News · Recipes

“Dessert fads come and go, but there will always be pie.”

…So says a great Boston Globe article, “Welcome to Pie Season,” which talks about the enduring, irresistable appeal of a good old-fashioned pie!

As reporter Lisa Zwirn says, “pies are all the rage (again), and there’s no better time than summer to be inspired. Blueberries, raspberries, peaches, and other stone fruits are ripe and plump, ready to be tucked inside rich, buttery crusts.”

“If you grew up watching a skilled baker turn flour and butter into a tender dough and weave beautiful lattice tops, then you’re probably a good pie maker. Less experienced cooks approach pie making with trepidation, scared off by warnings: Don’t overwork the dough; don’t add too much liquid; don’t add too much flour when rolling; keep the pastry cold; let it rest; and more. While this is useful advice, pie making is not as finicky as it sounds.”

Click here to read more about mastering pie technique!

And this weekend, check out The Boston Pie Experiment @ the Middle East Downstairs. This amateur cook-off features some of Boston’s finest home chefs dishing up savory meat pies, quiches, traditional sweet pies and everything in between. Don’t miss it!

CSA 2011 · Recipes

Last-minute potluck salad

When my husband told me at midnight Sunday that we had a potluck going-away party to attend for one of his colleagues Monday evening, I panicked. We’d been on the go all weekend, I’d done no grocery shopping whatsoever, and wasn’t going to be able to buy anything between going to work Monday morning and then jetting home for half an hour before the party. So, I used what I had on hand.

Grabbing a few fistfuls of whatever greens came in my CSA this week — arugula, mesclun, head lettuce, a splash of frisee (OK, that last one isn’t so ordinary) — I pulled together a summery mix and then made my own strawberry vinaigrette. Top it with fresh strawberries, some crushed almonds and crumbled feta, and you have an impressive looking meal in 10 minutes.

THE DRESSING RECIPE (inspired by Rachael Ray)

  • 2 teaspoons of jam. I used strawberry because I was putting fresh strawberries into the salad as well.
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by whisking the jam, then add the balsamic, then the olive oil and then seasoning. I doubled this dressing recipe because it had to feed a crowd. Toss the dressing with the greens, top with fresh sliced strawberries, crumbled feta and ground almonds, and voila!

It helps to keep things like crumbled feta, fruit and almonds around to complement pantry staples like EVOO, balsamic, salt and pepper. I also like my easy chopper for quickly smashing nuts for salads, sauces and stir frys.

Once I started making salad dressings from scratch, I stopped eating the store-bought kind completely. It’s so quick and easy to do it yourself, and then YOU are in control of what goes into your body.

What about you — what are your pantry essentials? What’s your potluck go-to dish?

News

Study: Restaurant calorie counts often innacurate

Posted calorie counts in chain restaurants are often inaccurate, and weight-conscious consumers who select soups and salads are especially likely to be served heftier dishes than advertised, according to a new study reported in the Boston Globe.

Their analysis of a wide assortment of items from 42 national fast food and sit-down restaurant chains found that nearly 1 in 5 samples were at least 100 calories over the amounts listed on the restaurant websites when measured in a laboratory.

Restaurants tended to overstate the amounts in higher-calorie foods such as pizza, meats, and side dishes, but lower-calorie foods, such as soups and salads, were among the most likely to have understated calorie listings, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

While 100 extra calories lurking in a salad may not seem alarming, a consumer who ate that additional amount each day would pack on, on average, 10 pounds a year. In the study, scientists ordered the items as take-out – including soups and salads, meats, side dishes, sandwiches, pizzas, and desserts – and analyzed them in a lab. They found significantly larger discrepancies between advertised and actual calorie counts in sit-down restaurants, compared with fast-food chains.

“Fast-food restaurants are always considered the bad guys, but, in this case, they were the good guys, if you want a reliable calorie count, because there is more control in the factory’’ where the food is prepared, Roberts said.

Read the full story here.

As you know, I’m not an advocate of eating fast food, or eating out a lot in general, if you can help it. Even so, I was surprised by this — I often use posted calorie counts as a guide to keep my dietary habits on track. Do you find this study shocking?

CSA 2011

WASTE NOT: How to use up all that produce

If you’re like me, you probably stress a lot about cooking all the food you buy on the weekend before it goes bad over the course of the work week. From menu planning to figuring out where to store produce so it stays fresh in a small apartment, there’s some major organizing involved.

Add a CSA to the mix, and you’ve really got to do some planning!

Turns out I’m not alone. Americans throw out a quarter of the food we buy because it’s gone bad, according to researchers at the University of Arizona.

Anyone who knows me knows that throwing away food is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I decided to do some investigation on how to make sure I get to eat more of the food I buy every week. Today, I found some helpful information from my old friends over at VegetarianTimes.

