Category Archives: Fruits

Pesto Pasta Salad with Juliet Tomatoes

Pesto Pasta Salad

I had my first taste of Hillside Farms‘ baby Roma tomatoes last summer, at the beginning of my local food adventures.  The moment that first Juliet tomato burst in my mouth was an epiphany. It tasted like sunshine, sweeter than any tomato I’d ever eaten.

I had been skeptical about the locavore movement until then, but with that one bite I finally understood what the “eat local” hoopla was about. A year later, I’ve certainly bought into the local food movement. And my heart still pitter-pats every time I see Hillside Farms’ Juliet tomatoes in my Local Box.

If I don’t eat them straight out of the package, I enjoy using Juliet tomatoes in a simple pasta salad with pesto dressing. I almost always have goat cheese and the ingredients for homemade pesto in my fridge during the summer months, and this salad is one of my favorite things to cook on nights when Juliet tomatoes arrive in the Local Box.

This salad is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. I’ve added olives, chopped green onions, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, baby spinach, grilled chicken breast, and even chopped raw baby squash to this salad, all with good results. It’s a terrific base for whatever I’m craving along with those sweet little tomatoes from Hillside Farms.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Juliet Tomatoes (serves two as a main dish as written;  serves more if you stretch it by adding more veggies or meats)

1/2 lb. farfalle, penne, or conchiglie pasta
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pint Juliet tomatoes
4 ounces goat cheese

Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare pesto sauce by combining basil, grated cheese, olive oil, and minced garlic and one teaspoon of salt in a food processor. Pulse for about 90 seconds, until pesto is uniform in texture. Set pesto aside until the cooked, drained pasta is cool to the touch. After that, mix the pasta and pesto sauce in a serving dish.

Put the goat cheese in the freezer for a few minutes while you slice the cherry tomatoes in half. (Chilling the soft cheese makes much easier to break up later.) Add the sliced tomatoes to the dressed pasta, then use a butter knife to chip the cold goat cheese into the salad. Gently stir the finished salad to combine all the ingredients and chill it for at least an hour in the fridge before serving.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Sun Gold Tomatoes

Sun Gold Tomatoes

At first I thought I’d make a pasta salad with these sun gold tomatoes from Tecolote Farm. Then I ate one. And another one. And other one. And soon they were all gone.

Basil Ice Cream with Strawberry Ripple


This dessert tastes like summer vacation to me.  Ice cream is the quintessential warm-weather indulgence, and the tart strawberry ripple undulating through this recipe’s sweet basil cream makes it the perfect poolside snack.

The inspiration for this sweet treat came from my sister in-law, Fatima. When I was visiting her last Christmas, she taught me to make mint chocolate chip ice cream from scratch using bunches of fresh spearmint to flavor the ice cream custard.  I used Fatima’s technique along with fresh basil from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, Texas, to create this not-too-sweet basil ice cream.

When I was testing this recipe, I discovered that the earthy flavor of basil creates a very full-bodied ice cream. To punctuate and balance that richness I used some homemade strawberry jam to create a ripple: a thin layer of sauce that’s distributed throughout the ice cream.

Creating a fruit ripple in home-churned ice cream is easy, and all you need is some jam, pie filling or sweetened fruit purée. As soon as the churned ice cream has been poured into a storage container, gently spread an even layer of jam or fruit purée across the top of the ice cream. Cover and freeze as usual, and when you serve the ice cream later a perfect ripple will appear automatically in each scoop.

If you’re out of fresh strawberry jam, peaches from Caskey Orchards in San Marcos or blackberries  would pair just as well with basil, and they’re in season now. To create a blackberry or peach ripple, you can macerate chopped fruit or whole berries in sugar and purée them, or you can use your favorite recipe for pie filling or freezer jam and purée the finished product. Whatever fruit, jam or pie filling you use, it’s important that the ripple be completely smooth since the high water content of whole berries or peach chunks turn them into ice cubes when they freeze, ruining the creamy texture of the ice cream.

Basil Ice Cream with Strawberry Ripple (yields 1.5 quarts)

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 pinch salt
1 bunch fresh basil
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup strawberry jam

Before you begin, you’ll need some specific equipment for this recipe: a mesh strainer, a saucepan, a whisk, a few spoons, a 1.5 quart ice cream maker, and a few bowls: one large metal mixing bowl which will sit in an ice bath (use a bigger bowl or the sink for this) and a small mixing bowl. A kitchen thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is useful.

