Sunday, October 28, 2012

Baked Apples

It's apple season; and the apples we've been getting most weeks in our box have been delicious.  Usually, I eat them whole or chop them into a salad.  But this week, I decided to make baked apples as a light dessert to a rich meal.

One of the things I truly love about baked apples is the infinite variations there are to this simple and healthy dish.  You can bake apples entirely plain, of course, but it's much more fun to dig out the core and fill them with a sweet and crunchy filling that enhances their sweet-tart flavor and soft texture.

Dried fruit, such as cherries, cranberries, and raisins are great, as is candied ginger; and walnuts, pecans, and/or oatmeal give the filling a nice crunch.  Personally, I like to use brown sugar to sweeten the mixture, but you can use maple syrup, honey, granulated sugar, a combination of these, or none at all if you prefer.  A little finely grated lemon or orange zest will add some zing.  And don't forget the spices.  Cinnamon is practically required, but nutmeg, allspice, and ground cloves add even more depth of flavor.

You can eat baked apples hot or cold.  I like to pour a little cream and maple syrup on them.  Leftovers are great for breakfast.  If the apples are large, you can serve half an apple instead of a whole.  Just cut them down the middle lengthwise to attractively reveal the filling.

One more thing:  The baking time depends on the apple's variety, size, and your taste.  Denser and larger apples need to be baked longer.  Also, the softer you prefer your baked apples, the longer they will need to bake.  I baked the large, dense apples from our box for 50 minutes at 350 degrees F and they were still relatively firm.  Some varieties, such as McIntosh, become quite soft the longer they are baked.

To start:  Wash and dry the apples.  With a sharp paring knife or a melon-baller, cut or scoop out the stem, core, and seeds, making a well, but being careful not to cut all the way through the bottom of the apples.

For each large apple, mix together:

1 T brown sugar
1 T chopped toasted walnuts
1 T chopped dried cherries
1/8 t cinnamon
A little finely grated lemon peel
A pinch grated nutmeg

Mix until combined and pack into the cavity that you scooped out of the apple.

Pack apples snugly in a buttered glass or non-reactive baking dish.  Add a little apple cider or water to the bottom of the baking dish (about 1/2 inch).  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F until done, 30-60 minutes.  If the apples won't stand straight, you can take a small slice off the bottom to create a flat surface.  Just be careful not to cut open the cavity on the bottom, or the filling might spill out of the bottom when baking.

Friday's bounty included:

From Jaime Farms:  Red leaf lettuce, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Tomatoes, bell peppers, rainbow chard, cilantro, basil, and winter squash;

From K and K Ranch:  Grapes and apples; and

From Weiser Family Farm:  Russian banana potatoes, beets, carrots, garlic, and Lucerne Valley onions.



Friday, October 19, 2012

Best Brownies Ever!

Locally-grown walnuts are a special fall treat.  An early sign of the approaching holidays, they make me think of all the goodies I'll be cooking up in the months to come - cookies, cakes, pies, and of course, these brownies - all with some kind of nut to add toasty richness.

And speaking of toasty, I've never met a nut I didn't like better toasted; so do go to the trouble of toasting them in a 350 degree oven for about 12-16 minutes after you shell them.  Watch them carefully.  There's probably not more than a minute between well-toasted and burned.

All nuts get rancid pretty quickly at room temperature.  Keep unshelled walnuts in a cool, dark place for no more than three months.  Personally, I like to shell walnuts and freeze them raw.  If you wrap them well, they'll keep in the freezer for six months or longer.  I like to toast them as I need them for cookies and brownies.  If you make a little extra, you can toss them into salads.

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked for this brownie recipe.  Every time I serve them or bring them to a potluck, folks ask for the recipe.  The best part is this recipe is super easy.  What's important is the quality of the ingredients, especially the chocolate.  These brownies will taste like the chocolate you use, so use something you like to eat.

1 stick unsalted butter
3 oz dark chocolate
1 C sugar
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 C flour
pinch salt
1/3 C chopped, toasted walnuts

1.  Line the bottom of an 8x8-inch metal baking dish with parchment paper.  Butter the top of the parchment and the sides of the pan.  Set aside.

2.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

3.  Put 1 stick butter in a 1-1/2 qt heavy saucepan over very low heat.  When the butter is partially melted, add the chocolate and allow the chocolate and the butter to fully melt.  Stir gently to combine completely.  Remove from heat.

4.  Allow to cool slightly.  Add 1 C sugar and 1 t vanilla.  Stir well to combine completely.

5.  Mix in one egg at a time.  Stir to combine completely.

6.  Sift in 3/4 C flour.  Add pinch salt and nuts.  Stir to combine completely.

7.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 28-30 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Tester inserted into the center of the brownies should not come out completely clean, but not too gooey either.

8.  Allow brownies to cool in pan.  Turn out onto a cutting board.  Peel away the parchment and cut into desired sizes.

Makes 8 large brownies, 16 small brownies, or 32 bite-sized brownies.

Today's bounty included:

From Jaime Farms:  Green onions, cabbage, and red leaf lettuce;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Strawberries, basil, cilantro, delicata squash, summer squash, chard, and tomatoes;

From K and K Ranch:  Walnuts, butternut squash, plums, and apples:

From Moua's Farm:  Long beans and Asian greens; and

From Silver Lake Farms:  Micro-greens.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Thank you Volunteers!

