Friday, May 25, 2012

Strawberry-Infused Vodka

Last Saturday, I went strawberry picking with two Master Food Preservers, Roshni and Michael.  It didn't take long to pick pounds of bright red, sun-ripened berries to eat and to preserve.

On Wednesday evening, we got together to swap the fruits of our strawberry preservation labors.  I traded my whole berry preserves for Roshni and Michael's strawberry garnacha and strawberry lavender jams.  While we were chatting, Michael strained the strawberries out of an exquisite, rose-colored liquid which turned out to be strawberry-infused vodka.  It tasted like sweet, ripe berries with a kick.

Strawberry-infused vodka is simple to make.  Roshni and Michael followed a recipe on David Leibovitz's blog which I've adapted here for a pint of strawberries which is usually what we get in our weekly box.

Strawberry-Infused Vodka

1 pint strawberries
1/2 bottle (375ml) vodka

1.  Wash and dry the strawberries.  Cut off the stems and leaves.  Remove the hulls.  Compost the stems, leaves, and hulls.

2.  Cut the berries into pieces.  Place in a glass jar with a lid.  Cover with vodka.  Seal the jar and store in a cool dark place for 3-7 days.

3.  The vodka is infused when the berries have lost most or all of their color and the vodka has become a beautiful rose color.  Strain out the berries with a fine mesh strainer or through cheese cloth.  For a clearer product, strain through a coffee filter.  Chill the infused vodka before serving.

The flavor of some infusions fades quickly.  Strawberry-infused vodka is best stored in the fridge or the freezer and consumed within a relatively short time.  It makes a great summer cocktail on ice.  Or mix a little with white wine or champagne for a variation on kir.

A word on vodka infusions:  It's probably best to use organic or pesticide- and chemical-free strawberries for your infusion as the vodka is likely to pull any pesticide residues out of the berries as well as the flavor and color.

Today's bounty included:

From Sage Mountain Farm:  Black simpson lettuce, zucchini, yellowstone carrots, bull's blood beets, young garlic, purple scallions, red russian kale, and arugula;

From JR Organics:  Cauliflower and strawberries;

From Jaime Farms:  Celery, parsley, dill, and chives;

From Sweet Tree Farms:  Zee Fire yellow nectarines and white donut peaches;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Tomato seedings.



Friday, May 18, 2012

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

There's something that happens to a bell pepper when you roast it that makes it super savory.  Roasted bell pepper can turn a simple burger or sandwich into a special treat.  I like to top goat cheese crostini with thin strips of roasted bell pepper for a festive canape or add chopped roasted bell peppers to scrambled eggs.

When the fresh pepper season starts to wane in the fall, I like to extend their season by roasting a bunch of peppers.  Then I remove the skins and seeds, pack them in a food storage container, and cover them with olive oil.  If they're completely covered with oil, they'll last a month or more in the fridge.

Today's recipe for roasted pepper soup can be made with most roasted peppers, but it's tastiest when made with yellow or red bell peppers.  If you've never roasted peppers before, it's easy; and there are several ways to do it.

I prefer the stove top method, but that requires a gas burner with a good flame.  You simply place the pepper right on the burner where the flame can char the skin of the pepper.  Using tongs, you turn the pepper as the skins chars until the pepper is entirely blackened.  If your burners are large enough, you might be able to roast more than one pepper on a single burner.  Otherwise, you can use several burners.

If you don't have a gas stove, you can roast peppers in a hot oven, about 400-450 degrees F.  Place the peppers on cookie sheet and roast, turning every 15 minutes, until charred, about 45 minutes total.  The skins might not blacken in the oven as much as they do on the stove top, but the peppers will roast just fine.

Another good way to roast peppers is on the grill.  If you're already firing up your grill, it isn't too much extra work to roast a few peppers.  And the grill will give them a little extra smoky flavor.  Since grill temperatures vary considerably, watch your peppers carefully and turn them as the skins char.  They're done when fully charred.

Whatever method you choose, wait until they cool to peel off the skins.  I like to put the peppers in a paper bag while they cool, but you can put them in a bowl if you prefer.  When cool, the skins will peel off easily.

The recipe below is for 1 large pepper which will make 2 servings.  You can double or triple this recipe if you wish.

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

1 large yellow pepper
1 t olive oil
1/4 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 rib celery, coarsely chopped
2/3 - 1 C vegetable stock or water
salt and pepper to taste
2 T cream, optional

1.  Roast the yellow pepper(s) using one of the methods described above.

2.  While the pepper(s) are cooling, heat the oil in a skillet and cook the chopped onion and celery until soft. Set aside.

3.  When the pepper(s) are cool enough to handle, peel away the charred skin and discard.  Remove and discard the seeds and the stem.

4.  Put the pepper(s), sauteed onion and celery in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth.

5.  Blend in the broth or water a little at a time until the soup reaches the desired consistency.

6.  Pour the soup into a saucepan and heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in cream, if desired.  Garnish and serve.

