Thursday, January 31, 2008

CSA week eight - Cavetelli with shrimp, scallions and peppers

This is just something I threw together to use up the last of last week's scallions but it turned out nicely enough that it seems worth posting about.

Cavetelli with shrimp, scallions and peppers

2 teaspoons good quality butter
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoons hot pepper garlic sauce (a bottled sauce that is just hot peppers and garlic in olive oil with a bit of parsley. It's another TJ Maxx purchase but since they're selling remainders, you must be able to find this sort of thing somewhere at full price even if I can't recall ever seeing such a thing. It's easy enough to use fresh instead but the preserved version along with the fresh gives a wider range of flavors and melt into the olive oil nicely. Bottled red peppers are easy to find; at least use that. But if you do, add fresh hot peppers or maybe hot paprika to compensate.)
2 cloves garlic
4 scallions cut into 3 inch pieces, green and white pieces separated
1 small sweet pepper (kind of a specialty item) equivalent to 1/4 of a standard yellow pepper
5 large shrimp, brined in salted and sugared water for a half hour and cut into 1 inch pieces. I left the shells on but I'm weird that way.
2 handfuls cavetelli
2 handfuls dry bread crumbs

salt and pepper to taste

1. Start heating water for pasta. Add cavetelli and plenty of salt when it's at a boil.

2. Slice garlic and put in cold pan with garlic hot pepper sauce, butter and olive oil. Turn heat to medium.

3. When pan starts to sizzle add white piece of scallion. Let them cook without turning for a couple minutes to get a bit of color on them without raising the temperature which would burn the garlic.

4. Add green parts of scallion and sweet pepper, salt and pepper. Toss. Cook for a couple more minutes.

5. Add shrimp. Cook for a couple more minutes tossing occassionally. If the shrimp are done before the pasta is ready turn down the heat to low and pile the solid ingredients up on one side of the pan.

6. When cavetelli is ready, remove to a bowl. Remove shrimp, peppers and scallions from pan to bowl with a slotted spoon. Mix.

7. Turn up heat under pan to medium high. Wait for it to heat up. Add bread crumbs. Cook until bread crumbs are

golden brown and crispy. Spoon bread crumbs onto cavetelli in as nice a presentation as possible before pouring all that lovely tasty oil over it all. Or just dump it all in since your going to end up mixing it all up anyway.

8. Mix it all up. (See? What did I say?)

9. You might want to drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar over top to cut the fat but that's optional. If you match it with a dry white wine that should suffice.

Man that's some seriously tasty stuff. Pretty too. I think using cavetelli out of the dozen different types of pasta I keep around (My apartment has many faults but the walk in pantry makes up for a lot.) was just the right choice. It wouldn't be the same dish over spaghetti or with an egg pasta.

Monday, January 28, 2008

CSA week nine - maple-mustard glazed squash

I've had maple-mustard sauces before, so I figured something along those lines would work. I improvised this as I went along.

2 Tablespoons country Dijon mustard (or something more rustic and German if you've got some)
1 Tablespoons grade B maple syrup
2 Tablespoons pumpkin lager
1/2 teaspoon vulcan salt
pepper to taste
(all measurements are guesses; I didn't actually measure anything.)

1 yellow summer squash, in 1 inch slices
1/4 red onion, sliced thin

1 pork chop, brined
Spice House Bavarian seasoning to coat
2 sprinkles of flour, one for each side

fry pork chop in non-stick pan using a bit more oil than you normally would. (Normally I'd use a cast iron pan, but I'm going to be reducing a glaze with some vinegar in it which would adversely effect the pan's seasoning.)

When done, remove chop to plate, cover in foil and place in 200 degree oven to keep warm.

Mix glaze

Add onion and squash to pan. Cook at medium for a couple minutes to soften the onions. Raise heat and cook briefly on just below high to get some color on the squash without overcooking the onions.

Turn down heat to medium low, remove pan from heat, wait a few moments, add glaze to pan, stir to coat squash, return to heat, cover and let steam for two to three minutes depending on how cooked your squash is at this point (I slightly overcooked mine).

