Recipes from the Farmers’ Market: Chickpea Dip with Ciabatta Toasts and Veggies

Ok.  Due to some personal upheaval, I missed my “Shopping at” post on Monday. I didn’t even have a chance to pre-write and schedule it, which bummed me out because I had news!  I went to the Market on Saturday – and IT HAILED.  HARD.  For a while, actually.  I was almost ready to throw in the towel and leave, when the skies cleared – well, not CLEARED, exactly, but switched back to light rain instead of death-hail. And later that day, a few miles from my house, it SNOWED!!!!  That never happens here.  It was AWESOME!  😀

But!  What you really want to know is what I bought, right?  Well, not much.  I had some stuff going bad in my fridge, and I’m trying REALLY hard not to throw things away, so I needed to eat that (more on that later this week).  But I did buy:
1/2 chicken @ $4.50/lb = $10.50 (ouch)
Celery @ $1.50/bunch (for a potluck on Sunday)
Bread – normally $4 each, but I got a deal because of the hail and bought 3 for $10: Sourdough, Ciabatta and Irish Soda Bread
Apples – various kinds and prices/lb = $4 (They were small apples, about 1/4 the size of chain-store apples, and I only bought 5.)

And  what did I make?  (You read the post title, right?  Ok, then.)

First things first: the chickpea dip recipe is adapted from a Rachael Ray recipe (I know, I know, but some of her stuff really is good).  I used more oil (shocking, I know), more garlic (also shocking) and supplemented the fresh thyme with dried.  But it was SUPER easy:

Ingredients:
2 cans chickpeas
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (depending on how much you like garlic)
zest and juice from 2 juicy lemons, or 4 not-so-juicy ones.
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped
1 Tbs dried thyme (about a palmful), crushed between your fingers
1/2 – 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (the original recipe called for 1/2 cup, but that left the dip too dry and grainy for my taste.  I used about 3/4 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste

The Recipe
Ready?  Are you sure?  This is complicated . . .

Put everything but the oil, salt and pepper in the food processor and blitz it.  Add the oil in a stream through the top funnel.  (Note: do NOT add it in and try to blitz everything at once.  Instead of a dip, you will end up with a really nasty, oily, chunky mess.  Take my word for it – and let us never speak of how I know this.)  Take the lid off, stir, add salt and pepper.  Stir again.  Taste.  Add more salt and pepper if you need to, stirring (or blitzing) until you get a taste you like. 

That’s it!  Ready for the Ciabatta toasts?

Ingredients
8 ciabatta squares (or so) – don’t use domed round loaves, or you’ll be sorry when you have to start cutting them into smaller bits.  For real.  It will be an ENORMOUS pain.  Get the flattest ones you can find.
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt, pepper, and if you’re like me, garlic powder, to sprinkle

The Recipe:
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Cut the ciabatta (should that be capitalized?  I never know . . . ) into bite-size/appetizer-size bits.  (This is easier and speedier than it sounds, since Ciabatta (I’ll split the difference on the capitalization) is mostly air.  😉  Tip: cut them so that the bread insides are facing up.  I cut my squares in half, as though I were creating 2 pieces of sandwich bread, and then cut each half down the middle (so now I have 4 pieces), and then cut each piece into thirds ( = 12 pieces per square).

Spray two (foil-lined, if you’re so inclined) baking sheets with nonstick spray and arrange the pieces on the sheets.  You can pack these in tightly – they’ll be fine as long as they’re in a single layer.  Drizzle olive oil over them (just a little bit or you’ll have greasy, stodgy little hockey pucks at the end), and LIGHTLY sprinkle some garlic powder over them.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over them, to taste.

Bake for 10 minutes, switch the pans (bottom to top and vice versa) and bake for 10 more minutes.  Let cool and toss in a plastic bag to store.  They’ll keep for several days – if they last that long. 

Serve the dip with the Ciabatta Toasts (or just pita chips if you don’t want to mess around) and veggie sticks of your preference.

