Archive | April, 2010

I was right!

28 Apr

Frosted muffin/cupcake goodness

Cream cheese frosting is a perfect match for my strawberry-banana muffins (in the last post)!  No extra sugar required in the batter.

Of course, I’m not sure whether that qualifies them as muffins or cupcakes, now.  But who cares?

Nom, nom, nom...

 Danielle – you rock.  Thanks for making me try this 😉  You were totally right too! 🙂


Strawberry-Banana Muffins

27 Apr

We had a TON of strawberries in our CSA box last week, and unfortunately they were quite ripe.  Which meant we didn’t get to all of them before they started going bad.  Luckily, I was able to make use of some of the less “pretty” berries by modifying the banana bread recipe I developed about 10 years ago (eek!  now I really feel old!).

This recipe makes one dozen pretty pink muffins; I suppose you could just frost them (with cream cheese frosting perhaps?) and make them cupcakes (although you might want to add a little extra sugar, since they’re not overly sweet).  The one biggest piece of advice I have for this recipe (aside from using the ripest bananas you can find – mine were a little too chunky) is DO NOT OVERMIX!  It’s easy to take these pretty cakelike muffins and make them heavy and gummy – don’t do it!!

Elisa’s Strawberry-Banana Muffins

  • 3/4 cup strawberry pieces
  • 3 medium-to-large bananas (between the strawberry puree and the mashed bananas, you’re looking for between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 cups of fruit)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (more if your berries are really tart; mine were very sweet!)
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • dash cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

Puree strawberries in a food processor. 

I tried pureeing the bananas with the strawberries - next time, just mash them instead!

You’ll see in the photo I started trying to smash my bananas with the strawberries but they were too unripe and didn’t really do well.  You’ll do better just mashing most bananas by hand; make sure they’re as smooth as possible.

Strawberry puree with mashed bananas

Add the fruit, sugar, cinnamon, powder, soda, milk, oil, and salt to a large bowl and mix until combined.  Beat the egg lightly in a small bowl and add it to your fruit mixture.  Add the flour all at once and mix together all the ingredients JUST until combined.

Add the flour

Add the mixture to prepared muffin cups or cupcake liners and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Just try to resist!


Protected: Lynn and David’s Beautiful Wedding!

25 Apr

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Happy Wedding Day, Lynn!

24 Apr

I met Lynn in April of 2003 (OMG, 7 years ago).  We’ve both been through a ton of stuff since then and we don’t see each other as often as I wish we did, but I am so very happy for her and her fiance David.  Can’t wait to see you two get married today!

Lynn at her bridal shower (opening my gift!)

Happy Earth Day to Meeee!

22 Apr

We just got our first CSA delivery!  For anyone who doesn’t know, CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture.  Otherwise known as a farm share, CSAs are gaining popularity for their support of local agriculture and their awesome fresh organic produce.  I’d looked into joining one three or four years ago, but at the time there were few choices in San Diego and those only offered large boxes which were prohibitively expensive (and far too much food for one person). 

Fast forward to two and a half weeks ago, when hubby and I were walking through the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market.  We started seeing that, at every other booth or so, they were advertising various CSAs.  Several of my friends have joined up lately, too, and so I mentioned that we really should consider one.  My husband leaped at the idea and before we left the Farmer’s Market we’d decided to do a bit of research.  By the end of the day we’d decided on joining up with Farmer Steve.

If you’ve been doing research in San Diego for a CSA, you probably won’t have heard of him.  He’s got no website, and if you Google him, you’ll come up with nada (well, except perhaps for this post!).  But he grows fruit in Ramona and has a business partner who grows veggies in Oceanside/Bonsall.  He and his wife deliver fruit and veggies (and EGGS!) to you.  Which was just about enough to make us sign up on the spot (most CSA boxes need to be picked up at central locations, which may or may not stay open late enough for you to pick them up!!!  Farmer Steve will also bring boxes to at least Hillcrest, just in case you won’t be home).  But when we got home and started comparing the prices, we decided that his price of just $45 every two weeks (for a box of fruit + a box of veggies + a dozen eggs) was a value we couldn’t pass up.

Disclaimer: I am neither employed by nor getting anything free from Farmer Steve, okay?  And I can’t vouch for whether his prices might go up at any point in the future, or whether he’ll stop home delivery…  I’m just so excited I can’t stand it!

