Monday, June 25, 2012

When The Moon Hits Your Eye

If you picked up on the Dean Martin reference, you must be thinking, "Yes! She's finally made a pizza!" And you'd be right! It was beautiful! See?

My roommates and I had dinner together the other night, and I had an abundance of cherry tomatoes from Julie's garden and yet more basil from both my backyard and Karen's. What can you do with basil and tomatoes? Well, many things. But margarita pizza might just be my favorite. The small tomatoes actually made for a great topping.

Even though I would be content eating pizza all day, everyday, I wanted to add something healthy. We had even more tomatoes from my roommate's nameless friend, plus cucumbers from Julie and said nameless friend:

With all this fresh produce (plus some non-garden greens and carrots we needed to use up), salad was in order. I really like the salad/pizza combination, especially when an Italian vinaigrette is in the mix. I don't have a picture of it, but I made a simple balsamic dressing which included some local Goodflow honey. The salad was very pretty on its own:

I also must confess that I did not make the pizza crust -- I bought it at Central Market. I've always been pretty impressed with their in-store bakery items, and their pizza crust is great. This meal overall came together at the last minute, and my roommates and I had a great time sharing it.

What Happens When I am Lazy in the Kitchen

Most of the time, I plan my meals ahead and create my shopping lists based on recipes. As I've been receiving all this great garden produce, I've been planning my meals around those local ingredients. But on occasion, life will catch up to me. I'll realize I have extra garden food and no more meals planned and I'm just too lazy to go back to the grocery store. That's when something like this happens:

I've been calling it "zucchini hash", and truthfully, it was only so-so. Definitely not my best meal. I grated one of Jessica's zucchinis, sauteed it with olive oil and Vidalia onion. Then I threw in some Japanese green beans from Karen's garden. The green beans were incredibly long -- almost two feet! Take a look at them next to the zucchini:

I topped the "hash" with feta from Wateroak Farms and some oregano from Karen's garden. The green beans were the highlight. They turned out rather sweet and complemented the sweet onion and cheese. The zucchini unfortunately soaked up too much oil, so I've learned my lesson for next time (if there is a next time for this dish...) Here's a closing shot:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Oh Me-oh, My-oh, Pico de Gallo

It's been a while, I must admit. And I've had some lovely meals since my last post, but sadly, not enough of them were at home. However, last weekend, I was bestowed with a near-truckload of garden-grown tomatoes and jalapenos, and I could think of nothing better to make than pico de gallo.

It's the simplest of recipes -- chop tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and some cilantro, throw it all in a bowl with some salt, and voi la (or should I say "aqui es"?) Anyway, I was short on cilantro and didn't feel like going out to get some. So I sufficed with the rest, and it was as tasty as it looks:

I should also point out that this pico contained a purple Cherokee heirloom tomato and some adorable little jalapenos, all from Julie's garden. I also used tomatoes from my roommate's friend's garden (and I don't know her, so I can't give her proper credit, but her tomatoes were lovely). Here's the produce:

And just for good measure, here's a shot of the whole bowl. It lasted for almost a week, and it made for a good snack while watching HBO's John Adams miniseries for 4 hours straight.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My (Zucchini) Muffin Top Is All That

Confused by the title of this post?

When Jessica gave me the onslaught of zucchini, I knew immediately I wanted to make zucchini bread for the first time. Jessica recommended I use a large zucchini for bread because it tends be dryer than small-to-medium pieces. I wish I had gotten a picture of the big boy, but you can see that it singularly produced a colander full of shreds:

The recipe I used was from Smitten Kitchen, and it called for 3 eggs. I didn't have any, so I went over to Karen's and picked up half a dozen eggs. Her hens just started laying, and some of their eggs are adorably tiny:

Due to a lack of bread pans, I decided to make muffins. I was a little worried as to how they'd turn out. But everything came together, and I ended up with two dozen muffins. Aren't they pretty?

