August 31, 2011

Quinoa Chickpea and Summer Vegetable Salad


I'm sitting in the kitchen as I write this. It's raining a little bit outside and I have the kitchen window closed, maybe for the first time this month. When I got home from working on the farm, I took a shower and it felt so good to warm up in the hot water, a simple pleasure and a great luxury. More zucchini baked goods are in the oven and I still have over-large squash left in the refrigerator drawer.

There are apples near the other kitchen window, which is open, and they smell like everything good about fall. They are from my co-worker's neighbor's tree, but I haven't touched them since she gave them to me a week ago. I've been wanting to take in more summer fruit before I start on apples. There is a round, dark green watermelon from the farm on the counter, also untouched. With todays' weather apples would be the choice, but I know there are still more watermelon days to come.


Despite my ramble, I came here to share a salad with you. Fall may be hinted at here and there, but I assure you there are still fresh, summer salads in your future. This one is just right for the time when it is too hot or you are too tired to make much of dinner. You can easily throw it together, but the bright red tomatoes and shiny green cucumbers are dressed up by the quinoa clinging like jewels to everything in the bowl.

This salad originally featured grilled sourdough bread. After trying that the first time, I decided to replace it with chickpeas for something more nutritious that wouldn't get soggy if we didn't eat it all right away. The thing I love about this salad is that it isn't dressed, but mixed with chopped herbs, garlic and a bit of oil and vinegar. All of the ingredients add their own flavors and blend well together. I can't take credit for it, the recipe comes from Plenty but here is my version. 

Quinoa, Chickpea, and Summer Vegetable Salad
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1/4 cup quinoa
4 ripe medium tomatoes
1-2 medium cucumbers, unpeeled
1 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped parsely
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, crushed and minced
salt and pepper

Bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil, add the quinoa and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes or until the quinoa is tender. Rinse under cold water to cool.

Dice the tomatoes into 3/4 inch pieces. Cut the cucumbers into quarters lengthwise and then slice across them at 1/4 inch intervals, to create many small pieces. Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and red onion in a bowl.  Add the cilantro, mint, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Toss all of the ingredients to combine. Add salt and pepper as needed. 

Makes more than enough for 2 as a meal and plenty for 4 if you are serving it with other dishes.

August 29, 2011

Finally Something New

It has been quite a while, but at long last I have added some new items to my shop. I made a bag for my friend Lora who is starting law school this fall and then I made a few more. I use my bag year round but it's always fun to think of a new bag (and pencils and books) in the fall whether you are starting school or not. In my mind it is still thoroughly summer, but the mornings are cooler and I think about sweaters, applesauce and the way the sunlight filters through the leaves in September.  

I haven't had a lot of time to sew this summer, but here are the new bags that I recently finished and added to my shop.

In the little spare time I have had, I've been doing tons of preserving. Last weekend I canned 21 pints of salsa. This past week I sealed lots of whole tomatoes into jars, made tomato paste, froze corn and turned plums into jam and a Chinese-style sauce. I've also been reading and really enjoying Blood Bones and Butter and managed to get to the library recently for some more new books.

This has probably been my busiest summer ever, work-wise. Between my two jobs I've had very few days off so I am really looking forward to going camping for two days at the end of this week. I just got a new selection of beautiful fabric and hope to work on more bags, aprons and placemats soon!

August 25, 2011

More than Enough to Go Around


This is not a light and airy cake. You won't need to tip toe past the oven for fear it will fall while baking. A slice of it on your plate is not delicate and spongy, but that doesn't mean it should be passed by. What do you expect from a cake made with such a sturdy, practical and slightly clunky vegetable as the zucchini? True, there are plenty of perfect small squash with delicate, smooth skin. Whether or not they are the envy of their overgrown siblings, I'm not sure, but I certainly prefer the more utilitarian zucchinis. The ones that can be grilled, shredded, frozen and baked into cakes because there is more than enough to go around. A big, slightly awkward squash means that I should bake a chocolate zucchini cake soon.

I make it once every summer, but not much more often. I found the original recipe from a housemate's copy of the Horn of the Moon Cookbook, but I've carried around my adapted version, jotted on a pink piece of paper for several years now. The slip of paper was tucked into the pages of another cookbook and I lost it for a while, but it fluttered out sometime this spring.

