The Big Sandwich

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I believe I can say with confidence that my Dad’s favorite song is Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.  As a matter of fact, a few years ago I made him a mix CD (That’s right, a mix CD.  Don’t judge me.) consisting of nothing but covers of that one song in as many genres as I could find.  I started with the first version I had ever heard (The Michael Stanley Band) to punk (Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies), country (Laurie Morgan), disco (The Bee Gees) – Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield, June Carter Cash and more…ending, of course, with Carole King.

The many versions of that song remind me of the many versions of The Big Sandwich I’ve made throughout the years.

Just like the song lyrics don’t change, some aspects of The Big Sandwich are constant – it must be made from a round loaf of white bread, the top sliced off and hollowed out to accommodate the yumminess inside.  It must always have some varieties of lunch meat, cheese, relish or pickles, and tomatoes.  It must be eaten in large wedges, and is best served with a side of vinaigrette or sub sauce for dipping.

It’s a summertime food that reminds me of picnics and sunny afternoons, partially because it travels well (placed whole in the picnic basket and sliced just before eating).  This weekend, it only had to travel from my kitchen to my table, but it was still just as good.

To create The Big Sandwich, the right bread is the most important.  I always use a round, unsliced loaf of old fashioned white bread from Great Harvest Bread Company.  Whatever you choose, make sure that the crust isn’t too hard (for ease of eating) and the bread isn’t too flat (more room for sandwich filling).

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Slice the top off the loaf and set aside.  Hollow out the inside of the loaf, saving the inside bread for making croutons or breadcrumbs later (or for eating in the kitchen when no one is looking).  You want to remove as much of the inside bread as possible without damaging the integrity of the bread walls.

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Next, prepare your ingredients.  One essential part of The Big Sandwich (for me, anyway), is a Giardiniera relish.  I take a jar of Giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables), dump it in the food processor with a few splashes of the brine, and pulse until it’s finely chopped but still has some texture.  This time, I added some pickled garlic scapes that I made earlier this year.

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I also season the tomatoes that will go into The Big Sandwich.  I take tomato slices, add salt, pepper and olive oil and let sit until I’m ready for them.

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Lunch meat and cheese.  A proper Big Sandwich takes about a pound of lunch meat in various types.  In this example, I used ham, turkey and hard salami.  Roast beef is also good, or pepperoni if you want a bit more spice to your sandwich.  Any sliced cheese will do as well – about a quarter pound.  I used Provolone, but feel free to customize to your own preferences.

Once the ingredients are standing by, it’s time to assemble the sandwich.  For me, the first layer is always the Giardiniera relish.

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 Next, ham, followed by salami.

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 Now a layer of cheese.  On top of the cheese, the seasoned tomato slices.  I also added some pickled Hungarian peppers I made the week before – fortunately, I ate one before I put them on the sandwich.  Turns out they were pretty hot, so I just scattered a few of them over the tomatoes.

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After the tomatoes and peppers, I layered on the turkey slices, the remaining Giardiniera relish, and the last few slices of cheese.  The top of the loaf goes back on, and The Big Sandwich is complete and ready to be sliced and enjoyed!

If I were taking this to a picnic or an outdoor concert, I would simply put it back in the bag the loaf came in and transport it whole.

When you’re ready to eat, cut the sandwich into quarters. Yes, they’re big pieces – it’s a Big Sandwich!

Now, the most important part of The Big Sandwich.  It is not a dainty sandwich. It demands to be eaten with gusto, in big bites, with friends or loved ones.  It’s not a sandwich for a solitary meal – The Big Sandwich needs to be shared!  I ate this Big Sandwich with my boyfriend, at the living room coffee table watching a movie – together.  A perfect summer weekend.

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Dinners for One – Cherry Tomato Sauce

20140725_184107 (2)I learned how to cook from my mom.  Mom is a fantastic cook and always was – when my sister and I were growing up, no matter how busy we all were, she had a home cooked dinner on the table almost every day.  However, Mom cooks in great quantities, as though she’s expecting armies to descend on the table at mealtimes.

