Potato-Leek Pancakes with Pear Sauce

On nights that I’m just cooking for myself, I have huge problems motivating to cook anything remotely resembling a coherent dinner. Lots of times I just make scrambled eggs. Sometimes I make popcorn.  These potato pancakes are my attempt at cooking a meal that’s a little more like real food, but still is cheap (really cheap) and lightning fast to throw together.  potato pancakesYou probably already know how to make potato pancakes, but sometimes I write stuff here more to remind people that it’s a good idea.  Instead of having them with the traditional applesauce accompaniment, I used bartlett pear sauce that I made earlier this fall and it was totally delicious.  My friend Jen from Salt Hollow Flower Farm turned me on to canning pear sauce instead of applesauce, and I have to agree, it really is divine.  (I used this pear sauce recipe here.)

POTATO LEEK PANCAKES

Makes: 4 medium pancakes or 8 small pancakes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. of shredded potato, tightly packed (about 2 large potatoes)
  • 1/4 c. thinly sliced leeks
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbs. wheat flour
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 tbs. safflower or other neutral flavored oil
  • for serving: pear sauce, sour cream and sliced scallions

Combine the potato, leeks, egg and flour in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix together everything thoroughly. Heat the oil in a frying pan on high heat. Form the potato mixture into patties and set them in the pan. Cook for about three minutes, then flip them with a spatula to cook the other side for a few minutes.  The pancakes are done with each side is a nice shade of golden brown.  Serve immediately, topped with sour cream, pear sauce, and scallions.

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Nectarine Sorbet Sodas

nectarine sorbet sodaOur weather forecast is super depressing.  I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that nothing is really going to get done this week because I’m going to spend most of the time sitting around sweating and complaining about how hot it is.  I can deal with temperatures up to about 104, but once it crosses that….. when it’s in the 110s, I basically give up on life.  I did have a lightning bolt of inspiration that’s making these week a little bit more tolerable, though….. these nectarine sorbet sodas that I’ve been making are so refreshing and cold, I can’t stop drinking them.  I found some amazing nectarines at a farm stand near us last week, so juicy that they ended up dripping all over us and making a huge mess when we tried to eat them.  They’re perfectly ripe and sweet and it would be a shame to fuss with them too much.

The nectarines turned into a honey-sweetened sorbet which has then been going into sorbet sodas. I’ve been playing around with different combinations: the sorbet floated in plain seltzer water is barely sweet at all (how I like it), but for something a little sweeter, I’ve tried adding a splash of lemonade and some syrup from the pantry.  Right now I have elderflower syrup and rhubarb syrup, both of which go wonderfully with nectarine sorbet, but I’m sure that lots of other fruit syrups would be really nice.  (Blackberry? Blueberry? Why don’t I already have these in the pantry….?)

NECTARINE SORBET FLOATS

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 float

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop of nectarine sorbet (recipe follows)
  • seltzer water
  • lemonade or soda syrup (optional)
  • nectarine slices, for garnish

Put a scoop of sorbet in the bottom of a glass.  Add a splash of lemonade or soda syrup if you want some sweetness to your drink.  Top with seltzer water and garnish with nectarine slices.

 

NECTARINE SORBET

(I want to emphasize: this is really not that sweet. I’m not a big fan of sugary things  at all, but if you are, you’ll want to taste it and sweeten the mixture accordingly to your own taste. I was going for light and refreshing more than a sweet dessert with this recipe.)

Cook Time: 30 min, plus several hours in the fridge to cool the fruit puree

Special Equipment: ice cream maker

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 8 large nectarines, quartered

Bring the water and honey to a simmer in a medium sized pot. Add the nectarine slices and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and puree with an immersion blender (or whatever you have…)  Put the nectarine puree in the fridge to cool completely.  Once it’s cold, just prepare the sorbet according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Dandelion Green Fritters

This recipe uses a lot of greens.  It also begs the question: if you fry an ingredient that’s generally considered good for you, and then eat a lot of the finished product, are you actually eating junk food? or is it health food?dandelion green frittersWe’re just going to ignore that whole issue since I really like eating these.   If you’ve ever been overzealous planting your swiss chard patch and ended up with a ridiculous amount of greens, this is one to bookmark.  Also if you end up buying lots of greens at the farmers market because they’re pretty and you figure that you’ll deal with them later.  Also if the farmers who grew your CSA box were overzealous planting their swiss chard patch and now you’re suffering the consequences.

