Author Archive | Alex Brake

A Lot on My Plate – You Are My Sunchoke

Sunchoke and Spinach Soup

  • 3 ½ cups scrubbed and peeled sunchokes, cut into 1-inch pieces [Tuscarora Mountain Farm, Spring Run, PA]
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces [Porter Farm, Elba, NY]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh thyme for garnish

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. While it’s heating up, clean and cut your sunchokes and onion. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sunchokes, onion, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of oil and a couple pinches of salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sunchokes are fork-tender.

In a medium pot, combine the roasted vegetables, spinach, milk, broth, and a couple more pinches of salt. Bring to a low boil and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the sunchokes are easily squashed with a fork. Transfer to a food processor and blend until creamy, adding salt to taste. Top your bowl with the fresh thyme, parmesan cheese, maybe some caramelized onions, and/or your favorite bready croutons.


(Now that my camera itself has improved, I clearly have some work to do in the composition department…)

So despite a number of unexpected developments and adventures with this recipe, it somehow still tasted sweet, nutty, and delicious. The original recipe didn’t use spinach, but I had some hanging around and figured a little greens never hurt anyone. I neglected to change the amount of liquids I added, so I ended up with more like a hot veggie smoothie than a creamy soup. I’d also never actually used my food processor before, so I wasn’t quite sure how to go about that. BUT somehow it still all worked out and was pretty tasty!

I’d also never even seen, let alone cooked or eaten, a sunchoke before. But I can tell you for sure I will be again! Not only are they actually really amazing for you, but they’re much sweeter and tastier than I was expecting. When I got them in my bag I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, but that was part of my plan when I signed up with 4P Foods, I wanted to break out of my cooking comfort zone a little and check out some new vegetables. And this was my chance! Most of the recipes I initially found for sunchokes (or Jerusalem Artichokes) were just plain roasted, but I always find those recipes a little boring and better for side dishes. But since I’m a vegetarian (and a working adult) I don’t always have time or means to make a full side-dish + main-dish setup. So I looked around and found this interesting recipe for soup. I’d just gotten my new food processor, so it all seemed ready to work out! And boy, did it. I’m definitely a sunchoke convert now! Some fun nutritional facts about these funny-looking tubers is that they’re a great source of dietary fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and minerals like potassium.

A Lot on My Plate – Build Me Up Butternut

[Sorry about the hiatus, friends! Here’s something to warm you up after the snow!]

Butternut Squash, Purple Carrot & Broccoli Bowl with Chipotle Almond Sauce

For the Bowl:

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste (I substituted 1 tablespoon combined of tomato paste and soy sauce, because miso paste is hard to find)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons water


Start by peeling and dicing your squash. I didn’t peel my carrot because it was just so beautiful, but be sure you give it a good wash. I chopped mine pretty roughly into ½ inch cubes, but I left some of them a range of sizes so that I’d get different textures in my final bowl. Also because I’m not very good at dicing things. You could say it got a little bit dicey… Anyway, toss the squash and carrots with the oil, salt, and herbs. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes, until the medium-sized pieces are tender (the larger pieces will be a little less tender, but the smaller pieces a little more so, so try to find the middle ground).

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and steam over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender.

To make the sauce, whisk everything together until smooth, adding as much or as little water as you like (I put mine in the microwave for a few seconds first, to make it easier to blend by hand).

Once the squash and carrots are done baking, the broccoli is steamed, and the sauce is blended, toss everything into a bowl with your quinoa or rice (I was in a rice mood), sprinkle with sesame seeds, and enjoy!


To be honest, most of what inspired me to make this recipe from This Rawsome Vegan Life was its vibrant colors (also why I added the purple carrot). It turned out to be so much more than just a pretty face! The veggies were delicious and the sauce really set them off. It was also so much easier than I expected. The hardest part, really, was peeling the squash and adding the carrot a minute late because I forgot about it at first. You need to set aside a little extra time because it does take a while for squash to bake, but without the carrots you could cut small cubes and cook them for a shorter time. The sauce is well worth the 60 seconds or so it takes to mix. I also got a chance to enjoy one of my value-added winter items from 4P Foods, an awesome glass of iced tea from Runningbyrd Tea Company. On the label is this adorable story about the owners’ childhoods in Georgia, where they’d sip tea on front porches and climb trees and generally enjoy a perfect southern summer. Granted, I was almost as far from that story as you could possibly be, but it made for a nice thought while I enjoyed my cold-weather treat.

I’ve got a few posts backed up to share with everyone, so stay tuned for more delicious wintry adventures. (As an added note, I got a new camera (read: phone), so once I get caught up I’ll have slightly more impressive pictures for you!)

A Lot on My Plate – Paint Me a Rosemary Picture

Creamy Mushroom, White Bean & Rosemary Soup with Rosemary & Sea Salt Flatbread


  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2-2 ¼ cups flour
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped [Shenandoah Herbs, Harrisonburg, VA]
  • Coarse sea salt, for topping (I used regular kosher salt, since I don’t mind if it isn’t that pretty)


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3-4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped [Van Dessel Farms, Accomack, VA]
  • 3-4 cups white mushrooms, sliced [Country Fresh Co-Op, Toughkenamon, PA]
  • ½ teaspoon sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 30 ounces (two 15-ounce cans) white beans
  • 5-5 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary [Shenandoah Herbs, Harrisonburg, VA]
  • Dash of allspice
  • ½ cup half and half

This one is going to be a little more complicated/energy-intensive than some of the other recipes. Get ready!

