Monday, December 29, 2008

CSA week four - Filleto tartufato with parsley salad

I mentioned in the most recent CSA week-opening post that I had rich and classy beef dish planned to be accompanied by a parsley salad. This is that. I've been accumulating small amounts of high-tone ingredients that I've bought on impulse and this is a good chance to put them all together to strut their stuff. I've got here a six ounce filet mignon (cut from the three pound piece of grass-fed tenderloin I got a good deal on last month), a summer black truffle (second best to winter black truffle but only half the cost at around $12 per truffle), a small bottle of foie gras (mushy from the preservation, but the flavor is comparable to fresh. And at $13 for 1.7 ounces rather more affordable.), and some condensed veal demi-glace (only five bucks and enough for several recipes).

I'm using a recipe from the Gilded Fork at Culinary Media Network. I've poked around a bit on their website and I'm still not clear just who these people are or what their deal is. Kind of a web-only alternative to Gourmet magazine I think.

Anyway, the recipe isn't too complicated. I seasoned the filet with just salt and pepper and sautéed it in olive oil and butter in a small cast iron pan for four minutes on one side and three on the other. (The recipe says: "Cooking time will depend on how well-done you desire the steaks." Great guidance there. Thanks a lot.) My cooking time was a pure guess but by chance, I managed to get the filet done to just about medium; a little further along than I generally prefer but quite palatable.

In another pan I sweated the truffle, shaved thin, in butter. (The recipe actually calls for a full ounce of truffle for each steak. That's eight whole average truffles and assuming they're calling for black winter truffle, about $100 worth. There's certainly not that much piled up in the picture with the recipe so I'm going to assume some screw up here and that using just one truffle is sufficient. After a few minutes I added a good splash of red wine (They call for Madiera but Fresh Market didn't have any so I just used a Cab that goes well with red meat. Probably nothing like what was intended, but I like how it turned out.) and the reconstituted demi-glace and turned down the heat to just keep it warm.

When the steak was done I removed it to a warm oven and added slices of foie gras, seasoned and floured, to the pan and turned up the heat to quickly brown it on both sides.

And that's it. The steak gets topped by the foie gras and the sauce (mounted with a pat of cold butter) is poured on top. Easy-peasy.

The salad is just as easy. A big handful of parsley leaves (stems kept for making soup) roughly chopped, tossed with a sliced shallot and maybe a half Tablespoon of capers. Seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

I shouldn't have used the black plate; I don't think you can get a really good look at the assembled dish. Sorry.

So is it everything it's cracked up to be? Could anything possibly be? It's certainly got Arby's roast beef sandwich beat; I'll give it that much. I want to say it's one-note, but that's not quite right. Each component is evident and compliments the others with its own individual take on that note: buttery, earthy, fatty, meaty, rich (with some tanginess from the wine). It's a chorus, but monotonic; like Gregorian plainchant. OK, I just had a bit with the right amounts of everything at the right temperature and the layers of flavors and textures really are very good indeed. I'm now I'm willing to put it on par with a well-made cheesesteak. I don't know if I made the sauce quite properly and I certainly didn't use the heap of truffles the recipe calls for so it wouldn't be fair for me to write it off on the basis of my own efforts. And maybe it's unfair to expect it to be transcendent just because of its pricey ingredients. If I see it on a menu and I've got the cash to burn I'll consider it, but I'll probably order the lobster.

The parsley salad is the steak's diametric opposite: light, crisp and tart. A lovely accompaniment. Going back and forth between the two is a bit much, but the bread acts as a mediator as it did with the marrow bones the salad was invented to accompany. I think it would go nicely with carpaccio or as a garnish to a bowl of beef bourguignon.

I've still got lots of parsley left; I'll have to look into other parsley salads as I don't think I'll be eating any more beef for a little while now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

CSA week four - Chili tofu with beans and bok choy

Just a quick note here. I made this recipe from the CSA newsletter tonight and I want to warn against it. For me at least it came out as a random assortment of vegetables in an undistinguished tomatoey muck. I didn't think it came together as a coherent dish from any cuisine I recognize at all.

The recipe is pretty vague so it may have just been the way I went about it. A few folks commenting on the originating blog post seemed to like it. I used high heat as if it were a proper stir fry and I don't think the tomato reacted well to that so you might leave your heat down around medium if you choose to make it.

I'd suggest bumping up the spices too; I couldn't detect them in the final dish at all. The original poster talks about a recent trip to an Asian grocery so the amounts she calls for may reflect fresh and potent (and probably fresh ground) spices that bottles from the cabinet can't compare to.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

CSA week four - Radish tortilla española

Now here's something a little more original than the dishes I've been posting about recently.

