Wednesday, July 30, 2008

mint follow-up & more CSA goodness!

So, I've polled as many people as I could get my hands on (and luckily have lots of chefs within arms reach) regarding my mint conundrum, and maddeningly I've gotten lots of different answers. I'm stumped because peppermint and spearmint are such different flavors it's hard for me to believe that everyone's just using them interchangeably. But, one of the chefs told me yesterday that if she saw "mint" listed in a recipe, she'd just look at the other ingredients to see what made the most sense--using her innate chefly instincts. Which makes sense if you're a real chef. But, when you're just a gal who likes to hang out in the kitchen, it's confusing! Most people said they'd assume "mint" with no context would mean peppermint, but one fine dining chef said he generally uses spearmint. Another said that he almost always uses peppermint, because spearmint is spicier, and has a more distinctive flavor that doesn't always meld as well with the other flavors (but I kinda think the opposite is true! maybe he's confused, too!).

I looked at ingredients of some minty things over the past few days to just better acquaint myself with which is which--Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream is spearmint, a lot of mint teas are a blend of the two, xmas stuff is peppermint, tabbouleh calls for spearmint, mojitos generally say spearmint, but I saw a few with peppermint. Not to mention there are countless other varieties of mint. Seriously. These are the varieties I've come across (other than peppermint and spearmint) in the course of my "research": chocolate mint, orange mint, banana mint, basil mint, Moroccan mint, Habeck mint, Egyptian mint, lemon bergamot mint, orange bergamot mint, lavender mint, pennyroyal, curly (or curled) mint, Kentucky Colonel, apple mint, pineapple mint, eucalyptus (yeah! it's in the mint family!), Austrian mint, Chinese mint, English mint, Corsican mint, ginger mint, lime mint, black-stemmed peppermint, grapefruit mint, Japanese mint, variegated mint, Scotch spearmint, menthol mint, silver mint, Swiss mint, Vietnamese mint, water mint, berries and cream mint, candy-lime mint, pink candypops, Hillary's sweet lemon mint, Julia's sweet citrus mint, margarita mint, Marilyn's salad mint, marshmallow mint, oregano-thyme mint, sweet bay mint, sweet pear mint, mountain mint, Bowles' mint, Nana peppermint, Hairy spearmint, candymint, doublemint, Persian mint, Blue Balsam mint.

Okay, that's enough for now. I read in one place that there are rumored to be over 600 varieties!

Now I feel like Bubba--that shrimp guy from Forest Gump.

Okay, anyhow. It's CSA day!! C-S-A! C-S-A! C-S-A!

This week's box contains:
-free range eggs
-head of lettuce
-spearmint (!!!)
-green peppers
-green beans
-crookneck squash
-Hungarian hot wax peppers


Monday, July 28, 2008

the bounty

While I'm not really one for summer weather (I'm a sweater. Not a cardigan-style or pullover style. I'm a Sweat-Er), I do so love the bounty of produce! And, I love that it's so delicious that it doesn't even take much fiddling to be ready for the plate. I've made some lovely dinners lately, if I do say so myself, that didn't require much more than a trip to my counter/fridge for my CSA goodies or the farmers' market. I'm in love with corn and tomatoes and cucumbers, and can pretty much have them for every meal, along with anything else that happens to come in my CSA box or show up at the market.

One meal was simply slices of tomato (salt and pepper) with ears of corn (butter, salt and pepper) and a couple Veggie Masala "burgers" from Trader Joe's (they're these curried potato-veggie patties that I adore):

Another meal was in honor of my friend Alex's visit from Poland. I made my ol' stand by, Heidi Swanson's Sprouted Garbanzo Burgers (but I used canned chickpeas instead of sprouted) with some smoked cheddar, lettuce, spicy sprouts, avocado and tomato. Served with some cucumber "salad" (just tossed with a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper), and some corn prepared Mexican street vendor style with crema, powdered chipotle pepper, cojita cheese and wedges of lime. And, vanilla frozen yogurt--fresh outta the maker!--with black raspberries and blueberries for dessert. (I forgot to photo that one, but I wish I'd taken a picture of the corn. It's SO good this way!).