First, prepare your flatbread dough. The original recipe used pre-packaged pizza dough, but I like to be hardcore and whipped up a batch of pizza dough myself. To do that, add water, yeast, and sugar to a medium-sized bowl. Stir and then let proof for about 5 minutes. Then, add salt, honey, and about 1 ¼ cup of flour. Start mixing, and add the remaining flour ¼ cup at a time, until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands and the flour is well-incorporated into the dough (make sure you don’t have any especially wet or especially floury parts). Form into a ball and knead several times. Place the kneaded ball into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise (probably for 30 minutes or so).

While your dough is rising, start preparing your soup. In a large pot, add a few tablespoons of oil and start cooking the onions. I prefer mine a little bit caramelized, so I cooked them on a higher heat for a little longer, but feel free to adjust to however you like your onions prepared. Then, add carrots, celery, and mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, and sage. I also added about a teaspoon of Vegetable Spice (thanks Von Brake Spices/Dad!). Add a little more oil and let cook until the celery has softened (about 5 or 10 minutes). Once the veggies are cooked to your preference, add the garlic and flour. Stir to coat everything in the flour and let it cook for a few minutes.* Add the broth, beans, and rosemary (I would suggest putting the rosemary in some kind of satchet when you add it to the soup, since I ended up with lots of little rosemary needles floating around that weren’t super appetizing, but quite flavorful). Turn the heat to high, and let the soup come to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add a dash or two of allspice, reduce the heat to medium-low (for a low boil) and let cook for about 10 minutes.** Once the soup has thickened, slowly stir in half and half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

* Since I didn’t prep my veggies ahead of time, I completed this step while my dough was proofing. It took about 20 or 30 minutes (though I could have let it go a touch longer). Then, while everything was cooking, I started rolling out my pizza dough. This part is reasonably subjective, but I’d say I rolled mine out to ¼-inch thick (closer to ½-inch in some places, since I’m not excellent with the rolling pin). Cut into roughly equal pieces.

** Once I had everything cut, it was time to add the broth and such to the soup, so I let everything sit for a few minutes while I did that and brought the soup to a boil before going back to the flatbread. When you’re ready, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a fairly deep saucepan or skillet over high heat. Once the oil is easy to swirl all the way around the pan, add 3-4 pieces of dough to the hot oil. Cook until the bottom is golden-brown (about a minute per side). Use a spatula to flip, and press down on the dough with the spatula to evenly brown and prevent the dough bubbling. Remove the bread immediately after each side is cooked, and sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt. (I like to pat mine lightly with a paper towel to remove any excess oil.) Serve warm alongside your soup!


Although it seems like this recipe has a whole lot of ingredients and steps, it’s still pretty simple to make. (And completely worth it!) Rosemary has to be one of my favorite flavors, so I was really excited to see some fresh rosemary in my final produce bag of 2015. Usually I try to use herbs I grow myself (stay tuned for some pesto in the future, since my basil is getting out of control and I now have three separate pots of oregano!), but my rosemary is still too young to be used for a big recipe. But thanks to the 4P Foods newsletter and Pinterest Board, I found a few awesome recipes to use my fully-grown sprigs from Shenandoah Herbs. I also used the official last of my Van Dessel carrots! (Fortunately I’m expecting some purple carrots from Second Spring Farm in Wheatland, VA, this week, so I won’t have to go too long without any carrots in my fridge.) I was also really interested in the white mushrooms from Country Fresh Co-Op. I’m a sucker for mushrooms of all kinds, and the fresher the better! I ended up using every last one in my soup, despite the original recipe calling for only 8 ounces. But it was fully a good choice, and they made for a hearty and comforting winter soup!

The soup recipe was lightly adapted from this recipe from Amanda K. by the Bay. The flatbread was a bit of a portmanteau of this pizza dough recipe and this recipe using packaged pizza dough. I had actually used the same dough recipe the previous night for an awesome BBQ Chickpea Pizza from Yup, It’s Vegan, and decided to practice my pizza dough-ing skills with a slightly different style. The dough ended up puffing up a lot in the pan (partly because I don’t think I had proofed it enough and partly because I wasn’t paying enough attention) but made for fluffy and delicious bread. Don’t let the “made from scratch” idea fool you – making the dough was incredibly easy, cheap, and delicious! All of these recipes make much more than necessary for one person in one night, but I’ve been enjoying soup and flatbread for lunch and as a side to my subsequent dinner(s), and they both reheat very well. If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can always freeze the dough and/or soup to have later!

I can’t imagine doing that, though, because I’ll probably just make another version as soon as this one is gone. I defy you to think of something more comforting in the cold than soup and warm bread!

A Lot on My Plate – It’d Be Sweet If You Collard Me Back, Potato

OK, so I’m stretching it a little bit with the puns today. Whatever.

BBQ Pulled Sweet Potato Sandwiches With Collard Green Coleslaw

Coleslaw (Make this first)

BBQ Pulled Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 medium sweet potato (enough to make about 2-2 ½ cups shredded) [The Farm at Sunnyside, Washington, VA]
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle BBQ sauce, but I hope eventually to make my own)
  • Toasted hamburger buns or other bread (or even try quinoa for a smoky BBQ quinoa bowl!)

