Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beefy Golden Beet Borscht

Golden beets were a wonderful addition to our vegetable box last week. I loves me some golden beets!

A quick survey of the refrigerator contents revealed all the makings for a hearty beefy vegetable borscht, which was one of the favorite ethnic dishes my mom use to make for my dad. Borscht contains a lot of root vegetables, including beets, carrots, potatoes, and onions, plus celery and cabbage. The main seasoning is dill. My sister likes to make a vegetarian version using the traditional red beets, but I like a hearty beef stock for the base and I have become partial to the golden beet variety that we often get in our SLO Veg deliveries. The only thing I needed from the store today was a cheap cut of beef with some good bones! I found a small rack of beef back ribs--four good bones and enough meat for pot of soup.

Preparation super easy, but the thing that really complimented this borscht was the dill rye bread I located on the grocery shelf. My mom really appreciated a good rye bread. I guess her mother use to make bread every Saturday for their entire week. Dark rye was her real favorite. The rye bread it is tonight!

I first sliced an onion and put it on the bottom of the crock pot. Then I seasoned the rack of ribs with a salt-pepper-garlic blend and laid it on top of the onion rings, fat side down. I set the crockpot on high and let that all cook for a bit. That method browned the onions a bit, and got the meat browned as well. After about an hour, I added six cups of water, four diced potatoes, three sliced carrot, and two diced ribs of celery, along with some dill weed seasoning, and let the crockpot do its magic. Meanwhile, three beets were in the oven wrapped in foil to roast for an hour at 400 degrees. I find roasting the beets really brings out a nice flavor. I would add the beets to the crock pot during the last hour of cooking, along with the shredded cabbage. Just prior to adding the beets, I pulled out the rack of ribs and removed all the meat, which at this point literally fell of the bone. The meat all went back into the crock, along with the beets and cabbage. A little more salt and pepper, plus a dash of red wine vinegar, completed this soup.

I use some large-sized pasta bowls for serving and put out some sour cream on the side. I will try to upload a picture on Facebook, because this blog will only allow one photo these days.

Beefy Golden Beet Borscht

Small rack beef ribs

One onion, sliced into rings

6 cups water

1 tsp ea salt, pepper and granulated garlic seasoning

3 golden beets, roasted, diced

3 carrots, sliced

2 celery ribs, sliced

4 russet potatoes, diced

1/2 head green cabbage, chopped

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

Wrap beets in foil after drizzling with oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Bake for one hour at 400 degrees. Cool, peel and dice into bite-sized pieces. 

Put sliced onions in crock pot. Place seasoned rack of ribs on top, fat side down. Set on high and cook for one hour. Add 6 cups water, potatoes, carrots and celery, plus 1 Tbs dill weed. Cook on high for 4-5 hours, or low for 7-8 hours.  

Remove beef ribs and pull meat off bones. Disgard bones. Put meat back into crock. Add beets and cabbage and red wine vinegar. Cook on high for 30 minutes until cabbage is wilted. Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream and some buttered rye bread.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What's in Season? It's What's for Dinner!

Since I have been blogging here for almost two years about our SLO Veg produce, I am starting to notice I am repeating some recipes. Often there is a new twist or two, but its, you know, the same kind of vegetables or fruits, more or less. Its season-driven, and I am beginning to learn what to look forward to getting in the box.

One of the best ways to plan a menu is knowing what is in season. Usually its whatever is featured on sale in the grocery store ads. For us these days, its whatever comes in our box, since the produce is all locally grown. That's fun! Its why we have watermelon and berries in the summer and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, with a mainstay supply of kale, strawberries and broccoli and bok choy, because they seem to have an almost year-round growing season here. We also get lots of apples, oranges or other citrus on a regular basis. Since we also signed up for the fresh fish from the partnering SLO Fresh Catch, we are able to sample a nice variety of ocean fish caught right out of Morro Bay. Yes, we are spoiled!

I do have to supplement from local markets, because every week I need a variety of onions, potatoes, carrots, and salad ingredients. I also need things like eggs, yogurt, canned tuna, mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, chicken, cheese, tortillas, butter and bread. Some shrimp, pork and beef are nice to have, as well. Pantry essentials include rice, quinoa, pasta, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, broth, diced tomatoes, beans, vinegar, oil, and bread crumbs. I try to keep my pantry and freezer stocked with these staples.

But when we get our delivery of seasonal produce, it all comes to life! We can have fish tacos with fresh cilantro and red peppers, zucchini and tomatoes with basil, lettuce wraps with Asian turkey meat filling, green peppers stuffed with rice, apples and onions with brats and so on.

Getting this produce delivered has certainly expanded my cooking repertoire and sent me in search of recipes, spices and cooking vessels to create dishes with just the right flair. It brought me out of a deep cooking rut where I made the same 10 meals right out of my battered Betty Crocker cookbook. I have learned a lot about flavor profiles, so I know better what to combine or substitute in my recipes and I can whip up a meal almost effortlessly.

