Orzo Salad with Beets & Spinach

Medi Orzo Salad

This pasta salad is always the hit of the party, and makes tasty use of seasonal ingredients. Change up  the vegetables based on what you have on hand; the strong, pure Mediterranean flavors have a talent to pull almost anything off. Lots of lemon zest and juice, briny kalamata olives, and oregano and dill, which so amply grows on the hillsides of that region, work with veggies like peppers, summer squash, artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes. I showcased spinach and roasted beets in this version, but you could use whatever the season brings. Except maybe sweet potatoes. That might not work.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
2 roasted red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped (or a jar of roasted peppers, drained and chopped)

1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup kalamata olives, drained and roughly chopped

2 lemons, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons fresh chopped dill

Olive oil, salt & pepper

2 cups chopped arugula or spinach

1 cup roasted beets, cut into medium dice

Bring a large pot of water to a strong, rolling boil, season generously with salt and put orzo in, stirring to prevent sticking. Cook orzo for 8 minutes and drain in a colander, then rinse until cooled under cold water. Drain well, then pour a bit of olive oil and mix well to coat the pasta.

Add the peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, olives, lemon zest and juice, oregano, dill, salt and pepper and additional olive oil, if needed, to the pasta, and mix well to combine. Gently toss in the arugula or spinach, taste for additional salt and pepper, top with the beets (do not toss into the salad or they will discolor the salad) and serve room temperature or chilled.

Farm Box Day

Purple cauliflower1How could you not revel in the glory of this purple cauliflower? I was so excited to have an opportunity to be so creative this round. With Satsuma tangerines, carrots, romaine lettuce, kale, beets, bok choy, spinach, celery and purple cauliflower, avocado, along with some goodies from the farmer’s market, including Meyer lemons, baby artichokes, Japanese yams, butternut squash, and jalapenos, I prepared: 

Meyer Lemon and Oregano Roasted Chicken with Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Korean Beef Stew with Soy Braised Bok Choy and Celery

Grilled Hand-Made Pizza with Artichoke Pesto, Smoked Gouda and Mozzerella, Caramelized Purple Cauliflower and Kale

 Veggie Chile with Cranberry, Great Northern and Pinto Beans, Roasted Jalepenos and Avocado

Romaine and Roasted Beet Salad with Tangerine Ginger Sesame Dressing

Sweet Potatoes, Cabbage and Apples

Sweet Potato CakesWe did this crunchy little sweet potato cake with a crispy cabbage and Fuji apple slaw at a cooking party, and it was the first thing to disappear. Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t clearly show that it was as pretty as it was tasty. Imagine this: a chewy, sweet and salty bite of latke topped with a pungent, floral, creamy salad that has a zip of citrus and tang of creme fraiche, all in one hot and cool bite.

Crunchy Sweet Potato Cakes with Cabbage & Fuji Apple Slaw and Citrus Creme Fraiche

Serves 10-12 as an appetizer

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled

2-3 eggs

1-2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons chives, cut into small rings, plus a few chives cut into 1-inch segments for garnish

Salt & pepper

Grapeseed oil

1/4 cup creme fraiche

1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon orange zest and 1 teaspoon orange juice

1 cup finely shredded green cabbage

1/2 cup small julienne-cut Fuji apples

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Using a grating blade in a food processor, or a box grater, grate the sweet potatoes, and place in a bowl covered with cold water. Drain water, then put the grated sweet potato into a lint-free towel and wring until the sweet potatoes are very dry. Put in a large bowl and add 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of flour. Mix together and check for consistency, the mixture should be moist and “gluey.” If it isn’t damp, add another egg, if it isn’t “gluey” add another tablespoon of flour. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Pour about a cup of grapeseed oil into a skillet, and heat until a small portion of the sweet potato place in the oil begins to sizzle. Form the sweet potato mixture into a ping-pong sized ball in your hand, then flatten into a pancake. Slide the cake into the oil and cook until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes, then flip to the other side and cook until golden brown. Finish and cook this first pancake before you add more, then taste it for seasoning and consistency. If it falls apart in the pan, add another egg and another tablespoon of flour. If it is bland, add more salt and pepper. Once you have adjusted the mixture, continue to cook a few at a time, without crowding the pan. Remove the cakes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and place in a 250 degree oven to hold warm. Season with a sprinkle of salt.