Eat Your Heart Out, Garfield

As I said in my last post, my lasagna is kinda famous. People love it so much, they want to have babies just so I'll make them one. Generally, I try to be modest, but one thing I'll own, completely and unwaveringly, is my ability to make a damn good lasagna. Take a look at the one I made this week (using the last of that beautiful marinara):

Is your mouth watering? It should be. This one is a bit healthier than my normal recipe. I used whole wheat noodles, mixed the ricotta with leftover tofu, and layered it with sliced zucchini.

The zucchini is from Jessica's garden. Remember Jessica? She's the apocalypse-proof urban homesteader, and she is growing mammoth zucchinis. She sent me home with a bag full, so the next few posts will involve zucchini in some form. Here's a shot of them, pre-lasagna:

Because this lasagna was so pretty, I have to show more pictures:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Healthy and Italian: Not an Oxymoron

I really love bringing food to families just after they've had a new baby. One of my single friends once told me that she would have a baby just so I'd make her lasagna. I don't know that it's worth pushing a tiny human out of your vag and then raising it for 18 years (and supporting it financially indefinitely) just for a Gina-made meal. But I appreciate the sentiment.

I recently brought some food to a couple who had their first child, and they said they like Italian and healthy food. I had a childhood of Nutella, white bread, and chicken parm, so I know fully well that these two categories do not often go together. But they are not mutually exclusive. Italian food is often healthy, as long as you don't fry things or smother them in chocolate-hazelnut butter.

The solution, then, was to make a variation on my grandmother's exquisite tomato salad recipe. It is one of my favorite dishes. Ever. It's simply tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, salt, and basil. The beauty of it is when the olive oil mixes with the tomato juice. Italian families fight over the last bits of bread so they can sop up this tomato-olive oil juice after eating the salad.

For this meal, I used the rest of the lovely yellow tomatoes, along with some classic reds. I also added the last of Karen's cucumbers. I mixed them with straight-from-Georgia Vidalia onions and garlic, plus more basil also from Karen's garden. It is summer incarnated into food. Here are the glamor shots:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let Me See Your Casserole

I'll just say this up front -- I'm not ashamed to be cheesy. When I came up with the title for this post, I was thinking of this early 90s classic. I'm not so good at booty dancing, but I am good at throwing together a bunch of ingredients in a Pyrex dish, topping them with cheese, and baking them for 30-45 minutes. Simply put, I love casseroles.*

So, despite the increasing June temperatures, it should come as no surprise that I made a casserole last Sunday. I made a variation on a spinach-rice caserole recipe that's in a Better Homes & Gardens vegetarian cookbook that my mom gave me. (It's probably as old as that rap video. I'm pretty sure it's the only vegetarian cookbook my mother has ever owned.)

Anyway, I used this kale from Karen's garden instead of spinach. Kale is definitely on its way out for the season, leaving these greens pretty bitter. Hence, the caserole was the best way to make them tasty.

The recipe also called for 8 oz. of tofu, and I used locally-made, non-GMO tofu from a little company called White Mountain. I know some people get weirded out by tofu, and I'm sure this picture will do it, with the bumps on the side. But trust me, if you're gonna go with tofu, this is the stuff to use:

I also used some of the marinara sauce, previously seen on the spaghetti squash. The final product was hot, cheesy, and delicious, the way a casserole should be. Unfortunately, it was hard to get a good plated shot of it, but you get the idea here:

*Over the years, I have had a number of roommates of South Asian decent, who have mothers who make amazing, non-casserole food.  When my roommate from grad school met another former roommate, she asked her about my casserole habit. It was pretty funny.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Love and Kindness from Start to Finish, part 2

Friday night's dinner offered more than salad. I started the evening making a huge batch of marinara sauce, according to my Italian grandma's recipe. This sauce is best in the summer when I can make it with fresh, seasonal tomatoes and herbs. This time, I didn't have enough tomatoes for an entire pot of sauce, so I used canned sauce. But the fresh basil and oregano from Karen's garden gave it a fragrant twist. Here's a shot of the herbs:

Unfortunately, big pots of sauce aren't very photogenic. But ask any good Italian, and s/he will tell you it's the most beautiful site in the world. Such is how I feel about this photo:
Rosalie had a spaghetti squash that we decided to bake and eat with the sauce. I'm not sure how long she had it... Those kinds of squashes have long shelf lives, right? Anyway, it tasted delicious with the red sauce paired excellently with the salad. Here is the final product:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Love and Kindness from Start to Finish, Part 1

If I were to choose someone who is kindness personified, it would be my friend Karen. Today, I went over to her house to get some much-discussed kale. There wasn't much kale left, as it is on its way out for the season. Karen ended up giving me cucumbers, lettuce, basil, and oregano, too. She lives only a few blocks away -- only about a 10 minute walk from house. When it started to drizzle, she insisted on driving me home. She might just be the nicest person I know.

