Category Archives: Sides & Appetizers

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.”

Cowpea Salad

I love cooking with cowpeas. They’re versatile and easy to work with, and undeniably pretty. I seek them out at summer farmer’s markets, and I rejoice when they arrive in our Local Box. Lucky for me, cowpeas are a heat loving crop that flourishes in Austin’s hottest months.

There are several varieties of cowpeas growing in Central Texas:  black eyed, lady cream, and purple hull peas are some of the most common. Cowpeas are usually removed from their hulls before they are sold at market, packed in snack-sized plastic baggies with about 1.5 cups of loose peas per package. All the varieties of cowpeas in Austin are recognizable by their pale color, kidney shape and the signature darkened “eye” at their center.


In my experience, each variety of cowpea can be used interchangeably in recipes. Lightly-steamed cowpeas can also substitute for cooked English peas or white beans in many preparations. My friend Megan at Stetted likes to eat them raw as a snack, and they are stewed with tomatoes and jalapenos in traditional Southern dishes.

The inspiration for this cowpea recipe came from Blue Star Cafeteria, a little restaurant in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin. Among other things, they serve a terrific shrimp cocktail with homemade pea salad and saltines on the side. Pure comfort food. I order that dish every time we visit, and while I’ll happily share the shrimp, I save all that creamy pea salad for myself.

I recreated Blue Star’s pea salad at home substituting purple hull peas from Pleasant Hill Farm in Leander, Texas, for the green English peas they use at the restaurant. Like most good comfort food, this dish is straightforward to make and relies on good ingredients for its success. The most important thing to get right is obviously the peas– very fresh cowpeas are tender and have a creamy texture when they’re cooked. Minced red onion and red bell pepper give the salad sweetness and bite, and a simple mayonnaise dressing and cheddar cheese add richness.This salad is what I imagine eating at the church potluck of my dreams.

I usually find serving salads in vegetable cups to be a little extravagant for our weeknight suppers. However, I plated this salad in a hollowed out red pepper on a whim and I’m glad I did. After an hour of chilling in the refrigerator, the pepper added extra heat and sweetness to the salad, welcome flavors on a hot evening.

Purple Hull Pea Salad

 

Cowpea Salad (yields four side-dish servings)
1 1/2 cups fresh black-eyed peas, purple hull peas or lady cream peas
1/2  red onion
1/2  red bell pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppper
1/3 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Whole red bell peppers for serving, if desired

Bring to a boil three cups of water in a medium saucepan. Prepare the cowpeas by rinsing them and picking out any leaves or darkened, soft peas from the rest. Once the water is boiling, add the cowpeas to the pot and cook uncovered for six minutes. Drain the peas and set them aside to cool.

Mince the onion and red bell pepper. Grate the cheese, if necessary. In a large bowl, mix together the minced vegetables, mayonnaise, mustard and shredded cheese. Once the cowpeas are cooled completely, add them in too. (Remember, warm cowpeas will melt the grated cheese, so be patient and let them cool completely!) Season the salad with salt and pepper and refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving.

To make red pepper cups: shop for wide, regularly shape bell peppers with flat bottoms. Cut the top off each bell pepper and pull out the ribs and seeds. Fill the pepper cup it with salad. That’s it! Simplest fancy pants garnish ever.

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

Picnic at Northwest District Park

Picnic Food

Rami and I stayed close to home for this weekend’s picnic, at Northwest District Park in the Shoal Creek neighborhood of Austin. This park is one of my favorites in the city, and it’s the perfect place for families to hang out on Memorial Day Weekend.

Northwest District Park Sign

Northwest District Park has lots of picnic tables, a pool, a pond, basketball courts, and a large playground. It’s a huge park, with two entrances: one on the east side of the park at 7000 Ardath Street, and another on the west side of the park at Shoal Creek Blvd. between Dover and Pinecrest Blvd. The park has many grassy lawns and paved walking areas shaded by tall trees.

One of the best things about picnicking at Northwest District Park is its abundance of picnic areas. Like many of Austin’s parks, Northwest has three large, reservable picnic areas with many tables. However, it also has several more secluded picnic tables tucked around the park.

 

We chose this one to set up our picnic since it was situated in the shade of a pecan tree and overlooked the playground.