The most work you’re going to have to do for this recipe is the prep time. Start by shredding your collard greens (just cutting them into thin coleslaw-length strips). Once shredded, place the greens in a large bowl and add your salt. Using your hands, “massage” the greens for a minute or two. This helps to soften them and help them taste sweeter, while the salt draws out some of the moisture. If there’s a lot of liquid in the bottom of the bowl you should drain it, but I only had a bit so I left it for the slaw. Once your greens are relaxed from that massage, shred your carrot and apple. For this I just used a regular grater, since it was reasonably quick and would also get some of the juices flowing. I put the shredded apple and carrot in a separate bowl with the ginger and lemon juice. Add the vinegar and mayonnaise to the greens, mix well, and then add the apple and carrot. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Break that grater back out, because you’re going to need it for the potato. If you end up with a little more or less than 2 or 2 ½ cups, just adjust the BBQ sauce a little (feel free also to adjust it if you like extra BBQ flavor or more prominent sweet potato flavor). Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the sweet potato. Stir to distribute the oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sweet potato has started to brown, add the BBQ sauce and stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I cook mine to the 10 minutes or less end of that, since I like my potatoes a little al dente and I get too excited to wait anymore.)

While the potatoes are cooking, toast your buns. Serve with coleslaw and enjoy!

NOTE: I find that, while delicious, this dish isn’t particularly filling. So my suggestion is to load up your sandwich with lots of potatoes, or plan on eating two. I actually experimented a little this time and made one (small) sandwich and one (smaller) quinoa bowl, which filled me up nicely (and left ¾ of a portion for lunch). If you’re making this for more than two people, I would suggest using lots more potatoes.

Collard Me Back

These sweet potatoes, from Yup, It’s Vegan are probably one of my favorite things to make. In fact, as soon as I saw that I was getting sweet potatoes in my bag, I started planning to make it. These certified organic potatoes from [the Farm at Sunnyside] perfectly satisfied my craving. They were probably some of the best-looking potatoes I’ve seen (I only used half of a large potato for this recipe, since I’m saving the other potato-and-a-half for something special) and they made an excellent sandwich.

I also got an awesome chance to use a ton of 4P ingredients for the coleslaw! I’ve been working on my traditional coleslaw recipe for a while, but this collard green version proves that traditional coleslaw is overrated. Not only was this combination remarkably attractive, it worked well as a whole. Never having tried collard greens before, I was a little nervous, but I can say with confidence that they work really well! Juicier than a similar dark green like kale would be, but more flavorful (and better for you) than just cabbage. I added the fresh ginger on a little bit of a whim, since it’s hard for me to think of something that wouldn’t go very well with ginger. It worked well, and was just the right amount. It came through in the slaw without making the whole thing taste overwhelmingly of ginger. Part of that strength of flavor could be a result of the quality and freshness, since even just after grating it my whole kitchen smelled like fresh ginger.

Not only is this healthy and delicious recipe vegetarian (one easily made totally vegan), if you switch out the bread for quinoa it’s also gluten-free! This has quickly become one of my favorite quick dinners and hopefully it’ll become the same for you!

A Lot on My Plate – I’m Nacho Friend (Can’t We Just Taco ‘Bout It?)

Sweet Potato and Acorn Squash “Nachos”

  • 1 Covington sweet potato [Scott Farms, Lucama, MD]
  • ½ acorn squash [Leone Farm, Vineland, NJ]
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-1 ½ teaspoon Southwest Seasoning [Von Brake Spices, Deep River, CT]
  • ¾ cup refried beans
  • ½ cup black beans
  • 2-3 tablespoons salsa (I used black bean and corn salsa, because that’s what was in the fridge)
  • ½-1 cup shredded cheese (I like to use the ready-made Mexican blends, but not a Taco blend, because that usually already has spices in it and I’m not crazy about that)
  • Some lime juice
  • (I could have diced up a hothouse tomato from Hummingbird Farm in Ridgley, MD, but I don’t like tomatoes and probably should have opted out of that one this week…)

Preheat the oven to 350°. While the oven is preheating, slice up your sweet potatoes and squash into wedge shapes. You should almost definitely peel your acorn squash (you can also take the skin off once it’s cooked, but I didn’t want to deal with the hot vegetable/potential burn situation). I did not peel my sweet potato, because I read on the internet that it’s healthier, and it’s hard enough to peel squash without adding extra work. To peel the squash, I sliced it into wedges first (conveniently outlined by the ridged shape of an acorn squash), then peeled the wedges. This may not have been the best way to do it, but I don’t feel quite confident enough in my peeling ability to do it any other way.

Once your squash and sweet potato are sliced, toss them with some olive oil and seasoning. Lay them out on a baking sheet (covered in parchment or one of those nonstick mats) and set the timer for 30-40 minutes (the exact time can vary depending on how thinly you sliced them).

Watch a 20-minute TV show or catch up on the day’s news. (Actually, don’t catch up on the news. It’s grim and often frustrating. So if you’re at a loss for a 20-minute show to watch then read a short story or start knitting a hat or meditate or call your mother, really anything but catch up on the news.) Halfway through roasting, flip your wedges. Once the wedges are flipped, get your topping ready. Pour the refried beans, black beans, and salsa into a saucepan and heat. This step isn’t integral to the character of the nachos, but I like sneaking bites of bean dip and making sure all of these ingredients are well-mixed and thoroughly warm once they’re atop the wedges.

With about 5-7 minutes left on the timer, pull out the baking sheet and push the wedges together into a rough pile. Try to keep them from overlapping too much, but ideally there won’t be too much space between wedges for bean topping to slip through and get lonely at the bottom. Pour the bean topping over the wedges and top with a generous portion of cheese. Let the “nachos” bake for those last 5 minutes while the cheese melts.

Take it all out of the oven and top with some lime juice, tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, really whatever you like on your actual nachos.

