Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Latest from Nikki-Lasagna and Lettuce

The lastest from Nikki:
I have a new friend... a Moleskine notebook from my friend, Heidi (101Cookbooks). I shared with Heidi the difficulty I have in articulating what I do in the kitchen in regard to food preparation. It's proven to be quite a challenge for me. Heidi has encouraged me (and provided the necessary tool) to write everything down as I'm going along. Simple advice, yes, yet totally profound to me. In the past, I rarely wrote things down, and hardly ever paid attention to how much of each ingredient I was using. Folks often ask me for recipes for meals I whip together and, sadly, I can only provide them with a list of ingredients. This works for some folks, others, not so much. The fact is, I view recipes I come across as springboards for creativity, inspirational lists of ingredients that I can't help but modify, adjust, swap out, etc. Writing recipes for the Inverbrook blog has been nothing short of a wonderful blessing and opportunity to develop a whole new skill. My daughter, Azia, and I are having a terrific time documenting the goings on of meal preparation here at the Graham residence. I hope you all are enjoying it as much as we are!

Below you'll find a recipe for Asparagus, Leek, and Shitake Lasagna. I came across a similar recipe on epicurious.com and modified it greatly. I was inspired by the list of ingredients that I just happened to have on hand. Next time, I will make some tweaks and adjustments to what I did the first time round (I noted those below). Thanks to my trusty notebook, I have that all written down. :-)
I also included a recipe for the salad we had with this lasagna. A simple green salad served with a pineapple, mint vinaigrette and fresh pineapple chunks cut from a pineapple that I couldn't resist while I was out shopping. (I'm pretty sure I lived on a tropical island in my last life. ;-))

Asparagus, Leek, and Shitake Lasagna


3 leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced thin
2 TBL extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches Inverbrook asparagus, ends snapped and cut into fourths
8 oz. Shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1-2 TBL fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

4 TBL (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter
4 TBL all-purpose flour
3 C whole milk (you could also use a combination of broth or stock in place of about a cup or so of the milk for a slightly lighter version)
Pinch of nutmeg (be generous if you like nutmeg)
1 bay leaf
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

1 C (give or take) freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
16 oz. no boil lasagna noodles or boiled equivalent (I used a no boil, 100% durum semolina product from Trader Joe's to save time, but I have a note to use whole wheat lasagna noodles next time.)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Saute the leeks in the olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the thyme, sea salt, pepper, and shitakes and continue to saute until the shitakes just begin to release their juices. Turn off the heat and stir in the asparagus. Set aside.

Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour whisking to blend. Continue to whisk over low heat for at least 4-5 minutes, just to get rid of the floury taste. Turn the heat to high, and slowly add the milk, whisking all the while until the roux is well incorporated. Continue to whisk, turning the heat down once the mixture is simmering. Add in the nutmeg, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and simmer until thickened, stirring all the while. Once it has thickened, turn off the heat and set aside (give this sauce a stir every couple of minutes so it doesn't develop a "skin"). You can remove the bay leaf at this point if you want. We have a tradition at our house of not removing them so that whomever finds it in their dish gets to be the lucky finder of the bay leaf.

Spread about a 1/2-3/4 C or so of the sauce on the bottom of a 9 1/2 X 13 inch baking dish.
Place a layer of noodles on top of the sauce. Add a very thin layer of sauce to the top of the noodles.
Add half of the leek, mushroom, and asparagus mixture to the top of the sauce.
Top with about a 1/3 C of the grated parmesan (use more if you have it and want a richer lasagna).
Add another layer of noodles on top of the cheese.
Add 3/4-1 C, or so, of the sauce to the top of the noodles, spreading evenly.
Add the other half of the leek, mushroom, and asparagus mixture to the top of the sauce.
Add another 1/3 C of the grated parmesan to the top of that.
Add one more layer of noodles to the top of that.
Top with more sauce (about 3/4-1 C) and the rest of the cheese.
(Feel free to change the assembly of this to your liking, keeping in mind that if you are using no boil noodles, they need some moisture to cook properly in the oven.)
Cover with foil, keeping the foil off the cheese.
Bake for 30-40 minutes (or until heated through and bubbling on the sides), removing the foil for the last 5-10 minutes so the top browns nicely.