How Did it Go?
Well, honestly, I had my doubts.  Especially when 1/2 cup of olive oil left me with a dry, chunky mess.  But! Another 1/4 cup left me with something smooth, though not quite creamy, and enough dip to take to a party of 12 and STILL bring leftovers home.  And no, NOT because they hated it.  People snapped that stuff up and LOVED it, so THERE.  😉 

This was great with the toasts and the celery (the only veggie I provided, because I. am. lazy. like that), and would be amazing – AMAZING, for real – as a spread on a roasted chicken sandwich (especially if you added some roasted red peppers and maybe some arugula).  I’m inclined to toss it with some pasta, just to see what would happen (will it thin out? will it stay chunky? THE SUSPENSE, IT KILLS ME), and it would be good as an egg-salad binder too, though much more substantial than mayonnaise (it would work on chicken salad too, for that matter).   I actually spread some on sourdough toast this morning and ate it for breakfast, and even THAT was good: the bright lemon flavor really went well with the sourness of the sourdough.

So, there you go!  A shopping trip and a recipe, all in one go!  The only thing left to say is: try this.  You won’t be sorry.

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Recipes from the Farmers’ Market: Chard and Tomato Skillet Toss

Sometimes I start dinner by figuring out what the heck I have in my cupboard.  (Usually I’m a decent planner, but sometimes . . . )  So the other night I knew I had to use that giant bunch of chard I’d bought, before it went bad.  I’d had various plans for it, but hadn’t settled on anything, part of the problem being that I didn’t really know how it would taste, plus most of the recipes started out by BLANCHING the stuff.  I’m of the opinion that I don’t generally want to cook my food before I, you know, COOK MY FOOD.  (I don’t blanch spinach for the same reason.)

But I had some onions from the Market (as always – my kitchen is not complete without 5 or 7 onions lurking somewhere), and canned tomatoes (not so much local, but at least they were organic).  So I went to town.  Note below that I did NOT throw away my chard stems.  I found a couple of recipes that used them, so I stuck them in the fridge for the weekend.  I’ll let you know what happens.  🙂

Ingredients:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch Swiss chard, any color, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained*
Salt and pepper, to taste
a TINY TINY TINY sprinkle of nutmeg

The Recipe:
In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and get to work chopping chard while they cook.  Give them a shove around the pan once in a while to keep them from burning.  (If they look a little unhappy, just lower the heat.)

When the onions are soft, but not brown, add the chard.  Toss it around until it’s all well mixed, and the chard starts to wilt a little.  Now (this is KEY), lower the heat to medium-low and put a lid on the pan.  Let it sit there for about 2 minutes – you just want the chard to cook without losing all the moisture in the pan.

Take the lid off and give it all another stir.  Add the canned tomatoes and mix together.  Taste, and add salt and pepper to your liking.  Add the nutmeg (don’t forget: TINY TINY TINY sprinkle) and heat the whole thing until it’s nice and hot. 

If you like, you can serve this over polenta, or mix in some protein.   You could double the recipe for 4 serving-size portions.  You could also add some chicken broth and maybe another can of tomatoes to make soup.  Or you could do what I did and toss in about 8 oz of cooked whole-wheat pasta. 

*If you use pasta, don’t drain the tomatoes.  You’ll want the extra juice to coat the pasta when you toss it.

How did it go?
Man, sometimes you hit the jackpot.  This was AMAZING!  I figured it would be ok, but it definitely became more than the sum of its parts.  And if you use pasta, definitely go with whole-wheat.  Not because I’m a health nut (HAHAHAHAHA), but because the toothsome-ness of the chard and tomatoes cries out for something equally substantial to stand up to them.  White pasta just isn’t going to cut it here.

The chard was a little fiddly to chop, but you can buy it pre-chopped at most grocery stores now.  You’ll need a fairly large package (though not a warehouse-store-sized one) to get enough vegetables, just FYI.  But even if you decide to chop your own, it’s TOTALLY worth it.  Seriously.

