Monday, December 31, 2007

CSA week five - crock pickles

As I wrote I might in my initial post a week ago, I decided to try making crock pickles with this week's cucumbers. Crock pickles, unlike refrigerator pickles, use no vinegar. Instead they rely on the environmental bacteria to ferment the cucumbers, creating acid and the sour flavor.

The process is simple: make a salt water brine with dill, garlic, black and red pepper for flavor. Put the cucumbers in, cover loosely with a weight to hold the cucumbers under the surface and wait a week or so.

Here's the result. It didn't work out so great. From my reading, two things went wrong. First, these are the wrong sort of cucumbers. The traditional pickling varieties are more solid and they're picked young before the seed region gets watery. That watery part tends to dissolve completely in the brine; I made this a bit worse by cutting the bigger cucumbers to fit and giving the bacteria direct access.

Second, too high a salt level lets yeasts grow that produce carbon dioxide. This creates "bloaters" swelled hollowed out pickles with a somewhat off flavor. (Not nearly as bad, I read, as the cheesy flavor of pickles in an under-salted brine, though.) I suppose it's some comfort that the problem I had is common enough that there's a word for it. Must mean I got it nearly right.

Despite all that, the smaller and more solid cucumbers turned out OK. It's been so long since I've had a proper deli cucumber that I'm not sure how close these come in flavor. I presume I'd have a Proustian burst of memory when I took a bite if I hit it dead on so I'm pretty sure I didn't. But, like I said, they're OK. More tangy than than sour with plenty of salt and hints of dill and garlic.

On the whole, I think I'll stick with refrigerator pickles at least until I get my hands on some proper Kirbys and a real crock.

Friday, December 28, 2007

CSA week five - braised greens with lop chong

This, I've got to admit, didn't work out so well. Not that adding a bit of sausage to greens is a bad idea. If you've been reading a while, you know that I don't think adding a bit of sausage to just about anything is a bad idea. The sauce--soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a bit of sugar--worked fine as well. You've another version of that flavor profile in the sugar and vinegar-based hot sauces added to American greens recipes. No, the problems here were a) the Sichuan peppercorns weren't well crushed so they remained unpleasant crunchy woody bits in the thin sauce, and b) another mess of greens that wilted down into a bowl full of stems.

That latter problem seems to be characteristic of the sort of mid-weight greens we've been getting a bunch of most every week. For light greens, like spinach or arugula, the stems wilt and soften along with the leaves. For tough greens, the stems are incorrigible and removed as a matter of course. But with these greens in-between--mizuna, tatsoi, hon tsai tai, and baby versions of the tough greens--the amount of cooking that tenderizes the stems does the leaves in.

The solution may be to remove the stems, chop them up and cook them for a couple minutes before adding the leaves. Hardly seems worth all the trouble though. If anyone has a suggestion for an alternative method that works for you, I'd like to hear it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CSA week five - stuffed tomatoes

I was happy to discover that my guess was right; these tomatoes are quite well suited to stuffing. A firm sturdy structure held up well to cooking and there was plenty of room for the stuffing inside.

I did a pretty traditional Italian version for my first try. I cooked up a bit of sweet Italian sausage with onions and peppers, added some greens (spinach would be a little more standard, but the fresh braising blend was a much better choice than the frozen spinach I've got on hand. The frozen vegetables would have released a lot of juice and I wanted to keep the mix pretty dry. Once the greens were wilted I added fresh bread crumbs to soak up all the liquid in the pan. Finally, I mixed in a Romano cheese herb blend to add some more flavor and bind the stuffing together. (and salt and pepper to taste, of course)

I had hollowed the tomato making sure to get all the seed and liquid bits out and then rubbed a bit of salt around the inside for seasoning and to draw out a bit more liquid. I let the tomato rest in a bowl upside down so any juice released could drain out. I wasn't sure whether to pack the stuffing in tightly or loosely, but I had made far too much so tightly it was going to be. In retrospect there's nothing in there that was going to expand so there was no need to leave room. A bit of mozzarella on top and into a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes.

The results were, well, a cooked tomato with sausage, onions, peppers a bit of greens and some cheese. Not a watery mess, but nothing spectacular emerged either. A bit of broiling might have browned the tomato a bit and added a little more flavor. Oh, I also sprayed a bit of olive oil on the outside of the tomato and tossed on a bit of salt. It didn't make much difference in flavor (although it managed to make the presentation even more hideous. I mean, just look at that picture!), but if the tomato had started to cook down, I think it would have helped.

While I was putting this together, it occurred to me that tomatoes, onions and peppers have worked their way into most world cuisines so you could easily adjust the recipe to suit your mood. Use an appropriately spiced ground or chopped meat and rice or couscous or whatever local starch fits and there you go. If we keep getting these tomatoes, I think I'm going to trying out a few more variations.

