Cooking Through Our CSA Box – Kitchen Experiments

Adam and I signed up for a CSA at one of our local farms for this summer, to get a half-share (i.e. a cardboard box full) of farm-fresh veggies and greens each week. There isn’t a single vegetable (that we know of) that we don’t both love, so we figured it was a great way to incorporate even more vegetables into our diet, and to support a local farm.

That being said, as I’ve heard is often the way with a CSA, we’ve gotten some veggies I’ve never cooked with or even eaten before. Always up for a challenge and loving an excuse to test out new recipes, I’ve faced the challenge head-on and with enthusiasm. I’ve also been excited to incorporate some veggies we ARE familiar with in new and exciting ways.

So I figured I’d share some successes with the interwebs, knowing that some other people may also think, “What on EARTH do I do with kohlrabi?!?”

 

Bok Choy

Cashew-Chicken3

I followed this recipe for cashew chicken with bok choy from Foodess to a tee, and it was sublime. We’re not eating a ton of rice on our wedding diet, so I served it over Rice Select Royal Blend instead, which is a super-tasty and healthful mix of brown rice, black lentils, flaxseed, and whole wheat pearl couscous.

 

Kohlrabi

kohlrabi-1

Inspired by a few recipes I saw using kohlrabi in a slaw, including this one from Martha Stewart and this one I found on Pinterest from Feasting at Home, I did my own take on a slaw. I used pretty much equal parts (eyeballed) of peeled and julienned kohlrabi, Golden Delicious apple, and cucumber, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh mint, and a pinch of salt. Let it sit for about five minutes before serving. Delicious! Have already made it twice since starting our CSA! (Also, the second time I made it we didn’t have cucumbers but were drowning in radishes, and those made a very different but equally tasty substitution!)

 

Beets

photo (5)

Until last week, neither Adam or I knew if we even liked beets. Now we LOVE them. Two weeks in a row I’ve simply roasted them inspired by an Ina Garten recipe I found using olive oil, fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. I then tossed them with crumbled goat cheese, the first week eating them just like that, as a side. The second time I made beets I put the beets and goat cheese on top of some fresh lettuces we’d gotten from the farm, and topped it with a salmon cake from the fish guy at the grocery store for a hearty and healthy salad.

 

Dandelion Greens

I’m always up for trying new greens, and when in doubt, my go-to way to eat leafy greens is in a variation on my favorite pasta dish. I cook up quinoa pasta, lately spaghetti (regular old delicious pasta is also not on the wedding diet!), and while that’s cooking I saute some chicken sausage (sun-dried tomato and basil is my favorite) and a couple of veggies (pretty much any yummy combo can work – one of my favorites is asparagus and mushroom or bell pepper). When everything is cooked I toss it together with some reserved pasta water, feta, and baby spinach. The hot pasta and veggies wilt the spinach beautifully. I tried this method on some dandelion greens we got from the farm, but instead of wilting them in after having read online that they can be kind of woody, I sauteed them with the chicken sausage and veggies. So good!

 

Cabbage

d346e5f6-63e9-4f32-ac9c-e2d7620b2239

This was actually tonight’s experiment! I’d never really ventured beyond corned beef with cabbage, but after some internet searches decided to try some stuffed cabbage rolls. Again, Adam is trying not to eat rice, but I stumbled upon this recipe for “skinny” cabbage rolls with turkey and quinoa. The only tweak I would make is, being someone who always buys low-sodium stock, the recipe needed a pinch of salt. But that’s easily remedied! And it’s really, really good – Adam’s already asked me to make it again if we get more cabbage.

Stay tuned for more veggie experiments!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie!

IMG_2239

Few things make me happier on an annual basis than rhubarb season.  Maybe strawberry-rhubarb pie is old-fashioned, but there’s something about the almost cloyingly sweet juiciness of ripe strawberries paired with the crunchy tartness of rhubarb that sends me over the moon.  I love to bake, I love dessert….but I don’t love things to be TOO too sweet.  So when spring finally arrives after what feels like an endless New England winter, and that first time I walk into the produce section of my local grocery store and am greeted with a bin of rhubarb….oh man, there are no words for my joy.

Pair this with the fact that Adam loves pie – and I mean, most people like pie, but he LOVES pie – and I knew today that I wanted to surprise him and bake up a scrumptious pie while he was at work.  Plus, let’s face it, I just really wanted to eat pie.

The “recipe” I use is cobbled together from various recipes I’ve looked at for strawberry-rhubarb pie along with some trial and error from things I’ve tried over the years, some which worked, some which didn’t.

