Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Bundt Cake

I'll be heading to the Little Italy farmer's market tomorrow for Suzie's Farm pumpkins so I can make this cake for a Halloween party...

4 eggs, beaten
2 cups rapadura sugar
¾ cup oil

2½ cups cooked, pureed pumpkin
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground clove
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup red walnuts from Terra Bella Farms, chopped (for garnish)

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder spices and salt together; set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar together; mix in oil and pumpkin, then blend in flour mixture just until combined. Bake in well greased, well floured bundt pan at 350° for an hour (in my convection oven, I bake at 335 for 50 minutes). Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack.


Maple Neufchatel Glaze
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons rapadura sugar
zest of half of an orange
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
4 ounces neufchatel cheese, at room temp
a pinch of sea salt

Mix syrup, sugar, milk, zest, and vanilla until sugar dissolves. Combine and beat all ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake and garnish with walnuts

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DIY Vegetable Stock

Making your own vegetable stock is pretty easy, it really doesn't take too long, and makes a hugh difference in the quality of your soup. If you're planning ahead or if you hate to throw anything away until its fully used (even before it hits the compost!), hang on to your clean vegetable scraps (tops, peels, stems, seeds, ugly or tough parts) whenever you're cooking. You can freeze the scraps until you're ready to make stock. If you're about to make soup, prep all your veggies first, save your scraps and use them to make your stock.

This method works best if your making soup with lots of scraps (corn cobs or squash skins & seeds) or if you've squirreled away veggie scraps in your freezer. If your scraps are meager, add an onion, a few carrots, a few celery ribs and a few crushed cloves of garlic for a very basic stock. Rough chop veggies before adding them to the pot.

I start with a little olive oil in the pot (on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally) and caramelize the veggie scraps before adding water for a rich vegetable stock. Once you've got a nice fond (but do not burn!) in the pot, add your herbs (such as a bay leaf, a few springs of fresh parsley and thyme, a few fresh sage leafs) and give a stir while it cooks a couple minutes. Then add enough water to cover your veggies (if you've saved bean broth from cooking beans from scratch or a parmesan cheese rind, you can add that now, too), a bit of sea salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the veggies and your stock can go straight into the soup (or freeze it for later).

What if the stock is weak?
The easiest fix is to boil the stock down to concentrate the flavors. Or you can add "cheater" ingredients to richen the flavor: veggie bouillon cubes or powder (this is the cheater ingredient I keep on hand), sprinkle in a bit of nutritional yeast, or liquid amino acids.

What doesn't go in the stock? 
Never use rotting vegetables; send those straight to the compost bin (the quality of your food can only be as good as the ingredients that go into it). It is also a good idea to avoid using veggies that get stinky when overcooked (like broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, etc). I also avoid onion and garlic skins and pepper because I think they make the stock bitter when boiled for a long time. Don't use strong tasting (or strong colored) veggies or herbs (fennel, beets, basil, rosemary...) in the stock unless they are also used in the soup.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Winter Squash Soup

Folks love this simple soup and always ask me for the recipe. I made it Art of Agriculture event at Wild Willow Farm last year and I'll be making again at the Farm for a fundraiser for Seeds @ City Urban Farm.

My very favorite squash is butternut and I also love pumpkin (so many varieties!), kabocha, honeybear acorn, delicata and tahitian, but use your favorite winter squash or a mix...

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
2 cups onion, coarsely chopped
5 cups butternut or your favorite winter squash, peeled, seeded & chopped (keep the skin, seeds and scrapings for your stock)
5-6 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
2 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Sauté the onion and squash in oil in a large pot on high heat stirring frequently until lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add herbs and broth, bring to a boil, and simmer covered until the squash is soft, about 20 minutes. Puree and season to taste.

Makes about 8 cups

Garnish with sage puree, fried sage leaves, chopped parsley, diced and cooked root vegetables or roasted veggies, sprouts or micro greens, and/or buttered croutons.

Variation
Try roasting the squash before cooking the soup.

Sage Puree
10 sage leaves, blanched
¼ cups extra virgin olive oil

In a blender or with an immersion blender, blend sage and olive oil until very smooth.

Buttered Croutons
Melt a tablespoon (or so) of butter in a skillet over medium heat, toss in cubed bread (just enough to make a single layer in the skillet), salt and pepper to taste and sauté until golden brown.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Tomatillo Salsa

Back in my college days, I worked in Fruitvale and there was this great Mexican restaurant we'd sometimes eat lunch at and they had a wonderful, smooth, avocado-tomatillo salsa. After picking up Farmers Market ingredients from Schaner Farm and Suzie's Farm, here's my attempt at recreating it:

4 large tomatillos, husk removed, rinsed well, quartered
1 medium avocado (or half of a Reed - my favorite variety)
1 jalepeño
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon lime juice or to taste
sea salt to taste
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped fine, leaves & stems

In a food processor, buzz all ingredients except cilantro until very smooth. Stir in cilantro.

Very simple. I served this at a party recently and it went over big!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Iced Teas & Herbal Tisanes

Technically, if it's herbal it's not called tea, it's called tisane.  But nobody really uses that word so I just call it herbal iced tea even if I'm just steep herbs and no actual tea is involved.  Whatever you call it, herbs are grown locally and tea isn't so I often steep herbs, on their own or with fruit and sometimes tea, to make lovely, refreshing drinks.

