Monday, August 25, 2014

Meatless Monday
Savoring Summer: Grilled Summer Vegetable Pizza

As summer winds down, we're all looking for any opportunity to steal away to the porch, or the patio, or the poolside (if you're lucky) for an early supper al fresco.  

A great way to keep ourselves, and the heat, out of the kitchen, firing up the grill is this girl's late summer modus operandi. This Meatless Monday, celebrate late summer by piling on the garden or market bounty atop a toasted crust, top it with a summery-seasoned chevre, and enjoy this easy Grilled Summer Vegetable Pizza. 

Want to know my favorite thing about this pizza? Vegan, Vegetarian, Meatless, Low Fat, doesn't matter. I don't give those details one thought when I'm digging in. It's not almost as good as its less-healthy cousins.  It's just gooood.

prepared pizza crust
roasted red pepper sauce (recipe below)
prepared vegetables (This summer harvest includes red and yellow onions, red, green and golden sweet peppers, crimini mushrooms, yellow, orange, and red pear tomatoes, and fresh sage leaves.)
herbed chevre (see note, below)

Scrape grill to clean and brush with oil.  Preheat to around 500 degrees.

This particular pizza was built upon a  Udi's brand gluten-free pizza crust. You can use your own homemade crust, or any other pre-made crust you prefer. Brush one side with olive oil. Place it, oil side up, on the grill and close the top. Cook for 5 minutes, turn, brush opposite with light film of oil, close the grill and cook for 5 minutes longer. Why are we cooking it before topping it? It seals the crust and keeps it from getting all soggy and yuck when the toppings begin cooking and releasing their juices.

Remove crust from grill and spread roasted pepper sauce, below, around top of crust. Top with fresh, seasonal vegetables of your choice. We've used red and yellow onions, red, green and golden sweet peppers, crimini mushrooms, yellow, orange, and red pear tomatoes, and fresh sage leaves. This pizza was topped with housemade from maggie's farm Lemon Herbed Chevre. You may use any soft, creamy goat cheese you prefer 

Note: You say you don't have time to make your own chevre? On a Monday? The day school starts? Okay. I get that. Tell you what-- let's pull together an easy substitute. Using a store-bought plain soft and creamy chevre, combine about 2-4 ounces cheese in a mixing bowl with the zest of one lemon, and minced fresh herbs of your choice: parsley, chives, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, or any combination thereof. Stir to combine, allow to come to room temperature, and then dot the top of the pizza with delectable dollops. I'm not encouraging dishonesty or anything, but, hey, you combined all of this in a bowl didn't you? Why not call it your own housemade chevre? None will be the wiser. (wink, wink.)

Note: For a vegan version, leave the chevre in the case, prepare roasted red pepper sauce employing vegan substitutions, or use a vegan pesto (most pestos are, indeed, vegan, but read your labels for certainty), then proceed with grilling as below. 

Transfer pizza to grill. Notice all that stuff on the pizza peel? It's cornmeal, and it will make that pizza glide off with ease. Some of it will stick to the bottom of the pizza...and that's good. It adds a tiny bit of crunch to the bottom crust.  

Close the grill top and let pizza roast until the cheese is lusciously melted, and vegetables are browned to your likeness. The more they cook, the softer they'll become. I like mine a little crispy, with the edges browned, cooked a total of about 15 minutes.  

Grill peppers like the Hatch chiles we roasted in this recent post. Peel, (perhaps leaving some skin on for a smokier flavor) to yield approximately two cups of cored, seeded pepper halves. Transfer to a food processor bowl, add 2 tablespoons best-quality olive oil, 1T herbed chevre (or substitute silken tofu for vegan version), season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Process in quick pulses until thick consistency is achieved. 

Note: After processing, you may find that peppers have released more juice than you expected-- Mother Nature is not exact-- and it may be too thin to spread consistentlyTo remedy this, I often add a little parsley, Parmesan cheese, or even nutritional yeast if I'm teasing myself that I'm vegan that day, week, occasion, to acquire the thicker paste we're going for here. You can even use walnuts or almonds, too. Kind of like a pesto with no oil, and no basil. Okay, not much like a pesto, but the consistency of pesto.
A unique base for pizza, this roasted pepper sauce is quite versatile, too. Toss with warm pasta, dress up a simple chicken breast, dip toasted baguette slices in a bowlful. Use to perk a plain-jane dish, and keep a jar refrigerated (for up to a week), to dress up dinner when you are all out of creative food thoughts.  

