Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Braised lamb shanks with spring gremolata and roasted spring vegetables

 My darling husband went and had himself a birthday this week. Hooray! An excuse to make something unnecessarily over-the-top! And when I think of cooking for a special occasion, the first thing my li'l brain wants is lamb.

Fortunately, my husband's li'l brain wants lamb too. Can you even believe these? Two shanks were 2.83 pounds. I had to take a shot of them in my 7 1/4 quart Dutch oven for scale, below. At my Pavillions in California (just a regular grocery store), they used to sell two perfect little lamb shanks shrink wrapped and ready to go with the rest of the lamb in the meat case, but I haven't been able to find those here (although my butcher said they do have them sometimes). Get those if you can, these were definitely too big. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


This weekend, I bought the 6 least juicy limes in the history of citrus. My projected afternoon of guzzling mojitos was whittled down to one for me and one for Mom. Wild. Anyway, they were still tasty. Next time I think I'll toss a basil leaf or two in there too.

About 95% of the time, I've found you can cut back the sugar in a recipe without ill effect. In this case, though, the lime is just too potent so Mom made squinchy sour faces. Whole tablespoon of sugar per drink it is!

7-8 mint leaves
1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp superfine sugar
2 ounces light rum (plain ole Bacardi)
2 oz cold club soda

To a highball glass, add your mint leaves, lime juice, and sugar. Smoosh (the technical term is "muddle") the mint against the bottom of the glass with your fancy muddler. Don't have a fancy pantsy muddler? Use a wooden spoon like I did. Get as much of the sugar to dissolve as possible. Add your rum and club soda, give a good stir, top of with ice and a little garnish and swill away, fellow boozebags!

Serves one. Repeat as necessary.

(Next time I'm in Sur La Table I'm totally buying that stupid cute little wooden stick.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

All Growns Up

My garden is becoming a badge of honor. Two unassuming boxes of dirt absolutely teeming with greenery, tomato plants so big they lean weightily on the netting for support, mint the size of freaking Kansas. It's... it's working. Follow a few simple rules, stick things in the ground, water them, and stuff grows. Crazy! A few highlights:

Spearmint can kinda take over a garden so I've made a mint-heavy menu this week, starting with mojitos this afternoon. I'll post the recipe if it's good... I think we all know how that's gonna turn out. The mint had a couple weeks head start on the rest of Herbville, but the others are coming along nicely.

Gorgeous purple sage:

While crouched down taking this picture, my nose found itself smack dab in downtown Basilburg. I've planted three types: two genovese, one globe, and one Thai.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sausage and mushroom risotto with oven roasted Brussels sprouts

I love a good risotto. I have a butternut squash and sage one that's fabulous (can't wait for my own butternuts) and a nice spring pea one, but I did not have a mushroom one. I do now. Risottos aren't exactly time consuming, but they are somewhat demanding. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it meal, you've got to stand over it and stir it constantly for about 22 minutes... But it does only dirty one pot. You know what else I love? Brussels sprouts.

They have such an unfair reputation. Of course they're going to taste like crap if you boil them. No vegetable tastes good that way. So stop doing it!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pork chops braised in dried cherries and leeks over brown rice with sauteed green beans

A few months after Allan and I started dating, he somewhat timidly revealed to me that he didn't really like pork chops. When I came to, it was hashed out that he didn't like dry pork chops, and I will certainly give him that. I don't like dry pork chops either. Thus; we have embraced the braise.

This recipe is from one of William-Sonoma's "Food Made Fast" cookbooks called "Simple Suppers". I really dig the series, there hasn't been a single dud among the recipes I've tried, although I always do make tweaks like to any other recipe (and would make a minor tweak or two to this one as well).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sweet chili-glazed salmon with sugar snap peas and jasmine rice

This one's a winner all around. Quick, simple, and healthy as all get out.

Tilapia and salmon are my "everyday" fish - we generally have them each at least once a week. Go to the freezer section of your local price club (I've found the Costco in Texas to be greatly inferior to the Costco in California, but the Sam's Club is great, so we've made the switch) and grab a bag of each. They're individually vacuum-wrapped in perfect portions. When I can afford Whole Foods salmon at $18.99/lb, that's what I'll be buying. Until then, I'm all about the Sam's Club freezer section. Get a bag of raw shrimp in there while you're at it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Roasted chicken breasts with asparagus and cherry tomatoes over couscous

I love Jamie Oliver. Anyone who even attempts to address the abysmal nature of school lunches is a good egg in my book. Also, he makes some seriously tasty food.