My first inspiration along these lines was a breakfast stuffed tomato. I used the same onions and peppers although chopped a bit more finely this time along with some breakfast sausage. I seasoned this with what I consider a tragically ignored flavor combination: maple syrup and Tabasco sauce. I had hoped the reduced syrup would act as a binder, but I think the water in the hot sauce (actually another vinegar-based hot pepper sauce Cholula that adds some spices for a more well-rounded flavor) kept that from happening. So I threw in some of the colby jack cheese that I had shredded for a topping.

Once that was packed into the tomato, I cracked an egg on top, added the cheese and into the oven it went. Since the first tomato was pretty much just warmed through, I turned the heat up to 350 degrees this time. After 15 minutes the tomato was cooked, but the egg wasn't. I checked on baked eggs in my old Betty Crocker and 15 minutes at 350 is supposed to do the trick; I think the cheese over top insulated the egg from the heat. So I pushed the cheese aside and put the tomato back in for another five minutes. Here's the results. Not pretty, but it was tasty. Was it as tasty as everything grilled separately? Not really as it missed out the browning and all the flavors and textures it brings with it. But it was less of a mess, probably a little lower fat and an interesting presentation (if done correctly. I think my results ended up more "interesting" than interesting). That's the whole point of stuffing a tomato in the first place, but I don't know if it's worth what it loses in flavor.

I'll have to give a bit of thought on how to improve the results; I suspect broiling is going to be involved. Or possibly breading and deep frying. If you've got any ideas I'd like to hear them.

There's also the issue of the waste of all that tomato innards that were scooped out. I probably should have cooked a stuffed pepper at the same time and just moved the tomato bits over.

CSA week five - tuna avocado salad

I really did intend to make the beer battered avocado, and I may still (although a fritter version with shrimp and hot peppers looks appealing too), but I forgot that beer batter needs to rest for an hour to two and I was hungry now. So I scanned over the the California cuisine recipe list to try to get a sense of it so I could adapt its general culinary zeitgeist to whatever ingredients I could scrounge up. Here's what I came up with:

Tuna avocado salad

1/2 Monroe avocado, chopped coarsely
7 oz. tuna (packed in a pouch not a can. The pouch tuna really is worth the extra cost.)
2 T finely chopped onion
1 T finely chopped jalapeño
2 T finely chopped black olives (I don't really know what kind. They taste kalamata-esque but they're not pitted or as dried)

1 T lemon juice
1 T champagne vinegar
2 T olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste. And herbs if you can figure out what might go with all of that. Basil maybe? Or parsley? (I settled on parley, which I mixed into the leftovers. It added a nice herbal note without overwhelming the other flavors.)

mix the dressing, mix the salad, mix the dressing into the salad. And you're done.

Serve over greens or in a wrap. That would be appropriately Californian.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I think the various flavors matched nicely, although that may have been helped considerably by the relatively bland Monroe avocado. Visually, it's quite striking with the chunks of black and green against the tan tuna background. Some nice textural contrasts too or I could mash it up a bit and make a sandwich spread out of it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

CSA farm subscription - week five

Let's see what we've got this week.

First off are a big bag of braising greens and a smaller bag of salad greens. No inspiration required here; the instructions are right in the names. The key with both, I think, is going to be simple preparations that don't overwhelm the green's flavors and textures. I think last week's hon tsai tai recipe will work better with this week's braising blend.

The cucumbers are definitely going into the pickle jar this week. I've only ever done refrigerator pickles, but I might try the traditional crock style that pickles using fermentation instead of vinegar if I can find a suitable container.

The tomatoes, as I mentioned in my last post, I'll probably stuff. Looking around at the recipes, I'm finding at least four different varieties of stuffed tomatoes with the main component of the filling being meat, bread crumbs, cheese, or the scooped-out tomato. All I've ever had is the soggy nasty hamburger-and-rice stuffed version so I'm curious what an actual good stuffed tomato is like.

The herbs this week are dill and cilantro. Some of the dill will flavor the pickles. The cilantro will find its way into something. I do too much Southeast Asian and Central American cooking for some application not to turn up before it rots.

For the pole beans my first impulse is a bean and corn salad. My second impulse is that I had a very nice ceviche dressed with both of those ingredients a while back.

Finally, the avocado I think I'll use in a California cuisine sort of way which mainly seems to involve slapping a slice onto some unsuspecting sandwich., the California Avocado Commission's website has a long list of recipes ranging from reasonable (bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich) to ludicrous (avocado schnitzel). The Beer-Battered Fried Avocado Wedges with Salsa seems like a particularly bad idea so I'll probably end up making that. I'm probably going to encounter problems substituting the Florida Monroe avocado for the Hasses the Californian recipes are expecting. If any of you guys have advice on this, I'd be obliged to hear it.