With all this garden-grown goodness, I was inspired to make a full dinner, and my roommate Rosalie spontaneously joined in. While all three of my roommates are good friends, we don't often eat together. It was really nice to share food tonight, and Rosalie and I put together a lovely salad and spaghetti squash with marinara sauce.

For tonight's post, I'll focus on the salad. (I'll post on the spaghetti squash tomorrow.) Here's the lettuce, which was a tad bitter (greens get more bitter as they adjust to the summer heat), but it was still quite edible:
And here are the cucumbers. Aren't they cute? The yellow tomatoes are also local. They're from Johnson's Backyard Garden here in Austin. I bought them at Wheatsville.
Rosalie made the salad dressing out garlic, ginger, honey, and olive oil. It turned out sweet and tangy, which balanced out the bitter greens. The sweet, fresh flavors from the cucumbers and tomatoes complimented the dressing, and I topped the salad with sliced almonds to give it a nice crunch. It was one of the best salads I've ever made, plus it made some pretty pictures:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The New Adventures of Old Zucchini

If you are a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower of mine, you've most likely seen these pictures already (and you're probably the only people who read this blog, so excuse the cross-cross-posting). But I had such fun with the zucchini-squash fritters (recipe from Smitten Kitchen), I figured I should post the pictures here.

The first night, I topped them with a lovely fried egg from Vital Farms. (When I can't get eggs from Ryan, I get Vital Farms eggs from Wheatsville Co-op.) A fried egg is the perfect topping -- the runny yolk soaked into the fritters. Words can't really describe it, honestly.
Two days later, I heated some up in the toaster oven -- they save and reheat much better than I expected. I topped them with some of Julie's tomatoes, Greek yogurt, and backyard basil.

The zucchini and squash came from my friends Jess and Jeremy. As I am now in the habit of describing my friends as sustainable food archetypes, the term urban homesteaders best applies to Jess and Jeremy. Their pioneering spirit means they'd also be good people to know during the apocalypse.

They plan to eventually run their own farm, but for now, they're managing a hefty backyard garden. Jess has taken to canning and pickling much of her garden produce, so I hope to feature some of her home-made pickles in later posts. In the mean time, I'm happy to put her fresh zucchini to use.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Omelets: How to Deal with the Aftermath

While I am trying to incorporate as much locally grown food into my diet, I'm also trying to eat up all my leftovers, something I've been bad at in the past. The problem with leftovers is that I get tired of eating the same thing over and over again, but there's one foolproof way to make them into something new and satisfying: omelets.

A good omelet starts with good eggs. Austin has a backyard chicken craze, and I know a lot of people raising chickens in town. One happens to be my next door neighbor Ryan. If Julie is a classy Renaissance woman, then Ryan is a mountain man on crack. He has raised pigs, ducks, and calves, slaughtered them, and roasted them -- all in his backyard. His backyard. I'm just happy to keep a basil plant alive, while this guy has pretty much maintained a farm. He also throws really great parties, and when the apocalypse happens, I hope I still live next door to him because he will not only help us survive but provide beer as well.

Anyway, he has a number of chickens roaming around our yards and has graciously shared some of the eggs. Take a look at 'em:

I know that second photo isn't very good but take a close look at that yolk. It is bright orange. If you examine a factory farm egg's yolk, it will be a pale yellow. It's the difference in nutrients. True free range chickens get a lot more nutrients than factory farm chickens, and it's the lovely yolks that make farm-fresh eggs taste so good.

