Friday, April 26, 2013

Preserved Lemons

Tara requested that I post this recipe for Preserved Lemons.  Even though there weren't any lemons in our box this week, there are plenty of lemon trees in the neighborhood and all over town, too.  Perhaps you or your neighbor has a tree laden with ripe fruit.  It's easy enough to squeeze and freeze the juice for later use, but this recipe requires only slightly more work and yields a beautiful and versatile product.

Preserved lemons, also called salt-cured lemons are frequently found in Moroccan cooking.  There are many wonderful recipes for chicken and lamb made with preserved lemons, olives, garlic, and spices.  But preserved lemons have many more uses.  Chef Ernie Miller, formerly of the Farmer's Kitchen, opened my eyes to the myriad uses of preserved lemons.  They're a tasty "secret" ingredient in tomato salsa, hummus, seviche, potato salad, tuna salad, and all manner of sauces and salad dressings.  More on that later.

The most important ingredient is time.  They get better and better the longer they age.  I like to put several jars in the back of my fridge and leave them for six months.  They keep for a very long time.  I've had some jars well over a year.

Below are two recipes for preserved lemons:  One is simply lemons, salt, and juice; the other, from Chef Miller, includes a few choice spices.

Simple Preserved Lemons

1 wide-mouth quart jar with non-reactive lid
6-10 lemons, enough to fill the jar snugly
1/2 C kosher salt
fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1.  Sterilize the quart jar by boiling it for 10 minutes.  Allow jar to cool enough to handle.

2.  Score lemons lengthwise in quarters, cutting through almost to the bottom, but leaving the bottom in tact so that the lemon can open up like a flower.

3.  Place 1 T salt in the bottom of the jar.

4.  Starting with the first lemon, pull open the quarters and place 1 T salt inside the lemon.  Place the lemon in the jar.  Repeat with the remaining lemons, pushing down on them gently until the jar is snugly packed with lemons.

5.  Pour in fresh-squeezed lemon juice leaving 1/2-inch headspace but making sure all the lemons are covered.  Add any remaining salt.

6.  Cover tightly and let sit on the counter for 1-2 weeks.  Then place the jar in the fridge and allow to age for 1 month or longer.

Chef Miller's Preserved Lemons:  Follow the recipe above, adding 1 t black peppercorns, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 2 bay leaves for flavoring.

Star anise and cloves are other flavors to consider.  Feel free to experiment.

One of my favorite recipes for preserved lemons is this very simple salad dressing:  1 t minced preserved lemons, 1 t juice from preserved lemons, 1 T white balsamic vinegar, and 2 T extra virgin olive oil.  Mix together until well-combined and toss with mixed greens.  Do not substitute dark balsamic vinegar for the white balsamic in this recipe.  If you don't have white balsamic vinegar, you can substitute cider vinegar.

This week's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest:  Spring onions, lettuce, carrots, fennel, beets, and collard greens;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden Nugget mandarins and avocados;

From South Central Farmers Cooperative:  Rainbow chard and blue kale;

From Sun Coast Farms:  Asparagus and broccoli;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Mint, chives, and cilantro

And from farmer Dave in Silver Lake:  French sorrel.



Friday, April 19, 2013

Strawberry Lavender Smoothie

Smoothies are a perennial favorite.  They can be made with just about any fruit or vegetable if you have a strong enough blender.  I like adding herbs and spices to my smoothies to add a little zing.

Today's recipe for Strawberry Lavender Smoothies is simple, delicious, and healthy, too.  I used English lavender from my garden, and I pulverized it in spice grinder.  If you don't have a spice grinder, you can do this with a mortar and pestle.

Most varieties of lavender are edible, but not all of them taste great.  Some varieties of lavender contain camphor which may give off flavors to your dish.  English lavender is the most popular culinary variety, but there are many others, too.

For 2 generous servings:

1 generous C washed, hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries
2/3 C plain yogurt
3/4 C milk
6 ice cubes
1/4 t finely pulverized English lavender
2 T honey or to taste (optional)

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth.

For a thicker smoothie, use more yogurt and less milk; for a thinner smoothie, more milk and less yogurt.

I prefer to use plain yogurt, but vanilla yogurt would work fine, too.  There's probably no need to add any sweetener if you use vanilla yogurt.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest:  Romaine and Bloomsdale spinach;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Carrots, strawberries, cilantro, dandelion greens, lacinato kale, beets, and cabbage;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden Nugget mandarins;

From Sun Coast Farms:  Asparagus and dried pinto beans;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Chives, sage, rosemary, sorrel, mint, and cilantro.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

It's strawberry season in Southern California.  We're so lucky to have delicious local strawberries available for much of the year, but these are the first in our CSA box for 2013.  You may want to enjoy these berries completely unadulterated.  But if you'd like to dress them up just a little Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar is a simply wonderful way to do it.