I've been considering what to do with all those radishes and reading up on roasted radish recipes. One webpage said that when roasted radishes lost their bite and became more like little potatoes. That matched my recollections from cooking radishes last year and I starting thinking about how I could use radishes if I treated them like potatoes. I can't reconstruct my thought processes but I somehow had the notion that they'd go well with eggs so I thought I'd try substituting them into tortilla española. My Miami readers already know what that is, but for Kat, my mom and whoever else is out there, it's basically a thick omelet layered with sliced potatoes that's common in tapas bars all around Spain. Wikipedia has a pretty good description if you want more details.

There are lots of regional variations (none including radishes as far as I can see) that vary the thickness and what other ingredients you might put in. Some include spinach so I thought I could include the radish tops. Onions, garlic and peppers are common so I added those too.

Here's my mise en place. I thickly sliced all of the radishes minus a few I already noshed on. Half the radish tops had yellowed to unusability at this point but I think I've got a good amount left. That's about a quarter of a large onion, one large clove of garlic and one large Serrano pepper, seeded, as I'm out of bell pepper.

The first step was to fry up the radishes in copious olive oil. I wanted them soft, not browned so I kept the temperature to medium and salted them. When they got most of the way there I added the onion, garlic and pepper and kept cooking until the onion had just a bit of bite left. Then I added the radish tops, stirred them in until they wilted and removed everything to a bowl to cool down. I wanted to keep as much of the oil in the pan as possible so I drained them in a strainer over the pan before they went into the bowl.

The radishes at this point have lost almost all of their bite, as predicted, and taste somewhere in the region of potatoes and turnips. It's still recognizably radish but only if you had the idea of the possibility already in mind. The texture is like a fried waxy potato: soft, a little chewy. I'm surprised there are almost no fried radish recipes other than daikon cakes as they're really quite good even if they've have lost some element of their essential radishness.

As the mixture cooled I salted and peppered to taste and added some pimenton and fresh thyme, both good Spanish seasonings. I needed the mix cool so it wouldn't start cooking the eggs prematurely. To get the layered effect the fillings are mixed into the eggs before they go into the pan and there needs to be enough eggs so each piece is nicely coated and floating separately. I figured four eggs (plus a couple Tablespoons of water) should be sufficient. That's not a lot for a pan the size I'm using so my tortilla is going to be on the thin side as these things go.

Most recipes don't go into much detail on technique at this point, but it's a bit complicated to get things to work out right. The goal is a fluffy texture, cooked all of the way through and browned on both sides. That means starting with the temperature way up high to puff up the eggs and keep it from sticking, turning the heat down to let the inside firm up before the outside burns and turning it back up to brown the outside.

Then comes the flip. In Spain you can buy special plates just for this, but I managed with what I've got on hand and only burnt myself a little. The technique is to put the plate on top of the pan, somehow hold them together as you flip it over rotating the top away so if any hot oil comes out it won't come flying towards you, put the plate down, lift the pan up and put it back on the heat and then slide the flipped tortilla back in for its final browning. It turns out that putting the plate down is the tricky part, at least when you don't realize you'll be needing to do it beforehand. Oh, and clearly, cast iron isn't the best choice for all of this. My non-stick paella pan with a high curved rim and handles on both sides is nearly an ideal choice, particularly with the big oval dinner plates I've got that fit over it nicely. If only the handles were a bit more insulated.

It only took a few moments to brown the other side and the tortilla slid easily out onto my cutting board. This dish is best served warm or cold, not hot so I let it sit for a little while before serving a wedge it garnished with green olives and accompanied with the traditional olive-oil-dressed tomato salad.

Maybe I haven't had a really good tortilla española, but I think radishes are a distinct improvement on potatoes in this dish, particularly when served cold. They retain a pleasant texture where potatoes get mealy and their flavor both adds character most potatoes don't have and blends very well with the egg. Even if you didn't want to go to the minor trouble (and risk of injury) of a tortilla española, fried radishes would make a fine filling for an American-style omelet. I'm rather puzzled that nobody (at least nobody on the Web) seems to know this. Maybe it's just me? Could somebody please try this and confirm it's not just me? If it is, I apologize for wasting your radishes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

CSA week four - Ham stuffed acorn squash

Nothing particularly innovative here, but I did come up with my own stuffing mix that I think turned out well. Ham, cranberries and sage are a great match for squash.