Serves 8-10


Pineapple, Mint Salad

Leaves from three long mint stems (Claire grows the best mint in the world, I'm convinced)
Accumulated juice from 1 whole, fresh, cut-up pineapple (cut into bite sized chunks) that's been sitting in a bowl at room temperature for a while
1/4 C olive oil (or to taste)
1 TBL agave (or to taste)
1-2 TBL white wine vinegar (unseasoned rice vinegar will work too)
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

1 bag of Inverbrook lettuce, washed and spun dry

Fresh cut pineapple chunks (mentioned above)

Process the mint, pineapple juice, olive oil, agave, vinegar, salt, and pepper until well incorporated. For more pineapple flavor, or if yours isn't particularly juicy, add in a chunk of pineapple before you process the mixture. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Toss the lettuce with the dressing and top with as much of the pineapple as you desire.

Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Note from Nikki--Arugula, Pork Chops, Grapes, and Blue Cheese

Nikki continues to amaze me with her creative recipe ideas. Check out her latest thoughts on how to "deal" with arugula.

Note from Nikki:

In all honesty, I haven't always been a huge fan of arugula. In fact, if it wasn't for our Inverbrook farm share, I would probably have just continued to snub it. One of the many reasons that I love being an Inverbrook member is that it exposes me to bounties of produce that I would otherwise not come across or pay attention to in the grocery store, and forces me to expand my repertoire and get creative.
Below, you'll find a recipe for arugula that is sure to please.

Grilled Pork Chops, Arugula, Grapes, and Blue Cheese
(By the way, you can skip the pork, add in some of Claire's salad greens, toss on some toasted nuts, and make it a hearty salad)


Thick, boneless pork chops seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground pepper (I grilled 9 of them and had a few leftover for my family of 6. They came in packages of 3 from Trader Joe's)

Bunch of grapes, halved
Bag of Claire's fresh picked arugula, tough stems removed, washed and spun dry
Blue cheese, crumbled or made into small pieces (I used a mild, soft blue cheese that just barely melted against the heat of the pork. Beautiful.)

1/4 C good quality, cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil (adjust to taste)
2-3 TBL white wine vinegar (adjust to taste)
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Prepare a medium hot grill.

While the grill is heating up, prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow steady stream as you continue to whisk until you have an emulsion. Set aside.

Grill the chops for approximately 5-7 minutes on each side. They cook fast and leaving them on the grill for too long will make them tough. They should be just barely pink in the center and still juicy.

While the chops are on the grill, toss the arugula with the vinaigrette. (Any leftover vinaigrette will keep in the fridge nicely.)

Place some of the dressed arugula on a plate, top with a small handful of grapes, some blue cheese bits, and then the pork chop. Add a grape, a bit of cheese, and a piece of arugula to the top of the chop to make it look pretty and DIG IN.


Serves 6-8

Monday, May 17, 2010

Strawberries and Spinach--cooking ideas from Nikki

'Tis the season for both strawberries and spinach. Read Nikki's great culinary notes for ideas on how to use both:

I overestimated the amount of strawberries my family would eat this week. These red gems seem to be popping up all over the place lately (and they're not $8/lb. anymore) so I just couldn't resist purchasing a few small vats. ;-)

Thankfully, combined with a bundle of Claire's rhubarb in one recipe and a bag of her spinach in another (and Martha's feta), we managed to finish them off before they got overripe and moldy. Phew.

Below are the two recipes that came to our rescue:

Spinach Strawberry Salad


One bag of Inverbrook spinach, washed and spun dry
A handful or two toasted almonds, chopped or sliced (or even whole, if you like them that way)
About 1/2 pound of strawberries (more if you need to use them up ;-)), tops removed and sliced to whatever thickness you prefer
Highland Farm's Feta, drained and crumbled (I use a whole container as I am crazy over this cheese. Use whatever amount you prefer)

1/4-1/3 C extra virgin olive oil (adjust to taste)
2-3 TBL balsamic vinegar (adjust to taste)
1 tsp natural cane sugar (you can also use maple sugar, agave, or maple syrup here. As always, I encourage you to start with a teaspoon (or less) and adjust accordingly. Remember, I have a sweet tooth. ;-))
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the balsamic vinegar, sugar, sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Using a small wire whisk or a fork, whisk together, adding the olive oil slowly to the mixture until it is well incorporated and the mixture has thickened. Set aside.

Place the spinach in a large serving bowl.
Add the strawberries and toss gently, by hand.
Drizzle the dressing atop, again, tossing gently, by hand. (No need to use all the dressing is you aren't a fan of a super dressed salad. Any leftover dressing will save beautifully in an airtight container in the fridge.)
Top with the almonds and feta and serve.