I personally make my own crust, although for those less dough-inclined, this pie could be so super super simple with a store-bought crust – and they’re not bad nowadays!  (Disclaimer: I use store-bought pie crust dough when making chicken pot pie for a quick weeknight dinner.)  I’ve also gone through various crust recipes over the years – for a looooong time I stayed with the recipe my aforementioned middle school Home Ec teacher, Mrs. Dobos, gave us.  But the one I use now was recommended to me by my mom, and is adapted from a Food Network blueberry pie recipe.

For the crust (2-crust pie): 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (the original recipe calls for shortening, but I’m religiously a butter girl)
1 egg
2 Tbsp water
1/2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  For this I use my trusty pastry blender but two butter knives would work fine.  (Note: Many people – including my mom – will just throw this in the food processor for ease, and it definitely works, but I have this weird thing where, when I’m making dough, I like to do it by hand and throw some love into it.  Cheesy.  I’m aware.)

 IMG_2241

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and vinegar until blended.  Pour it into the dry dough mix and stir lightly with a fork, and then roll up your sleeves and get your fingers in there.  Mix it together and knead lightly until the whole thing forms a neat smooth ball.

IMG_2243
Then divide it in half and roll it out, just like normal.  What I’ve also done in the past is roll the entire ball out into one large circle/oval, piled the filling in the middle, and folded it up around the edges like a rustic crostata (do a Google image search for “rustic crostata” to get the idea.)

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling:

IMG_2232
One container of strawberries
About a pound of rhubarb
Zest and juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup tapioca  (If you’ve never bought tapioca before, you find it in the baking aisle.  You don’t taste it in the final product but it sucks up the moisture, similar to cornstarch, and prevents the pie from being a liquidy mess.  Strawberries are juicy.)
IMG_2246
Preheat your oven to 425.  Chop up the strawberries and rhubarb into about quarter-inch pieces.  Throw into a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and zest, the sugars, and the tapioca.  Stir.  (Note:  The sugar will make the rhubarb more palatable, but the pie will still be tart.  If you like your pie a little sweeter, up the white sugar to 1/2 a cup.)
IMG_2247
You should have your crust rolled out by now, so just pile the filling into the bottom crust, and layer the second crust on top.  Make sure to slice some vents for the steam to escape.
IMG_2250
Bake your pie at 425 for 20 minutes, and then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is nice and golden brown.
IMG_2254
Slice and, most importantly, enjoy!
IMG_2255

An Old Standby and a New Favorite

IMG_2231

I remember reading this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light while I was either in college or grad school, and immediately thinking that it sounded like utter deliciousness: Broiled Shrimp over Black Bean and Corn Salad.  The shrimp are marinated in a delicious citrus-soy sauce-garlic-Worcestershire glaze, then broiled for just a few minutes.  And in the meantime, you make this salad, bursting with freshness and bright, summery flavors.  It became my simple go-to recipe for entertaining or cooking an easy dinner for friends, and I’ve always loved it.

About a month ago, as the weather started to warm up, I realized that I’d never made it for Adam before.  I knew he would love the flavor combinations, but he’s also a boy and can EAT, so I wanted something else to round out the meal and make it just a bit heartier for a growing boy.  Enter Pinterest – I found this unbelievable-looking (and 5-minute) recipe for baked avocado with salsa and breadcrumbs, and it seemed like the perfect accompaniment.  And it was.  This meal as it stands now has become a regular in our rotation and requested by Adam – shrimp, salad, avocado, and all.  The thing that takes the longest is marinating the shrimp.  The rest you can throw together in a half hour.  Love it. Perfect for a delicious, healthy, but quick weeknight dinner.

(As a side note, the recipe as it stands says to broil the shrimp, while the avocado bakes at 450.  I usually just pop them in a 450-degree oven together!)

Broiled Shrimp over Black Bean and Corn Salad (adapated from myrecipes.com)

Shrimp marinade:

juice of one lime
1/4 cup thawed orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 garlic clove, minced

Put everything into a Ziploc bag with a pound of peeled, raw shrimp (you can do as much shrimp if you like – one pound is perfect for two people with enough leftover for one lunch). Let sit for a half hour to an hour, mixing it up once in a while.
IMG_2213

Salad:

2 cups coarsely chopped tomato
1/2 cup sliced green onions
handful chopped fresh cilantro
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15.25-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
juice of one lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Disclaimer: I eyeball pretty much everything (except for the canned goods).  Prep your veggies and add everything from the tomato through the jalapeno into a large bowl.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste to make a dressing.  Pour over the salad, toss, and let sit a few minutes for the flavors to meld.