Remove cover and cook briefly to thicken glaze. Serve with the pork chop. Optionally, you could forgo the pork chop and and crumble a crisp slice of bacon over the squash instead. Or you could do without pork entirely, I suppose if you really wanted to.

I would have served this with buttered egg noodles sprinkled with a bit more of the Bavarian seasoning, but I had some leftover rice from lunch.

I really like how the glaze turned out and it compliments both the squash and the pork very nicely. It's not an exceptionally inspired dish given the rather standard constellation of flavors, but I'm just having dinner here not running an avant garde restaurant so I'm fine with that.

CSA week nine - Thai collard-wrapped steamed dumplings

This is a variation on the recipe posted by Sam Fujisaka to the chowhound message board thread I linked to last week. His recipe called for kale, but I think the broad flat collard leaves are much better suited to wrapping than the curly and often piecemeal kale leaves. I was happy both at how easy it was to prepare and how tasty the results were. The collards added a pleasant flavor and texture to what would otherwise have just been a (pretty good) meatball.

2 large green onions
1/2 jalapeño (or a similar amount of some other hot pepper)
1 garlic clove
1 inch chunk of ginger, and
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro

2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons hot chili oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and
2 Tablespoons roughly chopped cremini mushroom

or if you prefer a Chinese version
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice wine or hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons chui chow chili oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons roughly chopped shiitake mushroom
2 Tablespoons roughly chopped water chestnuts

mix all of that with
1/2 lb ground meat (I used turkey which I keep around because it's neutral flavor makes it useful in many applications and it's often on sale)

depending on the meat you used and the fineness of the grind, you may want to add an egg to bind it all together. My turkey turned into a paste pretty quickly so I didn't.

If you've got the time, chill the meat mixture to make it easier to handle.

Lay out collard leaves light-side up. Slice out the stem as closely as possible. I saved my stems, along with my kale stems from last week in hopes of coming up with a use for them.

Preheat a steamer.

Scoop a large lump of the meat mixture on the large end of the collard leaf. You'll want to adjust the size of the lump to the size of the leaf, but go a little larger than you think you ought to. Remember that you're steaming the collards too and you don't want the meat cooked through before the leaves become tender.

Tweak in the leaf so that the far end overlaps to cover the empty space where the stem was, and roll up the meat mixture. After the first turn, tuck in the leaf to create a cylinder and fold in the edges tightly. Roll up the rest of the leaf and trim off the untidy bit at the end.

Place the rolls into your steamer and cook for around ten minutes depending on their size.

Thai dipping sauce
mix well
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 jalapeño (or a similar amount of some other hot pepper)
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and
1/2 teaspoon hot chili oil

Thai chili sauce is good for dipping too.

If you made the Chinese version you might try a traditional dumpling dipping sauce.
1 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/2 T mirin or sugar
dash sesame oil

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Slow food, stone crabs and farmers markets

As I mentioned in passing in my last post, I spent some time at the Coral Gables farmers market after picking up my CSA share yesterday. I picked up a few interesting items and attended a Slow Food stone crab picnic.

Personally, I'd call the Coral Gables farmers market and pretty good street fair, but with only a couple of produce stalls amongst the caterers, bakers and candlestick makers it's not quite a farmers market to my mind. And can anyone explain the appeal of a guacamole stall? Even if guacamole was hard to make, who wants some out of a giant tub that's been sitting out for the last four hours?

I had expected to make some rapid recipe decisions on my CSA share but this week's selection didn't require it. The only produce I picked up was a pint of strawberries which I'll probably end up eating straight instead of making the ice cream topping I meant them for. I also got a couple of rather impressive foccacia: one artichoke and one sun dried tomato. They definitely beat the wares of the foccacia vendor at the Union Square farmers market in Manhattan. I picked up a little bit of tea as well; I'm generally happy with Theine, but Kyra doesn't stock as good a variety of fruit green tea blends or candy-enhanced black teas as I'd like. I don't like the open bowls the tea and spice vendor stores his wares in, but I got there early so I don't think the tea lost too much zip. I picked up a caramel black tea and a blend called Sunny Sencha with a tropical fruit and flowers mixed in.

