Posts filed under ‘spring’

Peas and turnips, late-spring style

Baby turnipsA cold, wet May caused setbacks for some local crops: Strawberry growers were struggling, for instance, until the sun came out last week, and some of our usual other late-spring crops have been slow to show up in the markets.

Sugar-snap peas, which love the cool and damp, are an exception: I’ve been buying and eating them weekly, mostly raw (three days last week the lunch I packed to work consisted of a big bag of peas and a dip made from Nancy’s plain yogurt and various dried herbs – yum!). I can’t get enough of these babies.

Speaking of babies: Saturday I got to the market late, but not too late to grab a couple of bunches of baby turnips. Like most “baby” vegetables, these aren’t early versions of regular turnips, they’re a Japanese variety bred for their small size and delicate flavor, and if you’re not fond of big turnips, don’t let that stop you from trying these. No bigger than golf balls, they’re crisp and mild enough to slice and eat raw – but they’re also lovely to cook with. It would be a waste to treat them like their winter cousins, boiled and mashed or thrown in with a pot roast. Like many early-season vegetables, they work best with quick cooking and simple preparations.

I ran across a recipe for baby turnips and peas that sounded delicious, but a little fiddly, what with the blanching and sauteeing. So instead, I combined the vegetables in a quick vegetable roast, and served them alongside smoked pork and home-made apple-and-quince sauce from the freezer. Fabulous.

Baby turnips and sugar-snap peasRoasted Baby Turnips and Sugar-snap Peas


  • 1 bunch baby turnips
  • 1/2 cup whole sugar-snap pea pods
  • 4-5 garlic scapes* (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried herbs (I used a lemon-dill-garlic blend)
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375F.

Trim toff the turnip greens (and save them for another dish!), scrub turnips and pat them dry. Cut larger ones in half so all pieces are roughly the same size. Remove strings from peas if necessary. Cut garlic scape stems in half-inch lengths, leaving the bud and a bit of the curled stem. Toss everything in olive oil and herbs.

Put turnips on a baking sheet, and roast for five minutes. Then add peas and garlic scapes, sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and roast five minutes longer. Toss with lemon zest and serve.

Serves two as a side dish; if you increase the recipe, you probably won’t need more oil.

* Scapes are the flowering buds of plants in the allium family. Hardnecked garlic produces scapes that curl attractively and eventually straighten out to bloom; at the curled stage, they’re a tasty vegetable with a mild garlic flavor. I got mine from my garden, but you can often find them in the market. Try them lightly steamed, or in a stir-fry.

June 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm 2 comments

Early cherries

Tiny plate of flavorWhile cool weather slows the progress of some of our usual late-May/early June crops, Rick Steffens Farm continues to provide us with glimpses of things to come, thanks to their extensive cold-frame operation. This weekend, in addition to strawberries and tender sugar-pod peas, they brought perfect, ripe Bing cherries, weeks ahead of season, harvested from dwarf cherry trees they keep under cover as part of a crop test they’re doing with the clever agriculturists at Oregon State University.

Cherries always make me think of clafouti, that easy, classic French country-kitchen dessert that’s a cross between a tart, a flan and a light, eggy cake. Served warm with dollop of creme fraiche (or, if you can’t find that, unsweetened whipped cream), it’s a lovely, not-too-sweet, not-too-heavy dessert that shows off the flavor of the fruit. While you can make clafouti with other fruits, cherries make the definitive version.

My recipe comes from my dog-earned, food-stained copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which was the second cookbook in what is now a large collection (after the Joy of Cooking my mother gave me when I left home). After three decades, it’s still one of the books I return to again and again for basic techniques and excellent recipes. I’ve tweaked this one over the years, but it’s still faithful to the original, and absolutely delicious.

Cherry ClafoutiCherry Clafouti


  • 2 cups ripe cherries, pitted. I have a nifty little cherry-pitting utensil, but for years I got by with the rounded end of a hairpin – scoop the loop of wire into the stem end of the cherry and down around the pit, give a tug and out it comes.
  • 1/4 cup kirsch or brandy (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted.
  • 1 1/4 cups rich milk or cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus 2 tsp for topping. For this purpose, I dip into my canister of vanilla sugar (sugar in which a couple of split and scraped vanilla beans have been buried)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (if you don’t use vanilla sugar)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup sifted, all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal*


For a classic Clafouti a la Liqueur, soak the cherries in kirsch or brandy while making the batter; drain before adding to the dish.