This soup may be served cold instead of hot.  Be sure to season the soup with salt and pepper (and anything else you might like) at the end of Step 5.  Then refrigerate until ready to serve.

A blender works better for this recipe than a food processor.  You get a smoother consistency.

Today's bounty included:

From Sage Mountain Farm:  Purple garlic, purple scallion, red Russian kale, spicy mixed greens, romaine, Swiss chard, and rainbow chard;

From JR Organics:  Green cabbage;

From Jaime Farms:  Beets, yellow bell peppers, hot house on-the-vine tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and free-range eggs;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Thai guava, avocados, and Golden Nugget mandarins.



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Creamy (Spicy) Avocado Dressing

Guacamole is such a delicious treat, it's easy to forget how many other uses there are for avocados.  One of my favorites is a creamy salad dressing that turns the simplest of salads into something special.  It's super easy to make, too, especially if your avocado is nice and ripe.

I put the (spicy) in parenthesis because while I like to put chipotle in this dressing, but it's entirely optional.  You'll still get a delicious dressing without the heat.  Likewise for cilantro, if you're not a fan, feel free to substitute parsley.

I mix up this dressing in a bowl with a fork, but you can use a blender or a food processor if you prefer.  The recipe below uses one avocado, but you can double or triple the recipe.  However, just like cut avocados, this dressing will brown even in the fridge, so it's best to eat it the same day you mix it up.

Creamy (Spicy) Avocado Dressing

1 medium ripe avocado
1/2 C buttermilk (or a little more to taste)
juice from 1 small lemon
1-2 green onions, minced
1-2 T minced cilantro or parsley
2 T mashed chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (optional)
salt and pepper

1.  Cut the avocado in half lengthwise.  Remove the pit and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl.  Mash with a fork until creamy.

2.  Mix in the buttermilk and lemon.  Stir until well-combined.

3.  Stir in the minced green onions, cilantro or parsley, and chipotle pepper.

4.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.

You can find small cans of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce at most Mexican markets as well as many grocery stores.

I put my Creamy Spicy Avocado Dressing on a simple salad of Red Sails lettuce and thinly sliced radishes.  It's also great on an iceberg wedge or on grilled romaine with crumbled bacon bits.

This week's bounty included:

From Sage Mountain Farms:  Strawberries, Red Sails lettuce, zucchini, and arugula;

From JR Organics:  Carrots, parsnips, and baby leeks;

From Jaime Farms:  Tuscan kale, radishes, free range eggs, hot-house on-the-vine tomatoes, green onions, parsley, and baby dill;

From Weiser Family Farms:  Russian banana potatoes; and

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Avocados.



Friday, May 4, 2012

Creamy Carrot Mac 'n Cheese

A long time ago, when I worked as a nutritionist, mothers would often tell me that their kids wouldn't eat vegetables.  While I knew most kids would outgrow their food fussiness, most moms wanted to know what they could do right now to get their kids to eat a balanced diet.  It was great fun devising kid-friendly recipes that incorporated the offending veggies.

Today's recipe is a delicious twist on an old classic with nutrition-packed carrots hiding in plain sight.  The mac n' cheese recipe below is pretty easy to make, but you can add cooked and mashed carrots to your favorite mac n' cheese recipe if you prefer.

Start by making the mashed carrots:

4-5 medium to large carrots

Trim and peel the carrots.  Chop them into large chunks.  Place in a 2 qt stock pot.  Cover with water.  Add a little salt (or not).  Cover and boil for 10-15 minutes until just tender.  Drain.  Cool slightly and mash with a fork or in a food processor or with an immersion blender.  Set aside.

Next make the sauce:

2 T butter
2 T flour
1-1/2 C milk
2 C grated cheddar cheese (or whatever cheese you prefer)
1 C cook and mashed carrots
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a 1-1/2 qt saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.

2  Add the flour and cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes.

3.  Gradually add the milk, little by little, stirring regularly as the sauce thickens.  Bring it to barely a boil, but don't let it boil.

4.  Add the grated cheese and stir until fully melted.

5.  Add the mashed carrots and stir until combined.

6.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside while you cook the macaroni.

To assemble:

Cook 1 lb macaroni according to the directions on the package.  When done, drain well and return to the cooking pot.  Pour the carrot/cheese sauce over the hot macaroni and stir until well-coated.

You can serve the macaroni like this as a creamy side dish, but I prefer to put it in a buttered baking dish or individual ramekins, top it with buttered bread crumbs and bake it at 375 degrees F for 20-30 minutes until the bread crumbs have browned.

I also like to use different pasta shapes.  Shells, fusilli, and farfalle all work very well in this recipe.

Today's bounty included:

From Sage Mountain Farm:  Young garlic, strawberries, romaine, and spinach;

From JR Organics:  Carrots, turnips, and cilantro;

From Jaime Farms:  Leeks, rainbow chard, free-range eggs, hot-house tomatoes, broccoli, and basil;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden nugget mandarins and avocados.

And from Silver Lake Farms there were nasturtiums and cardoons!