Last night we had pulled pork with roasted brussel sprouts and spaghetti squash on the side. Tonight we are having an Italian beefy vegetable minestrone soup so I can use up the last of my zucchini and spinach (also because the foccachia bread I had got hard and is more of a crouton-perfect for soup!). Wednesday it will be pork carnitas tacos with sauteed peppers and onions, and Thursday will be some kind of pasta with lots of veggies in there. I want to roast the cauliflower, but that might have to wait. I saw Rachel's post for a Buffalo cauliflower. How great is that? Need to try it, for sure, with bleu cheese dressing for dipping. Maybe I will share that one with my girlfriends when we get together.

The recipes ideas are endless, always with a twist. Here is to happy eating!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thai Fish Tacos with Peanut Sauce and Carrot Slaw

Last Saturday night, I somehow found myself home alone, with no men-folk to feed or fuss over, no daughters to hang out with, and no girlfriends to rehash our lives with over coffee, so....I decided to take myself out for dinner and a movie. 

I checked out the movie listings and spied the new Robert Downey Jr. movie, The Judge, was playing at a downtown theater. Perfect! Robert Duvall was also on the ticket, along with Billy Bob Thornton, so it had to be good. Of course, I could just judge that for myself, now, couldn't I? (he he).

Dinner first. What was nearby? Oh, just my personal favorite, Splash Cafe. Its a local eatery that specializes in clam chowder, fish n chips, and burgers, but they also bake breads and pastries, and their lunchtime combo of a half sandwich and cup of chowder is hard to beat for under $10 (or over $10, for that matter). But fish tacos were on special this night for $2 apiece, with a small bread bowl of chowder for another $5. Perfect for my solo date night with myself. They offered the tacos in their original, Baja or Thai styles...Thai??? Sounds great!

What I got was tender, grilled chunks of cod served on two corn tortillas with cabbage, shredded carrots, diced green onions, strips of red bell pepper, and leaves of basil and cilantro, all drizzled with a spicy Thai peanut sauce that made me lick my lips, my fingers, and my paper basket liner. I would definately be ordering these tacos again, but better yet, I could try to recreate it at home! 

Then I went to the theater and cried through most of the movie, with some intermittent laughter at the surprises woven into the lovely human interactions. Romance, struggle, laughter, redemption...everything I look for in a movie. I thought it was a well done movie and enjoyed it all the way through the last of the credits. In all, a great date night.

So on Monday night, when my hub had returned from the car races and our roommate and our son would be home for the evening as well, I made this:

I had some Sand Sole from our SLO Veg delivery that had been put in the freezer for just this occasion. Thin, white fish filets that I coated in seasoned flour and pan fried in butter until the coating was crisp and the fish was flakey. I was out of cabbage, so I lined the heated tortllas with butter lettuce and layered on a carrot slaw that I had mixed with a couple of tablespoons of sesame-ginger dressing right out of the bottle. I searched the refrigerator's vegetable bins for slaw additions: I chopped up some green onions, red bell peppers, basil and cilantro leaves and added a dash of celery seed, which was the roommate's idea. He has some pretty good food instincts, for a guy. I made my own peanut sauce, however, using a cup of peanut butter, some soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, sweet chili sauce, Siracha sauce, garlic, ginger, and brown sugar. I could have made my own slaw dressing with sesame oil, ginger and rice vinegar, but I think I mentioned that I was out of rice vinegar. Could've used white vinegar, I guess, but I had the bottled stuff. I think you can follow heating the tortillas, mixing up a carrot slaw with anything else you have in the frig and pan-frying some fish filets, but here is the recipe for a wonderful, finger-licking and versatile, no-cook Thai peanut sauce. 

Thai Peanut Sauce


1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup coconut milk

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon Siracha sauce

1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1. In a blender, mix the peanut butter, coconut milk, water, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, ginger, and garlic. Mix in the cilantro just before serving

(I am using the leftover peanut sauce on some Thai chicken and noodles tonight. Just cooking some pasta, browning chunks of chicken breast, and mixing it all together with the peanut sauce. Might add some leftover green beans, too.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kale soup

I found a hearty kale soup recipe the other day that fit my needs perfectly, because its fast to make on a week night after work. I had the curly-leaf kale, some carrots, potatoes, onions and beans on hand, plus a nice fresh loaf of French bread. Soup makings if I ever saw it!

I pretty much followed this recipe, except I only used the one kind of bean (red kidney beans) and added some cooked, diced brat sausage chunks. I also did not bother to blenderize the beans that were leftover from another meal. I flavored the broth with fresh rosemary and mint, and some red wine vinegar, and it had a nice degree of complexity for all of its simplicity.

An added bonus was having enough soup to take to work the next day!

