Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Angel Hair with grape tomatoes, garlic and sausage (Squash blossoms too!)

It doesn't get more local than your own backyard. As we get closer to August, the tomato plants are starting to produce along with everything else. We've had a tumbler offering somewhere between a grape and cherry tomato for a while now. This week, our red olive grape tomato plant is offering up some beautiful little fruits. They're sweet with a touch of tart and perfect for pasta. I would have liked to add more of these beauties to the pasta, however, the grape tomato monster (also known as the husband) likes to snack on the ripe ones out of the bowl I keep them in. I can't blame them, they're super tasty.

Angel hair pasta with grape tomatoes, garlic, and sausage

1/2 lb angel hair pasta (I used whole wheat)
3 links hot Italian sausage links, out of their casings (I use turkey, trying to be healthy here)
2 tbsp plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
1/4 chopped sweet onion (like vidalia)
5 cloves garlic, minced
grape tomatoes (or cherry, as many as you can put in there!)

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions, drain, set aside and keep warm. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan/skillet, add Italian sausage and brown, breaking up as you go along. Remove sausage to paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Over medium heat, add 1/4 cup olive oil. Add onion and garlic, and saute until fragrant and softened, about 3 minutes. Add cherry tomatoes, cook 1 minute. Add sausage back in and warm for about another minute. Add cooked pasta back in, salt and pepper to taste and toss until coated. Serve immediately. Serves 4-5.

 Ah squash blossoms. Hard to find, don't last long, but while they're here, oh-so-tasty. Luckily I'm growing zucchini and there's always plenty to go around so I'll grab some of the blossoms at least once a season to fry them up in a Virzi family favorite. I don't discriminate, male or female blossoms are fine. If you're wondering the difference, the female is attached to a growing zucchini, the male is just a flower attached to the stem. I get so many squash every year, and pick so few blossoms, I pick at random. Both, by the way, are edible. Wash them, dry them, and trim the stem up before you go ahead and fry them. Also, I read somewhere that needle nose pliers gets the pistil out well. It works and allows more room for whatever yummy cheese you stuff the blossom with. I winged this frying experience with various previous attempts in my head. This one was worthy enough to share with all of you.

Fried Squash Blossoms

15-20 squash blossoms
1 egg beaten lightly
1/4 bottle of beer (darker tastes better)
2 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flower
salt and pepper
enough small cubed monterey jack to fill your blossoms (ricotta works well here too)
vegetable oil

Wash, dry, trim, remove pistils of blossoms. Salt and pepper them. In a bowl, beat egg lightly, add 1/4 bottle of beer, the flour and a little more salt and pepper and whisk together. Stuff blossoms with cheese and dip in batter. Heat vegetable oil to frying temp (around 350 degrees or so) and dump blossoms in. Watch carefully and flip when they start to turn golden. Remove and put on paper-towel lined plate to catch the excess oil. Serve hot. Pin It

Monday, July 26, 2010

A new name for a new journey

Faithful readers - in an attempt to direct this blog and its mission I've decided to take the plunge and rename it to "Lighter and Local". The reasoning is simple; the "me" part of the previous title isn't really accurate anymore. I've turned more to celebrating the area in which I'm so very lucky to live. Those who are subscribed to the blog, nothing will be changed - http://thelightersideofme.blogspot.com still exists and will simply redirect you to the http://www.lighterandlocal.com

As always, thank you for reading and I can't wait to continue on this journey of buying, cooking, and living more locally! Pin It

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Using up the bluberries - Blueberry coffee cake

Two days later and I'm still munching on the blueberry coffee cake I whipped up on Thursday morning. I love this recipe because it's simple and can be pretty much adapted to any kind of fruit you have on hand. In this case, I had some leftover blueberries from Applecrest Farm from earlier in the week. You can either leave the top streusel-like or you can turn up the heat a bit and slightly caramelize it. Either way is yummy. Here's the link to the original recipe:

Apple-Cinnamon Coffee Cake Pin It

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Use your loot or what's for dinner?

One of my lovely readers asked me after my farmers' market post, once I get it all home, what the heck do I do with it? It happens to all of us. You get intoxicated by the iced chai, the colorful fruits and vegetables at the market, the farm, wherever. You get it home and the week whizzes by, you're busy, we all are. Suddenly it's trash day and you've gotten a whole lot of stuff you can't use. This is where menu planning becomes so huge. You don't have to plan to a tee, you don't have to make a huge production out of it. Just keep it in your head as you buy. Fruit can always be a snack or a garnish on cereal. Vegetables can be made into main course. Google your ingredients, see what comes up. The best part about fresh, local produce and herbs is that what you do can be simple, because the food simply tastes better.