At Karen's Kreations I picked up Garlic & Raspberry Jelly and Cranberry & Chipotle Jelly. I've had garlic and hot pepper jellies before and while they're nice novelties it's hard to find real uses for them and most of the bottle ends up going to waste. The fruit additions Karen used makes them more than ingredients; they can actually be used as jelly. I have to carefully consider the next loaf of bread I bake to make the best match, though.

And, as I was running out, I got a jar of honey. I chose gallberry honey which is exceptionally light and should be good for tea. In the slightly blurry picture, you can see that the label looks quite similar to the Bee Heaven label on the honey I got in my share a few weeks back. So if Miguel Bode, who packed the gallberry honey, isn't associated with Bee Heaven, you guys ought to have a word with him.

After my shopping it was off to the picnic. There was a demonstration of a stone crab and avocado recipe by Chef Roberto Ferrer, but just as I sat down for it the head of Slow Food Miami, Donna Reno, shanghaied me into helping set up. (I wasn't surprised that she recognized me given my distinctive hat and the knack the heads of these sorts of groups tend to have for that sort of thing, but she remembered my name and knew where I worked which I knew I had never mentioned to her. It seems she noted my lack of sociability back at the Slow Food wine tasting in October, followed up by talking to the couple I had sat next to at the Ideas dinner and now has taken a particular interest in introducing me around and making sure I mingle. Is it so wrong that I'd prefer to eat my lunch in peace while reading a book?) Check the Slow Food Miami webpage for more pics likely including one of me mingling.

The picnic featured stone crabs supplied by Judy the Stone Crab Lady and sides from Chef Brendan Connor (left) and Kristin Connor who run a catering company called Whisk Gourmet. It was pretty good on the whole.

This was my first experience with stone crabs. Any local folks reading are probably familiar with the Miami tradition of gathering in public places to brutalize crustaceans with blunt instruments. I generally prefer to dismantle crabs in a more precise and considered manner, but just whacking away with a hammer makes some sense when it's just claws. (Stone crabs are caught in traps, de-clawed, and then thrown back to grow a new one which they can do several times. All very ecologically sound if you do it the proper way Probably nobody does as the wrong way is significantly faster and cheaper, but I'll assume the best of Judy the Stone Crab Lady until I learn otherwise. She seemed nice enough, anyway.) A pound of claws gives enough meat for lunch and, since it's particularly sweet and succulent crab in unusually large chunks, is definitely worth the ten bucks.

The sides were good but nothing too outstanding: a standard coleslaw, beets, a greek salad sort of thing, potato salad with bacon and key lime pie. The best was the beets although I would have liked to have identified the creamy white substance they were coated in. Personally, I thought they all (bar the pie) could have done with a bit more salt.

From what I heard, the picnic was a new venture for Slow Food Miami although I would have thought some presence at farmers markets would be one of the first things they'd try. It may have been too successful as it was overbooked in reservations so interested passers-by couldn't drop in and see what Slow Food is all about. But at least half of the people who did reserve weren't Slow Food members so there may have been some new interest there. Maybe not though; all of the events are open and announced to the public and there's no membership discount so you don't really get a lot for that extra expenditure.

Still, a good time was had by all (bar the crabs) and that's something even if nothing else was accomplished.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week nine

It's another week without star players in the share likely due to the "growing gap" mentioned in the Farm News section of the newsletter. Still, there's plenty here to work with.

The green leaf lettuce goes into the refrigerator next took the untouched head of lettuce from last week and a nearly untouched head from the week before. I'm just not a salad sort of guy. Unfortunately, none of them are the right sort of lettuce soup or wraps, so there's no clever way around it, it's salad for me once those tomatoes ripen.

Next up are collards. Not enough here for a proper recipe, but I think the kale wrap recipe I came across last week should work fine with collards. That should use up some of the scallions from last week which I put in the wrong refrigerator drawer and completely forgot about.