Use 1 Tbsp of melted butter to grease the bottom and sides of a glass or ceramic pie pan or baking dish. Reserve the rest.

Combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and beat on high speed for a minute or so until thoroughly blended and foamy. (I use my wand blender when I don’t feel like messing with the KitchenAid). Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain the cherries and arrange them in the bottom of the baking dish.

Blend remaining melted butter into the batter and pour over the cherries. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle reserved sugar over the surface and return to oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the top is puffed and browned (it will deflate as it cools). Remove from oven. Serve hot or warm, with creme fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream.

* In France, the cherries often go into the dish unpitted, for the delicate almond flavor the pits impart to the batter. Having just gone through several thousand dollars worth of dental work, I choose to pit my cherries and add a little almond meal (sold as “almond flour” in the Bob’s Red Mill brand at several local supermarkets) instead.

May 31, 2008 at 7:35 pm Leave a comment

Another fine thing to do with rhubarb

Rhubarb chutneyMy house smells amazing right now, and it’s all because of rhubarb.

Well, rhubarb, spices, cider vinegar and a recipe one of my LiveJournal friends shared today, which made me think of the four stalks of Rheum rhabarbaraum still sitting in my vegetable drawer, suvivors of last weekend’s rhubarb-pear crisp.

It’s original with my friend; she found it on the Web, and it appears to be everywhere – in fact, if you Google the word “Bifana,” you’ll find it on just about every recipe site under the sun, usually credited to Michelle O’Sullivan of Las Vegas, Nev. (or, more often, to nobody at all, this being the Internet.)

The dish may or may not be related to the Portuguese bifana, a popular snack made from marinated and pan-fried pork cutlets served in a crusty roll. This recipe, rather, calls for roasting a pork tenderloin basted in a magnificently flavorful rhubarb chutney – and the chutney is what caught my eye, because (a) I love chutneys and (b) I thought I had most of the ingredients in the house, including that wonderful almost-fresh rhubarb.

“Thought” is the operative word here. As it turns out, the gingerroot in the vegetable drawer had gone moldy, and I didn’t feel like a trip to the supermarket tonight.  So I improvised with candied ginger – the pungent, moist Trader Joe’s variety that isn’t covered in sugar crystals. And I don’t use garlic powder, but fresh minced garlic is always a perfectly good – dare I say “better”? – substitute for that. Since I was in a “what the heck” mood and a little short on raisins, I chopped up a few slices of dried mango (available from Asian grocers) and threw that in, too, because I never met a chutney that couldn’t benefit from mango.

Here’s the recipe. My friend called the flavors “surprising,” and I concur: It’s sweet and sour and slightly hot but not incendiary –  and utterly delicious. I think it’s going to be even better after overnight refrigeration allows the flavors to blend. And easy – other than 15-20 minutes of simmering, it took all of maybe 5 minutes to put together. It’s cooling now, and then I’ll pack it in a container and refrigerate it. This weekend I’ll pick up some local pork to go with it – if I can keep myself from just consuming it by the spoonful.

Oh, and the original recipe, with instructions for roasting the pork, can be found here, among other places.

Rhubarb Chutney


  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root (or use candied ginger and either reduce the sugar or add a splash more vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (or, if you must, garlic powder)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red chile pepper (or more, if you like your chutney hot)
  • 4 cups diced rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • (optional) 1/4 cup dried mango, chopped coarsely


Combine sugar, vinegar, ginger, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and red pepper in a large, non-reactive saucepan. Bring to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb, onion and raisins. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and let cool.

This makes about two cups. Refrigerated, it should last a couple of weeks due to the high acid content, though I doubt it will get a chance.

May 29, 2008 at 7:51 pm 1 comment

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Baby cauliflower and strawberriesIs there anyone on earth who hasn’t yet discovered the joys of oven-roasted vegetables?