This is a great almost one-pot meal (a baking dish and a small pot for the couscous). It's extremely healthy and easy to adapt to the seasons - just use whatever vegetables you have! I did take issue with the cooking method, however. According to the recipe you're supposed to bake the asparagus and tomatoes together with the chicken for the full time, and I knew in the back of my head this was going to end with mushy asparagus, but I gave it a shot... Mistake. Next time, because I'll definitely make this again, I'll start the chicken frying in a pan first and then add my vegetables and pop it in the oven to finish.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grilled sea scallops and broccolini over miso soba noodles

Having lived in Indonesia for three years and Thailand for four, I've been thoroughly and irreversibly exposed to the glory of Asian cuisines. It's comfort food to me - "the kids" in my neck of the woods gathered at the local hole in the wall (literally - I don't mean kind of a crappy place, I mean often there would just be a wall with a hole in it for a table and a hot skillet on a cart piled with food) to drink Heinekens and eat Thai street food, as opposed to the diners and pizza joints "the kids" gathered at over here. Pad thai always makes me feel good in a way mac and cheese never will, and I'm okay with that.

The problem is that I can never make it nearly as good as they do. I mean, I don't even come close. My local Thai restaurant will always have my business because their grapow is a potent, juicy dark brown, and no matter how many recipes I try, mine is pale, dry, and sad (much like this ferang's legs after that crazy winter). So, while I often do make dishes with an Asian slant, I usually don't attempt the classics - that's what the phone is for. Call it in and pick it up (well, send Allan). And as long as it isn't supposed to taste like something I know, I'm always up to try a recipe.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chicken breasts in creole mustard sauce, almond rice pilaf, and bacony kale

Bacon: making people like vegetables since the dawn of time. Well, since the dawn of pigs.

Dark leafy greens are a favorite in my house. Not only are they wonderfully flavorful, they're also ridiculously good for you and cook up in no time (not to mention extremely inexpensive). Unfortunately there isn't any kale in my garden at the moment because it's more of a winter plant, but I would definitely cook up some of my Swiss chard or beet greens the same way. A little bacon goes a long way here - don't destroy the wonderful thing you're doing for your body eating kale by smothering it in half a pound of bacon. It's almost as delectable when sauteed in just olive oil, salt and pepper. Almost.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mixed greens and pear salad with blackberry dressing, walnuts, and stinky cheese toasts with grilled sausages

I was lying in bed a couple of nights ago catching up on my DVR'd cooking shows (what, doesn't everyone watch cooking shows in bed before going to sleep?) and as soon as I saw Emeril making this salad, I had to have it. And soon. I added the pears, because they're awesome. Also, I just so happen to own a bottle of local blackberry infused white balsamic vinegar from Texas Olive Ranch that I was dying to use. If you don't have blackberry vinegar, I'm sure you could substitute any other fruit vinegar (mmm, fig?) or just balsamic.

I'm a big fan of fruit in salads, particularly if there is cheese involved. Fruit and cheese are one blissfully happy couple, so who am I to deny they be together? I'm a cheese person, though. Some people spend money on clothes, some people on fancy cars, me? You can find me and my wallet in the cheese section of Central Market. I will be the person smelling everything and happily forking over $35 for three tiny moist lumps of clotted milk.

This was an as-yet untried Italian variety called "La Tur", made from a mixture of goat, cow, and sheep's milk. It was marvelously creamy and smelly. It shall be purchased again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lemony tilapia over farfalle with artichokes and parsley pesto

Sometimes meals come about because I have an excess of an ingredient I bought to go into something else. Such is the case with this pesto - I had nearly a whole bunch of parsley in the crisper and no idea what to do with it. And I haaaate throwing away food, so parsley recipe a-hunting I went.

The pesto is lovely, although I would have added a bit of lemon zest next time (so I've added it to the recipe below). It just needed a little of that warm fragrant lemony touch. Also, when I have fresh lovely sweet green peas from my garden, I would toss a handful of those in the food processor as well.

