April 29, 2009

Twenty dollars in tomatoes???

Juicy little sun-ripened pearls of red, orange, and yellow, cherry tomatoes have always been among my favorite aspects of late summer. As I've matured I've put names to the faces of the Sungold and the Sweet 100, and I've learned that while they're available at the mega-mart virtually year-round, they're just got as tasty trucked up from the southern hemisphere in the dark days of December...

So when I learned that my little Aerogarden offered a kit with cherry tomatoes I thought my md-winter dream of caprese salad might become reality. I'm not exactly a green thumb -- to my mother's great dismay I killed the unkillable palm tree and cactus in college -- but we had some luck with the aerogarden herbs last fall and I was willing to take a risk...

And as you can see from the over-exposed photograph above, I DID get tomatoes. Tasty tomatoes. They were slow growing, but the little buds after 8 weeks and the itty bitty orbs in the 12th week kept my attention.

I think I missed something in the instructions around properly supporting them though -- my plants caved under the weight of the fully ripened fruit, and each plant yielded about 30 tomatoes before completely giving in. So I'll call it a qualified success and try again next year...

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April 27, 2009

Cheesecake: The Sequel (or a tasty sauce hides a world of sins)

A year ago we conquered cheesecake for children. With this month's Daring Baker challenge, we showcase a more grown-up cheesecake, in many cases all dressed up and headed to the prom. Or the Oscars. For those with baking skills.

For someone with my (lack of) talent with cheesecake, we're headed for the homeowner's association planning meeting. Whee!

But I digress...

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. But she's given us a LOT of leeway in the execution. She challenged thousands of us to play with it. Make it unique. Make a showstopper of a dessert. Add flavor, sauces, decorations – dress it up and show it off.

Um... sure. You realize you're pushing buttons here Jenny. I thought I'd proved in December that I'm cheesecake impaired? You want me to get CREATIVE?!?!

So I took a couple of deep, cleansing zen-like breaths, rolled up my sleeves, grabbed an apron, said a silent prayer to Martha, Peabody, Shuna, Tartlett and a host of my other baking gods and goddesses... and made some minor modifications to the base recipe.

I went with a meyer lemon theme, paying homage to the fruit I played softball with in the back yard as a kid, never guessing I'd one day be spending $1.25 a piece for them.

I zested the lemon before I juiced it, and tossed the zest in with a combination of graham crackers and almond meal to form the crust.

I added a bit of limoncello to the batter.

And when the cake came out of the oven with a couple of crevasses (see... I TOLD you cheesecake impaired), I took a tip from Alton brown and decorated it with a sauce make of sour cream, lemon marmalade and candied meyer lemons.

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April 09, 2009

Waste not...

Letting you all in on a little secret... I'm not much of a breakfast eater.

Don't get me wrong... I love breakfast FOOD (I love almost ALL food), but if I had my way, my ideal day would start at the crack of noon. Until I was in my mid thirties, breakfast typically consisted of a can of Mountain Dew on my way to school/work. Diet if I was feeling particularly virtuous.

But continuing to enjoy good food as I make the transition into what a colleague calls "late middle youth" requires that I get and keep my (_]_) in gear. Unfortunately my schedule dictates that several of these butt-busting sessions happen in the early morning hours. And since the drama associated with passing out on Lizette mid-workout is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I find myself becoming better acquainted with breakfast.

One of my go-to (translated: "you can sleep an extra 15 minutes because this one takes no time to prepare") pre-workout breakfasts is the humble banana, smeared with a tablespoon of peanut butter. Potassium and protein both seem to fuel my workout, and a little natural sugar gives me an additional energy boost.

The problem? I'm picky about bananas. I like them almost green. If they've gone all the way yellow, they're over-ripe for me. And they cross my line very quickly, so if I'm not very careful this produces a lot of waste.

So I'm always on the lookout for good banana bread and muffin recipes -- a nice alternative to tossing a mushy banana into the blender for a smoothie. And I recently found a GREAT recipe over at Sugar Laws for some mighty yummy Banana Saffron Muffins. Easy to assemble and Katy's right: the saffron adds a subtle but distinct flavor and makes these muffins something special. An added bonus: they freeze well, and tossed in the toaster oven for a minute and then smeared with a bit of peanut butter it's every bit as quick and satisfying as the aforementioned standard.

And anything that affords me a few extra minutes of sleep is a VERY good thing. Just ask anyone who's had the misfortune of scheduling a 6:30 AM conference call with me...

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April 08, 2009

What IS this?

This mystery vegetable showed up in this morning's CSA box.

Can anyone out there tell me what it is? It's fairly hearty, with a mild bitterness in its raw state.

Is it some odd breed of kale? Dandelion greens? Something altogether different? The only thing on the list that I couldn't easily identify in the box was green garlic, and I'm pretty confident it's NOT that.

And while we're at it, I'll take any ideas you have for what I might do with it...

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