Heidi's Rhubarb Crumble

More inspiration from Heidi, and not surprising as Heidi is super in tune and dedicated to using seasonally available, local ingredients.
I changed things up a bit only because I needed to use as many strawberries as possible, I didn't have enough pine nuts, I didn't have spelt flour, and I was short on time.

Here is my make-whatever-you-have-on-hand-work version of Heidi's fabulous Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble:


Butter for greasing the pan

3/4 C whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 C sliced toasted almonds
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C natural cane sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper (Heidi's recipe called for 1/8 tsp, but I decided not to measure since I was in a hurry and I find it annoying to collect and measure fresh ground pepper. I think I probably used a tad more than 1/8 of a tsp, maybe even twice as much, but this turned out to be an absolutely essential ingredient, in my opinion. The flavor of the pepper played beautifully against the sweet, tart of the berries and rhubarb.)
6 TBL unsalted butter, cold

2 TBL cornstarch
1/2 C natural cane sugar

1 lb. strawberries, topped and cut into quarters (twice as much as Heidi's recipe calls for)
One bunch of Rhubarb from Inverbrook (about 6 long stems), trimmed and sliced into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces
1/4 C port wine (Incidentally, I used the cheapest of port and it turned out great. Heidi listed this ingredient as optional, but, like the pepper, I would suggest not skimping here. It added gorgeous depth to the dish.)

Preheat the oven to 375.
Butter a 10 inch round or 9x9 inch square baking dish.

Combine flour, almonds, oats, 1/2 C sugar, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Add the cold butter bit by little bit, cutting it into the dry ingredients either using a fork, a pastry blender, or your fingers, until you have a course meal. Leave some larger lumps and clumps too. Set aside (put it in the fridge if the kitchen is warm).
Toss the strawberries and the rhubarb together in a large bowl.

Whisk together the cornstarch and the other 1/2 C sugar and add to the fruit, tossing to coat.
Wait a few minutes and then add the port, again, tossing to evenly coat.
Transfer the filling to the buttered baking dish and top with the crumble.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the juice from the fruit is oozing through and bubbling vigorously.

Cool and serve.

Serves 8-10, modestly. (I brought this to share with another family of 5 and we didn't quite have enough. All 7 kids in the crowd were begging for more.)

Azia's snapshots of the strawberries and rhubarb filling and the finished crumble, still in the oven. The flash of the camera brightened the deep brown color of the top of the finished crumble. Look for deeper color.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Peonies and Pea Shoots--a return to the Kennett Market

And so it begins again, the Kennett Square Farmers Market opens today at 2PM. I will be bringing greens (lettuce, spinach, and arugula), peonies, pea shouts, spring garlic scallions, radishes and more. Hopefully the rain will hold off, regardless we vendors will all be there, happy to celebrate the start of another season together. If you are looking for a spring menu idea check out the latest Farmers Market Blog posting.

Peonies I am sure you all are familiar with, so I do not need to elaborate (the picture above was taken at the farm last year by the talented Kelly G, pea shoots however, might be new to you. They are the tender delicious shoots of the dwarf snow pea. They are a great addition to salad and stir fries, as well as a great garnish for fish, especially salmon. They have a subtle pea flavor and an interesting crisp texture. Click here for a great recipe from the fantastic food website Culinate.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rainy Day Reflections

Today I spent most of the day running little errands in preparation for the first farmers market of the season. I do NOT enjoy trips to big box stores like Lowes, Staples, the Acme--however the cold and rainy weather seemed to be ushering me toward these necessary visits to strip malls, artificial lighting and aisles and aisles of plastic. Driving along as the rain came down, I was reminded of a recent online discovery--a new song by farm supporters and local favorites Hoots and Hellmouth. As singer songwriter Sean Hoots shares on the bands newest website addition The Window in the Woodshed-- Returning in Pieces (the new song and partial inspiration for this post) was also inspired by rain:
This came to me on the highway. Rain fell like barbed stingers, as the wipers, swishing full bore, tried frantically to keep the windshield unobstucted. They were failing. And from the sounds of it, we were under attack.

Made me wonder how the soil was faring, if this glass was barely holding things together. The feeling of being shot-through, aerated, allowing fresh channels for regeneration. Soil, heart, soul…

From there the brainworm squiggled its way on over to the concept of eternal recurrence. Everything comes back around? Maybe not that simple. Maybe not that complicated.

Funny how the synapses snap sometimes.

Ever feel like your bold step forward is really just a fulfillment of potential ever present?

Ever feel redundant for realizing that?


