Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guns, Gazpacho and Gossip

I think I've started a bit of a tradition with a few of my best girl friends. After work on Wednesday, I head to the gym for my weekly dose of Body Pump, the only non-yoga class I consider myself a regular at. If you'vs never heard of or been to a body pump class before you're missing out! It's 60 minutes of weight lifting. The instructor leads you through a routine. Each muscle group gets two to five minutes of attention and the reps are set to the tempo of top 40 hits. I've always liked lifting (mostly because it's not running) but body pump takes the fun to a whole new level. I always leave knowing I gave my back, quads, shoulders, triceps, biceps, chest, core and glutes a solid talking to! I've been going to this class for a while and earlier this year, I finally convinced two of my best friends to join my favorite gym of all time. Now, the three of us are regulars at 6:30 Body Pump on Wednesday nights. But that's not the tradition.

Dinner at my place after class is the tradition! I try to prep ahead or think of a fast and easy recipe... when I'm just cooking for me, I don't mind spending a couple hours in the kitchen, but when I've got two sweaty 20-somethings to feed, I don't have the luxury of debating recipes!  Last week, the cucumber salad and pasta with arugula pesto and roasted tomatoes went over well.  But it's been really tough to think of new ways to eat all the tomatoes coming out of the garden, so tonight... I stopped thinking and started blending!

To make the delicious Gazpacho pictured above, I simply chopped up a 2 medium cucumbers and 4 medium tomatoes and threw them in the blender with a clove of garlic, a pepper from the garden, a few tablespoons each of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and chopped red onion, and a few fresh herbs (basil, parsley, oregano, chives) from the front steps.  Then we popped the whole blender in the freezer so the flavors could meld while the soup chilled a bit.  Impatient and hungry, we munched on some 6 Grain and Pumpkin Seed Bread from local bakery When Pigs Fly (widely available at grocers and farmers markets throughout New England and everywhere else for that matter - they ship!) smothered with Robiola cheese and wild blueberry and black currant jams (and drizzled with raw local honey for good measure).  I highly recommend this combination of cheese, bread, and preserves (or something very similar).  It's like cream cheese and jelly for pretentious grown-ups.  :-P

While the cheese and bread held us over, we were eager to devour the Gazpacho.  We let it sit in the freezer for about ten minutes and then had a bowl each.  We topped it with some thick Greek yogurt (Fage 2%), diced cucumbers and red onions, and sprinkled it all with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  While we filled our bellies with raw goodness, we chatted boyfriends and newly engaged couples and skimmed a few of my recent cookbook purchases for inspiration for next week!  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quick Recipe for all the Tomatoes!

I have been living off my garden almost exclusively (except for cheese and bread!) for a few weeks now and I'm starting to get a little more adventurous with my use of all the tomatoes. I'll start freezing and canning the excess pretty soon so I can savor fresh marinara sauce mid-winter and I'm doling out a few here and there to lucky friends and coworkers.  The caprese and tomato cucumber salads for lunch every day are tasty, but sometimes you have to mix things up because variety is the spice of life, right?  So tonight, I whipped up a spicy Tomato Avocado Salad and munched on it with some Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla chips from Trader Joe's and some Byrne Dairy Monterey Jack Cheese from NY.  Can't forget the Fage 2% that topped things off... I've completely sworn off sour cream for my favorite Greek yogurt substitute!

1 ripe hass avocado, seeded, peeled, and chopped into bite-sized cubes
2 bright red medium-large tomatoes, peeled if desired, and chopped into pieces to match avocado
1 - 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 - 2 spicy peppers, such as jalapeƱo
1 - 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Feel free to replace red onion with green onions if that sounds tastier to you (or if that's all you have on hand).  Chives, cilantro, and garlic would go well in this dish, too.  Eat it with a fork or a spoon or with a bag of tortilla chips! Enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Garden is Bearing!

It's the time of year when I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor (literally!), so I figured I'd share a few pictures of the garden over the past couple months and the produce it's bearing.  Things are A LOT bigger now, so more photos to come soon... I promise! 