This chocolate zucchini cake is dense, full of chocolate, and moist from the shredded squash. It is a sturdy cake, for carrying  to a picnic, a camping trip or dividing into slices for filling lunch boxes. You can also cut it with the tender care that should not be reserved only for cakes of the light and airy sort. Place this slice, slightly warm, on a plate next to a cool smooth scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I won't even try to tell you that the zucchini makes it healthy, but I love that this is a seasonal chocolate cake that celebrates abundance!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
I know the original recipe came from the Horn of the Moon Cookbook (or maybe its sequel, Beyond the Moon), but this is my adapted version. I baked it in a 9-inch springform pan -- it is a fairly large cake so use a pan of the equivalent size or two smaller pans if you want to make a rich, dense layer cake.

3 cups whole wheat pastry flur
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup butter 
1 cup honey
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini or summer squash
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa. In a separate bowl beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the honey and beat to combine. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Slowly stir in half the dry ingredients. Pour in the milk and continue to stir slowly. After the milk is mixed in, add the rest of the dry ingredients. Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips (if you are using them.) Pour into buttered and floured pan and bake at 350' for one hour or until the middle of the cake feels solid and springs back when gently pressed. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove it to cool until ready to eat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

August 23, 2011

Summer Pizzas


Homemade pizza is always good. With summer's plethora of fresh ingredients it could not be better. It might not be the first thing you want to make on a warm summer evening, but on a rainy night you might not mind turning on the oven, or you could cook it on top of the grill.

I recently made two thrilling pizza discoveries. The first is probably common knowledge, but I accidentally found that after the dough has been refrigerated for a few days, it becomes a chewier crust, akin to what comes out of the wood fired oven at our favorite pizza place. My other recent find was the combination of beets and goat cheese. With sweet crunch of the thinly sliced root with the tangy cream of the cheese, the nearly perfect crust almost doesn't matter.

On a rainy night last week, with dough ready and waiting, I threw together these pizzas. I brushed the crust of one with balsamic vinaigrette and topped it with mozzarella, goat cheese and thinly sliced beets. The other I covered with slow roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, I added fresh basil when it came out of the oven.

Make summer pizza! I made this crust recipe but used white whole wheat flour and refrigerated it for two days (it should be fine in the fridge for up to a week). The rest is up to you. 


August 17, 2011

How to Make Your CSA Share Dissappear in 2 Hours or Less*


You don't have to be a magician or host to hordes of hungry people. You don't even have to have a share of a CSA, but on Monday I came home from work with a pile of vegetables before I went to bed (early) they were nearly all gone. Well, not gone for good, just put to better use than they were just hanging out in the refrigerator. If you have produce piling up, or if you realize that last week's fennel is on top of fennel from the week before that, and you've got another fennel in your share this week, here are a few of the ways I make the most of this problem.

I arrive home at 5.30 or 6, hungry and toting a bag of produce. Cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, corn, basil, tomatoes, beans. I do my best to plan meals around what I get from the farm, but I have some of my share left over from last week and Ray will be gone most of this week, so I'd like to take care of it before I have any more vegetables languishing in the crisper. Don't even bother putting away this week's haul, just make dinner while devising a plan for lots of blanching, freezing and even a quick pickle.

Before you get to work, if you have the right ingredients, make these corn fritters. The sweet corn of summer is the absolute star of this meal, but the basil and cheese are perfect in their supporting roles. While I make the fritters, I steam the rest of the corn. We haven't gotten sick of corn yet, but whatever we don't eat for dinner will be cut off the cob and frozen. In the kitchen, I'm a pretty serious multi-tasker and as the corn and fritters cook, I cut cherry tomatoes, onions and cilantro. They are quickly tossed with lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper. I love salsa and the fresh variety is such a treat that I make it whenever the season permits.

By the way, when it comes to summer tomatoes, eat them fresh (alone or with anything else you please) until you are sick of them. If that time comes, please roast some of them slowly in the oven. When you savor their concentrated tomato flavor, you won't regret it. They take little effort and freeze beautifully.

After dinner, it's time to get serious. I started with a pound of green beans. Not a lot, but enough to tuck into the freezer for a winter dinner or two. While they blanch and cool, I cut up two heads of cauliflower. I love roasted cauliflower, but lately I've been distracted by the flashier summer vegetables. I don't want to keep it waiting any longer so I blanch the cauliflower and save it for stews and curries when the weather turns cool. If you are wondering about how to blanch and freeze vegetables, this website is very helpful.

