May 27, 2010

Washington’s Green Grocer


Thursday we got our first delivery from Washington’s Green Grocer – a family-owned business that delivers fresh, local (as much as possible) produce to your doorstep!

You can read about them here

We were originally interested in a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture, which you can read about here).  WGG is not a CSA program  in the truest sense, but we were enticed by the availability and the flexibility.  Most of our local CSAs are “sold out” for the year, and WGG doesn’t require a full season membership.  You can get it once or every week.   There are several options for delivery frequency, you can cancel any week, and you can replace items you don’t want with something else.  Plus, they deliver to your door!

We signed up for the “small organic box,” which this week included an assortment of 14 pounds of produce:

IMG_1972red leaf lettuce
portabella mushrooms
spring garlic
sugar snap peas
sweet potatoes
grape tomatoes
navel oranges


So far we’ve used the sweet potatoes and cucumbers, and they were delicious!  We will definitely still be supporting our neighborhood farmers’ market, but this will be a nice change of pace.  I really like the idea of having someone else choose our fruits and vegetables because it will force us to have a little more variety in our diets and explore new things.  We’ll see how it goes!

IMG_1980IMG_1982 IMG_1985

May 24, 2010

Ingredients for a Summer’s Day

D.C. has been rainy and cool.  Last week was a long stretch of pumpkin-bread-and-soup kind of days.  I love that kind of day. In October.  In the middle of May, I want sunshine and warmth and blue skies. 

This past weekend, we enjoyed a welcome respite from the gloom of D.C. weather during a trip to Arkansas for my youngest sister's high school graduation.  It was a weekend of family and friends with sunshine and temperatures in the upper 80s, all set against the lush green backdrop of the Arkansas River Valley.  It's always a striking feeling when I realize how much I miss grass and trees and waking up to birds chirping outside my window.

But now we're back in DC, and it's as cloudy and dreary as ever.    It’s times like this that I need something to remind me that brighter days are just around the corner.

Panzanella has humble beginnings, but the result is worthy of comparison to a summer's day.  It is a Tuscan bread salad originally intended as a means to use up several-days-old bread.  There are any number of different versions of this dish, which always includes bread, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Traditionally, the bread is soaked for a few seconds in water before being tossed with the rest of the ingredients, but I prefer the bread slightly crunchy.  My favorite panzanella recipe was given to me by my good friend Eli, who got the recipe from a friend, who got it from a bed and breakfast in Minnesota.  Toasting the bread and the addition of fennel make this "leftover" dish a spectacular salad worth making even when there isn't a loaf of dry bread laying around.

Panzanella (from Eli, et al., with a few of my notes)
printable recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups of bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (A few days old, if you have it.  Any rustic loaf will do, although saltless Tuscan bread is traditional.  If the bread is more than a few days old, it may be dry enough that toasting is unnecessary.)
IMG_1810Preheat oven to 350 F.  Toss bread cubes with olive oil and spread in an even layer on a sheet pan.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Set aside to cool.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine above ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until well combined.

2 large tomatoes, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced, washed and drained (Or more, to taste.  I love fennel, so I usually add extra.)
Gently toss all remaining ingredients in the large bowl with the bread and dressing.  Chill for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

May 10, 2010

Strawberry Cupcakes

For her 30th birthday party last week, a  friend requested that every guest bring a cupcake as the price of admission: an excellent excuse to dust off the old cupcake tin and bake a few--something I haven't done in ages.    I wanted to make something fun, and pink seemed like the perfect color for the occasion.  (Apparently, my instincts were right on).

Pink made me think of fresh strawberries, which were already on my mind because the 14th and U Farmers' Market had featured an early crop of strawberries that morning (only for the early-birds, though).  I settled for frozen strawberries and a recipe from Sprinkles Cupcakes, which had been featured on Martha Stewart and appeared in my search for "fresh strawberry cupcake recipe."
Overall, they turned out very well.  The cake itself left a little to be desired.  The cupcakes had a lovely, soft pink hue, but the strawberry flavor was a little too subtle and the crumb was a little too coarse (almost like cornbread) and just the slightest bit too dry.  I may be able to account for the dryness in the fact that I only had 2% milk, rather than the whole milk called for, but with so much butter in the recipe already, I don’t see how a few grams of milk-fat could make that much of a difference.  I am curious to know whether using 2 whole eggs (rather than one whole and 2 whites) and using cake flour (rather than all-purpose) would improve the texture.  Next time, I also plan to experiment with ways to boost the strawberry flavor -- without using anything artificial.  My first thought was dried strawberries  because the flavor is concentrated and they wouldn’t require adjusting the liquids in the recipe.  However, I think an even better way may be to use twice as much strawberry puree, but cook it down by about half, so that it is the same volume as that required in the original recipe.
The frosting was the cupcakes’ saving grace--rich and creamy with wonderfully bright, fresh strawberry flavor (although next time I may try using a bit less butter).  The recipe made more than enough for 12 cupcakes.  I ended up using all of it, but found that the cupcakes may have been better with about 1/3 less frosting.  (And I rarely ever think there’s such a thing as too much frosting.)
All that being said, the cupcakes were a hit, both with Brian and with the birthday girl, and I can’t wait to have the opportunity to make (and eat) them again!
The recipes are certainly worth a try…


Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes

Makes 1 dozen

2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.


Sprinkles Strawberry Frosting

Makes enough for 1 dozen cupcakes

1/2 cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
Pinch of coarse salt
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.