It’s taken me a while, but I’m slowly learning how to cook in smaller amounts, especially for the evenings when it’s just me and the cats for dinner.  While they will happily help me finish some leftover salmon, this meal wasn’t really up their alley.

This is NOT the face of a cat who is interested in veggies.

This is NOT the face of a cat who is interested in veggies.

I picked up my CSA from Basket of Life Farm today after work, and saw a tiny container of the first cherry tomatoes of the season!  It took all my willpower not to eat them in the car on the way home, but they made it safely to my kitchen, along with an adorable little onion and a beautiful, fragrant head of garlic – the perfect combination for a pasta sauce!

20140725_175840 (2)I minced the onion and two cloves of garlic and sauteed them in olive oil over medium low heat, adding salt, pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper for spice.

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When the onions were soft and translucent, I added the handful of cherry tomatoes (without eating even one, I might add).  I turned the heat up a bit and let it go until the tomatoes started to pop.

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Once the tomatoes started to split and pop, I crushed them with a wooden spoon.  It was fun (cue evil laugh here).

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I let the tomatoes cook for another five minutes or so, continuing to break up the large pieces and skins with the spoon.  I cooked it down until it was almost a tomato paste kind of consistency.

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At that point, I added about 1/2 cup of white wine to deglaze the pan (I had an open bottle of chardonnay in the fridge that worked just fine).  I turned the heat up again and let it reduce by half.

Just after I added the wine.

Just after I added the wine.

After the wine reduced.

After the wine reduced, I added some fresh basil. Yum!

I had some frozen spinach pasta from Ohio City Pasta, so I cooked that while the sauce was reducing. When the sauce looks right, put it on low heat until the pasta is done.  If the sauce gets too dry, you can add some of the cooking liquid from the pasta to thin it out.

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Certainly you could make more sauce and more pasta and made this a meal for two or four, or however many you needed, but this is a rare dish that tastes just as good when you make a small amount.  It was fresh, healthy and tasty.

20140725_185010 (2)And I very much enjoyed it.

Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce (serves 1)

  • A handful of cherry tomatoes
  • About 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine (your choice)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Crushed Red Pepper (optional – if you like heat, add a pinch or two)
  • 3-4 leaves fresh basil, chopped or torn
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 serving of your favorite pasta

Saute the garlic and onions over medium low heat. Add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper (if you choose) and cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the cherry tomatoes and turn heat up. When the tomatoes soften and split, crush with a wooden spoon. Cook the crushed tomatoes for about 5 minutes until they reach a thick, tomato paste consistency.

Add 1/2 cup white wine and turn the heat up again. Let the wine reduce by half, turn the heat to low and add half the basil. As the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta according to the package directions. If the pasta is still cooking while the sauce simmers on low heat, the sauce may thicken up too much. If needed, add some of the cooking liquid from the pasta to thin it out.

Top the pasta with the tomato sauce, basil and some grated Parmesan cheese. Eat and enjoy!

 

Summer Squash Pesto Galette

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For me, food is very much a way to express love.  When I love someone, I want to cook for them (or at least put together a nice cheese plate).

So when my sister sent me a text Saturday morning asking if I wanted to meet for lunch, I had a counteroffer:  Why don’t you come to my house and I’ll make us lunch?

Now, I had just picked up my third CSA box on Friday evening, so I knew I had some good food in the house.  Plus, I was wide awake and my boyfriend, who is definitely a night person, was likely to be asleep for another few hours.  Plenty of time to cook!

I decided to use some of the summer squash from my CSA and the garlic scape pesto that I had made a few weeks ago to make a galette.  A galette is a super fancy word for a free-form pastry – sort of like an open face pie without a pan.  Easy to make, rustic looking but still elegant, and my sister loves them.  Plus I had almost all the ingredients in the house, with one exception.  I only had wheat flour, so I adjusted my crust recipe to become a whole wheat crust.  Eh, it’s better for us anyhow!