Yeah, it happens sometimes, doesn't it?  Even to me.


Join Notes From Maggie's Farm tomorrow, on Tips for Tuesday, when we'll extend the grilling season using the freshest of flavors to complement both meats and vegetables-- the Argentine specialty, Chimichurri

Friday, August 22, 2014

Savoring Summer
Indian-spiced Grilled Okra

I am not going to lie.  I hate okra.

Or I used to hate it.

Okra will break an adolescent heart.

When I was young, my mother regularly made a big pot of stewed okra and tomatoes for.....herself.  I mean she certainly didn't cook it for me. OR my brother. WE HATED IT.

But those early stages of stewed okra preparation were the cruelest. When Mom sauteed the chopped onions and celery, it smelled DIVINE. I'd get quite excited. That aroma rarely meant anything but delectable. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? It's simply one of the finest fragrances to emanate from the kitchen.

And then....THEN SHE'D GO AND RUIN IT!  She'd add canned tomatoes and frozen okra to it. Two of the most detested foods of my youth. I daresay everyone's youth! (Okay, not everyone, but c'mon. Did you really crave stewed okra and canned tomatoes in your younger days?)

So back to the beginning-- I hate okra.

Unless it's roasted or grilled.  Then, oddly enough, I LOVE okra.

What's that about??

Well, it's about that slime. Properly roasted or grilled okra is not slimy, especially if tackled whole. Okra becomes slimy when those funky little seed balls within the pod are crushed. That's the primary source of the mucilaginous goooooo. Using a very sharp knife to slice okra (avoiding pressing heavily on the pod) can eliminate some of the issue. Leaving the pods whole can eliminate almost all of the issue. And a third tip towards desliming came from a friend from India-- he always soaks his okra in vinegar before cooking.

No slimy okra?  Sign me up!

So, I made an Indian-spiced marinade, let the pod-babies soak in it for a few hours, drained, patted (mostly) dry, and grilled it directly on a clean grate. I like mine almost blackened-crisp, but you may adjust the grilling time to your own preferred doneness. Over a medium-hot flame, I cooked these pods on an open grill for about 4 minutes, flipped them with the aid of a large, heatproof spatula, then about 4 minutes on the remaining side. Naturally, grill times will vary with the temperature and location of the heat source. Keep an eye on them.

1/8 cup grapeseed oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
2T garam masala spice blend
1t kosher salt

Prepare about a pint of okra by wiping pods with a dampened towel.

Toss okra pods into a large plastic storage bag with marinade. Allow to marinate 2 hours or more, frequently turning the bag to cover okra. Remove from marinade, drain, and pat lightly to remove excess marinade.

Over a medium hot fire, grill okra directly on a clean grate, turning once, for about 4 minutes on each side, until moderately crisp. (see note above for adjusting cooking time, temperature, and placement on grill to reach your desired degree of doneness.)

Remove from heat. Season to taste with kosher salt. Serve.

Now I love this whole pod grilled okra, and I think you will, too, so much that it rarely reaches my plate. I manage to polish off whole batches while the rest of the meal finishes its grill time. But should patience be your virtue, you might like to try it with this Smoky Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper Sauce, on another post about my previous hatred distaste horror mild disfavor of okra.

Read More:
Ode to Okra Virginia Willis, Southern Foodways Alliance
Growing Okra The Old Farmers Almanac
Okra: A Savor the South® Cookbook Virginia Willis
Grilling Veggies and Fruits Whole Foods Market

And more from this Savoring Summer series:
Grilled Peaches with Pesto & Chevre

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday
Fresh from the Market

“At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”
Michael Pollan

 Asian Pears from Bernhardt Farm

 Clemson Okra from Bernhardt Farm

Assorted Hot Peppers from Johnson's Backyard Garden

 Berries from Engel Farms

 Sweet Potatoes from JBG Organic

 Heirloom Tomatoes and Brussels Sprouts from Engel Farms

 Heirloom Eggplant from Johnson's Backyard Garden

Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes from Engel Farms

Thank you to the vendors of the Mueller Farmers Market for providing their ridiculously photogenic farm fare for photographing. The Mueller Farmers Market is open from 10am to 2pm, Sundays, under the Browning Hangar, in Austin, Texas

Monday, August 18, 2014

Savoring Summer
Grilled Peaches with Pesto & Chevre

Dust off the barbie and join me as we get down to the nitty gritty of summer-- Grilling!

