Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole Grain Mustard (and a Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Too!)

I think I've mentioned this before, but every time my husband flies back to New York, I tend to get a wee-bit bummed-out the next day. On his most recent trip, we spent 5 days together and his visit coincided with our Aunt Barbara's stay (fantastic) and Theodore's first birthday (that post will get written, eventually). We had an awesome date night at Root Down, had friends over for a BBQ dinner, went to the Dragon Boat Festival and hiked near Boulder on Sunday morning. Then we piled into the car and dropped him off at the airport. 
The day after he leaves I usually like to do something unexpected, or at least try to go some place where I've never been before. It gives me a sense of adventure (though most things are "an adventure" with a 1 year old and a 3 year old in tow) and it helps me keep my mind off of our current situation. 
So yesterday, the day after the airport-drop, I decided I wanted to go to another farm. It was too hot to hike and I've really taken to this farm-thing. I'd already been to Isabella Farm and Ollin. And today's destination was going to be (drum roll, please) Berry Patch Farms. Finally. 
Now friends, I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: always check the farm's hours of operation before you pack the diaper bag, assemble the snacks, load the kids in the car and head east on I-76. Yup. The farm is closed on Monday. 
We turned the car around and came back to Denver. It's not a very long trip (about 25 minutes) and we were back at our favorite playground in no time at all. But the plan to make a lunch out of the fresh produce I had anticipated buying at the farm...well, that didn't really pan out. 
I needed some comfort food...stat!
There is something really, really great (and comforting) about grilled cheese sandwiches. It's, like, the best lunch in the world. Maybe what makes them so great is the gooey cheese, the memories of childhood, or just the crunch of that grilled bread when you take a big bite. Any way you slice it, it hits the spot.
I made the Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard from Nancy Silverton's (of Mozza fame) Sandwich Book. It was so delicious! 
And since we are on the subject of grilled cheese, I decided to add a second recipe for Green Goddess Grilled Cheese too. I made it a while back, but never posted it on the blog...so enjoy that one as well!
{In case you are wondering, I went back to Berry Patch Farms today...of course, after checking their hours of operation. They were opened and we had a blast. Photos coming tomorrow, or soon thereafter.}
Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard (Courtesy of Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book)
{Though this version on the Classic Grilled Cheese calls for only a few extra ingredients, it's a completely different sandwich. The onions and mustard salute the sensibilities of Alsace, imparting a tangy seal to this basic grilled cheese.}
Yields 4 sandwiches
For the Onions:
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar (I used 3 white-wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of freshly cracked black pepper
2 medium yellow onions, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick-slices
For the rest:
8 slices white or whole-wheat sourdough bread
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, sliced into 24-32 1/16-inch-thick-slices (I used a peeler to get the slices thin)
To prepare the marinated onions: In a medium bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the onions, toss to coat them, and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Season them with more vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. (Mine were fine as they were.)
To assemble the sandwiches: Set half of the slices of bread buttered side down. Spread an even layer of mustard over the bread and cover with half the cheese, folding them back in toward the middle if they extend past the edges of the bread. Scatter the marinated onions on top and place the remaining cheese slices over the onions. Put the top slices of bread over the cheese, buttered side up. 
Grill the sandwiches (a few minutes in a Panini press) and cut in half on the diagonal.
* * *
This is another rocking grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn't take too long to assemble, and I had plenty of green goddess herb pesto leftover-- which I slathered on the summer squashes I picked up at the farmers market. I got a really good quality Italian bread, (courtesy of the the Denver Bread Company), and filled it with mozzarella, creamy goat cheese, sliced avocado and a big handful of spinach. Then I spread a generous amount of the green goddess herb pesto on each side and closed 'er up! The sandwich goes on the panini press for just a few minutes, until the mozzarella cheese is melted. Lunch is served and it's a good one...
Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Courtesy of Sarah Gim, Tastespotting)
Yields 1 sandwich
2 slices bread (we used a white bread, but one filled with lots of different whole grains and seeds would be *awesome*)
3 tablespoons Green Goddess Herb Pesto (recipe below)
2 slices mild white melty cheese like mozzarella
handful fresh baby spinach
¼ avocado, sliced
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
olive oil (and butter if you’re so inclined)
Spread about 1 tablespoon of Green Goddess Herb Pesto onto each slice of bread (2 tablespoons total, but if you’re sensitive, go light, the pesto is STRONG).
On one slice of bread, add 1 slice of cheese, sliced avocado, crumbled goat cheese, spinach, second slice of cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. (If you want to use butter, add it to the oil and let it melt). Add the sandwich to the oil and cook until bread is golden brown. Press down on the sandwich lightly, then flip the sandwich over and cook until second side is golden brown.