12375033_476465882533336_7958690839305136777_o[I was too hungry and excited to take a picture of the actual nachos, so here’s a picture of my produce bag, thanks to 4P Foods. This week I got:

  • Acorn Squash – Leone Farm, Vineland, NJ
  • Bibb Lettuce – Fresh2o, Stevensburg, VA
  • Bunched Spinach – Ploch Farms, Vineland, NJ
  • Covington Sweet Potatoes – Scott Farms, Lucama, MD
  • Hot House Tomatoes – Hummingbird Farm, Ridgley, MD
  • Kimchi – No. 1 Sons, Arlington, VA
  • Satsumas (Bonnie’s favorite) – Uncle Matt’s Organics, Clermont, FL
  • Winesap & Fuji Apples – Crown Orchards, Albermarle, VA
  • Yellow Ginger – Indian Valley Farms, Floyd, VA

So look forward to seeing some of these things in future posts!]

I’d like to preface the narrative portion of this post by describing the existential situation these “nachos” brought to my dinner table. The question comes down to what, exactly, is the distinguishing feature of a nacho? Is it the preparation (a base, perhaps a starchy base, layered with a topping, baked and perhaps eaten with the hands)? Or is it the ingredients, namely, the chip? Clearly, I am a subscriber to the former – I believe a nacho is a nacho because of how it is made, rather than from what it is made. A number of people would argue the contrary – that a nacho’s essential nacho-ness is based on the tortilla chip, and that even a single chip paired with a hot and cheesy dip would qualify as a nacho (while this dish would not). As much as it pains me to admit, the history of the nacho has perhaps proven me wrong. I maintain a philosophical sense of correctness, that the identity of a nacho should be left open for evolution and development as it proceeds from exclusively pub fare into the wider world. That being said, the original nacho was essentially a Mexican chef struggling to get rid of a few hungry gringos who wandered in at closing time, offering them the only things he had on hand: tortillas and cheese. “This is great!” The gringos told him, “What’s it called?” The flustered chef replied, “Uhh… Nachos Especiales!” And so he created a dish that, 60 years later, would cause some other gringo (gringa? Am I a gringa? Is that a thing?) to have a philosophical debate over the Platonic nature of a nacho-qua-nacho. And yes, you’re welcome for bringing that conundrum to your day. And that’s why I’ve scare-quoted every instance of “nachos” in reference to my spicy, bean-topped squash and potato wedges, even though a pretty important part of my profession is to know how to use quotation marks properly.

So while my local veggies made some beautiful “nachos,” their farms of origin seem to be off the grid, so I have to enjoy their quality without investing myself in the biographies of their associated humans. (I swear, the Fresh2o lettuce really tastes better when I can think about the Fresh2o people!) My produce, however, was not the only “locally” sourced ingredient in this meal. I say scare-quote-local because Connecticut is not really local to DelMarVa, but is quite local to my heart. In fact, the Southwest Grilling spice I used for these spicy wedges was made by my very own Dad! Southwest is one of my favorite of his VonBrake blends, but you should check them all out for yourself (and my aunt Jen (but a different Jen than the Clean Fairfax Director…) has made up a pretty beautiful website to feature them). All of these blends are low- or no-salt, all-natural, and hand-blended (in my parents’ kitchen). Although I obviously need to submit a conflict of interest here, all the blends are amazing and make my nacho (and anything) spicing so much easier.

So regardless of their nacho-ness, these spicy, bean-topped wedges were hearty and delicious. To give credit where credit is due, I combined this recipe for acorn squash “fries” with this recipe for black bean and potato “nachos,” but it wouldn’t be my dinner if I hadn’t mostly made it up as I went along. In future iterations, it certainly wouldn’t be hurt by adding some guac, sour cream, or I mean actual chips wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

And don’t worry, I have big plans for the second half of the squash and the rest of those sweet potatoes. We’ll see what I can do with the tomatoes. (As a sidenote, I did finally make Morning Glory Muffins. But I tried throwing in some whole wheat flour for my health and chocolate chips for my taste buds, and ended up throwing off the muffins in some weird direction…)

A Lot on My Plate – Grilled Cheese Can’t Be Beet (But It Is)

Roasted Beet, Watercress, and Ricotta Grilled Cheese

  • 1 Beet [Van Dessel Farm, Accomack, VA]
  • Just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Some fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Some Ricotta cheese
  • A handful of watercress [Mock’s Farm, Berkeley Springs, WV]

Before you start grilling any cheese, peel, slice, and roast your beet. I sliced mine fairly thin (so that it would easily fit into a sandwich and to make it roast a little faster). Toss it in a small bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, then set it out on a baking sheet and roast at 375° for 20 minutes or so (depending on how thinly you sliced your beet), and flipping halfway through. Since I completed this step in characteristically un-scientific fashion, I would suggest keeping a close eye on your roasting beet to make sure you don’t overcook it.

While the beet is roasting, you can prep your cheese. I used one of those big balls of fresh mozzarella, so I sliced it in vaguely sandwich-like shapes and thicknesses. Make sure your watercress is cleaned and any particularly stemmy parts are removed. I brought my ricotta up to room temperature so that it would be easier to spread.

Now, I’m going to tell you the secret to a fantastic grilled cheese. Prepare yourself. Ready? Okay. My great secret is that you should grill both sides of the bread. So before you’re ready to throw the cheese on, butter one side and just grill it lightly, keeping the heat at a medium level. Once you get a nice golden brown toast on that side of the bread, flip it. Then pile your cheese and fillings onto the toasted side. I do this for all of my grilled cheeses, from last-minute, bottom-of-the-cheese-drawer concoctions to blog features.

