Thursday, January 28, 2010

School Gardens - Why the Controversy?

The topic of school gardens has been on my mind for the past week. For those of you who don't know much about the school garden curriculum, it really varies from school to school. In general, it's a program in which the participating schools use gardening as an educational tool. Students are learning to not only grow and cook their own food; they're learning math, science, and history in the process.

Alice Waters is credited with initiating the school garden curriculum through The Edible Schoolyard, a program within the Chez Panisse Foundation . I seriously encourage you to check out these websites, because they explain everything so much better than I ever could.


Anyway, the reason behind this entry is that the topic came up in class last week, and my professor isn't a fan of the concept at all. In his eyes, teaching kids to garden and cook is a step backwards. The way he sees it, students should be learning math and science, not "how to be farmers."

I completely disagree. As Americans we have become so detached from our food. Kids today don't know that vegetables should come from the ground covered in dirt. We are more comfortable eating a fast food hamburger (containing up to 100 different factory-farmed, corn-dependent cows from all over the US) than an animal that was killed in its natural habitat. We just don't have that connection with our food anymore. In fact, many of us try as hard as we can to avoid that connection. We adopt the "ignorance is bliss" mentality. We eat what's in front of us without really thinking about it or, more importantly, appreciating it.

I think the the concept behind school gardens is awesome, and I really hope more and more schools begin adopting programs like this. This is far from a step backwards- it's a step toward conscientious, grateful eating. For those of you in Tallahassee who want to know more about local school and community gardens and how to get involved, check out The Damayan Garden Project.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Orzo Salad with Cranberries and Basil

Okay, the name of this dish is pretty self-explanitory. It may seem a little strange, but it's seriously SO good! The juicy cranberries, tangy vinaigrette, sweet basil, and spicy pepper combine to create a really well-balanced dish. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

  • 4 oz. orzo pasta
  • 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 medium-sized fresh basil leaves
1. Cook the orzo in salted boiling water until al dente (done, but not mushy).

2. While the orzo is cooking, chiffonade the basil by stacking the leaves, rolling them up like a cigar, and slicing it to create long strips.


3. Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You just made a vinaigrette!)


4. When the orzo is done, drain the pasta, but do not rinse it! You want to keep the starch on the pasta, that way the vinaigrette will adhere to it better.

5. While the orzo is still hot, add the basil, dried cranberries, and dressing. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  • Always salt your water before cooking pasta. This is the only way to really season the pasta, and not just the sauce. In order to have a well-seasoned dish, you have to season every layer.
  • Some people don't like to cut basil because it bruises the leaves, and if you're one of those people, tear away. It'll still taste delicious.
  • No matter what you've heard, NEVER add oil to your pasta water. It will keep the sauce from sticking.
  • I added a lot of freshly ground black pepper at the end, and i'd suggest doing the same. The bite of the pepper really adds an important pop to the dish.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pasta-Free Eggplant Lasagna

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 large egg
1. Slice the eggplant about a quarter of an inch. You can do it lengthwise, and probably have a nicer looking dish, but this method's easier for those of us who don't have a mandolin.


2. Arrange the eggplant slices on an oiled sheet pan. Drizzle a little olive oil over each slice and season with sea salt and FRESHLY GROUND pepper (none of that powdery stuff!) It'll probably take two to three sheet pans to get the job done.

3. Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes. The eggplant should be slightly tender, but definitely not mushy. It will continue cooking in the lasagna.


4. While the eggplant is roasting, prepare the cheese mixture. Mix the ricotta, parmesan and HALF of the mozzarella. Reserve the other half. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Beat one egg until fluffy and fold into the cheese mixture.

6. After the eggplant is done roasting, start building the lasagna the same way you would a typical lasagna. Sauce, eggplant, cheese mixture, sauce, etc. I used a small Pyrex dish, about 9x5, so I fit in four layers. On the top layer, make sure to use a heavier amount of sauce, and top with the remaining mozzarella.

7. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes at 350. Let the dish rest for at least 30 minutes after cooking. Otherwise you'll end up with a watery mess.


The final result is not the prettiest thing in the world, but it's delicious!

  • If I were to make this dish again (which is highly likely, because it was so good!) I would definitely use full-fat ricotta cheese, and maybe even some cream. I used part-skim and it was more watery than I would have liked it to be. I think making these changes will help make sure the ricotta layer sets up more.
  • I went really heavy on the marinara, because that's what I like. If you don't like a lot of sauce, use 1 cup instead.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Very First Entry

Well, this is my blog. How neat! I'm so excited to start this new adventure. First off, I know the template is very plain. I'm working on trying to figure this whole blogging thing out before getting fancy.

I suppose I should explain the reason behind all this. This year, I plan to try out at least one new recipe each week. It could be a recipe that I've found, one that was inspired by another recipe, or one that is entirely my own. Regardless, I'll cook a dish, take a photo, include the recipe, and write about it.

The whole reason behind this blog is that I am passionate about food. I hope that maybe you can gain a little something from this, but more than anything, I hope that I gain something from this. I want to challenge myself to grow in culinary knowledge, technique, and familiarity with ingredients (especially local ones).

In between the weekly recipes I will write. Something. Anything. I don't know what. But I hope that it's something you will enjoy and I will too.