Since I got the half box, I missed out on chard, which I don't mind, and sunchokes which I'll miss. Since they're in season, I suppose I could go buy some, but they'll probably be imported from halfway across the planet. If you're wondering what to do with them, my favorite preparation is to just spritz them with a bit of olive oil, cut a small slit in the skin and then roast them at a pretty high temperature. The insides with turn into a flavorful paste that you can spread on bread like you can with roasted garlic and the bit that leaks out where you cut will caramelize beautifully. Now that I think about it, I have no idea what else to do with the things. Good job I like the one recipe I do know.

CSA week four - everything else

Rounding out week four, I finished the rest of the vegetables in three dishes.

First, the tuna crudo is pretty much as described in my first week four post a week ago with the simple salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil dressing. You can just make out the bed of arugula on the bottom there. One thing worth mentioning is that I used salt cured capers instead of the more common vinegar cured. The salt cured version has a more intense burst of caper flavor with hints of fruit and flowers replacing the pickled onion notes of the vinegar cured version. I thought it a better match to the tuna.

The broccoli raab, or whatever that was, ended up part of one of my favorite too-tired-for-a-proper-dinner dinners. It's a slight variation of a Gabrielle Hamilton's Pasta Kerchiefs with Poached Egg, French Ham, and Brown Butter. Instead of making my own pasta, which I suppose I ought to try one of these days, I use pappardelle or sometimes big broken slabs of lasagna noodles. The latter give a better texture, but you've got to deal with pasta shrapnel bouncing around the kitchen when you break them up. I also boost the amount of greens and lighten the brown butter sauce with some olive oil. Sometimes I'll add onions, mushrooms or tomatoes or switch out the Parmigiano for some mild melty cheese, but those are all accents to the central ham and eggs on pasta aspect.

Finally, it was time for a Saturday morning hash to clear out the refrigerator for the next box of vegetables. This week that meant the beets--there wasn't enough to properly fill a pickle jar so I'm holding off on that idea--the remains of the green pepper and tomato and whatever else I had around. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how to make hash so I'll just note that the beets added a lovely sweet roasty flavor that came from roasting them until they were almost caramelized before adding them to the pan. Also, the tomato took better to this application than to eating raw due to its meaty texture. I think stuffing would be another good application for that variety of tomato should one turn up in later week's box.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CSA week four - radish and beet greens in a faux-paella

I've generally used Israeli couscous as a lazy man's risotto. The little tapioca-like balls have a similar semi-firm bite and make a creamy starch-based sauce close to risotto's. But they do it in just ten minutes without a lot of fuss. This time around, I wanted to do something Iberian instead of Italian with them.

That's mainly because instead of straight Israeli couscous I had this blend I picked up at Trader Joe's last time I was up North. You probably can't read the label, but the colored bits you can see there are spinach and tomato orzo, split baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa. It was those garbanzo beans in particular that made me think Spanish or Portuguese flavors would work well. One thing I didn't think of, and apparently nobody at Trader Joe's thought of either, is that dried garbanzo beans, no matter how small, take considerably longer to cook than Israeli couscous. More on that later.

Unlike paella (and like most successful risottos), the starch and the rest of the dish cook separately. I simmered a cup of the couscous mix with half a tablespoon of butter and a bit more than a cup of chicken broth.

In a separate pan--a paella pan actually as that's what I happen to have in 8" non-stick--I heated some olive oil and a quarter pound of garlicky Portuguese chorizo on medium-high heat until it started to sizzle and the sausage rendered out some lovely bright red fat. I added a half cup diced onion, a half cup diced green pepper, eight or so medium shrimp salt, pepper and a tablespoon of Spanish smoked paprika (a.k.a. pimenton), turned the heat down a bit and sautéed for a few minutes until the shrimp were nearly cooked and the onion and pepper were translucent and tender. Then I added all the greens--about 4 cups I'd guess--my beet greens were pretty badly chewed up in the garden so I had less usable than perhaps you do, and stirred it all up to wilt. I deliberately didn't dry the greens very much so a bit of sauce had started to develop by this point.

If I was using plain couscous, it would have been done at this point and I could have added it to the pan. Instead, I added more broth and simmered the grains for 10 more minutes while all my vegetables overcooked. Then, with the baby garbanzos still not quite tender and everything else turning to mush, I added them to the pan along with a 7 oz. can of fresh--well, not dried anyway--garbanzos including the liquid. I stirred it a bit more, heated everything through and cooked the canned garbanzos a little to lose the starchy texture, adjusted the seasonings and I was done. As it cooled at bit, the sauce thickened up nicely.

Not too difficult, a nice presentation, and a lovely combination of flavors. The texture could be better, but when you make it, it will be. I know you can get Israeli couscous at Green Market and I'm pretty sure they're in Whole Food's bulk grain offerings too. You can get the pimenton both places too and, as I mentioned in comments last week, it's a great addition to your spice drawer.

