Category Archives: carrots

Carrot and arugula risotto with roasted walnuts

Forgive the picture, but when I cook at night, the photos just don’t turn out as well as I’d like. If we were going to be here for more than a year, I’d build myself a light box or something. But for now? I’ll just tell you that this dish is worth trying, and prettier than you might think.

It’s a springtime risotto, and a weeknight take on a dish we had in NYC during restaurant week at the DB Bistro.  That version was also a risotto, and also used a sort of arugula pesto (as far as I could tell) to make the dish a vibrant green color.  Its sweetness was from butternut squash, which was appropriate for January but not quite right somehow for the start of spring.  So I improvised: I sweetened some chicken broth with a bunch of carrots and used that as the base for the dish.

This isn’t a recipe so much as a formula. I find risotto pretty easy for a weeknight meal, especially when we’re short on ingredients.  Yes, there is stirring involved, but not as much as you think … Just don’t turn up the heat too much.

** I’m on vacation at the moment, and wrote this post before I left.  Be back at the end of May with more about my trip! **

Recipe after the jump.

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Filed under carrots, main, rice, vegetarian-friendly

More reasons to start a garden

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Check out the gorgeous beans, tomatoes, and squash. Oh, the squash … We made some tonight, and it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Not grainy, like you get sometimes with acorn or kabocha squash that’s been sitting in your grocery store for something like an eternity, but smooth and supple, with a sweetness that makes dessert entirely unnecessary. Oh, and the flowering thai basil just makes me excited. But yah, that’s enough fawning over produce for one night.  I’ve got places to be. Tomorrow morning, in fact. I’m off to California, to visit a friend, say hello to some family, and go to a conference. And I have serious food plans. A tasting menu at Melisse in LA, lunch at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, and more excursions to the Cheese Board in Berkeley, because why wouldn’t I go if the conference is in Oakland? I want more bread …. Oh, and sourdough is calling my name.

squash warts

squash warts

But that’s tomorrow. For now, I want to leave you with one bizarre and sort of cool observation: those funny bumps you see sometimes on squash? That’s where it rests on the ground. It makes its own pillow!  And two, you can make an awesome meal from a random assortment of veggies, a few spices, tortillas, and cheese.  If the veggies are good, you really don’t even need the cheese.

Funky delicious potato

Funky delicious potato

So, I want to give you some ideas for an easy vegetarian meal. This isn’t really a recipe — just the best easy meal you could have on a Friday night.  You can use any veggies that take your fancy, as long as they’ll roast well.

My meal

My meal

We started with the garden produce we had on hand — a squash, bush beans, and a few peppers. We added in one very funky looking (but delicious) farmer’s market potato, and some cauliflower, button mushrooms, a bit of garlic (unpeeled), and rainbow carrots from the store.  We cut the squash into quarters, after scooping out the seeds, cut all the remaining veggies into similarly sized chunks, and pre-heated the oven to 425 degrees F.  After tossing everything except the potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of freshly ground coriander seed, and a smaller portion of ground cumin (maybe < 1 t.), we placed everything in baking tins and threw it in the oven. For the potatoes, we tossed them in salt, pepper, olive oil, and spanish paprika. When everything was fork tender (maybe 1 hour later — this is a 1 dish go-about-your-business sort of dinner), we heated up a bit of cheddar cheese on some store-bought tortillas (habanero lime, from Trader Joe’s), and made our own fajitas.

The boys dinner

The boy's dinner

We both had the squash on the side, because it was easier. I didn’t feel like peeling it. But you could cut it up and roast it, too, or fork bits of it into your tortilla. You could use butternut squash, or acorn squash as a substitute, and it’d work perfectly.

This was a great first vegetarian night. We both got exactly what we wanted in a meal, no meat required. Really, even the cheese wasn’t that necessary — the veggies were tasty enough.  And I am definitely going to be excited about setting up a garden again next spring. Bring on the seed catalogs!