After my errands were completed I returned to the warmth of my greenhouse, made all the more cosy by the friendly conversation of my wonderful farm crew Katherine and David busily planting melons and summer squash (and the sleeping farm cat, which inspired David to take the picture seen above). Immediately I was thankful for the rain, imagining what life it was bringing to soil and my vegetables growing outside. Enjoy the rain, the picture and the song.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Note from Nikki--recipe ideas and more

Throughout the 2010 growing season I will be sharing recipe ideas and cooking tips from foodie mother of four Nikki Graham. Nikki is a great resource, not along because of her culinary skills, but also for her aspiring photographer daughter and her famous cookbook blogging friend. Enjoy the first "note from Nikki" :

For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to check out my dear friend Heidi's website, 101cookbooks.com, I strongly suggest you visit today (while you're there, you can sign up to receive email updates via RSS, twitter, or Facebook).
It just so happened that one of Heidi's most recent recipes included asparagus, which I had just picked up from Inverbrook this past Monday. Perfect!
Here you'll find the original recipe:

I modified things a bit (as I often do with recipes... it's the rebel in me ;-)) and practically tripled the recipe to feed my tribe of six. The leftovers were perfect with a bit of Martha's Highland Farm, crumbled sheep's feta on top. I served the original meal with one of Claire's chickens, cut up and grilled to perfection. Delightful. My daughter, Azia, photographed her plate before she dug in. :-)

Below you'll find my version of Heidi's Carrot Almond Salad. Enjoy!

Extra virgin olive oil
3 bunches of baby carrots, scrubbed, tops removed, and sliced in half (or quarters if they're on the thicker side) lengthwise
3 bunches of asparagus (the thinner the better), stalks snapped at the bottom and cut into thirds
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

A couple handfuls toasted, sliced almonds

One bunch of cilantro (any stem below the bottom set of leaves removed)
I large jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined (leave a few seeds if you want extra kick)
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 TBL agave (Admittedly, I have a bit of a sweet tooth and was generous with the agave. I strongly suggest starting with 1 TBL and then adjusting from there. It also depends on the size and tartness of your lemon.)
1/4-1/3 C extra virgin olive oil (Again, adjust to taste. Start with 1/4 C, and go from there.)
Sea salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the carrots with a generous drizzle of olive oil and half of the garlic, spread out onto a baking sheet, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
Do the same with the asparagus.
Load both baking sheets into the oven, placing the carrots below the asparagus (they take longer to cook).
Roast until firm tender, about 10 minutes for the asparagus, and 15 for the carrots, give or take. Keep checking every 5 minutes, shaking the pans, until they are cooked to your desired tenderness. I like mine pretty firm.

While the carrots and asparagus are roasting, prepare the dressing. Using a food processor, process the cilantro, lemon, jalapeno, agave, sea salt, and olive oil. Taste and adjust to your liking. Set aside.

Once the carrots and asparagus are done roasting, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Toss the veggies with the dressing and top with the sliced almonds. (I used all of dressing, but if you want your veggies less "dressed up", use as much as desired and save the rest in an airtight container in the fridge. It should keep for at least a few days.)

Serve and enjoy!

Serves 6-8 generously

Nikki Graham (Faithful Inverbrook CSA member)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mint, Markets, and Cinco De Mayo

To say that April flew by is a huge understatement. I cannot believe I only managed to make three posting during the month of April. As I mentioned before the garden is keeping me very busy. Now that May has arrived however, you can expect a lot more postings centered around the farm fresh produce available from Inverbrook Farm. Market season has begun--the Kennett Square Farmers Market opens next Friday, May 14th and I have also "opened" here at the Farm. On Mondays and Wednesday 2-7PM through out the month of May you will be able to stop by the farm and purchase seasonal produce, eggs, Highland Farm sheep yogurt and cheese, Buck Run Farm burger, and frozen Inverbrook chickens. If you need directions to the farm please contact me through our website. Seasonal produce right now includes mint, lettuce, arugula, asparagus, rhubarb and spinach--tender and delicate tastes, a delicious way to start the season off right.

Although much of the month of April was spent in the garden, I did manage to sneak into Philly one weekend afternoon to celebrate GRID magazine's 1 year anniversary. Grid has an amazing blog complete with seasonal recipes from Food In Jars Blogger Marisa McClellan. Here are two posting--one on Asparagus and one on Rhubarb--perfect for this time of year.

Last but not least, happy Cinco de Mayo. What a perfect day to celebrate Mexican food culture. Get yourself an Inverbrook chicken and check out these Cinco De Mayo recipes.