Those three bulbs of fennel? Perfect for salads or slaws or for the fennel confit that I made, inspired by a recipe in Put Em Up, by Sherrie Brooks Vinton. The basil is whirred into a puree and another jar of pesto goes into the freezer. While the fennel finishes slowly cooking to a jam-ish consistency, I fill an empty quart jar with cucumbers, garlic and pickling spice. Hot water, vinegar, salt and sugar turn extra cucumbers into quick refrigerator pickles. All that's left are a couple of zucchini, onions and cucumbers looking lonely without the rest of the produce. They'll be used up soon enough.

You probably have your own tricks and techniques for making the most of summer vegetables. I hope you don't think me too crazy for sharing my kitchen whirlwind. I just want you to know that it doesn't take a lot of time to make sure you have some of the goodness of summer tucked away. I tend to do several preserving projects at once, but you could just as well do a few minutes here and there. Even if you make a feast and eat it all right away, I hope you can make time for this good food now.

*Doesn't include time for eating dinner, also doesn't include doing the dishes which your roommate, husband, girlfriend, partner or anyone else but you should take care of.

P.S. This post would be the perfect place for lots of photos. I love taking pictures of lovely food and lovely messes, but I was so busy getting it done that I didn't have a chance to get many pictures. And, though it is terribly sad, the earlier sunset makes good light in the evening harder to come by.

August 12, 2011

The Light

I think it was Wednesday evening, I was in the kitchen and looked out the window. A golden light drenched the wild grape leaves climbing over my neighbor's fence. I went outside with the camera, partly to grasp that beautiful moment, partly because I've been learning more about how to use this light capturing tool and I wanted to practice. I was going to post one of the photos here and write about how in this busy busy summer, that moment of light reminded me not only to slow down, but to focus more on the here and now, no matter how busy I am.

Then, I temporarily forgot about the photos and reformatted the camera's memory card, deleting what I had tried to capture the day before. So, there you have it. That fleeting moment is gorgeously captured in my mind, though I don't have the photo to share with you here. I've noticed that the daylight is changing, we don't see sunlight until much later in the morning and it disappears earlier in the evening each day. Summer hasn't left yet, but it will slip by much faster than I want it to, or realize. I love having time to pause and linger over a meal, or a patch of sunlight. It doesn't happen enough, but I'm trying to remember to appreciate the various parts of the day.

Enjoy the light, wherever you are!

August 9, 2011

A World of Flavors


Remember my little container garden? I have a few cucumbers, some not yet ripe cherry tomatoes, and herbs. I realized, better late than never, that the mint, sage, and rosemary should be cut back. I trimmed some of their leggy growth which has encouraged the plants to branch out and they seem healthier already.

My pots of herbs aren't flourishing as much as they would in a sunnier spot, but I want to make sure
to use them as much as I can. I have picked lots of basil leaves to I rip up and toss into salads. The green leaves blend in with the rest of the vegetables but a bite with basil is vibrant surprise. It only takes a few clay pots to grow a world of flavors. Though my selection this year isn't very exotic, I still have leaves and stems in several shapes, sizes, and textures. I toss them with abandon into all kinds of dishes for their individual influence on the meal.


Though using fresh herbs is a kitchen adventure, I am also drying some to use after the frost and lack of daylight rob me of my plants. I don't have enough to dry large amounts, but I don't use large quantities of dried herbs anyway. If you don't have a garden, but you buy fresh herbs to use for cooking, you can dry what is left over to use later.


I tied up some oregano and thyme which will help turn jars of tomatoes into sauce for pizza and pasta this winter. To dry them, I hang small bundles in a well-ventilated (but not breezy) area away from direct sunlight. If you have a large bunch of herbs you can put them in a paper bag and tie up the stems and the bag's opening. This will keep them dust free and catch any leaves that may fall as they dry. Once the herbs are totally dry, I crumble them into a clean empty spice jar.

I've been making and freezing basil pesto but I am intrigued by this recipe for sage pesto. My sage plant is still small, but if you have a lot of sage, here are 45 things to do with it. I have been wanting to try making more homemade sodas and these honey herb and cherry basil sodas would be a new way for me to use the herbs I have. I wish I had more time to use my herbs creatively, but at least I can admire them on my way in and out of our apartment.