Here's some general guidelines:

  • I use water just below a boil to steep tea/herbs/fruit
  • I use about 2-3 bunches of fresh herbs or 1-2 ounces of dried herbs/tea per gallon of water.
  • I steep herbs or fruit generally for about 20 minutes, tasting along the way for strength.
  • I steep tea any where from 3-12 minutes, depending on the tea.  I like strong tea but I want to pull the leaves out before it gets bitter. If I'm using the same tea leaves multiple times the 1st steep is shorter and I'll add a couple minutes to each progressive steep (e.g. 3 minutes the 1st steep, 5 minutes the 2nd steep)
  • I only use the highest quality tea and herbs I can find.  Tea can get super expensive but a little goes a long way.

I recently made a lavender-mint-lemon verbena tisane for an event at Suzie's Farm (using all ingredients grown at Suzie's, of course), which was also very popular when I made it for the farmers markets. Steep the leaves only on the verbena, strip them from the stems.  I think the stems are bitter.  But the lavender flower and leaves give good flavor, and most other fresh herbs you can steep the whole bunch. Here's a few more I love:

  • fresh chocolate mint
  • white peony tea & dried orange peel
  • oolong & lemongrass
  • black tea with dried orange peel, fresh ginger & honey
  • dried hibiscus flower (think jamaica), plain or with citrus
  • virgin "sangria": hibiscus, rosehips, raspberry leaf with fresh fruit & agave.

Pour over ice and add sweetener as desired.  I also love to cut lemonade with iced tea/tisane.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Melon Agua Fresca at Suzie's Farm

With Suzie's providing the ingredients, it was very easy to make wonderful agua frescas for their Pumpkin Palooza this year.  And boy did they go fast! Here's how I made them:

For about a 1/2 gallon of agua fresca:
about 8 cups watermelon chunks (or any melon your like), seeded and rinds removed
large handful of fresh mint leaves or lemon basil leaves (optional, and use whatever herbs strike your fancy)
a tablespoon of fresh squeezed citrus juice (lime, lemon or whatever you like)

Put all your ingredients in a blender and add water to cover at least half the melon (add more water as desired) and blend well.  Strain liquid with a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth (I use a rubber spatula to force as much liquid as possible through the strainer).  Pour over ice and enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ian's Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies + DIY Vanilla

We've monkeyed with many cookie recipes over the years and Ian's got this one absolutely perfected...

2/3 cup evaporated cane sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes (must be cold!)
1 egg (love those Schaner Farm eggs!)
1&1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I make my own)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup & 2 tablespoons all purpose unbleached wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a heaping cup of chocolate chips (fair trade of course)
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (Terra Bella Farm has lovely ones)

Cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg, vanilla and salt and mix well.  Add the flour and soda and mix until just combined. Fold in the chips and nuts. Drop rounded spoonfuls of dough on a greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen.

Variations
Chocolate chocolate chip cookies - reduce flour to 1 cup and add 1/4 of fair trade cocoa powder

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
This is very, very simple:  after you use vanilla beans, save the pods!  They can be wiped clean or gently rinsed (if you've boiled them in cream, for example) and dried.  Put them in a dark glass jar (with a tight fitting lid) or bottle with 1/2 cup of rum, brandy or vodka (Ballast Point makes rum and vodka locally).  Wait a couple months before using. Keep adding vanilla pods whenever you use them!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Creamy Salad Dressings

I usually prefer vinaigrettes but sometimes a creamy dressing is the perfect compliment.
A dollop of creme fraiche with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt is simple and beautiful on butter lettuce garnished with fresh chives.  Here's a couple more favorites...

Ranch Dressing
Nothing like the bottled stuff (which I now find inedible), freshly made ranch dressing is wonderful, and for me, a comfort food full of nostalgia.  We love it on green salads with lots of vegetables (we got the perfect haul today from Suzie's & JR's Farms: lettuce, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, armenian cuc, broccoli and purple carrots), on potatoes, or as a dip for crudites, sweet potato fries, and even pizza crust.  This recipe is also a good example of how recipes can easily be adapted to what you have on hand. I vastly prefer to use fresh ingredients, but dried spices can work in a pinch.

2 - 4 cloves garlic (you could sub granulated or powdered garlic)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sour cream, crema, or crème fraiche (you could even use plain yogurt or mayo)
¼ cup (or more) milk (or buttermilk, half & half, nonfat…)
¼ cup minced fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, chives maybe some thyme and dill or sub in dried herbs)
1 green onion, minced (or shallot, red onion or even onion powder or dried onion…)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or vinegar - apple cider, white wine, sherry…)
Freshly ground black pepper

Mash the garlic and salt to a paste with the side of a chef's knife. In a bowl, whisk it together the rest of the ingredients (start with ¼ milk). If it’s too thick, thin with milk to desired consistantcy. If you use dried herbs/garlic/onion, let it sit for a hour or 2 before using). 

Cotija Cilantro Dressing
This one's perfect for any kind of mexican or "taco" salad.  Try it on romaine with diced heirloom tomatoes or salsa fresca, black/pinto/kidney beans and broken tortilla chips.
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon pepitas, toasted
1/4 bunch (or a handful) fresh cilantro
3/4 oz cotija cheese

Blend with immersion blender until smooth.