I must admit I was a skeptic about putting strong flavors such as vinegar and pepper on sweet little strawberries, so I was truly surprised at how inspired this combination of flavors turned out to be.  It's really not a surprise, though, when you think about it, since balsamic vinegar is made from grape juice reduced and aged to a thick and sweet syrup.  The pepper perks things up, but finely chopped fresh mint or basil can be equally perky substitutes if you're not fond of pepper.

Use the best, thickest, most syrup-y balsamic you have.  It makes a big difference in this recipe.  You only need 1 teaspoon per serving.  I like to use agave syrup in this recipe.  Granulated sugar may not dissolve well giving the dish a slightly gritty texture.  If you don't have (or don't like) agave syrup, use simple syrup instead.

It's easy to make simple syrup.  Just bring 1 C water and 1 C granulated sugar to a boil stirring occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved.  Then cool completely and store in a glass jar in the fridge.  It keeps for weeks.

For 2 servings:

1 C washed, hulled, and very coarsely chopped strawberries*
2 t aged balsamic vinegar
2 t agave syrup or simple syrup
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.  Put the chopped strawberries in a bowl.

2.  Drizzle the balsamic and agave or simple syrup over the berries.

3.  Stir gently to coat.

4.  Let sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

5.  Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper to taste and stir gently.

6.  Serve or refrigerate and serve within 3 hours.

This recipe can be easily doubled or triple.

*Very small strawberries can be left whole, and small strawberries can be halved.  Larger berries are best quartered or coarsely chopped.

Today's bounty included:

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Spinach, kale, wild arugula, red or green butter lettuce, dandelion greens, beets, strawberries, and mache;

From Country Line Harvest:  Baby fennel, white Tokyo turnips, red radishes, carrots, and spring onions;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Navel oranges;

From Weiser Family Farm:  Parsnips and Russian banana baker potatoes;

From Silver Lake Farms: Chives, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, or French sorrel.



Friday, March 29, 2013

Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding

I first tasted Raw Vegan Chocolate Pudding about a year ago at the Elf Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant on Sunset Blvd.  Since then, I've been experimenting with different versions of this simple, rich, and reasonably healthy dessert.  What I've discovered is it's all about the cocoa powder; so use the tastiest one you can find.  My personal favorite is Dagoba organic cocoa powder.  They make a variety flavored with cinnamon and chilies that's so full flavored, I don't even have to add vanilla extract.  If you like almond extract, it's a great addition to this pudding.  Feel free to flavor as you wish.  A little sea salt might be a great complement to a very dark cocoa powder.

The easiest way to make this pudding is in a blender, but you can do it with just a folk.  Make sure the avocados are super ripe to avoid lumps.  If your pudding is lumpy, you can press it through a sieve to make it smoother.

For 4 servings:

2 large or 3 medium very ripe avocados
1/3 C organic unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 C agave syrup
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 T almond extract (optional)

1.  Cut the avocados in half lengthwise.  Remove the pit.  Score the flesh of each avocado half and scope out into a blender or a bowl.

2.  If you're working with a strong blender, put all the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more cocoa or sweetener or flavoring(s) if you prefer.  Otherwise, start by mashing the avocado with a fork until completely smooth.  Add the agave syrup and combine.  Then stir in the cocoa powder and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth.  Add flavorings.  Chill until ready to serve.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Spring onions, chard, baby fennel, and French breakfast radishes;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, carrots, red and green butter lettuce, spinach, russet potatoes, turnips, Lacinato kale, and arugula;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Satsuma mandarins and avocados;

From Farmer Dave:  Arugula flowers;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Thyme, French sorrel, wood sorrel, baby leeks, or rosemary.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage is a wonderful vegetable whose versatility goes way beyond the seasonal favorite, corned beef and cabbage.  It's great cooked in soups and stews as well as raw in a wide variety of slaws and salads.  One of my personal favorites is simply steaming wedges of cabbage and serving them with plenty of butter, salt, and pepper.

Raw heads of cabbage can be stored for long periods; and cabbage pickles easily, too.  With little more than cabbage and salt, you can make a tasty sauerkraut that will keep in the fridge for about 6 months (see recipe from 4-20-12, spices optional).

Today's recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls is an old family favorite that I've modified slightly over the years.  Though there are several steps, it's not difficult.  And you'll end up with enough to serve a hungry family.  Leftovers keep well in the fridge for about 3 days, or you can freeze stuffed cabbage rolls (after cooking them) for 3-6 months.