The finished product!

The finished product!

It was a perfect Saturday morning.  Puttering around the kitchen to make a healthy, delicious lunch before eating said lunch outside in the back yard with two of the people I love most in the world. (I’ll ignore for a minute that my boyfriend who woke up just in time for lunch considers coffee a full meal and didn’t actually eat any of my galette.  I love him anyway.)

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Summer Squash Pesto Galette

Serves 4

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups whole wheat, chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chill again
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons ice water

*Note:  If you use regular All-purpose flour, you won’t need those extra 2 Tablespoons of water.  The whole wheat flour seems to need a bit more liquid to come together.

Filling:

2 medium summer squash, sliced into ¼ inch think rounds
Salt
About ½ cup of your favorite Pesto
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon basil leaves, torn or sliced into ribbons

Glaze:
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Make dough: Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle bits of butter over dough and using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest pieces of butter the size of tiny peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add this to the butter-flour mixture. With your fingertips or a wooden spoon, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

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Prepare Squash: Spread the sliced summer squash out over several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 minutes; you’ll see the moisture start to come to the top of the squash slices.  Blot the squash dry with paper towels before using.

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Prepare galette: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. (I do this directly on the silicone baking mat that I will be cooking it on.  You can also just flour the surface of your counter.)  Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet (if you rolled the dough out on the silicone mat, just move that to the baking sheet).  Spread most of the pesto over the bottom of the galette dough, leaving a 2-inch or so border. Lay the squash over the pesto in a circular pattern starting at the outside edge. Dot the top of the zucchini with pesto and sprinkle on about half of the grated Parmesan. Fold the border over the filling, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open. Brush crust with egg yolk glaze.

galette collage

Bake the galette until the zucchini is slightly wilted and the crust is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese, and basil, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers (if there are any) reheat well for lunch the next day.

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This post is linked to Fresh Foods Wednesday at SheEats.

Salmon with Orange-Garlic Salt

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Although this will be my third year getting a CSA from Basket of Life Farm, until recently I was still very much a dabbler in the world of healthy eating.

I can now say that I’ve made some major changes to the way I approach food in my life, and because of that, I’ve lost over 30 pounds since February.  32, to be exact.  I still have a way to go, but it’s a pretty awesome start.

I used to think that because I cooked dinner most nights, and went to the farmer’s market most weekends, I ate healthy foods.  And I did, more or less, but I was also “cheating” a lot – fast food sandwiches for breakfast a couple of times a week, bread made with white flour every day, ice cream at night (more than I’d like to admit).

I got to the point where I needed to make a real change.  I was tired of feeling tired, and I truly felt like what I was eating was the problem.  I won’t pretend that I did it entirely on my own.  It took something called “The 24 Day Challenge” from a company called Advocare to kickstart this change for me, but it helped me create a structure for how I ate and how I approached food, one that I’ve done a pretty good job at keeping up with.  Yes, I’ve had days or weeks where I fall off the wagon a bit, but now I know how to get back on track.

My typical day of food now looks something like this:

  • Breakfast:  Protein (usually eggs), sometimes complex carbs (multi-grain toast), sometimes fruit (like a banana or orange).
  • Lunch:  Protein (often a chicken breast, sometimes something like tuna), veggies,  complex carbs like brown rice or sometimes quinoa or a sweet potato.
  • Dinner:  Protein (again, often chicken, sometimes pork or fish), veggies, and occasionally some complex carbs like wheat pasta.
  • Add a square or two of good chocolate before bed most nights, just in case you think I gave up everything, and throw in a couple of snacks throughout the day (like pistachios or fruit), and I’m a happy camper – 30 plus pounds lighter!

I pay attention to how I feel after I eat, and I try to stay away from lots of dairy (except for good farmer’s market cheese!), white sugar and white flour because I’ve learned that they make me feel yucky after I eat them.  Same goes for lots of coffee.