I’m not talking about the potatoes, carrots and onions mom used to throw in to roast with a chicken or a hunk of beef (although those are certainly lovely in their way). I’m talking about treating vegetables – almost any vegetables – to a gloss of olive oil and the merest sprinkling of salt, then running them through a hot, fast oven until their natural plant sugars start to caramelize, adding a toasty sweetness to the pure, clean vegetable flavor.

Steaming used to be my default method of cooking vegetables. But since I discovered the joys of roasting them, my trusty steamer basket has been relegated to the top cupboard, the one I can’t reach without a step-ladder, where things like the waffle iron and bundt pan live.

Roasted cauliflowerThere’s hardly a vegetable that doesn’t take well to roasting. The leafy ones, I guess – they’d pretty much just dessicate. But anything else, from root vegetables to asparagus to crucifers to eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, is wonderful roasted. OK, peas are a little fiddly unless they’re the edible-pod variety, but otherwise …

The basic method is a snap:

  • Cut or break the vegetables into roughly equal-sized pieces. I usually go for “bite-sized,” except for asparagus, which I roast whole.
  • Toss with just enough extra-virgin olive oil to give the vegetables a slight sheen. Less is more – the goal is to enhance the roasting process and keep the vegetables from drying out, not to render them oily. For change of pace and a bit of a tang, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice to the oil.
  • Spread the pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer. Try not to let them touch.
  • Sprinkle with a little coarse salt.
  • Roast in a 350-degree oven for … as long as it takes. That’s highly dependant on the vegetable. Dense tubers (beets, potatoes, carrots) can require 20-30-minutes in the oven. Thin asparagus needs barely five minutes. Roast enough vegetables and you’ll get a feel for the timing. Meanwhile, keep an eye on things – the bottoms will brown faster than the tops, and you might want to turn the chunks over midway through the process.

That’s it: A side dish fit for a five-star restaurant, or even a main dish if you’re craving veggies.

But you can also use those roasted vegetables as an ingredient, with surprising and wonderful results.

This past weekend I picked up an adorable little cauliflower at the farmers’ market. I thought I might just snack on it raw, but our hot spell left me without much appetite all weekend. Now it’s cooling off again, and I felt like playing in the kitchen. A little of this, a little of that, and I came up with:

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with White Truffle OIl


  • 1 small cauliflower, broken up to make about a cup of smallish florets. Chop the stem pieces to about the same size.
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and cut into chunks about the same size as the cauliflower
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • coarse sea salt (optional)
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken stock (feel free to use flavorful vegetable stock if you’re a vegetarian)
  • White truffle oil (I get mine from Trader Joe’s when I visit my sweetie in Seattle, but I’ve seen it on the shelves in the local Safeway store).


Toss cauliflower, shallots and garlic in a mixture of olive oil and vinegar until well coated. Use a slotted spoon to transfer onto a baking sheet, sprinkle very lightly with salt (or not) and roast as above for about 20 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through the cooking.

In a saucepan, heat the stock until boiling and add the roasted vegetables, reserving a few small florets for garnish if you like. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Roasted cauliflower soupRemove from heat. Using a wand blender or food processor, puree until the vegetables are one with the liquid. Don’t expect a creamy white soup; it will be the color of good brown bread from the caramelization. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle a few drops of white truffle oil on top. Float a floret on the soup. Eat with good bread. Purr.

(You can skip the truffle oil if you don’t have any, but try it sometime. Its flavor is a wonderful compliment to roasted vegetables, enhancing the toastiness.

Serves two, though it would be easy to increase the recipe to use a larger cauliflower.

May 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

“… and friends, they may think it’s a movement!”*

Planning aheadThere’s nothing new about farmers’ markets; ours in Albany, for instance, is in its 29th year, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in Oregon. And farm stands have been around just about as long as there have been farmers with extra produce and roads going past them.

But the eat-local movement seems to have reached some sort of critical mass here in the mid-Valley this spring. I’ve already mentioned the Eat Local Challenge (and will be mentioning it again), but suddenly local food events are springing up everywhere I look.

Last Friday was a “Farms Feed Everyone” benefit dinner at the First United Methodist Church in Corvallis; this Thursday, students from the Oregon State University Restaurant/Food Service Management program will take over the on-campus Pangea Restaurant for a “Taste of the Valley” feed featuring fresh local ingredients from salmon to strawberries.