I like to use my own, home-made Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce (see recipe from 9-24-10).  I keep quarts of it in the freezer.  But if you don't have any sauce of your own, canned tomato sauce is fine, though you may want to adjust the seasoning a bit.

For 12-16 rolls:

12-16 cabbage leaves, removed from the head*
1 t olive oil
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1/4 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 C cooked rice
1 egg
1/2 t salt, or to taste
1/4 t pepper, or to taste
1-1/2 C Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce + 1/2 C water OR 2 C canned tomato sauce

1.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Steam the cabbage leaves with a little water in a covered pot or vegetable steamer until the leaves are pliable, but not soggy.  Remove the leaves to a colander and set aside.

3.  In a small skillet, heat the oil and saute the finely chopped carrots and onions over low heat until just barely soft.  Turn off heat and set aside.

4.  In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, cooked rice, egg, salt, pepper, and sauteed onions and carrots until well combined.  You can do this with your hands, if you like.

5.  Test the seasoning of the meat mixture by making a tiny patty with a teaspoon of filling and cooking it (on both side) in a skillet (I use the same skillet that I cooked the carrots and onions in).  Add more salt and pepper to the meat mixture if necessary.**

6.  To assemble the cabbage rolls:  Working with one wilted leaf at a time, place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture in the center of the leaf.  Fold the sides of the leaf into the center, then roll up the leaf.  Place each rolled leaf in a non-reactive baking dish with a cover.***  Repeat with remaining cabbage leaves and meat mixture.

7.  If you're using a thick tomato sauce like the Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce, you may need to thin it a bit with water:  Place the tomato sauce and water in a medium bowl and whisk together until well-combined.  If you're using canned tomato sauce you probably don't need the water, but taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, or herbs, as desired.

8.  Pour 2 C tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls in the baking dish, spreading it evenly.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 1-1/2 hrs or until the sauce is bubbling and the meat is cooked through.  Serve hot or cool and refrigerate for later use.  Re-heat before serving.

*Save the rest of the cabbage foe another use, like cole slaw.
**Feel free to add other seasonings if you like.  Hot red pepper gives this dish a spicy zing.  A little paprika is another nice addition.
***I like to use a glass baking dish or a baking dish with a glass cover so I can see what's going on inside, but any covered baking dish will do, as long as it's deep enough to hold the cabbage and the sauce snugly   If you don't have a covered baking dish, you can use any non-reactive baking dish and cover it with foil.

Friday's bounty included:

From Ranch Santa Cecilia:  Murcott tangerines;

From Jimenez Family Farms:  Broccoli, arugula, broccoli rabe, carrots, cabbage, spinach, butternut squash, and yellow onions; and

From County Line Harvest South:  Green bor kale, lettuce, baby beets, and spring onions.

By the way, fresh cabbage comes in several colors.  Here's a photo of a stunning head of red cabbage from a friend's garden.



Friday, March 15, 2013

Spicy Double Mustard Potato Salad

Here's another delicious potato salad, one that's full of spicy mustard flavor due to a lemony mustard dressing as well as the addition of finely chopped mustard greens.  I sometimes call this recipe green potato salad; and it's a perfect side for the St. Patrick's Day corned beef you might be cooking up this weekend.

Even without the corned beef, this potato salad is refreshingly tangy.  You can control the spiciness by choosing a mustard that's got just the right amount of zing for your taste.

I find it's easier to peel potatoes after boiling them.  Wait until they're cool enough to handle and you'll find the thin skin will peel off very easily.  Or you can leave the skins on if you prefer.

For 4 side servings:

2 large russet potatoes
3-4 purple scallions, finely chopped
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley
2/3 C loosely packed, finely chopped curly mustard greens
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C Lemony Mustard Dressing (see recipe below)

1.  Scrub the potatoes.  Place them in a pot with cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil and boil over medium-low heat until they can be easily pierced through with a fork.  Drain and allow potatoes to cool.

2.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off their thin skins and dice.  Place the diced potatoes in a bowl.

3.  Add the finely chopped scallions, parsley, and mustard greens as well as a little salt and pepper.  Pour the Lemony Mustard Dressing over and stir until well-mixed.  If you prefer, smash a few of the potato pieces to make a slightly smoother texture.

4.  Taste and adjust the seasoning and/or add more Lemony Mustard Dressing if you wish.

5.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Lemony Mustard Dressing (double this recipe if you wish)

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 t fine grated lemon peel
1/2 t agave syrup or sugar
pinch salt

Vigorously mix all of the ingredients together with a fork or small whisk until combined.  Use immediately or store in the fridge.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South: Mixed baby lettuces, mixed mustard greens, French breakfast radishes, baby rainbow carrots, purple scallions, scarlet turnips, and red beets;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, Tuscan kale, potatoes, yellow onions, Chanteney carrots, cabbage, and purple curly kale.