Mix the creme friache with the citrus zest and juice, and place a small dollop on top of each cake. Mix the cabbage and apples with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then place about 2 teaspoons on top of the sweet potato cake. Garnish with chives and eat right away.

Green Beans

Here’s my advice about roasting anything…KISS it. Keep it simple, sweetheart. All you need is olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to roast anything. Perhaps you can get fancy-pants with grapeseed oil, sea salt, ground pink peppercorns, but that is up to you. But you certainly don’t need lemon pepper or a pre-packaged spice blend, which mask the greatness of what you’ve started with: Perfectly delicious, fresh, whole food. 

Roasted Green Beans with Lemon

1 pound green beans, trimmed
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Zest of one lemon, and lemon wedges for serving

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the green beans evenly on a baking sheet, and drizzle them with just enough olive oil to lightly coat each one.  Season with salt and pepper, and toss once more.

Roast in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then remove, and toss beans.  Place back in oven to continue to cook for another 10-12 minutes, until the beans are charred and tender.

Top the cooked beans with the lemon zest and serve immediately with the lemon wedges and additional salt for sprinkling.

Carrots, Onion and Celery

One person’s scraps are another’s treasure, at least when it comes to making veggie stock. The most humble parts of the most humble vegetables, such as onion skins, celery tops and carrot greens, (translation: the parts that normally go into the compost bin) are blended with water, a frugal bay leaf, and some of the wilted ends of fennel or mushroom stems and a few peppercorns. Sounds delicious, right? Even though it sounds unlikely, it renders the most satisfying base for any soup.

Making vegetable stock appeals to the pioneer inside of me that is resourceful and prudent. All you need to start is an empty plastic bag inside of your refrigerator crisper drawer, or even in the freezer, and every time you have leek tops, carrot bottoms, kale or chard stems (just about everything but brassicas like broccoli or cauliflower), save it for stock making day. Once you have a gallon bag full of vegetables, throw them into a 12-quart stock pot along with one chopped onion, a few chopped carrots, a few stocks of chopped celery, then fill the pot to the top with cold water. Add a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme, a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and let it come to a boil, then simmer for 2 hours.

All of the vegetables get strained out of the liquid, and then cooled in small batches, then stored in the freezer or fridge. Use it for soups, braises and stews, it makes all the difference in flavor.

Farm Box Day

School’s back in session, and we’re back on track with our farm box delivery. I was chomping at the bit to get meals for the weekend done, as we have a full schedule of work, birthday parties and, hopefully, a lot of relaxing. Our box held Russet potatoes, carrots, kale, red leaf lettuce, grapefruit, Fuji apples, yellow wax beans, zucchini, cucumbers, green grapes, and vine-ripened tomatoes. There were options for cooking and for eating straight out of the box. We’ll enjoy the grapes and grapefruit for breakfast on Sunday morning, and I’m excited about turning everything else into dinner. Here’s what’s cooking at my house today:

Garlic Roasted Chicken with Rosemary Potatoes and Carrots

Sesame Tofu Stir Fry with Brown Basmati Rice and Red Leaf Lettuce Cups

Chunky Gazpacho with Almond Cilantro Pesto and Garlic Croutons

Grilled Maple Glazed Pork Loin Chop with Apple, Onion and Kale Saute

Recipes coming right up (that’s the work part of the weekend.) Hope you enjoy your farm box!

Bell Peppers and Red Jalapeno Chiles

Bella and I planted red bell pepper and jalapeno seedlings at the beginning of the summer, so with a plethora of home-grown peppers, I made a batch of this year’s hottest condiment, harissa. This North African sauce can be purchased in jars, but is a cinch to prep at home. The effort pays off with a fresh, snappy bite that is a delicious accent to vegetables, meats and eggs.

