The bounty of summertime is always amazing to me . . . and I most enjoy it at the beginning, before I'm tired of any single crop and the heat has sapped my enthusiasm. And, go ahead and call me cheesy, but I like to make a game out of finding ways to use as many fresh, local ingredients as I can in one meal.
For dinner the other night, we started with a super easy, but looks rather gourmet salad of Louisiana baby lettuces topped with Louisiana Strawberries, chopped Sucre candied pecans, blue cheese from somewhere up north and Hanley's strawberry vinaigrette (get this while you can . . . it's seasonal and only available March - May).
And I've found my menfolk tolerate veggies better when I add pasta . . . it's like it distracts them or something. Anyway, back in college, I got this cookbook with easy, from scratch pasta recipes. I've had mine for a long time and it looks pretty crappy, but I still love almost any recipe from it. It's not strictly vegetarian, but it has a lot of meatless options that are really good. The cookbook was out of print for a while, but I looked today and it's back with a much prettier cover on Amazon (just in case you were interested).
So we followed our Louisiana salad with a pasta featuring local mini portobello mushrooms with a side of local yellow squash. I've made the following pasta recipe with both the pepper and herb Boursin, a creamy French cheese, as well as used lots of different veggies. It's a recipe that works well with lots of variations.
Pasta Shells with Portobello Mushrooms, Asparagus & Boursin Cream Sauce
- 1T butter
- 1T olive oil
- 1lb portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut crosswise in 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2t salt
- 1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 51/2 oz package pepper Boursin cheese (or herb)
- 1lb asparagus
- 3/4lb medium pasta shells
- In a large frying pan, melt the butter with the oil over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are tender and well browned, about 8 minutes. Add broth and Boursin cheese and bring to a simmer while stirring.
- Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until almost done, about 6 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook until it and the pasta are just done, about 4 minutes longer. Drain. Toss with the mushrooms and sauce.
Finding Fresh http://finding-fresh.com/wordpress/
Fresh herbs can make such a difference in food — adding a freshness and complexity that the dried version just can't. My black . . .OK, maybe just a really dark green . . . thumb loves them enough that that's one of the few things I attempt to grow (lucky for me, most are pretty easy).
And for the times I've killed my herbs or just didn't think to grow it, I've discovered Jacob's Farm, a micro greenhouse in downtown Baton Rouge. So far I've gotten several beautiful little packets of basil, parsley and spearmint as well as lettuce in my farm bundle.
The owner and grower, Kris, is perfecting the art of gourmet hydroponics — working to deliver lettuce year-round in a place that typically only sees lettuces through April. And since he grows them hydroponically, that means it's grown without soil, so no need for pesticides or herbicides. This no bug or dirt thing makes for some beautiful, and delicious, plants. And, they keep longer than traditionally grown lettuces too — up to 2 1/2 weeks.
Right now he's keeping it small, selling mostly to family and friends while he focuses on maintaining quality while growing year-round. So you can find his herbs and lettuce at Country Table Delivery, who first supported him. Or, you can check his will-be-done-in-a-month website (jacobsfarmbr.com) and keep an eye out at local grocery stores for his stuff. Don't worry, you'll recognize it — it's the herbs and lettuce that's so perfect it almost looks plastic.
Here's the beginning of a project to make our local produce easy to find.
So check out my new interactive map, and go find yourself some local, fresh and in-season goods.
I'm also in the process of creating a database of these farmer's markets and stands so you can search by location, hours and product type (for example, satsumas or honey). Check back for that, even bigger project . . . .
I love spring/early summer produce and eating foods that highlight that fresh flavor. And my kids love noodles . . . . and couldn't possibly care less what season it is.
So here's an easy roasted tomato pasta sauce I made recently for my family that's got a little kick for you Cajuns, but features the acidic richness and sweetness of fresh tomatoes. AND can be put over any shape pasta for rascally kids (you may also want to decrease the red pepper flakes and cayenne for sensitive little ones and adults).
And did I mention it was ridiculously easy and only dirties a cookie sheet and one bowl (I hate recipes that require every dish/pot/utensil in my kitchen to make . . . because I hate doing dishes)?
And that's fresh Swiss chard and onions from my bundle on the side just sautéed in butter with a little garlic and salt. . . oh, and Chachere's. For those non South Louisianans . . . . that's Tony Chachere's (saa-sha-rees) seasoning that really isn't just a tourist thing you buy at the airport. It's pretty much amazing on most anything you want to add salt to, adding a little kick, a little salt . . . . and a little Cajun.
