Sunday, September 9, 2007

This Week's Menu

I feel like I'm finally back into the swing of things, back to my old cooking habits. I'm not sure what happened during the past couple of months. It could be that I started a new job and was just too exhausted to think about a menu. It could be that I'm not as inspired by summer produce...Or is could be that receiving a weekly CSA box was actually stifling my cooking creativity. I usually plan a menu based on cravings and what's in season, and I somehow found it difficult to wait until the middle of the week to receive half of my produce, never knowing exactly what I would receive.

We've decided to stop our CSA subscription until at least next January or February. We'll be traveling to Brazil soon, are we're tired of the boxes. Last week, a green caterpillar dropped out of our vegetables when my husband was putting them away, and he didn't notice that it was crawling on him until an hour later. I think that in itself freaked him out. I had also, a few weeks ago, placed a bunch of rose geranium that we received in a glass of water, as suggested, to allow the roots to sprout so it could be planted. The plant seemed to be doing well, but after a couple of weeks, I noticed quite a few dropping around the plant that didn't seem to be part of the plant. All that time, a little green caterpillar had been eating and growing in there!! So, we're going to give this a break for now, and I'm not so sure how we'll fare. To be honest, I already kind of miss it when reading the produce list for next week, but my inspiration and creativity with my cooking seem to do better when I can choose my veggies and fruit for the week by what's most appealing.

This is what we bought this week:

Farmer's Market Bounty
Baby Spinach, Pink Pearl Apples, Blackberries, Ollaliberry Preserves, Basil, Early Girl Tomatoes, Crimini Mushrooms, Red Bell Peppers, Long Beans, Lobster Ravioli, Spinach Pappardelle

In any case, I do have a menu for this week using our new produce and leftover produce from last week:

Soft Polenta with White Bean, Squash, and Sage Ragout, served with sauteed garlicky Chard (From The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen)
Lobster Ravioli from the Farmer's Market
Chicken with Poblano Cream Sauce and Cilantro Rice (From Everyday Food: Great Fast Food (borrowed from a friend, and the recipes look yummy!) Yes, I know, it's not pescetarian! My husband has decided to temporarily eat meat because of our trip to Brazil and to appease my grandparents there. So we're eating poultry almost once a week for now)
Palak Paneer with Chapati or Naan
Wild Rice and Mushroom Empanadas with Long Beans
Halibut with Artichokes and Potatoes (From The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook)

Sweet Pepper Sandwiches (side to be determined)

Strawberry, Lox, or Plain Cream Cheese
English muffins with Ollaliberry Preserves (from the Farmer's Market)
Pink Pearl Apple Sauce

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Multi-grain Penne Rigate with Goat Cheese and Ricotta Salata

On Friday nights, I'm exhausted by the work week I've just completed. I'm always happy to see that I've planned an easy and comforting meal for those nights. The ideal for me is to have a warm meal in minutes and watch a movie wrapped in a blanket.

This week, I left the planning somewhat open, but I knew that I had penne rigate in the cupboard and tomatoes and veggies. From other recipes, I had goat cheese and ricotta salata left, so a new pasta dish was born!

The beauty of pasta is that you don't need to know much about cooking to prepare a sauce of your choice with the pasta shape of your choice. It's always a wonderful fall-back.

We usually buy fresh pasta from our hippie friend at the farmer's market, but he told us the week before that he'd be spending some time in Amsterdam. We always miss his presence! He's become our weekly friend, the only person who noticed my husband's new glasses, the only person who could sense that my husband and I had been fighting one week (he said, "you guys need a vacation"), and the only person who asked how we were holding up after having my parents visiting for the weekend. So this week, as an alternative, I bought multi-grain dried pasta at the store. It's good, but not like the fresh pasta from a friend!

Multi-grain penne rigate with goat cheese and ricotta salata

Penne Rigate with Goat Cheese and Ricotta Salata
Serves 4

14.5 ounces dried penne rigate
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 sun-dried tomato Tofurky sausages, sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 multi-colored heirloom tomatoes, chopped
1/2 jar pasta sauce
4 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
4 tablespoons ricotta salata, grated
1/2 cup parsley, coarsely chopped

Bring water to a boil in a large pot, add pasta and cook according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and heat until fragrant. Turn up heat to medium-high and add sausages and cook until slightly browned. Add red pepper, red pepper flakes, and pine nuts and saute until pine nuts are slightly browned. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until heated through. Add sauce and cook again until heated through. Mix in parsley and take the sauce off the heat.

Combine pasta and sauce in a large bowl. Serve immediately with 1 tablespoon each of goat cheese and ricotta salata per serving.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Millet and Sweet Potato "Polenta"

Here's another treasure from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. This technically isn't polenta, I suppose, because it isn't made with any sort of corn or meal. However, the texture is very similar, and it fries just the same. I personally prefer the taste and texture of this polenta because it's much creamier and cooks with a yummy crisp on the griddle. The recipe in the cookbook called for serving it with sauteed onions and peppers, but I think anything you usually serve with polenta will go well (pasta sauces, mushroom sauces, cheese, moist vegetables, etc.). The only draw-back is that this version takes slightly more time, but it's well worth the effort!!

Millet and Sweet Potato Polenta

Millet and Sweet Potato "Polenta"
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup peeled and diced sweet potato
1 small onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (or more) sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
1 cup millet, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh parsley for garnish

Warm the oil in a heavy 2 to 3 quart sauce pan or deep saute pan over medium heat. Add the sweet potato and onion and saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent browning. Add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaf and saute for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add the water, millet, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring several times to prevent sticking. Remove millet from heat when it is soft and creamy (at this point, you might try mashing some of the sweet potato into the millet to make it creamier). Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set the millet aside to rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking dish and pour the polenta into the dish. Set aside to cool at room temperature and then refrigerate, uncovered, about 40 minutes or overnight. Slice polenta into 1/2 inch slices. Heat griddle over medium hight heat with olive oil and fry polenta until crispy on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Serve polenta topped with veggies or sauces.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Favorite Pesto Sauce with Basil and Almonds

It's late summer here, and basil is abundant....It's a shame when it goes to waste, so the best way to store basil is in a high quality pesto sauce. I love this pesto for it's flavor and texture. It isn't too liquidy, and it spreads easily on sandwiches. I was surprised when I realized that the recipe didn't call for Parmesan, but I now realize that pesto absolutely doesn't need it! This recipe comes from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley. To be honest, I have had much luck with this cookbook, but this one recipe is a gem and is good reason to buy it! The pesto is versatile, and may be used as a sandwich spread, cracker spread, dip, pasta sauce, dressing for name it. Whatever you have that needs to pack a little more protein can use pesto. Ok, so here's the recipe:

Basil-Almond Pesto
Makes 2 cups

1 1/2 cups whole almonds, peeled and lightly toasted (I used slivered and toasted almonds)
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt (a favorite of Peter Berley's)

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the almonds to a meal. Add the basil, garlic, lemon juice, and lemon zest and puree (don't worry if it doesn't puree completely at this point; it will have a change after you add the olive oil). Slowly add the oil and process until smooth. Blend in 1 teaspoon salt and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve at once. Cover and leftover pesto with a film of olive oil in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
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