Thursday, June 30, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 7

To kick off Week 7, we got subs from 8 1/2 and had the first cucumber and tomato salad of the year.  I never get over how such simple ingredients (cucumber, tomato, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, salt, pepper) can turn into such a subliminal combination of tastes.  This year's tomato crop has been sweet and beautiful so far, perfect for my staple summertime salad.

The next night we raided the fridge to eliminate some of last week's stragglers, and wound up with kale and potato quesadillas.  The kale and potatoes were already cooked, so they took almost no time at all to make.  I need to remember that almost all vegetables taste good encased in a tortilla, warmed with cheese, and served with salsa.

Last Thursday was the NBA Draft, which has turned into a notable event in our house.  I got some frozen Trader Joe's goodies (including the transcendent fried mac and cheese balls), and made sauteed cabbage to ensure that we consumed something healthy that evening.  The cabbage, as I mentioned in Week 6, had the appropriate balance of tenderness and crunch, and with soy sauce and sesame oil, blended in nicely with the rest of our spread.

The final culinary endeavor of the week was a white pizza.  We'd obtained a beautiful piece of Brigid's Abbey cheese from River City Cellars, and I shaved several pieces off to layer onto the pizza crust.  For the next layer, I sauteed a small portion of one of Shannon's giant zucchinis with onions and garlic until the onions were transparent and the zucchini started to soften around the edges.  The vegetables went on top of the cheese, followed by a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, grated parmesan, and additional shavings of the creamy Brigid's Abbey.

We let the pizza warm up for five minutes in the oven, then added chopped tomato, and put it back in for a few more minutes.  The cheese had a hint of brown when I pulled the pizza out and sprinkled it with several leaves of amethyst basil.  

It was an aesthetically pleasing pizza, and also loyal to the season, which made it all the more satisfying to devour.  As long as the tomatoes continue to be this wonderful, I'm going to try to use them in dishes that aren't (all) salads featuring them with cucumber.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Playing Catch Up

Josh and Caitlin were out of town last week, which means we had the whole share to ourselves.  It also means that we have a lot left over, and didn't take as much this week.  We received: 

- carrots

- spring onions

- tomatoes of various colors and sizes, like the purplish green one shown below

- cucumbers

Friday, June 24, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 6

Most people are aware that mint is easy to grow, and that it's a highlight in mojitos and desserts.  What came as a surprise to me is that it can be a subtle and welcome addition to savory dishes, even in a non-jelly form. 

On Saturday, Davy and I grilled some extraordinary red snapper from Yellow Umbrella.  To accompany the fish, I made braised kale with onions and potatoes baked in parchment.  The potatoes were prepared based on a recipe from The Splendid Table's weekly newsletter, which they reprinted from At Elizabeth David's Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom.  

It's a simple combination of new potatoes, butter, salt, pepper, and two mint leaves.  The mint contributes just a slight amount of coolness to the buttery potatoes, though they don't need much of an enhancement to be delicious.

Coincidentally, the other recipe I tried last week was also from The Splendid Table's weekly newsletter.  The "Salad of Beef with Lime, Chili, and Mint" appealed to me because of its similarities to my beloved rice noodle salad.  Its flavors are inspired by Laos, so there were some major differences in taste, but this salad is just as refreshing and wonderful in its own way.  

The mint and hot pepper balance each other, while the vegetables add crunch and sweetness.  I wasn't thrilled with the rice noodles I got (and I forgot to take pictures of the salad with the noodles), but otherwise I really loved this dish and want to make it again and again.  The cabbage from our share is tender enough to eat uncooked without tiring out your jaw, and the spring onions added just the right amount of bite to the meat.  

My only tip is to store the salad separately from the noodles so that they don't get too soggy.  And also, make an effort to try mint in a new way while it's growing (or taking over) in your backyard.  You won't be disappointed.


Adapted from At Elizabeth David's Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom 
(Enough for 4 people)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Clean approximately 24 very small new potatoes, and halve or quarter any larger potatoes. Place them on a large square of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Add 2 leaves of mint, a little salt and 2 tablespoons of butter to the potatoes. Fold the paper in half, and then crease the edges to seal the packet.