That's not to say you really need it for this dish. Switch out the chorizo for Italian sausage and add some tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Or add feta, lemon and oregano for a creamy Greek variation. Or sharp cheddar and ham for an American version. Lots of possibilities here and now I'm sorry I didn't think of the Greek version earlier.

Monday, December 17, 2007

CSA week four - stir fried hon tsai tai and a whole bunch of other stuff

[Edit: as this post is one of the top results for Googling "hon tsai tai", I'd like to add a few ideas I've picked up since I first posted this. First, hon tsai tai is tougher than it looks. Cut out the purple stems (the green ones are less woody) and slice the leaves into thin shreds before cooking them. If you're using them in a stir fry, add them early. Braising like collards would be a good application if you wanted to leave them whole. Or try them in the Brazilian kale recipes I made. I think they'd work well in those too. Also, they have a somwhat bitter taste when cooked. Consider sweet sauces or just adding a pinch of sugar for contrast. If you've got other suggestions, please leave them in the comments for other searchers to find. Thanks!]

I really only wanted to add a flavor or two to the recipe from this week's newsletter, but the dish kind of got away from me. To start, I had it in my head from somewhere that Chinese recipes sometimes season greens with dried scallops. I don't have any of those but I do have dried shrimp and I found a recipe in 1000 Chinese recipes pairing them with Chinese lettuce. I had some fresh scallops so I decided to throw those in too. Both that recipe and a spinach stir fry from later in the book used dried shiitakes so in those went. A variant of the lettuce recipe included bamboo shoots and I had some of those leftover. And while I was looking for those I found some leftover ground pork from Saturday's nachos that needed using up.

Now for a sauce. Nine hundred of those one thousand recipe all have the same sauce: soy sauce, sherry (or rice wine), a bit of salt and a bit of sugar. A bit of stock and cornstarch to thicken. Your generic Chinese brown sauce. Add some hot sauce and now you're talking.

Here's more or less how it worked out:

2 bunches hon tsai tai (1 lb?)
1 small handful dried shrimp
2 large or 4 small dried shiitake mushrooms
1/3 cup sliced bamboo shoots
18 or so bay scallops
1/4 lb ground pork
4 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine
1 t sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
hot sauce to taste
2 t corn starch

1. Soak shrimp and mushrooms separately in hot water. Slice mushrooms and reserve half cup of soaking water straining out the mushroom crud.

2. Chop hon tsai tai and separate out the stemmy chunks from the leafy ones.

3. Mix soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt and hot sauce.

4. Mix corn starch with 2 t water

5. Heat wok (or large cast iron pan) until it glows cherry red or the fire alarm goes off. Add 1 T of peanut oil and shrimp. Stir fry for a minute

6. Add hon tsai tai stems, mushrooms and bamboo shoots, a bit of salt and some garlic and ginger if you're not about to run out and are saving the last bits for another recipe. Stir fry 3 minutes.

7. Add pork. Stir fry 1 minute.

8. Add soy sauce mix and scallops. Stir fry one minute.

9. Add hon tsai tai leaves. Stir fry until they wilt. Then lower heat to medium. Cover and steam for 3 minutes.

10. Add mushroom soaking water. Mix, cover and steam for 3 minutes more.

11. Check stems for doneness. If they're still not tender, steam some more. But if they are, clear out a space in the middle of the pan for the sauce to puddle. Stir corn starch mixture and add to the puddle. When sauce thickens, stir the dish one more time, turn it out into a bowl and serve immediately.

I'm pretty happy with the end result even if my hon tsai tai stems were a bit undercooked and stringy (I added a couple minutes cooking time to the recipe to fix that). The sauce was flavorful, but didn't overwhelm the vegetables. The dried shrimp adds an interesting flavor and some nice texture, particularly if you don't soak them for a full hour. Nothing extraordinary, but a decent weeknight stir fry.

You'll notice that I treated the hon tsai tai like kale while the newsletter treated it like spinach. Maybe I misidentified the vegetable or maybe I just got an older tougher bunch, but I can't imagine the newsletter recipe coming close to working. Even if you trimmed off all the stems, which wouldn't leave much, you'd still be chewing those leaves for quite a while after only two minutes of steaming. Have any of you tried it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No knead bread

I'm a year behind the times on this, but I just discovered the bread that buzzed around the food blogosphere a year ago. If you were paying attention then there's no need to read any further, but if you weren't and you're a fan of those overpriced loaves with the spongy interior and the crispy chewy crust, then read on. It's remarkably easy to make and the results are very good indeed, particularly considering my long and wretchedly poor history of bread making. I spent years trying various methods and recipes and almost invariably coming up with barely edible results. I'm not going to quite call this recipe fool-proof, but it's certainly fool-resistant.