Once your beet is roasted and your bread is inside-toasted, spread some ricotta on both sides of the bread, keeping the heat pretty low to prevent burning the outside of the bread. Then put the sliced beet on one side and the watercress on the other (I used a whole bunch of watercress, because it’s very nutrient-dense and I have no idea how else to use it). Then put a (thin) slice of mozzarella on each side, wait for everything to heat up a bit, and slap em together. Press down on your sandwich with a spatula to help everything melt together before flipping. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious with it, throw some grated (fresh) parmesan on the pan when you flip the sandwich, and you’ll end up with a nice extra-cheesy crust. Grill over medium heat until your sandwich is a nice golden brown color (but really it’ll be up to how you like it, mine is a little extra-toasty and on honey wheat bread so it’s darker than you might want).

Grilled Cheese

This recipe was inspired by this beet, arugula, and goat cheese grilled cheese. I figured that watercress and arugula share that peppery flavor, balanced out by the sweetness of roasted beets and a creamy cheese (and I love ricotta on anything). Of course his pictures are about 1,000 times better than mine, but I’d argue that my grilled cheese is better because of the aforementioned secret. Plus I make a lot of grilled cheeses with a lot of not-cheese stuff in them. One of my personal favorites was my BLT grilled cheese, with bacon, arugula, tomato, and provolone. I also did pretty well with a pulled-pork grilled cheese using provolone (I think) and my roommate Natalie’s leftover dinner. (I think she had left for vacation or something? I’m hoping she didn’t miss it and hasn’t been pining after it for the last year or so, only to discover it in this way.) There’s a lot of experimenting that can be done in the grilled cheese department, and now that you have my secret, you’re duty-bound to innovate and report back to me what kinds of things you stick in between your dual-toasted breads.

One of the great things about this recipe (and any grilled cheese, even the ambitious ones) is that it proves how easy it can be to include fresh, healthy ingredients without going through a series of meltdowns or pre-roasting carrots and quinoa. Beets and watercress are both really nutrient-dense (not to mention tasty) and are both easy ways to spice up a quick weeknight meal. Plus, they came from my good friends at Van Dessel Farms (or at least, I feel like we’re old friends, since I’ve been enjoying the fruits (vegetables…?) of their labor for the last two weeks) and new friends at Mock’s Farm in West Virginia (they also grow CHRISTMAS TREES! But I don’t think I’ll be seeing one of those in my 4P bag any time soon).

As an added bonus, here’s a poem dedicated to Natalie:

“This Is Just to Say”

I have eaten
the leftovers
that were in
the fridge

And that
you were probably
for lunch.

Forgive me
they were delicious
and made a wonderful
grilled cheese.

A Lot on My Plate – The Great Silver Spring Baking Show

Grapefruit Cornmeal Cake


  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus more for greasing)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal [from Woodson’s Mill, Lowesville, VA]
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest plus 1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice [from Paramont Citrus Farm, Clermont, FL]


  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 ½ or 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with buttered parchment paper. (I used a springform pan because it’s all I have in the cake pan department, so I just buttered the bottom of that and called it a day.) In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk the melted butter with the eggs, grapefruit zest, and grapefruit juice. While whisking constantly, add the butter mixture to the flour mixture in a slow, steady stream. Whisk until well blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp paring knife around the edge of the cake, then invert it onto the rack. Peel off the parchment paper. (Or, in my case, run a paring knife around the edge and pop off the bottom of the pan, then struggle a little to get the cake off.) Flip the cake right side up and set the rack over a baking sheet. Let cool until warm, about 30 minutes. (Don’t underestimate the importance of that “let cool” step. Trust me.)

Meanwhile, make the glaze in a medium bowl. First, mix the confectioners’ sugar and poppy seeds. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the grapefruit juice until a smooth, thick glaze forms. Pour the glaze all over the top of the warm cake and spread evenly over the top and side. Let stand until set, about 30 minutes.


For this recipe, inspired by (well, almost completely identical to) this one, I focused on one of my “Value-Added” CSA goodies: stone-ground cornmeal from Woodson’s Mill in Lowesville, VA. Woodson’s looks like an awfully neat place – picture any standard old mill from those historic villages you went to as a kid (I’m thinking Sturbridge Village, naturally, but I’m sure my DelMarVa friends are thinking Colonial Williamsburg or some other quaint southern place). The mill was built in 1794, and while it hasn’t been running continuously since then, all of the old equipment and machinery was refurbished in the 1980’s. They grind small batches of their product by hand, using a water-powered stone mill. You should seriously visit their website and check out the pictures, it really is something else. And their cornmeal is amazing. Now, I never thought I’d say that about cornmeal, because the word itself is kind of gross, but compared to the storebought stuff made in huge batches and shipped all over, there’s definitely a significant and noticeable difference. Plus it comes in this nice little brown resealable bag.

Although I had a couple of grapefruits in my bag, I did not use them to make the fresh grapefruit juice for this recipe. I did use them for the zest, but I wanted to hold onto my grapefruits for breakfasts or desserts later. That still may be kind of surprising since – “But citrus isn’t local?!” That’s true, conventionally it’s not, but 4P adds citrus fruits from sustainable farms in Florida to keep its winter bags from being overwhelmingly filled with squash, potatoes, greenhouse lettuce/tomatoes, and (gross) radishes every week. I certainly don’t mind, because I LOVE grapefruits. But I feel even better about it after reading that blog post above, since it’s clear that the organization puts a ton of effort into picking the right farms for the right citrus and transporting it in a responsible way. (To keep their carbon footprint down, they actually send a truck down to Florida already full of Virginia apples to be sold down there, so that they aren’t wasting an entire trip with an empty truck.)