Our menu for this picnic was our favorite yet.

  • Mint sun-tea from Zhi Tea: fill a large mason jar with water and add two teaspoons of tea for each six ounces of water. (I used a large tea filter like this to hold the loose tea.)
  • Peanutty Carrot Tea Sandwiches: these are a wonderful alternative to plain PB&J. We skipped the raisins and used Confituras marmalade in the recipe. Yum!
  • Corn Radish Salad with Jalapeno Dressing An awesome spicy salad that uses radishes! I’m going to play with this recipe again for next week’s picnic since we enjoyed it so much.
  • Strawberries and Blackberries: sadly, local strawberries are gone for the season, but the blackberries from Wheeler Farm were super sweet!
  • Summer squash bread with beet-pecan sandwich spread.
I loved the corn radish salad and the blackberries. Rami’s favorite thing was the peanutty-carrot sandwich spread and the iced tea. And see the mint leaves garnishing the berries?? I grew those in a flower-pot outside my house! 😀

One thing that’s not coming across in these pictures is the ridiculous number of bugs swarming around us and our food. I got 13 mosquito bites while I was plating the food and taking this picture!

Because of all the bugs, Rami and I ate in record time and hightailed it outta the park. We spotted an egret at the pond as we left, just before the sun set.

Picnic at Montopolis Youth Sports Complex

The second weekend in our picnic adventure took Rami, Barclay and me to far east Austin. We stumbled upon the Montopolis Youth Sports Complex when we were looking for Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park on Saturday night.

After a jaunt east on Airport Boulevard from I-35 and a winding drive through the Montopolis neighborhood, Rami and I found ourselves at 400 Grove Boulevard, the address registered with Google Maps for Guerrero Park.There is a parking lot and some trailheads that lead into Guerrero Park at that address, but the more obvious landmark there is this lovely sports area. Montopolis Youth Sports Complex has a few baseball fields with concession stands and bleachers, a batting cage and a small playground. We counted six picnic tables at the park, situated near trash cans at the edges of each playing field.

There are lots of tall trees at the park, and most of the recreation areas around the baseball fields are in full or partial shade. It’s obvious from the manicured lawns and clean trails that the Montopolis Sports Complex is well cared for, and it’s probably very busy during baseball, softball and tee-ball seasons. However, Rami and Barclay and I were the only souls there at dinner time on Saturday night. The solitude at the park was great! We enjoyed our whole meal uninterrupted and Barclay was able to run around on his long lead and explore the park.

The menu for this week’s picnic featured tons of local veggies in various salad preparations. We were gluten free except for some pita bread and vegan, since I forgot my bacon-laden potato salad at home:

These salads were a really easy picnic menu since I was able to make most of them ahead of time during the week. I don’t know what I was thinking packing pickled beets on a picnic. They taste awesome, but the magenta beet juice threatened to stain our orange picnic blanket with every bite! Rami did a smart thing and packed a few paper napkins so that we could wipe down our dirty plates before we packed up to head home.

The wax beans and green beans from Acadian and Tecolote Farms were the standout ingredients in this week’s picnic. I used these fresh treasures in place of canned green beans in my favorite four bean salad recipe.

Four Bean Salad (serves 6)
One bunch fresh green beans
One bunch fresh wax (yellow) beans
15 oz. can garbanzo beans
15 oz. can kidney beans
Two green bell peppers, seeded and ribbed
Red or purple onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup red wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation: trim ends off of green and yellow beans, then snap beans into bite-sized pieces.Bring a scant inch of salted water to a boil in a large saute pan. Add fresh beans, cover and cook for about five minutes, until beans are tender. Drain the beans and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, open and drain canned beans. Chop the bell peppers and onion into small pieces.  In a small bowl, whisk together oils, vinegars, sugar, salt and pepper. Put all the beans, onion and pepper into a large salad bowl and pour dressing over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

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

Creamy Kale Casserole

I developed this recipe last month in preparation for Thanksgiving.

Yes, you heard me right: Thanksgiving.

