What’s Cooking: I’m playing with my food again

Paris Market Mesclun, a gorgeous and delicious mix of lettuces, other greens and herbs, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my adventures with cooking and eating local food, not because I’ve stopped growing or eating local food. It’s the cooking part. After Richard died, my interest in preparing food deserted me. When I felt like eating, I ate well thanks to the deli at Ploughboy Local Market, but I rarely had the energy or creative drive to make my own meals.

Lately though, my enjoyment of playing with food (which is how I see preparing whatever is fresh and handy) is returning. I’m not back to where I was before, but I’m better. Maybe my renewed drive to create my own meals stems from summer’s approach and the revival of my organic kitchen garden, which despite this year’s serious drought, heat and wind, is now producing bountiful pickings of spring greens and herbs, strawberries, and asparagus.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting used to cooking for one–one whose appetite varies widely depending on whether I’ve managed to find middle gear for the day, or whether I’ve run fast and hard and my energy has crashed. In the former case, playing with and eating food seems like fun; in the latter, neither the playing nor the eating are worth the effort.

Yogurt cheese, a soft, spreadable and tangy cheese that’s much tastier–and healthier–than cream cheese

Whatever the reason, this week I made the first batch of yogurt since last November, and when I lifted the jar out of the water bath and scooped up a thick, creamy and tangy spoonful, I wondered how I could have forgotten how delicious it was. From there, it was an easy project to make a pint of my favorite yogurt cheese, and then I was off and running.

Friends had invited me over for dinner, so I used the yogurt cheese to invent a new dessert: Stuffed Plums Go Ginger and Chocolate. It’s pretty simple, if you have a source of sweet dried plums (you could use prunes or dried apricots, but if you can find sweet dried plums, you’ll be glad you did).

Dried plum topped with ginger yogurt cheese and a toasted pecan half

Stuffed Plums Go Ginger and Chocolate

26 dried plum halves or whole prunes split down one side and flattened
1/2 cup yogurt cheese
1-1/2 T Mayan cocoa (cocoa with ground red chiles and cinnamon)
2 tsp fresh-ground ginger
4 tsp sugar
26 pecan halves, toasted

Divide yogurt cheese between two bowls. Mix Mayan cocoa into cheese in one bowl, adding 2 tsp sugar to sweeten. Mix ginger into cheese in other bowl, adding remaining 2 tsp sugar. Turn plum halves pit side up (make sure none have pits!) and flatten. Using a small spoon, put a dollop of one kind of cheese on each plum half, making sure to cover the fruit. Fill half the plums with the cocoa cheese and half with the ginger cheese. Press a pecan into the cheese on each plum. Arrange plum halves on a platter, serve, and enjoy the contrast between the two flavors of dessert cheese! (Serves six for dessert)

Here’s another easy recipe using yogurt cheese.

Pesto Quesadillas

8 corn tortillas (fresh ones are best)
1/2 cup yogurt cheese
1/4 cup pesto

Spread yogurt cheese on each tortilla, and then add a dollop of pesto and swirl it into the yogurt cheese. Arrange tortillas, yogurt cheese side up, on baking sheets; broil for two to three minutes, or until cheese mix is bubbling and has begun to turn golden at the edges. Remove from the oven, cool, fold in half, and serve. Yum!

A yogurt cheese and pesto quesadilla with a tossed salad from the kitchen garden

I ate my quesadilla with a simple tossed salad of mesclun picked from the garden (thank you, Renee’s Garden, for the “Paris Market” mesclun mix!), dressed with lemon-infused olive oil and red wine vinegar, and topped with dried cherries, a chopped hard-boiled egg (uber-local, thanks to friends Maggie and Tony’s chickens) and toasted slivered almonds.

It looks like my yen to cook is coming back. Not every day, but often enough that it feels good. I take that as a sign that I’m finding my rhythm in this new and unplanned-for role of Woman Alone. I hope Richard is smiling about that.