Friday, March 8, 2013

Broccoli, Apple and Pecan Salad

Today's recipe is an easy-to-make salad that's attractive, refreshing, and a great way to use one of early spring's most nutritious vegetables - broccoli.

I like to steam or blanch my broccoli for a minute to lock in that bright green color.  It also keeps a little better in the fridge when blanched.  But you can skip this step if you prefer.

Broccoli, Apple and Pecan Salad is dressed with a lemony vinaigrette dressing.  I like to use preserved lemons for this dressing.  But if you don't have preserved lemons, you can use Eureka or Meyer lemons and grate a little peel onto the salad with a microplane grate (or not).  You can even use orange, if you prefer.

For about 4 side dish servings:

1/2 lb. broccoli
1 large Pink Lady or Fuji apple
1/4 C chopped toasted pecans
Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing (see below)
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  To blanch the broccoli:  Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set it aside in the sink.  Trim the bottom end and tough outer skin on the stem of the broccoli.  Cut into medium to large florets.  Place florets in the basket of a steamer with water on the bottom.  Cover.  Bring to a boil and steam for a minute or so, until florets are bright green but the broccoli still has its crunch.  Remove from heat.  Drain, then put broccoli florets into the ice water bath to stop the cooking and set the bright green color.  When cooled, drain the broccoli well and chop into small pieces.

2.  Cut the apple in quarters lengthwise.  Remove the core.  Cut each quarter into thirds or quarters lengthwise, then cut crosswise into small pieces.

3.  Place chopped broccoli and chopped apple in a large bowl.  Add the pecans.  Toss with Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve or chill in the fridge until ready to serve.  Will keep in fridge for 2-3 days.

Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing

1 t finely minced preserved lemon peel
2-3 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 t agave syrup, simple syrup or 1/2 t honey

Mix all ingredients together until well-blended.  Use half or more of this recipe to dress the salad.  If you don't have preserved lemons, use 1 t fresh squeezed lemon juice and grate a little lemon peel over the salad before tossing.

I like to use a lot of freshly grated black pepper in this salad.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Baby red beets, radishes, purple scallions, purple curly kale, and mixed mustard greens;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, white turnips, Chantenay carrots, space spinach, cilantro, cabbage, onions, potatoes, and Tuscan kale; and

From K and K Ranch;  Navel oranges and Murcott honey tangerines.



Friday, March 1, 2013


Italians make a lovely pickled vegetable mix called Giardiniera.  It usually consists of cauliflower, carrots, onions and red bell pepper.  Some recipes call for chunks of cabbage and/or pepperoncini as well, while others add enough red pepper flakes to give it a kick.  I've sometimes substituted romanesco for some of the cauliflower to great effect.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This Giardiniera can be poured into pints jars and processed in a hot water bath canner to make a shelf stable product that will keep for at least a year, or you can skip this step and store it in the fridge for up to 14 days.

It's delicious chopped and added to an antipasto salad or an Italian sub sandwich as well as on a relish plate.   Consider adding chopped Giardiniera to grilled cheese made with provolone cheese on Italian bread.

For about 3 pints:

2 T + 1 t kosher salt
4 C cauliflower florets
2 C peeled and sliced carrots
1 t black mustard seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
1 t black peppercorns
2 C white 5% vinegar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
5 thin slices peeled fresh ginger
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 C sugar
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 C red bell pepper cut lengthwise into strips

1.  Add 1 t kosher salt to a large pot with 2 quarts of water (set aside 2 T kosher salt) and bring the water to a boil.

2.  Add the cauliflower florets and sliced carrots to the boiling water.  Cook for 2 minutes.  Drain and add vegetables to an ice water bath to stop cooking.  Set aside.

3.  Put the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and black peppercorns in a medium saucepan and toast the spices over medium heat until fragrant.

4.  Add the vinegar, garlic, ginger, onion, sugar, red pepper, 2 T salt, and turmeric.  Add 1 C water.  Bring to a boil.

5.  Mix the red pepper strips with the blanched cauliflower and carrots.

For shelf-stable canned Giardiniera:  Pack the vegetables tightly into clean, hot pint jars.  Pour the hot brine over the vegetables.  Remove any air bubbles with a plastic knife.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth.  Screw on the lids.  Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.  Remove from canner and allow to cool completely.  Check seals.  Allow sealed jars to sit to 2-5 days before opening.  Store any unsealed or open jars in the fridge.

For quick pickles:  In a non-reactive and heat-resistant container, pour the hot brine over the vegetables.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2 days before using.  Store quick pickles in the fridge for up to 14 days.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Collard greens, red chard, and beets;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Space spinach, Japanese turnips, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, butternut squash, potatoes, and carrots;

From K and K Ranch:  Tangerines and navel oranges;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Assorted herbs and lemons.