Backyard Pepper Pot Harissa

Makes 2 cups

2 red bell peppers

6 red jalapeno chiles

6 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon cumin

olive oil

Char the peppers over an open flame, either on a gas range or grill, until the skin is blackened all over. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover to steam the skin away from the pepper. Cool for 10 minutes, then rub the blackened skin away from the peppers with a paper towel. Pull out the stem, pull the peppers into strips and discard the seed pod. Don’t worry about any bits of blackened skin or seeds still clinging to the peppers, they can be included in the sauce.

Place peeled, seeded peppers in a food processor with the garlic, salt, coriander, cumin and enough olive oil to make the pepper mixture slightly moist. Process the peppers until they are smooth and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed. Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 

Collard Greens

We’re going Brazilian for Labor Day…barbecue, that is. You may know that my husband is from Rio de Janiero, where meat is king and starch is its royal court. Every few weeks, we throw some rock salt on a tri tip and grill it to succulent perfection. Nothing beats that salty, charred crust, which we serve up with white rice, black beans, farofa and molho Brasieiro, a salsa-like tomato topping.

But I’m a veggie girl who needs to have a good dose of greens in every meal, so I always serve up a traditional churrasco side dish of sauteed collard greens, which you might find in your farm box late winter through late summer. You can include these on any barbecue menu, they add a lively, bitter crunch to whatever you throw on the grill.

Brazilian Collard Greens (Couve a Mineira)

Serves 4-6

1 1/4 pound collard greens, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves halved lengthwise

3 garlic cloves, cut into thin slices

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Cutting these collard greens into micro-thin slices helps them cook quickly and taste fresh and bright.

Stack half of collard leaves and roll into a cigar shape. Cut crosswise into very thin strips (1/16 inch wide). Repeat with remainder.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then cook garlic, stirring, 30 seconds. Add collards with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and salt and cook, tossing, until just tender and bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adjust if neccesary, and serve.


Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes, and Mint

Who wouldn’t want to go from zero to 30 minutes to the dinner table in a one-pot dish? Plus heap a healthy dose of protein, fiber, essential nutrients and knock-out flavor on top? This summer meal is a perfect weekday choice that uses the freshest of the farm box.

Shrimp and Toasted Quinoa with Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes and Mint

Serves 6

Olive oil, to coat the pan

1 shallot, minced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

3 cups medium-diced zucchini

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp

Salt and pepper

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups of homemade vegetable stock, homemade shrimp stock or homemade chicken stock (or substitute low-sodium prepared vegetable or chicken stock)

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon of fresh mint, chopped

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat through, then the shallots and garlic, stirring until slightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and shrimp, then saute for about 2 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly brown and shrimp begins to curl. Season mixture with salt and pepper and remove from the pan.

Add additional olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet, then add the quinoa and toast while shaking the pan until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock, season, stir, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa  until it is tender but still chewy, and a white, spiral-like germ surrounds each grain, about 10 to 15 minutes. Keep covered for another 5 minutes to steam, then fluff with a fork.

Gently stir the shrimp and vegetable mixture in with the quinoa, along with the lemon juice, zest and mint. Season with salt and pepper if desired and serve warm or at room temperature.

Valencia Oranges

I love the idea of peeling an orange and eating the segments right out of my hand, but it never seems to satisfy me as a go-to fruit. But an orange mixed up with the right set of ingredients, now that is another story. With the Valencia oranges packed in the farm box this week, I muddled up a terrific and tasty sangria, with a punch of citrus and cinnamon, as a perfect accompaniment to a batch of Farm Box Veggie Enchiladas.

Triple Citrus Sangria

Makes a pitcher that serves 2 – 4 thirsty people 

4-5 large Valencia navel oranges, cut into 2-inch chunks, skin left on

2 lemons, cut into 2-inch chunks, skin left on

1 lime, cut into 2-inch chunks, skin left on

¼ cup sugar

1 750  bottle of good quality red wine (I like to use a rioja or nebiola)

1 cup of good quality brandy

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 cinnamon stick

In a large pitcher, crush the citrus fruit with the sugar, using a muddler or wooden spoon. Add the wine, brandy, cinnamon and cinnamon stick, and mix well. Chill for 30 minutes and serve over a few ice cubes.