So where has all my stuff gone this week so far? I've had several awesome sandwiches with the Vermont cheddar bread, the spinach-bacon spread from Tendercrop Farm, the lettuce and the cukes from Farmer Dave's. The blueberries from Applecrest (and most of the fruits I buy) go to snacks or smoothies for breakfast. The zucchini and summer squash will be grilled with olive oil and balsamic. And then there was today's lunch:

This was simple and frankly one of the best meals I've had in a while. The bourbon steak tips from Tendercrop Farm goes on the grill and then on the side, herb-tossed potatoes (potatoes from Heron Pond Farm). Potatoes that my husband can not get over or eat enough of.

Herb-Tossed Potatoes

20 new or red-skinned potatoes
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup various fresh herbs (I used chives, dill, oregano and parsley today)
1.5 tsp stone-ground mustard

Boil your potatoes until fork-tender, drain. Toss butter in to coat along with stone-ground mustard. Add fresh herbs last and toss to coat.

Simple, healthy, yummy. Pin It

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Eating locally without breaking the bank

Looks good doesn't it? What you see above is my takeaway from the Newburyport Farmers' Market for this week. Well, I lie, there were two cider donuts from Applecrest Farm in Hampton Falls, NH and my Sunday morning addiction to the iced chai from White Heron Tea of New Hampshire. Why, you may ask, do I constantly link you to all of these places and give them shout-outs by name? It's because they deserve it. These local farms, growers, and companies are fabulous. They work hard and should be supported so they stick around and continue to fuel my habits for their products. Yes, that's a tad selfish, but true.

So I armed myself with $20 and hit the market. I get my chai and cider donuts first and then move on with about $15 left for my produce. We only have a family of two humans plus two pugs (who get their own kibble cuisine) so you have to keep this in mind. I tend to do a full circle of the stands to see who has the best price on what I want for the week and then I do my shopping. Today it's lettuce from Farmer Dave's in Dracut, Ma that's my first stop. Their lettuce is crisp, tasty, and here's a secret about buying locally - because it's picked so close to the time you by it (no time spent on a truck) it lasts longer than the stuff you buy at the grocery store. I then pick up new potatoes and a slicing cucumber from Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, NH, and their booth. The blueberries (since I haven't braved the heat to go pick my own yet at a local farm) are from Applecrest as well. I finish off with zucchini and a summer squash from Wheelerbrook Farm in Georgetown, MA. No visit to the market would be complete without a stop-off at Savory Kitchen's tent for some bread or a sweet. Today's pick was sun-dried tomato, scallion and feta foccacia. I have to mention while all of this costs money, the conversation is free and priceless with all of these local vendors.

So that's my take for about $15 of local, fresh produce. Could I probably get it all for about $10 at the grocery store? Sure. Would it taste as good and prompt me to really use it up and get creative? No. This is supporting local people and local food. I like that. It makes me super happy to do so. One day, who knows, I could find myself being on that side of this whole situation.

So that's the produce, which will make up a chunk of most of my meals and snacks for the week. I've been shying away from local meats. Mostly, I admit, due to cost. However, I feel like I never did the research on it all. We have friends who buy almost all their meat from Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, MA, because, as they say, you can literally see the cows from Scotland Road. Now, that may be too much for some, but to me, you know where it's coming from. Not to mention, after sampling some of their meats at said friends' home - they're one-hundred times better than the grocery store's picks. So, after the farmers' market today I headed to Tendercrop to pick up some protein.

So for another $25 I got: Island Mango Chicken Breasts, Bourbon Steak Tips, Vermont Farm Cheddar Bread, an onion and a tub of their spinach, garlic, bacon dip (heaven). Yes, the meat would be cheaper at the grocery store, especially if on sale, but this stuff is seriously good.

So for about $45, my food shopping this week is about complete. I'll hit the grocery store for organic milk (so much better than regular, lasts longer too), bananas and that's about it - $5 or so of food there. I'll hit Fowles Market for some Boar's Head deli turkey ($4) and we'll be set for the week. If it doesn't seem like a lot of food, I'm definitely supplementing from our pantry and freezer for meals, but this is honestly the bulk of it.

I know it's only for two people, but I feel like about $55 for two, for the week, mostly local and fresh is a fairly good accomplishment. Eating local doesn't have to break the bank, especially when you think ahead and do the math. Pin It

Friday, July 16, 2010

Corn & Chive Risotto

I love risotto. I just don't like the ways a risotto can go terribly wrong. It will test your patience, your carpal tunnel syndrome, and your tastebuds. However, when you get it right, there's a little bit of giddiness that's hard to beat. You see, risotto isn't in itself, difficult to make. You have to be attentive and nurture it, stirring constantly to get that perfect al-dente, yet creamy texture.

