30 August 2013

Sauteed carrots with spicy brown mustard

Mustard-sauteed carrots

Sometimes the simplest preparations are the best.

This time, I had made up a batch of Janet of The Taste Space's amchoor chana, and I needed something vegetabley to stand up to the very beany & lemony chickpea content. There were carrots in the crisper and homemade lactofermented mustard (courtesy of Amanda at Phickle) in the refrigerator door. And thus my sauteed carrots with spicy brown mustard were born.

All you have to do is give carrots a quick & hot saute, then add a hit of seed-filled mustard. The result is super-easy, sweet and toothsome, with a kick of mustard heat. It's definitely a great way to nudge the lowly carrot out to center stage.

Mustard-sauteed carrots

Sauteed carrots with spicy brown mustard

peanut oil/sub of your choice
spicy seedy mustard

Warm the oil on medium-high in a wide frying pan or saute pan of your choice. While it's heating up, scrub and slice your carrots into whatever shape you like. I did half-moons just because they're easy. And no, I generally don't peel my carrots, although you are totally free to go ahead and peel yours.

Add your carrots to the oil and toss to mix. Sprinkle a touch of salt over the pan and cook, stirring or shaking occasionally, for about five minutes, or until your carrots are almost cooked through. The timing is going to depend both on the size of your carrot pieces and the heat of your stovetop, so make sure to taste as you go. You may want to add a splash of water to the hot pan to steam your carrots a bit if you're using thick slices.

When your carrots are just a hair away from done, add a couple spoonfuls of spicy mustard to your pan. Stir to coat well and continue to cook for about another minute. then take the pan promptly off the heat, scoop your carrots onto your plate, and serve the whole shebang.


How are you transforming ordinary veg lately?

28 August 2013

Toaster oven pita pizza with eggplant pickle and heirloom tomato

pita pizza cooked in toaster oven with mozzarella, salami, eggplant pickle, heirloom tomato, and hot pepper

The other day I wanted pizza for lunch, but didn't want to expend any time or effort making a crust. So I decided to break out some pita bread and use it as the crust for a tiny & nearly-instant pizza.

As I poked around the refrigerator, trying to decide what I could use for sauce, my eyes fell on the jar of pickled eggplant with red wine vinegar, made from Marisa's recipe. I've been struggling a bit to find good ways to eat this, simply because it is so strong. But on pizza? Perfect!

I finely chopped a few eggplant pickle spears and spread them on the pita as my line of first defense. Was it a good idea? YES. The tang is reduced a bit though cooking, but it still provides a delicious and slightly mysterious base for everything else. That pickle, topped with an arrangement of chopped salami, big slices of backyard tomato, chunks of mushroom, little bits of hot pepper, and several slabs of mozzarella, made one of the best lunches I've had in quite a while.

A good pizza definitely needs a huge blast of heat to crisp up nicely. Generally this requires an oven. But not this time! Instead, I turned to the toaster oven: my favorite small appliance ever.

The toaster oven not only warms small items, but actually cooks them. You never get the gross spongy quality of microwaved food--because it's an actual tiny oven. Toast gets crisp and nice, and yet you can also cook things bigger than a slice of bread. Open-faced sandwiches topped with cheese go into our toaster oven regularly, as do giant bagels, servings of last night's rice and curry (with a bit of water to re-steam the rice), frozen homemade belgian waffles too big to ever fit in a toaster, and even occasional bowls of soup. Oven-safe dishes are a must, and you should certainly employ oven mitts as needed, but those are the only real caveats to consider.

In this particular case, since my crust was already baked, I only had to worry about searing all the toppings adequately. This meant I could sit down to eat my finished pizza a bare ten minutes or so after dreaming it up. It was perfect: fast, crispy, and delicious.