I’m not done yet …

James suggested I tell you what we grew this year, so here’s a list, with a few comments:

  • Pink brandywines – awesome heirloom tomatoes, and much cheaper to grow than to buy. They’re a bit finicky if you live in a rainy environment, but how indulgent is brandywine tomato sauce? You will be making a lot of it from the tomatoes bugs started tasting first.
  • Sungold tomatoes – these are orange cherry tomatoes. They’re a hybrid, a heavy producer, and are DELICIOUS.  Slow roast them and savor them in everything.
  • Yellow pear tomatoes – these are cute but not as tasty as sungolds, and definitely not as disease resistant. We won’t be growing these again next year.
  • Yellow and purple bush beans, haricots verts. The yellow and purple bush beans are my favorite. They seem to achieve a nicer texture when cooked, and have a nice flavor. The haricots verts really didn’t produce much at all.
  • Swiss chard – Awesome. They’re gorgeous, and they keep throwing up stalks when you cut some off for dinner. They weren’t terribly prolific in our garden, but we had enough to feed us with greens all summer.
  • Sweet nantes carrots – Also awesome. These are small, and really need to be grown in potting soil, because CT has rocks everywhere. They’re sweet and flavorful, and have a cute wrinkly witch finger look about them.
  • Arugula – Yum, but eat it before it gets warm and starts flowering. It gets bitter once it gets leggy.
  • Thai and genovese basil. Both varieties did really well as companion plants for the tomatoes, and gave us some tasty meals. The thai basil is gorgeous — it has lovely purple flowers, and a slightly exotic taste (gee, you think?). It’s also hardier than the typical genovese, but is a bit too strong for pesto.
  • A fingerling potato from the Union Square market – Complete failure. It seemed like it was going to work, but it died off, and then there was nothing left in the soil!
  • Sage, marjoram, oregano, cilantro, rosemary. All good herbs to have. We kept these in pots, since they can be brought inside when it starts to get cold.
  • Pea shoots. You can eat these, and they’re easy. They also like cold weather. They’re so cute — they have curly tendrils!
  • Onions, shallots. These hated our rocky soil. I did get the onions to grow a bit, and pickled them when they were still pretty small. Yum.
  • Kale – these are just tiny shoots right now, because we just planted them. They look happy, and are a cold weather crop, so I can’t wait to see how they do.
  • Peppers — I bought a 5 variety mix, and I think we had three different types pop up. I have no idea what kind — some kind of bell pepper, some longer, low-heat pepper, and I think some jalapeños. Yum.

Ok, that’s all I can remember so far. My flight leaves early, so I’m off to sleep. I’ll be back before Halloween, with an awesome lime cookie recipe, and some reports on Zuni Cafe and Melisse. See you then!

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Filed under carrots, cheese, gardening, garlic, local, main, potatoes, roasted vegetables, San Francisco, squash, stories, travel, vegetarian

Such sweet things

Our first strawberry

Our garden’s reveling in the summer sun, throwing up signs of contentment in little shoots and buds. Sprouts of questionable heritage yielded spindly little seedlings, which eventually transformed into our little patch of controlled chaos in the backyard. Along with it, creatures emerged — little slugs and aphids, butterflies and ladybugs. Signs that soon (well, now, actually), we’d be competing for the very produce we made possible.

Tomatoes!

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, which makes the transition to the “wilderness” of the national parks we just visited back to civilization an interesting one. It’s a comfortable book, meandering through the seasons — and his garden, in each — with a thoughtful ease. And while it’s preachy at times, I think his point about America’s view of nature is dead on. Yes, we invented the concept of national preservation areas, where wilderness could be preserved for all to see. And yes, as the ranger in Prairie Creek State Park pointed out, we have cleared virtually every single old growth forest outside of those preservation areas since we decided to settle here. Pollan’s explanation of this is that we have an “all or nothing” view of nature, and how we manage it;

Once a landscape is no longer ‘virgin’ it is typically written off as fallen, lost to nature, irredeemable. We hand it over to the jurisdiction of that other sacrosanct American ethic: laissez-faire economics.

Yes — big developers. Because who wouldn’t want more condos? It’s already ruined, right? This is despite the fact that, as Pollan points out, man has had a profound effect on nature as we see it. We’re part of it, and we influence it, in our introduction of foreign species, our management policies, and our understanding of our role in its history. Most of the time, we’ve had a more profound effect than we know. His point? We have, in essence, become “gardeners” of our landscape, responsible for its care and general health.