Green Goddess Herb Pesto (Adapted from Sarah Gim, Tastespotting)
I have to say that I didn't love this pesto when I tasted it for seasoning. It was very strong. But when it was put on this sandwich...um, it was amazing!
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 small shallot, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
handful chopped kale
handful of chopped spinach
1 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/4 cup olive oil, I added another few tablespoons to get the consistency right
salt and pepper to taste
Pulse garlic and shallot in food processor until chopped. With the food processor running, add lemon juice, parsley, kale, tarragon and chives. (It won’t process very well yet, don’t worry).
Very slowly drizzle in olive oil until kale and herbs get sufficiently chopped and everything is the consistency of a pesto. You may need more or less of the olive oil depending on how big a “handful” of herbs is to you. You can also turn off the food processor and push herbs down the side of the bowl with a spatula every once in a while.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Squash It! Ollin Farm and Lots of Seasonal (Squash) Fare

Producing real food is very hard work. And producing food on a scale that is larger than what you can get from a small garden in your backyard, well, that is a tremendous undertaking. 
Now I've never personally worked on a farm, but I did try to grow strawberries on my fire escape in Brooklyn one time...and let me tell you, it did not go well. I watered that strawberry plant and I made sure the soil had nutrients. I loved that plant and I gave her my all. In return for my efforts, my plant produced ONE pitiful looking strawberry. I had been dreaming of strawberry salads and fresh fruit smoothies. I don't know what I was thinking. That summer my dill and basil didn't fare much better. And that marked the end of my urban growing experience.
A bit of of time passed, and I found a new confidence. I'd done some reading, dog-eared some pages of Martha Stewart Living, and followed a handful of gardening blogs religiously. I planted two tomato plants, basil, cilantro, rosemary, mint and Italian parsley. 
My expectations were modest. 
It's been a few months since my initial planting. The tomato plants are growing, by there's nary a tomato in sight. The basil looks depressed and the cilantro is dead. The good news is my mint, rosemary and parsley are thriving. But it's not exactly what I would call season's bounty. I never even got to planting vegetables like spinach, chard, or squash. Farmers, you have my respect! 
Farming is seriously hard work. I found out all about it when I went to the Ollin Farm for their Squash Festival last weekend. The farm is in Longmont, Colorardo-- not too far from Boulder. It's in a really beautiful part of the country. (I first heard of the farm through this post on Boulder Locavore.)
Ollin Farm seems like a product of love. It is run by a husband-and-wife team, along with their children (and I believe a few other family members and some workers too). Kena is originally from Mexico City and her husband Mark is from Colorado. While they didn't have backgrounds in agriculture or farming, 5 years of hard work and lots of education have paid off- they have one of the nicest farms I've been to.
There was so much gorgeous looking produce at the festival. There were heirloom squashes, Ronde de Nice, Pattypans, zucchinis, summer squashes, herbs, beets and greens. Back to Basics Kitchen had a demonstration table that was full of delicious dishes-- all containing the ingredient of the day, squash! 
Thank you Ollin Farm for a great day. You've inspired me to try my hand (again) at small-time farming next summer...
{Recipes follow.} 
I don't know why I always refer to sheep as female. At any rate, this is Victor....
The Back to Basics Kitchen demonstration table. The Pesto Zucchini Noodles were delicious. They gave out recipe cards, but I misplaced mine. Sad face. 
Unfortunately for me, the visit to the chicken coop coincided with Otis's nap time and a slight meltdown ensued. He was positively certain that the chickens wanted to "eat him up." And there was crying. I tried to comfort him, but things started to go downhill...with a quickness! Theo, oblivious to the meltdown, was desperately trying to chase the poultry. 
These eggs were plucked right out of the hen house. It got me thinking...if we stay in Colorado, should we get chickens? I'm not sure what Omar (our elderly Rott) would think of that situation- it's chaotic enough around our parts. I'm not sure my husband would be on board either...but maybe?! 
Water drip technology is an efficient way to irrigate the crops. 
I picked up some deliciously amazing squash. Thank you Ollin Farm for a great day. 
See you for the Tomato Festival!
* * *
Zucchini and Potato Soup (Courtesy of Anna Thomas's Love Soup)
{In contrast to the soups I usually make, which have a very intense flavor, this soup is relatively mild -- but it is creamy (though creamless) and satisfying. You really need to adjust the salt and pepper here. That is key. Add a drizzle of olive oil and some crumbled feta before serving. Wanna really jazz it up? Add some sauteed zucchini blossoms. Next time I may add a pinch of cayenne or paprika.}
Serves 6-8
2 1/4 lbs. zucchini
2 large yellow onions
7 oz. Yukon Gold Potato
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
3 1/2 cups basic light vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
Optional Garnishes: fruity green olive oil, crumbled feta or queso fresco, sauteed zucchini blossoms
Wash and trim the zucchini, halve them lengthwise if they are thick, and slice them or cut them into 1-inch dice. Peel and coarsely chop the onions. Scrub and finely dice the potatoes.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, add the chopped onions and a pinch of salt, and sauté the onions over medium heat, stirring often, until they are soft and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 2 cups of water, the vegetable broth, the potatoes, and a teaspoon of salt in a large soup pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the zucchini and simmer another 10 minutes.
When the onions are ready, add them to the soup pot, along with the chopped basil and parsley. Grind in an ample amount of black pepper and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Taste, and add a pinch more salt or a little more lemon juice if needed.
The soup can be pureed, either in a blender or with an immersion blender. Be careful not to over process, as potatoes tend to become gummy when over-worked. Whisk in 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add some crumbled feta or queso fresco. Maybe some pan-fried zucchini blossoms? Enjoy! 