And on Sunday, June 1, the new Slow Food Corvallis group is hosting “Local Bounty: a Farmer-Chef Celebration,” featuring some of Corvallis’ top restaurants preparing a tasting menu of dishes made with local ingredients. (Tickets are $15 and reservations are required; contact for details).

While these folks take different approaches, all share the same goal: Reaquainting people with the variety of good food originating – sometimes literally – in their own back yards.

This rocks me down to my (hand-knit) socks. When I started writing this blog last year, it was partly because I kept running into people who said things like “We have a farmers’ market? I had no idea!”

Now I’m seeing more people at the Albany market every weekend, overhearing conversations that start “I’ve never been to the market before” and watching farm stands spring – or expand – along unexpected byways. I especially love that restaurants are getting in the act. I even had a great conversation this past weekend with the manager of a local brewpub the other night about his efforts to find local sources for everything from the dishes on his menu to the components of his beer.

At this rate, I won’t run out of subject matter any time soon. (-:

*Alice’s Restaurant probably served local food, too.

May 19, 2008 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

Deconstructing Mom’s home cooking

Effortless pasta I am a child of the 1950s, the daughter of a woman who grew up hardscrabble-poor in Depression-era North Texas and went on to learn “modern” cooking and menu planning from Betty Crocker, and a man whose idea of Real Food involved meat, potatoes, and vegetables boiled all day (wtih fatback) on the back of the stove. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I like food at all.

Take pasta: When I was a kid, we never heard the word, for one thing. It was spaghetti, or macaroni, or noodles, and it came in one of three forms: With red sauce, with American cheese, or as filler in the dish mom called “slumgully” (hamburger, celery, dried onion flakes and canned mushrooms, simmered in her biggest skillet with a sauce made of nothing but ketchup and pan juices, and served over enough flat egg noodles to fill up four hungry kids when there was more month left than money. We loved it. We were kids. What can I say?)

Spaghetti was a big deal, because (in those days before the coming of Ragu), mom made her own sauce, cooking it all day long on the back of the stove. It was mostly canned tomato sauce, canned tomato paste and a little bit of onion. No garlic – my dad didn’t like it. Herbs: Oregano and thyme, from jars that sat on the back of the stove and had about as much flavor as the dust that clung to their surfaces. Hamburger (because it wasn’t a proper meal without meat, except on Fridays), either cooked down until it became one with the sauce, or (for special occasions) formed into meatballs as big as a child’s fist, bound together with egg and corn-flake crumbs.

I don’t want to slander my mother. She actually had a pretty adventurous palate – I can remember her dragging six-year-old me and my little brother through the back streets of the Japanese town near the airbase where we were stationed, and egging us on to sample raw fish, strange soups and exotic vegetables. It’s just that she considered it her job to get three meals a day on the table for a picky husband and four ravenous kids, so she stuck with what was safe, filling – and bland.

Still, some tastes form early, and I do have a taste for pasta with meaty red sauce. Over the years, though, I’ve discovered the joys of sauces that aren’t cooked all day long, that include fresh ingredients and herbs and spices. The result is still comfort food, but it’s comfort food with flavor. Mom, rest her soul, would approve.

This past weekend, I hauled my visiting sweetie down to the market with me. We picked up strawberries, and scones, and a pound of the most excellent breakfast sausage from Wood Family Farm. If you’re an Albany Farmers’ Market habitué you’ve probably tasted or at least smelled it; Dan Wood likes to keep a skillet of sausage simmering at his booth to tempt passersby, and tempting stuff it is, lean and well-seasoned. We took our sausage home and set it out to thaw, thinking to have it for Sunday breakfast. But we wound up going out for breakfast instead, my sweetie took the train back to Seattle – and here I was with a pound of sausage that needed cooking.

And though the weather forecast calls for unseasonable heat by week’s end, it’s still chilly tonight, so I came home from work and went straight for the comfort food: Pasta with an easy, flavorful sauce that took hardly any effort to prepare.

You may not have oven-roasted tomatoes in your freezer. I was kind of surprised to discover that I did – I thought I’d used the last container from the 2007 harvest. I was delighted to find I still had about a pint of the stuff – but it’s not essential. You can make this with fresh tomatoes (well, not quite yet, perhaps), or with canned tomatoes, or sun-dried tomatoes. It’s hard to go wrong. And you can substitute the heck out of the ingredients, too.