Recipes from the Farmers’ Market: Fennel and Onion Saute (Pasta Optional)

I had decided a while back to see what happened when I sauteed fennel and onion together.  I knew the onion would get sweeter, and assumed the fennel would too, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  As it turned out, it was pretty good.  It would have been great, but I experimented with some saffron, only to realize that I don’t actually LIKE saffron all that much.  So then I had to compensate with some other strong tastes.  *shrug*  Live and learn!  It was still pretty good, just not GREAT.  But I’d make it again, especially leaving out the saffron!

Ingredients:
2-3 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 can anchovies, drained
pinch red pepper flakes
2 small onions, sliced
2 medium fennel bulbs, sliced
1 tsp capers
1 tsp caper brine
1 tsp whole-grain mustard
juice from 1/2 lemon OR splash of white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste – optional
Fresh, grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling – optional
(NO pinch of saffron.  ;))

The Recipe:
In a large saucepan, heat the oil.  Add the garlic, anchovies and red pepper and allow to heat. Mash the anchovies into a sauce with the back of a spoon (it’ll work, I swear).  Add the sliced onions and fennel, and toss well.  Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring periodically.  When the fennel and onions are nice and soft, add the remaining ingredients and heat through. 

If you want to add substance to the meal, cook some whole-wheat pasta and toss the whole shebang together.  Taste, add salt and pepper if you want it (you might not – anchovies are salty and the red pepper will give it some kick), and some Parmesan cheese on top.

How Did it Go?
All things considered, it went well.  I originally added a teeny bit of saffron right after the onions and fennel.  It took me several minutes to figure out what the weird taste was in my vegetables!  (In my defense, I wasn’t sure if it was the fennel, since I’d never cooked fennel that way.  But it wasn’t.)  At that point I figured I was going to need some strong tastes to counter the saffron, which is why there are capers and mustard in this.  But honestly, even with the saffron, it was pretty good – one of those things where it isn’t to MY taste, but I can tell that other people would like it.  So if you know you like saffron, by all means leave it in, and leave out the capers and brine.  (I think the mustard would still work.)

I did end up tossing it with some pasta just to give it some heft and stretch it out a few days, but you could also increase the overall quantities and just eat a big pile of veggies.  Sausages would be good sliced into this too (the German or Italian kind, not the breakfast kind).  And it was really pretty to look at, with the pale green of the fennel against the creamy color of the onions.  Sort of monochromatic, which I like, but if you hate that sort of thing, just use red onions for more color.  😉

Shopping at the Farmers’ Market: Week 7

You know, titling these Monday posts by week seemed like a way better idea back when I didn’t have to go scrolling through old posts to figure out what freakin’ week  I was on.  (I’m not changing it – just complaining.  ;))

I only picked up a couple of things this week because I still had a ton of food left over from last week.  Why, you ask?  Well, mostly because I didn’t feel like cooking. But that led to an interesting discovery/revelation this week, which is: if I don’t cook, I don’t eat.  Now that I’ve cleaned out most of my fridge and some of my cupboards; now that there isn’t anything left in the freezer that’s premade; now that I can’t just open a can of soup and call it a day – if I don’t cook, I DON’T EAT.  And last Saturday and Sunday I ate the last of the frozen diet dinners from the freezer, and I didn’t cook, because I didn’t feel like it.  And Monday I had a bad day, got home, opened the refrigerator and realized that there was really NO FOOD.  There were plenty of INGREDIENTS, but no FOOD, if that makes sense.  So I ate Top Ramen (don’t judge!). 

And over the course of the week, I noticed something else: after eating those diet dinners and after eating the ramen soup, I didn’t WANT real food.  I just wanted to eat cookies and toast and chips and pasta and salt and bacon and chocolate and cake andandand . . . Even when I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted to EAT.   I’d just finished The End of Overeating, by Dr. David Kessler, which talked about the food industry and what gets added to our food in order to activate the right hormones in our brains to encourage us to keep eating (the term is “craveability”), and I had to wonder if that was part of what was going on here.  I hadn’t been feeling that overwhelming impulse to eat when I wasn’t hungry, but after those frozen dinners, I couldn’t think about anything else.  A couple of nights I went to bed without dinner at all, because all I wanted was ramen soup (for the salt) and after 2 nights of that, I frankly didn’t want to keep eating that much junk food. 