And I just want to add that not only did my 8 year old and husband like the green blob of Swiss chard (yes, they were skeptical at first . . . .I got a little stank eye), but it's packed with Vitamins K, A and C and magnesium, iron, and I could just go on and on. Basically it's one of those green leafies that is absolutely AMAZING for you. So eat it.
- 3 pints (2 lbs) cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/8 cup+ olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- 1/4t red pepper flakes
- 1/8t cayenne
- 1 1/2t sugar, or to taste
- 3 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1T balsamic vinegar
- 1 medium shallot, sliced thin
- Mix everything but the vinegar in a large bowl. Spread on cookie sheet. Sprinkle vinegar on top of tomato mixture on cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. Cool 5-10 minutes.
- Serve over pasta or eat alone.
Finding Fresh http://finding-fresh.com/wordpress/
My first recipe from my new Nourishing Kitchen cookbook was strawberries in minted honey syrup with fresh Louisana strawberries, spearmint and raw local honey.
And, I know the cookbook author says it's good with yogurt or whipped cream . . . which I'm sure it is . . . we couldn't help but eat it on vanilla ice cream from my favorite local ice cream company — New Orleans Ice Cream Co.
Strawberries in Minted Honey Syrup
// The Nourished Kitchen
1 cup water
1 cup honey
2 pints strawberries
1 small bunch fresh mint
Bring water to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Pour in the honey and whisk it into the water until it dissolves fully. Continue simmering over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and let syrup cool to room temperature.
Hull the strawberries, cut them in half, and set them in a bowl. Pluck the leaves off the stems of mint, tear them with your hands, and drop them into the bowl with the strawberries. Pour the cooled honey syrup over the strawberries and mint, then cover the bowl and transfer it to the fridge. Allow the berries to marinate for a day, and then serve them with their syrup.
Serve with cultured yogurt or whipped cream . . . or ice cream . . .
One of the many great things about South Louisiana — in addition to the food community — is the vibrant local magazine community.
And in the April issue of Point of Vue there's a recipe for a Southern-inspired vegetarian tomato soup that looks really good . . . . no, I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it's by the executive chef at one of my most favorite restaurants, Cristiano Ristorante in Houma. So the odds are good.
So grab an April issue before the end of the month or check out the recipe on their website.
And after a massage, the world feels like this . . .
I'm all about finding your bliss. And today, I found peace and well-being with a massage from Dru at Essential Massage.
She beats me up . . . not really, but finds tense muscles, for sure! . . . . entertains me and always teaches me something new about how important muscles are to overall health. Today I'm learning about the psoas muscle. And let's just say a rigid psoas muscle can wreak all kinds of havoc on all kinds of stuff. Yoga anyone?
So one of my contributions to living well and locally today was a tension release for a crazy, busy life. I know things like exercise, massage . . . and healthy eating . . . can be the first things to go when we're stressed and harried. . . but every time I make the time, I realize how NOT doing these things helps perpetuate the cycle of stress and craziness.
So here's to refocusing on living wholly and peacefully, with a deeper connection to ourselves and each other.
So my very best friend from graduate school — yea, that's my out-of-place-in-South-Louisiana Syracuse license plate frame — made the great suggestion to make French toast with my 12th Street Bakery bread.
And make French toast we did this morning! My boys said they even liked it better than their beloved homemade waffles.
Anyway, here's a quick and fairly painless recipe for French toast from Food Network's Alton Brown, whom I love. . . just because he's so scientific about food.
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 3 large eggs
- 2T honey, warmed
- 1/4t salt
- 8 (1/2-inch) slices of bread
- 4T butter
- In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. Pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick saute pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices. Serve immediately with maple syrup, whipped cream or fruit.
Finding Fresh http://finding-fresh.com/wordpress/
And we added some pecans from the Bass Pecan Company in nearby-ish Lumberton, Mississippi, and, of course, some Louisiana strawberries. (Oh and that's kiwi from Italy . . . . totally far away, but hey, I'd love to live there and have local kiwi).
I just got a friendly picture reminder that my 12th Street Bakery pickup is today — a loaf of savory country and a loaf of rustic sweet. I wish I were there . . . .
If you're jealous, just sign up with Elizabeth Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sushi is great vegetarian. Most people look at me crazy when they know I don't eat meat and I say I like sushi. But, really, it's delicious.
I picked up this all-green, avocado and cucumber sushi roll at Rouses. They don't stock this on the sushi counter's shelves, so just ask the sushi chef behind the glass for a vegetarian roll and he'll make it fresh, just for you in 5-10 minutes.
Veggie sushi is also great with carrots — they happened to be out when I ordered this. And if you make it at home, I love to add Kampyo, a pickled gourd. I like the canned version and I've seen it at Rouses near other Asian products.