IMG_2218

Once your shrimp are nice and marinaded, pop them on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and broil (or bake at 450!) for about 4 minutes or so, until they look nice and pink and no longer translucent.  Done!

Now, let’s talk about that avocado.  Oh man oh man.  Who knew that popping an avocado into an oven would taste so so amazing?  (Well, I adore avocado, so I’m not surprised, but it’s a whole new taste sensation.)

I found the recipe here via Pinterest (Baked Avocado Salsa), but it’s been popping up all over the internet, and possibly originated from a tweet from my beloved Eric Ripert:

EricRipert1

 

So.  Avocado.  This couldn’t be easier.  Take an avocado.  Halve it, remove the pit.  Into each hollowed-out half, spoon some salsa of your choosing.  Then, in a little bowl, mix together 1/4 cup bread crumbs, one minced clove of garlic, about a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, and a tablespoon of lemon juice (enough to make the mixture stick together).  The recipe also calls for chopped basil, about a tablespoon.  I’ve made it with and without and it’s delicious either way.  Up to you!

Once you’ve got your breadcrumb mixture, kind of pack it on top of your little avocado halves, like so, and pop them on a baking sheet.

IMG_2228

Then into the oven they go! 5 minutes or so at 450 until the breadcrumbs start to get nice and toasted.  Remove, eat, and wallow in the deliciousness.
IMG_2229

 

Chicken Butternut “Tagine”

I get recipes emailed to my inbox every day – between Food & Wine and Food Network newsletters, myrecipes.com, blogs I follow….I usually end up bookmarking them to read later, or maybe glance at them quickly and decide if they’re to a) delete or b) add to my Pinterest board to make later.  And occasionally I’ll see one that makes me think, “Hmm, that sounds interesting/tasty/fun – I think I should make that.”  Such was the case with this Chicken Butternut Tagine recipe from myrecipes.com – it was one of their “Dinner Tonight” recipes, something that can be made in under an hour on a weeknight.  I thought the flavor combination sounded really interesting, and like something that Adam and I would thoroughly enjoy.  We love all types of cuisine, things with a lot of spice and flavor. Plus, the idea of making a “tagine” on the stovetop in under an hour was very enticing, so I figured I’d give it a shot!  It’s turned out to be one of our favorite meals, and I’ve lost track at this point of how many times I’ve made this.  It’s not unusual for Adam, when I ask him what he wants for dinner, to request this.

I follow their recipe pretty much to a T, but as is my standard, make a couple of tweaks or modifications – both for ease and flavor.  They recommend prunes, I use raisins – I always have them in the pantry.  They also use green olives, but to be less wasteful I’ve started using one small can of black olives so I don’t end up always throwing away the other half a jar or can of the green ones.  I also serve it over two boxes of roasted garlic and olive oil couscous (I always make extra, because we love this for leftovers), and with a side of naan.  The pre-packaged Stonefire brand that you can find over near the produce/deli section at your grocery store is actually really good – we prefer the whole grain or garlic flavors.

Chicken Butternut Tagine (adapted from myrecipes.com)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger (I recommend the fresh/jarred ground ginger, not the dry spice, for extra flavor)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 small to medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
a couple of handfuls of raisins
one small can (2.25 oz) sliced black olives, drained

2 boxes roasted garlic and olive oil couscous

Prep everything before you start.  This recipe comes together very quickly once you start cooking, so you want to make sure all of your ingredients are ready to go.  Chop up your onion and squash and set aside. (note: I did use prepackaged cut-up squash once, to save time, but found the texture to be not nearly as pleasing as freshly chopped squash.  It was drier and mealier somehow.  So use fresh if possible!)
photo (3)
Measure out all of your spices, through the garlic, into a small bowl.
photo (4)
Now you’re ready to cook.  Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion, and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the spice mixture and the chicken and cook for one minute, stirring constantly, until most of the chicken pieces have a nice sear to the outside.
Stir in the broth, squash, raisins, and olives.  Raise the heat slightly and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer about 15 minutes.  The squash should be tender and cooked through, but the chicken should still be moist.
While that’s cooking, you can prepare your couscous according to the directions on the box (and preheat your oven to warm up some naan, if desired.)
photo (1)
After about 15 minutes, assemble and enjoy!!
photo (5)

It’s That Time Again – Birthday Cupcakes!

My boyfriend Adam loves cupcakes.  This is nothing earth-shattering – a lot of people love cupcakes.  It is, however, convenient that he’s dating ME, because I for one love to bake cupcakes.  We’re closing in on his birthday, for which he has requested that I bake him – surprise surprise – cupcakes, but I haven’t decided yet exactly what kind to make.  He loves peanut butter more than most other things on this earth – maybe more than anything besides me – so I may go that route, but I’ve still got a couple of days to decide.