To finish off this recipe, I had to overcome my lifelong fear of poppy seeds. They’re just so small and black and just waiting to fit themselves in between your teeth and make your day both embarrassing and uncomfortable. I’ve always kind of seen them as instruments of evil… But, for the sake of the recipe, I took the leap and added the poppy seeds. I can happily report that (for the most part) I’ve moved past my fear! The seeds were definitely important to the glaze and added a nice texture and flavor. That being said, the original recipe called for a quarter cup and that was WAY TOO MANY. No meltdown in this recipe, fortunately, but poppy seeds EVERYWHERE. So I lessened the amount in this version to account for potential partners in the phobia.

Speaking of changing amounts, I also added more grapefruit juice than required in the original, because there is no such thing as too much grapefruit. I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show lately (including in the background while I made this cake) and decided that I’d gained enough baking experience from that and knew exactly what the cake would need. I’d say on a scale from staying at a Holiday Inn to being a professional pastry chef, my expertise was at a solid low-middle. But it still worked! I would totally impress those Brits with my floury finesse.

Overall I think it went swimmingly. Well, except for the part where I skipped the “let the cake cool for 30 minutes,” and ended up literally swimming in poppy seed glaze. That step is important. (It happened to the finalists on the show, too, so I felt a little bit better about the situation.) If you want your cake to look good and your counters/plates/hands to not be covered in sticky icing, WAIT. But after that small (literal) meltdown, the cake was amazing. It could get a little crumbly, but was still pretty light and absolutely delicious. I ate almost the entire thing single-handedly. (Over the course of a week, but still, I was never tired of it!) Definitely a fun and interesting dessert to try if you want to bake like Mary Berry but don’t want to make 36 identical tea cakes.

Alex Laughing Alone With Salad

Women Laughing Alone With Salad.

Fall Vegetable Salad


  • 2 cups red oakleaf lettuce – Fresh2o, Stevensburg, VA
  • 1 medium fall carrot – Van Dessel Farms, Accomack, VA (Honey herb butter roasted, recipe to follow)
  • 1 small apple (CrimsonCrisp, maybe?), chopped – Rock Hill Orchard, Mt. Airy, MD
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Rosemary Chickpeatos (Or any kind of crunchy, nut-like thing, I just happened to have these in my cabinet)
  • ¼ cup cooked Quinoa


  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of salt
  • (Try: 1 teaspoon of honey or sugar, or perhaps brown sugar? Note to follow.)

Honey Herb Butter Roasted Carrots:

  • 2 medium fall carrots – Van Dessel Farms, Accomack, VA
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley

You’ll want to roast your carrots a while ahead of time (I roasted mine the night before). Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, toss together your melted butter, carrots, honey, and herbs. Place your well-rubbed carrots (and any surplus butter/herb mixture) on a baking sheet and roast until tender. I cooked mine for about 40 minutes (they were very robust carrots; short but quite thick in the middle), and they were still a little crunchy, which is how I like them. Additionally, in the interest of full disclosure, phrasing the recipe in this way makes it sound like much more of an exact process than it truly was. In reality I used this recipe from a blog called RasaMalaysia for inspiration; threw an indiscriminate amount of butter, herbs, and honey in a tinfoil pocket with a couple of meaty carrots; and cooked them until the end of the episode of The Great British Baking Show. Fortunately, the carrots are of amazing quality, and you really can’t go wrong with rosemary, honey, and butter. Anyway, the next morning I sliced up one of the carrots and tossed it into my salad with great results.

In terms of the aforementioned salad, for this you’ll also want to cook the quinoa ahead of time, according to the package’s directions. While your quinoa is cooking, mix the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, salt, and sugar/honey (if you want it) together in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork to combine. Once your quinoa is cooked and your dressing is mixed, toss it all together and drizzle with dressing. Voila! Salad!

Note: The original dressing recipe I used didn’t include honey or sugar (and was meant for 8 cups of salad…). However, I found that the dressing was a little too sharp with the mustard and the vinegar, so I think adding some honey might work well to soften it a little bit. But since I didn’t actually try that, I can’t speak to how well it will work (yet).

Alone with Salad

(Also check out that neat double-decker lunchbox.)

Now, as I noted before about the carrot situation, using actual measurements and directions for this recipe is massively overstating the amount of thought I put into it. I based the idea on this recipe from Food & Friends, a local nonprofit that provides meals and nutrition services to DC-area individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and other life-challenging illnesses. (They also do an awesome thing at Thanksgiving called Slice of Life where they sell pies and the proceeds go to their organization and to help provide healthy Thanksgiving meals to their clients. If you aren’t local or will be away, you can donate a pie to one of those Thanksgiving meals! So regardless, the organization gets money and SOMEONE gets a pie! You can even choose an individual salesperson/organization and often in-kind donations will be made to that organization. But this has all been one big sidebar. Piedbar.)