Y'all.  It's HOT out there. In my neck of the woods, it's typically still in the upper 90's late into the evening, and dinnertime can see some of the hottest temps of the day. Certainly, August is no time to heat things up in the kitchen. I step in there primarily to stick my head in the freezer. Maybe make coffee. Otherwise, the appliances are used less frequently than any other month.

The relative ease of pulling off the grill cover and lighting up, whether over coals or gas, makes grilling a natural method for bringing out the best of summer-season harvests, without heating up the house. This week on Notes From Maggie's Farm, we'll be grilling both fruits and vegetables.

Today, a simple dish that promises a lot of bang for your buck, prepared in scant minutes. My friends love these grilled peaches, and beg for repeat appearances. As a testament to our enthusiasm for them, notice that the finished dish photos on this occasion are none too artfully arranged. Our little crowd was too eager. Solo, I enjoy this as a full Meatless Monday meal on many summer nights, slicing the warm, juicy gems, nestled in a plateful of arugula, letting the chevre and pesto mingle with the sweet fruit nectar for a dressing whose vibrant flavor no bottle could contain.

A few tips for making your fruit-grilling experience successful:

1. Begin with a meticulously clean grill. Use that wire brush and a little elbow grease to eliminate any burnt on crud from marring your meal.

2. As a rule, let peel remain on fruit.

3. Lightly coat fruit with grapeseed oil, or any other oil that has a high smoke point, and neutral flavor.

4. Use slightly under-ripe fruit for best results

5. Cook fruits directly over moderately hot coals, rotating, turning, or moving them to cooler parts of the grill as necessary.

For more grilling tips, refer to this Tips for Grilling Fruit video.

Ingredients and Assembly for 4 servings

8 grilled peach halves
8 teaspoons of soft chevre
about 1/4 cup prepared pesto 
(Note: I purchase both pesto and the soft chevre from vendors at my local farmers market, when homemade is not practical. Monday evenings are especially not practical. However if you'd like to spend a bit more time, consider making your own pesto, and chevre.)

a handful or two of arugula lettuce, per salad plate (substitute any firm lettuce if you're not a fan)

Optional: a faint drizzle of pecan or walnut oil
cracked red or black pepper, to taste

Place warm grilled peaches atop bed of arugula, fill peach center with soft chevre, drizzle with pesto, and season with cracked red or freshly-ground black pepper, to taste.

I occasionally serve this with a homemade country pate made of chicken and rabbit. It's a chunky, rich combination of rabbit, duck and pork, and a little goes a long way towards satiety. I've also found a great source for pates and charcuterie from vendors Belle Vie Farm and Kitchen at my local farmers market.

If you're going meatless, on this Monday, you'll be leaving well-enough, alone.

TaDAAAH!  You're done. Dig in, knowing that clean-up is a breeze. Now you can take a stroll when the sun goes down.

It should be a chilly 98 degrees by then.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Roasted Hatch Chile & Smoked Cheddar
Blue Corn Grits with Bacon

Earlier this week, I got busy roasting, peeling, chopping, and freezing Hatch chiles for use in favorite chile-enhanced dishes all year long. If you missed it, you can learn more about roasting peppers, here. Today, I share a family favorite.

Christmas morning, for the past 30, 20, several years, have seen various casts of characters and settings, from the big, boisterous, wrapping-paper strewn living rooms of small children and big Santas, to the quiet Christmas morning of an empty nester and faithful dog, and every imagined scene between, one thing has remained constant. 

Cheese grits.


They began, in the early days, much like my mother's traditional cheese grits. A tube of processed garlic cheese, a tube of processed pepper cheese, butter, and grits. They morphed into grand sausage-laden, garlicy, oniony casseroles. They made their way through, meatless, vegan cheese and field roast versions. Some years, when money was tight and the cupboards, close to bare, they were as simple as a little processed cheese thrown into a package or two of instant grits. On the rare, glorious occasion that I found myself flush on the holidays, they'd be accompanied by shrimp, or grillades, veal medallions in gravy, both regional traditions.

For the past few years, I've settled on a favorite.  

The memory of summer is celebrated on those colder Christmas mornings, by pulling out the frozen stash of roasted Hatch chiles and combining them with superior ingredients: farm-fresh eggs, the very best smoked cheddar cheese I can get my hands on, home-cured bacon, and stone ground grits. My favorite grit, grits, are, is the organic stone ground blue corn grits from the mill of Homestead Heritage in Elm Mott, Texas. Learn more about grits, below. 