I've heard that America's Test Kitchen's latest issue has their variation on the recipe (with a little bit of kneading involved), but I used the original straight from the November 8, 2006 New York Times. I should have done by usual recipe search because I would have discovered the general consensus that the 1 5/8 cups of water to 3 cups bread flour ratio called for is a little high. I'll be using 1 1/2 cups water next time (and probably some whole wheat or rye flour for some extra flavor).

I started by mixing the flour and water along with 1/4 t instant yeast and up to nearly a tablespoon of salt in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 18 hours at 70 degrees. My room temperature is rather higher than that so I could probably have gotten away with a few hours less, but going the full 18 hours turned out fine.

Because I had used the full 1 5/8 water on a rather humid day, my dough was a wet sticky mess. I've worked with ciabatta dough before so I had enough experience with loose doughs to muddle through, but the revised recipe should be easier to work with. I folded the dough over itself as best I could, let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes and then attempted to form it into a ball and move it onto a floured towel. Then I sprinkled it with cornmeal, covered it again and let it sit for a couple more hours to double in size.

The second trick to the recipe, along with letting the dough distribute and align its proteins itself over time, is to cook it in a covered pot in the oven to keep in the steam. My only suitably sized pot has a non-stick coating which would have given off toxic fumes during the half hour pre-heat so it was out of the question. However, I do have a clay cooker that looked like it would work. I put it in the oven and pre-heated for a half hour at 450 degrees. (much of the discussion from last year recommends shorter baking times at higher temperatures. I'll mess with that after I experiment with other flours.)

After the dough rose I had some difficulty putting it into the hot clay cooker as it stuck to the towel quite badly. Next time, I'll try using a plastic cutting board as a base instead. I finally coaxed it in, put the cover back on and baked for a half hour. Then I removed the cover and baked another 15 minutes to brown and crisp the crust. Here's the results:

As you can see, it could probably have used another five minutes or so in the oven to deepen the browning, but it's still a golden brown lovely and the grain inside has plenty of large holes. The flavor is surprisingly nice for an all white-flour loaf. The inside was still a little moist so I'll have to tweak it a bit more as I experiment, (and here's a link to a follow-up article with some tweak results) but this is the sort of results I was looking for but never got when I first started home baking years ago. I'm definitely looking forward to picking up the hobby again and trying out different variations. If you've found baking intimidating, you ought to give it a try too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chai ice cream (as promised)

I've had chai ice cream on my to-do list for a while now and the sudden surfeit of honey from CSA week three was as good a reason as any to get around to it. This is going to be my last ice cream for a while; everyone's going to be swearing off rich desserts after the holidays, I figure. I've got enough egg whites accumulated for another angel food cake for January and then I've got a few ideas for my February return.

As usual, I poked around online to look over some recipes before deciding how I want to go about making a new dish. There are lots of recipes called chai ice cream, but I think they miss an essential chai-ness. If you're just adding spices to a basic ice cream base what makes it chai and not just spice ice cream? Of course, there are a wide range of chai recipes too so defining just what a chai ice cream should be is pretty tough.

I decided what I really wanted to emulate was a variety called cooked chai where the spices are boiled in water for up to forty-five minutes before milk is added. Some of these include black tea for the whole boiling time, but that seems a pretty bad idea if you don't want a nasty astringent flavor. Some also start with twice the amount of water wanted and then boil it down. So that's condensed water? It's more traditional than logical, but I decided to try it anyway. I figure that's going to give me full flavor extraction from the spices (for which I used the Masala mix from Theine tea salon). I started with two cups of water and four heaping teaspoons of spices. After it boiled down, I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly and then let an industrial sized teabag (a Luzianne brand mix designed for ice tea) steep for four minutes.

The final step to making chai would be to add a cup of warmed milk and copious amounts of sugar or honey. For the ice cream, I mixed a half cup of honey with three egg yolks to which I added the still warm brew to temper the eggs. Then, finally I added a cup of cream and a dash of salt. This went back on the heat to 170 degrees to cook the custard, then into a container to cool overnight.

The next day, into the churn it went. Not too surprisingly, it didn't really want to thicken up. I was hopeful the custard would help, but with the mix over half water (including all the water in the honey), there was bound to be trouble. I did manage to get it to milkshake thickness and I have my fingers crossed that ripening in the freezer will at least get it to soft-serve consistency. [I checked it a few hours later and it seems to have solidified a bit though it is still very soft and creamy. Not a bad thing really since it will be a nice texture straight out of the freezer instead of having to sit on the counter for five minutes.] The flavor, at least right out of the churn, was a good strong typical chai. I think there's a distinctive flavor chai gets from boiling off the aromatics in the cloves, cinnamon, etc.