Then there are the ponkans and tangerines; I don't know which are which, but it doesn't really matter as I've already juiced the lot of them. Then I chopped up a carambola (along with a second one I picked up at a Slow Food event after picking up my share), removed seeds as best I could, and threw them all in the blender and forced the results through a strainer. The combination is a bit bit too bright, I think. I'll have to add banana or strawberries or the like to add a base and balance the flavors.

Just one squash, so I'll just fry that up as a side dish.

Finally, the canistel. Last week's, I smooshed up with a spoonful of sugar and a spash of rum, both of which keep frozen fruit pulp smooth. I spooned the pulp into a plastic bag and smoothed it out into a sheet that I can easily break chunks off of for smoothies. I've got to disagree with this week's featured recipe; I've made a couple smoothies with it so far and the one where I used just juice had better texture and more interesting flavors than the one I made with milk. I'll experiment a bit more, but that's my initial assessment. If I find a combination I really like I'll use this week's the same way. If not, I may go with a canistel/sweet potato pie.

I hope there's something inspiring in next week's share; I'll have a tough time keeping my readers at this rate.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

CSA week eight - Moroccan-flavor stuffed pepper

Note please that that's not Moroccan-style; I don't think there's a north African tradition of stuffing peppers. This is one of those let's-try-to-do-something-interesting-with-what-I've-got-in-the-refrigerator type of recipes. What I happened to have is leftover charcoal grilled chicken and onions from a Colombian barbecue restaurant and a bottle of harissa, the Moroccan hot pepper and preserved lemon spice mix. You could grill real shish kabob I suppose but if you're going to do that just cut up the pepper, add it to the skewer and forget this silly recipe. If you're in need of appropriate leftovers I recommend Al Carbon at Coral Way and 23rd. There's a middle eastern market a few blocks east too where you might find some harissa. The particular bottle I've got actually came from a TJ Maxx in Wilmington, Delaware (Thanks Mom!). You can find some real oddities hidden in their food section.

For the most part, the recipe is as straightforward as any stuffed-anything recipe. Get all of the ingredients that need to be cooked cooked, chop everything up small, mix them in with a starch (in this case couscous) and pack it into the vegetable to be stuffed. Of the chopped items in this particular case, I kind of regret the olives. Black olives are a traditional match in Moroccan cuisine with hot peppers and preserved lemon, but I don't think I had the right sort.

The one interesting thing here is a trick I came across while looking up what to do with the harissa. In some recipes, instead of just dumping it into the dish, it's mixed into a beaten egg which is cooked into an omelet which keeps the sauce nicely sequestered. Modern molecular gastronomy does something similar using various chemicals to trap sauces in sheets or caviar-esque balls. Today I had the heat a little too high, screwed up the omelet, and ended up making goopy mess I was hoping to avoid after mixing it into the couscous but I've done it successfully in the past and it was pretty neat. If eggs didn't go with the dish you're making (as they do here), you could use just an egg white and control the sauce without adding any extraneous flavor. It's an idea to keep in reserve anyway.

So, I mixed everything into the couscous, packed it into the pepper, sprayed it with olive oil, sprinkled on some salt, and baked it at 350 for 25 minutes. If I had a gas grill I might have charred the pepper for some extra flavor, but this is Miami so I'm more likely to have a charcoal barbecue handy.

The end result looks about the same as it did when it went into the oven but the pepper is nicely tender but not collapsing (one benefit of not dousing it in sauce and then over-cooking as many Italian stuffed pepper recipes call for). Other than the olives, I think everything worked well together. Still and all, I'll probably just chop the pepper up and char it in a pan next time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

CSA week eight - dulce de sapote negro sherbet

If you looked on the web at all to see what to do with the black sapote then you came across the recipe for dulce de sapote negro. At the end there's a note offering the option of freezing it for a sorbet which sounded like a good idea but I decided I wanted to make sherbet instead.