1 medium acorn squash
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup ham, finely chopped (I used a simple city-style ham that lacked smoky or sweet additions. I don't see smoked ham working too well in this dish. Honey or maple baked would, but you might want to reduce the sugar.)
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon dried cranberries, soaked for a half hour and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

0. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Cut squash in half top to bottom. Remove gunk. I saved the seeds for baking but that's certainly optional. Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish. Add 1/2 inch water. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium pan on medium heat. When it's stopped frothing add onion and ham and a pinch of salt. You want to sweat the onions, but you don't want the released liquids to evaporate so don't spread them out too much. When the onion is soft mix in the sage and cranberries. In a minute or so, when the pan becomes aromatic, mix in the sugar and allspice. When the sugar has dissolved sprinkle in the bread crumbs and remove the pan from the heat. Mix in the breadcrumbs until all of the liquid in the pan has been absorbed. Set aside.

3. Remove the pan from the oven, uncover and flip over the squash. Let cool five minutes. Pack stuffing into the squash, don't jam it in, but get a good bit in there and it's fine if it mounds up a bit. Sprinkle with a few pinches of brown sugar and recover.

4. Bake squash for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, remove foil cover and bake until tender. There's a lot of disagreement on how long this last stage should take and I don't know about you but my squash never seems to finish cooking. I realized this time around that that may be because the top dries out in a way that's not far texturally from undercooked and I can't tell the difference. Try 20 minutes uncovered and see how it goes.

I cut my squash unevenly so the smaller half was overcooked by the time the larger was done. There was probably a good ten minute difference in cooking times so chop carefully in that first step.

The stuffing dried out and got a little crispy on top which was nice. The flavors intensified to a bright salty and sweet that was a bit much on its own but tempered well by the mellow flavor of the squash.

The texture did end up a bit crumbly though so I'm thinking of maybe adding a binder, maybe an egg, next time. But then it would be a big meatball instead of proper stuffing. I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing. Or maybe just packing it in a bit tighter would keep it from drying out so much. You guys have any advice?

Monday, December 22, 2008

CSA week four - Seared scallops with bacon, tomato, and avocado puree

I should have just wrapped a scallop with bacon, seared it, dropped it on a slice of tomato and topped it with a dollop of mashed avocado. Instead I followed this overcomplicated-to-no-great-advantage recipe from Martha Stewart.


Serves 2 to 4

* 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 teaspoon agave nectar or corn syrup (I've been looking for something to do with the bottle of agave nectar I bought on a whim a while ago.)
* 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

* 1 medium Hass avocado, pitted (I used a Monroe)
* 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 2 tablespoons Brown Butter, cooled

* 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch-long pieces
* 6 to 8 sea scallops
* 1 tablespoon butter

* Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
* 1/2 cup red or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved (I chopped up one of the CSA tomatoes instead. Not nearly as nice in either flavor or texture, really.)
* 2 lovage leaves or celery leaves, torn (I used arugula)
* Fleur de sel


1. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, agave nectar, vanilla, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil, while continuing to whisk, until an emulsion has formed. Set vinaigrette aside.

2. Remove flesh from avocado and place in the jar of a blender along with 1 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, olive oil, and brown butter; blend until smooth.

3. Place bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon, turning, until fat has been rendered, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon from skillet; transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

4. Pour off bacon fat from skillet and discard. Return skillet to stove and place over high heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper; add to skillet. Sear scallops 1 minute, add butter and turn scallops; sear 1 minute more. Remove pan from heat.

5. Spread a spoonful of avocado puree on each serving plate. Divide scallops evenly between plates; drizzle with vinaigrette. In a medium bowl, add bacon, tomatoes, lovage, and remaining vinaigrette; toss to combine. Divide evenly between plates, season with fleur de sel, and serve immediately.

First published: May 2008

Some presentation, huh?

The seared scallops are good just on their own. No complaints there. Actually, I'm kind of surprised at how well I cooked them considering how little experience I have working with sea scallops.

With bacon: better. But you knew that.

With avocado goop: about the same. It tastes of avocado, brown butter and olive oil and it's OK but it adds a lot of fat the dish doesn't need for an unremarkable result. And there was a whole heck of a lot of it. Maybe a medium Hass avocado is smaller than I thought. I used a bit more than half of a medium Monroe avocado. Even with the waterier Monroe it really didn't want to blend. The blades would clear out a space and whir away under a dome of half-mushed avocado pieces. There was a lot of stopping and starting a stirring and poking before I got something reasonable out of it. It would only be worse with a more solid Hass so I don't how it was supposed to work or how the flavors were supposed to balance out.

With the salad: eh, why not?

With the vinaigrette: blagh. Oh, I just realized I switched the quarter teaspoon for the agave nectar with the half teaspoon for the vanilla. That would explain the bitterness and intense lingering unpleasantness of the vanilla clashing with everything else on the plate. It doesn't help that the new brand of olive oil I tried turned out to be pretty bitter too.