1. Wash and dry basil and tear it into several handfuls of loose leaves and stems. In a medium pan, warm milk, sugar, one cup heavy cream, salt, and basil. Stir occasionally. Once mixture is hot, about 150 degrees, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse basil flavor.

2. Set a large metal bowl over an ice bath (a bunch of ice in your sink or in a larger bowl.) Pour the reserved cup of heavy cream into the bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. If you haven’t already separated your egg yolks, do that now, and set them aside until step 4.

3. Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the basil leaves and stems from the infused cream by pouring the mixture through a mesh strainer into a small bowl.  Use the back of a spoon to press down on the basil leaves, squeezing out any remaining liquid, then discard the basil.*  Return the infused cream mixture to the pan.

4.  Rewarm the infused cream mixture over medium low heat. In a separate bowl (the one you strained the cream into before is fine) whisk together the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by ladling the warm, infused cream into the egg yolks a little bit at a time, whisking constantly, until the egg yolks are warm.  Pour the warmed egg yolks into the pan with the rest of the infused cream.

5. Cook the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon, or at about 170 degrees.

6. Immediately strain the custard into the big mixing bowl with the reserved cream. Stir together over the ice bath until cool. Transfer cooled custard to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.

7. Freeze the ice cream according to the directions that came with your ice cream maker.  When ice cream has reached soft serve consistency, transfer it to an airtight container and gently spread strawberry jam in an even layer over the top of the ice cream. Freeze for at least three hours before serving.

*I saved the basil leaves in a Tupperware in the fridge and used them to sweeten tea throughout the week. This was a real treat and much less indulgent than the ice cream!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Hunger Awareness Project: Snacking on a SNAP budget

Could you make 30 days of snacks out of $16 of groceries? Here's what's snacking on days 22 & 24 of my plan: Cucumber Raita with Radishes and Cucumbers

This is the first in a series of three posts I’ve written for the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Hunger Awareness Project. I recently joined the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance and we’re all working together with the Capital Area Food Bank to help raise awareness about hunger in Central Texas.

For this first post, I’m focusing food education for kids by making healthy, easy snacks on a tight budget– just $16 for two kids’ snacks for the month. $16 is the smallest amount of support the government provides to food stamp recipients, and it’s possible that this small sum could make the difference between a family’s kids eating snacks after school and going hungry.

My snack menu features six easy recipes that I imagine children might enjoy preparing and eating. No cookies here. These snacks are all fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. The total cost of all the ingredients for my month’s worth of snacks was $16.02 at HEB, a grocery store on the bus route home from my job. I bought organic eggs, popping corn, and yogurt; the rest is conventional.

Grocery List
32 ounce bag popping corn, $1.99
4 ounce bottle olive oil, $1.79
16 ounce bag of dry chickpeas, $1.09
32 ounce bag carrots, $.88
small bag of radishes, $.99
two, 8 ounce packages of plain greek yogurt, $2.84
one cucumber, $.50
Garlic powder (no salt added– just plain garlic), $1.50
Ground cinnamon, $1.13
Five small apples, $.85
1/2 dozen eggs, $2.50

Shopping for these ingredients made me highly aware of what a sacrifice it can be to cook with high quality ingredients. For example, that tiny bottle of olive oil was twice as expensive as a mid-sized bottle of canola oil. Garlic powder costs three times as much as garlic salt. And organic, free range eggs cost $1.50 more than their factory farmed counterparts. Choosing to cook with these good ingredients meant that I could afford dry chickpeas, but not canned. And I had to settle for five tiny, Red Delicious apples instead of my favorite Pink Ladies or Cameos.

Even though shopping for the ingredients was a bummer, I like the snack recipes I created. I think I would have enjoyed eating all these things as a kid, especially the popcorn and the deviled eggs. (Mom? What do you think?) Here are the snacks I prepared with my $16 of groceries. In my instructions, I did my best to keep everything kid-safe, but since I don’t have kids, these are educated guesses.

Apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon: Grown-ups should slice apples, kids can sprinkle with cinnamon. Step-by-step instructions.

Popcorn: This one’s super easy. Pour 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels into a plain paper lunch sack. Fold the top of the bag over three times, then cook for 90 seconds in the microwave. Eat the popcorn plain, or sprinkle with garlic powder or cinnamon. Detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Popcorn is an inexpensive, healthy snack for kids. Just put 1/4 cup of popcorn in a paper bag, close the top and microwave for 90 seconds. No need to add butter or oil, and it costs less than $.15 for two servings.