This dish is inspired by the fabulous local ingredients I pick up all over the North Shore of Massachusetts.  The star in this dish is the fresh corn picked up at the Newburyport Farmers Market from Heron Pond Farms in South Hampton, NH. There's nothing like walking up to the barrels of corn and seeing a sign behind them stating, "picked at 4:30 this morning." That sign is why if you haven't started eating partially locally, or at least in the summer, you should. Food doesn't get better than that.

Playing a supporting, yet oh so important to the plot, role is the Farmhouse Jack I picked up from the West River Creamy from Londonderry, VT at the market. This creamy jack was a perfect addition to give this dish just the kick it needed right at the end.

The chives? Those are picked right out of our backyard patch and always tasty.

Without further ado...

Corn & Chive Risotto
Adapted from: Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers' Market


  • 2 or 3 ears of yellow corn, husks and silks
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leeks OR scallions (I used scallions)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 4 Tbs. basil oil (1/2 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup basil pureed in a blender, you'll only use half)
  • 1/2 cup monterey jack cheese, shredded


Strip each ear of corn using a sharp knife or a corn stripper. Set aside 1.5 cups of kernels.

In a dutch-oven over medium heat, melt the butter, add leaks or scallions, turn to coat. Cover and let soften for 5 minutes, making sure not to burn.

In a separate saucepan over medium heat, combine the chicken stock (I used low sodium/low fat) and water. Keep it hot, but not simmering.

Pump up heat under leeks or scallions to medium, add rice and cook, while stirring constantly until rice is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the hot liquid 1/2 cup at a time, stirring all the while, adding more ONLY when the liquid has been absorbed. Just keep an eye on the consistency. After 10 minutes, add the corn in. Keep adding the liquid until you reach the desired consistency (al-dente but creamy). I didn't use all the broth and it all took about 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and cheese, chives and basil oil. Stirring so it's all worked in.

I garnished it with slices of avocado (that was yummy!) and we got about 4 servings out of it. If you have leftovers, add a splash of chicken stock and warm gently and slowly on the stove and you'll be able to enjoy it all over again!
Pin It

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Time to "Lighten Up"!

I thought it was high-time I simplified and "lightened-up" my blog. It will be slowly changing over the coming weeks, design-wise. I want something that represents my commitment to simplicity these days. If you've read this oh-so-boring update, fear not. Risotto with Corn and Chives is soon heading your way. Pin It

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How does her garden grow?

See what's peeking out behind that leaf? It's truly something I wait all season to see. That, my friends, would be the reddening of my first tomato. It's an olive tomato; smaller than a cherry, larger than a grape variety. We've had a happy tumbler tomato plant that's been producing for over a month now, but it's in a hanging basket. This is the first close-to-edible tomato from the Bingham Family Garden Patch.

A labor of love, it most definitely is. I can't take most of the credit. It's my husband who turned and amended the soil. He waters most days, monitors for pests. I take the fruits of his labor and feed him when everything is ready for human consumption. Usually I start from seed, but this year I was still shaken by the awful blight that attacked the entire patch last summer, that I went with plants. The Herb Pharmacy in Salisbury was my choice. They're local, and they grow organic and their selection, it's fabulous. We planted late this year, so come August, we should see a whole lot of production. So what's in there? Here's a sample:

From left to right: Thai Round Eggplant and Dusky Eggplant; Pickling and Salad Cucumbers; Tomatoes [red olive, caspian pink, edalina, paul robeson]; and the herb patch [parsley, dill, sage, oregano]

Not pictured, but in there is zucchini and two Italian basils, a Thai hot pepper and a green sweet pepper.

I think I'm most excited for the Thai eggplant and Thai peppers. I'm thrilled to pair it with the Thai basil and see what I can whip up in one of my favorite cuisines.

Detox and Wellness Update 7/13:
 I know a lot of you have followed my detox and the subsequent results, so I felt the need to let you know how I'm doing since. I still feel a whole lot better. The energy has subsided a bit, but not entirely. I'm much more mindful about what I eat. I don't always need a starch (although my weakness still remains bread and pasta), when a good veggie will do. I've taken the detox and translated into different levels. I'm buying my produce almost entirely local and in-season right now. I'm planning on switching to locally raised meat as well. It really changed the way I look at food. I hope it continues. Pin It