Mac and Cheese–comfort food at its best!

The weather has turned cold, so it’s time to break out the woolly sweaters, light a fire and eat something that makes you feel like you’ve been hugged.  For many of us, mac and cheese is THE dish that we turn to when we need a little food love. I made this dish for my family last night to highlight the gorgeous Cheese pumpkins that are available in markets now.  So called because they resemble a wheel of cheese, these squash have orange, sweet flesh. In this recipe, it’s simmered in milk and vegetable stock until tender, then baked with pasta and cheddar cheese. Paired with spicy sausage and a kale salad, it’s a hearty winter meal.

Macaroni and (Long Island) Cheese (Squash)s

1 lb long island cheese squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups skim milk
1 lb macaroni, or other pasta
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar, (I used Cabot reduced fat cheddar)
3/4 cup low-fat ricotta
3 Tablespoons breadcrumbs

1. Preheat Oven to 375
2. Heat squash cubes, milk and stock in a medium pan. Bring to a Boil, and reduce head to simmer.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. I like to cook my pasta a bit al dente, as it will be baked in the oven as well.
4. When squash is tender, remove from heat and mash squash.
5. Mix spices into mashed squash.
6. After pasta is done cooking, transfer it to a large bowl. Stir in squash mixture as well as cheddar and ricotta.
7. Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs over top of dish.
8. Cover with foil & bake for 25 minutes.  Remove Foil and bake for 45 minutes. Dish is finished when the top is browned and crispy, heated well throughout.  Let cool slightly before serving.

“Beet Believer”

Beets.  Folks either love them or hate them.

Benjamin had a love/hate relationship with them a few weeks ago when we were inundated by a load of freshly harvested Bull’s Blood and Chioggia varietals.  “We’ve got to move some beets,” he told me.

As the Nutrition and SNAP Outreach Coordinator, it’s a regular pleasure to find recipes for the lovely produce that graces the Mobile Market.  I peruse books, blogs and internet recipe sites for inspiration.

Last week, we featured a Shredded Beet and Kale Salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette at our SW Waterfront stop, to much success (we “moved some beets,” in a matter of speaking).  This week’s variation was even more popular — we used the beet greens and stems in lieu of the kale.  Market participants were pleasantly surprised after trying a sample, for many of them hadn’t know that you could cook the leafy greens.

Several people outright told us, “I don’t like beets.  Never have.”  After awhile, we realized that most market participants had only eaten canned beets growing up — those bland, overcooked slices floating in red liquid, oftentimes accompanying a public school lunch.

I was raised on whole, fresh cooked beets seasoned with butter and salt.  They were one of my favorite veggies.  I even liked smearing them around my mouth, coloring my lips red with the “lipstick.”  My sons enjoy juicing beets with carrots and fresh ginger as a tasty snack.

At our Wednesday stop at United Medical Center, I persuaded Tia, a first time market participant, to try the beet salad.  She said that it was good, better than the canned beets she’d eaten (and disliked) before.  She took her purchases and left, only to return moments later to buy a bunch of beets.  “You’ve made a beets believer out of me!” she said, holding the crimson roots by the stems. Once you try this dish, maybe you’ll be a convert, too!

Shredded Balsamic Beet & Kale (or Beet Green) Salad  
Serves four

  •          4 medium red beets (about 1 pound), peeled and shredded
  •          3 cups (packed) of thinly sliced kale leaves, OR
  •       3 cups beet greens and stems, sliced
  •       1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  •         1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  •         1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  •         2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  •         Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, toss together the beets and greens of choice. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and minced garlic. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Allow the salad to stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving.

JuJu’s Note:  Add some toasted pecans, goat cheese, or orange slices to jazz it up a bit!

Swinging Squash Salad

I refer to our Thursday Mobile Market stop at the SW Waterfront as my “work party.”  It’s a lovely, relaxed venue — there’s awesome music from local bands, and a pleasant breeze from the nearby marina.  A few other vendors provide prepared food, such as the neighborhood staple, King Rib BBQ.  Many patrons bring freshly steamed seafood from the Maine Avenue Fish Market just a few blocks down the way.

This past week, the Daryl Davis band played some excellent Blues Boogie that got the crowd moving and grooving.  My co-worker, Alex, is an excellent dancer and taught me a simple three step swing that had me living out my Dancing with the Stars fantasies and kept me going for the rest of the evening.

Last Thursday, Zephyr and Crooked Neck Yellow Squash were in abundance on the Mobile Market, so I prepared an easy, no-cook dish.  After only five minutes in the kitchen, you’ll have plenty of time to dance the night away as well.

Swinging Yellow-Squash Salad

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

2 yellow squash (~ 1 pound), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 scallions or 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tsp fresh or ¼ tsp dried Thyme leaves

Optional: 1 tsp leaves of Lemon Verbena or fresh Oregano, minced

Whisk together lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar and oil in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add squash, scallions or onion, thyme and optional herbs, if using.  Toss to combine.  Let stand 5 minutes before serving.  Serves 4.  

Jewels of Summer

What do we want?!  Tomatoes!  When do we want them?!  Now!