Friday, February 22, 2013

Luang Prabang Salad

I've been in Southeast Asia since early February, retracing some of my past footsteps and setting down new ones, too.  It's my first time in Laos, a land-locked country that has been open to western tourists only 10 or 15 years.

Luang Prabang, the most popular tourist destination in Laos, is a low-key, provincial capital city and former home to one of the old monarchs of Laos.  Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang is likely to remain a small, walkable city between the Mekong and Khan rivers with a lovely mix of traditional and colonial architecture.

The cuisine of Laos is similar to, but also distinct from its Southeast Asian neighbors.  And there's French influence in many popular dishes, a vestige from the days when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine.

The Lao have always eaten lots of greens and a wide variety are farmed in the countryside surrounding Luang Prabang.  But probably the most popular leafy green in these parts is watercress.  We saw watercress growing outside of the hillside village of Ban Long Lao about 25km from Luang Prabang.

Many restaurants serve a dish called Luang Prabang Salad which is a tossed salad consisting of a variety of fresh mixed greens and fresh herbs along with cucumber, tomato, spring onion, and sliced hard-cooked egg.  The salad is often garnished with crushed peanuts and/ or crispy-fried sliced garlic and shallot.

I enjoyed three versions of the Luang Prabang Salad during my visit.  All included a refreshing mixture of tender lettuces, watercress, mint leaves, dill, and young cilantro but each was dressed differently. One had a creamy, egg-y dressing like hollandaise.  Another had a slightly sharper version of this dressing.  But the one I like best was a chili-flecked, sweet and sour dressing similar to the dipping sauce that accompanies spring rolls served at the Coconut Garden restaurant on Sisavangvong St.

You can make your own version of Luang Prabang Salad easily enough, though tomato and cucumber are not currently in season in Los Angeles, they are grown in hot houses in California and trucked in from neighboring Mexico.  Be sure to use a good variety of fresh greens and herbs, and don't forget the watercress.

Luang Prabang Salad

For 2 servings:

4 C watercress leaves and mixed fresh lettuces, broken into pieces and loosely packed
1/2 - 1 C loosely packed leaves of fresh herbs like mint, dill, and cilantro
1 medium tomato sliced
1/2 cucumber, sliced
2-3 T chopped green onion
2 hard boiled eggs, chilled, peeled and sliced
2-3 T crushed roasted peanuts
1-2 T sliced and crispy fried garlic and/ or shallot, optional

For the dressing, you can make the more traditional egg-based dressing by finely mincing a small clove of garlic with 1-2 hard-boiled egg yolks, then add 2 T canola oil, 2 T lemon juice, 1-2 t sugar (or your favorite sweetener), a few drops fish sauce and salt to taste.  Blend until smooth.  Thin with a little water if desired.  Or try a sweet and sour dressing if you prefer.  Just about any dressing would be delicious on  Luang Prabang Salad.



Friday, February 1, 2013


Lasagna is one of those hearty classics that never goes out of style.  There are countless variations including vegetarian, creamy (vs. tomato sauce), and deconstructed versions.  But good, old-fashioned lasagna made with meat, cheese, tomato sauce, and lasagna noodles is a crowd-pleaser among omnivores.

Making lasagna is a bit of a production, as it requires several time-consuming steps, like making a good tomato sauce.  The good news is that you can do much of it in advance, then assemble and bake before serving.  You can even prepare lasagna entirely in advance, as it keeps well in the fridge for a few days and is great re-heated.  Lasagna also freezes fairly well, but the cheese can become slightly granular.  Going light on the cheese minimizes this problem.

Speaking of tomato sauce:  I prefer to use my own slow-cooked tomato sauce.  You'll find the recipe on this blog way back on September 24, 2010.  You can make slow-cooked tomato sauce with fresh or canned tomatoes.  Maybe you have some in your freezer from last summer?  Or you can use your favorite tomato sauce, even a prepared one from a jar.  In any event, this recipe starts with a quart of your best prepared tomato sauce.  If you like to serve your lasagna with a little extra sauce, you might want to make more.

As for the meat, you can use ground beef and/or sweet or spicy bulk Italian sausage.  I prefer a mixture that's about half ground beef and half Italian sausage, either sweet or spicy.  You can always add red pepper if you want to spice it up.  If you can't find bulk Italian sausage, buy the links and remove the casings by slicing lengthwise through the casing with a sharp knife and pushing out the sausage.

My recipe includes spinach, which I mix into the ricotta layer, and a bechamel or white sauce (in addition to tomato sauce) for the top.  Feel free to omit these steps if you prefer, but I think they contribute greatly to a more interesting, delicious, and nutritious end product.