So I saw that recipe and thought “Hey, I have some fall vegetables!” And I’ve been looking for ways to use the huge amount of lettuce I got in last week’s bag from Fresh2o in Stevensburg, VA. You should definitely read that grower profile, because they say better than I ever could how awesome the lettuce was. You can also learn some neat things about the farmers and the packaging, which was totally awesome and keeps the lettuce so fresh (so fresh that it’s actually still growing) that I don’t have to worry about eating nothing but salad for a week because I have to work through an entire head of lettuce. Also, apparently, that makes it healthier for you! Long story short, it’s amazing and deserves much better than my higgledy-piggeldy salad concoction. As, incidentally, do those carrots…

The carrots are from Van Dessel Farms in Accomack, VA, just like my beets and potatoes from the Hash-Slinging Slasher. And man, are they awesome. Despite my slapdash approach to roasting, they held together beautifully and the flavor is incredible. A huge and distinctive difference from any random carrot you might pick up at the store. These carrots had character. Carroter, if you will. Plus, I feel alright about my roasting choice – there’s still some nice browned butter, honey, and rosemary flavor (really I just added the parsley because it was in the recipe and I have a couple of plants on my windowsill, I have no idea if it adds anything). The rosemary was also of my windowsill garden, lovingly grown all the way from teeny seeds to a slightly less-teeny plant. I tend to use it a bit sparingly, since it’s still so small it doesn’t quite have its feet under it yet, but I do love fresh rosemary.

That rosemary also meshed well with my crunchy ingredient, Rosemary Chickpeatos. I have no idea where she found them, but my loving mother sent me back with them after visiting her at Thanksgiving. Honestly, I didn’t have high hopes. How could bagged chick peas match freshly roasted chick peas? I thought about the awful things I’ve heard about packaged kale chips and cringed. But boy was I wrong. They’re really quite awesome, THANKS MOM! The rosemary flavor matched up well but wasn’t overpowering, and they make a perfectly crunchy and protein-packed addition to my lunch. In lieu of such an unexpected surprise ingredient, you could just as easily use some kind of nut; however, I recommend you try to find some of these bad boys because they make a great salad crunch or even just everyday snack.

Since I’m going through pretty much every ingredient, I might as well tell you about the apple. Now, this didn’t come in my produce bag (I swear I’m going to make those morning glory muffins, and I won’t use the golden delicious apples I got until then). However, it is locally grown! A few weeks ago I went apple/pumpkin/flower picking at Rock Hill Orchards in Mt. Airy, MD. It was handily the best pick-your-own experience and probably one of the best overall experiences I’ve had. The farm had an apple orchard, vegetable patches, an herb garden, basically a whole field of pick-your-own flowers, a pumpkin patch, other pick-your-own fruits in the summer, AND a dairy farm (with their own ice cream and BABY COWS JUST WAITING FOR YOU TO LOVE THEM). In fact, I loved those baby cows so much that I don’t think I’ve eaten any beef since, and I’ve only eaten chicken twice! That’s how cute they were! Anyway, aside from the adorable conversion experience, they had a great little general store, cold and hot cider, the usual tchotchkes, and the greatest combination of things since coffee-Oreo ice cream: an apple cider donut sundae with pumpkin ice cream (you could’ve gotten any kind of ice cream, but why get something that isn’t pumpkin?). After an overwhelmingly wonderful day of picking produce and crooning over calves and inhaling ice cream, I returned with some pumpkins, wildflowers, and (obviously) apples! Only one had yet gone unused, and I believe it was a CrimsonCrisp. A nice, sweet, small apple who’s finally met her purpose in a friendly fall salad.

I have nothing special to say about the cranberries… I got them at the local Giant? Does that count? Same story with the quinoa, although this was my first experience with the grain so I have no standards by which to judge it. I made it in a rice cooker, which is a fun and easy way to take care of something I have no idea how to work with.

No meltdowns or smoke to report this time around. In fact, this salad (like most salads, I suppose), was so easy I threw it together (with the carrots and quinoa prepared the night before) in the morning before work! While making coffee and oatmeal! And then I ate it while writing this post!

Now visualize a picture of me, laughing alone with this salad.


A Lot on My Plate – The Hash-Slinging Slasher

Beet and Golden Potato Hash with Maple Mustard Glazed Chicken Sausage


  • 3 small golden potatoes, peeled and diced [From Van Dessel Farms, Accomack, VA]
  • 2 beets, peeled and diced [Also from Van Dessel Farms]
  • ½ an onion, diced
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 3 links of chicken sausage (I used chicken and apple sausages)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 ½ tablespoons mustard
  • ¾ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • A pinch (or two) of salt
  • A dash (or two) of olive oil
  • Plus: 2 eggs

Start by peeling and dicing the onion, beets, and potatoes. This took a lot longer than I thought it would, since I diced them up to be quite small (maybe ¼-inch cubes, or at least shapes vaguely reminiscent of cubes). I also used four potatoes instead of three, but found that that made for too many (see note below concerning meltdowns).

Once you’ve finished chopping, heat a dash (or two) of olive oil in a medium-large saucepan. Sautée the onions over medium heat, and once they’re slightly underdone, add the potatoes and beets with the thyme, oregano, and  a couple pinches of salt. Cover the pan and stir occasionally until the beets are tender and the potatoes have a nice golden-brown crisp to them.

While the beets and potatoes are cooking, stir the maple syrup, mustard, and sausages in a small bowl. I chopped my sausages into fairly large pieces, but it might work better if you take the sausage out of the casing and mix it that way. This will make the sausage pieces closer to the size of your beets and potatoes. When your beets and potatoes have cooked a little further (but aren’t quite finished), use a separate pan to sautée the sausages. If you have extra glaze mixture, you can save it to throw onto the hash when you’ve mixed it all together.

Once the sausages are cooked and the potatoes and beets are crispy on the outside, add the sausages to the hash and toss it together over medium-low heat, adding any extra mustard sauce. While the flavors of the hash are coming together, poach your two eggs (or three or however many you want). I like them poached both because poached is the best way to eat eggs and because the light creaminess of the poached egg balances out the sharpness of the mustard and the earthiness of the beets.