Let the potatoes cook for about 35 minutes.


adapted from The Splendid Table weekly newsletter
Serves 4 to 6
  • 1 pound wide or linguine shaped rice noodles
  • 4 quarts boiling water
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 packed teaspoons brown sugar, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1 large lime
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
  • 2 tablespoons water
    The Salad:
  • between 3/4-1 lb. flank steak, seared on the grill then diced
  • 4 scallions or spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn
  • 2 jalapeƱos, minced
  • 2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into thick sticks
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into sticks to match the cucumber
  • 1 cup coarsely shredded green cabbage
  • 1/3 tight-packed cup whole fresh mint leaves
  • Lime wedges
1. Cook noodles according to box directions, and rinse with cold water when they're finished
2. Heat vegetable oil a saute pan over medium high heat and add the flank steak when it's hot.  Stir for a minute, add the onions or scallions, and continue stirring until the meat is cooked to desired doneness.  Turn off the heat and leave the pan on the burner.
3. Blend the dressing ingredients in another large bowl and toss with the vegetables.  Add the meat, stir to combine, and serve accompanied by a bowl of the rice noodles.
4. Take a small amount of rice noodles and spoon the salad over them. Squeeze on lime juice to taste.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Last of the Greens

Aside from the gorgeous red raspberries I purchased from Agriberry, I went home with:

- kohlrabi

- onions

- garlic

- potatoes

- cucumbers

- tomatoes

- cabbage

Saturday, June 18, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 5

Sharing recipes and methods of cooking with friends is one of my favorite parts of participating in a CSA.  Last week ended up being slightly different than normal, because Shannon and I arranged for a veggie swap over the weekend.  She gave me a giant zucchini and lettuce from her garden, and I unloaded cabbage, radicchio, and kale into her produce drawer.

We both had the benefit of variety, and I got to try a recipe that I've been holding onto in anticipation of the zucchini harvest: "Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad."  The New York Times recipe includes zucchini, fresh mozzarella, basil, and lemon, all of which scream summer to me.  

Frying the zucchini takes a lot of time, and I don't think that it has to be fried to make this dish.  Next time I would grill or roast the zucchini, which would probably improve the taste and healthiness of the salad.  

My favorite part of the pasta salad wasn't the tenderness of the mozzarella or the kale pesto-coated penne (although I always love pesto-coated pasta).  What I liked most was the inclusion of capers, red wine vinegar and lemon zest, all of which brightened the dish and elevated it to a more interesting level.  The dish isn't simple, but every component of it blends together effortlessly.  I forgot to take a picture of the final product, but the recipe and my modifications are below.

The other big cooking effort of the week was "Kale Fried Rice," from Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook, and it was recommended by my friend Lyndsey.  I used my garlic scapes in place of garlic cloves, and added eggs and edamame to make it into a one pot meal.  I also ran out of brown rice, and ended up using half brown and half jasmine, which made the dish a little bit lighter.    

My kale should have been sliced more finely, and I used more than called for, but this fried rice is deceivingly flavorful and satisfying.  

We munched on the green beans and cucumbers raw, which really makes me appreciate just how fresh and cared for our CSA produce is.  After the swap, we were only left with potatoes at the end of the week, which will endure longer than the greens I traded away.

Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad

Published: April 26, 2011 (NYT)
Time: 45 minutes
Adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books)
Salt and black pepper
2/3 cup sunflower oil (or vegetable oil)
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3/4 cup frozen edamame
2 cups basil leaves, shredded coarsely*
1/4 cup parsley leaves*
1/3 cup olive oil*
9 ounces penne
Zest of 1 lemon (I used zest and juice of 1/2 lemon)
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
7 ounces buffalo mozzarella, torn into chunks.

*I used kale pesto from my freezer and a few leaves of fresh basil
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a medium saucepan, heat sunflower (vegetable) oil over medium-high heat. Fry zucchini slices in batches (do not crowd them) for 3 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a colander to drain. Tip zucchini slices into a bowl, pour vinegar on top and stir, then set aside.
2. In the hot water, blanch edamame for 3 minutes; drain, refresh under running cold water and set aside to dry. Keep boiling water in pot.
3. In boiling water, cook pasta until al dente; drain and rinse under cold water. Return pasta to pot. Pour zucchini slices and their juices over pasta. Add edamame, basil sauce (kale pesto), lemon zest and juice, capers and mozzarella. Stir together gently, then taste and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Before serving, stir in remaining basil.
Yield: 4 servings

Popsicles and Bacon Updates

The strawberry ricotta popsicles I made a couple weeks ago weren't exactly what I expected.  The strawberry flavor was fairly muted, and the texture of the popsicle was more grainy than smooth and creamy.  It's still a refreshing snack, but I don't think I'd make these again.