How do you use fresh herbs?

August 4, 2011

Black Bean and Summer Vegetable Salad


Making dinner in the summer can be so easy. Even if it's too hot to cook or I barely have time, I don't have to do much work when I have summer vegetables in the fridge. With my CSA share, I don't even have to think about which vegetables to use, I just have to decide the best ways to use what I've got.

Though improvising and tossing ingredients together is the way I most often make dinner, I am trying to remember to flip through the pages of a cookbook once in a while. I turn to cookbooks for meal ideas more often in winter when I have the time and the desire to turn on the stove. So many recipes are best, though, with good produce which needs to be used now. I've been looking at Plenty, Supernatural Cooking, and Local Flavors to make sure I don't miss the chance to make something really good when all of the ingredients are in season.

The recipe I have here today is something that I throw together regularly. It's one of our favorite summer salads which didn't come from a cookbook and hardly requires a recipe. I wanted to share it because it takes minutes to put together and can be used in so many ways. It's basically a mess of black beans, tomatoes, cilantro, onion, corn and, to get a bit exotic, avocado and lime juice. Eat it as is, wrap it in a tortilla or a leaf of lettuce, or scoop it up with a chip.

What are your favorite summer meals?

Black Bean Salad
I guess this is a salad, but the first time I made it we ate it in taco shaped lettuce leaves with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. When I made it earlier this week, I needed a more substantial meal, so we had it with whole wheat tortillas. I think it is hard to go wrong with these ingredients, so use as much or as little of each as you like and toss in anything else you want.

2-3 ears of sweet corn
2 cups cooked black beans
1-2 tomatoes or 1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 avocado, diced
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper

Slice the kernels off the sweet corn cobs with a sharp knife (hold the cob upright with one hand and carefully slice the kernels off, moving the knife downwards. Doing this in a bowl keeps the kernels from going everywhere). Combine the corn, beans, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, avocado and lime juice in a bowl. Toss to distribute everything evenly. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Adjust flavors and vegetable amounts as desired. 

Makes a large bowlful. Serves 2-3 as a meal, 4-6 as a side.

August 2, 2011

Preserving Summer


Two weeks ago, on one of the hottest days of July, I got out of work a little bit earlier than I had expected. At nine o'clock the sun was going down, but the air outside refused to cool off. The weather would not deter me -- even before I got home I had plans for the extra hours I had gained. The raspberries I had picked up at the farmers' market earlier in day couldn't wait, they had to be jam.

The kitchen was steamy even before I put my canning pot on to boil. Ray gladly kept to the slightly cooler parts of our apartment, but then I realized I didn't have quite enough sugar. As Ray went out to get some more, I sighed as I was reminded of how lucky I am to have my heat-averse husband indulge my obsession with preserving. I felt a little crazy to be boiling water and making sticky jam that night, but this summer I am doing my best to seize the moments that are available.



Summer can be so busy and there are always so many picnics, bike rides, sunsets, ice cream cones and recipes that I try to fit in as I am able. So too with canning and preserving projects. If my schedule allows I'll make a day of it, but usually I am pouring summer into jars for a few hours in the evening or an afternoon when there is time. I made cherry and black pepper preserves after work last Sunday. As I write, half pints of apricot rosemary jam are in their water bath. I like to think that the time I am taking now, in hours here and there, will mean cozy winter afternoons with plenty of full jars and no need to leave the house.

I can't quite explain my love of preserving. It goes beyond the logic of wanting to save the bounty of summer and gets intertwined with my need to be deeply connected to my food. Though I will give many of these jars away, I also suspect that my canning is a bit selfish and greedy. I want to snatch up the colors and flavors of summer and keep them long after the ground is frozen and branches are bare.



At its simplest, I am making fruits and vegetables last longer than they ever would in the field. But, I've realized that preserving connects to two things that I often come back to in life -- creating (and through creating, transforming) and potential. A perfect ripe tomato is an amazement and needs nothing more. Yet, combine it with peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and spices and this salsa is something else entirely. A jar of tomatoes is more than just a full jar, it will be part of meals months after the fruit reached perfect ripeness. Tucking away these full jars is, for me, making the most of summer while knowing that some of this vibrant season will still be there in the months to come.

P.S. August 13th is Can-It-Forward Day. If anyone local wants to join my in my kitchen to learn about or practice canning, email me!