Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some of my favorite veggies

This week's share is one of the best we've ever gotten:

- broccoli

- spinach

- lettuce

- curly endive (frisee)

- bok choy

- kohlrabi

- cucumber

- summer squash

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 2

If I can help it, I like to make one pot meals, or at least use multiple types of vegetables in one dish.  Surprisingly, Davy and I don't eat a lot of salads, even though they lend themselves to using a variety of ingredients.

Soup, on the other hand, is one of my favorite things to make and to eat, even in hot weather.  Last Wednesday I used the garlic scallions, kale, and broccoli rabe from our to make a vegetable soup.  Sauteed carrot and celery, along with the scallions, formed the base.  Once they were cooked through, I added a little wine, then homemade chicken stock, and petite diced tomatoes. 

I blanched the broccoli rabe separately from the soup pot, fearing that the bitter flavor would leach out into the broth.  The contents got a good hour or so to simmer together before I added the greens (broccoli rabe and kale) and a can of cannellini beans.  

I flavored the soup with some rosemary sprigs and parmesan rinds, but it still needed salt, pepper, grated parmesan, and oil to make it really tasty.

Thursday was the exception to the rare salad rule.  I was on my own for dinner, and decided to make use of the nice lettuce mix.  Pistachios, a hard-boiled egg, feta, and a sliced radish made the salad more interesting and substantial.    

I blanched the remaining greens, which consisted mustard greens, mizuna and a few other Asian varieties.  I froze about a quarter of them, and used the rest to lighten up a big bowl of sesame noodles (my uncle's recipe), along with frozen edamame.    

The turnips from Fertile Crescent Farm have been large and gorgeous this spring.  Normally I don't get excited about turnips, but I was intrigued when I realized I could mash them and then make them into cakes to pan fry.

As you can see, the cakes weren't overly sturdy, and I didn't do a great job of flipping them, but they were very tasty.  Despite the fact that they were cooked in butter, I still felt healthy eating them alongside of a salad.

We're left with some nice-looking radishes and some salad mix, but considering all of the extras Adam and Darbi have been giving us, I feel good about how many vegetables we ate in a week.  One dish dinners are a convenient and easy way to consume a lot of produce, even if you have to resort to a salad to do so.

Homemade Bacon

My dad is a fantastic cook, and often has creative ideas involving food.  His latest ambition was to cure his own bacon, and he was generous enough to give me a piece of the pork belly at the beginning of the process.

The initial step is to rub the pork belly with brown sugar and salt (a specific kind, with nitrates, to prevent the meat from turning gray) and place it in the fridge in a plastic bag.  For seven days, you're supposed to drain any liquid that's accumulated and add more of the rub.  

After the week is up, the meat needs to be rinsed and then dried completely so that you can smoke it.  We left it in the fridge, uncovered, for about 48 hours, and then Davy prepared the grill.

We used hickory chips to smoke the pork belly, and monitored the charcoal so that it generated a very small amount of heat.  Davy and I kept tabs on the grill for about three hours, and took the smoked meat inside.  I sliced the skin off of the top, which was surprisingly easy to do, and then we left it alone to cool.

When we couldn't take it anymore, we cut a few slices to try for ourselves.

This bacon has a great smoky flavor, although it's saltier than we would prefer.  We loved eating it since we'd made it ourselves, and I'm trying to decide if it would be best to combine it with another ingredient, or just eat it plain.  

My dad is looking into ways to reduce the saltiness, and once we've gone through our bacon, I'm sure he'll be ready for all of us to try again.

Summer is here...

...but the greens we received are still beautiful and bountiful.  This week we received:

- strawberries

- curly kale

- rainbow chard

- Japanese turnips

- salad mix

- beets 

- red Russian kale (this bunch of kale and the beets all went to Josh and Caitlin; we split everything in half else except for the curly kale)

I also picked up a dozen eggs from the stand next to Darbi and Adam's, and I can't wait to use them!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rainy Week Veggies

- salad mix

- turnips

- radishes

- broccoli rabe

- red Russian kale

- mustard greens

- a long-stemmed green I didn't catch the name of, which can be used like bok choy

- Asian greens

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 1

Tonight is the beginning of the second round of produce, and I'm in surprisingly good shape considering the pounds of greens we got last week.  I gave our radishes, bok choy, some broccoli rabe, and about half of our lettuce mix to my parents.  