In more positive news, our homemade bacon was much less salty the second time around.  We defrosted it in the sink and ended up rinsing it again, which helped with the excessive amount of salt in each bite.  There are a few scraps left which I'm excited to use for a nice smoky, savory flavor in an upcoming dish.

Minty Fresh

 This week's share included:

- mint

- cucumbers

- kale

- cabbage

- potatoes

- spring onions

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 4

My creativity in the kitchen seemed to have departed with the month of May, at least for the first half of the week.  The produce we received in Week 4 was varied and included some of my favorite vegetables, broccoli and spinach, but I didn't make anything special with them.  The familiar veggies lent themselves to habitual preparations. 

We ate some of the leftover quiche with sauteed spinach for dinner one night, which is one of the most common ways that we eat spinach.  On Thursday I made a salad for lunch using some cucumber, and both the romaine and more bitter curly endive for a nice mix of flavors.  We ate fajitas for dinner, made with garlic scapes, onion, sweet peppers, and leftover grilled chicken.  

Our green side was steamed broccoli - another standard at our house.

After two days of attending festivals (the Greek Fest and Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival), things got a little more interesting.  I made a stir fry with bok choy, squash, and the garlic scapes to eat with some boxed macaroni and cheese.  

I used some of the ingredients I'd purchased for my attempt at fish-fragrant eggplant last year, including dark soy sauce, bean paste with chili, and rice vinegar.  The dish tasted way better than eggplant, and had a spicy, rich flavor while still tasting fresh.  I would definitely use this technique again with different combinations of veggies, and it would be easy to add in meat or seafood and rice to make it a full meal.

I made this Lentil Kohlrabi Salad on Monday evening because I was at a complete loss as to how to use my kohlrabi.  I've eaten it in the past, mostly roasted with root vegetables, but was never really wild about it.  The salad recipe caught my eye because I had almost everything for it at home already, and my friend came over with a loaf of cheese bread to round out our dinner.

After several years of putting sunflower seeds on salad, I got sick of them and no longer keep them in the freezer.  I used a combination of chopped pistachios and peanuts for crunch and to try to mimic the soft nuttiness of sunflower seeds. 

Considering how often I use cumin for Southwest/Mexican food, and sesame oil for Asian food, I was a little hesitant that the combination of the two would result in a pleasurable taste.  Somehow they blend together perfectly, both brightening and enhancing the lentils and kohlrabi.  This is another dish that would be a great meal for a hot summer night and packed lunches on the following day(s).  

I didn't use the remaining lettuce or curly endive, but the Lentil Kohlrabi Salad re-inspired me to stay away from my fallback kitchen habits and continue to try recipes that highlight the fresh produce we're getting.    

No Lettuce this Week

I'm fine with not receiving any lettuce or salad mix, because I still have some curly endive and romaine from last week to finish, and we got a great mix of produce:

- curly kale

- red Russian kale

- radicchio

- new potatoes

- green beans

- cucumber

- garlic scapes

- tender green cabbage (pictured)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Best Vanilla Frosting

Normally I stick to chocolate or cream cheese frosting when I bake a cake, but I had some vanilla beans I've been meaning to use, and needed to make a birthday cake for Shannon.  This recipe has been neglected in my recipe folder for way too long, and I'm going to have to make it again and again to make up for last time.  It's simple, but a little bit more elegant than regular frosting because of the vanilla bean specks.  I used it to top a chocolate loaf cake, which is another recipe I'm going to hold on to.  They're wonderful together, but could easily be a success paired with other cakes or frostings.    

And if you ever need to bake a cake shaped like a car, just give me a call.

Happy Birthday, Shannon!!!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

CSA Meals - Week 3

Can anyone guess what this is?

I know I would have a hard time figuring it out.  It's a blend of fresh strawberries, ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and sugar that was eventually poured into popsicle molds.  

The strawberries we got last Tuesday were a little soggy, but still delicious, and Darbi recommended eating them that day.  Davy and I were going out to dinner, and I knew we probably wouldn't get to them, so I made the mixture above based on this recipe.  I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't tasted the popsicles yet, but I have a feeling that they're going to be creamy and refreshing.