Carrot sticks with chickpea hummus: Grown-ups should slice carrots into sticks. Kids can make hummus by using a fork to mash together in a bowl 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, a tablespoon of water and a heavy sprinkle of garlic powder. The Kid Can Cook has an ingenious, kid-friendly method for making hummus, too.

Roasted chickpeas: Kids can use a paper towel to dry 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, then toss the chickpeas in tablespoon of olive oil with some garlic powder. Grown-ups should spread chickpeas in an even layer on a cookie sheet, then bake at 450 for 30-40 minutes until chickpeas are crunchy.

Confetti deviled eggs: Kids can help crack and peel hard-boiled eggs, and grate one radish and 1/4 of a carrot. Grown-ups should cut eggs in half and scoop out yolks. Kids can mix together the egg yolks and most of the grated veggies, and then spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg halves. Garnish with remaining veggie “confetti”.

Shredded veggies provide lots of color and texture in this simplified deviled egg recipe. Kids can help peel eggs, grate vegetables and smash together the yolk filling. I used a sprinkle of garlic powder instead of salt for extra oomph.

Cucumber raita with radish and cucumber slices: Kids can grate half a cucumber and mix it with 8 ounces of yogurt and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Grown-up should slice the remaining cucumber and radishes. Raita tastes best if it sits in the fridge for a few hours before serving. (This dish is pictured at the top of the page).

By using these simple recipes and staggering snacks throughout the month, I stretched $16 of food into 62 servings of snacks. You can see there’s a whole lot of popcorn on the menu, and lots of chickpeas. I tried to alternate these inexpensive snacks with more luxurious offerings like the cucumber raita and deviled eggs.

Do you think the snack plan I laid out here is realistic for a single, working parent to carry out? And would kids really eat these things? How would you stretch $16 to help feed your family?

Find out more about the Capital Area Food Bank and the Austin Food Blogger’s Alliance Hunger Awareness Project here. 

Strawberry Lemonade

When life hands you strawberry preserves, make lemonade! At least, that was my solution to use up the six cups (!!) of homemade strawberry preserves I had on hand after a berry binge at the farmer’s market last week.

In this easy recipe, the sweet flavor of strawberry jam is brightened with fresh lemon juice and ice water. It’s perfect for sipping on a warm spring night! If you’re looking for a shortcut, I recommend substituting Confituras’ strawberry vanilla bean jam for homemade and using an electric juicer for the lemons, if you have one.

Strawberry Lemonade (makes about 2 quarts)
1/2 cup strawberry preserves
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 cup lemon juice, from 8-10 small lemons
Lemon slices for garnishes
4-5 cups ice

Method: Juice lemons and strain juice for seeds. Set aside.

Next, puree strawberry preserves and sugar in a blender until mixture is completely combined and smooth. If you’re put off by strawberry seeds in your lemonade now is the time to strain the strawberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve. I skip this step since I like the rustic look of the lemonade with strawberry seeds.

Microwave two cups of water in a microwave-safe container for two minutes. Carefully pour sweetened strawberry preserves and hot water into a two-quart pitcher and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.

Next, fill the pitcher 2/3 of the way full of ice, add the strained lemon juice, and stir to mix the lemonade together. Pour lemonade into ice-filled glasses and garnish with a slice of lemon.

If you’re not planning to serve this drink immediately, it keeps beautifully in a pitcher in the fridge for several hours. You should stir it before serving since the the strawberry part of the lemonade will settle a bit.

Strawberry Preserves & Hand Pies

I think it’s nearly impossible to walk past fresh strawberries at the farmer’s market without buying a pint. (Or four.) So between our Greenling Local Box and two trips to the farmer’s market last week, I had six pints of local strawberries in the fridge on Saturday morning. Two pints were from Gundermann Acres in Wharton, two were from Naegelin Farms in Lytle, and two pints were from Two Happy Children Farm in Taylor, Texas.

So many strawberries won’t keep more than a few days, so I decided to make some jam to use up my haul of berries. I am an inexperienced canner, so Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves seemed like a great place to start: not-to-sweet, and no added pectin. His recipe calls for a lot of berries, some citrus, and a pinch of rosemary and black pepper. I made it my own by substituting oranges for the lemon, omitting the salt, increasing the rosemary and pepper, and cutting the sugar down a bit. The rosemary I used is from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, and the oranges are from G&S Groves down in McAllen, Texas.