So.  All that to say that the list this week was short, short, short:
1 doz eggs: $2.25
1 lb ground beef (for the freezer – I just like to have it on hand): $6.50
2 jars fermented sauerkraut (1 garlic, 1 “regular”): $20

And that was  it for the week.  But I still have some vegetables from last week, and a couple of recipes: one came out pretty good, and one came out AMAZING.  So I’ll post those later this week!

Recipes from the Farmers’ Market: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

So!   I have to admit here that I have not purchased Brussels sprouts from the Farmers’ Market yet, although I love them.  (I also wonder if they really came from Brussels, or if there’s another reason for the weird name.)  (Yes, I AM too lazy even to Wikipedia that noise.  Deal with it.  ;))  Why, you ask, have I not bought them at the Market? 

YOU GUYS.  They grow on STALKS.  Really.  And they’re a pain to put in the fridge, which is where most of my stuff ends up for a couple of days before I get around to actually, you know, COOKING.  Then I have to cut all the teeny cabbage-y things off the stalk, and it’s just . . . oh, I just don’t wanna, ok?  GEEZ.  (I’ll get around to it eventually, though.  Maybe next year.)

But they are, in fact, AMAZING roasted, and Hot Nerd Girl asked me how the heck to do that, and!  It’s true!  It’s TOTALLY easy!!!  (“Easy” is my favorite descriptor of a recipe.)  (Most of the time.  Sometimes I need to putter around, ok?)  This is one of those recipes that DEFINITELY qualifies as measurement-free cooking (also one of my favorite things)!  So here you go!

Ingredients:
About a pound of Brussels sprouts.  Or a little more.  Or a little less.
Any combination of the following (but not all at once – just pick a row!):
olive oil, salt and pepper (to coat)
olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice
sesame oil, garlic (optional) and red pepper flakes
melted butter and assorted mushrooms (no, not THAT kind of mushrooms!)
olive oil, brown mustard and finely chopped onion

The Recipe (if you can call it that):
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray (or rub some butter or oil on it.)   (If, like me, you HATEHATEHATE cleaning baking sheets, cover it in foil, and spray the foil.)  Toss the sprouts with your choice of ingredients (you can do that right on the baking sheet), and spread them out in a single layer on the baking sheet. When the oven has heated, roast the sprouts for 30-40 minutes, or until they’re tender and brown.  I like them a little black on the VERY edges, but not everyone does, so there you go. 

How did it (or WILL it) go?
It will be AMAZING.  For real.  The key with this is not to use an ingredient that gets gross at high heat.  Lemon juice is out (although it can be good if you squeeze it over the cooked sprouts), as is any dairy product.  It’s also good to remember that Brussels sprouts are members of the cabbage family, so if you wouldn’t eat it with cabbage (or broccoli, also a member of that family), don’t eat it with sprouts.  But overall, you’ll find that roasted Brussels sprouts take on a nutty, sweet-but-not-sugary flavor.  They have a really nice depth to them, and they go well with just about any kind of meat (though red meat seems to bring them out best).  They’re really good plain too, though, and if they’ve been roasted, I even like them at room temperature later on.  I will say that I have yet to find a tasty way to eat cooked sprouts cold, though.  I like them cold and raw, but cold and cooked . . . um.  Not so much, ok?  Word to the wise, there.  😉

Recipes from the Farmers’ Market: Broccoli Salad

I bought some broccoli at the Market a week or so ago.  I thought about it before I bought it, simply because I’m a little broccoli-ed out.  Broccoli was always my go-to frozen veggie, and I’ve been known (on lazy nights) to zap an entire bag of frozen broccoli, douse it with lemon juice, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese and a little olive oil, and call it dinner.  I have consumed more than my fair share of broccoli over the years, ok? But I figured, what the heck, this is fresh (and abundant at the moment), and I already know I like it.  Nothing to lose, right?  Right.  Unfortunately, I was still too lazy to feel like actually, you know, COOKING it.  So, salad!!