A word about noodles:  I've made lasagna using traditional dried noodles; sheets of fresh pasta, both store-bought and home-made; and dried, no-boil noodles.  Personally, I prefer sheets of fresh pasta.  I think they have the best texture and flavor; and you don't have to pre-boil the noodles, like traditional dried pasta.  However, it's considerable extra work to make your own and I've found only a few places in LA that carry sheets of fresh pasta.  The no-boil noodles are super easy, but they are noticeable less toothsome than a good quality dried noodle.  If the toothsome-ness of the noodles is not important to you, you might like the no-boil noodles.  They are widely available at many grocery stores.

Lasagna noodles tend to be rectangular, but they come in different shapes and sizes, as do lasagna pans.  This recipes calls for three layers of lasagna noodles.  You'll have to figure out exactly how many noodles that will be for your lasagna pan.  However, a one pound or 12 ounce box of noodles should be more than enough.

The recipe below is for a 8-9" square baking dish which will feed four to six hungry people.  Feel free to double this recipe for a 9x13" baking dish or something roughly equivalent.  A deep baking dish is best.

To make lasagna, you'll need:

1-2 t olive oil
1-1/2 lbs ground beef, bulk Italian sausage or a combination
1 qt slow-cooked tomato sauce
1 bunch fresh spinach (5-6 oz)
3 C ricotta cheese
1/4 t + 1 pinch nutmeg
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 C whole or evaporated milk, slightly warmed
1 C grated mozzarella cheese
Lasagna noodles to make 3 layers
Black and white pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)

1.  Make the meat sauce:  Heat 1-2 t olive oil in a large, non-reactive skillet.  Add the ground beef and/or Italian sausage and cook over medium heat, breaking up the chunks into small pieces, until cooked through (no pink).  Remove the meat from the skillet and wipe out the skillet.  For a more uniform consistency, break up the chunks of meat with a fork or transfer the slightly cooled meat to a food processor and pulse a couple of times.

2.  Return the meat to the skillet.  Add about 2 C of slow-cooked tomato sauce.  The consistency of this mixture should be thick, not runny.  Heat over low heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or longer, if you need to cook off some of the moisture.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, black pepper, or red pepper flakes, if you prefer.  Turn off the heat and set aside.  If you're planning to assemble the lasagna later, this thick meat sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for later use.

3.  Make the ricotta-spinach mixture:  Trim the stems off the fresh spinach, compost the stems, and wash the leaves well.  Cook the wet spinach over low heat in a cover non-stick pan until completely wilted.  Transfer the spinach to a strainer and press out the water.  Turn the cooked spinach out onto a cutting board and coarsely chop.

4.  Put 3 C ricotta cheese in a medium bowl.  Stir in the cooked and chopped spinach.  Add a few tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 1/4 t nutmeg (or to taste).  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.  Set aside or refrigerate for later use.

5.  Make the bechamel sauce:  In a small saucepan over low to medium heat, melt 1 T butter.  Add 1 T flour and cook for about 1 minute.  Slowly add the warmed milk, whisking briskly to prevent lumps from forming. [If you do get lumps, you can strain the lumps out of the sauce.]  Add about 1/4 C grated mozzarella cheese.  Stir until melted.  Season white sauce with 1 pinch of nutmeg, salt and white pepper to taste.  Set aside or refrigerate for later use.

6.  To assemble and bake the lasagna:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare lasagna noodles (if necessary) according to package instructions.

7.  Spread about 1 C slow-cooked tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.

8.  Put one layer of lasagna noodles on top of the tomato sauce.

9.  Put the thick meat sauce on top of the lasagna noodles.  Sprinkle about 1/4 C grated mozzarella cheese over the meat sauce.

10.  Cover the meat sauce with another layer of lasagna noodles.

11.  Spread the ricotta-spinach mixture over the second layer of lasagna noodles.

12.  Cover with the third layer of lasagna noodles.

13.  Cover the third layer of lasagna noodles with 1/2-1 C slow-cooked tomato sauce.

14.  Stir the bechamel and pour over the tomato sauce.  [You may not need to use all of it.]  Sprinkle some grated mozzarella cheese and/or grated Parmesan cheese on top, if desired.

15.  Place in preheated oven and bake until the lasagna is hot and the top is bubbly, 30-40 minutes or longer if you started with cold ingredients from the fridge.

16.  Take the lasagna out of the oven, cover it with a foil tent, and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

This week's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Chard, arugula, and kale;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Japanese turnips, onions, acorn squash, russet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, cherry belle radishes, and cabbage;

From Drake Family Farm:  Chevre;

From K and K Ranch:  Pink Lady apples and navel oranges;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Rosemary and sage.



