CSA: Week 1

2010/06/07

This year I decided to join a CSA. No, it has nothing to do with Civil War reenactment. Community supported agriculture, CSA for short, is a common practice where farmers sell shares of their crops to people in advance of the harvest. In return, those people get a share of the harvested vegetables every week. While there is risk involved- you are essentially buying your groceries before they are grown- more and more small farms are relying on CSA membership to get by.
The CSA that I joined us called The Lamb’s Quarter, which is based in Maryland, but also sets up a stand at the Alexandria farmers’ market, which is also the location of one of their CSA pickups. Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend I picked up my first bunch of vegetables, which consisted of mostly leafy greens. I figure, since I don’t record every single thing I eat on the blog, that I should post a weekly roundup of what I did with the CSA goodies.
Week 1:
1 small bunch radishes

  • Sandwich with butter and salt

1 medium bag mixed lettuces

  • Salads

1 medium bag “ovation greens” (mostly Asian greens and lettuces)

  • Lavash sandwiches with feta and harissa

1 medium bag kale

  • Kale lasagna

1 large bag arugula

  • Scrambled eggs with arugula and ricotta
  • Roasted potatoes with leeks and wilted arugula

2 heads bok choy

  • Kim chi

An Attempt at Kim Chi

2010/06/04

When I think of my first canning project of the summer, my thoughts usually turn to ruby red strawberries or tart rhubarb stalks, but the common denominator is sugar, and lots of it. However, this year, I broke out the mason jars for the first time over kim chi, slightly pickled but mostly fermented Korean vegetables. *Note: I did not process the kim chi in a boiling water bath, so it is to be used up within a month or so. *Related Note: Does anyone want any kim chi?
While the most common vegetable base for kim chi is Napa or Korean cabbage, there are actually many different types of kim chi based on all sorts of vegetables. Anyone who says otherwise does not know what he or she is talking about. Since I was blessed with an abundance of bok choy this week from my CSA membership (more details soon), I decided to make a kim chi based on bok choy, with Korean radish, Korean leeks, and green onions. *Note on ingedients: I went to the local GrandMart (a very extensive ethnic supermarket with an awesome produce department) to procure the Korean radish and chili powder, and I happened to see Korean leeks, which I had not known even existed, on sale for $0.99 a bunch.
I combined two different recipes to make my kim chi, because there were aspects of both that I liked and disliked. I still managed to miss a step and I may have ruined the kim chi, despite my best efforts to save it. I guess I will find out in a few days.

Recipe:

  • 1 large head bok choy
  • 1 Korean radish (could substitute daikon)
  • 2-3 Korean leeks
  • 5-6 green onions (mine had red bulbs)
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • A knob of ginger, 3 inches long and peeled
  • 1 1/2 cup Korean red pepper powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup kosher salt

1. Chop the bok choy and radish into bite size pieces. Cover with salt and let sit overnight in a glass bowl.

2. Drain the brine off the vegetables (the salt will have brought out the juices from the vegetables a la osmosis). Rinse the vegetables!

3. Slice the leeks and onions, press or finely mince the garlic, and grate the ginger, combine in a separate glass or ceramic bowl. Add the pepper powder and a little bit of the brine and stir to make a paste.

4. Mix the paste with the vegetables. I used a spoon; if you use your hands you might want to wear gloves.

5. Spoon the mixture into sterilized jars. Too off with brine, fresh water, or a mixture of the two, depending on how salty the vegetables were.

6. Let it sit for a few days at room temperature until it starts to ferment (bubbles will form), then move it to the fridge. Use within one month.

*Never eat anything if you are unsure if it is safe. “When in doubt, throw it out!”


Fiddlehead Fern Risotto

2010/05/13

Fiddlehead ferns are one of nature’s little gifts. They are only around for a brief moment every spring, and they don’t preserve very well (although I did see a recipe for fiddlehead fern pickles). If they were around year round, these curly-cues that taste vaguely like asparagus would probably be relegated to the pile of vegetables that people consider boring (Ian didn’t think there was anything special about them), but their scarcity, and the fact that most grocery stores don’t carry them so you usually have to get them from a farmers’ market, make them something to be cherished.

My fiddlehead ferns went through a lot to make it to my risotto tonight. I saw them at Wegman’s grocery store and had to buy them. Wegman’s grocery store is another story in itself. It was my first time there, and I must say I was a bit overwhelmed. Many people love this store, but it was just too big for me. Some of the things looked really good, but it was just too big, with too many things. Also, while the seasonal produce was great, I really don’t it when summer lasts all year long. I don’t want tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in May, I want the Spring bounty of greens and asparagus and radishes. Save the rest for August, when delicate lettuces can’t take the heat.

But enough ranting, I want to talk about risotto. This risotto was a little different from others I have made. The risotto I made according to the package directions, which is very simple. However, I usually make it with vegetable broth, and this time I used mushroom broth, and it changed the taste a little. I don’t think Ian was as enamoured with it as usual, although he did have a big bowl of seconds. I blanched the fiddlehead ferns first, since when raw they contain a toxin that can upset the stomach. After the risotto was finished, i mixed the fiddles and a generous amount of parmesan into the risotto. Voila! Spring in a bowl.