You can absolutely use any combination of ingredients you like on a pita pizza like this. Just go through your refrigerator and pick out whatever looks good to you. That's really all I did to come up with mine.

pita pizza cooked in toaster oven with mozzarella, salami, eggplant pickle, heirloom tomato, and hot pepper

Pita pizza with eggplant pickle and heirloom tomato (among other things)

pita bread
optional olive oil
eggplant pickle
heirloom tomato
hot pepper
oregano, basil, hot pepper flake

If you like, you can prepare your pita by brushing it with a thin layer of olive oil. If not, that's fine too. I didn't use oil because I was using salami, which has plenty of its own oil happening already.

Chop a few spears of eggplant pickle as finely as you can. Spread them thinly over your pita. They will be your sauce layer.

Slice up all the vegetables, meat, or cheese you want on your pizza. Layer them over the pita, finishing with the cheese layer. Sprinkle some oregano, basil, and hot pepper flake over the top, and you'll be ready to go.

It's best to be a little sparing with the toppings, so everything cooks evenly and your crust doesn't get soggy. If you want more toppings, make two pita pizzas.

pita pizza cooked in toaster oven with mozzarella, salami, eggplant pickle, heirloom tomato, and hot pepper

Bake in a 450F toaster oven (or an actual oven--it's all good) until your ingredients are seared nicely, your cheese is golden brown, and your crust is beginning to turn brown and crispy around the edges.

This particular combination of ingredients was wet enough to generate some of its own liquid, mostly due to the very juicy tomatoes. To avoid drippage issues, it's a good idea to bake your pizza on a pan instead of just the toaster oven grate (which is what I normally do). You could also line the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil to catch drips, but a pan is safer, especially if you have an exposed heating element. Then, if there's any liquid accumulation, you can simply tilt the entire pan to the side and let it evaporate against the hot metal.

pita pizza cooked in toaster oven with mozzarella, salami, eggplant pickle, heirloom tomato, and hot pepper

Cut your finished pizza into four pieces. SERVE.

This pizza was excellent all by itself, but I also find that tossing a couple handfuls of raw spinach or arugula on top is more than worth the two seconds of effort.

Items: 1. toaster ovens vs. other small appliances 2. best uses for eggplant pickles 3. favorite pizza toppings. Discuss!

27 August 2013

Fresh corn and egg breakfast tacos with homemade carrot pickles

fresh corn and egg breakfast taco with carrot pickles

The breakfast taco is one of the finest things in life. This one is full of fresh summer corn, which I for one am cramming into my mouth as quickly and copiously as possible. Who doesn't want a cob's worth of corn piled into a taco and slathered with hot sauce? I certainly do.

I also took full advantage of my mixed carrot pickle stash for extra garnish action. Taqueria-style garnish in the comfort of your own home is so great, you guys.

Speaking of taqueria pickles, this weekend, while we were at Lake Tahoe for a family wedding, John and I ate at a little taqueria (Tacos Jalisco in Kings Beach) with huge vats of the most excellent pickles! There was a carrot pickle with HUGE chunks of carrot, and a cucumber and white onion pickle with chopped medium-hot pepper, and they were so good. I think a taqueria-style cucumber pickle experiment is in order sometime soon.

Fresh corn and egg breakfast tacos with homemade carrot pickles

half an onion
several cloves of garlic
hot peppers to taste
2 ears corn
4 eggs
cumin, oregano, salt, pepper
lots of corn tortillas
mixed carrot pickles
greens or shredded cabbage to garnish
hot sauce of your choice

Saute chopped onion in butter to soften. Add smashed & minced garlic and as much hot pepper as you desire. I used a jalapeno out of our garden, for double trouble. (Speaking of jalapenos, our crop may be making a pickle or hot sauce appearance sometime soon...maybe in a batch of Sue's green tabasco?)

Continue to cook while you husk an ear or two of corn and slice the kernels off the cobs. As I've mentioned before, I find it easiest to just lay the ear down horizontally and cut down the side, then rotate and repeat. I should probably get some pictures of that one of these days.

sauteed corn with onions and jalapenos

Add your corn to your pan of veg. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. While you're waiting for the corn to cook, crack your eggs into a bowl, season them with cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper, and mix well with a fork.

