Posted by: CJW | January 14, 2012

Roasted Yams and Pears in Rosemary Walnut Honey

I am a slacker. Okay, for those of you who know me personally, that’s not news, but really– I’ve been feeling my slacker title particularly hard during the holidays. For example, it’s now officially too late to talk about the holidays as anything but dead and gone and I’m getting around to writing this post now. The reason? My amazing co-workers generously doled out handmade gifts– I received homemade soaps, a personalized covered notebook, amazing dark chocolate bark with sea salt and marcona almonds, and a jar of delicious rosemary honey. What did I give in return? Nothing. Yeah, I know I have this lovely excuse, but I still feel guilty.

But I made the most of those lovely gifts. That jar of honey? I used some of it to make a side dish for our Christmas dinner. Inspired by another co-worker’s contribution to our pre-holiday pot luck, I used the honey to help sweeten and add spice to a dish of roasted pears and yams. The honey had stems of rosemary, a couple of small red chili peppers, and golden nuggets of walnut, so I thought that since all those flavors marry well with yams and pears, maybe this might add something special to the dish rather than using regular clover honey.

And you know what? It was perfect. Those spices made the yams taste slightly earthy, enough of a contrast so that it helped round out the sweetness of the pears. There was also a pleasing variety of textures: slightly crisped skinned yams with soft but not mushy pears and the crunch of walnuts. This was a side dish that you just couldn’t help smiling after taking a bite. I may be a slacker and late to say this, but I am so very thankful for all the wonderful things that happened in 2011– a beautiful baby, a job that I love, and thoughtful co-workers.

Note: Be sure to buy under-ripe pears. I used Anjou pears here. And since not everyone can be lucky enough to receive a jar of honey steeped with rosemary, chili and walnuts, I’ve adjusted the ingredient list below accordingly.

  • 3 small yams, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 firm pears, cored and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped (yield about 1.5 tablespoons)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped (yield about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all the ingredients except walnuts in a large bowl and toss together. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until yam pieces are tender. Tumble the roasted mix into a large serving bowl or onto a platter and sprinkle with walnuts and any additional fresh rosemary and thyme if you wish. Serve immediately.

Makes 8-10 servings.

It’s winter and therefore, perfect weather for cozying up to a piping hot bowl of creamy, sweet and spicy, winter squash soup. Below is a recipe for the soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, then visit Second City Soiree for three easy ideas for garnishes that transform this one soup into three different but equally delicious variations.

  • 1 medium winter squash of your choice, be it butternut, sugar pumpkin, or kuri (pictured above), peeled, seeded, and chopped, yielding about 4 cups of 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, trimmed of dark green and root ends, quartered length wise and thinly sliced. Place slices in a bowl full of water and stir around to release dirt. Use a strainer to remove leek pieces to drain.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons of a mix of spices of your choice– I’m a fan of ground cinnamon, curry powder, cayenne, and ground ginger
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large glass or microwave safe bowl with cooking spray. Add the squash. Microwave on high for 7 minutes. Take bowl out and stir. If squash pieces are fork tender, you’re done. If not, microwave for another 3-7 minutes. Place a colander over a medium bowl and drain squash, reserving any liquid. Set aside squash and squash juice.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium high heat. When butter’s foam has subsided, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the squash and squash juice along with the spices and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes or until juices have evaporated and a fond has formed on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with 1 cup of stock. Add another 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Puree using an immersion blender (or in batches of no more than 2 cups at a time in a regular blender, holding the lid down with a towel.) Add more stock to reach your preferred consistency then season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Posted by: CJW | November 27, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cherry Pecan Cookies

Last month, John and I went on our first obligatory parental trip– a visit to the pumpkin patch. Ok, I can’t quite claim that it was solely for the benefit of the baby given that she’s still too little to enjoy the children’s activities and spent most of the time asleep in the baby carrier. Besides, we had fun hanging out with friends and their toddlers, not to mention the freshly fried ginger cardamom donuts and warm apple cider made the trip worth it on their own.

We wimped out of trudging through the mud puddle minefield to choose pumpkins from the actual patch and opted to get our jack o’ lantern pumpkins from the clean and tidy, pre-harvested pumpkin section next to the little shop that sells apple butter and puffed corn nuggets. Then we headed into town and had lunch at a bakery with our friends and their 2-year-old daughter. The bakery was cozy on such a grey, cold, autumn day, the sandwiches were delicious, and I behaved myself by refraining from buying the large chocolate chip, cherry oatmeal cookies that were otherwise calling my name.

John and I took a walk around town before heading back home, visiting antique shops where I flipped through vintage posters with the hopes of finding something to decorate my office at work as a means of distracting me from going back and buying those cookies. It worked to a degree, and we made our way back home where I continued to fantasize about chocolate chip, cherry oatmeal cookies until finally, I made a batch of my own.