We’ve done a good job, in some cases (the State and National Park systems, an example of which is shown above, are a case in point). But in a lot of instances, I think this all-or-nothing concept (which seems to pervade our thinking, really — politically, environmentally, economically, and socially) is dangerous. It gives us license to write off our responsibility, to ignore our role in the planet’s future. Yes, it’s easier to manage; the lines are black and white, easily placed into the law books for all to see. But just as industrial ag is easier on a large scale, it’s not necessarily better.

I guess that’s why we started this garden. And why I’ll keep it up. I didn’t think I’d like it… I thought it’d be just another chore. I mean, this is me — I barely water the house plants; I used to kill them before James came along and started watching over them all. But I find myself going out to visit it every morning, to keep tabs on the soil condition, the new buds, and the creatures I find myself learning more about, in order to defend our plants’ tender leaves. It’s all the more interesting when you can’t just spray a few chemicals about to take care of whatever your problems are. So far, everything is doing pretty well. We’ve had to share our strawberries with the birds, and had some hungry leaf miners eat through the first leaves of chard. Other than that? We have strong, healthy tomato plants, and some amazing squash and cucumber coming along. Our carrots seem happy, and the potato we planted from the Union Square greenmarket is finally pushing a few buds up out of the soil. And we have more lettuce than we can eat — a few plants are going to seed, and I’m just going to let them, just to see what happens. Oh — and I can’t wait for the tomatoes.

So, with that, I’ll leave you with a recipe. Well — this isn’t really a recipe. I just threw a few veggies, some pasta, and a sauce together and called it lunch. But it’s really tasty (with sort of a satay flavor), and makes use of the garlic scapes that seem to be the only new and interesting thing at the Wooster Square farmer’s market at the moment. It’ll be perfect with our yellow pears, carrots, and spring onions later in the season. I only hope I’m still in New Haven when things start to get really exciting.

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Filed under books, carrots, environment, gardening, garlic scapes, ginger, main, pasta, side, vegan, vegetarian

Camping up the coast

Big Sur

Highway 1 unwinds slowly, precariously, across the state I once called home, inviting only the most daring (or deranged) into the rocky waters of its Northern shores. It’s been decades since I’ve been along this coast, and the first time I’m the one behind the wheel, and oh, it’s so much scarier when you’re the one in charge of navigating its mountainous terrain. But it was good to be home.

Yes, I climbed half dome, cables and all.

I had forgotten how raw the coast of Northern California looks in comparison to Connecticut’s gentle shores. Traversing the whole state is like going through a series of different worlds, as elevation, natural resources, latitude, and human interference transforms the land completely within the span of a few miles. If you’ve never seen it, book a ticket and go. Rent a car and take Highway 1, as long as you’re South of San Francisco. Above SF, you’re in for a bout of car sickness that never ends, as the roads get ever more precarious as you approach its intersection with 101. At the very least, plan to camp along the route; making it to Prairie Creek State Park near Orick from Fresno via SFO in one day was utter madness. Somewhere in there, go inland and check out Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Yosemite (and the hike / climb up Half Dome) was probably the highlight of my trip, though the redwoods in Prairie Creek State Park managed to make us laugh.

Funny

But this is a food blog. I’m not going to go on and on about the trails we took and the places we went. I’ll spare you the experience of seeing an RV, complete with satellite dish, set up in the midst of one of the most gorgeous campgrounds I’ve had the privilege of staying in. I’ll even skip our encounter with the mountain lion (on the trail! Here!) Instead, I’ll tell you how I managed to keep us fed without resorting to bags of chips and MREs, and I’ll try to give you some pointers (so you can learn from my mistakes).