Add your eggs to the pan and scramble everything together. Cook until the eggs are done to your liking.

fresh corn and egg breakfast taco with carrot pickles

Shovel your finished eggs into a bunch of corn tortillas charred briefly on both sides over the gas flame. If you don't have a gas stove, it's fine to warm them in a pan. Top your tacos with carrot pickles, greens, and hot sauce. If you want any other add-ons, like avocado or cilantro, go for it.

Fold your tacos up and eat them with alacrity. Cafe con leche is the best accompaniment.

What are your favorite fillings for breakfast tacos?

19 August 2013

Yukon gold oven fries

Yukon gold oven fries

Are you ready to turn on the oven yet? I am. Of course, this may have something to do with living in Northern California, where it was actually grey all morning a few days ago. Grey skies!! They're so rare I can't help but get excited. Today we're back to standard super-blue skies and glaring sun, but in the interim, I turned on the oven and baked up some of the best snacks on the planet: Yukon gold oven fries.

Deep frying is not a normal practice at our house, so baking has been my french fry method of choice for quite awhile. The results are a bit more like roasted potatoes in convenient baton form than crusty coated fries, but I'm okay with that. It's a super easy and tasty method, and that's all I need.

Yukon gold oven fries

Yukon gold oven fries

Yukon gold potatoes
olive oil or your choice of sub
red pepper flake
mustard powder
salt, pepper

Preheat your oven to 425F.

Scrub your potatoes well, removing any eyes. Cut then into appropriate steak fry batons. I don't peel my potatoes for fries, but you can feel free to do so. Personally, I think the skins give the fries a bit more structure, and they're certainly delicious. Besides, you can't beat the laziness factor.

Put your potatoes in a mixing bowl and toss them with a few teaspoons of oil and seasoning to taste. I like to use lots of black pepper, several good shakes of salt and red pepper flakes, and just a little ground mustard, but feel free to go as spicy as you like.

Yukon gold oven fries

Arrange your fries in one layer on a baking sheet of your choice. These guys can stick, so if you have parchment paper or a silpat, you may want to break them out for this. I used tinfoil because we were out of parchment, but it's an inferior substitute.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until your fries are golden brown on the bottom and move easily when you shake the pan. Then flip them over and continue baking until cooked through. The timing is going to depend on the thickness of your fries. I believe mine took about 35 minutes total.

Yukon gold oven fries with pinto bean burger

Eat immediately with ketchup and the burger or sandwich of your choice. You definitely want a dill pickle spear on the side too.

John and I had our fries with a couple of good good things' bbq pinto bean burgers, which we made in a huge batch and froze for instant dinner application a couple weeks ago. That was a Very Good Idea, let's just say. Note Emmycooks' amazing pickled peppers and giant slice of homegrown tomato as well. Together, it was one of the best late summer dinners I could possibly ask for.

Are you guys ready to turn on the oven, or are you still happily submerged in a pile of raw veg and fruit?

15 August 2013

Chickpea carrot salad with fresh parsley

chickpea carrot parsley salad with herb vinaigrette

It's August! Let's have a salad!

This guy is super simple, delicious, and fast. It's the perfect thing to eat when you can't stand the thought of turning on any appliance in your kitchen. (Okay, refrigerator excepted.)

The key to making a bean or legume-heavy salad appetizing is to add lots of vivid vegetable and herb flavors. Carrot is a perfect contrast to chickpeas: bright, sweet, and crunchy.

I used parsley for my main herb component, and boosted it even more with a super-herby dressing. Chopping a bunch of mixed green herbs and adding them to either the salad itself or a standard vinaigrette would work really well too. Or you can choose to go for a different herb entirely. Dill and carrot are excellent friends; basil would work well too.

The best part? You can make this salad the night before, and the flavors will be even better the next day. Instant lunch for the win!

Chickpea carrot parsley salad

1 can/2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 carrots
1-2 cloves garlic or half a shallot
handful of parsley
lemon juice to taste
salt, pepper
herb vinaigrette or other vinaigrette of your choice

Drain and rinse your chickpeas. Shred your carrots with a box grater. Mince your garlic or shallot and finely chop your parsley leaves.