  • 1/2 lemon

  • 2 artichokes

  • 2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 lb dried pasta suc

  • This recipe also allowed me to conquer one thing I had never tried, trimming a whole artichoke. It was surprisingly easy. That being said, I absolutely would not bother doing it again for this recipe - canned or marinated artichoke hearts would have been perfectly fine. Honestly, I'd make this with no artichokes at all next time and do a separate vegetable side, the pesto really stands on its own.

  • 1/2 lemon

  • 2 artichokes

  • 2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 lb dried pasta

  • How cool are these when you cut them open?

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Orange-soy braised pork ribs, potato salad with mustard vinaigrette, and grilled asparagus

    This recipe will change everything you thought you knew about ribs. No sloppy barbecue sauce, no over-salted rubs, no sweaty hours spent tending the grill. They are sweet, salty, sticky, crispy, and fall-off-the-bone tender. The key is the long, slow braise, slathering in glaze (simply the braising liquid reduced) and subsequent quick char on the grill. And despite the ingredients, they honestly don't taste Asian at all, a disappointing surprise to me the first time I made them. Then I realized they were crazy tasty, anyway.

    I decided to pair them with a mayo-free potato salad that's been on my list since last summer, and I don't know why I waited all this time to make it. The pungency of the mustard paired really nicely with the ribs. To round it out I chose grilled asparagus because, well, it's spring, and asparagus is dirt cheap. It's also really, really pretty.

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Welcome to the garden

    This morning, I noticed the birth of the first of my li'l Southern peas (otherwise known as blackeyed peas). If you've never had fresh blackeyed peas, as I myself had never had before moving to Texas, you are seriously missing out. I like to simmer them with a little chicken stock, tomato paste, and a couple of pork chops til the whole pot just turns into a salty, creamy, fall-aparty porky mess... where was I? Anyway, to wit:

    Currently germinating in my garden are the following: brandywine tomatoes, sweet 100 tomatoes, a variety of lettuces including arugula, romaine and mache, red swiss chard, English peas, blackeyed peas, cucumbers, carrots, beets, red potatoes, onions, zucchini, green beans, cantaloupe, watermelon, bell peppers, eggplant, butternut squash, hot peppers, and a variety of herbs. You would think my garden was enormous, but it doesn't have to be since I'm using Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening method.That's why you see a nylon string grid in the pictures, I have two 4x8 beds divided into square feet - 64 feet total. The number of plants you can grow per square foot varies by the plant.

    World's cutest herb!

    Interestingly, cilantro and parsley are the only herbs that came up. I'm transplanting the rest this weekend. Next year I'll start the seeds inside.

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    Chicken sausages with roasted cauliflower and green olive pasta

    Cauliflower and olives. Two of the Great Food Polarizers.

    Personally, I love both. This pasta is one of Allan's and my favorite sides. For those of you who have never had roasted cauliflower, I beg of you, please try it. It's absolutely delicious, it gets crispy and sweet, completely unrecognizable from its raw (and, fortunately, boiled) state.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Grilled lobster tails in spicy garlic butter and spring panzanella

    I've had my eyes peeled for a protein with which to pair this panzanella from Deb at the smitten kitchen, and when Mom called to tell me she'd scored lobster tails at Central Market on sale, I thought it would be perfect. Something light and seasonal to accompany the lobster as opposed to the tired old sides of corn and potatoes.

    If I had been cooking out of my garden, I would definitely have substituted blanched English or blackeyed peas for the cannelini beans, and probably green beans for the asparagus (did you know you can't even harvest asparagus the first year after planting? I can hardly wait 6 weeks for my vegetables to be ready).

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Seared ahi with mango chutney, coconut cilantro rice, and sesame cucumber salad

    I wanted to introduce you to my garden today (otherwise known as the Proof of Concept), but I thought I'd wait for the weekend so I can snap my lovelies in the sunshine. I'm not really cooking out of it yet, anyway. But when I am, in a month or two, I will use mint, cilantro, onion and a cucumber out of it to make this meal (not addressing the tragedy that is me not owning a mango tree).

    The mint actually did come from the garden, since I couldn't find mint seeds and had to use a transplant.