When I made these  last week, we had them as a side dish with jerk chicken, along with white nectarine salsa, purple cabbage slaw, and a garden salad.  I served them with a dipping sauce that was just homemade sriracha mixed with mayonnaise.  You could also serve them as an appetizer, put them in a wrap (think: falafels) for a vegetarian lunch, and they’re even good cold out of the fridge. There’s lots of room to experiment with seasonings, too.  A little curry powder and they could go with your next indian dinner, or some lemon juice and feta cheese could give them more of a greek flavor. You could serve them with tomato sauce instead of sriracha-mayo, or maybe sweet chili sauce.

DANDELION GREEN FRITTERS

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Makes: I forgot to count them before we ate them all.  It makes as many as there are in that picture up top.  A big plate full.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 big bunches of greens, roughly chopped: I used a mixture of swiss chard and dandelion greens, but anything you have is totally fine
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 4-5 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • safflower oil for frying, or any high-heat oil that you have

Heat the butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the chopped greens and tomatoes and saute, stirring often, until the greens are tender (how long totally depends on what kind of greens you use).  Season this mixture with salt and pepper.  Taste it to make sure it tastes good (you could almost serve this as is…)

Now, put the greens in a mixing bowl with the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the eggs a little bit at a time, stirring, until the mixture is about the consistency of pancake batter.  If it’s too dry, add another egg or some milk.  If it’s too wet, add some more flour (it should be pretty wet though).

Heat 1/4″ of oil into a large frying pan.  Working in batches once the oil is hot, drop small spoonfulls of batter into the oil.  You’ll want to cook them for about a minute, then flip them over to cook the other side and cook for another minute or two.  They should be a nice shade of fried-food-golden-brown when they’re done.  Let them cool on a paper towel for a minute, then serve with whatever dipping sauce makes you happy.

One last thing: if you decide to make these with swiss chard, go ahead and put the stems in too, they taste great!

 

How To Pull Off Your Own DIY Wedding, Pt 2: The Food!

When I saw all the boring menus offered on most wedding catering websites, we immediately decided just to cater the whole thing ourselves.  Other blogs talk about self-catering your wedding like it’s an insanely difficult task, along the lines of building a rocket ship or performing open-heart surgery, but it’s really not hard at all if you plan it right.  For anyone that enjoys cooking and is having a smallish wedding, I think it’s perfectly feasible. The key to doing this successfully is that you don’t want to actually cook anything on your wedding day.  I made virtually everything in advance and then just had my mom keep an eye on the oven while it all reheated. (We were outside trying to see if the dogs would sit still for wedding portraits.  They wouldn’t). wedding dog portraitIf you decide to go the self-catering route, there are a few things that you need to think about while you’re menu planning:

1. Does the dish hold well in the refrigerator for a day or two?

It’s perfectly fine to cook things several days in advance from a food safety standpoint, but will you be sacrificing texture or flavor? Steamed rice will dry out in the fridge, spaghetti is basically impossible to reheat without a microwave, mashed potatoes turn into one solid lump.  It’s better to think more along the lines of casseroles, braises, stews, curries and the like.  You can always do a test batch in the months leading up to the wedding and then see how it lasts in the fridge. Since we were cooking for such a large range of diets for our wedding day, we decided to go italian with everything. It tends to be a good common ground that will make everyone happy, from carnivores to vegans.

2. Do you have enough fridge space?

We were cooking for 25 people. We have a pretty average sized fridge and it was totally full of saran wrapped casserole dishes.  We couldn’t have fit one more thing if we tried.  Beverages were out in the garage and in coolers to stay cold. By this logic, I would estimate 1 refrigerator per 25 people. (You definitely don’t want to make a bunch of food and then realize you don’t have anywhere to store it…)

3. Remember food safety.

Remember to properly refrigerate the food you cook in advance. Make sure to reheat it thoroughly on the day of the event. When you’re cooking in the days leading up to the event, make sure you arrange your fridge properly and put vegetables and cooked food higher up than raw meats, which should be at the bottom of the fridge (so you don’t end up getting chicken juice getting on your raw vegan appetizers).