My goal was to elevate your typical oatmeal, chocolate chip raisin cookie by adding chopped, buttery, toasted pecans, and tart dried cherries. I envisioned a cookie with crispy edges and chewy centers, but instead, I ended up with soft nuggets chocked full of cherries, pecans, and bittersweet chocolate. Not what I had pictured, but still decidedly delicious and definitely worth jotting down so I can make them again. These cookies scream fall to me, so if they’re calling your name, don’t resist it and feel free to make them!

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed, light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1.25 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecan halves, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a standing mixer bowl, beat together butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and almond extracts. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, oatmeal, and spices. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture by adding 1/3 of the dry mixture at a time, beating until combined before adding next portion. Mix in the cherries, chocolate chips, and pecan pieces. Using a standard 2 teaspoon cookie measure, scoop out mounds of dough and quickly roll into a uniform ball before setting down on the baking sheet, about 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown at edges. Let cookies rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Makes 30 cookies.

Posted by: CJW | November 6, 2011

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Crispy Kale

It’s ridiculous how quickly time has gotten away from me. When I last posted on this blog, we were in the height of our CSA season. Each week, we took home a ridiculous abundance of fruits and vegetables. And even though one might speculate from my blog inactivity that all that produce went to waste, I actually have been cooking at least 5 nights a week; I just haven’t had time to document it here. Oh there are pictures alright as I still took those. It’s just that now that fall is here, and we’re practically at winter’s door, it seems a little silly to post summery ideas like my watermelon jalapeno agua fresca or a poached salmon topped with fresh corn and sungold tomatoes. Guess I’ll just have to keep those in mind for next summer. In the meantime, I’d rather talk about this hearty side dish.

The last few weeks of our CSA season usually means we are up to our eyeballs in various winter squashes. This season was no exception– at least 6-8 delicata squash, one red kuri squash, one sugar pumpkin, and a ginormous butternut squash that makes me tired just looking at it. I just… I just can’t deal with that at the moment.

Delicata squash has been my favorite of the squashes that our farm grows. It’s easy to cut and clean up, not to mention the skin is thin enough that you can just roast and eat it or peeling isn’t a huge difficulty. I chopped up a couple of medium, seeded delicata squash and spread them out on a baking sheet with potatoes, parsnips and leeks from our CSA. I then added some chanterelle mushrooms that I picked up for relatively cheap at the local grocery store. A good drizzle of olive oil, a half palmful of salt and some pepper then a quick mix, and my vegetables were ready to go in the oven for roasting. I decided no other spices or herbs were necessary, just the simple flavors of the vegetables, all nutty and crisp at the edges from the oven’s heat.

But as tasty as those vegetables would be, they could use a boost both in color and in texture contrasts. Seeing a bunch of red kale in the fridge, I decided to chop up the leaves, toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne then sprinkled them on top of the vegetables to bake for the last 15-20 minutes of roasting. The kale crisped up, adding some crackly crunch to the vegetables. I loved how all these flavors melded together– subtly sweet squash, woodsy mushrooms, creamy potatoes, and slightly bitter but crispy greens. I piled them next to some pan-fried, pecan coated chicken and ended up serving such a warm and satisfying meal on the first cold, rainy night of the fall. Summer may have flown by, but cozy meals are just one reason why fall is my favorite season.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, seeded and cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small bunch of red kale
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of cayenne

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with foil, add chopped squash, potatoes, chanterelles, and parsnips. Cut the dark green part off of the leek and discard. Split the white/light green part of the leek in half lengthwise then thinly slice crosswise. Add sliced leek to a medium bowl of water and stir around. Use a strainer to remove the leeks from the water and add to the other vegetables. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and mix until all the vegetables are evenly coated. Roast for 20-25 min. While vegetables roast, remove kale leaves from stems and discard stems. Chop the leaves then toss with about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Mix together then sprinkle on top of roasting vegetables. Return to the oven and roast for another 15-20 minutes or until kale is crisp and vegetables are tender and browned at edges. Serve while warm. Makes 4-6 side servings.

CSA Count: 5

Delicata squash, russet potatoes, parsnips, leeks, red kale

Posted by: CJW | October 12, 2011

October Simple + Seasonal: Figs

Want to know how to make this?

Or this?

Then please join me over at Second City Soiree for this month’s Simple + Seasonal post: Fantastic Figs. You’ll get tips on choosing and storing figs along with John’s recipe for a fresh fig Manhattan and my recipe for fig and mascarpone stuffed french toast. Yum!