Pasta with easy, meaty red sauce


  • 1 pound lean,bulk breakfast sausage, locally made if you can find it
  • Half a small onion, diced
  • A few (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
  • A generous handful of fresh mushrooms (if you like them), coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups oven-roasted tomatoes, OR any combination of
    • Ripe, meaty tomatoes, chopped coarsely

    • Sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted in a little hot water (or if you’re using the kind that’s packed in oil, drained)
    • Canned, diced tomatoes. I like the low-salt ones
  • Handful of fresh basil, chopped (I skipped this, because I use a ton of basil in my oven-roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Pasta of your choice (I used rotini)
  • Good grated parmesan, not the tasteless stuff in the green can


In a large skillet over medium-high heat, break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, and stir around a bit to start it browning. Stir in the onion, garlic and mushrooms, turn the heat down low, and put a lid on the pan (I don’t have a lid that fits my skillet, so I use a pizza pan).

Go away for 10 minutes or so. A pocket oven timer comes in handy if you’re prone to getting distracted answering your e-mail.

Come back, give everything a stir. The onions and garlic should be soft by now, the mushrooms looking cooked, and the sausage pretty well cooked through. Dump in tomatoes-of-your-choice. Add herbs. Stir, cover, and go away for another 10 minutes or so.

When you come back, put a big pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Taste the sauce (don’t burn your tongue!) and correct the seasoning if necessary. It should be starting to taste like sauce, rather than its component parts, but will probably be pretty watery. Remove the lid, give it another stir, turn the heat back up to medium and let it simmer and sputter while you cook the pasta according to the package directions.

By the time the pasta is done and drained, the sauce should have reduced down a bit and thickened some. If it’s not quite ready, no worry, just toss the noodles with a little olive oil so they don’t stick while you finish the sauce. When it looks and tastes ready, ladle it generously over the noodles, sprinkle with a little parmesan, and enjoy.

This takes all of about 30 minutes to prepare, and very little of that is spent at the stove. The quantity described here could serve 2-4 people, depending on how hungry they are, and if you need to feed more, just do what mom did: Cook more noodles.

May 13, 2008 at 8:42 pm Leave a comment

Two things to do with strawberries

I managed not to eat them all straight from the pasteboard box, and as promised, here are some nifty things to do with really good strawberries. You know the ones I mean: Red and tender all the way to the heart, so fragrant they smell up your whole refrigerator, and sweet as a May morning. If you can’t get fresh, local berries, my condolences. Don’t bother with these recipes, or (for the panna cotta) substitute good preserves. Anything but those hard, red-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside excuses for strawberries most supermarkets stock. They’re marginally acceptable when piled on shortcake and smothered in whipped cream, but not for any recipe that’s meant to show off the delicate strawberry flavor and fragrance.

The first dish was yesterday’s lunch, inspired in part by a desire to finish off the wonderful spinach I’d bought the week before. The second is a happy coincidence: I’m providing food props for a local theater production, and among them is “creme caramel” – but I’ve been substituting panna cotta, because its gelatin-and-cream base is more refrigerator-stable than the egg custard of real creme caramel. I had a couple of extras, so …

Salad with strawberries

Spinach salad with strawberries and balsamic vinegar


Ripe strawberries, sliced
A few spears of fresh asparagus, the smaller the better
Good balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pink peppercorns
Sea salt


Tear greens into bite-sized pieces and spread on a plate. Arrange a few spears of asparagus, lightly steamed or roasted, on the greens. Top with a few sliced strawberries (I got cute and made strawberry fans by slicing from the tip not quite to the stem and then fanning out the pieces). Drizzle with a balsamic vinegar – less is better than more, here. Sprinkle with ground pepper and a tiny bit of sea salt.

If you’re not the kind of person who keeps pink peppercorns on hand, fresh-ground black pepper is good, too, but the pink variety has a subtle, floral flavor that goes wonderfully with berries and other fruit.

