Monday, October 28, 2013


Our pumpkins!

We had a bit of a pumpkin carving bonanza at our house this past weekend. My hubby even busted out the saw and I got into it with the drill. It was fun!

What to do with all those seeds? Well, I found this technique at Oh She Glows, which recommends boiling the seeds first for extra crispness.

I gave it a try, with my own mix of seasonings, and wow -- they were delicious! I say were because they are already gone 24 hours later. Here's what I did:

Take the seeds from your your pumpkins, pull off the pumpkin pulp as best you can. Rinse well in a colander. Add rinsed seeds to a pot of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and pat the seeds dry then spread on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment. Season to your liking. I used a drizzle of olive oil, generous sprinkle of coarse salt, about a tablespoon each of cane sugar and cinnamon, a pinch of smoked paprika, and a tiny pinch of cayenne. Then bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. After 15 minutes, take a couple out and taste them. They should be nice and crisp but not burned.

Let those puppies cool and then they are ready for snacking. I think these will become a halloween tradition for us. Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Winter Pomegranate Panzanella

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Yesterday, when a beautiful bunch of purslane fell out of the sky and into my market bag, I took it as a sign from the cooking gods that a winter panzanella salad must be created. OK, it didn't really fall out of the sky, it was happily part of our CSA share. And, in fact, I started thinking about how I could “winterize” the Peach, Avocado Panzanella while in the shower the other morning. But to me, it felt like the universe was begging me to make a winter version of that salad -- or maybe just a couple of persistent friends, but you get the idea.

I started thinking about what winter produce would contribute the fresh, creamy, tart, sweet and spicy flavors that I loved in the summer salad. 

I picked a great bread from Artisan Bakers, the Sour Country Walnut which I thought would add nice texture, and another complementary flavor. I used half of the loaf for the salad, and then planned to save the other half for Sunday morning french toast. But, I made a little teensie weensie mistake -- while the bread was toasting, I started shopping for shoes on Zappos. The bread got a bit too toasty, not black, but beyond the point I like, so I ended up using the other half to make the toasted bread cubes, again. So don't be like me, when you've got something under the broiler, keep an eye on it. Sorry fam, no french toast this Sunday. I did find these cute boots though!

Along with the purslane, Quarter Acre Farm gave us some little Baby Blue Hubbard squash. I have never had Blue Hubbard squash before, so I was pretty excited to give it a try. And, if you don't have Blue Hubbard, cubes of pie pumpkin squash, butternut squash, or Red Kuri squash would be good substitutes. 

Baby Blue Hubbard
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While reading about Blue Hubbards, I came across this great tip at The Big Apple Farm's website: to open hard skinned winter squash, like a butternut, wrap the squash in a bag and go drop it on the ground. Cool, huh? So simple, and kind of fun. 

After you've cracked those suckers open, you parbake them at 300° for 15-25 minutes. The flesh will still be firm, but allow it to cool for a few minutes and then peel. So much easier. I actually haven't cooked much with hard winter squash in the past, since I always feel like I need an axe to open the darn things. Learning this technique has been a bit of a revelation for me.

First Pomegranate.
New Pomegranate, red and juicy.
As I was finishing the prep for this dish, I cut open the pomegranate. See the photo on the left? Not so hot, right? So I tasted a few seeds. It wasn't rotten, it didn't taste terrible, but it also didn't taste like a pomegranate should. I didn't go any further with that particular pom. Yes, I went out to get a new pomegranate at the store. See the photo on the right? Much better! This is exactly what I was talking about in my last post: a little quality control at each step goes a long way to making a dish extra delicious.
The salad just before mixing.

I think pears would be fabulous in this recipe instead of apples. Watercress would also be a great purslane stand-in. Panzanellas are very satisfying, can change with the seasons, and with your fancies.

Incidentally, while we were trying the dish out at dinner, a friend asked me "How do you get the seeds out of a pomegranate?" Turns out if you Google "removing seeds from a pomegranate," you will probably find about 6 different methods. Some involve cutting a cone out of the flower end, scoring along the "ridges." Some involve submerging in a bowl of water and then straining the pith off the top.

These all seem a bit complicated to me, so I am a fan of the "whack with a spoon method": Gently roll the pomegranate on your counter top to loosen the seeds. Score the pomegranate around the hemisphere, so its flower end is left intact. Break the two halves apart. Hold the fruit over a large bowl and whack the sides with a large spoon, and the seeds will pop out. 

I will say that, no matter which method I go with, my kitchen counter always ends up looking like a crime scene, so an apron recommended. It's OK though, it is worth it, the pomegranate seeds add a lot to this salad, and they are crazy good for you.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Do Not Read Until July (Or January ...)

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It started with this salad. Back in July, that’s when I started thinking about writing a food blog. As a result, there is one thing you must have for this salad: summertime! 

My friends at Sonoma Harvest gave me a bottle of their Meyer Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oilwhich is simply delicious all by itself. But, I knew that I also wanted to try this oil in a vinaigrette.  Plus, as you will see, virtually every thing I cook involves olive oil . . . and salt & pepper.  

Most of my cooking the past four months has consisted mainly of olive oil, salt & pepper and some of the bounty of  Quarter Acre Farm. We belong to the Quarter Acre Farm CSA and back in July Andrea included purslane, lemon cucumbers, chives, and lemon basil in our share. You may have seen purslane growing in your yard; I know I have. (Purslane is a weed so you know it has got to be good for you, right?) In fact, it actually has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. Here is what Andrea had to say about purslane.
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“I love purslane because it is a nutritional power house, some may even call it a super food. It contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant. Purslane is also high in vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, and vitamin B-6." 
"Purslane is somewhat crunchy and has a slight lemony taste, some people liken it to watercress or spinach. The stems, leaves, and flower buds of purslane are all edible. It may be used fresh, stir-fried, or cooked as spinach is (because of its high water content purslane cooks down quite a bit).”
This recipe is already vegetarian and vegan. If you'd like to make it gluten-free, I think it would be delicious to add more purslane, or spinach, and just leave the bread out. You also won't need the full amount of vinaigrette, so drizzle a small amount over until it is dressed to your liking.

A few notes about technique, and mind you, I am very much a home cook. My dad and my brother are professional chefs (more on that later). I don't have to think about food costs, and ordering for the week, and mass appeal, and the execution of a dish at 7:30 pm on a Saturday night.  I absorbed a lot of little techniques over the years (like how to properly dice an onion) from growing up above my folks' restaurant, and from just watching my Dad cook. I have some good knife skills (thanks Dad) but no, my avocado in this salad was not a perfect large dice. And by the way, avocados that are just ripe are best here -- if they are really soft, go ahead and save them for guacamole, or a smoothie.

But there is one thing I have in common with professional chefs: I taste, taste, and then taste some more. I taste each peach when I cut it. If the peach is mealy or not flavorful, I don't use it. I taste the bread after it is toasted to make sure it is crisp but not hard. I taste the vinaigrette and then taste the whole thing when its tossed together -- usually I add a bit more salt & pepper. If the salad seems a bit too dry I add a bit more orange juice. The thing is, if the individual ingredients you put into your recipe don't taste good, then, well, the whole darn thing isn't going to taste good.

So fresh tasty ingredients + olive oil + salt & pepper + lots of tasting along the way = delicious.

(And fear not Northern Hemisphere friends, I will re-post in July.)