Ah well. Even if I hadn't screwed it up, I can't imagine the world's best vinaigrette elevating this dish into something worth the trouble. Worth a try, though.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

CSA week four - Chao tom

a.k.a. Vietnamese shrimp paste on sugarcane.

How did I not think of this yesterday? This is, I think, the only dish with sugarcane most Americans have tried. I think it's the only one I've tried. It should have just popped into my head.

What's odd about this dish is that, while most Americans wouldn't dream of making it at home, what you get in restaurants isn't really right. It's not that it's prepared poorly--it's not a particularly tricky dish--but when you're eating it, you're supposed to eat the sugar cane too. I don't think most people recognize that stick as food and even if they did they wouldn't be willing to sit in public gnawing on it like a woodchuck and spitting the fibers out onto their plates.

As usual I looked around at different recipes. There's some small variation in binders and some recipes add a little pork but beyond that it's pretty straightforward. As usual I made it a bit more complicated.

This isn't really a recipe that requires a lot of measuring. The amounts of many of the ingredients I used were determined by how much I happened to have on hand.

2 4-5" lengths of sugarcane, peeled and quartered
4 ounces raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 ounces pork, coarsely chopped [This is a much higher pork to shrimp ratio than the recipes call for so I supplemented the shrimp with]
1 Tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes [Also, the recipes that called for pork generally specified fatty pork which the leftover pork I had wasn't so I added in]
1 Tablespoon lard
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon lemongrass, finely chopped [no recipes call for this, but I had it in the refrigerator and it didn't seem like it would hurt]
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1 large pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon toasted rice powder [You can buy this in Indian and Asian groceries. If you do, look for the dark roasted variety. I made my own by pan-toasting two Tablespoons of risotto rice (glutinous rice would be better but I don't have any at the moment) with a tiny bit of oil for three and a half minutes in a cast iron pan over high heat. It goes from raw to burnt in the last forty-five seconds so be careful. And then, after it's cooled a little, ground it up in my spice grinder.]

0. Put the pork and shrimp in the freezer for a half hour to firm up a little. Preheat your broiler or your grill or a big pot of oil.

1. Put shrimp, pork, dried shrimp and lard in a food processor. Process until smooth.

2. Add everything else except the sugarcane. Process until smooth again. Remove the shrimp/pork paste to a bowl. You're going to be digging in there with your hands and you don't want the food processor blade lurking at the bottom. You might want to refrigerator it for a few minutes at this point to make it easier to work with.

3. Wrap each stick of sugar cane with shrimp/pork paste leaving an inch or so at either end. I had enough for seven so I saved one stick for dessert, but I think some of my paste-layers were a bit thick. A third inch is about right.

I took a while for me to figure out a good method and since my hands were full I couldn't get any pictures of it. Sorry. What I found was that if my hands were moist, but not wet, I could pat out a square of shrimp paste in the palm of one hand. All of those fibers in the sugarcane grab onto the paste so with just a little pressure it sticks more to it than to a slightly wet hand so I could put the cane at one side of the square and roll it across pulling up the paste as it went along.

The results aren't perfect so I had to patch up holes and then roll the stick between both palms like I was rolling out a rope of Play-Doh to even and smooth it out. I wonder how it's actually supposed to be done.

4. I broiled mine about five inches from the heat, five minutes on the first side and then two on the flip and they turned out looking quite lovely. I can't speak for the alternative cooking methods though.

The traditional dipping sauce is nuoc cham. I had a some left from the batch I made a while back.

The meat by itself has a nice mixture of flavors with broiled shrimp and pork accented by the tang of fish sauce and the herbal notes of the lemon grass, but it really perks up when mixed with the sugarcane juice. And it's even better with the nuoc cham so don't neglect that.

It is a bit tricky to eat if you actually try to bite off pieces of sugar cane from the side, although he bits of exposed sugar cane at the ends have been cooked into edibility. I found it easiest to bite down on the end to scrape off the meat and squeeze out the sugar juices with my teeth leaving a flattened strip of fibers that I could snip off with scissors. Very undignified but it did minimize the spitting.

Alternatively, you could skip the sugarcane and just add a couple teaspoons of sugar to the paste and make patties out of it, but where's the fun in that?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

CSA week three wrap-up, week four start-up

There's a whole lot of vegetables in this week's share but not a lot of inspiration. I don't know, maybe it's just me but I'm not seeing a whole lot of culinary possibilities here.

But first, the end of last week. The only thing to mention that I haven't already posted about is my second batch of roasted ratatouille. I made a bunch of changes I probably shouldn't have. First, piling it all up in one pan was a big mistake which I knew but I thought I'd give the word of a high-profile long-term successful food blogger a chance and go against my better instincts. But the vegetables didn't just not roast well, they didn't even cook well. I eventually had to spoon half into a second pan just to get the dish going. There's no way Clotilde's recipe works as written. I may try putting the leftovers under the broiler to see if that improves matters. That left me at the end of the week with a full freezer, one spare squash and the avocado from two weeks ago finally ready to use.