Ingredients
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs each: lemon juice, white wine vinegar (you can use 2 Tbs of just one of those, but it’s better with both)
1/2 tsp each: dried oregano, dried basil
1/4 tsp pepper (Yes, it’s a lot, but not as much as you think it will be.)
2 Tbs half-and-half
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 broccoli crowns, chopped
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
4 oz salami, sliced (optional)

The Recipe
In a large bowl, combine the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, basil, pepper and half-and-half.  Whisk in the mayonnaise until everything is smooth.

Add the broccoli, cheddar and salami and toss until everything is evenly coated.  (It’s not a lot of dressing; just enough to flavor it.  If you like a lot of dressing, add another 1/4 cup of mayo and another Tbs of half-and-half.)

How did it go?
YUM.  That’s how it went.  (And well-deserved after that beef-and-pasta stuff.)  It makes a great main dish with the cheese and salami, and because the broccoli was fresh, it stayed crunchy (even coated in dressing) for a couple of days.  I also noticed that it was better after a few hours in the fridge: the garlic sort of mellowed in the lemon juice and vinegar.  (If you’re serving it right away, you might want cut the garlic by half.)  I ate this for lunch most of the week and was sad when it was gone.

Shopping at the Farmers’ Market: Week 6

The weather here has been warm lately – warmer even that it usually is this time of year.  When we have this kind of weather in Southern California, it means one of two things: either winter will come back with a vengeance (right about the time we’ve decided that the rain is over) or it will just keep getting warmer and we’ll end up with a ridiculously scorching summer.  I’m kind of hoping for the former, mainly because summer temperatures in the triple digits SUCK.

But I’ve learned that this kind of weather also means a third thing: spring and summer vegetables at the Market!  I went on Saturday, intending to pick up some onions and potatoes and maybe some sausages.  I figured I’d cook the onions and the fennel and serve that with sausages.

But then I got there.  And there was ASPARAGUS.  And STRAWBERRIES.  And piles of Meyer lemons (I go through 5-10 a week – I really need my own tree), and artichokes and all kinds of good stuff.  So basically I shot my list down and now I’ll have to figure out what to do with what I bought.  😉

So here’s what I came home with:
Asparagus – 2 bunches @ $2 each
Fennel – 1 @ $1.50
Bread – $4
Lemons – 10 for $5
Eggs – $2.25
Radishes – $.75
Swiss Chard – 1 bunch @ $1.50
Strawberries – 2 containers for $5

I also stopped at Trader Joe’s for cheese and ended up picking up more mushrooms.

So the plan this week is to cook the fennel with the leftover fennel from last week, along with some onions.  I have a recipe that I’m using as an idea, although the end product will be significantly altered.  I’m thinking I’ll make lemon curd with the lemons, although I may not.  I’m going to try sauteeing the radishes in some butter and garlic, with their leaves.  I’ve heard it’s supposed to be good, but haven’t ever tried it.  (And I’m not sure how I feel about eating pink food, since I know the radish color will cook into the whole dish.)  I’m going to sautee the chard in butter (or olive oil) with salt and pepper.  Mainly I just want to know how it tastes, since I’ve never had it before.  I’m not sure about the strawberries, although I’m thinking of making a crumble.  (I wonder if I could make a strawberry-lemon crumble.  I’d have to cook and sweeten the lemons first, somehow.  Hmmm . . . that could be fun.)  And I’ll either steam or roast the asparagus (depending on my mood), and squirt some lemon over it.  Maybe dip it in some homemade mayo (I’m still refining that recipe).  YUM.

And of course, the ever-present egg salad on toast.  😉

Oh!  I almost forgot the mushrooms!  I’m going to try that mushroom-butter-onion-garlic thing again.  I’ll see how that goes.

And I may end up with a few “bonus” posts over the next couple of weeks.  I’m starting to cook more than I’ve been posting, and I’m going to fall behind if I’m not careful!