Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Mediterranean Meze Dinner

Mmm, we had a yummy dinner tonight. It was inspired from our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, Ya Halla, and my new cookbook (which I have a post in process about). I found the recipe for Baba Ganouj in Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables and I just had to try it.

This meal is completely vegan!

I planned a meal consisting of baba ganouj, pita wedges, hummus, olives, and fried cauliflower (we've only eaten the latter at Ya Halla, but I understand it's a Lebanese treat). I had to abandon the hummus because Paul had to leave at 6 for a meeting, and the garbanzo beans weren't done cooking in time. But I did manage to get the rest done, even though I'd never made it before.

It's worth seeking out good pita bread. I sometimes make my own, and if I'd had time today I would have used the rest of the pizza dough from yesterday to do just that. But I had store-bought that is good--it took me years to find a good brand. You might look for a middle eastern grocery for good pita. Here in Portland, I buy the Dinar brand that can be found at the food coops and at New Seasons. There's also a good Lebanese grocery right next to Ya Halla.

Olives: I used a Meditteranean blend, Pelloponese brand, from Greece. Though I usually like to buy non-imported foods because of the issue of burning up fossil fuels to get food so far from it's origin, and if possible I like to buy very local, within 100 miles. I've been heard to say, to my kids in the grocery store: "No, we won't buy that fruit, because it's from California. We'll wait until it's in season here in Oregon."

Baba Ganouj

Rub two whole eggplant with olive oil and place on a pan. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees until eggplant is very soft, about 30-45 minutes. Let cool. (Or not, if you're in a hurry! Just be careful.)

Meanwhile, toast 1/4 cup pine nuts in a dry skillet. Be careful not to overtoast, as they burn easily.

In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about two lemons), 1/3 cup tahini, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

When the eggplant is done, cut each in half and scoop out the flesh. Put it through a food processor. Add to the mixture in the bowl and stir until well combined. Serve garnished with the pine nuts and chopped parsley or cilantro.

Fried Cauliflower

I found a beautiful yellow cauliflower at the farmer's market. I cut it into large-ish florets and put them in a bowl. I cooked them in the microwave for 4 minutes (could boil instead) just to par-cook them.

Heat enough olive oil in a skillet to completely cover the bottom. Add the cauliflower and cook, turning every few minutes, until nicely browned on each side. Hibi especially loves fried cauliflower!


I suppose I should post just how I make pizza, because I know my adoring masses (all 5 of you) are dying to know. First off, I use the whole wheat pizza dough recipe from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. I always make half again as much as the recipe calls for--when I'm making bread, that equals three loaves instead of two. So I do it for pizza dough, too. Last night I put 1/3 of it in the freezer for future pizza, or to make pita. One recipe was plenty of pizza for five of us last night, plus good leftovers today.

Before preparing the pizzas, I preheat my baking stone, at 400 degrees.

Use a cookie sheet, or a pizza peel, to transfer the pizza on and off the baking stone. I prepare the sheet with coarsely ground wheat....but I have a grain mill, so it's easy for me to get different grinds of grain. Cornmeal is often suggested, but I find it's too hard, and biting down on a grain of corn isn't always pleasant. Another alternative is steel-cut oats. Oats are nice and soft and you can buy them ground to the correct coarseness.

But don't put too much on the sheet! Too much loose grain is what makes the house all smoky when you're using a baking stone. But you want enough that the pizza will be able to slide off easily.

So, after the dough is all ready to go, I pat it into small rounds--last night I think I made 9 small rounds-- and lay it on the prepared cookie sheet (I don't have a pizza peel). Put salt and pepper on the dough, then add olive oil. (I've also done this last--but last night I did it first. Seems I can remember to do it better at the beginning.) Then add whatever toppings you want. There's a nice pizza sauce recipe there with the dough recipe, but in the summertime I rarely use pizza sauce as there are so many more interesting things to put on pizza. For the fig: slice figs in half, and just lay them on. Add toasted pecans, chopped, crumbled blue cheese, and onions that you've cooked on low heat for half an hour or so. For the pizza margharita: Slice wonderful tomatoes (no supermarket varieties!), chop fresh basil, mince garlic, and slice fresh mozzarella. Put them all on the dough.