How to solve the texture problem is a tricky question. Most infusions just replace the water with milk and then add the powdered version of the flavor to the milk instead. Plenty of powdered chai mix about so that's the simple solution, but those mixes never taste quite right to me. Maybe next time, I'll increase the cream to water ratio and then add some spices when I cool it overnight for a cold infusion. That might work.

I might post a picture of the final ripened ice cream later if anyone really needs to see a scoop of khaki-colored ice cream illustrated. And speaking of illustrations, I changed some settings on my phone's camera and I think I'm getting clearer pics now. It turns out I had to lower the resolution so a) the jolt when I hit the button caused less blurring, and b) there was less distortion when the pictures were shrunk to fit. So it's a technical thing and not a sudden increase in skill that's reducing your eyestrain, in case you were wondering.

CSA subscription - week four

Another week, another CSA delivery. Let's see what we've got this time.

The breakfast radishes were a new one on me, but the consensus of the first page of Google hits is to eat them with salt, butter and a crusty bread and I can't argue with that. The radish, cilantro, chicken stir fry sounds interesting too (particularly as I bet you could add the radish tops in too), but I'll save that for next time they turn up.

The beets I'm torn on; They could end up pickled or roasted. I'm fond of the sweet pickled beets Kyra makes for the salads at Theine tea shop (which you ought to try if you haven't) and I've managed a fair simulation at home using a standard sweet pickle brine. It's about time for me to tweak the recipe for a second try at it, but if I end up roasting anything this week, the beets are liable to get tossed in alongside.

The green pepper is a utility player that may end up anywhere. The tomato I would say that about too, but I'm cooking for just me and since half a tomato doesn't store well, one that large pushes its way to the front of a dish. I'm thinking of pairing it with a tuna crudo dressed with lemon, olive oil, black pepper and a finishing salt. And maybe a bit of an herb or some capers.

The cilantro arrives just in time to go into the guacamole with the finally-ripe avocado and the remains of last week's cherry tomatoes.

And that just leaves lots and lots of leaves. I'm not entirely certain which greens are which. The purple one with the flowers must be the hon tsai tai and I'm fairly confident the one with the rounded leaves is arugula. But the one with the corrugated leaves I don't really know. I presume it's the broccoli raab, but it doesn't have the thickened asparagus-esque stems with the mini-broccoli buds that I'm familiar with (although, according to McGee's _On Food and Cooking_, it's unrelated to broccoli. I did not know that.) This week's picture isn't a great deal of help in sorting things out. What we need is an inset with a close-up on the shape of the leaves.

My general strategy with greens, which you may have caught on to by now, is to saute' the greens, add a pork product and sometimes a shellfish and mix it into a starch. I've got a couple of ideas I haven't used yet along those lines, one French(ish), another Spanish(ish), that I'll show you as I make them. I'll have to give some thought to another strategy for these; If any of you folks have suggestions, do please share them.

One final thought: the newsletters mentioned that you should store greens in a plastic bag, but there's a bit there's a slightly more complicated version I've had some success with. Put the greens, unwashed, in a ziplock bag along with a piece of paper towel to absorb the water the leaves will release keeping it away from the leaves and halting the goopy rot that would otherwise ensue. Nestle the paper towel in amongst the leaves because the next step is to squeeze out as much air as possible and you want to keep the paper towel in contact during this. Once you've got most of the air squeezed out, use a straw or just some ingenuity to suck out the rest. Have a beverage handy because you will suck up a bit of grit. This will keep your greens fresh through the week even if you open the bag up a few times along the way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CSA week three - fassolakia freska me domata

Or, in other words, green bean casserole with tomato. This is a recipe particularly well suited to week three as it uses the green beans, the tomatoes (although peeling and seeding all those little cherry tomatoes would be a pain. I used the tomatoes I bought during week two before I knew I'd be getting a pint on Saturday) and some of the parsley. I found the recipe here and, other than cutting it down by five eighths, made it as written.

Fifty minutes seemed like a heck of a long time to simmer green beans, but they kept a good bit of flavor and texture even if the color suffered. I made the variation with the added potatoes and fifty minutes was on the long side for them too. If I hadn't used red bliss, they would have fallen apart entirely. I might cut 10 minutes off the cooking time next time (or make it a very low simmer).

Here's the before picture:

and here's the after:

The recipe calls for it to be served with tzatziki which is not much different from the cucumber soup I made a few days ago so I defrosted a bowlful. It turned out to make a substantially better sauce than a soup; I shouldn't have mixed in the sour cream.

Interestingly, without the tzatziki, the dish isn't exceptionally Greek (well, maybe the potatoes). So here's an Italian presentation drizzled with basil oil and topped with Parmesan shreds. Both were pretty good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

CSA week three - a mess of greens

I made a mess of greens today using up all of the turnips and the callaloo. It was a bit untraditional as I added black eyed peas to the pot half way through. Not an unusual pairing, but usually they're cooked separately.