    My cilantro has sprouted, though, and is extremely cute.

    I've had a similar Ina Garten recipe flagged for a couple of months and haven't gotten around to making it, so when I noticed mangoes on sale last week I knew I had to put it on the menu. I love fruit in savory applications, and the sweet heat from the mangoes and chili are a lovely complement to the mild meatiness of the ahi. If you are skeeved out by eating rare fish, I would recommend switching to a different variety entirely - overcooked tuna is basically cat food. This chutney would be delicious on any firm white fish, like swordfish.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    So, we're starting a farm.


    I've always been a little bit of a foodie. My mother is a great cook, as anyone who knows her would tell you, and we were always eating new and interesting things. Add to this ten years of living overseas, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, and it's really no wonder I'm passionate about good food. While eating breakfast, I'm planning lunch. Because that's when I get to eat, again! Awesome!!

    While living in Los Angeles, I stumbled upon a company that gathers produce from all the local farms, portions it out into mixed bags in a warehouse, and delivers it to your door. That was when my love affair with vegetables and cooking really began. You never knew what would be in your bag, so when confronted with something I'd never eaten before (like a kohlrabi, or a fresh beet - oh, how I love fresh beets), I'd spend hours on and looking at recipes. It was then that I met who would become my darling husband, Allan, so I was transitioning from cooking for one to two and feeling a little responsibility for someone else's health, too. Sure, I could eat noodles and sauce every night, but I can't feed Allan that - I love him! He needs to live forever!! I had also started to notice the ol' mid-twenties metabolism slump, so healthy eating became a priority.

    One steamy Texas day last summer, at the peak of summer vegetable deliciousness (I could spend hours just inhaling from each basket at the local farm stand in August), my family and I were chatting and having cocktails on the deck and I mentioned my dream endeavor would be a farm / vineyard / fromagerie / bed and breakfast. I had just watched a Travel Channel show about The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's restaurant in Northern California, and was completely swept off my feet by the idea of walking into my culinary garden to clip a few soft sage leaves and a butternut squash to whip up a little risotto for my guests. My pop mentioned he'd kind of always wanted to have a nursery (the plant kind, not the poopie-diapers kind), and I said well sure, there's room for that too! Why not? If we're dreaming, we might as well dream big. I was advised to narrow my focus a bit... Well, fine. I suppose we should start with vegetables.

    I read recently that on average, an item of produce has traveled 1,500 miles before getting to your local Megamart. All that fuel, isn't it amazing? (Or should I say, appalling?...) Why on earth are we buying mealy apples from New Zealand when we can grow apple trees right here??

    CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture groups) are not new to the Dallas area - Allan and I actually currently belong to one - but there is far more demand for local produce than there is supply... And that's how Pure Land Organic was born. We've also made some tweaks to the typical CSA share idea - instead of a half-bushel of 10-12 items of varying quantities depending on the harvest, we're committing to supplying families with enough of 7 or 8 vegetables to prepare a healthy dinner every night of the week, and this blog is going to help you figure out what to cook. We're also going to farm year-round, something we haven't found in the area despite it being completely possible with a little special equipment. We're going to grow our produce by square-foot farming in raised beds, using all organic methods. Oh yeah, and we're going to deliver, too.

    But first things first - we need to find some land.

    My very favorite muffins

    Oh, breakfast. My favorite morning meal (don't tell brunch). I took bits from several different recipes to develop these, and they are perfect. You can use all kinds of fruit - I've used blueberries, raspberries, apples and cinnamon, even pineapple and shredded carrots (I need to revisit those actually and try to work in some cream cheese), but I'm a real sucker for the combination of bananas and chocolate. I make a batch on Sundays for a quick, relatively healthy breakfast to scarf in the car on the way to work.

    2 overripe bananas
    1 cup quick-cooking oats
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/4 tsp baking soda
    2 tsp baking powder
    1 egg
    1/4-1/2 cup milk
    1/3 cup milk chocolate chips

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and mash the bananas in a large bowl. Add all of the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the egg and enough of the milk to make a thick batter (you'll know when it "feels" right), then fold in the chocolate chips. Ladle into a lightly greased cupcake pan and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. It makes 10 regular-sized muffins.