Posted by: CJW | September 14, 2011

Grilled Nectarines with Cinnamon Mascarpone

Last year, our CSA added fruit shares to their stock of available produce deliveries. Like a crack dealer, they included some cherries and these beautiful little miracles called donut peaches in a couple of our regular vegetable shares to tantalize us and get us hooked. We somehow managed to resist adding a fruit share until this summer. After seeing email notifications that shares included apples, berries, nectarines, cherries, and those delicious donut peaches, we caved and added a fruit share mid-season. As with all things that are or are not newsworthy, I posted the news to Facebook and received the following, lovely quote from my friend Thom who said he’d look forward to seeing what I do with our fruit share on this blog:

“I love working with what nature hands me as opposed to forcing nature’s hand to give me exactly what I want! It’s an adventure.”

That pretty much sums up what I’m trying to do here, so in exchange for this quote, Thom– this post is for you.

Well so far, in the two shares we’ve received, there hasn’t been a ton of variety, mostly nectarines and peaches. But this isn’t a complaint mind you– each piece of fruit has been sweet, juicy, and delicious. I welcomed downing those donut peaches even more during the days of hot (for Seattle) 80 degree weather we had last week. Also in town last week? Lots of family, mostly in-laws, here to officially meet the baby at her Chinese One Month party (held a month late.) We had so much fun spending time with family and were especially grateful for all the offers to babysit, particularly from Jane who claimed she didn’t mind since she missed her own grandchildren. Although Jane and my father-in-law offered to babysit one more time on Monday night, John and I opted to thank them and spend time with them instead by making dinner. A last-minute affair, I grabbed what looked good for entrees and sides from the store and from our fridge, then John panicked that we didn’t really have anything for dessert. That’s when I spied the CSA nectarines that had otherwise been neglected by the showier peaches. Since we were firing up the grill for steaks and sides, why not grill the nectarines too?

I split the nectarines in half and removed the pits then lightly brushed them with neutral flavored canola oil. To help them caramelize and add flavor, I sprinkled them with a mix of brown sugar and cinnamon. They went on the grill while we finished up dinner until they were all sweet, warm and gooey. It seemed a shame not to pair them with something cool and creamy, so I topped them with dollops of mascarpone cheese that was flavored with more of the cinnamon sugar combo along with a tiny splash of almond extract. As a finishing touch, I added crushed amaretti cookies, giving some nice crunch and added sweetness. Slightly sticky, sweet, and spicy, this was a light but flavorful summer dessert, perfect for the cooler but still summery weather we had the other night.

  • 1.5 lbs (or 4 medium) nectarines, split in half and pit removed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 6-7 amaretti cookies

Heat grill, setting coals to one side so that there is both direct and indirect heat. Brush flesh side of each nectarine half with oil. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl then sprinkle half of the mixture on the nectarines. Grill over direct heat for 1-2 minutes or until grill marks form then remove to cooler, indirect heat. Cover grill and cook until nectarines are cooked through and soft, about 5-10 minutes. While nectarines finish cooking, combine mascarpone cheese with remaining sugar mixture and almond extract. Place cookies in a small plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin. Plate dessert by placing two nectarine halves in a bowl then top with a 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese mixture and a sprinkle of cookie crumbles.

Serves 4

CSA Count: 1

Nectarines

Posted by: CJW | September 2, 2011

Rainbow Chard & Pea Carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara has been eluding me. In the past, things would go wrong: not enough egg to create a silky sauce; too high heat so the pancetta burned; wrong kind of cheese so that the whole dish tasted funky.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis should know that when I find something to be culinarily challenging, I’ll keep returning to it until I’m satisfied. Plus, who wouldn’t want to master spaghetti carbonara– eggs, cheese, bacon, so delicious not to mention that it’s a super fast meal to throw together when pressed for time.

The other challenge to spaghetti carbonara for me? Trying to find a way to make myself feel a little better about eating it. In this case, I had rainbow chard and shell peas from the CSA. I thought that the bright burst of green vegetables would not only make this a dish as pretty to look at as it is to eat, but that it’d be a great way to punch up the nutritional value of this meal. It turned this pasta dish into a one pot meal since the fresh vegetables mixed in meant that I could skip out on making a side salad… or at least so I convinced myself.

With three eggs, 4 slices of bacon, some garlic that sizzled in the bacon fat, and 6 oz of ground up Parmesan cheese, I achieved the right balance for a silky sauce and the chard and peas brightened up the flavors. Fast, seemingly healthy, filling, yet light– perfecto!

  • 3/4 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
  • olive oil
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 6 oz Parmesan cheese, ground in a food processor
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch rainbow chard, chopped
  • 1/2 pound shell peas
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Boil water, salt it, and cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp then remove to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. While bacon cooks, beat eggs in a large mixing bowl and grind cheese in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add cheese to the eggs along with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix until combined. Add garlic to the bacon fat and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the rainbow chard and peas and cook until chard is wilted and peas are bright green. When spaghetti is cooked to al dente, drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Quickly toss spaghetti in egg and cheese mixture, tossing to coat each noodle in the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to achieve sauce consistency. Mix in cooked vegetables. Plate and serve immediately, topping with parsley and more cheese as desired.