Friday, January 25, 2013

Classic Spinach Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

The fresh spinach we've been getting lately has been beautiful; and it's good for you, too.  Spinach is loaded with vitamins and minerals and is delicious raw or cooked.

Today's recipe is a classic spinach salad with crumbled bacon and hard-cooked eggs.  No worries if you don't eat bacon, just use your favorite bacon substitute, or leave it out altogether.  Toasted walnut or pecans are tasty alternatives to bacon.  Sun-dried tomatoes would be another way to go.

But bacon is the traditional choice for this salad, so if you're going that route, get high quality, thick-cut bacon, cook it crisp, and crumble it or chop it coarsely.

This recipe is easily doubled.  For two servings use:

1 bunch fresh spinach
4 strips thick-cut bacon
2 eggs
2 T thinly sliced red onion
salt and pepper

For the raspberry vinaigrette:
2 T olive oil
2 T raspberry vinegar
1/4 t honey or agave syrup

1.  Triple wash the spinach, making sure you remove all the dirt.  Spin dry.  Remove and compost the stems.  Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces in a large bowl.  Set aside.

2.  Fry the bacon in a skillet until crisp.  Drain.  Then crumble or chop coarsely.  Set aside.

3.  Hard-boil 2 eggs.  To hard-boil eggs, place them in a pan with cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Turn off the heat.  Cover the pan.  Wait 10 minutes.  Drain.  Cool in a cold water bath.  Then peel the eggs and chop or mash them with a fork.  Set aside.

4.  Make the vinaigrette:  In a small bowl, briskly stir or whisk together the olive oil and raspberry vinegar until combined.  Stir in the honey or agave syrup.

5.  Pour the vinaigrette over the washed and dried spinach.  Add the red onion.  Toss to distribute evenly.  Season the spinach with salt and pepper to taste.  Go easy on the salt, as bacon is salty.

6.  Add the crumbled bacon and eggs.  Toss again.  Serve.

You can cook the bacon and eggs ahead of time.

Fruit is a nice addition to this salad.  Dried cherries, pomegranate seeds, or chopped tart apple are delicious, as are fresh raspberries, in season.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Baby white Tokyo turnips, red beets, arugula, rainbow chard, and rainbow baby carrots;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Russet potatoes, cabbage, winter squash, cilantro, broccoli, spinach, yellow onions;

From K and K Ranch:  Pink Lady apples and navel oranges.



Friday, January 18, 2013

Potato Pancakes

The versatile russet figures prominently (again) in my recipe for this week - potato pancakes. Potato pancakes are simply grated potatoes mixed with a few other ingredients and fried.

In my opinion, the perfect potato pancake has a crispy exterior with a thin and somewhat creamy interior.  To achieve this result, it's best to grate the potatoes on a fine grater as opposed to a coarse one and fry them in plenty of oil.  You can get loads of crispiness with coarsely grated potatoes, but it's much more difficult to get that creamy exterior when you grate the potatoes coarsely.  However, you might prefer your potato pancakes to be little golden nuggets of crunch.  In that case, grate your potatoes using the coarse grater.

Potato pancakes are like a blank slate.  They are delicious by themselves or with the traditional accompaniments of sour cream or applesauce.  They make a lovely side for most roasted or grilled meats.  They're a tasty alternative to hash browns at breakfast.  However, they're best right out of the skillet.

This is another recipe where it's easy to make as little or as much as you'd like.  You'll get 6-8 small pancakes or 3-4 large pancakes from each large russet potato.  Peel and grate your potatoes into a medium or large bowl.  For two large russet potato add:

2-3 T finely grated onion
1 lightly beaten egg
3-4 t all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt, or to taste
freshly grated pepper to taste

Mix all the above ingredients with the grated potatoes until thoroughly combined.

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium to high heat.  Use enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet with about 1/8-inch of oil.

When oil is hot, spoon small or large amounts of the potato pancake mixture into the hot oil.  Spread lightly with the back of the spoon.

Cook until crispy and golden on one side, about 1-3 minutes, then flip and cook until the other side is crispy and golden, another 1-3 minutes, depending on the size of the pancakes and the heat of your stove.

There are many delicious additions you might want to include in your potato pancakes.  Finely chopped green onions or spring onions, finely chopped parsley, or snipped dill are a few suggestions.  You can grate some carrots in the with potatoes for color, variety, and more nutrition.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Purple scallions, collar greens, arugula, baby scarlet turnips, baby daikon radishes, red bor kale;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Carrots, winter squash, cabbage, russet potatoes, broccoli, beets, and spinach;

From K and K Ranch:  Navel oranges, Satsuma tangerines, and Pink Lady apples;

From Silver Lake Farms:  bunch oregano, sage and rosemary.