On Saturday I was picked up bright-n-early for the farmers market in the Strip by Liz and Emily, and we met the E-dawg down there. I even got to ring the bell (that opens the market) this week! I picked up some Poona Kheera cucumbers--the first time I'd ever seen them. They're an heirloom variety that was originally from India. They're really lovely--bright yellow (thin) skin, crisp, a bit sweet with a very pale green firm flesh. I've been on the look-out for lemon cukes, too, after having some in a dish that pal Kara made last summer. If yinz see any, lemme know! Other delectable farmers market items are:
-big bunches of basil
-radish microgreens
-dill seeds (and an actual dill plant from Liz and Emily's garden)
-lime basil
-red tomatoes (not sure of the variety)
-a pint of mixed little tomatoes--cherries, sungolds, jelly beans, and some others I don't know
-candy onions
-morels !!! I thought it was too late for these babies, but there they were! and the Mushrooms for Life guy (Jonathan Cingota) also had made this incredible spread that he shared with us that I have to make this week. I'll report back on that.
-Emily and Liz also gave me a pepper from a plant I remarked on in their garden. It's a Black Czech pepper, and they compared the heat level to a jalapeno, and said that the flesh is white. I can't wait to try it. I think I'll use it in a quick salsa this week, and the little flecks of black-and-white pepper will hopefully stand out and be lovely.

Then E-dawg and I hit the PASA Farm Tour (PASA stands for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture). We went to a couple farms during the tour last year, and decided to just go to one this year--Morris Farm near Irwin, PA. They're an organic farm that does pick-your-own. E-dawg selected this one because they mill their own flour. We got to watch them milling the wheat, which was fun, and much simpler (as a technological process, I mean) than I'd have guessed. While it was being milled, the farmer (Farmer Morris) put some fresh flour into our hands, and the warm, silky, aromatic stuff was practically enough to send us into fits with visions of freshly-baked bread and doughy possibility. We each bought a good-sized bag, and I can't wait to use it. E-dawg was contemplating using that evening for pizza crust, but I haven't heard if she did or how it turned out yet. Kara pointed out that it's a great find for the locavores in the area. (You can buy wheatberries there, too, which I almost did until I remembered my full-to-bursting pantry). It was interesting (and really cool) to hear this guy who seemed like a very old-school farmer talk about organic solutions to pests and using sea minerals in his soil. We didn't pick any veggies there since we'd gone so crazy at the market that morning, but you can see below the 1920s-era potato digger, and our excitement at viewing the delicious tubers (Farmer Morris said his potatoes had one 2nd place that same week at a fair).
After that adventure, we hit the pool to cool off (I discovered I'd gotten quite a passenger-side burn on my right arm from hanging it out the window of E-dawg's car). Then went home to have one of my favorite seasonal snacks (also had this for breakfast this morning, and many, many other times over the past couple weeks)--tomato slices on buttered toast. And, some ice cream (vanilla ice cream with Rita's root beer ice).

That evening I made a dinner to highlight all the freshness I'd gotten that day. We had a tomato salad (the little tomatoes tossed with a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, onion, salt, pepper, lime basil and a splash of vanilla extract--E-dawg heard of using vanilla with tomatoes last year on The Splendid Table), some lightly sauteed morels with shallots in a little butter, some gorgeous beans tossed with some fresh dill and salt (I used both green beans and royal burgundy beans--which actually turn green when you cook them--see the before and afters below), some of those gorgeous Poona Kheera cukes, and some roasted new potatoes with some garlic-herb mayonnaise (used garlic, chives, dill, marjoram and thyme).

Beans, before:
Tomato salad:
the full-meal deal:

Summer, I heart you.

p.s. Hey--I have an unrelated question for you, dear readers. When you read a recipe that calls for mint, do you typically assume that means peppermint or spearmint? I've gotten mixed results in asking this question of a lot of people over the past couple of days, but today I asked a couple chefs here at the ol' big Burrito, and they said it'd be peppermint unless otherwise specified. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

i feel fine

I feel fine in lots of ways today! I'm finally, finally, finally over the plague I had. I went to the doctor on Thursday, and he thought I may have mono, and sent me for blood tests and ordered me to do nothing but "Eat and use the bathroom. Seriously, NOTHING else." So, I took off work on Friday, and laid around for a few days, and then I felt better when I woke up on Sunday, and now feel like a new lady. Phew!

As an aside, Metro Family Practice is pretty awesome. I saw a doctor who's not my regular (who's awesome), and he was really great. Seriously, some of the best doctor's visits I've had in years have been at this place. It's like they actually listen and actually care. If you're in Pittsburgh, and looking for a good PCP, check out this place.

I also feel fine because it is now tomato and corn season!!! There's really nothing better. They're delicious even completely unadorned, and perfect for eating on summer days when it is Hot As Hell and you Do Not Feel Like Being In a Hot Kitchen. Yum.