I know that Turkey Day is months away, but now is the perfect time to try out new holiday recipes without the pressure of extended family and a big turkey in your kitchen. Plus many of our fall favorite ingredients like kale, potatoes, mushrooms and carrots are also in season during Central Texas’ late spring months, making them cost effective and easy to find this time of year.

This recipe is my mostly-local, from-scratch answer to traditional green bean casserole.  This kale dish has the creamy-salty-crunchy qualities that make green bean casserole great, minus the gelatinous condensed soup, palm-oil soaked onions, and soggy canned beans that make it not so great.

I’m using curly kale here since it’s cheap and in season in Austin in the fall. However, I’ve made this dish successfully with baby spinach, fresh green beans, field peas and chard, too, by reducing the cooking time for the tender veggies and increasing it for the field peas. Experiment now with your family’s favorite ingredients so that you’ll have your own version perfected in time for Thanksgiving dinner!

Creamy Kale Casserole (serves 4-6 as a side dish)
4 tablespoons melted butter, divided
1/2 yellow or white onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 head curly kale, washed and chopped
2 tablespoons white wine, veggie stock or water
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large pan, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Once onions are tender, add the chopped kale to the skillet along with the wine. Cover and cook for 7 minutes, until kale is bright green and tender.

Meanwhile, use an electric mixer to cream together the remaining melted butter,  softened cream cheese, milk, salt and pepper.

Once kale is par-cooked, combine it with the cream cheese mixture in a 1.5 quart casserole dish.* Top with chopped pecans and bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes.

*To make this dish ahead of time, follow the recipe up to this point. Store the casserole dish, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge for up to two days. Bring the creamed kale to room temperature and remove the plastic wrap before adding pecans and baking the dish as directed.

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.”

Two salads, one dressing

Salad with roasted beets, orange, cilantro, lettuce, and dandelion greens

The thermometer on my porch tells me that spring in Texas is over. The highs have  been in the 80s all week, and I have been compulsively checking the weather forecast for some sign that the Texas summer isn’t really starting yet. Today’s overcast skies and cool breezes give me hope. And did you know that some parts of the country had a blizzard this week? There must be hope for a spring snow day in Austin, right??

I probably won’t hold my breath. One good thing about this season-straddling weather is the simultaneous availability of local avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, citrus, beets, spring greens and winter greens. Having so many beautiful veggies together in my fridge a sign from above to make salad.

This week I created two new salad recipes that each come together in about 10 minutes, no cooking required. (Roast the beets ahead of time!) Each recipe makes an easy vegan main dish for two, or the perfect starter for a dinner party for 6.

The first recipe uses winter flavors of roasted beet, orange segments, and bitter greens for oomph. The second recipe is a classic guacamole salad, with cumin, cayenne and green garlic for heat since jalapenos aren’t in season yet. The inspiration for both salad dressings came from Elise Bauer’s Orange and Beet Salad Recipe. Her dressing base of olive oil and wine vinegar is genius in that she adds a little powdered mustard to help the dressing emulsify. I added some local ingredients–like Round Rock honey and cilantro from Naegelin farms– to her dressing recipe to enhance the flavors of the veggies and help them shine in each salad. I also opted for Texas pecans and dandelion greens in my version of the beet salad. You can’t beat the nutty pecan flavor against the pucker of bitter dandelion greens.

Salad of Roasted Beets, Oranges, Dandelion Greens
1 head red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
3 beets, roasted and skins removed, chopped (Do this ahead of time so they are cool!!)
2 navel oranges, peeled and segmented
1/4 cup pecan halves
Dressing:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare all veggies and fruits and combine in a large bowl. Whiz the dressing ingredients together in a blender, or mix them together in a small jar. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss, serve immediately.

Salad of Avocado, Tomato, Cilantro and Green Onion
1 head green leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
1 bunch green onions, white part reserved, green parts chopped
1 bunch green garlic, white part reserved, green parts chopped
2 avocados, peeled with pits removed, chopped
3 tomatoes, cored and chopped
Dressing:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
white parts from one bunch green garlic
white parts from one bunch green onions
1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare all veggies and combine in a large bowl, reserving the white stalks of the green garlic and green onions for use in the dressing. Combine stalks with remaining dressing ingredients in a blender and pulse until veggies are completely pureed and dressing emulsifies. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss, serve immediately.