And before leaving last week, I'd like to hear from anyone who successfully used the hon tsai tai. Was it just a matter of cutting it small enough that you didn't have to chew it? Or cooking it until it fell apart? Did anyone find a way to make the stems edible?

And then there's this week's share. I've got to say I like the looks of the chili tofu with beans and bok choy recipe in the newsletter. I've never paired tamarind with tomatoes and I'm curious what it's like. I notice that it says to separate the leaves and stems of the bok choy but then neglects to treat them differently. I'd suggest adding in the stems with the beans and the leaves at the end as the recipe states. It also doesn't mention dissolving the tamarind concentrate in a Tablespoon of water and letting it sit for an hour. You should do that too.

That should use up all of the bok choy I think and most of the green beans.

Acorn squash (I took a second from the extras bin) is best halved, brushed with something sweet, stuffed and roasted but I may try making soup instead. Or as well as I've got two.

Arugula and radish tops are good substitutes for spinach in pasta dishes, quiches and the like. Improvements really as they have more character than spinach does. I've been meaning to try making a savory tart that they'd work well in. Maybe now's the time.

Salad mix is, of course, salad, but so is parsley in this amount. I'm not a huge fan of parsley in general but I was surprised how much I liked the parsley salad that accompanies Fergus Henderson's roast marrowbones recipe. I'm planning a beef dish just as rich as roast marrowbones but about as hoity-toity as marrowbones are rustic. I'll bet it'll pair nicely with the same salad, though.

The radishes could be more salad, but as I say in that post, I do like them with a bit of bread and butter too. Breakfast radishes are better for that, but the round ones I've got might do. I'll have to try them and see.

Same goes for the tomatoes. Four is a lot but if one goes into the chili tofu and another to salads, two more over two weeks will find their own way into dishes without any real planning needed.

This week's avocado won't be usable for a while, but there's still the one from two weeks ago. I had the idea to pair it with scallops and found a surprising number of recipes with both. I'll probably just do a ceviche.

That leaves the carambola and sugar cane. There's not enough carambola too really cook with, but I might try an infusion substituting in a chunk of sugar cane for refined sugar. I don't actually have any idea how to do that or if it will even work. Should be interesting to try.

Friday, December 19, 2008

CSA week three - Roasted ratatouille

Just a short note on this simple dish. I attempted to follow the recipe by Clotilde Dusoulier at the Chocolate and Zuchini blog that I pointed out earlier but had some small difficulty.

First off, it's one of those annoying recipes that feed a crowd but don't mention it. In fact, it's actively misleading since it says to put all of the sliced vegetables into a pan, but it would take a restaurant pan to fit them all.

I halved the recipe and still used both my 13x9 and 11x8 pans. Maybe that's optional; I kept the vegetables to a single layer to maximize the benefits of roasting, but you don't really have to if you just want to get everything cooked. I'm going make the other half tonight and I'll just pile everything up and stir it occassionally to compare and contrast.

Now that I take another look, Clotilde just assumes the reader knows what size to cut the vegetables, whether to stir, what size pan to use, how to judge when things are done. I managed to figure it out and so did a lot of other commentators on the post. Maybe I should give my readers more credit.

Anyway, I added some chicken sausage to the veges to make it more of a main dish, and used oregano instead of rosemary to make it a bit more Italian to match the sausage but otherwise I just chopped everything up into big chunks, tossed with salt pepper and olive oil and stuck it into the oven for a half hour covered with foil and a half hour without and the results were just dandy (although another 15 minutes for extra roastiness would have been worth the minor drying out I was worried about).

On the other hand, they were a just dandy roasted vegetable mix and not really a proper ratatouille to my mind. Maybe it's just me, but if the vegetables aren't melting into each other and blending flavors it's not quite right. I found a dash of balsamic vinegar tied things together well. Clotilde suggests a poached egg. Some mild feta or goat cheese would work too. Why not all three?

I think for the second batch I'm going to toss in some southern-style smoked sausages and add fresh sage to match flavors. These vegetables are so common they can match with a wide variety of flavor profiles and still work.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

CSA week three - Hibiscus sorbet

I was confused by the paragraph about hibiscus in last weeks newsletter but I didn't know I was until I did some more reading. Margie (or whoever wrote it) said that the calyxes were the outside flower parts so I went looking for ways to use the flowers.