The highlight of last week, for me, was the container of beautiful strawberries we got in our share.  We polished them off in just a couple days, and I put them in a salad for lunch one day.  They added a welcome burst of flavor to the lettuce.  The salad also included a medium-boiled egg, my first ever homemade, which came from one of my co-worker's chickens.  

I've stressed this before, but fresh eggs taste so much better than grocery store eggs, especially if you're eating them on their own.

We had a large bunch of Asian greens, and I'm not sure what all of them were, but they were pretty.

I chopped them and Davy sauteed them with garlic and sesame chili oil.  We sprinkled toasted sesame seeds on them after they'd wilted down.


Davy was having a rough week, so I decided to make one of his favorite Chinese take out meals to go with the greens, which is sweet and sour chicken.  I used a recipe I found on How Sweet It Is, and it turned out very well.  The chicken is crisp, tangy, and not greasy at all.  We served the chicken over rice, and the recipe mentions making extra sauce, but we had the right amount.  Next time I would consider adding some chili flakes to the sauce, or even some sriracha for a little kick.  

before the sauce

finished product

The gigantic bunch of broccoli rabe was taunting me every time I opened the fridge, and on Thursday I decided to put it to good use.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but this is an overwhelming mound of greens.

Mimicking one of the best pastas from Mamma Zu, I browned sausage without the casing (a spicy chicken and red wine variety from Trader Joe's) and blanched the broccoli rabe.  

Once the sausage was ready, I added the greens, garlic, and rosemary, and let the broccoli rabe cook a little.  Once it was warmed, I threw in cooked pasta - about half a pound of cavatappi - and stirred in tomato sauce and about a half cup of ricotta.  Luckily I really enjoyed the pasta, because I ended up eating it three more times.  It's a pleasant blend of flavors and textures; the ricotta makes it slightly creamy, the greens add a slight edge, and the sausage is spicy and savory.

When I went to Trader Joe's, I also purchased shelled pistachio pieces and their Light Champagne Vinaigrette in anticipation of a few weeks of salads.  On Friday I used them with the salad mix, and they worked well together, not to mention they added some variety to my boring routine.  

I wanted to change the normal sauteed kale routine, too, by making kale chips.  I think I baked the pieces for too long, because they came out more brown than green, and the taste reminded me of pumpkin seeds.  They were also very unattractive.  Kale chips may have to be conquered this week, or the next time we get a bunch of kale.

On Monday, the only veggies left were the garlic scallions, peas, and kale.  I'm not usually into peas, but I figured that these had to be better than what I'm used to since they're in season.  I shelled them and dropped them in boiling water for about five minutes.  

While they were in the pot, I toasted four thin slices of bread and sliced a hard-boiled egg.  I spread a thin layer of pesto on the bread, followed by a layer of ricotta cheese.  When the peas were done, I drained them, rinsed them in cold water, and pressed them into the ricotta.  I topped everything on the plate with pepper and lemon juice, and admired my work.  The meal was relatively simple to put together, and light but filling.  It would be great for a hot night when cooking isn't very appealing, or if you needed something quick and healthy.  

There aren't going to be any strawberries in Week 2 because of all of the rain and we still have some sauteed kale to finish in the fridge, but I'm eager to see what this week brings.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

Festival Season

Spring in Richmond brings a plethora of appealing festivals to go to, most of which are centered around food.  

The first one Davy and I attended was the Lebanese Food Festival at Saint Anthony Maronite Church.  We went last year and knew that we wanted falafel, chicken shwarma, and a spinach and feta cheese pie.  We also tasted the meat pie, which had a savory filling of ground lamb (I believe) and onion, and agreed that it was even better than the spinach and feta version.      

For dessert, we indulged in awamat, which are luscious fried dough balls with a sweet syrup coating, and they're available fresh from the fryer at the festival.  I wanted to just look at the other desserts, because there was the possibility of bringing home some baklava, but we were sidetracked by the katayef.  

From what I can tell, a katayef is sort of like a sweet empanada.  There were three varieties to choose from.  One was filled with sweet cream and topped with pistachios and syrup.  The other two were stuffed, pinched closed, and fried.  One had a walnut and honey filling while the other encased mozzarella cheese.  Both were decadent and satisfying, but the cheese was by far our favorite.  