But it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy my food – I absolutely do!  Today’s dinner was a great example of that.  Just fish and veggies…but tasty and satisfying.

I started with some wild-caught Alaskan salmon (each piece was about 1/3 pound).

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I seared the salmon with a little olive oil and fresh cracked black pepper (skin side up) in a hot pan to get a good sear on top, then flipped it and popped the whole pan into a 400 degree oven for about 7 minutes.  It came out perfect.  (Oh, I roasted some asparagus from the farmer’s market at the same time.  The asparagus was thin, so it took about the same amount of time.)

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While the salmon and asparagus were cooking, I made the Orange-Garlic Salt to sprinkle on top.  I took the zest of one orange, one minced clove of garlic, a handful of parsley (chopped) and a couple pinches of kosher salt and mixed them together.  So easy!

Orange salt

As soon as I sprinkled the Orange Salt on the hot salmon, I could smell the orange zest and garlic, and it almost sizzled…beautiful.

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I rounded it out with a glass of 15 Feet of Wheat beer from Trailhead Brewery, made with blueberries and honey.  I bought a growler of this beer Friday night, and boy am I glad I did!  It went perfectly with dinner tonight.

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Well, off to have a bit of good chocolate, watch some Torchwood on Netflix and go to bed.  It’s a good day.

Honey-glazed Grilled Carrots

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So, it’s been a crazy week at work, and I left the office today about an hour later than usual.  Not a big deal, but it did mean that I was hungry and thinking of food the whole way home!

As I was driving, I started taking a mental inventory of my fridge and pantry – what could I make for dinner that was tasty, healthy and fast?

Grilling is fast and tasty! Yes!  Pork chops in the fridge, that will work, and onions.  Grilled onions are always good…what else?  Carrots!  I know I have a bag of carrots, maybe a little old, but perfect for cooking.  Can I grill carrots?  Well, why not?  Just throw them on the grill?  Hmmmm…glazed carrots?  Honey glazed carrots – on the grill?  Yum!

I figured what the hell, let’s give it a try!  I walked in the door, said hi to the cats and gave them their dinner, and immediately started cooking mine.

Fresh thyme! Lemon on the left, regular on the right.

I started with about a quarter cup of honey, warmed it up so it would be easier to glaze the carrots, and added about a teaspoon of fresh thyme, salt and pepper.

I brushed the honey mixture over the carrots, and got the grill good and hot.

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I was afraid that there might be some flare ups if the glaze dripped down on the grill, but nope!  I got a good char on the carrots and turned the burners down to medium.  I left the carrots on the grill until they got soft – about 12 minutes.

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As soon as the carrots hit the grill, I could smell the honey.  It was awesome.  The carrots had a slightly charred, smokey taste that blended really well with the sweetness of the honey. They went great with the jerk-seasoned pork chops and grilled onions.

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I wonder what else I can grill that I haven’t tried yet?

Elwood is displeased at the lateness of his dinner.    "Feed me, human!"

Elwood is disapproves of dinner being late.  Well, so do I!

What’s the strangest thing you’ve grilled?  How did it work out?

 

Grilled Ramps with Mustard Vinaigrette

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Saturday was Countryside Conservancy’s first outdoor farmer’s market of the year, and just as their welcome sign advertised, asparagus and ramps both made a strong showing.

Asparagus, ramps and - rutabaga? Oh my!

Asparagus, ramps and – rutabaga? Oh my!

To me, ramps are a sure sign of spring.  Ramps, scientific name Allium tricoccum (yep, I’m showing off a little bit), also known as wild leek or wild onion, look a bit like scallions with broad leaves, and taste like a cross between garlic and a sweet onion. They also have an extremely short season, so enjoy them while you can!

I was so happy to find ramps at the farmers market that I wanted to really showcase them somehow.  Last year, I made some ramp pesto, and used some in a stir fry with shrimp. Good, but not good enough. This spring, I wanted to try something different.