I had some of the best corn I've ever tasted last night via pal Lisa. She sent an email this morning telling us about this place based in the Strip that is a "virtual farmers market" where you can order local and non-local, and even do a CSA, all through their site, and schedule a pick-up either in the Strip or at another location in the area. They're called Good Apples, and I think I'll swing by there after work and pick up a dozen ears of that corn (on their site they say it's from local farm Yarnick's (in Indiana, PA). A dozen is only $5! Worth its weight in gold, I tell ya!

I've been immersed in reading (like, actually reading the entire thing) Deborah Madison's cooking bible Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone. I've been checking out cookbooks from the library constantly, but want to buy the ones that I feel I'll use all the time. This is one of those. It's chock full of billions of recipes and technique tips, and is broken down by ingredient--which E-Dawg pointed out is perfect for figuring out what to make with your CSA stuff. A few people have mentioned not liking her tone/style, but I don't mind it one bit. I kinda like a bossy lady.

Speaking of CSAs, our box last week contained these delights:
-free range eggs
-an italian herb mix
-green beans
-black raspberries
-green bibb lettuce
-beets with greens
-new potatoes
-Hungarian hot wax peppers

And, tomorrow we're getting:
-green beans
-Methley plums
-salad mix
-sweet corn

I cannot wait!!!

I also cannot wait because my friend Alex is visiting tomorrow from Poland. It's been a while since I've seen her, and I can't wait to catch up, hear about her globe-trotting adventures and introduce her to Barbara and our new house (which is looking totally adorable, by the way!).

I also feel fine because I was asked to contribute my photo and a quote from and link to my blog from this outfit called We Feel Fine for their upcoming book. They're a site that "harvests human feelings" from weblogs. Every few minutes they search on "i feel" and "i am feeling" to see what the people out on the interwebs are emoting about. It's pretty interesting, and I feel excited (I'm in the "Excited" section) that they decided to include me. Also, I feel special. It's nice to feel special.

And, just for kicks, and for your viewing pleasure, here's a pic of our Libing Room (half library/half living room). It's that green fantastic?

And, here's a picture of me with the gal that makes it feel like home:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

even with the mini-plague

For the last few days I've had a virus that I was convinced for a few days that was some mutant strain of malaria or something. It's passing around our office, and everyone who gets it gets their own little twist on it. Luckily I did not get the version that included "a million tiny mouth sores" (ouch). But, even so, I've felt pretty cruddy since Friday evening.

However, I did do a little cooking in the times when my fever broke. I had a bunch of beautiful blueberries that I scored from the farmers' market, and I had big plans to make this pie, but I just wasn't quite up for all the rolling and such. Instead I made some blueberry muffins out of the cook book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook by Martha Hall Foose. I'd come across this cook book because Heidi featured the recipe for the Blackberry Limeade on her blog, and so I borrowed it from the library. It's really a lovely book, and lots of scrumptious-sounding recipes. Lots of them feature some form of pork, but still. I'd like to try a few more of her recipes before it's due back.

I only had my camera phone on me at the time, but you can kinda see them.

Blueberry Muffins
makes 18
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter (1 stick, melted)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon grated lemon [ek note: 1 used more like 1 1/2 T.]
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Grating of nutmeg [ek note: i was out of nutmeg, so used a little cinnamon instead]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw)

Preheat the oven to 475 F [ek note: most of my muffins got burned on the outside at this temperature. i'm not sure if it's the oven that i'm just not used to yet, or just that that temp is way too high. i'd probably go for 375-400 degrees F next time]. Grease or line 18 muffin cups with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl with a whisk, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Toss the blueberries to coat with the flour and evenly distribute. Ina separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, butter, zest, and almond and vanilla extracts.
Using a rubber spatula, combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir just until everything is moistened. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each two-thirds full.

Bake for 15 minutes [ek note: if you lower the cooking temp, these will take longer], or until the tops spring back lightly when touched. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then turn out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Don't let them cool completely in the pan, or the bottoms will get soggy.

[And, I also opted for the optional streusel topping, but changed it a tad. I used 2/3 c. granulated sugar, 1/3 light brown sugar, 2/3 c. flour, 1/2 t. cinnamon, a good bit of slivered almonds--maybe 1/2 c.?, and 4 T. melted butter. Just mush it all together, and sprinkle on the unbaked muffins].

I made some tasty burritos on Sunday night, too, but now I'm all worned out from typing about the muffins, and need to go rest. Carry me!

Thursday, July 10, 2008


On days when I get my CSA I like to chant "C-S-A! C-S-A!" like the peeps do at sporting events (and military events?) when they chant "U-S-A!". It gets me excited, and tickles my fancy, and there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

But, seriously, I would like to take a moment to expound on the virtues of having a CSA. I know I've said it before, but then I talked to a couple people this week who'd never heard of a CSA, so I'm gonna say it again.