CSA Count: 4

Rainbow chard, shell peas, garlic, parsley

Posted by: CJW | August 24, 2011

Snow Pea & Radish Salad

I bet that this post won’t get many hits. Snow peas? Radishes? Sounds boring right?

But in this salad’s defense, I’ll say that I was surprisingly pleased. For one thing, this salad is so refreshing on a hot day: chilled in the fridge, the snap peas and radishes stay crisp and are full of cool, hydrating water.  The lemony dressing and grassy dill are bright in flavors, pairing nicely with tangy, creamy blue cheese.

Then there are the colors: vibrant magenta and purple from the Easter egg radishes pop against that deep jade green of the snow peas. It’s a feast for the eyes, making this salad look and taste more exciting than what you’d expect from just hearing the ingredients. During these hot, late summer days, try a scoop of this salad next to food fresh off your grill. You’ll be pleasantly surprised too.

Note: Snow peas have to be trimmed of the tough fiber that holds the pod together, unless you want to see your fellow diners spitting out chunks of the pod. Simply twist the flowering end of the pod and peel down. If there’s no flower end, peel along the side where you can see the peas are attached inside the pod.

  • 3/4 lb snow peas, ends trimmed and fiber removed
  • 2 large Easter egg radishes, ends trimmed and sliced into match sticks
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh chopped chives and dill
  • blue cheese crumbles to taste

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and honey. Add in the snow peas and radish match sticks and toss to coat. Mix in chives and dill then plate. Add blue cheese crumbles to taste.

CSA Count: 4

Snow peas, Easter egg radishes, chives, dill

Posted by: CJW | August 19, 2011

Blueberry Lavender Pie

If there’s one flavor trend that I don’t get, it’s lavender. The polite way would be to say that it tastes like soap; however, I prefer saying that it tastes like old lady. Does that make you gag? Well, that’s what the taste of lavender normally does to me.

Which is why whenever our CSA includes a bunch of lavender in our share box, I groan. If there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s lavender. Aside from the fact that I’m not a fan of the flavor, we’ve got metric buttloads of it growing around our house. (An aside, should any neighbors be reading this: you know who you are, the one who snips our tulips that border the sidewalk. Please leave the tulips alone, but feel free to harvest as much lavender as you like.) We usually end up putting it in a vase with flowers or drying them out. In fact, I ended up making a mess recently while trying to empty out a vase to make room for some lovely CSA flowers since I had to throw out some dried lavender. Out of 6 vases in our house, 4 of them were filled with dried lavender at one point.

But my feelings about lavender changed recently, thanks to my sister-in-law who gave us a gift of blueberry lavender jam when my brother and his family visited us the weekend after our baby was born. Although sleep-deprived, John and I had a quiet breakfast of eggs and biscuits on which we cautiously dabbled the jam. It was so delicious, what with the lavender being subtle, a light floral complement to the sweet berries and a heady, spicy flavor from cinnamon.

So when lavender arrived in the CSA share box later that week, I wasn’t as horrified as I normally would be. I got excited, thinking about making a blueberry pie, only this time, instead of plainly (but lovely) flavored with lemon zest and almond extract, I’d try adding lavender and some spicier, heavier, and fruitier flavors: cinnamon, cardamom, and balsamic vinegar. Let me tell you, this was no sleep deprivation induced mistake but a beautiful concept! The pie was nicely balanced between sweet and tart, and in fact was declared by John to be my best blueberry pie ever. No more dried bunches of lavender to make messes around our house now! From now on, when the life gives me lavender, I’m making pie.

  • 1 recipe of your favorite double pie crust (or do store-bought, if you wish.)
  • 5 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, finely diced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray your 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray, then roll out a little more than half of your pie crust. Trim excess and flute the crust if you wish. Place in fridge while you mix together filling. Add blueberries to a large bowl. Combine the rest of the ingredients except butter and vinegar in a small bowl then mix into blueberries. Add the vinegar and mix again, then let blueberries sit for 15 minutes. Pour filling into pie crust then top with remaining crust, making a lattice if you wish. Lightly cover crust with a piece of foil or pie shield then bake on a rack placed in the bottom third of your oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F, remove foil or pie shield, and slide a baking sheet under your pie to collect any juices. Bake for another 30-45 minutes or until top crust is golden. Cool on a wire rack then serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

CSA Count: 1

Lavender

Want to learn how to make these beautiful and tasty snacks to showcase the best in seasonal eating at your next summer get together? Then please join me over at Second City Soiree for my Simple + Seasonal post for the month of August. You’ll learn all about how to select, prepare, and store beets along with this easy, yet impressive recipe for Beet & Herbed Chevre Bruschetta.

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