Here’s my version of the recipe, scaled down for just one pint of strawberries.

Strawberry Preserves (Each pint of strawberries will yield about 1 cup of jam)
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves
1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
pinch black pepper
juice of 1/2 an orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

In a saucepan with high sides, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep close watch on the pan with a spoon at the ready– strawberries will foam up if you’re not careful! Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until jam is thick and syrupy. Around the half-hour mark, the consistency of the jam will be thick and the mixture will look glossy. You can test the consistency of the finished jam by spooning a blob onto a very cold plate. Wait a minute, then draw your finger through the jam. If the jam stays separated on the plate, it’s ready! If the jam runs back together, keep cooking. Once the jam is set to your standards, transfer it to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and use it up within the week.

My six pints of berries made a huge batch of the jam, and while it’s not as good as Confituras‘ I am really pleased with my first-ever attempt at strawberry preserves.

You can see that the preserves have a lovely texture: soft, chopped pieces of berries are suspended in a thick syrup. Homemade jam usually has a softer set than store-bought, and this is wonderful to spread on muffins, toast, or swirled atop oatmeal. Next time I make it I am going to experiment with increasing the sugar and using lemon juice to try to get a brighter flavor from the berries.

Tonight I used some leftover pie crust and 1/4 cup of the preserves to make these pretty hand pies. They’re kind of like strawberry Pop-Tarts, only they taste like real strawberries and there’s no red food coloring.

The finished hand pies were lovely, except for one that I overfilled. A whole chunk of strawberry spurted out of the side of the pie while it was in the oven.

I giggled when I saw it because it looked like it was blowing me a big raspberry! Er, strawberry!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Rustic Radish Tart

The best thing about springtime in Texas is the long, sunny evening, when the temperature hovers in the mid-70s, the breeze rustles the live oaks, and our whole yard is bathed in golden light. (Well, the asphalt parking lot outside our apartment is bathed in golden light.) I love cooking at this time of year because it’s easy to put a meal on the table before sunset. It’s also cool enough to run the oven without making the house sweaty.

For all these reasons and more, Texas spring is the perfect time of year to make this rustic radish tart.  It’s easy and quick to toss together on a weeknight, and it travels well on a cheeseboard for a picnic in the yard.

The inspiration for this tart came from the vibrant radishes in season now from several local farms; these pink beauties came from West Austin Roots, just two miles from the capitol building. The radishes are the star of the show here, and tangy goat cheese, sweet onions, thinly-sliced apples, and a sweet thread of honey over top of the tart balance out their spice.

If you need to have dinner on the table quickly, I recommend making the pie crust for this recipe ahead of time on the weekend or, if you must, use store-bought. For tonight’s meal, I was able to roll out my pie crust, slice the onions, radishes and apples, and assemble the tarts while the oven was preheating. I got nice clean edges on my tart crust by trimming the dough into a circle with a pizza cutter after I rolled it flat.

Rustic Radish Tart (makes one, 9-inch tart)
Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup very cold shortening or butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
4 oz. goat cheese
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to garnish
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
6 pink beauty radishes, tops and stringy roots removed, sliced very thin
1/2 granny smith apple, cored and sliced very thin
1/2 yellow onion, sliced very thin
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt

Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten

Prepare pie crust: Put flour, salt and butter into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until mixture is crumbly and blended. (The largest pieces of butter should be about the size of green peas, completely coated in flour.)  Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, continuing to blend dough, until its consistency is even. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. The dough will keep in the fridge up to 48 hours, and in the freezer for about a month.

To make the tart: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Stir together the goat cheese, olive oil and one tablespoon of fresh ground pepper. Slice onion, radishes and apple.

After the pie crust dough is chilled, roll it out on a floured surface until it’s about 11-inches across. Transfer the rolled dough to the prepared cookie sheet. Spread goat cheese mixture on the pie crust to within an inch or two of the edge.  Top cheese with sliced onions, radishes and apples, then fold the edges of the crust over the toppings to create the tart shape. Sprinkle the tart with salt and fresh ground pepper. Drizzle honey over the fruits and veggies and brush crust with egg wash before baking for 20-25 minutes, until crust is golden brown and shiny.

If you want to have a parking lot picnic like we did tonight, keep the tart on the parchment paper after cooking for easy transport.

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”