From the start of market season, we’ve been asked, “Do you have tomatoes?”  As a gardener and Vegetable Snob (only the best will do!), I’ve been waiting, too.

Well, dear friends, tomatoes (or as I affectionately call them, the “Jewels of Summer”), are finally in!  Purple Cherokees, Yellow Brandywines, Amish Paste reds, and Green Zebras were the stars of last week’s market.

To highlight their long-anticipated arrival, I’ve been preparing some Tomato Jam as our featured Mobile Market recipe, using several kinds of Arcadia’s heirloom tomatoes.  I think Tomato Jam does an excellent job of highlighting the outstanding taste of these beauties, and have been told by a number of market participants that I should sell the jam itself!

That being said, what’s more delectable than a perfectly ripe, freshly-picked tomato?  Not too many things come to mind.  So, come on down to market and pick up some home-grown, heirloom tomatoes today!

Heirloom Tomato Jam  

Makes 1½ cups

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 small cloves garlic, minced

1 one-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced

4 cups diced heirloom tomatoes

1/2 cup rice wine, balsamic or red-wine vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

2 whole star anise


1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add olive oil, garlic, ginger, and red onion, sauting until translucent.
3. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon.
4. Add vinegar, honey, brown sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise.
5. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have dissolved and liquid has evaporated (about 60 to 75 minutes).
6. Discard cinnamon sticks and star anise before serving.

The Last Tomato Hurrah

As a gardener and foodie, I anxiously await the first ripe tomato of the season.  Months later, I then wistfully and reverently consume that last, luscious orb which my vines produce.  A ripe tomato is incomparable in its perfect balance of sweetness, acidity and juiciness.  A sprinkle of salt or not?  Your choice — either way, it’s ambrosia.

My love affair with tomatoes continues this week in the guise of fried green tomatoes.  They’ve been available at the Mobile Market of recent since tomatoes are nearing the end of their season — we’ll be taking out our tomato plants soon to plant more fall crops, so it’s time to salvage whatever tomatoes are still on the vine.

Dipped in buttermilk, covered with a mix of cornmeal and flour, and paired with grits, sausage and toast, these crunchy discs make a most excellent breakfast-dinner.  Last night I put on a Patsy Cline CD, and channeled my inner Southern Cook.  The only thing missing is a beehive hairdo; I’ve already got a frilly apron.

Fried Green Tomatoes

4 green tomatoes
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup each corn meal and flour mixed with
salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

Slice and salt the tomatoes, and lay them on a paper towel to drain for 20 minutes.  Pat dry.  Heat oil in a frying pan.  Dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk and dredge in the cornmeal/flour mixture.  Fry until crispy golden on each side.  Order up!

Lazy Day Dinner

icecubemelting-554169I got up this morning, knowing that it was gonna be another humid scorcher.  I gave myself thumbs up to making an easy dinner so I’d be out of the kitchen and free to goof off around the house as much as possible.  Out came the can opener, knife, cutting board and a few ingredients, and in 10 minutes I was checking my Facebook while eating a bowl of granola, yogurt and peaches.  Dinner was in the fridge, ready for the hungry hoard to descend upon it later, and I was ready for a day of puttering.  This recipe is a great picnic or potluck dish, and gets even better as it sits.  Be sure to use fresh basil.  Substitute fresh cilantro and add shrimp for a different taste..

Black Bean, Corn and Red Onion Salad
serves 8-12

4 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups cooked corn, rinsed and drained (fresh or canned)

1 red onion, finely chopped

3 large tomatoes, diced or 2 cups whole cherry tomatoes

1 cup basil leaves, rinsed and coarsely chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

¼ fresh or pickled jalapeno, finely minced

½ cup olive or canola oil

¼ – ½ cup balsamic or rice vinegar

Gently stir all ingredients in a serving bowl.  Chill or serve at room temperature.


The Garlicky Kale Salad Show

This is wonderful, quick to make salad, that can be served as a side dish, or as the main course with the addition of beans, cheese and toasted nuts.  Everyone who has tried it, loves it.  My friend Dawn even won a Thanksgiving cooking “contest” with it a few years ago.

3 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of two lemons
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh kale, washed, leaves removed from stems, and cut into small pieces
1 cup grated or shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)

Put all dressing ingredients, except oil, into blender and puree. Slowly add oil with blender running on low. Pour dressing over kale and other ingredients, mixing thoroughly, adding optional ingredients if desired. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Getting started

Life planning is sort of like planning a meal.  You have an idea about what you’d like to see on your plate, but then you get to the market and the choices don’t look so good.  So, you have to do an about face, a little rearranging, perhaps a bit of compromising, and select what will serve you in that moment.  I left a great position as a culinary educator at a local food access organization, because I could no longer ignore the Call that I was getting to pursue doula work, which you can read about here.  You’ll see that the names of both business are similar.  In the doula world, I rock women in labor and newborn babies; in the culinary/gardening world, I “rock” ingredients and yards with my own special flavor of doing things.  Look for recipes, pictures, comments and links here in the future.  I’m gonna cheat and publish stuff here that first appeared as blog posts on the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture website.  Those are pretty great posts, if I do say so myself.  See ya.