Add all your ingredients to a large bowl, season with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper, and dress with vinaigrette. Toss everything together and taste for seasoning.

If possible, let your salad rest in the refrigerator for several hours before eating.

This salad can go into a split pita with some chopped lettuce for a quick lunch. If you're not a sandwich person, you can transform it into a full meal salad by adding a big scoop to a plate of greens and your choice of chopped veg. It's a simple side for your choice of grilled or barbecued main dishes--juicy lamb would be an especially great combination with chickpea and carrot--and it will travel well to a potluck across town. Perfect!

Which salads are helping you avoid the oven this August?

12 August 2013

The August garden

August garden 2013

Gardening in California is a little surreal when you compare it to anywhere else. This is especially the case when you're gardening in a bed that lay fallow & covered with compost for who knows how many years before we moved into the house. This is the third year I've gardened here, and the results are still this crazy.

The top fence is eight feet tall. Yes, that does mean those tomato plants are ten feet tall.

Garden contents are as follows:
- 1 Caspian Pink tomato plant (main left body)
- 1 Boxcar Willie tomato plant (main right body)
- 1 jalapeno pepper plant (middle)
- 2 basil plants (left front)
- 3 scallions that have been in the ground for over a year at this point (middle front)
- 2 volunteer tomato plants from those that fell to the ground last year: Cherokee Purple and Sungold Cherry (indistinguishable from the rest of the tomato vines)
- 1 volunteer potato vine (invisible in the back left corner)

Boxcar Willie tomato with squirrel damage

This is the first year the squirrels have realized our tomatoes are edible, so occasionally I go out to water the plants and find THIS. I've started heading them off by picking not-quite-ripe fruit and finishing the ripening on my kitchen windowsill.

They definitely won't touch the jalapenos, though. These guys have been ultra productive and delicious: super spicy and shiny and firm and perfect.

jalapeno pepper plant

It's the best thing ever to go break off a jalapeno on a weekend morning to make a batch of migas. OH MAN.

The basil has been bolting practically since I put it in the ground, which isn't such a surprise when you consider that June was the hottest month of our summer. I've been pinching off blossoms for two full months, but now I'm starting to just let it go. Hey, why not get this corner of the bed self-seeded with fresh basil while also attracting pollinators? That sounds pretty good to me.

basil plants bolting

In the meantime, I've definitely been harvesting big handfuls of basil, chopping them up, and tossing them with homegrown tomato.

Of the two intentional tomatoes, I like Caspian Pink by far the best. It's a shade-tolerant heirloom pink medium-to-large beefsteak, and the flavor is just amazing: sweet and floral and fragrant. Boxcar Willie is good too, but it's a lot more ordinary-looking. If you picture the typical tomato, you'll get a Boxcar Willie: also an heirloom, but medium, round, and orangey-red. I like to cook with Boxcar Willie and eat Caspian Pink raw. The split works pretty well, but I think I may want to go for a serious paste Roma for cooking next year.

Caspian Pink tomatoes

The volunteer tomatoes haven't yet produced any ripe fruit, but I'm not too concerned there. The Sungolds pretty much took over the yard last year, so it's good that they're getting dominated by bigger plants this time around. And Purple Cherokee is close enough to Caspian Pink in size and taste that I'll be fine if I only get a few late-season fruits there.

In the meantime, I get to go foraging for ripe and near-ripe heirlooms nearly every day. The plants are huge and viney, so the greens look dominant from afar, but if you explore you will find big clusters like this:

Caspian Pink tomatoes ripening on the vine

Do you have a garden? How's your harvest coming so far?

08 August 2013

Fresh corn and basil schmear

corn basil cream cheese on everything bagel

Summer produce is everywhere. What better way to eat it than smashed into a whack of cream cheese and smeared on the toasty bagel of your choice? Welcome to another round of homemade schmears: summer edition.