First, a reminder about roasting Hatch chiles. You'll find various methods at this link, from earlier in the week. Today, we're using the broiler to make quick work of a small batch.

  1. Wash and dry peppers.  Lay them flat on a silicone pad-lined baking sheet pan.  (Alternatively, foil-lined, or even silicone sprayed or lightly oiled sheet pan will do.) 
  2. Preheat oven broiler and adjust grate to just under the heating element.  Place peppers under broiler, utilizing exhaust fan, because the aroma can be overpowering, and, sometimes, irritating to eyes and nose. 
  3. Broil for about 8-10 minutes, or until skin is blistering and blackened.  Remove from heat.  
  4. Turn peppers, handling carefully to avoid burns, and return to broiler.  Char peppers on opposite side.  
  5. When fully-toasted, remove from oven, and carefully transfer all to a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam and 'sweat', for about 30 minutes.  
  6. After steaming, skin will be easy to remove simply by 'pinching' the charred skin, and pulling away.  (While many suggest running peppers under a stream of water to easily remove skin, we recommend not using this method, as it washes away precious flavor.) 
  7. Remove stems, stringy pith inside, and seeds, if you like your peppers mild.  We retained some of the seeds, 'cause that's how we roll.  
  8. Peppers may remain whole, sliced, or chopped for freezing.  Slice into thin strips, then slice crosswise for uniform pieces for this dish.
And now, let's get down to cheesy, gritty, business!


2 cups cooked stone ground blue corn grits, prepared according to package directions with 4 cups of water, 4 cups of whole milk, and 2 tsp of salt (we used stone ground grits for the health benefits of whole grains, as well as their superior texture and taste.  Feel free to substitute prepared stone ground yellow or white corn grits, hominy grits, quick-cooking grits, or instant grits, as well, cooking according to package directions.)

1 cup (about 8 large peppers) chopped roasted Hatch chiles (Can't find Hatch chiles? Substitute Anaheim, or  other varieties of New Mexico green chiles, instead. Don't have time for roasting chiles?  Use canned--there are even roasted green chiles in cans available these days.)

8 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, grated (Want these really cheesy-gooey fabulous?  It would not ruin them to as much as double the cheese suggested here. I love cheese, too!)  Reserve a little for garnish. Or double the amount and use a lot for garnish. C'mon. It's Christmas! It's August!

8 slices thick-sliced bacon, prepared by broiling 5 minutes on one side, flipping, then 2 minutes on the additional side (see note, above, on the bacon, too.  We fried the whole pound, reserved some for garnish, then nibbled as we cooked, because that is also how we roll.)

4 whole large eggs

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a lightly oiled casserole dish, combine eggs, cheese, bacon, and green chiles.  Stir in hot, prepared grits, (being careful not to come in contact with grits, which will be the approximate temperature of molten lava) and combine well. Correct seasonings. Cover, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Remove cover, (add additional cheese, if using), and bake 10 minutes longer, or until top is bubbly and browned. Allow to cool before serving. Garnish with reserved crumbled bacon, and, heck, maybe even more cheese.  

Chives are a nice, healthier touch, too.

About Grits
Grits are cooked, milled corn, made into a porridge or cereal product, much like oatmeal. Part of the beauty of grits is the variability in texture, color and taste. The final taste of grits is unique to the corn variety and farm where the corn was grown, the milling process, and the unique cooking process and ingredients the cook uses to impart flavor. 

Grits are made from yellow, blue and white corn; blue and white being preferable to yellow, as they are less starchy. The corn is dried and processed with lye or ash. Whole processed corn is often referred to as hominy, ground hominy as grits.

Instant grits, available everywhere, have had the germ removed to speed up cooking time. Stone ground grits remain whole grains, thus healthier, and can be eaten as one of the three recommended daily whole grain servings

Expect stone-ground grits, available at small mills, health food stores and some supermarkets, to simmer about 40 minutes.  One cup of stone ground grits should be cooked in 4 cups of liquid; the addition of whole milk as part of all of liquid yields a creamier result.  Add additional liquid at end of simmering time if grits are too thick or dry. Consistency should be about that of oatmeal, or thin mashed potatoes.

Learn more about grits:
Video: What's So Great About Grits?
Grits: This Southern Staple Isn't Just For Breakfast
World Grits Festival 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...