That addition meant that I couldn't use my preferred method of cooking greens which is to boil them for only 15 minutes or so and then finish them off by frying them up with chopped onion in bacon fat. All boiling works too; no big deal.

Initially, I was worried that the callaloo would cook faster than the turnip greens, but they turned out fine started at the same time. The end result is tasty, but a little bitter. I think that's because I added the peas a little too late and ended up overcooking the greens a little. This recipe should have that fixed:

1 bunch callaloo
1 bunch turnip greens
2 turnips
5 1-inch slices smoked ham shank (at least two from the meaty part) or a smoked turkey leg or just some liquid smoke
1/2 t salt
1/2 t molasses
2 cups frozen black eyed peas (if you use canned, throw them in for just the last few minutes. If you use fresh, soak them first but the timing should work otherwise.)

1. Wash both greens thoroughly, remove tough stems (that's most of the callaloo stems, but possibly none of the turnips'), and coarsely chop.

2. Peel and chop turnips.

3. Layer bottom of 6 quart dutch oven (or some other large pot with a heavy bottom) with ham slices. Add 2 cups water, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Remove ham. Add all of the greens, the turnips, the salt and molasses. Stir well. Replace ham on top of the greens.

5. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, mixing in the ham now that the greens have wilted.

6. Remove ham slices and add black eye peas. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes until the peas and thick stems are cooked through.

7. Meanwhile, cool ham, remove meat and marrow from bone, chop and return to pot.

I think I adjusted those times correctly. If you try it, please let me know either way.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

CSA week two - chilled cucumber soup

Using up the last of week two's cucumbers and some more of the dill, I made this cucumber soup with only a few minor changes. I substituted heavy cream for the half and half, mixed in the sour cream instead of dolloping it on top and I threw the whole thing into the ice cream maker.

You can't see it very well in the photo, but the ice cream is a light green with shreds of cucumber and specks of dill and black pepper.

Even if you haven't had cucumber soup before, the result is pretty familiar as it's about the flavor and texture of a typical crudite' dip. If I had used a cup of cream cheese to finish it off, that's what it would have been. Instead, I had to solidify it the hard way. I was hoping for a slightly more exotic experience, but, if I had given it a bit of thought beforehand, I would have realized how it was likely to turn out. Not a bad dish, but not fabulous either.

Here it is served over this week's salad mix and halved cherry tomatoes. I would have included some carrot sticks two if could find any for sale nearby. When spread of toast, the ice cream looks just like a cream cheese spread so the cold kept surprising me with every bite. It was an interesting lunch, not not really a great one, but an interesting one.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

CSA subscription - week three

I've got one more recipe for the vegetables from week two that I'll post about tomorrow, but for now it's time to look to the future and the cornucopia that is week three. (Here's what Trina at miami dish did with Week Two if you haven't seen it.)

A whole lot of different things this week and I've got to admit that I'm a bit overwhelmed. Luckily the oranges and salad mix don't need any imagination to deal with. The parsley I'll use if it comes up, but if the extras box was still there when I got to the pick up spot I would have donated it; I'm not a big fan. In the back of the first photo you can barely make out a rather large avocado. It'll probably end up a guacamole. There are only so many avocados you can look at before giving up and taking the easy route out. Anyway, I'm currently stuck in a delicious cycle so I've got an immediate use for guac.

Next up is the mizuna. I'm intrigued by how Trina used her greens last time in a sticky rice so I think I'll try that with my leftover tatsoi and the mizuna. I've never had luck cooking sticky rice in the traditional way, wrapped in a banana leaf, so I'll probably just make the rice in my rice cooker, stir fry the other ingredients, mix them in and compress the results into the proper loaf shape. In fact, I think I'll go do that right now. Hang on a moment...

OK, I'm back and here's the result. The only short grain rice I had in my pantry was risotto rice, but I think it worked fine. I added dark soy sauce and some white pepper to the rice maker. In the rice are plenty of tatsoi and mizuna, some onion and water chestnuts for a bit of crunch and the traditional sticky rice meats: Chinese sausage and shrimp. After taking my first couple bites I realize I'm missing shitake mushrooms. Well, no reason I can't fry some up and mix them in to the leftovers later. I also used garlic, hot pepper and sesame oil. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out and it was very quick and easy, too.

Let's see, what else have we got...the callaloo and turnip tops are going to make a mess of greens since I've already got the unused ham shanks defrosted from last week. The turnips and the cherry tomatoes will probably end up in salads. The green beans I'll probably just steam. Nothing fancy required.

Of course, my plans last week had little to do with what I actually ended up doing so stay tuned.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

CSA week two - salmon tartare

I got some distance into preparing pickles (dumping ancient pickled beets and scrubbing out the coffee crock I use as a pickling jar) when I decided that the CSA cucumbers are too watery to be properly pickled and some other application is called for. As you probably guessed from the subject line, first out of the gate is salmon tartare.