The amounts on the recipes didn't make sense, but that turned out to be because they were talking about dried flowers without saying so. The real clue that something was off was the accompanying pictures. Hibiscus flowers look nothing like what we have.

I did a little more digging and found pictures that did match. Calyxes are sometimes called flowers but they're something else entirely. That plasticy sphere in the middle is a seed pod and the fleshy petals surrounding it are something halfway between a fruit and a pine cone.

Because the calyxes are so much more substantial than the flowers they're rather more culinarily versatile. According to Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia Morton (who used to be the director of the Morton Collectanea here at U Miami) "They may be merely chopped and added to fruit salads. In Africa, they are frequently cooked as a side-dish eaten with pulverized peanuts. For stewing as sauce or filling for tarts or pies, they may be left intact, if tender, and cooked with sugar." The flavor and texture of the stewed calyxes, she says, are hard to distinguish from cranberry sauce.

That put me in mind of this post on the I Shot the Chef blog for shortbread bar cookies using leftover cranberry sauce which I thought would be fun to try. Obviously from the subject line of this post I failed, but that's how I started out.

The problem was that I didn't know how much water to use when stewing the amount of hibiscus I had. Two cups seemed reasonable, but I forgot that, unlike cranberries, hibiscus calyxes don't have any pectin in them. The water was going to get a lot of flavor, but it wasn't going to thicken up into jam. So I got my stewed hibiscus, but I didn't want to waste all that flavor in the water. And when I've got flavored water with bits of something-kind-of-like-fruit floating in it, I'm thinking sorbet.

1 CSA share hibiscus calyxes, seed pods removed
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon light rum
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried mint leaves
pinch salt

1. Roughly chop the calyxes and add to boiling water. Simmer for around five minutes and add the sugar. Simmer until the mixture gets a syrupy texture. I honestly wasn't paying attention so I don't know how long it took. Twenty minutes maybe?

2. Cool for a half hour and flavor with perhaps too many other ingredients. I think I'd leave out the mint and vanilla next time and boost up the ginger until there was some notable spiciness.

3. Cool in the refrigerator, churn, ripen in the freezer and scoop it up.

There's been an odd flavor change now that the sorbet has ripened. When the mix was warm, refrigerated and even right out of the churn it, as advertised, tasted a lot like cranberries: sweet and tart with intriguing floral notes (rounded out by all the other stuff I added) and I liked it a lot. But fully frozen both of those prominent aspects are weakened allowing the perfume that lingered around the edges to become the primary flavor and, unfortunately, it's rather bitter. But at least it's definitely hibiscus and not cranberries. I was worried it would go the other way and it would just taste like just another tart berry sorbet.

There are textural issues too as I didn't blend the mix long enough and it's full little chunks of calces. That can be OK for an ice cream, but sorbets should be perfectly smooth. I don't think anyone's going to be eating this--nobody's eating the black sapote sherbet and that's actually really good--so I'll probably melt it down, run it through the blender again, strain it out, boil it down to a syrup and use it to make cocktails with ginger ale and rum.

You, on the other hand, need to stew yours up, serve them with peanuts, and tell me how it goes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

CSA week three - Sunomono

Sunomono is a generic term for any vinegary Japanese side-dish salad. I had this with my leftover sukiyaki and I thought the contrast of the astringent salad dressing and the sweet sukiyaki sauce improved both dishes.

I cobbled my version together from several recipes I found on-line, but there's not a huge amount of variety out there.

1 medium cucumber
1 small daikon
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1 fluid oz soy sauce
1/2 fluid oz rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon chili oil
1 pinch sugar

3 oz picked crab meat

0. Don't peel the cucumber or the daikon. OK, you can peel the daikon if you really want to.

1. Thinly slice the cucumber and daikon in similar ways. I used my mandoline to make somewhat larger julienne than I really wanted. I probably should have used my food processor and made shreds instead. Coins would be fine too. I also probably should have scooped out the cucumber seeds but they did no great harm.

2. Toss vegetables with salt and put into a colander. Let them desiccate and drain for 45 minutes. Rinse off the salt and drain/spin/pat dry the vegetables.

3. Mix the dressing ingredients. Put the vegetables and the crab into a bowl, add the dressing, toss, let sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving.

Those 15 minutes are actually important I found. Not only does that give the vegetables time to soak up some of the dressing, but the flavors are best at just below room temperature.