campfire

Before we get started, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You will miss your oven. Starting a fire without a pilot light or even lighter fluid is not my forte — enough so that getting the fire going gradually became James’s job. We had matches, wood, and whatever we could find around our campsite for tinder: leaves, pine needles, chocolate bar wrappers, etc. So … good luck. And take a few cans of sterno along in case of emergencies (or for morning coffee, which could be considered an emergency depending on your morning disposition).
  2. Don’t plan anything too complicated. Roasted vegetables from roadside farm stands are awesome, and we ate a lot of them. Barring that, roasted vegetables of any kind are pretty damn good. Pair them with a high protein grain (quinoa) or any other protein / carb combination I describe below.
  3. You don’t need a cooler for anything I suggest here. Cheese and butter are fine without refrigeration for a couple of days, and I stuck to mostly vegetarian meals simply out of necessity. This new one checked bag policy is a bitch, but hey, the whole point of camping is to make do with what you have, right? (Ok, tell that to the souped up RV in the campsite next to you. Especially when they turn on their @#$%@#$ generator at 11 pm).
  4. A cast iron pan is a very good thing to bring along. My friend P, who joined us for the last leg of the trip, brought hers along for the trip, and it made dinner so much easier. That said, we did fine with foil and copious amounts of vegetable oil as well.
  5. You don’t need a full pantry. A few must haves for me were salt, flour, powdered milk, yeast, oil, baking soda, honey / agave nectar, coffee (and a coffee cone), s’mores ingredients, cheap wine or red wine vinegar (for flavoring vegetables as they roast), onions, potatoes, garlic — lots and lots of garlic, lemons, quinoa, trail mix, powdered chicken broth, and masa. Everything else was based on what looked best at wherever we happened to shop. Fresh fruit and veg, a bit of cheese, and a few cans of sardines (for protein! If you’re repulsed, pick up some canned beans instead) rounded out the campground pantry. Oh, and you don’t need all of this. We were gone for 2 weeks, so pick and choose as you like.
  6. Bring measuring spoons, or cook by proportions. Baking soda is the only thing to really worry about, but your food will still taste good if your teaspoon isn’t exactly a teaspoon.
  7. Don’t forget the tongs. Seriously. I did, and my fingers regretted it.

Roasting

Ok, so here are the “recipes” and ideas for meals. I use quotes because I didn’t really measure anything on this trip. I also don’t have pictures of everything, just because it was usually late by the time dinner finished, and my camera is afraid of the dark. Oh, and the challah recipe is finally here, as promised. Scroll to the bottom if that’s all you’re interested in. Finally, I’ll have some recommendations for great places to eat (on a budget) San Francisco in my next post.

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, breakfast, camping, carrots, cheese, corn tortillas, lemon, main, milk, potatoes, quick bread, roasted vegetables, soup, stew, stories, vegetarian, wine

Irish eyes are smiling

Stew and Damper

That song is perhaps the cheesiest reminder that today is St. Patrick’s Day.  Flogging Molly or the Pogues are more my style, as my Pandora station might reveal.  But according to my red hair, freckles, and relatively large percentage of Irish blood, I suppose I should be in a celebratory mood, with the requisite tolerance for funny old songs and fake Irish brogues. With enough Guinness, anything’s possible, right?
Carrots and rosemary

Except it’s a Monday, I really don’t own any green clothing that I can recall, and James doesn’t drink beer. Besides, I was kind of in the mood for a relaxing evening at home, with a bit of work and some new cookbooks to peruse. So I did what I always do in those situations: I threw this and that in a pot, brought it to a simmer, and let the delicious smells waft throughout the house.

Rosemary

This meal ended up having an Australian twist, in the end. See, Irish, British, and Australian pub food is really not so different (as you might imagine). You throw some tough meat, beer, a few basic vegetables, some homemade stock in a pot. Add a little Vegemite, disappear to the corner pub for an hour or two, and voila — you have your Australian equivalent of Irish Guinness stew.  You make a basic, scone-like quick bread of flour, baking powder, water, milk, butter, and salt, and you have damper, which is serious bush tucker, designed to be made with basic essentials and thrust into an open fire beneath the startling expanse of the Milky Way.

Damper

It’s all comfort food, really. Yes, you can turn it into something gorgeous and inviting; the smell alone will draw guests to your door in two seconds flat. But it’s basic, and somehow, a part of both of our collective memories, as different as they are. Simmering stew and fresh baked bread, with only slight variations here or there. It’s the kind of meal that makes us quiet, in mutual approval, and brings us both a little sense of home.

st patrick's day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, from the lab leprechaun!

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Filed under Australia, baking, beef, carrots, celery, main, milk, potatoes, quick bread, rosemary, soup, stew