Friday, January 11, 2013

Twice-Baked Potatoes

-Can't get enough of those russets.  And it's been perfect potato weather.  This crazy cold calls for something hearty; and twice-baked potatoes definitely fits the bill.

One of the things I love most about twice-baked potatoes is all the different ways you can dress them up or down.  Plain baked potatoes are like a blank slate; and there are so many flavors that play well with them.

You can make as many or as few as you like.  Figure on one-half to a whole potato per person depending on what else you're serving.

Start by scrubbing the potatoes and baking them in their jackets at 350 degrees F until you can easily poke a tester through the potatoes - about 60-75 minutes.  Cool the potatoes enough to handle.  Then cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, scoop out the potato flesh, leaving the skin and a thin layer of potato intact to give the skin some structure.

Mash the scooped out potato with the following other ingredients:
1 t finely chopped green onion, per potato
2 T sour cream, per potato
2 T grated cheddar cheese, per potato
Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add more of the above ingredient to taste, if you wish.

Spoon the mashed mixture back into the hollowed out potato skins.  Sprinkle about 1 t additional grated cheddar cheese on top.  Place potatoes on a very lightly greased baking sheet and return to a hot oven - about 425-450 degrees F until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5-10 minutes.

I find that the mashed mixture usually doesn't go quite as far as I'd like when re-filling the potatoes - probably because I like to mound it back into the potato halves.  So, if I'm making two or more twice-baked potatoes, I like to baked up an extra one (or more), just for the potato flesh.

Omnivores might consider adding cooked and crumbled bacon, sausage, or even ground beef.  Finely chopped and sauteed mushrooms are another tasty way to go.  Feel free to change up the cheese - Gruyere is a delicious alternative.

Consider stirring in a little chipotle or finely chopped and sauteed garlic.  Chopped parsley is nice both inside or as a garnish.  And speaking of garnishes:  Salsa or sour cream are nice, so are chimichurri or pesto of any variety.

Today's bounty included the following:
From County Line Harvest South:  Baby rainbow carrots, arugula, cilantro, rainbow chard, red beets, and collards;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Russet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, leeks, spinach, onions, and cabbage;

From K and K Ranch:  Satsuma tangerines, Oro Blanco grapefruit, and Pink Lady apples.



Friday, January 4, 2013

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

I just love the russet potatoes we've been getting in our box lately.  Russets are among the most versatile potatoes.  They're great bakers; and they mash up really well.  They make a nice old-fashioned potato salad; and of course, they're the go to choice for french fries because of their high starch content.

This recipe for Rosemary Roasted Potatoes is one of my all-time favorites.  It's a terrific side for any roasted meat or fish.  It's super easy to make.  And you can roast the potatoes in the oven, like I did today, or in a grill pan on the barbecue.  I think of them as a baked version of french fries, but of course, they're really their own thing.

These roasted potatoes are best served right out of the oven or shortly thereafter.  However, they can be roasted at a range of temperatures from about 350 to about 425 degrees F, which means you can roast them while you're roasting something else, just adjust the cooking time.  And you can make a little or a lot, depending on how many people you're serving and how much space you have in your oven.  Just don't crowd the potatoes on the baking sheet.

I usually figure on about one-half to one whole large russet per person and 1 to 1-1/2 t olive oil per potato plus a generous pinch of salt each, but you can adjust the salt to your taste.  Freshly ground pepper is optional.

Scrub the potatoes and dry them.  Slice each unpeeled potato in half lengthwise, then slice each half lengthwise into 4-6 wedges.  Put the wedges in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Fresh rosemary is best, but you can certainly use dried if that's what you have.  I'll bet if you look around, you'll find some rosemary growing nearby.  It grows like a weed around here and you might be able to forage some.  I just snip a bunch of fresh rosemary without measuring; it's probably about 1 t per potato.

When the potatoes are well coated with the oil, and the salt and rosemary are evenly distributed, turn them out onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven until they're done.  Stir them once or twice with a spatula so they brown evenly and don't stick to the baking sheet.  Baking sheets can vary, so if food tends to stick to yours, you can oil the baking sheet before placing the potatoes on it.

At 375 degrees F they usually take about an hour to get nicely browned.  Brown them to your taste.  Just keep an eye on them so they don't burn.  Once you make them, Rosemary Roasted Potatoes may become one of your favorites, too.

And if rosemary isn't you're favorite herb, consider using smoked paprika as a delicious alternative.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest South:  Arugula, beets, rainbow chard, and purple kale;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Broccoli, russet potatoes, cabbage, spinach, cilantro, carrots, leeks, and winter squash;

And from K and K Ranch:  Tangerines and Pink Lady apples.