4. Menu Planning:

As with all local cooking, it’s not a good idea to get too set on a specific thing.  I knew what I had in the pantry and the garden, so I had some ideas, but I also shopped at the farmers market the week before the cooking.

With all that in mind, here’s the menu we figured out, doing our best to highlight the local foods we have available in February:

Friday Dinner:

We didn’t bother with a rehearsal or a rehearsal dinner, but for Friday night, when we had some friends over to help set up the space for the ceremony the next day, we had big pots of vegan curries that are simple to make and can hold on low for hours and hours.

 

and for Saturday, the wedding day:

Breakfast, self-serve for all of the guests that stayed with us:

Appetizers:

  • Vegan Summer Rolls stuffed with local greens, served with Peanut Sauce
  • Crab Rangoon, made with local dungennes crab and spring onions
  • Local Cheese Plate

Dinner:

  • Lasagna with beef & pork ragu, made with our home canned tomato sauce
  • Stuffed shells with local chard, ricotta custard and black pepper chevre from my friends at Shamrock Artisan Cheese, topped with our tomato sauce.
  • Vegan Polenta Casserole with Mushroom Ragu (The link takes to to a similar recipe with a different filling. Same idea though).
  • Garden Salad with greens from Floodgate Farms and Lovin’ Mama Farms

Dessert:

  • Vegan Chocolate Cake with Vegan Buttercream Frosting

 

Since I can’t write a post this long and not share a recipe, I should probably tell you about my summer rolls and peanut sauce…. summer rolls with peanut sauceThis is such a great appetizer; they always make people super happy and taste great.  Plus, since it’s really mostly salad, your guests don’t end up eating a bunch of rich food right off the bad (….. because that means food comas and food comas don’t really make for a fun party).  Summer rolls are super labor intensive, but they can be made a day in advance as long as you cover each layer thoroughly with saran wrap.   My new sister-in-law and I rolled about 100 of them while we hung out together the day before the wedding and it really went pretty quick.

The Kitchn has an excellent post about wrapping summer rolls, so I’m not going to bother re-photographing everything they already did….

For the peanut sauce, I use an approximation of the following recipe. (I wanted to tell you an exact version, but I burned out the motor in my blender, so now I just have to estimate.  I’ve made it so many times that this should be really close, though.)

Peanut Sauce

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. freshly ground peanut butter, usually found in the bulk-food section of the grocery store
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2″ of peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 or 3 hot peppers, depending on your heat preference (dried or fresh will both work)
  • 1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1  c. orange juice
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce

Combine everything but the peanut butter in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add the peanut butter and blend again.* If the sauce is too thick for dipping, add some orange juice.  If it’s too thin and watery, add some more peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If it tastes too spicy, add some honey or sugar.  You can serve this immediately but it will hold in the fridge for several days.

*If you put in the peanut butter first, you’ll burn out motor in the blender.

Note: Next time I make peanut sauce, I’ll check the amounts on this recipe, but if someone else makes it first, please let me know how it goes.

 

Kale Salad with Blood Oranges, Fennel and Olives

bloodorangesandkaleSomething about spring is making me crave salads.

(It makes me feel like an adult to say I’m craving salads and that I’m totally not lying to sound cool).bloodorangesol, While kale salad never will be as good as, oh…. fried chicken, this one is crunchy and delicious with the raw fennel and olives. It’s an excellent combination.

I guess you could say: if you’re the kind of person who likes raw kale salads, this is a good one.

kale saladKale Salad with Fennel, Blood Oranges and Olives

Cook Time: 10 minutes plus several hours to marinade

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium bunches of kale
  • 10 blood oranges
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 15 good olives
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • salt and pepper

To prepare all the ingredients:

First, remove the stalks from the kale, then slice the leaves into very thin ribbons.

Peel 7 of the blood oranges then roughly chop them.

Slice the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom, the slice each half into very thin half moons.

Pit the olives and then roughly chop them.

Then: combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Juice the three remaining blood oranges and drizzle the juice over the kale. Drizzle olive oil over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and set in the fridge to marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Winter Vegetable & Lentil Stew

I think the easiest way to make something good out of whatever vegetables you have on hand is to make soup.  And it’s great, because I really like soup. I like cooking it. I like eating it. I like that you can make a big pot and put the leftovers in the fridge and have lunches for days. I do a fair amount of professional cooking, and soups and stews are the most obvious choices when I need to feed a mixed group of carnivores-vegetarians-vegans-gluten free – whatevers. It’s pretty simple just to make a big pot of veggie stew, maybe serve it with a green salad and a grain.