Enter the grill.

Best Christmas present ever!

Best Christmas present ever!

I wanted to grill the ramps, but I thought it needed a little something extra.  I had picked up some boneless pork chops from Brunty Farms at the market as well, and the ramps would definitely go well with pork.  I wanted some kind of sauce, but something that wouldn’t be overpowering.  I thought about treating the ramps like a warm salad, and it was obvious.  Vinaigrette!  Specifically, a mustard vinaigrette that would be awesome with grilled pork chops.  Done, and done.

The ramps were so easy to grill I can’t even call it a recipe.  First, I trimmed the ends of the bulbs.  Then I misted them with just a bit of olive oil and sprinkled on some salt.  I have an oil sprayer (like this one but red) that I love! I use it all the time.

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After I grilled the pork chops with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, I laid the ramps on the grill. The grill was crazy hot, and it literally just took a minute for the leaves to wilt and start to char.  As the ramps cooked, they smelled amazing!! A little smoky, garlicky and sweet at the same time – yum!

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One word of warning, though.  Be careful how you lay them on the grill – one wilted faster than I expected and slipped through the grates.  Next time, I would place them straight across the grates instead of as up and down as they are in this picture.

Once I pulled them off the grill, I drizzled some of the mustard vinaigrette on top and served them with the pork chops and a side of roasted asparagus (also from the farmers market, and also amazingly tasty).  My boyfriend even tried one of the ramps, although he wasn’t quite as excited about it as I was.

He was excited about the mustard vinaigrette, though!  He put it on the pork chop, the ramps, the asparagus, and if there had been anything else on the plate, I’m sure it would have been drenched in vinaigrette as well.  I made enough to have leftover, and it was just as good on a salad for a weekday lunch.

Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons of your favorite grainy mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salad dressings are easy – I just dumped all this in a mason jar, shook it up, and put it in the fridge until I needed it.  Love recipes like that.

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Have you ever had ramps, or seen them at a farmers market?  What seasonal plants/veggies are your favorite signs of spring?  

Margarita Mondays

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On Mondays, Dad goes bowling.  Well, at least in the fall and winter he does.  (Spring and summer, it becomes golf on Tuesdays, which is a whole other story.)

So for (mumblemumble) years now, when Dad goes bowling, Mom and I meet up for Monday night dinner.  My sister joins us when she can, but since she has the most packed schedule of any person I’ve ever met, most of the time it’s just me and Mom.

Until pretty recently, Monday night dinner was always Margarita Mondays.  Don’t get me wrong, we still do dinner almost every Monday in bowling season, but we realized that the chips and margaritas were a lot of (really tasty) calories that we just don’t need.  So,we mix it up with some healthier options.  The chips and margaritas still happen, but now it’s probably closer to once a month then once a week.

I am, however, a little sad that today isn’t a Margarita Monday with Mom, and here’s why.    First, today is Mom’s birthday, and talking to her on the phone is nice but not the same.  (Happy Birthday, Mom!)  Obviously Mom’s birthday always falls on Cinco de Mayo, but this year it’s also a Monday – margaritas just seem right!

In honor of Mom’s Cinco de Mayo birthday, here’s a recipe for Watermelon Margaritas that I came up with a couple weeks ago.  Enjoy!

It started when I was digging through my freezer to see what was left from last year’s CSA, and I realized that had two big bags of pureed and frozen yellow watermelon.

Frozen watermelon + tequila = watermelon margaritas, of course!

When I was overrun with watermelon last summer – three at one time! – I took the two yellow watermelons that I couldn’t eat fast enough, pureed them in the blender, poured them into ice cube trays and froze them as cubes.  Once the cubes were frozen, I transferred them to baggies.

20140405_153005For my Watermelon Margaritas, I put 8 cubes of frozen, pureed watermelon in a blender with a shot of tequila, a splash of orange liqueur (Cointreau), the juice of half a lime and about a spoonful of local honey, just to tone down the tartness. I approximated the amounts in the recipe at the end, but the amount of alcohol seemed to increase each time I made one.  I have no idea *hiccup* how that happened.