I know you don't have crab. I wouldn't either if I hadn't bought it for the callaloo last week. The dish is OK without it, but it's really much better and much more Japanese (which was important to me as I was pairing it with the also distinctively Japanese combination of soy, sweet and fishy in the sukiyaki). The slight bite of the daikon and the cool freshness of the cucumber both pair nicely with the crab. Right now, I'm thinking the three, with a little mayo, would work just as well in little crustless sandwiches for afternoon tea. But with soy and vinegar, yeah, very Japanese. Serve with teriyaki, yakitori, anything yaki, really.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CSA week three - sukiyaki with hon tsai tai

I had heard the term sukiyaki and had a passing familiarity with the dish when I decided to make it, but I really didn't know what I was getting into. It's a dish more suitable for a family or party than one guy, but once I get an idea in my head for this sort of thing I find it tough to change course.

Sukiyaki, if you break it down to its basics, has two main parts: a sampler platter of chunks of raw ingredients and some sauce to simmer them in.

I used the most complicated sauce recipe I could locate which I found here.

"Warishita (Sukiyaki Sauce):

1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
3/4 Cup Mirin
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Sake
1/4 tsp Dashi No Moto(optional)
1 clove garlic smashed (optional)

Combine Warishita ingredients(except for dashi no moto) and bring to a boil while stirring, turn down heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes to burn off alcohol. Remove from heat and add dashi no moto, if desired. Remove from heat and cool. Let the sauce "rest" at least 20 minutes, or over night."

Dashi, in case you're unfamiliar, is a fish/seaweed broth which is probably the most common broth in Japanese cooking. It's available in dried granulated form. From the 1/4 teaspoon measurement I'm pretty sure that's what Kirk K., whose recipe I'm filching, means. Which is a good thing as that's what I've got handy.

This sauce is the good stuff. Sweet but with several layers of rich savory flavors even before I start to simmer anything in it.

As for that anything, there's a a lot of variation--regional I think--about what goes into the pot. There's most agreement on beef, enoki mushrooms and yam noodles. Beef I'm using, of course, enoki mushrooms I wish I had but I'm not willing to go out shopping for them right now. Instead I'm using shiitakes, also common, and creminis. Yam noodles are pretty bland and have a nasty rubbery texture so I'm substituting in egg noodles, a move sure to appall purists. Also going in are sliced bamboo shoots, onion, (scallion if I wasn't just about out of it), tofu, and hon tsai tai.

I didn't turn up any sukiyaki recipes that actually called for hon tsai tai, but I did find plenty using spinach and one using mazuna so it should fit in fine.

A sidebar on the hon tsai tai before I continue here. One common thread I noticed in the sparse documentation on using hon tsai tai was complaints about the woody stems. Our batch this year seems rather better on that score than last year's. I think that's because this is younger. I don't see the distinctive yellow flowers and many of the stems are still green. The more purple the stem the woodier it is so I'm avoiding the worst this time around.

There is still some woodiness, though, so I'm going to pick through the bundle harvesting the leaves and keeping only the most tender stems. Everything else I'm packing away for the next time I make stock.

Last year I suggested cooking the hon tsai tai like kale, but I think this batch is more on par with spinach so it's not going to need a long braise, just a quick simmer in the sauce.

So, step two, after making the sauce (and pre-cooking the noodles), is to brown everything that needs pre-browning. In my case that's the tofu and the beef. Traditionally, a cast iron pan is greased down with a chunk of beef fat. I've still got some lard kicking around so I used that. And can I point out that my fresh-rendered lard is substantially less hydrogenated than the big block from the supermarket so it's no worse for me than butter? First I fried the tofu (which isn't traditional but I like a little texture on my tofu), removed it from the cast iron pan and let it rest to crisp up. Then, when I was ready to eat, I seasoned the beef with a pinch of salt and a few drops of soy sauce, browned it quickly on both sides and gathered it up into a pile at the side of the pan.

Next I poured in the sauce and added the greens. I wanted them to wilt down before adding anything else so I put them in right away to let them cook as the sauce came to a boil.

Once it got there, everything else went in--each to its own sector of the pan--and I simmered at medium heat for three minutes before it was ready to serve.

The traditional method of eating sukiyaki is too keep the pot simmering away. Everyone sits around it picking out what they want and cooling each bite by dipping it into a small bowl of slightly thinned beaten egg. Yeah, I know and I understand your trepidation. Japanese folks accept a wider range of food textures than most anyone else. But it's not a problem in this case; There's no raw egg mouth feel at all. The boiling hot meat and vegetables cook the egg they come in contact with and the tiny bit that sticks to them mixes with the clinging layer of sauce to add body and temper the sweetness--improving flavor and texture as well as doing its job as a heat sink. It's actually an essential step that does a lot for the dish.

I don't have a hibachi to set up on a table--heck, I don't have a dinner table--so I had to eat at the stove which is not a dignified operation let me tell you. I think I had the burner cranked up a bit too high because the beef overcooked pretty quickly; I probably should have used skirt steak or the like instead of the more delicate cut I had in the freezer. The onions passed through a properly cooked, firm but not raw, stage at around five minutes and then started cooking down. On the other hand, the noodles and the mushrooms stayed good throughout which was nice.