Really, one of the main things I like about soup is that its a huge pot of vegetables, so when I have a bowl, I can pat myself on the back for eating healthy things and not Doritos.

These were the vegetables I decided to turn into soup today: winter vegetablesSomething about the sweet, nutty flavor of the parsnips really made this recipe worth righting about here. It was delicious.

We had it for lunch, topped with some parmesan cheese, with a few slices of bread.   winter vegetable and lentil soup

Winter Vegetable and Lentil Stew

Cook Time: 2 hrs.

Makes: a big batch!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced in half, rinsed, and then sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 celery ribs, tops included, diced
  • 4 parsnips, diced
  • 1/2 sm. buttercup squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard, roughly chopped
  • 2 c. crushed tomatoes with juice
  • about 13 c. water or stock
  • 1 lb. lentils
  • salt and pepper
  • a splash of apple cider vinegar
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, for serving

 

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, on medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onions, leeks, parsnips, and buttercup squash.  Saute for about ten minutes, til the onions start looking translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients- the tomatoes, water, swiss chard (stems and all!) and lentils, and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the cider vinegar and cayenne if you think it needs a little kick.  To serve, top with grated parmesan.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts

This is the best soup that I know how to make. Since I like you guys so much I wanted to share the recipe with you since it’s perfect for the holidays.butternutsquashbisqueMy mom has been making a version of this to serve on Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  I think she got it from either Sunset Magazine or Bon Appetit (an educated guess based on on the huge stacks of Sunset magazines she has in the front closet, years of subscriptions from a time before the internet). I never saw the original recipe, and it’s evolved a lot over the years as I tinkered around with it. This version that I’m sharing with you today is what I’ve settled on and have been making for quite awhile now.squashWinter squash always is a staple in our house since it’s so easy to preserve. We’ll grow a rainbow of different varieties during the summer and then keep them in bins in the pantry for the cold months. My favorites types are butternut, kabocha, and buttercup, although there are so many different varieties that it’s hard to really narrow it down to just those. This soup will work with any combination of what you have, though I have noticed that it doesn’t come out quite as good with pumpkin. Try to stick with varieties with drier, solid flesh, like butternuts. Sweet potatoes or yams will work just as well if you happen to have those.

Oh, and a note to any gardeners who were unsure about this: To preserve winter squash, just cut it off the vine when it’s ripe, leaving the stem attached, and store in a cool, dark place.  Ideally you’ll get them before they’ve gotten frosted on and left out in the rain for days, but I’ve also found some hidden out in the December garden that are still just fine.  Usually they’ll keep for months, but it’s a good idea to check your stash every so often to see if there are any that have soft spots or tiny bits of mold popping up.  That’s all you have to do. They really just preserve themselves.snowy trees

This recipe would be a wonderful light lunch for Christmas or New Year’s, a great for a weeknight supper when it’s freezing outside, or, if you’re busy and haven’t got a lot of time for cooking, make it in advance by a day or two when you have time and then reheat it. It may thicken a bit in the fridge but just add some water to thin it out and check the seasonings again.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 12 c. cubed winter squash (peeled and seeded first*)
  • 8 c. water or stock
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 c. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and sage, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the winter squash and water (it should be enough to cover the cubed squash, but feel free add more. Turn the heat to low and simmer everything for an hour or two. Remove from the heat and puree with your tool of choice (blender, immersion blender, etc.). Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat and stir in the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, topping each bowl with a few tablespoons of blue cheese, a sprinkle of nuts, and some fresh parsley.

Note: The gorgonzola cheese sounds weird if you haven’t tried it before but it’s vital. Don’t skip it or switch to a different cheese unless you’re allergic to moldy cheese or something. I’ve tried it with goat cheese and it’s not the same at all.

*I feel like there are already a million places on the internet that explain how to prepare winter squash. If you need help, just google. The main thing is to have a sharp chef’s knife and just to go for it — it really only takes a minute.

Happy Holidays!