Other seasonal, squash recipes that I've posted:
Gina DePalma's Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze.
Elise of Simply Recipes' Mücver Patties
Love & Olive Oil's Zucchini Basil Soup (from Epicurious)

Recipes from the blogosphere that I'm making this week:
Roasted Zucchini, Black Bean and Goat Enchiladas from Sprouted Kitchen
Pattypan Squash Stuffed with Corn from Martha Rose Shulman, The New York Times
Stuffed Ronde de Nice from Megan Bucholz for Edible Front Range
Pan-fried Zucchini Blossoms with Ricotta and Garden Herbs from Food & Style Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pines to Peaks (and a Bon Appetit's Cold Soba Salad with Summer Vegetables)

Our Colorado-Relocation-Project has gotten a reprieve, a lifeline if you will. We decided to give the job hunt another 6 months instead of packing up at the end of August. If jobs line up, we get to stay. Hip, hip, hooray! If it doesn't come together in that time, we have to move back to New York City (what's the opposite of hip, hip, hooray?) I've joked that if we go back east you'll find me at Bellevue hooked up to a Lithium drip, but I am only partially kidding. So keep those fingers crossed and here's to hoping that it works out for us.
Now as much as I love it here in Colorado, raising two small boys while my husband commutes back and forth from Brooklyn can be a bit challenging. Usually I get a teeny-tiny bit blue when we pile into the car and drive him back to the airport at the end of a visit. I know that we will see him in a few weeks, but I can't help feeling a little bummed. He does too. As do the boys. I suppose this is how military families feel, but at least my husband isn't going off to battle. Okay, he's battling "the system" and fighting on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised, but I think we can all agree that it's not exactly the same thing. Anyway, I find that taking a nice hike the day after he leaves helps me clear my mind and the boys love it too. 

This time around I found myself wanting to go to a pine forest, which had something to do with the recent article I read at the gym titled Colorado's Forests Are Bugging Out with Bettles. Usually I prefer not to read anything too heady while on the elliptical, and I have a tendency to opt for trashy, pointless, gossip magazines. But they weren't available at the gym last week, so I picked up a copy of the most recent Westword and got reading...
The article answered a lot of questions I had regarding the beetle problem, which is responsible for destroying vast swaths of forest pine from the mountain states all the way up into Canada. The piece had a lot of good background information and presented some solutions that may curb the damage. I won't flesh out any of the points that were made, as I am not a forester, an ecologist or evolutionary biologist-- but definitely read it if you want to learn more. 
I wanted to check out what was going on with the pines and I found a hike that looked great. The "Pines to Peaks" trailhead was only 10 minutes from Boulder, which is only about 35 minutes away from our house. I decided to make a day of this pine forest pilgrimage, so we did some cooking before we left. I made a Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Summer Vegetables (delicious) and I brought along some honeydew carpaccio for dessert. It was perfect. 
We saw female deers and a few fawns too. And then Otis pointed to a sign and yelled, "Lion!" I nearly lost it. We were, in fact, in mountain lion territory. And although a sighting is extremely rare, there were instructions on what to do and what not to do if you meet one of these predators. 
Now I can fight off a street pigeon, but a mountain lion? I don't think so. I picked up some rocks and put them in Otis's hiking bucket...just in case.

There are lots of healthy pines, but these trees have succumbed to a beetle infestation. Pine trees secrete a resin (yellow goop) that can help defend against the beetles. But there hasn't been a lot of rain and that affects the trees and their resin quality. Well-watered pines can defend against thousands of invaders. An ill-watered tree can not. The beetles are also being observed at higher (and higher) elevations. 
That said, the vistas on the trail were magnificent and there were tons of wildflowers too...

About 10 minutes away from where we did our hiking are these beautiful homes in Boulder's Mapleton Historic District

 Then we went down to the pedestrian mall and walked around. Before I knew it, I found myself in front of Tee & Cakes on 14th Street (how did that happen?). After a day of hiking (and carrying two kids part of the way back down the mountain) I felt like a special treat was in order. I got the s'mores and they were so good... 
 ...and this is what I brought along for our picnic. (Photographed at home, not on the hike!) 

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Summer Vegetables (Adapted slightly from Bon Appétit, July 2012)
Yield 4-6 servings
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Sriracha (hot chili sauce)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
8 cups matchstick-size pieces mixed summer vegetables (I probably had about 6 cups and I used carrots, cucumbers and radishes)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
8 ounces buckwheat soba (Japanese-style noodles) or vermicelli noodles
1/2 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (you can use white too, but I prefer black)
Whisk first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add vegetables; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain. Run noodles under cold water to cool them; drain well and add to bowl with vegetables. Add cilantro and scallions; season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle sesame seeds over and serve.
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