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This is a totally unnecessary picture just because I wanted to show off my shot glass from the Star Trek Experience in Vegas!

This is a totally unnecessary picture just because I wanted to show off my shot glass from Star Trek: The Experience in Vegas!

I ran the blender until it was smooth, and it was just enough to perfectly fill a margarita glass.  I tossed on the lime garnish just for prettiness.

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Watermelon Margarita (serves 1)

  • 8 cubes of frozen watermelon (to make, puree fresh watermelon in a blender, pour into ice cube trays and freeze)
  • 1 shot of tequila (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • a splash of orange liqueur (I used Cointreau – maybe a 1/2 ounce?)
  • the juice of half a lime
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Put all ingredient in blender and blend until smooth.  Garnish with slice of lime, if desired.

Any other good recipes for using CSA goodies in cocktails?  Or delicious margarita recipes you’d like to share?  

Pizza with Garlicky Mixed Greens

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I love the farmers market, and I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic year-round market ten minutes from my house.  (Woo Countryside!) One of my farmers market issues is overbuying greens.  (As I typed that, this is what I heard in my head:  Hi, my name is Melissa and I buy too many greens…Hi, Melissa!)

They always look so beautiful and so tasty, and and I end up coming home with bags like this:

Left to right:  Swiss chard and collard greens, baby swiss chard, spinach

Left to right: Swiss chard and collard greens, baby Swiss chard, spinach

I recently read the book An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adlar.  Not a traditional cookbook, but a fantastic book about cooking and food – I highly recommend it.  The author is passionate about eating well, but also eating responsibly and not wasting.  One of the things she suggests is to cook veggies, like greens, as soon as you get home from the market.

Typically, I use a little bit of greens right away, then rest get all wilty in the fridge while I forget about them for a couple of days.  This time, I got home from the market and started cooking. And boy, am I glad I did!

I took all three bags of greens, removed the big, tough-looking stems and gave the leaves a quick chop.

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I got out my only pot that I thought would hold all the greens – a heavy enamel dutch oven-style pot.  I covered the bottom of the pot with olive oil, turned the heat on medium-low and added six cloves of garlic, sliced.

Once the garlic started to turn just slightly golden brown, I turned up the heat.  I added all the greens (it took several handfuls to transfer them to the pot), salt, pepper and a good amount of red pepper flakes. I like ’em spicy.

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Because the pot was so full, I very carefully stirred the greens around until they were all coated in the garlicky oil.  I let them go for a few more minutes, stirring a couple of times, until they cooked down to a beautifully dark green pile in the bottom of the pot.

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Yum!  Yum, yum, yum.  The smell of the garlic, the lovely dark green color with bits of red Swiss chard stems poking out here and there….awesome.

Now, these are fabulous as is – immediately after cooking, or reheated a day or two later.  But I wanted to try something different.  And I just happened to have some freshly made pizza dough in the fridge.

My favorite pizza dough recipe comes from the book Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish.  It’s easy, it’s consistently good, and it make an awesome thin crust pizza.

After I stretched out the pizza dough, I added a generous amount of the cooked greens (and garlic pieces).

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I kept it simple.  On top of the greens, I added sliced fresh mozzarella and some shredded asiago cheese, just because I happened to have it on hand.  I topped it with a few shakes of red pepper flakes and popped it in the oven at 500 degrees until the crust got brown and the cheese got bubbly. I preheated the oven with my pizza stone inside to help get the bottom crust all crispy.

Before cooking...

Before cooking…

...after cooking!

…after cooking!

Pizza may, in fact, be the perfect food. And this pizza was damn near perfect, if I do say so myself (and I do!).

Do you have any tricks or tips for using all your produce before it starts wilting?  Or do you have the willpower not to buy three large bags of greens at one time?  Or both?