar Chicken Chowder for my parents to enjoy then and freeze leftovers for later. On Tuesday, the cauliflower and leeks went into the first of two batches of Cauliflower Leek Potage. Wednesday’s special was a faux minestrone I like to make to use up the odds and ends in the crisper and on Friday, I took inspiration from a favorite site and whipped up some Kale and Sausage Soup. I like that soup is generally very forgiving – use fingerling potatoes in place of red, chicken sausage in place of chorizo, shallot or red onion in place of white. It may not look exactly like the recipe, but you’ll still end up with something comforting and delicious, and likely leftovers to freeze for later (in my case, "later" being a week of Indian Summer weather that makes me want to avoid the stove!).
Faux Minestrone Some people are more the chicken-noodle type, but tomato-based soups are my comfort food. My grandmother’s brother, Uncle Dom, used to put chunks of pepperoni in his soups, so I took the idea from him., albeit using more healthy (but more processed) turkey pepperoni. This is a very forgiving “recipe” so feel free to use whatever meat, vegetables, beans, greens and pasta you have on hand. In this batch, I used Trader Joes’ Starter Sauce in place of the tomato sauce and baby spinach. Ingredients 1 T. olive oil 1 medium onion, diced 2 cloves of garlic, minced 2 stalks of celery, diced 2-3 carrots, diced 1 zucchini, diced 20 pieces of turkey pepperoni, diced (suggestion substitutions: pancetta, chicken sausage) Italian herbs and spices 4 c. broth or water Rind of hard cheese, like romano or parmesan Approximately 1 c. of tomato sauce, or canned tomatoes (if you’re opening a can, you might as well throw in the whole contents, be it 14 oz. or 32 oz. You can always add water at the end if your soup’s too thick, or some sale bread if it’s too thin) 1 bay leaf 6 oz. frozen spinach 1 c. small uncooked pasta (I like Trader Joesanelletti pasta) 1 14 oz. can of cannellini beans Method Heat olive oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch Oven over medium heat Sweat onions and garlic for a few minutes, add celery, carrots, zucchini and pepperoni, season with spices and sauté for about five minutes Add broth/water, tomato sauce, bay leaf and cheese rind, simmer for about 20 minutes Add frozen spinach, simmer until temperature comes up to just below boiling Add pasta, cook until al dente Add beans, either drained or undrained depending on your preferences and the current consistency of your soup Heat until beans are warmed through, fish out bay leaf and cheese rind and serve

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Turn, turn, turn...

A few weekends ago, I spent $40.05 at the Union Square Greenmarket. I blame it on the season -- summer's ending and fall's beginning. The last of the tomatoes nestled next to the first of the winter squash. So I bought it all. And I actually used almost all (full disclosure:the scallions are currently lingering in the bottom of my crisper). But most of the veggies made their way into salads, the kernels from all six ears of corn are tucked in the freezer (ready to be pulled out on a bleak winter's day), the fingerling's were roasted and also used in soups, and the chocolate chip and coconut scones, well, I may have a piece of one left the freezer (which, after two weeks, shows admirable restraint, I think). The squash and eggplant received special treatment, however. Since the nip of fall in the air made turning on my oven actually tolerable, I made not one, but two batches of ratatouille oven-style. Not a bad way to say "hello autumn."
Roasted Ratatouille I like how roasting the vegetables gives them an almost meaty texture. I actually made this twice with my haul, as zucchini and eggplant have a more shelf life that you might think. Try eating the ratatouille over Israeli style couscous and consider sprinkling with crumbled goat or feta cheese before serving. Ingredients 1 med. zucchini 1 med. yellow squash 1 med. Italian-style eggplant 1 small red onion 2 cloves minced garlic (optional) 2 t. olive oil Italian herbs and spices .5 cup tomato sauce (I like to use Trader Joes’ Starter Sauce) Method Preheat oven to 400 degrees Chop zucchini, squash, eggplant and red onion into uniform pieces Toss with olive oil and minced garlic, if using, and spread into 9x13 baking dish Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, dried oregano and dried basil; add a few red pepper flakes if you like a bit of heat Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring vegetables at the half way mark Turn off oven; add tomato sauce and stir Leave in cooling oven for another 10-15 minutes