This time I cut the kernels off an ear of fresh white corn, sliced a big handful of basil leaves, and threw them in a bowl with several thick slices of cream cheese and a little pepper. Voila!

I left my corn kernels uncooked because I like the freshness, flavor, and subtle crunch of raw sweet corn, but a quick saute with some finely diced shallot would be an excellent variation. Bonus: this method will also work well in the middle of winter, when all you have is a bag of frozen kernels. Throw in a spoonful of pesto and you're in business.

Obviously, you can choose to make these totally vegan with the cream cheese substitute of your choice. And isn't that better than having plain hummus yet again at the bagel shop?

corn basil schmear

Height of summer schmear
(aka: Fresh corn and basil schmear)

1 ear fresh corn
10-20 leaves fresh basil
half a brick of cream cheese
pepper to taste

This makes enough to cover two bagels.

Husk & de-silk your ear of corn and cut the kernels off the cob. I find that the easiest way to do this is to lay the ear down horizontally on a cutting board and just slice down along the side, then rotate & repeat. This way the corn mostly stays put instead of flying all over the kitchen, and you don't have to break out a giant bowl or anything.

Wash a big handful of basil leaves and slice them finely. I did a chiffonade and then cut across the pile several times to make small bits.

Cut your cream cheese into rough slices and put it in a mixing bowl of your choice. Add your corn and basil, grind in some pepper, and mash the whole business together with a fork until mixed well. Evaluate your schmear and decide if you want to add more veg of any type. I think some finely minced red bell pepper or shredded zucchini that's been salted and drained would both be pretty great here, but the simplicity of basil and corn is pretty amazing all by itself.

corn basil schmear on everything bagel with caspian pink tomato

To serve, toast a halved bagel or two. Spread your schmear on the bagel halves and top with a few slices of fresh summer tomato. This particular tomato is a Caspian Pink heirloom I grew in my backyard. ZOMG SO GOOD. I may be growing one or two of these every summer for the next rest of my life.

Since tomato is slippery, it's best to put your bagel halves together and secure them with a toothpick or something similar before you try to eat them. I did not do this, which meant that I ended up squirting tomato slices and cream cheese halfway across the kitchen table. But then, the whole business was so good that it almost didn't matter.

corn basil cream cheese on everything bagel with caspian pink tomato

More seasonal summer schmears!

- Baby beet and carrot schmear: grate and mix with cream cheese for a crunchy, sweet, and violent fuschia schmear.
- Zucchini bread schmear: grate, salt, & drain a fresh zucchini and crush in some toasted walnuts.
- Pungent pepper schmear: chop some roasted red pepper and a kalamata olive or two, and top with lots of crispy romaine. Feta optional.
- Fruit and herb schmear: dice up some firm nectarines or peaches and a big handful of fresh basil and mix them up. Do you want some crunch? How about adding some toasted pine nuts?
- Homemade jam schmear: are you surrounded by beautiful jars of freshly made summer jam? Mix it into some cream cheese and hold on to your hat!

Previously on the schmear show: all the herbs.

What new & interesting vegetable or fruit combinations do you want in your next schmear?

04 August 2013

Food budgeting at the farmer's market

farmer's market heirloom tomato extravaganza

Ah, the farmer's market! Endless tables full of gleaming fruit, vendors calling out their new & exciting wares, fresh samples beckoning from booth to booth, a fabulous array of perfectly ripe vegetables, and a smear of fresh peach on every child's cheek.

And money. Lots of money.

Grocery shopping at the farmer's market is great in many ways. You get to support local agriculture, meet the people who grow your food, and get the freshest, most perfectly seasonal produce. But if you aren't paying attention, it's all too easy to give up an arm and a leg in exchange for your booty. How can you shop at the farmer's market without breaking the bank?

Well, I went to the farmer's market today, and got this fairly gigantic haul of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mesclun mix (heavy on the spinach), apples, plums, nectarines, mushrooms, and a lonely Chinese eggplant.