The hon tsai tai turned out to be much tougher than it looks and took a very long time to soften up. The leaves aren't as thick as most tough greens, but they're very fibrous. It's like chewing on a strip of fabric if it's undercooked. On the other hand, its slightly bitter flavor played against the sweet sauce beautifully. Even with the textural issue, it was the best component of the dish.

Overall, an interesting experience but I could use a bit of practice to get this right. On the CSA end of things it wasn't the best possible use of hon tsai tai. That really needs a braise. If we get any more I'm just going make up a mess of greens southern-style with a chunk of salt pork and a dollop of molasses and be done with it.

I also made a daikon/cucumber salad but since I accidentally made enough food for four people, I didn't eat much. I'll give it a separate post tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CSA week three - lard bread pudding

The lard bread I baked last Friday was on the fast track to stales-ville so I figured I'd better use it quick. I considered making some really weird french toast, but settled on a savory bread pudding that would let me rectify my mistake of not putting in nearly enough salami or cheese.

It's a pretty simple procedure that I've discussed before. First, I sauteed up onions, mushrooms, a squash from the CSA along with a good handful of salami bits. Then I layered slices of the bread (I left out the step of buttering the slices since they were already chock full of fat.), layers of the sauteed mix and layers of sliced provolone and grated Parmesan and Romano cheese, ladling over an egg/milk as I went along.

I packed the 8"x8" baking dish pretty good so I wasn't able to get a spoon to get the extra eggy mix out so I could baste it as it soaked. That meant that, after a half hour at 375, the bottom layer came out mushy, the center layer the targetted custardy texture and the top toasty crisp. Two out of three's not bad.

I should have used a bit more vegetables for balance, but otherwise a good result. The addition of the Parmesan and Romano brings some complexity of flavor to the cheesiness and the fine-ground salametti I switched to since I ran out of the salami I used in the bread was an improvement. And my spell-checker recognizes salametti. Huh. And the squash (which made up the bulk of the vegetables) matched well with provolone and salami which is not something you'd necessarily predict.

I'll have to make a bread pudding with a less rustic bread one of these days to see if I can make something a little more refined out of it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

CSA week two overflow - black sapote colada sherbet

On second thought, maybe those sapotes are ready to be used after all.

As I mentioned a week ago, my plan for any tropical fruit we get this year is to substitute it into my unexpectedly fabulous piña colada sherbet recipe for either the bananas or the pineapple depending on the texture and see how it turns out. Last July I subbed in mango for the bananas which worked quite well but I haven't gotten back to the idea until now.

I'm taking out the bananas again this time which gives me some concern over texture as bananas are rather special in that regard. But if anything can replace that thick fat-mimicking creaminess is sapote. That makes my ingredient list:
1 large and 1 small black sapote
1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple
2 Tablespoons or so pineapple juice from the container I was keeping the pineapple pieces in
1 cup thick coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon light rum
1 Tablespoon dutch process cocoa

The challenge each time I do this is picking the complementary flavors that will bring out the flavor of the guest fruit. In the original I used lime juice and hot sauce. For the mango, lime juice again along with ginger, cinnamon and allspice. This time the obvious choice is to nix the lime and add cocoa. I'll have to do some research to figure out the best choices when canistels and caiminos come along.

No cooking required here so I just tossed everything into the blender and let it spin. The result is, texturally and visually, indistinguishable from chocolate pudding and not far off in flavor either. An ice cream churn is entirely optional; you could serve this as is.

You could, anyway; I've got a bad churining habit to maintain. So I let the mixture cool for eight hours in the back of the fridge and then gave it a turn in the ice cream machine. After 25 minutes it wasn't really solidifying but it was getting lumpy and the bucket was running out of freeze so decided that was good enough and I put it into the freezer to ripen.

And the next day I scooped some out and gave it a try:

It has the mouth feel of premium ice cream without a hint of ice crystals, gumminess, insta-melt or the other ills sherbet is prone to proving again that bananas aren't as special as Alton Brown makes them out to be.

The flavors are muted at freezer temperatures but a couple minutes of warming brings them out intensely with not-quite-chocolate and pineapple at the front fading to a lingering not-quite-chocolate/coconut. The cocoa did a good job highlighting the chocolate-esque notes in the black sapote but it's still clearly cocoa plus tropical fruits. It's an interestingly unusual but quite pleasant combination. Actually, around here it's not so unusual; all the local confectioners use tropical fruits in their chocolates. It is unusual that I like it though. Let's see what my co-workers think.