Here's the final product:
I topped it with leftover tomato-caper sauce and shaved parmagiano. Inside is leftover avocado. I added green beans from the other night, making for a hearty lunch. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Oh, the Joys of Cucumber Juice

My brave friend Anslee recently completed a 60-day juice fast. (Read about here.) Out of solidarity with her and masochistic curiosity, I joined her for a week back in March. I bought a juicer and experimented with different recipes. Now that I'm back to eating solid food as God intended, I still juice from time to time (that machine was expensive!), and it's a great way to use up fruits and veggies that are starting to get a little too ripe.

This morning, I made a cucumber, pear, and apple juice for breakfast, and it was delicious! The cucumbers came from Julie's garden. I'm going to say a little bit about Julie, a true Renaissance Woman. But first, take a look at these cucumbers:
The green one was about 18 inches long. The other was a white cucumber and about 3 inches long and about 2 inches wide.

Julie uses the French Intensive gardening method, which is as intense as the name suggests. Not only does she manage a garden, but she cooks most of her meals from scratch, is getting a PhD in economics, volunteers with local non-profits to trap stray cats for spaying and neutering, and voluntarily does the accounting for our church. Oh, and did I mention that she's about to give birth to her first child any day now?

I can only hope my meals live up to Julie's high standards, and I try very hard to make sure I use all the vegetables she gives me. I foolishly let these cucumbers sit in my fridge too long, so juicing seemed a good idea. I added an apple and two pears, plus some lime juice and bit of the backyard basil, to make this lovely concoction:


Before I write about today's culinary adventure, I thought I clarify a few things:

1. I'm not a good photographer.
I know everyone but me has an Instagram account, and that means people can make their photos look professional just by making them grainy. But let's face it - they're just kidding themselves. They're as bad as I am. The difference is that I don't have a smart phone. Instead, I'm borrowing a fancy camera from a friend (who actually is a professional), and I'm terrible at using it. But, hey, this is just a little experiment while I'm funemployed, so I don't really care if the photos are professional looking.

2. Why am I doing this exactly?
Because I really like cooking with garden-fresh vegetables. For the past four years, I've been experimenting with garden veggies that friends gave me. This year, I got lots of kale, and I used it in everything from quiche to baked ziti to cole slaw with tamari dressing. Then in April, I took a crappy photo of the breakfast tomatoes (made with kale) and put it on Facebook. People liked it, so I thought I'd keep making updates. I really enjoy cooking and talking about food, and if I can encourage people to eat locally and seasonally, all the better. 

3. Why didn't I create a new cooking blog?
In short, because I'm lazy. This little blog was a place for my snarky rants for a few years, then I abandoned it for grad school. I didn't want to bother with a new account, and everyone has a Tumblr, so I thought I'd be "old school" and go back to Blogspot. Google already knows everything about me anyway, so they might as well know what I'm eating, too.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer is for Sauce

So now for tonight's dinner, and I am very proud of this dish. It features a divine tomato-caper sauce (courtesy of the NYT's Recipes for Health blog), topping whole wheat Israeli couscous and some steamed green beans.

The tomatoes and green beans came from my friend Julie's garden, and the basil came from my backyard. Here's a shot of the tomatoes before cooking:

Aren't they lovely? They were a pain in the ass to grate, but they made a sweet, tangy sauce that is perfect for summertime. Here's the final product:

Not So Lazy in the Kitchen

Food would be the one thing that would get me to revive this sucker.

My latest hobby is cooking with seasonal, locally grown fruits and veggies. I've had a few Facebook and Twitter updates featuring some mighty tasty dinners, and those have all garnered some interest. I figured I needed to do more than social media, but there's a thousand cooking blogs out there. I know I won't have the next Smitten Kitchen.

Bu for the few friends who are interested, I thought this might be the best place to give some updates. As soon as I have the library job of my dreams, this little experiment in eating locally will probably go the wayside of my many other blogging endeavors. In the mean time, here is a crappy phone photo of the dinner that started it all:

I call them "Breakfast Tomatoes," and these were almost entirely local to Central Texas, with kale and eggs from neighbors and goat feta from Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs, Texas. The tomatoes most likely came from a hothouse in West Texas. Recipe courtesy of NPR's Kitchen Window.