Looking back on the week, I have to give myself credit for being somewhat more creative than normal with the produce.  Aside from some standard salads with sliced radish, feta, pistachios and medium-boiled eggs, I made the popsicles, quiche and a kale sauce that is similar to pesto. 

The quiche was based on a recipe for ham and spinach filling, and I substituted blanched rainbow chard for the spinach.  I'd never made a quiche before, or used a store-bought pie crust, but it seemed to go pretty well.  I baked the pie with dried beans according to the recipe directions, although I'm not sure that I needed to take that extra step.

The eggs I got from the market, not surprisingly, were far superior to eggs from the grocery store.  You can see how deep the color of the yolks is in the picture below, and they don't have that weird chemical taste when you boil them.

I still have some of the amazing Christmas ham in my freezer, and it was smoky and divine in the quiche.

The only other change I made was the addition of some grated cheddar cheese.  I just didn't feel right having eggs and ham without it, especially since the quiche was already extra healthy from the chard.  

The quiche took a lot longer to set than twenty-five minutes, which is what the recipe suggested.  The picture above was taken before it was really done, and I was so hungry by the time it was ready that I forgot to take another one.  

We had some pieces of quiche for dinner last night, and I think it was almost better after sitting overnight in the fridge.  Quiche is an easy, versatile meal, and can be made with tons of different fillings, so I'm glad I finally got around to trying it in my own kitchen.

On Friday night I was trying to figure out how to incorporate the curly kale we got into an appetizing side dish for a cookout we were having on Sunday.  I was envisioning a smooth, creamy sauce for pasta salad, but I ended up with something fairly different.  

I blanched the kale and chopped it, and then pureed it in the food processor with several cloves of garlic.  At this point I was horrified at how much garlic there was, so I tried adding lemon juice to cancel some of it out.  I squeezed in the juice of a lemon, sprinkled in some salt and pepper, and then the remainder of a container of ricotta (which was probably only a tablespoon or two) before giving up and using a lot of olive oil to get it to the right consistency.  

I made a pound of orzo the same night, and while it was still hot, I added about half of my makeshift kale pesto so the pasta would absorb some of its flavor.  When I was ready to assemble the salad on Sunday, I chopped and roasted an onion and several small sweet peppers.  They went into the bowl with the orzo as soon as they were ready, along with about 3/4 lb of feta, 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts, and more lemon juice and olive oil.  

Miraculously, the salad wasn't dry or too garlicky, probably because because I made the kale pesto ahead of time and the flavors had time to mellow.  I think it also turned out so well because feta is such a great pasta salad ingredient, and can mask as well as heighten certain tastes.  It's also a good dish to have hot, cold, or at room temperature, which is ideal for a summer cookout.

It's already June, and the weather has been absurdly hot already, so expect an update on the mysterious strawberry-ricotta popsicles any day now.

Not to be Missed

After ignoring it for almost three years, I am officially on board with The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  There's a reason that it generated a big buzz when it was published, and continues to be a popular topic for food bloggers.  The cookies that the recipe makes are other-worldly, and if you haven't tasted them, you really haven't tasted a chocolate chip cookie this good.

I don't always adhere exactly to a recipe - even for baking - but I made an exception when I tried this chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I sought out 1 1/4 lbs bittersweet chocolate discs (and found them at Whole Foods), bought some bread flour, and made sure that I had enough cake flour to make an entire batch.  My butter and eggs were at room temperature, and I sifted all of the dry ingredients, which is a step I would normally skip.

As Jamie of My Baking Addiction mentions in the post that ultimately inspired me to make the cookies, the dough requires some extra attention and time, but there's no question that the cookies are worth it.  For whatever scientific reason, the dough needs to rest in the fridge for twenty-four hours, and that time makes all of the difference.  I know this for a fact, because I tasted the dough and the cookies as soon as I finished stirring in the chocolate discs, and every night after that.

The cookie itself is lighter than my normal chocolate chip (a variation on the Tollhouse recipe), and the exterior has a delicate crispness when you bite into it.  It's almost like the light crunch of sugar, but it's not at all gritty.  I love how the discs keep there shape and ease into layers while the dough is baking.  There is exactly the right amount of chocolate to have enough in every bite, and the richness of bittersweet chocolate make each mouthful special.

If you haven't already tried these or made these yourself, I strongly encourage you to go out and get the ingredients, or at least beg me to make them for you.  I won't need much convincing.