But I thought in the interim I’d revisit the cupcakes I made for him last year.  It may be not as much as he loves peanut butter, but he loves bourbon.  He’s not a big drinker, but bourbon is his liquor of choice, so I found a recipe on a blog last year that inspired me to make him Chocolate-Bourbon Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting.  The result was unbelievable.  So so delicious.  We were only a month into our relationship at that point, and I think he figured he’d hit the jackpot with me.

photo (2)

The recipe that inspired me came from alisoneats.com, who in turn had adapted her recipe from one on Smitten Kitchen for Chocolate-Stout Cake, but it was Alison’s recipe I used, with a few tweaks.  She made her own caramel to swirl into the frosting, a la Ina Garten, but I was lazy and running out of time, and used jarred caramel sauce (like Smucker’s) from the ice cream topping section of the grocery store.  I don’t think I sacrificed any flavor whatsoever, and the frosting certainly tasted homemade.

Also, yes, warning, there is a lot of butter in these cupcakes.  Not a low-fat treat.  Definitely an indulge-yourself-on-your-birthday treat though!

Chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes (adapted from alisoneats.com)

1 cup bourbon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two muffin pans with paper liners.

Bring the bourbon and butter to a simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add bourbon-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Fill cupcake liners ¾ full and bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Caramel Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup caramel sauce

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners sugar and vanilla. Mix in the caramel sauce. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and use remaining caramel to drizzle on top.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt if you like – I didn’t, but it could add a nice extra dimension of flavor and some texture!

St. Patrick’s Day Part 2: Irish Soda Bread

photo

Before yesterday I don’t think I’d ever actually eaten Irish soda bread.  Being half Italian, a quarter Spanish, and a quarter mish-mash, this food was not exactly tradition in my house.  But still on my kick of making Irish food for my Irish boy on a (questionably) Irish holiday, I thought – once again – why not!  I had seen recipes before, all of which seemed to have a lot in common with my favorite scone recipe, so I figured it was worth a shot, and fairly confident it would turn out okay.  My baking experiments hardly ever let me down.

So I turned to Google – put “Irish soda bread” into the search bar, and the first result that turned up was from FoodNetwork.com, an Ina Garten recipe, with over 150 reviews and 5 stars overall.  Not too shabby.  I like Ina, the way she cooks, and her philosophies on food, so I figured her recipe would be as good as any.

Warning: if you attempt this, the recipe says the dough will be very wet.  This is a gross understatement.  They should say that the dough will stick to your hands like wet cement.  Also that if you own a dough scraper, you should have it out and ready BEFORE scraping the dough out of your mixing bowl.  Also, if you happen to have a boyfriend sitting around while you bake (note: husband, wife, girlfriend, roommate, child will all work sufficiently), you may need them to sprinkle more flour on your dough so you don’t contaminate the whole container with your sticky fingers.

That being said – stick with it (no pun intended).  This recipe turned out deliciously.  Just the right amount of tang and sweetness, neither one overpowering the other.  I would definitely make this again – although I would find my dough scraper next time.

photo (1)

Ina Garten’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe (from FoodNetwork.com)

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.  Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Yesterday I bought my first ever corned beef brisket.  Considering I’m dating a good (half) Irish boy, I figured making him corned beef and cabbage this weekend was the least I could do.  But upon arrival at the meat section of my local supermarket, I stood perplexed in front of the meat case overflowing with corned beef, unsure of what the difference was between different brands and different cuts.  And I did what I’ve done more times than I can count when confronted with a confusing situation while at the grocery store – I called my mom.  Mom knew what she’d always bought, but not necessarily what the difference was.  While we chatted, another woman walked up to the case, took one look at all of the different options, and exclaimed, “What’s the difference!”  Luckily the butcher happened to overhear our dismay and came to our rescue.  Turns out the point cut is from the end of the cut, and, predictably, comes to a point.  The flat is, well, flat – and has more evenly-distributed meat. I think depending on how you’re cooking it, the thin end of the point cut could get overcooked more easily.  I didn’t think it would matter in the crockpot, but I figured I’d “splurge” on the cut that didn’t cost $1.99/lb.

Once I got home, I have to say that putting this meal together was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.  I think it took 15 minutes start to finish, and turned out fantastically.  I looked at a handful of recipes online, and took most of my inspiration from this one here at allrecipes.com – but in the end, I kind of did my own thing, and would recommend it in a heartbeat.