How much do you think I spent?

my $14.10 farmer's market haul


Yes. You do not need to spend your entire grocery budget to bring home a huge pile of delicious fruit and vegetables. All you need to do is consider your purchases wisely.

Top 10 ways to save money at the farmer's market

farmer's market Indian eggplant

Shop carefully

This is the number one way to keep from overspending. Before you leave the house, decide how much you want to spend, and only bring that much cash with you. Do a quick circuit of the market to compare prices before you buy anything. If something you wanted is too expensive that day, see if you can find a more affordable alternative. Don't buy anything without knowing its price--if there's no sign, ask. Always make sure you get the right change.

Just pay attention, and you'll be fine.

Shop whole

At many farmer's markets, a number of booths sell pre-prepared food interspersed with the farmstand produce. However, the prices are often astoundingly high--so leave those tacos, dips, and dumplings behind. By buying whole ingredients and cooking them at home, you can keep those extra dollars firmly in your pocket.

farmer's market hot pepper bunches

Shop in bulk

If you preserve your own sauces, jams, or pickles, you'll want to look for bulk deals. Some farmers will have standard specials on canning flats. Otherwise, you may want to ask in advance about buying in quantity. Nearly everyone will be happy to offer a discount on particularly large purchases.

Shop with a friend

What if you can't use all of a bulk buy yourself? If you go to the market with a friend, you can take advantage of bulk deals without anything going to waste. Go ahead and buy that 5 pounds of stone fruit and a half flat of strawberries--just split them up before you go home. Voila: you get to savor all the best fruits of summer at a fraction of the cost.

farmer's market peaches and nectarines

Shop ripe

Look for the ripest produce to find the best deals. Many of the booths at my local market feature specials on the ripest fruit and vegetables, to get them sold before they go off. Ripe nectarines for $1 per pound? Yes, please.

Shop ordinary

Exotic fruit and vegetables are generally very shiny and tempting, but they come at a cost. Yes, those beautiful black raspberries may be calling your name--but since they're such a rare find, they're also incredibly expensive. Go find a pint of red raspberries--or, cheaper yet, strawberries--and save yourself a couple dollars.

farmer's market sort-outs bin

Shop irregular

Some farmers will fill a bin or two with less pretty produce that they're willing to let go at a super-cheap price. Apples with hail scars, bruised jam apricots, or broken carrots can be had for half the standard price, or even less. My local market has a sort-outs bin that regularly features a wide range of vegetables and fruit, from cucumbers and eggplant to apples and hot peppers, all for $.65 per pound. You can be sure I bring a bag of their slightly dented produce home every single week.

Shop seasonal

Obviously, the farmer's market is the best place to get what's currently in season in your region--and seasonal vegetables are often overabundant. Zucchini and other summer squash are a prime example here: every booth has them, and in huge quantity. So what do the farmers do? They lower prices, both to compete with others and to get their mountains of produce sold before they go bad. Now you can get your veg on for a fraction of the price!

Similarly, the first and last fruits of the season are often quite a bit more expensive than their mid-season counterparts. If you know which produce is at the height of its season, you can choose it over the brand-new, highly hyped newcomers, and save some money in the process.

farmer's market mission figs

Shop plants

If you have a green thumb, check out nursery booths for the edible plants of your choice. Herbs in particular are great, since they're expensive to buy fresh, but easy to grow in a window box or small pot. If you have actual garden space, you can go whole hog and get a selection of your most loved vegetables. Right now it's time to start thinking about fall planting, so before you buy, consider what cold-weather vegetables you may want to eat in a few months. Keep in mind that smaller starts are cheaper than larger ones, but they take more nurturing to get a delicious harvest.

Shop late

As the farmer's market winds down, many booths will begin dropping their prices so as not to haul half a truckload of unsold produce home, where it could potentially rot before the next market. If you show up at the market half an hour before closing, you can score some amazing deals. The trade-off is that some specialty items might be all gone--but if cheap, high-quality produce is your goal, this is a reliable way to get it.

Now grab your bags and go get your own haul!

What do you do to keep a firm hand on your farmer's market spending?