This is how we felt during the last few bites:

Everything was so tasty, and it's probably worth going more than once to avoid a post-festival food coma, but those sweets are tough to resist. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

First Share!

The weather has been ideal for growing greens and strawberries, and Adam and Darbi were gracious enough to give us extras of both.  This week's share consists of:

- strawberries

- shelling peas

- lettuce mix

- bok/pac/boc choy

- curly kale

- broccoli rabe

- Asian greens

- radishes

- garlic scallions

Below is a picture of the load of fresh produce.  The fridge is fully stocked! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sprout in the Spring

Today is the first day of the 2011 CSA, and as a warm up, Davy and I went to Sprout for dinner last night.  Actually, we had a Groupon that was going to expire, but it was a nice way to begin the CSA season.  The link to the specials for the day was titled "Nice Weather, Excellent Food," and neither description was misleading.  

I started with the soup of the day, which was mushroom stew, and it reminded me of hot and sour soup without a lot of heat.  It had a pleasant, earthy flavor and texture from the mushrooms and a sweet edge from a few soft chunks of sweet potato.

The local meat and cheese plate was hearty and delicious, consisting of pork sausage, chicken breast meat, swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, mixed greens, caramelized onions and a spread that I think may have been a pimento aioli.  They were served on a wooden pizza board with a large basket of tasty Billy Bread, and the remaining goodies made a beautiful sandwich to take home.

Instead of sweet potato and caramelized onion on the pizzetta du jour, there were two kinds of cheese, bechamel and roasted tomatoes, plus fresh mixed greens to cut through the rich cheesy flavors.  I was pleased with my order, and Davy liked his fish soft tacos, which were prepared with trout.

Sprout is one of the most loyal local food venues that we have in Richmond, and is worth a trip, even if you aren't celebrating the start of a CSA.  In fact, it's a great place to console yourself if you aren't, because 90% of the food is produced in Virginia.  Happy CSA season!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Book Recommendation

I'm about halfway through the series of letters between Julia Child and her close friend Avis DeVoto, and I'm learning a lot about both women, as well as food and culture in the US and France in the 1950s.  Whether you're Julia Child's #1 fan or know next to nothing about her outside of Julie and Julia, this book is both entertaining and informative, and definitely worth reading.

Makeshift Enchilada Lasagna

There were a few tortillas on their last legs in my fridge, so I put together a quick casserole with green pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder, black beans, chili in adobo, frozen corn, enchilada sauce, cheddar cheese, and queso fresco.  These pictures aren't wonderful, but dinner last week certainly was.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Dinner for Two

My Grandma Lillian is an experienced hostess who is quite accomplished in the kitchen and notorious for buying and making excessive amounts of food.  She has multiple refrigerators and freezers, all jam-packed, and she can never understand why her four guests can't finish a homemade feast that would easily satisfy ten people.  If you leave her house hungry, she considers the evening a failure.   

I've inherited a few of my grandma's culinary habits, mostly involving baking too much dessert, and I also find myself frequently making enough food for more than two people.  There are multiple reasons for this phenomenon: I enjoy eating leftovers for lunch and/or dinner, I'm occasionally too lazy to halve recipes, or I have the full amount of an ingredient and need to use it.  

Sometimes recipes will say that they serve two, but we'll get more than one meal out of them.  Pasta, for example, is often written into recipes as a half pound for two people, but we just don't eat that much, especially if there are other hearty components to the dish.

Last night I wanted something simple and healthy that wouldn't require a big trip to the grocery store.  I knew I had about a half pound of ground chicken in the freezer (Grandma Lillian can document her freezers' contents in her head, too) and decided to make a Thai dish that I'd found a couple years ago on Serious Eats.  I made it even easier by using frozen, shelled edamame instead of green beans since the grocery store beans were pathetic.  (This picture is also pathetic, but I didn't want to get up for my camera while I was eating, so my phone had to do.)  Miraculously, the grocery store had organic, locally grown holy basil, which is hard to see, but it made a big difference.  

For a quick dinner, this has a ton of flavor and is a healthier option than Thai takeout.  With white rice, it yielded just a little over two servings, and the extra was already consumed today. If my grandma had made it, she probably would've doubled the recipe for herself and my grandpa.  The leftovers would be lost for weeks in her overflowing fridge, or maybe just force-fed to an innocent friend or family member.