Happy Birthday Ian!

2010/05/12

I really like brownies. The very first recipe I ever posted was for a brownie with fruit and nuts. I like to experiment with brownies; once I made a pan that included ginger, cayenne pepper, and pine nuts.
The brownies I made last Monday night, however, were not for me. I made them for Ian to take to work for his birthday. (Honestly, I was not even sure I would get to taste them, but there was also a cake so a couple of the brownies were brought home.) Keeping in mind that Ian really likes caramel, and that pecans are one of his favorite snacks, I decided to make him turtle brownies.

For the brownie base, I used my tried and true brownie recipe, and mixed in one and a half cups of pecan pieces (the whole bag) and a little less than a cup of chocolate chips (I did not measure, but just eyeballed it). About halfway through the baking process I sprinkled some more pecan pieces on top of the brownies.

While the brownies were baking, I made a caramel sauce to go on top. While there are many caramel recipes floating around the internet (and in cookbooks) I decided to use the rather straightforward one found here. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of ingredients. The blogger who posted it did stress the importance of not undercooking the caramel, which is probably why I burnt it the first time. (Or it might have had to do with the size of the pan; the second time I used a wider pan and the shallower caramel didn’t keep cooking so rapidly.) Anyway, the second sauce turned out perfectly, so that was good. I didn’t have the time or crockery for a third.

After the sauce cooled a little, I drizzled it on the cooled brownies. Ian and his coworkers seemed to really enjoy them, and the one I had was pretty good. Happy Birthday!

Turtle Brownies:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans (plus more for the top if you want)
  • 1 cup (or less) chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Fold in pecans and chocolate chips.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Add more pecans to the top halfway through, if desired. Let brownies cool, then drizzle with caramel sauce.

A Four Course French-ish Spring-ish Dinner

2010/05/06

Most people I know had been surprised to find out that I had not seen the movie Julie & Julia. Since it is about food and blogging, I can see how it would be easy to assume that I would have been first in line to see it. Well it is no longer true, last weekend we rented the movie and I finally saw it. It was pretty good, too. I actually found it inspirational, particularly during the beginning of Julie’s challenge, when she makes artichokes with hollandaise sauce.

So tonight I decided to make a four course dinner with a spring theme and a French influence. Don’t ask me why I decided on four courses on a Thursday night, but I did. It took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Course 1: Appetizers

The first course was inspired by the farmers’ market this weekend. The restaurant Willow has a booth there in the “summer” months, and they served up this tasty bite. It was a green onion pancake topped with marscapone cheese and a saute of more scallions, shallots, and radishes. I didn’t follow the recipe they handed out exactly, because their pancake used a rolled out dough, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I made the same pancake batter I use for my Americanized okonomiyaki.

Recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • milk or cream as necessary (I usually use milk but I had cream on hand for another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 6 radishes, sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  1. Mix eggs, flour, and salt together. Add milk or cream until the batter reaches a desired consistency. Stir in the green onions.
  2. Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and add canola or vegetable oil. Spoon the batter into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan melt the butter. Let it cook a few minutes. Add the radishes, green onions, and shallots. Cook until the butter starts to brown.
  4. Assemble each pancake with a teaspoon of marscapone cheese and a teaspoon of the radish/onion mixture.

Course 2: Main Course

For the main course, I wanted things to be simple, so I just made the artichokes with hollandaise. They take a long time to eat and are sufficiently filling that I didn’t think I really needed anything else. Note: I did buy a baguette, and forgot to serve it, but no one missed it.

The artichokes were simple to cook. I just cut of the tops and bottoms with a serrated knife treated with lemon juice, then trimmed the thorny tips off the leaves with scissors, then rubbed the whole thing down with a lemon. Then I boiled the suckers until they were tender, which took about half an hour, but for a while my water was simmering, not boiling.

For the hollandaise, I adjusted Julia Child’s blender recipe, which I found here, to use a bowl and electric mixer because I didn’t want to get the blender out and potentially make a mess, and I already had the electric mixer out for dessert. It worked really well. Note: this recipe makes a decent amount of sauce, which was good because I dropped the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. The sauce that stayed in the bowl (and subsequently got spooned into these little dipping bowls and topped with chives) was quite good: very buttery and a bit lemony, but not at all eggy.

Course 3: Cheese and Course

I made a small cheese and salad plate to break up dinner and dessert, which I think it accomplished, because it was half sweet and half savory. The salad was a mixture of shaved asparagus, and arugula and spinach from my garden dressed with a grapefruit infused oil that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I had three cheeses on the plate. Camenbert on a “biscuit for cheese” made with hazelnuts and figs (it is like a cross between a cracker and a biscotti) that I bought at Whole Paycheck (a rare splurge). Mimolette Francaise with Green Tomato Chutney, and a baguette round with French blue cheese and local Blue Aster honey.