Anyway, our first box was supposed to come on Monday, but there was a crossed communication line.  So they rescheduled with us to come by today.  Farmer Steve himself (an incredibly personable guy, by the way, that both of us liked instantly, another reason we decided to go with his CSA) delivered my boxes to my door.  And LOOK at the haul we got!

Holy COW - what a gorgeous CSA haul!

Yes, this all came from our $45 share.

What’s inside?

  • 18 oranges/tangerines (I think 6 of them are tangerines and the rest oranges, but there are 3 different types)
  • 1 large grapefruit (I’m not sure but I think it might be Oro Blanco…  Despite my aversion to grapefruit – I think it tastes sort of like cat pee smells – I am determined to try a wedge, pith-off, with a little salt… I’ll post how it goes!)
  • 6 lemons
  • 6 avocados (3 of one type, 2 of another, and 1 giant one…  the 3 small ones are smooth-skinned and the large one is not the softball-shaped one, but still looks like it might be an heirloom)
  • 1 extra-large tomato (IN APRIL!) and 2 small ones
  • 1 purple mystery fruit*
  • 3 baskets strawberries (these smell AMAZING!!!)
  • 1 basket brown mushrooms (OMG, I had no clue these could be grown successfully in SD County!)
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 3 ears corn
  • 1 bunch (11) carrots
  • 1 bunch (7) beets
  • 1 bunch beautiful red lettuce
  • 3 small bunches spinach
  • 1 dozen free-range brown eggs

Now, if you’re new to the concept of a CSA, there’s one more thing you need to know.  Unlike a Farmer’s Market, where you get to pick and choose what you get, CSAs put together a box of whatever they’ve harvested that week (or two weeks, or what have you), and everyone gets some.  Typically everyone who is a part of that CSA gets the same share, but sometimes it’ll vary, depending on what they have.  The point is that you might get fruit or veggies you don’t like or haven’t tried yet.  Once this would have probably scared me (as a kid, I could count the veggies I regularly ate – and we had veggies every night, but just not a huge variety – on two hands).  Now?  I’m so excited!  It gives me an opportunity to taste new things, and in their best possible states (um, hello?  fresh and organic?).  Joining a CSA does involve a certain willingness to try new things, though – or a friendship with someone adventurous to whom you can give what you don’t like!  Luckily, hubby and I have been on a “trying new things” kick for a while, and I’ve discovered 8 or 10 vegetables over the last 2 years that I’d never tried and LOVE now (including 3 just this year).

I cannot WAIT to have the eggs (I actually think I’ll make eggs for dinner…  Perhaps with a gratin or something on the side…  Hubby and I LOVE fresh eggs!).  I know how I can use just about everything (except the mystery fruit), but I have to admit that my love for beets is less than a year old, and any time I’ve bought them (which has only been once or twice) we’ve eaten them raw…   So if anyone has any beet recipes they’d like to share, I’m all ears!

Oh yeah, I forgot to share Farmer Steve’s contact info.  You can only call him (he doesn’t have e-mail, at least public e-mail).  His number is (760) 751-0805.  I don’t know if it’ll make any difference at all, and I certainly haven’t told him that I was planning to blog about it so it might come as a surprise to him, but if you do call him please tell him Elisa sent you – if nothing else I’d like him to know how very happy I am to be a part of the CSA!

*Mystery solved: it’s a passion fruit!  Thanks Helena! 🙂  Can’t wait to try it!

Fluffy Homemade Grain Bread

8 Apr

Okay, so I really hadn’t intended to even post this…  But it turned out SO well I had to share.  If you read my original bread post, you might remember that I suggested adding things to the plain bread dough, such as eggs, milk, bread, grains, herbs, spices, and aromatics.  Today I was feeling in a multigrain mood.  I had some gorgeous bulk grains in the cupboard and I just started throwing them in with my dough.  But grain bread tends to turn out heavy and dense, so I decided to combat this density in several ways.

First, I added twice the yeast I normally do to a loaf of bread (and twice the sugar – both to help the yeast feed and for flavor).  Then I added milk, butter, and an egg to the bowl.  I also made good use of my electric stand mixer (gasp!)…  Since I’ve typically found it difficult to hand-knead grain breads, I don’t think I’ve done enough kneading in the past.  This was definitely the time to use some mechanical help in my breadmaking…  I’ve actually been using the stand mixer more, as an experiment, in about half the bread I’ve baked over the last month or so, and found that most of the time it’s more trouble than it’s worth for my regular bread (I also like feeling the texture in my hands, the old fashioned way).  But the stand mixer did such an excellent job with this dough, and it got mixed thoroughly!