Hello Farm Volunteers!

Fieldwork for Food - A Volunteer Work Incentive program from Silver Lake Farms

If you are interested in volunteering at Silver Lake Farms in exchange for a CSA share, please call Tara at 323-644-3700. I will send you information  about how to sign up.

Here's what the main tasks of the coming weeks in October will look like: 

Monday - Tending to the compost with Adam in Silver Lake
Tuesday - Compost tea application at our Glassel Park growing grounds with Faye and/or micro greens work with Adam
Thursday - Flower Harvest for the Sunset Strip Farmers Market
Friday - General tasks at either our Silver Lake or Glassel Park growing grounds
Saturday - Flower Harvest for the Hollywood Farmers Market

Things are looking really good at the flower growing grounds. A lot of the garden pathways have been mulched, and it's been nice to walk along their weed free, clean, clear, and cushiony lanes as I look around and see all the changes happening at the growing grounds. The Celosia that were once so vibrant and bright are now starting to take on a slightly brown hue as they begin to shed their seeds. We are sad to see them beginning to fall out of the bouquet spotlight, but the little birds around town are DELIGHTED! If you're still you can see and hear little groups of them (some kind of field tit) twitting about from stem to stem gobbling up those yummy black seeds to get their winter fat on. 

And then there are the butterflies. I'm not sure what it is, and I was not expecting it, but there's all kinds of butterfly activity right now. They seem to really like the Globe Amaranth and the Scabiosa, so if you're harvesting, don't be surprised to have a few winged friends by your side and a praying mantis or two peeking out from the stems.

Besides the wildlife, there's the process of it all. Since we began the volunteer program in September, we have seen flower beds go through big transitions. You cut down the spent plants and added them to the compost heap, you ripped out the nasty weeds, you loosened the bed with a garden fork, you added compost, you straightened out the sides of the bed and widened it, you raked the bed clean and flattened out the planting area, you deep-watered the bed, and you weeded and mulched the paths around it. Now I have had the pleasure of planting these beautiful and nutrient rich beds (see pic) with our anemone and ranunculus corms. Come Spring, those beds that you worked will be transformed into lush oceans of color. I can't wait for you to see it as you burst with pride for a job well done.

Thanks for all you do and a big welcome to the new volunteers who recently signed up! Please let me know if you have any questions at all.

Faye and Tara

Friday, October 5, 2012

Easy Cheese-y Eggplant Bake

Today's recipe is inspired by that rich classic, eggplant parmesan.  But instead of breading and frying the eggplant before assembling, the eggplant in this dish is sliced and browned in a skillet brushed with olive oil before layering with tomato sauce and cheese and baking.  The resulting dish has more eggplant flavor and is considerably lighter than its classic counterpart.

You can make this dish with full-size eggplant or the smaller Asian eggplant we've been getting in our CSA boxes lately.  Even better, you can cook up the eggplant a day or two in advance and assemble the dish right before baking.

I like to use my Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce (see recipe in 9/24/10) for the tomato sauce in this recipe, but you can use a store-bought sauce if you prefer.  But remember:  the better the sauce the tastier the dish.

To prepare the eggplant:  Slice 1 lb. eggplant about 1/3" thick.  Heat a heavy skillet (such as cast iron) over high heat.  Brush with olive oil.  When hot, turn the heat down to medium.  Cooking in batches, add the eggplant slices in a single layer.  Brown on one side, then flip and brown on the other side.  Adjust the heat and brush with more oil as needed.  Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the browning eggplant, if desired.

Remove the eggplant slices as they brown and add more until all eggplant is browned.  Eggplant can be used immediately or stored in the fridge for 2-3 days before assembling the dish.

For 4 side servings or 2 generous main course servings:

1 to 1-1/2 C chunky tomato sauce
1 lb. eggplant, prepared as above
1 to 1-1/2 C loosely packed grated mozzarella or provolone cheese
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

2.  Spread 2-3 T chunky tomato sauce in a small baking dish, such as an 8" round pie plate.

3.  Layer 1/3 browned eggplant slices on top of sauce.

4.  Spread another 2-3 T chunky tomato sauce over eggplant.

5.  Sprinkle on 1/2 the grated mozzarella cheese.

6.  Repeat steps 2, 3, and 4; then repeat steps 2 and 3 again, ending with the sauce.

7.  Top with 1/4 C grated parmesan cheese.

8.  Bake at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until hot and bubbling.  Serve hot.

Feel free to substitute slices of fresh mozzarella for the grated mozzarella, if you prefer.  To make this dish a little fancier, top with a white sauce instead of the grated parmesan.  You can even stir the grated parmesan into your white sauce.

If you happen to have browned eggplant slices left over, you can marinate them in a balsamic vinaigrette for a nice addition to an antipasto platter.

Today's bounty included:

From Jaime Farms:  Broccoli and carrots;

From Jimenez Family Farms:  Red onions, iceberg lettuce, Romanesco squash, cilantro, dill, assorted peppers, and butternut squash;

From K and K Ranch:  Apples, grapes, eggplant, and jujubes;

From Moua's Farm:  Heirloom tomatoes, yu choy, and kale.