 Two-Bean Soup with Kale | -

Kale Soup

2 Tbs Olive Oil

2 Tbs butter

1/2 onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and diced

1/2 tsp salt

2 cloves garlic, smashed

4 Cups water

2 tsp vegetable or chicken boullion

5 small red potatoes, diced into bite-sized chunks

1 15oz. can red kidney beans, undrained

1 large bunch kale, chopped

2 links cooked chorizo or other sausage, diced

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1 tsp fresh rosemary and mint leaves, minced

Cooking directions:

Boil potatoes in water with boullion added for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, saute onions, celery and carrots (mirepoix) in olive oil and butter until onions are translucent. Add salt, garlic and rosemary and cook for one more minute until fragrant. 

Add mirepoix to potato pot; then using the same saute pan, saute the chopped kale for 2-3 minutes until it just begins to wilt.  Add the kale to the soup pot, along with kidney beans, red wine vinegar, mint, and sausage. Season with fresh ground pepper to taste.

Serve with hot, buttered French bread slices and a glass of your favorite wine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lemony Mediterranean-style baked fish with vegetables

Since the husband and I are on a continual journey to optimize our health, we try to eat fish for dinner at least once a week. That is a big improvement from our old habit of maybe going out to have fried fish and chips every other month or so. I mean, that is good too, especially since we live near the Pacific coast, and there is a plethora of fine fish restaurants, but its more of a treat, something to have on our "free" day one day a week where we can eat whatever our heart desires. The rest of the week, the plan is simple, heart-healthy variations, like chicken and fish prepared in a Mediterranean style. We had fish, lemons, basil, green beans, cherry tomatoes from our weekly box of goodness from the local farmers, so dinner practically made itself.

So last night it was a lemony baked fish, lemon-zested green beans, tomato-artichoke-cucumber salad. We did have one indulgence: cheesy olive-topped french bread. That was mostly to fill up the other two eaters at our table who don't need to watch their calories like we do. Lee and I had one slice, they had, like, six each. I didn't show you the bread here, because it was already gone. 

I got an idea to line the baking dish with basil leaves from another recipe site, and I had a bunch of large leaves that came in our tote box from SLO Veg, so it was perfect! I drizzled a bit of olive oil into a rectangular glass baking dish, then Lee lined the dish with basil leaves under my instructions. I was busy making the cucumber salad. He laid the fish on top of the basil, seasoning it with coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and then grated on some lemon zest. The juice of the lemon was squeezed on top, followed by some sauteed onion rings and halved cherry tomatoes and slices of lemon. Then the fish went into the oven to bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or so. We had about one and a half pound of fish filets, which also came in our weekly tote in co-op with the Central Coast Fisheries, and that was plenty for four people. I checked it after 20 minutes and decided to let it go another five minutes. Then it was perfect and flakey and wonderfully infused with basil.  

The tri-colored green beans, also provided by our local farmers, were boiled for 15 minutes in a pot of salted water until tender; then drained and drizzled with olive oil and topped with salt, pepper, and lemon zest, same as the fish preparation. The salad consisted of sliced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, diced red onion, marinated artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and dressed with olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. So simple a Cave woman could do it...if a Cave woman had a nice sharp knife and some good vinegar. 

The bread that I keep talking about but did not photograph was a loaf of French bread, sliced lengthwise, and spread with a mixture of mayonnaise, butter, parmesan cheese, garlic, green olives and green onions. It gets toasted under the broiler for about 5 minutes until slightly browned and bubbly. Then you slice it into 2-inch pieces and devour it. 

Anyway, everybody ate and was happy. That's always the goal. Goodnight. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Portugese Pizza

Linguica sausage, kale, onions...sounds like the makings for a Portuguese dish. At least it was a couple of days ago when I made some Portuguese soup (Caldo Verde) with those ingredients, plus some potatoes.
The thing is, I still have a stick of linguica sausage left, and a bunch of kale. Its Friday night, and I wanted pizza. Looking through my pantry, I find two pita breads...just two. Well, I think its just the hubby and me tonight, so maybe the pitas will work fine for the pizza base. (If anyone else shows up, they can make a pizza on an English muffin.) I could use some tomato sauce, linguica, onions, mushrooms, and kale for the topping. I have a small amount of mozzarella cheese on hand, enough for a topper, but I need more cheese. Hmmmm...there is that small amount of mayo-yogurt-Parmesan spread that I made a few days ago for some grilled turkey and tomato sandwiches. Maybe if I stir in some Ricotta cheese, that would make a good white sauce cheese base for the pizzas.
I chopped up half an onion and three ribs of kale with the center stem removed. Then I pulled the skin off of the linguica and sliced in half lengthwise, then cut each half in half again, then sliced it into little pieces. I sauteed the linguica and onions with a dab of olive oil in a saucepan, then added some diced mushrooms and minced garlic and the chopped kale. I put the pitas on a baking sheet, smeared on the white cheese spread, and topped it with Parmesan cheese. The sauteed sausage blend went on top, followed by the mozzarella cheese and a small handful of Colby-jack cheese, just to make it cheesier. I put the pita pizzas into a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, just to heat the bread through and melt all the cheeses. I cut the pizzas into quarters and plated them to be served on the coffee table with a beer and TV. All the food groups were represented on one place. Plus, I have enough of the linguica mixture to toss into some scrambled eggs for breakfast in the morning!