Course 4: Dessert

For dessert I wanted to use up the leftover egg whites from the hollandaise, and I was tickled pink when I found this Mousse au Chocolat from Pierre Herme. Most mousses use egg yolks, too, but this was super easy; just folding a meringue into a ganache. It took less than 10 minutes. The mousse was super rich but also light. It really is a great dessert. Note: Measuring ingredients on a scale in grams is awesome, because when you want to scale a recipe to 3 egg whites instead of 5, the math in metric is so much easier than trying to work out fractions to 4/9ths.

So in all, this was a great dinner. I’m back baby!


Easy Asparagus Tart

2010/04/29

I’m back. I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while but I have a broken foot and I have been very tired and haven’t had any interest in writing. Also I have been on a bit of a geneology kick and I have been spending most of my internet time working on that instead of my blog.

But tonight I felt inspired, because I had to tell you something, dear readers. Ian was wrong. Ian was very wrong. I told him that I wanted to make an asparagus tart (with the purple asparagus I paid a little too much for at the market) for dinner, and he turned up his nose. I told him I would make him a chicken breast, too, and he told me he would rather order a pizza. But I had already started thawing the puff pastry crust, so I won and made dinner.

I followed this recipe from Closet Cooking, mostly. However, I didn’t have any Gruyere, and I didn’t feel like buying any, so I used a mixture of fresh mozzarella and parmesan. I also spread a thin layer of pesto on the bottom instead of mustard, because I had it on hand. Finally, instead of using plain olive oil to brush on the outside, I used a mixture of canola oil and truffle oil (I had bought a small bottle as an impulse without realizing it was made with chemicals and not real truffles, and I used canola because it is neutral to thin out the potent truffle oil) I also dabbed the asparagus on top with a little of the oil so it would roast better.

This is the tart before I cooked it. It was really easy to assemble; it only took a few minutes.

And this is the tart when it came out:

The crust was golden and crispy and buttery, the asparagus was roasted to perfection, and the cheese was melty and gooey just like it would have been on the pizza Ian wanted to order. The truffle oil gave a rich, earthy flavor to it all and really pulled the flavors together. Even Ian agreed it was kind of awesome, which was evident when he ate most of it.

To lighten dinner up, I also made green salads with mixed lettuces, green onions, and a little parmesan. I topped it with a vinaigrette of shallot, salt, pepper, mustard, truffle oil, canola oil (to tie in with the tart and for the same reasons as earlier), and white wine vinegar.

For Ian’s chicken breast, I sprinkled it with some dry mustard, brushed it with some of the leftover truffle/canola oil mixture from the tart, and then seasoned it with salt and pepper and baked it. Halfway through I turned it over and seasoned the other side. Ian said he liked that, too. He ate it pretty quickly, so I guess he was telling the truth.

After dinner, I asked him if he would have rather had pizza. He said no.


Favorite Things vol. 2

2010/04/11

Anyone who has shared a meal with my father, sister, and me (and paid attention) will be somewhat surprised that I would consider salt to be one of my favorite things (see the first post in this series here). While it is true that I do not pile it on everything I eat, salt can make or break a dish. But what I love most about salt (and why it makes this list) is my salt collection.

Yes, I have a salt collection.

It started innocently enough, with lovely little jar of sea salt my friend Amy brought me when she came back from a trip to Maine.

I liked it a lot, because it was a very thoughtful gift, and I put it on my table to replace the faux Sea Salt Grinder I had gotten tired of. (**note: The actual Sea Salt grinder I bought from Trader Joes had broken, so I poured the salt into an unused pepper grinder. It worked, but only so-so.) This sea salt is not too fine and not too coarse. You can tell it is there, but it doesn’t add a crunch.

Then around Christmas last year, Ian’s parents gave us a sampler of six French Sea Salts. They were all in bags, but they also gave us little jars to put them in.

From left to right, the salts are: Fleur de Sel de Guérande, Fumee de Sel (smoked Fleur de Sel), Tamise de Guérande, Velvet de Guérande, Sel Gris Fine, and Sel Gris Course. All of these salts are from Guérande in France, which is considered by many to be the best place for sea salt in the world. My favorite is the Tamise de Guérande, which has an interesting flavor and slightly coarse texture. Ian’s favorite is the Velvet de Guérande, which is a super fine grey sea salt. The smoky Fumee de Sel is also quite nice in certain dishes. I particularly like it with root vegetables.

I also just got a new salt in the Easter Basket Ian’s parents gave us.

I haven’t tried this one yet, and I still need to find it a jar, but I am looking forward to it.

Unless I am going for something in particular, however, I just use these salts for finishing at the table. For cooking, I usually use Kosher Salt.

Because the box is so big, and the mouth is wide, I keep a small amount in a plastic container and refill it as necessary.

Just so you don’t think I am salt snob, I do have a regular container of Morton’s salt.

I often use this in baking, because the crystals are regularly sized (for even distribution) and it is easy to measure.

There are still a few salts I would like to own.

Salt Wish List

Anyone else know of any interesting salts I need to try?

If you are interested in learning more about salt, read this book:

Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky. It actually extremely interesting and a great read.