The full effect was incredible.  And so worth sharing.  You could really do this with any grains, in any combination, but I’d reccommend keeping the total amount of grain at under 7 tbsp per loaf (the 6 tbsp in my bread was about perfect, but could be added to if you like – much more than an additional tablespoon will be less breadlike and more sconelike in texture).  Soooo…  You have a whole new recipe for bread.  You’re welcome. 🙂

Fluffy Homemade Grain Bread

  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp millet seeds
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flax seed
  • 3 tbsp wheat berries (because I love wheat berries!)

Soooo…  If you’ve never made bread before, check out my Basic Bread recipe before making this (because I’m just going to gloss over the basics).  Ready?  Let’s bake!

Put the dough hook on your stand mixer.  Put the yeast and sugar in the stand mixer’s bowl and pour the warm water over them.  Let the yeast proof for 7-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, put the milk and butter in a small microwavable bowl and microwave it for between 30 and 45 seconds, stirring to help incorporate the butter.  You want the butter to melt completely, and you want the milk to be warm, but you DON’T want it to be HOT.

After the yeast has finished proofing, add a cup of wheat and a cup of white flour, the salt, the milk and butter, and the egg to the bowl.  Put the mixer on low (2 or 3), and mix until everything is incorporated.  Add the seeds and another cup of wheat flour to the bowl and mix on medium-low (3 or 4) until fully incorporated.  This was all I needed to make a nice smooth dough that was fairly sticky, but you may need to add more flour (especially if it’s a humid day).

Turn up the speed on your electric mixer to medium (5 or 6) and knead your dough for 7-10 minutes.  Your dough may pull away from the sides early and creep up the hook; if it does, take it off and push it down.  You want the hook to stretch and pull the dough, not just roll it around against the side of the bowl.

Once the dough has been kneaded, remove the bowl from the stand and put it in a warm place.  Cover it with a towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.  Shape it and place it in the loaf pan, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Let the bread rise for another 30 minutes and place it in the preheated oven.  Bake it for 20 minutes or until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when thumped.

Beautiful grain bread... What you can't see in this photo is the incredible fluffy texture of the bread itself.


Edited on July 1; I hope this won’t repost on your Reader, but I couldn’t NOT fix where I somehow typed that I added milk and “bread” (instead of milk and “butter”) to the dough.  Just…  No.

Turkey Ragu Sauce

2 Apr

Every Italian I know has their own spaghetti sauce recipe.  Most of the time, it’s passed down from one’s grandmother and mother, but it’s usually adapted, too.  My grandmother was the queen of the spaghetti sauce (she was an awesome, awesome cook).  My mom would make giant stock pots full of it when I was growing up (and our family friends couldn’t wait to get a container).  I like to think my spaghetti sauce is as good as theirs – but in a different way. 

My major adaptation to the family spaghetti sauce recipe has to do with the meat inside.  My grandma used a mixture of ground beef, pork, and veal.  Most of the time my mom would get ground beef and pork (although the latter has gotten increasingly difficult to find).  A few years ago, I decided to attempt my spaghetti sauce using ground turkey.  I think overall it’s far less greasy than sauce made with beef.  And to make up for the neutral flavor of ground turkey (because it is sort of bland and not all that meaty), I added mushrooms.

I’m sharing my recipe (although to make my grandma’s – which was never really written down, but you’d get close – you could just substitute the meat and remove the mushrooms…) for turkey ragu sauce .  It’s not very difficult to make, but it needs a nice long simmer to really get all the flavors to meld (in fact – it’s better the next day).  Use a really big pot and clear some room in your fridge (or your freezer!) – I don’t know any other way to make sauce except to make a ton!

Elisa’s Turkey Ragu Sauce

  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 medium onions, chopped
  • 3-4 large ribs celery, chopped
  • 2-3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 whole large head of garlic (about 15 cloves), smashed, peeled, and minced
  • 1 1/4 pounds of ground turkey (this is the size that most packages in the grocery store are)
  • 1 lb brown mushrooms (portobello or cippolini), chopped very fine
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine (white is okay too, but I like red better because it gives the sauce a richer flavor)
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 3 cans of crushed tomatoes (yes, I like using canned tomatoes – they tend to have a richer flavor than grocery store tomatoes and need less cooking before they taste good…  You could use fresh here if you like; I’d use the freshest roma tomatoes you can find, and maybe a few heirlooms, peel them, and cook the heck out of the sauce…  You can also use canned tomato sauce, like my mom and grandma – I just like the texture of crushed tomatoes)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dry parsley (or a good bunch of fresh parsley, since fresh is less potent than dry)
  • 2-3 oz fresh basil (that’s 1-2 bunches; and please use the fresh stuff, it’s SO much better!!!  But if you must, use about 2 tbsp and add it with the parsley)
  • 1/2 cup cream or half and half (don’t go with milk – you run the risk of it separating, and that’s not pretty)
  • salt and pepper