Transfer, carefully, to the baking stone. Use a metal spatula to aid getting the pizzas onto the stone. Bake until the crust is fully cooked. You can tell best from the underside--it will be all nice and mottled with dark brown.


Fig Pizza and Peach Crisp

Darn, I'm really missing my camera.

I was already planning to make fig pizza (though I didn't get to use any of those great figs we were given for it--summer camp intervened and I didn't get to them in time--ate most of them, though) last night, and when a. it was cool enough to turn on the oven without getting roasted ourselves and b. we had a friend over for dinner, I knew it was the perfect time to make pizza! I made fig, pecan, blue cheese, and carmelized onion pizza, along with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella pizza. It was good, and it didn't even smoke up the house this time. I'll have to figure out what I did right this time.

Now, we love berries in this house. For years I've been thwarted from actually *baking* with berries, because they all get gobbled up before I can do anything with them. But I bought seven baskets of them at the farmer's market last Thursday, and the kids were still at camp until Friday, and we had a busy weekend, and....somehow, there were still a bunch of berries in my fridge on Sunday night. I knew I had to do something with them or they'd mold. So, I took the 1 1/2 baskets of blueberries, 1 basket of red raspberries, and a bunch of peaches, old ones that were going bad* (just cut off the bad parts--or more accurately, cut off the good parts) and threw them together to make a crisp. It was so yummy I knew I had to make another crisp for when our friend came over, so I just bought peaches and used those. It was better with the berries, I think, but the peach crisp was darned good. This is a recipe that was very easy to make vegan and non-vegan versions of--the only non-vegan ingredient is butter, and that's literally the last ingredient you add.

Fresh Fruit Crisp

Take whatever fruit you want to use and put it in a shallow glass baking dish. Add some sugar and some spice--the first night I used fresh ginger, but candied would have worked well, too. The second one I used cardamom and that was good but more understated. Stir those together.

In a bowl stir together maybe a cup of flour, half a cup of chopped almonds, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Cut in cold butter, about 3-4 tablespoons (my preferred method is with the fingers) OR oil or margarine or shortening. If you don't care about vegan, use butter. Really. You won't regret it.

Spread the flour mixture over the fruit and bake at 350 for, oh, at least half an hour, until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is beginning to get brown.

Understand that these measurements are guessed at--this is the first time I just made a crisp without looking at a recipe. And I just kind of threw stuff together. Seems to me that crisps are very forgiving.

*How in the world did peaches go bad in our house? Well, seems they were doomed from the start. First off, they were exceedingly ripe when I bought them at the farmer's market. Second, it was Zac's job to carry the bag they were in, and they got, uh, somewhat bumped around. And then, I bought them on Wednesday and found, on Thursday evening, that they were still in my car! Arg! A wonder they were still usable at all after all that.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Farm Workers

So, here's the promised food politics on this blog. This just arrived in my inbox:

Farm workers who pick tomatoes for McDonald's sandwiches earn 40 to 50 cents
for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has not risen
significantly in nearly 30 years.Workers who toil from dawn to dusk without the
right to overtime pay or any benefits must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn
$50 in one day. Worse yet, modern-day slavery has reemerged in Florida's fields;
since 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice has prosecuted five slavery rings,
freeing more than 1,000 workers.As a major buyer of Florida tomatoes, McDonald's
high-volume, low-cost purchasing practices place downward pressure on farmworker
wages, putting corporate profits before human dignity.

+ Click Here to Tell McDonald's to Ensure Fair Wages for Farmworkers: http://go.sojo.net/ct/-dwa1h71eR7p/Fair_Wages

Source: Sojourners e-newsletter

Sunday, 6 August 2006


Oh, my gosh, *three* different parishioners gave us figs from their trees! We now have about 6 pounds of figs, the green kind, in our fridge, and a couple more that we've been eating off of since yesterday. I think it's definitely fig pizza time. Also, I found a couple of interesting recipes.....a fig tart with custard, in a Deborah Madison book. I think I'll try to replicate the fig recipe from The Farm Cafe, stuffed with gorgonzola (I'll use Rogue Creamery's Oregonzola--dontcha love that name!) and a balsamic reduction. Paul says the figs were baked. I'll have to see about that.

If anyone has any must-try fig recipes, let me know!