Mid-June shot of most of the garden. Tomatoes, Squash, and Corn all look good!
Basil, Chives, Thai Basil!
This year, I got really ambitious and decided to plant the whole front yard with veggies.  Keeping the herbs in pots on the front steps to the house meant more room for tomatoes, lettuces, potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, corn, and beets. The chives came back from last year.  I started some of the basil from seed, but I bought a lot of plants, too.  I love how convenient it is to have them on the front steps in pots. It's easy to find what I'm looking for during my late night kitchen marathons!  I still haven't cooked any Thai Basil dishes, but I'm hoping to get to that this weekend.  The chives get used a couple times a week in salads, eggs, and soups.  And you can bet that the basil is going to good use too, especially now that I have tomatoes coming out of my ears!

Squash Flowers, Yellow Squash, Cucumbers, & Zucchini
Fritattas have become my favorite use of the squash flowers, especially now that I have a steady supply of fresh eggs from my grandma's chickens!  I can't wait to get chickens of my own one day.  There's just no comparing fresh eggs to store-bought, factory farmed, uniform, tasteless... well, you get the point!  I'll post a recipe soon for the fritatta.

Cucumber tomato salad has also been a staple for the past couple weeks!

Tomatoes and eggplant, too!
I've got about 6 varieties of tomatoes growing.  I successfully started Big Boy, Roma, and Cherry tomatoes from seed, but they're not fruiting as much as the plants I purchased from Home Depot.  :-(  Maybe next year!  The bunch of green stuff in the corner of the basket is Arugula.  I was travelling for a week for work when we had 80+ degree temps, so the Arugula got really peppery.  I didn't know what else to do with it, so I made a pesto, which came out amazing.

Figuring out what to do with tomatoes is never a problem for me.  Paired with Buffalo Mozzarella and topped with fresh basil, a dash of kosher salt, and a drizzle of EVOO is probably my favorite way to get them in my belly.  I love making fresh marinara and will certainly can as many jars as possible to get me through the winter!  
Doesn't that just look like summer?!

Disclaimer: The container garden you see from my window is my neighbor's!  Tom is an older Italian man who often gives me tours of his pride and joy.  We also trade seeds and plants and he looks after my garden when I'm not around.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunchoke Fritters!

When I subscribed to Boston Organics in March, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I was excited to try the biweekly deliveries of locally sourced organic produce!  I had considered subscribing to CSAs in the past, but most of them say they're enough produce to feed 2 vegetarians and well, I'm just one!  The Dogma Box from Boston Organics seemed like a convenient and flexible way to get my fill of locally sourced fruits and veggies and at $29 per delivery, it was worth a shot!

Soup Before Immersion Blender
I knew I wouldn't be getting any strawberries, but I wasn't expecting so many Jerusalem Artichokes (aka Sunchokes)!  I don't think I had ever even heard of a sunchoke before my first lb arrived sometime in March or April, but I was excited to try them and whipped up an easy and delicious Sunchoke Potato Leek Soup with the first batch.  I had a few friends over to help me consume this new concoction and everyone loved it, though the day after was reportedly a bit uncomfortable for some...

These are NOT potatoes!
I searched high and low for recipes for all the sunchokes that came in my deliveries.  I must admit that a batch or two eventually found their way to the composter instead of my tummy!  My growing collection of cookbooks and shelf full of Vegetarian Times magazines didn't come through for me, but I eventually found and adapted a pretty awesome recipe for Sunchoke Fritters!

Here are the ingredients and what I did:
Scrubbed and Trimmed Sunchokes!

Tip: Soak sunchokes in cold water with a little baking soda before scrubbing and cut off the knobby parts that are tough to clean!  The skins are good for you!

Thank god for food processors!

1 lb Sunchokes, scrubbed
3 carrots
3 shallots
2 cloves garlic

I shredded the above ingredients in the food processor.

Dry Ingredients
Then I mixed them with the following pre-mixed dry ingredients:
Approx 1/4 cup flour (I combined soy and whole wheat pastry flour)
Approx 1/4 cup corn meal
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Assorted Fresh Herbs to taste (chives, parsley)

Mix it up!
1 - 2 eggs to bind the ingredients

Mix all above ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

I then grabbed a tablespoon sized measuring spoon and a flat wooden spatula to help make sure I had even flat circular fritters.

Pan fry using High Heat Safflower Oil (it doesn't oxidize as much as other oils when heated to high temps). Cook 1-3 min per side, until lightly browned and crispy!  

Into the frying pan they go!
Transfer to paper towel lined pans and put in oven at 200 degrees to keep warm, if desired.  These pan-fried treats are made a lot like potato pancakes but served up a lot more flavor than the typical latke.

There were so many that I brought them all to work and left them in our cafe, where they disappeared within a few short hours!