So that is how recipes are born: you start with what you have on hand, and improvise. That's the Portuguese way : ) My children's father was half-Portuguese, and his relatives were all hard-working, thrifty folk who really knew how to cook. Lately I have been reviewing recipes from an old family cookbook collection, you know the kind where someone collects a bunch of home-cooks' recipes and publishes it in a nice booklet. I will make something, then tell my daughters, "You should make this for your Dad." There is a simple tomato sauce for fish that is to die for, contributed by the ex's Aunt Marcel. Simple and perfect. I fell in love with it.

Anyway, this is the pizza I came up with tonight, and it was good! Better than my husband expected, because he thought it all sounded kind of weird. I went with the white cheese base as a nod to Mediterranean because of the pita, but on second thought, a perfect dough for this pizza with be potato bread dough with a chunky tomato sauce, then the linguica, kale, and onions. But that's a pizza for another day.


2 pita breads
1 stick linguica sausage
1/2 onion, chopped
3 ribs of kale, center stem removed, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
5-6 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 C mozarella cheese, shredded
Olive oil

White sauce:
2 Tbs mayo
2 Tbs ricotta cheese
2 Tbs Greek yogurt
2 Tbs Parmesan cheese
1 Tbs fresh basil leaves, sliced
Pinch of salt and pepper
Saute linguica sausage in olive oil with onions until onions are translucent. Add in mushrooms, garlic and kale and cook for 5 minutes on low heat.
Mix together white sauce ingredients and spread onto pitas. Top with linguica mixture. Cover with mozarella cheese. Bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes until bread is heated through and cheese is melted. Slice into quarters and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Mac N Cheese

One ramekin finished and ready to bake in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
I needed to use up my cauliflower last week before we went out of town for a few days. I figured the eggplant would keep in the frig, but cauliflower always gets black mildewy spots on it when left too long. We had just received a new shipment of veggies from SLO Veg on Monday, and I was trying to use or preserve everything I could in 3 days time. Not wanting the beautiful, white cauliflower to go to waste, I boiled it and pureed it into a creamy sauce for macaroni. The guys had it for dinner on Wednesday after I went to work. I froze a couple of ramekins in case they need a meal next week and I fall down and am unable to make something fresh and scrumptious for them at that time.Or I might just sleep through dinner, like I did last night after we got home from our weekend at Laguna Seca race track, where we went to see the Historic Races. The men were okay...they had the leftover pizza from lunch. The pizza is also tomorrow's lunch plan. I love pizza.

Anyway, back to the cauliflower, I borrowed a recipe from "A Pinch of Yum" and made an Alfredo-like sauce with it. It was simply cauliflower, broth, garlic, salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Since I was making cauliflower mac and cheese, I had to add some Parmesan cheese to it, too, and a splash of heavy cream. You can thin it out with water from the macaroni pot. I pureed it in batches in the blender, poured it over cooked macaroni, mixed in some leftover chunks of chicken breast, and sprinkled some toasted bread crumbs over the top. I took some to work with me that night, and yum! It was such a nice departure from my usual box lunches.

The next day I left town for four days without guilt!

Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Mac N Cheese
Makes 8-10 servings
  • 1 lb. uncooked elbow macaroni noodles
  • 2 large heads cauliflower
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup starchy boiling water from pasta pot
  1. Chop the cauliflower. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil over medium high heat and add cauliflower. Cook until cauliflower is soft, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes or until soft and fragrant.
  2. As the garlic and cauliflower are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the fettuccine according to directions on package, reserving some of the starchy water to add to the sauce later.
  3. Transfer cauliflower to a blender with about 2 cups of the broth. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your blender. Add the sauteed garlic, salt, nutmeg, and black pepper and puree until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Once the mixture is moving, stream the olive oil into the blender. Add more broth or water if the mixture is too thick to move through the blender. You want it to turn through the blender easily. When puree is very smooth, transfer back to the butter/garlic skillet.
  4. Add the cream and Parmesan cheese and cook over low heat. Add the starchy pasta water. Combine noodles and sauce in a large pot or skillet and pour into individual ramekins or a casserole dish. Bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven to make it nice and toasty.
Variation: Add leftover cubed chicken, bacon or even lobster (who has leftover lobster?) for a meatier twist on this recipe.