Panna cotta Panna cotta with caramel and strawberries

My recipe for this luxurious Italian dessert is adapted from one by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, host of the wonderful public radio cooking show, The Splendid Table. Hers makes enough for a big dinner party, so I’ve jiggered the proportions, and I’ve upped the gelatin-to-cream ratio just a bit to make them easier to unmold.


1 tsp unflavored gelatin (that’s about half an envelope)
2 Tbsp cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-dairy sour cream. Make sure to get the kind that lists “cultured cream” as its only ingredient. You don’t want agar or other thickeners in this. (Or ever, really).
Caramel sauce (make your own if you want, but I use Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel Sauce, which is to die for)
Strawberries, hulled


Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl. Let it stand for 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan combine the cream, sugar, salt and vanilla and warm over medium-high heat. Do not allow it to boil. Stir in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Put the sour cream in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Rinse a half-dozen small ramekins, pyrex custard cups, or coffee cups with cold water. Place a spoonful of caramel sauce in the bottom of each, and then fill with the cream mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (can be made a day ahead of time, and if covered with plastic wrap once it’s chilled, it holds up well for a couple of days in the fridge).

When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the panna cotta, place a dessert plate on top of the ramekin and invert. It should plop right out onto the plate; if not, carefully run the knife up the side and gently pry it loose. Make sure to get all the caramel sauce out of the ramekin and onto the custard (a spoon may be needed). Top with ripe strawberries. Makes six small desserts.

I’ve got house guests coming this evening, and plan to ply them with berries and panna cotta. I don’t think they’ll mind

May 4, 2008 at 11:19 am 2 comments


Look what I found at the Albany Farmers’ Market today:

First strawberries of the season

The first strawberries of the season, courtesy of Rick Steffens Farm in Silverton – who also brought asparagus, cauliflower and onions to the market this weekend. A good sign that despite the cool weather, foodcrops are coming along, and we should see more and more delicious things each week.

If I don’t gobble them all up just as they are, I may have a recipe or two. Stay tuned.

May 3, 2008 at 2:54 pm 2 comments

Same ingredients, different meals


I live alone, which means I mostly cook for one. Sometimes that means making big batches of something-or-other, parceling it out into meal-sized containers and freezing it for later. Other times – say, when I succumb to an eyes-bigger-than-stomach moment at the farmers’ market – that means coming up with several ways to use the Big Bags of Stuff ™ I bring home before they go bad.

Last weekend it was spinach: A big bag of dark green, big-but-tender leaves that whispered “choose me, choose me!” when I passed by the Salad Farm stand. Never mind that I was still finishing off the mixed lettuces I’d bought the week before; this was spinach

, and I love fresh spinach with a passion equal to the loathing I had as a child for the slimy green variety that came out of a can.

I also brought home more nice brown eggs from Turpen Farm, and a package of thick-sliced, smoked bacon from Wood Family Farm. So right there I had the makings of two very different, but equally delicious meals: A traditional, Southern-style wilted-bacon and spinach salad, and a fantastic spinach-and-bacon quiche.

This might be the place to explain to new readers that, I am not a “health food” cook, nor am I even slightly interested in losing weight. If you’re looking for fat-free recipes, I fear you’ve come to the wrong place. I come by my middle-aged figure honestly, from a hearty appetite and the Kight family gene poole; old photos of my great-aunts show them built just as I am, in the shape that used to be called “matronly,” and they all lived well into their 90s. Those genes have also served me well in other ways: My blood pressure and cholesterol levels are low-normal, to my doctor’s occasional chagrin. So, yes, I eat bacon and eggs, butter and cream and full-fat yogurt – not daily, but when I feel like it – without the slightest food-guilt.

And while I do believe that fresh, local food is better for me than most of what I find in the supermarket, that’s not my main reason for eating it. Plain and simple: It tastes better.

But I digress. On to the recipes, with a minor caveat: These are things I make from memory. I eyeballed the measurements in the kitchen this evening. Fortunately, they aren’t critical – you can add a bit here, subtract a bit there, substitute as you like, and (except as noted) it won’t affect the outcome in any unpleasant ways.