Set a large sauce pan (I use the biggest one in my set) over medium-low heat.  Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and let it warm for a few minutes.  Add onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes.  Add carrot and celery and cook for 5-7 minutes or until onion begins to soften.  Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Onion, carrot, and celery! (it's not soft enough to add the garlic yet)

Add turkey and mushrooms to the pan at the same time and stir well to combine.  After about 1 minute, add tomato paste and mix very well.

Turkey and mushrooms added, about to stir in the tomato paste!

Let cook until turkey is about 75% cooked (it will turn white but ground turkey doesn’t brown very well, and this is a crowded pan; it won’t really matter in the end).  You want to make sure that the turkey doesn’t clump, or you’ll have meatballs in your sauce (and this isn’t a sauce with meatballs!).  Add the wine and cook for 3-4 minutes or until it’s mostly evaporated.

Add the canned tomatoes.  If you have any fresh tomatoes you’d like to use up, you can do so as well (I had half a package of cherry tomatoes that were about to go bad, so I threw them in whole – they burst when they’re cooked).  I like to add a little freshness, but it’s not a huge deal (which is why they’re not in the recipe – I wouldn’t go out and buy them just for this).  Stir in some pepper (I use about 1 tbsp).  I wouldn’t add any salt at this point – most canned tomatoes have salt added, and you’ll want all the flavors to meld together before putting any more in.  Add parsley (dry or fresh is fine at this point) and stir very well.

Stir in the canned tomatoes well

Now walk away.

Yup, that’s what I said.  Just walk away.  You’re going to want this to simmer on low for, well, as long as you can.  At least an hour.  It’s better if you can let it simmer all day.  Just check on it periodically, make sure it’s on low (try to go for simmer, not boil), and stir it once every half hour or so to make sure that you’re not burning the bottom (stir more often on an electric stove – for some reason they tend not to go as low as gas stoves and I’ve burned more than one batch when I lived in my old apartment).

After three hours of simmering, and with the cream and basil added... It might not look much different but you'll be so happy you let it cook that long!

When almost ready to serve, go ahead and add the fresh basil (chiffonade, if you please) and the cream (if you want – but it definitely makes this into a nice rich bolognese-type sauce, and I’d reccommend it!), and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes.  You can add a handful of good parmesan here (my mom always does) but I find that it usually ends up sticking to the bottom of my pan, when all is said and done.  So I prefer to just put it on top.  You can taste it here for seasoning, though, and add salt (if you must).

This sauce is chunky, with lots of vegetables that are still toothsome.  It’s better the next day and freezes incredibly well.  You can serve this over pasta, polenta, or gniocchi (or use it in a lasagna, on pizza, make meatball sandwiches, or just eat it straight up with a piece of bread… It’s even good cold!). 

Ignore the pooling water - that's from the gniocchi - and focus on the chunky, beautiful deliciousness!

Sauce over linguini... Mmmm...

When I took the first photo, I served this over fresh gniocchi (I used Tyler Florence’s recipe on – very tasty, light, and fluffy, but you’ll notice in the photo that they let out quite a bit of water!).  We had it two nights in a row (and then for lunch the third day – the second photo), and I put four containers in the freezer!  I’d say this safely will serve 12 people, but you’ll probably have leftovers.  Make that – you’ll want leftovers!



What’s that you say?  No oregano?

Nope.  Northern Italians (my family is from Emilia-Romagna, north of Tuscany, in the same province where Parmeggiano Reggiano is made) don’t traditionally use oregano (or capers, anchovies, or sun-dried tomatoes).  Those ingredients are typically found in provinces south of Rome (and most Italian restaurants in America have a decidedly Southern Italian flavor).  We still have oregano in my house – for Greek dishes and Spanish Rice.  Obviously if you’re making your own sauce, you can add herbs as you like them, but parsley and basil are the only herbs I need!

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