Friday, 4 August 2006

The Farm Cafe

We went to a restaurant we hadn't been to tonight, and it was a winner! It was enjoyed by all of us. It's called The Farm Cafe, on SE 10th Ave, just south of Burnside. It focuses on fresh, local, organic foods.

When we first drove up, Paul was quite reserved about it. He said, well, we'll look at the menu. It looked like just a big old house with a placard out front. It looked quite dead, actually. But when we opened the door it was like entering one of those tents in Harry Potter--it was completely different inside, a bustling, busy, happy place.

The Farm Cafe isn't a vegetarian restaurant, but it does cater to vegetarians and vegans. There were two entrees for Hibi, our resident vegan, to choose from, which may not sound like many but she had a hard time choosing because both sounded so good. She chose a tofu and herbed mashed potato offering. She enjoyed it greatly and I enjoyed the one bite I had of it. I ordered goat cheese ravioli and it was also stellar. It came with fresh cherry tomatoes that were *so* flavorful and fresh basil on top. Zac ordered the Farmhouse Veggie Burger, which he grudgingly allowed me to have a bite of, and it was very tasty, though a bit messy. He didn't eat his salad, though, so Paul and I split it. Paul ordered just an appetizer, with a mind to share mine and thinking that entrees are usually quite large. It was a delicious three figs stuffed with gorgonzola cheese dressed in a balsamic vinegar reduction. *So* good!

The only problem we had with it is that the portions were probably more suited to how we usually eat, so Paul wasn't left a whole lot to eat. The ravioli was only about 5 squares and the other two dishes weren't really enough to share, either. We had expected more figs than just three. Still, when you think about the fact that it's all organic it really wasn't overpriced. So, we decided to sate our remaining hunger by ordering a cheese plate. There were four different kinds of cheese, paired with tasty crusty cheesy bread, some fruit, and a quince paste of sorts. (I didn't catch the actual name of it.) It was very tasty, and a nice finish to the meal. After that we weren't hungry anymore. We all sent it to the top of our favorite restaurant list!

We came home and made mojitos....we're diligently using up all that excess mint. ;-) The kids enjoyed them without rum, of course.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Pasta with Sauteed Tomatoes, Zucchini, Potatoes, and Mint

Tomorrow is grocery shopping day, and I didn't have a meal planned for tonight. That's okay, because I am loving focusing on what's growing in the garden. I had more tomatoes, zucchini, and all that mint I wrote about on my regular blog. So I devised a pasta. The pasta itself was vegan, and I served fresh mozzarella balls, the tiny kind, alongside, and also bread crumbs toasted in butter. The breadcrumbs were an afterthought, but as we were eating I thought I should have toasted some in oil for Hibi, because they really added to the meal. But she enjoyed it a lot, nevertheless.

Pasta with Sauteed Tomatoes, Zucchini, Potatoes, and Mint

Bring a pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta (I used one pound of angel hair).

Slice four small tomatoes into quarters, four tiny zucchini (with blossoms still attached, if available) into quarters, and two small potatoes (we had the purple-fleshed kind!) into small cubes. Chop an onion or a couple of green onions, and chop four cloves of garlic. Heat a tablespoon of good olive oil in a skillet. Sautee all vegetables until almost tender.

Melt a teaspoon of butter in a small skillet. Crumble one or two slices of good bread into the skillet and toast, stirring every couple of minutes, until crispy.

Add a pound of pasta to the boiling water.

Add to the vegetable mixture 1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes until the leaves are wilted. Toss with the drained pasta and serve with fresh mozzarella and toasted bread crumbs.

Summer Garden Stew

Harvest a bunch of vegetables from your garden and make your own stew. Here's what I found to cook with: 5 small tomatoes, three tiny summer squash with blossoms still on, one large squash, a handful of snap peas, a few leaves of basil, a sprig of rosemary and a few escarole leaves. I added some broccoli that had been in my fridge. I left most of the veggies whole, chopping only the broccoli and the larger squash. I started by sauteeing a fresh spring onion--the big red kind with greens still attached that I got at the farmer's market--along with four cloves of garlic. Then I added all the veggies at once and let them cook until they were tender and there was some liquid in the pot. Very easy. I served it with polenta and parmesan cheese.