Wilted spinach salad with bacon dressing

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

Ingredients (per serving):

  • Fresh spinach, rinsed and torn in bite-sized pieces
  • Crisp-fried bacon (2 slices per person) broken in pieces
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar OR
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hot bacon grease (pour the rest off and keep it in the skillet in which you cooked the bacon)
  • One egg, hardboiled and coarsely chopped
  • A few shavings of aged parmesan or peccorino romano cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste (no need for salt; the bacon provides that)


Arrange the greens on a large plate. Scatter bacon pieces on top.Whisk the vinegar and sugar (if used) into the hot bacon grease in the skillet; while still hot, pour over the salad. Sprinkle hard-cooked egg and cheese on top, and season with a little pepper. Eat. Enjoy.

Spinach and bacon quiche

Spinach and Bacon Quiche


  • Crust for one pie*
  • 1/4 pound thick-sliced bacon, fried till just shy of crisp
  • One leek, sliced into thin rounds and sauteed until just soft. Or mild onion, if you don’t have leeks.
  • 1/2 cup aged Swiss cheese, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
  • About two cups of raw spinach, rinsed, dried and coarsely chopped
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 2 cups of milk or cream.

  • I use cream, because it produces a silky, luxurious quiche. Feel free to use milk if cream is too rich for your tastes, but at least make it whole milk; low-fat milk results in a watery, unappetizing custard. You can also use half milk and half yogurt or sour cream, but use the real, nothing-but-cultured-milk variety that doesn’t contain gelatin or agar.

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated.
  • Ground pepper to taste


Preheat oven toi 375F. Line a pie plate with prepared crust (you’ll want something deeper than a standard aluminum pie pan for this; I use a deep pyrex plate handed down from my mother).

Arrange bacon, cheese and sauteed leeks in the bottom of the crust, reserving some bacon for the top. Top with spinach. Whisk together eggs, cream nutmeg and pepper until completely blended, then carefully pour over the fillings. Scatter some bacon and parmesan on top, and crimp the edges of the crust as you please.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling is set and the top is browned (to test the filling, give the edge of the pie plate a slight nudge; the custard should jiggle just slightly, but not in a liquid fashion.)

Remove the quiche from oven and let it cool for 5-10 minutes for ease of cutting, or chill and serve cold (I actually prefer cold quiche, and it makes fantastic second-day leftovers.) If I’m serving quiche to guests, I like to accompany it with good, fresh fruit; when no fruit is in season, home-made applesauce or barely sweetened stewed fruit makes a nice foil to the richness of the bacon-and-egg custard.

* While I’m perfectly capable of making a good pie crust, I tend to save them for guests and special occasions. The rest of the time I keep a package of frozen, pre-made pie crusts – the kind that come ready to unroll into your pie plate – in the freezer. They’re easy, less messy, time-saving and even store-brand versions produce perfectly acceptable results.

April 30, 2008 at 11:06 am 5 comments

Improbable combinations

Salade LyonnaiseI managed to gobble up nearly half the big bag of lettuce I brought home from the market yesterday, dressed with nothing more than a splash of vinegar and a little salt – a clear sign that I haven’t been getting enough springtime in my diet.

Then my friend Kathy Walton, having noticed my other market purchases, pointed me to this wonderful and easy recipe for Salade Lyonnaise, a traditional French salad involving nothing more complicated than greens – and bacon, and a single poached egg.

At first glance that may sound a little odd to the American palate – but why not? Greens and bacon go beautifully together (think BLTs, or wilted-spinach and bacon salad, one of the canonical Salads Of My People), and hard-cooked egg is a standard topping for lots of composed salads.

Besides, it was an excuse for me to dig out the teeny lidded pan I somehow acquired ages ago and use it for its intended purpose: Poaching a single egg.

It wasn’t a perfect poached egg, appearance-wise; that takes practice, and I haven’t poached an egg in a dog’s age. But the white didn’t unravel as they sometimes do, and it was perfectly done, to my taste: the white firm all the way through, but the rich, orange-yellow farm egg yolk still oozy enough to melt down into the salad and become one with the dressing.

My adjustments: I didn’t have any shallots on hand, but I did have garlic from the market; I minced a clove and added it to the butter I used to toast the croutons. And I had chives from the supermarket, so I used some of those to top the egg.

Pretty,no? Pretty good eating, too!

April 20, 2008 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts

August 2020