A lot of the recipes out there call for sushi grade salmon, but I don't think that's really necessary for this dish for a couple reasons. First, when the fish is chopped so finely (1/4" cubes) and mixed with so many other ingredients, you're not going to be left chewing on a piece of tough meat. Second, the dressing includes lemon juice so the salmon chemically cooks on your plate while you eat.

Additionally, I use frozen fish from my local Publix supermarket on the basis that fish frozen onboard the fishing boat is fresher than fish that's been sitting in the display case for who knows how long. Most likely that fish was frozen too and then defrosted at the fish market so defrosting it yourself is a better idea. My actual point here is that freezing causes ice crystals to form inside the fish's cells which grow to rupture some of them which acts as a tenderizer. (Or if the process is handled badly, turns the fish into mush.)

So here's what I did as near as I can reconstruct the process:

Salmon Tartare
serves one and a half

1 fillet of skinless, boneless salmon, approximately 1/3 pound
1/2 cucumber
1 T onion (or shallots if you've got them)
2 T dill (more CSA produce used up there)
1 T chives (this could easily be doubled)
2 t capers
1 T lemon juice
2 T mayonnaise (sour cream, yogurt, or the like would work just as well. Or use olive oil for a lighter dish.)
1 medium tomato, peeled and seeded (I normally wouldn't bother with peeling, but the peel really wanted off of this particular tomato. weird, really.)
salt and pepper to taste (I'd recommend going light on the salt during prep and use a finishing salt. That worked really well for me.)

1. Cut salmon into 1/4" dice or just whack at it with a couple knives like you're on Iron Chef until it's nearly a paste. (For some reason many tartare recipes specify putting the salmon back into the refrigerator at this point as if it's going to take you all afternoon to chop your vegetables. I say leave it out for the 15 minutes it takes to finish the dish and let it warm up a little to let the flavors out.)

2. Finely chop the onion, dill, chives and tomato. And the capers if you feel like it.

3. Slice the cucumber paper thin and lay the rounds out to cover a plate.

4. Mix the salmon, chopped vegetables, lemon juice and mayo. Mound on the cucumbers or if you want to get fancy, press into a ring on the center of the plate.

5. Sprinkle with finishing salt. (not pictured as I thought of it only after I had taken a few bites and ruined the presentation) Serve with toast points for extra fanciness.

Very tasty and those who go 'ew' at raw fish probably won't even notice that's what they're eating what with everything else going on.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

CSA week two - Thai red curry with yellow squash and mustard greens

As I mentioned in my first CSA week 2 post, I wasn't thrilled with the range of recipes for yellow squash that my searching turned up. However, there was one, a curry, that stood out. I think it was just misfiled. There are plenty of Thai curries using squash, but they all call for winter squashes--pumpkin and butternut primarily. Both of those are new world plants so they're no doubt substituting for something similar native to southeast Asia. Bitter melon? More probably something I've never heard of (although bitter melon would have added a nice element to the dish I made).

Well, since we're already substituting, why not take another step and use summer squash instead? And for the bok choy commonly found in Thai curries, use mustard greens? Or if you got the full share, you've got some bok choy so there you go. To those I added two other standard Thai curry vegetables: bamboo shoots and peas. And for some protein I wanted seafood. A rummage in the freezer turned up a haddock fillet which is a suitably firm whitefish and some bay scallops.

For the sauce, I needed coconut milk and red curry paste (the best version for seafood). Normally, I'd also need fish sauce, stock of some sort, lemongrass, sugar and maybe some garlic or cilantro, but I had a shortcut handy. A while back, I made a drunken shrimp recipe that included just about all of those flavors. After picking out all the lemongrass, as one does, I found that I had a lot more sauce than really required for the shrimp so I packed the extra away in the freezer. I pulled it out for this and, just for the heck of it, I marinated the seafood in it for a while.

Making Thai curry is a pretty simple proposition. Simmer the coconut milk and curry paste for five minutes or so to get the raw taste out of the coconut milk and thicken up the sauce, add the rest of the seasonings and the tougher vegetables, simmer five more minutes, add the rest of the ingredients, simmer five minutes more and you're done. Mustard greens are tough customers so I gave them a bit of a stir fry in the pan first to give them a good wilt. It wouldn't have hurt to do the same for the squash, but ten minutes of simmering pretty much did the trick.

You might have noticed that I used a flat bottom wok. I don't actually recommend that. If the large burner on my stove was working, I would have used a dutch oven and my squash would be cooked evenly. Despite that, it turned out pretty nicely. It's a bit mild, but I blame that on the wimpy mass-market curry paste I used. (The price one pays for last minute dinner ideas.) And it used up a good chunk of the CSA vegetables. Tomorrow I pickle.