Turns out things spoil a lot faster if you store them incorrectly, and some strategic thinking can pay off big-time in extending the life of your food. Says VegTimes:

If your produce rots after just a few days, you might be storing incompatible fruits and veggies together. Those that give off high levels of ethylene gas—a ripening agent—will speed the decay of ethylene-sensitive foods. Keep the two separate.

How do you do this? A helpful guide:

GAS RELEASERS — REFRIGERATE US RIGHT AWAY

  • apples
  • apricots
  • cantaloupe & honeydew
  • figs

SURE, WE’RE GASSY, BUT DON’T REFRIGERATE US

  • avocados
  • unripe bananas
  • nectarines & peaches
  • pears
  • plums
  • tomatoes

KEEP US AWAY FROM ALL GAS-RELEASERS

  • ripe bananas
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • lettuce & other leafy greens
  • parsley
  • peas
  • peppers
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • watermelon

And some more storage tips:

  • Keep produce whole. One you rip off a stem or cut something up, you’ve begun the breakdown process and spoilage accelerates.
  • Never refrigerate onions (oops!) , potatoes, garlic or winter squash.
  • Don’t seal fruits and vegetables in an air-tight bag; it suffocates them and speeds decay.
  • Take produce home and refrigerate immediately after grocery shopping, or buy a cooler for your car. Delicate items like raspberries simply won’t last.

If all else fails, and you have a lot of produce about to turn? Make a soup…or a frittata….or a fruit pie….or a green smoothie…..or a stir fry….or pasta primavera. The list is endless. Get creative, have fun, and freeze the leftovers!

CSA 2011

Transporting CSA on the subway

All summer before my CSA started, I struggled with this question: How do I get all this stuff HOME on the T?

Rain or shine, this bag gets the job done.

The first week, I brought a backpack and some reusable shopping bags, but it was pretty unwieldy and some of my greens fell flat after being smushed.

The solution? Look to the internet, specifically Target.com, where I found this gem —>

I can’t say enough about how much I like it. It arrived 3 days after I ordered it, it’s lightweight and easy to carry, with sturdy wheels and a huge interior. In addition to my CSA, I plan to use this for farmer’s markets, flea markets, trips to the park, you name it.

At less than $40, I think it’s well worth the pricetag.

Here it is full of CSA goodies!
News

Answer for Invasive Species: Put It on a Plate and Eat It?

Although the lionfish may look off-putting, it could be showing up on American dinner plates soon.

With its dark red and black stripes, spotted fins and long venomous black spikes, the lionfish seems better suited for horror films than consumption. But lionfish fritters and filets may be on American tables soon.

An invasive species, the lionfish is devastating reef fish populations along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. Now, an increasing number of environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists are seriously testing a novel solution to control it and other aquatic invasive species — one that would also takes pressure off depleted ocean fish stocks: they want Americans to step up to their plates and start eating invasive critters in large numbers.

“Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” said Philip Kramer, director of the Caribbean program for the Nature Conservancy. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”

Invasive species have become a vexing problem in the United States, with population explosions of Asian carp clogging the Mississippi River and European green crabs mobbing the coasts. With few natural predators in North America, such fast-breeding species have thrived in American waters, eating native creatures and out-competing them for food and habitats.

While most invasive species are not commonly regarded as edible food, that is mostly a matter of marketing, experts say.

Read more in the New York Times.

What about you — could you see yourself eating invasive critters as a way to curb overfishing and fish depletion?

CSA 2011 · Recipes

TODAY’S CSA RECIPE: KALE CHIPS

On their way into the oven!

My CSA kale, sadly, was starting to turn already — it’s been very humid in Boston this week — so I scrapped my plans for a kale and white bean pasta dish and turned to a quicker solution for using up my kale: KALE CHIPS.

What are Kale Chips? Think of them as a healthful alternative to potato chips.

So quick and easy to make, you just rip your Kale into bite-sized pieces (discard the stems) and toss with EVOO (or olive oil spray), salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 400F for about 15 minutes. Make sure they don’t burn; if they’re already browning, take them out and let them finish cooking on the stovetop. I added one of my favorite spice mixes — Trader Joe’s 12-Seasoning Salute — for a fun kick without too much heat. I’m sure if you like it hot, you could add any number of other spices (red pepper flakes, chili, cumin, curry, garam masala, you name it). You can also sprinkle with sea salt after they’re done cooking, or some nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.

Unfortunately, my “chips” lost their crunch in the humidity because I didn’t store them properly. So if you have some muggy days ahead, be sure to stash these in a paper bag so they maintain their crispness. Really, though, these are best when eaten right out of the oven.

Dig in!