Baked (or not) Veggie Dip

Effortlessness is taken for granted. In the skills we have, we forget how it came to be that we do them effortless-ly. We forget that first we loved something and wanted to do it all the time, and then repeatedly put ourselves into a position where continued practice became a part of life.

Cooking is for me a skill that is mostly effortless, and every now and then I am reminded of where I started. My neighbor told me a funny story the other day about trying to get her husband to cook occasionally. He agreed to cook, thought it was a cool idea, and then, throughout the actual cooking process proceeded to ask questions like, “Is this the measuring cup you use? How much salt should I add? Is this the pan you would use?” She had to point out that if he was going to ask all those questions and need constant guidance, it was really like she was cooking anyway. She had been hoping that he would be able to take on the task and only call for her when dinner arrived on the table. We all had to go through the process of learning how much salt and which pan would work best, but when the skill becomes effortless, we forget.

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a cook who makes it look effortless. Another neighbor, and CSA sharer, Courtney, whipped up some game snacks for a World Cup game a few days ago, and her work was impressive. She knew exactly where everything was, she had a plan, and her work was done efficiently. I never once pained while watching her, and in fact, marveled at her plan and technique.

Her brilliant and simple idea was to make a baked veggie dip using kale, spinach and broccoli from our CSA box. I riffed on her idea and spiced it up just a bit with some jalapeno. If you choose to bake it, do it quickly as the greens will brown under heat. I heated the one above under the broiler for just a few minutes which seemed to work well.

Baked Veggie Dip

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small bunch “adolescent” kale, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 small head broccoli, chopped
  • 1 fresh jalapeno
  • 1 small bunch fresh basil
  • 2 0z. cream cheese
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano
  • 1 cup white cheese (provolone, mozzarella, cheddar)
  • Dash salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • splash of milk

Directions:

Saute garlic for a minute in hot olive oil, add broccoli, kale and spinach. Cook until veggies are bright green and wilted.

Cut the hard cheeses into small chunks and run through the food processor, or grate them if you don’t have a processor. Add the cream cheese, jalapeno, basil, salt and pepper and the sautéed veggies. Pulse the processor until everything starts to pull together. Add the milk through the feed tube until the dip is creamy.

Put the dip into a small baking dish or ramekin. Bake for a few minutes right under the broiler until bubbly and beginning to brown.

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What’s in the box #2?

CSA Box Two

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This was the week of monster greens! (Remember my fridge was already jam-packed?) I went to Kate’s to get the box hoping it would be full of little demure things like scapes, scallions and herbs only to find the box nearly seething and tossing from the unruly mass of crazy spinach, kale and romaine. It was like the vegetable version of the incredible hulk – greens gone mad with a purposeful intensity to heal and nourish – alas!

Besides the romaine, spinach and Toscano Kale, were turnips, radishes, scallions, broccoli (some boxes had strawberries), and snap peas.

These incorrigible goods needed immediate training and domestication. As is they would continue to seethe and froth and battle themselves in the fridge – or just not fit! So first things first, I grabbed the giant unyielding spinach by the neck. Then, I threw it face first into a tub of freezing cold water where it was dunked and spun until it had released every secret grain of sand it held. In sheer exhaustion it was sent on to the butcher block where the stems were trimmed and the leaves chopped. The final treatment was to toss the now obedient spinach into a pot for a quick blanching. Entirely emasculated yet still potent in nutrients, the tamed beast went into a freezer container for later purposes!

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Spinach in its’ final moments!

Swiss Chard and Spinach Balls

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Timing and planning is everything when you get a CSA box. You need to plan out the menu, check your summer schedule and let everybody in your family know when they will be expected to dinner. If not, you run the risk of still having vegetables when the next delivery arrives and therefore, allowing your refrigerator explode.

Well, call me a fool. I handled the first CSA box of the year well, but didn’t allow for a little side trip to Costco and an after-volleyball gathering. I don’t usually buy fruits and veggies from Costco, but yesterday I just couldn’t pass on the four pounds of garlic and two huge bags of limes and lemons. Max was with me eyeing strawberries, white peaches, melons and grapes – not organic, but lovely and fresh. Not thinking about space in the fridge, I yielded. Well, needless to say, our very large fridge is at maximum capacity. To top it off, the volleyball team stopped by after the game, so Jeff stocked up on beer. His normal trip to the liquor store involves two varieties of beer, but last night he wanted to please, so three varieties were shoved into every available nook and cranny of our already overweight icebox. And…today is Thursday…CSA delivery day! I’m starting off on the wrong end of things here!

My original menu for the first CSA included three meals: the Bahn Mi Sandwich with pickled vegetables, Greens and Beans, and then the Curried Vegetables. I ended up adding another menu item as I had left over swiss chard. Knowing that the volleyballers would be over, I decided on an appetizer of swiss chard and spinach balls. They were tasty and would have been fabulous with a little soy ginger sauce for dipping. I didn’t include a dipping sauce, but would next time.

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Swiss Chard and Spinach Balls

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • splash of red wine vinegar to deglaze
  • 1 large bunch swiss chard, chopped
  • 1/2 pound spinach
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups crushed bread crumbs
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 eggs

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the onions. I like to cook onions slowly to carmelize. When they begin to brown add the chopped garlic and ginger. Stir these until they become frangrant and just begin to brown. Deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine venegar. Add the swiss chard first and mix in with garlic, ginger and onions. Let this cook until it wilts then add spinach. Mix this into the other ingredients and stir until wilted. Toss in the pepper flakes. Turn greens out into a mixing bowl and refrigerate until cool. When the greens have cooled stir in the parmesan, bread crumbs and eggs. When everything is mixed well, they are ready to form into balls and bake.  I made the balls about an inch and a half in diameter, put them on a canola-greased cookie sheet, and baked them at 400 degrees for 1/2 an hour. They really were easy to make and were a great appetizer for our gathering. Spinach always stays in the teeth, so these should be served amongst friends!

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Sauted Spinach and Arugula with White Beans

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After an evening enjoying true Americana “Eve of Destruction” kitsch at the Elko Speedway, a lovely Italian peasant brunch can really cleanse the soul! Not only was the soul cleansed, but my post Saturday bad-American-beer hangover was calmed with these garlicky greens served with a chewy loaf of ciabatta, puffy omelet and goat cheese feta. I can’t seem to get enough of Laylita’s cebollas encurtidas (pickled onions) http://laylita.com/recipes/2008/03/10/cebollas-encurtidas-or-pickled-onions/ so they were brought out again to top the plates.

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Jeff does not eat eggs, so he loaded his plate with the ciabatta to mop up the greens and beans. He’s into Sriracha sauce lately, and loves to decorate the plates!

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These greens are really easy to make especially if you have the beans already prepared. I usually have two or three kinds of beans in small containers in the freezer ready to work with. I like to cook dry beans because they are so inexpensive compared to the canned variety. Last week I bought two pounds of white navy beans, cooked them, and divided them into four freezer containers. We ate the first container right away with stuffed burritos, and then I had the others frozen to work with later. On Thursday when I got the first CSA box, I pulled out a container and just had it thaw in the fridge. They were ready to toss into the pan this morning.

Ingredients:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • dash salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 2-4 cups white beans
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock
  • greens (I used a large bunch of arugula and a huge bag of spinach)

Directions: In a large saute pan heat oil and add finely chopped garlic, toss in washed greens and mix well. Continue stirring until greens begin to wilt. You’ll need to add about 1/4 cup of water or stock liquid. Add salt, pepper and beans. Let cook until greens are cooked and bright green. Turn off heat and add the juice of one lemon. Mix lemon juice into greens and beans and serve.