Place your egg on top of (or alongside, I’m not trying to tell you how to live your #life) the hash and enjoy! (Get it? It’s a HASHtag!)

Note: If you’re looking for something a little extra to add to your hash, a hollandaise sauce might make a nice addition. Use it instead of or in addition to the mustard glaze. It (hopefully) should complement the beets and sausages nicely.

The Hash-Slinging Slasher

(You’ll have to excuse my great lack of skill in the photography department. Not only am I working with my tiny/outdated cell phone camera and poor kitchen lighting, but I also don’t entirely have the artistic eye for food photos. Yet.)

For this recipe, I used two ingredients that came in my produce bag: beets and golden potatoes, both from Van Dessel Farms in Accomack, VA. Ordinarily (well, lately) I try to stick to a vegetarian diet, but when I saw this recipe for maple mustard glazed chicken sausage with roasted potatoes and apples, it sounded so good that I had to try. (Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for chicken sausage.) I decided to adapt that recipe into a hash (inspired by this red flannel hash) for several reasons. First, roasting things takes an awfully long time, and I wanted to be sure I got the potatoes right to that crispy outside, smooth inside consistency of a nice potato hash. Second, I wanted to use my apples for morning glory muffins instead of roasting them with the potatoes and sausage. And third, I really love a poached egg.

The potatoes cooked up nicely, although I’m not sure if their flavor would have been all that different from an ordinary yellow potato in this dish. The beets, however, worked really well and their quality was pretty apparent. Because they were cut so small, they became nice and tender in just enough time for the potatoes to get perfectly crispy. I have two more beets from my produce bag, though I’m not sure in what recipe I’ll use them. (I have a shortlist at the moment, which consists of beet and black bean veggie burgers, a beet and ricotta grilled cheese with watercress [also in my produce bag], and a spicy beet and lentil soup. Suggestions/adaptations are welcome and encouraged!)

Everyone (especially my roommate and neighbors) will be happy to know that I did NOT set off the smoke alarm during this recipe! I did make a lot of smoke (between the onions, which I overcooked a bit, and the sausages, which I “seared,” read as “burned, but only on one side”). That being said, I also had two medium-sized meltdowns… One over the incredible amount of time it takes to properly dice potatoes, and once because  four potatoes turned out to be WAY TOO MANY and the pan was too small and the proportions were all wrong and it was just downhill from there. But after all the fuss (a reprisal of the semi-affectionate term “Brakedown” seems appropriate here), it turned out to be a pretty reasonably easy dish to whip up, as long as you’re alright with slogging through dicing for the first bit.

I cooked up a storm this past weekend, so look forward to a few more posts throughout the week about other dishes featuring the delicious products from this week’s bag. I’m also planning on trying a few more throughout the week, and will hopefully preface each by reading a little more about the farms my food is coming from so I can tell you about that experience. Stay tuned!

A Lot on My Plate

Hello, World! This is my first post! I’ll use it to give you an idea of who I am and what I’m doing here and why I’m blogging about it. My name is Alex, I live in Silver Spring, MD, and I love to cook. I also love dogs, books, and puns. I work in Bethesda, MD, as a Technical Editor, which sounds much more exciting and skill-based than it truly is.

Oh yeah, and I recently joined a CSA! CSA, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Community-Supported Agriculture, and is a way for farmers to sell “shares” of their crop directly to consumers. My CSA is actually a group of local farmers, working through an organization called 4P Foods. Every Friday, I’ll come home to a fresh bag of produce, straight from the farmers! I also happen to be a big and long-time fan of Clean Fairfax, and when I told her my Veggie Tale, fearless leader Jen Cole suggested I blog about it for the Clean Fairfax site. A lot of my produce will be coming from Virginia (and the surrounding area), and I’ve always thought about sharing my (mis)adventures in cooking with the great wide internet, so it sounded like a deal made in heaven. I decided to call this blog “A Lot on My Plate” because I’m constantly overwhelmed and am looking forward to having a lot of fresh, local ingredients on my plates!

Joining a CSA in the winter is a little bit unconventional, I know, but here’s a visual of what I could get:   Winter_Week_3-cdbf9d8c2e

Looks pretty tasty, right? Well, today I’m expecting my first delivery! Here’s what I’ll get in this week’s bag:

  • Fall Carrots – Van Dessel Farm, Accomack, VA
  • Gold Potatoes – Van Dessel Farm, Accomack, VA
  • Local Kombucha – Spicy Ginger & Lavender Mint – No. 1 Sons, Arlington, VA
  • Portabella Mushroom Caps – McDowells Mushrooms, Avondale, PA
  • Red Medium Beets – Van Dessel Farm, Accomack, VA
  • Red Oak Leaf Lettuce – Fresh2o, Stevensburg, VA
  • Ruby Red Grapefruit – Paramont Citrus Farm, Clermont, FL
  • Stone Ground Cornmeal – Woodson’s Mill, Lowesville, VA
  • Watercress Bunch – Mock’s Farm – Berkeley Springs, WV
  • Yellow Delicious Apples – Crown Orchards, Albermarle, VA

I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully excited about it. Every week, 4P emails me a newsletter with what will be in that week’s bag, along with storage tips, recipes, and even a couple of fun facts. To start, I’ll probably post once or twice a week (or every other week, depending on how quickly I devour my haul) with a new recipe I’ve tried. I’ll try to include helpful pictures and descriptions, as well as maybe some anecdotes, fun facts, or puns along the way.