Here's how wikipedia describes a CSA, but the basic run-down is that CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and what the deal is that you subscribe to a weekly farm share from a local farm, you pay up front, and then every week (usually early June-ish through mid-Novemberish, in this part of the country) you get a delivery (in various drop-off points around the city) of fresh produce that the farm(s) have picked mere hours or days before. Some of them also offer meats, breads, eggs, honey, cheeses, etc. In Pittsburgh I've used both Kretschmann's and Penn's Corner. I've loved them both. This year I'm doing Penn's Corner. I know they still have slots open, as do many other local CSAs. Here's a good list of all the CSAs available in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, and you can check here for national listings.

To give you an idea of what one gets in a CSA subscription, here's what my last few boxes have consisted of (I split my box with eDawg):

Week 1 (6/18):
free-range eggs
gourmet lettuce mix
head lettuce
baby beets
sugar snap peas

Week 2 (6/25):
new red potatoes
sugar snap peas
shelling peas
romaine lettuce
red ruffled lettuce
green cabbage

Week 3 (7/2):
free range eggs
sugar snap peas
snow peas
baby beets
head lettuce
bibb lettuce
hydroponic cluster tomatoes (1st tomatoes of the season! i can't wait for the onslaught!)

Week 4 (7/9):
black raspberries
new potatoes
young onions
patty pan squash
red cabbage
black seeded simpson lettuce
swiss chard

My CSA box paired with some goodies from the farmers' market almost covers all my eating! Also, when you subscribe to a CSA you're getting healthier food because it's freshly picked, and all the nutrients are still going strong. And, you're supporting your local agricultural community and local economy. And, you're cutting down on fossil fuel usage by choosing foods that don't have to be transported from all over creation to get to you. And, you're further helping the environment when you subscribe to organic farms that aren't using the pesticides that end up as run-off and the like. And, you're more in touch with seasonality as you see the growing seasons for various plants in your particular region. It feels good, do it!

So, don't you wanna go sign up for a CSA right now?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

baby's first risotto

I love risotto. And, I fear risotto. I've heard for years how easy it is to mess up, how labor-intensive it is, how often after stirring for a half hour you're likely to end up with a soupy/sticky/undercooked/overcooked mess. So, it's usually something that I order when out, and only fantasize about making at home.

But, this past weekend I got up the gumption to try it, loosely basing it--naturally--on a Heidi Swanson recipe. In her book, Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen, she lists several varieties for risotto. She uses wine and water as her cooking liquid, but I stuck with vegetable broth and a little water. I didn't have any white wine on hand, and knew that broth was the traditional choice. But, I did take her process suggestions, getting all my ingredients ready beforehand, because once you start, there's no stopping to the stirring. I did use Barbara as a pinch hitter a few times so I could powder my nose, and take some other stuff out of the oven. And, you know what? It turned out great! Creamy and comforty with a nice al dente bite. I threw in some grated parmesan (and topped it with a little more shaved parm), a handful of fresh herbs (I think I used basil, oregano, parsley and lemon thyme), salt and pepper and lemon zest right at the end, and it was rich and fresh-tasting. It made a big pot, so I'm using the leftovers for risotto cakes this evening for dinner, and I think I'll throw in some fresh peas and onions and whatever other veg I have hanging out in the fridge.

I served the risotto with some roasted green beans (a Mollie Katzen recipe; I just subbed toasted walnuts for the pinenuts. I can't remember if it's in the original Moosewood cookbook or The Enchanted Broccoli Forest), a green salad (with tender yummy radish microgreens) and a pitcher of sangria I made earlier in the day, then chilled in the refrigerator for several hours (it was even better the next day!). Yum.

Oh! And, lemon pound cake for dessert! I used a recipe that a former co-worker of mine used. I hadn't made it myself, but remember loving it, and then after having some lemon birthday cake a couple weeks ago, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's a Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) recipe, and you can find it here. It seems that Oprah and I like the same things.

On a related note, one of the best Halloween costumes I saw last year was a guy dressed as the Barefoot Contessa at the Spell party. It was Spot On.

Sunday morning Barbara and the E-Dawg were taking a big bike ride, so before they left, I whipped up some buttermilk pancakes (I had leftover buttermilk from the lemon cake, so I hadta!) and Gimme Lean "sausage" patties. For the pancake recipe, I again consulted Heidi's Cook 1.0. They came out fluffy and delicious. Yummers.

Now, I'm hungry.