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage

4 or 5 medium carrots
one bag of small/baby red potatoes
one onion
4 cups water
1 3-4 lb. corned beef brisket (plus spice packet)
1 bottle beer
1/2 a head of green cabbage

Peel and chop the carrots into roughly 2-inch chunks.  Quarter or halve the potatoes.  Chop the onion.  Dump all three vegetables into the bottom of your slow cooker.  Add water.

Trim the excess fat from the brisket, place on top of the veggies, and sprinkle the spice packet over the meat.  Douse with the bottle of beer.  (I happened to have a single bottle of a Magic Hat IPA in the fridge, so that’s what I used, but any beer with good flavor would work.  Next time I’d love to try something darker.)  Put the lid on the slow cooker, turn to low, and cook for 7 or so hours.

After 7 hours, roughly chop the cabbage, add to the slow cooker (I took the meat out, added the cabbage, and put the meat back on top to submerge the cabbage), and continue cooking for another hour or so.  Then – enjoy!

And the best part?  This morning, my honey took the leftovers, and some inspiration from Alton Brown, coupled with his own dash of creativity, to make us a killer corned beef hash with sunnyside-up eggs for Sunday brunch.  It looked kinda like this.

Gotta love a meal that keeps on giving.

Wishful (Spring) Thinking

I’ve loved to cook for years.  I distinctly remember discovering that I liked being in a kitchen in my Home Economics class in Middle School.  I will forever be indebted to Mrs. Dobos for introducing me to scones and teaching me how to make pie.  But there were stretches of years where I lived alone and wasn’t dating anyone seriously, and let’s face it – cooking for one isn’t fun.  You either put tons of time and effort into producing very little food, or you end up eating the same thing for a week straight.  I love leftovers, but to a point.

Enter Adam.  Ever since we started dating last year, and especially since he moved in last September, I’ve been cooking almost every day. And I love it.  I love having the time to cook.  I love having someone to cook for.  I love trying new recipes.  I love that we both eat everything and that he’s open to any and every culinary experiment and adventure.

Last weekend we were both feeling a dash of spring fever, and wanted to spend our Sunday evening cooking a spring-like meal together, and so we decided to consult our resources – my bookshelf overflowing with beautiful cookbooks full of glossy images of mouthwatering food, and, predictably, Pinterest.  We quickly decided we wanted an appetizer and a pasta, both featuring green-tasting things, but nothing that would take over an hour to prepare.

The first thing we hit on was a recipe for Green Beans with Charred Onions, from Mario Batali’s Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking.

The photograph screamed seasonal deliciousness, and the recipe seemed simple but ultimately satisfying.  I then remembered a recipe I’d pinned recently for pasta tossed in a creamy avocado-spinach-basil pesto that just coats each noodle in green avocado goodness.  (I heart avocado.)  We thought we had a winning combo.

And we did.  Both dishes were super-simple to prepare, and both turned out amazingly flavorful and tasting of Spring.  Exactly what we were going for.

Green Beans with Charred Onions (adapted from Mario Batali, Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking)

Kosher salt
1 pound young green beans or haricots verts
2 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla (we thought this was too much onion – eyeball it to your liking)
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons kosher salt.  Add the beans and blanch until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water; drain well.

Halve the onions lengthwise and trim off the ends.  Cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide slices.

Heat a dry 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat until very hot.  Add the onions and saute until charred in spots but still crunchy, 4 to 6 minutes.  During the last minute or so, add the beans, stirring and tossing to warm them through.  Transfer the beans and onions to a large bowl.

Whisk the balsamic vinegar, orange juice, and oil together in a small bowl.  Pour over the beans and onions, tossing to coat.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes, or up to 1 hour, before serving.

Sprinkle the beans with sea salt and serve.

Creamy Avocado Pasta (adapted from Blissful Eats with Tina Jeffers)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted
1/2 a lime
3 garlic cloves
1/2 a jalapeno pepper
handful of fresh basil
handful of baby spinach
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
handful to half a bag of baby spinach
basil leaves to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still al dente, 9 -11 minutes.  Drain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.  Put the handful-to-half-bag of spinach in the bottom of a serving bowl, place the spaghetti on top, and toss for a few minutes to wilt the spinach.

While the pasta is cooking make the avocado sauce.  Scoop out the flesh from the avocado and place in a food processor.  Zest the lime and add along with the lime juice, garlic, jalapeno, basil, handful of spinach, salt and pepper.  Drizzle in oil and blend until smooth.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss everything together, adding a little cooking water to loosen the sauce as needed (I used about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup).  Top with the grated Parmesan and basil and serve.

You’re welcome!