What exactly sherbet is is hard to pin down. The current usage of the word is local to the U.S. and quite new so it hasn't really settled down in either spelling or meaning. Sherbet occupies a middle ground between sorbet (frozen sweetened fruit juice and pulp) and ice cream (frozen flavored milk and cream). Sherbet recipes take sorbet and add milk or cream or egg yolks or egg whites.

Actually, adding milk or cream is a bad idea as it thins out the flavors and the solid ingredients hampering the freezing process. What you really want to do is to replace some of the liquid in a sorbet recipe (either water or juice). Adjusting an ice cream recipe to a sherbet is harder; I suppose replacing the cream with more fruit and sugar water might work, but that's hardly the same recipe.

Adding egg yolks makes sense as they add a fatty richness and thicken the fruit mix. Adding egg whites, on the other hand, is puzzling. They don't add any flavor or any richness. They might lighten a recipe but 1) alcohol does a much better job of lightening by working with the mechanical properties of ice crystals and 2) the texture of frozen egg whites is really unpleasant. Even odder, most recipes call for them to whipped before being put into the churn which is a perfectly designed meringue-destroying machine.

I've got a theory about this. There is a substantial minority of ice cream recipes that, instead of using an ice cream churn, call for folding the flavoring ingredients into whipped cream and then freezing. If you wanted to make a low fat version of this, substituting whipped egg whites for the whipped cream is a natural thing to try. Remember that without a churn, you just can't make sorbet. You can make granita but that's not nearly the same thing. If you want a light ice-cream like dish without a churn, there aren't many other options. I suspect that a tradition of making sherbet this way, separate from the dairy version, evolved but people forgot why they were adding the egg whites so the recipes didn't change when churns became readily and cheaply available. Anyway, that's what I figure.

But on to the recipe. Before I started researching egg white sherbets that was my plan. My previous attempt at a sapote frozen dessert turned out pretty dense and gritty. As it turned out, black sapotes and mamey sapotes are very different fruit (or possibly my mamey sapote was under-ripe and I'm lucky people couldn't get it out of the container considering the upset tummies it would have given them) and making sherbet with them had different requirements. Using the dulce recipe as a base I substituted in a cup of milk for a cup of the orange juice. I really wanted to do this instead of just freezing it into a sorbet because I wanted to reduce the orange flavor and let the mild sapote come through.

And, by the way, while the fruit pulp certainly looks like chocolate pudding, I really don't think people would be saying it tastes like chocolate if they were tasting it blindfolded. But I thought that about carob too so what do I know?

I made a few other changes to highlight the sapote. I used the more neutral lemon rind instead of orange rind. And I cut out some of the honey and used sugar instead. That also cut down a little on the water to help with the freezing. The vanilla I added as a grace note; it works well in the background to bring depth to tropical flavors. The rum I added for the usual reason; it reduces the size of the ice crystals and gives a smoother final product. In this case, the flavor of the rum matched beautifully with the other ingredients so I may have added a bit too much. You can see that in the not-very-thick churned result (or maybe not. My lighting has been awful recently). It didn't melt very quickly though so I'm hopeful that it will remain soft and retain the churned in air as it ripens in the freezer. I cut the rum down for the recipe, but you might boost it back up again.

One final note, you may have noticed the combination of citrus juice and dairy products and are wondering about curdling. The milk did, in fact, curdle a little, but that helps the thickening and the churning process breaks up the lumps so it worked out fine.

Dulce de Sapote Negro sherbet

4 small or 2 large black sapotes (very soft to ensure their ripeness)
1/4 cup light honey
1/8 cup raw sugar (adjust sweetness depending on how sweet your fruit ingredients are)
1 Tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 cup orange juice
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon light rum
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Remove stems from sapotes.
2. Pull off green skin with your fingers or the edge of a knife. It should come off easily in large chunks taking a little of the pulp with it. You now have a dark brown, thick pulp. Inside are hidden almond-shaped seeds.
3. Remove the seeds with your fingers.
4. In food processor, combine everything.
5. Pulse until mixed well.
6. Chill. Mixture is bright, shiny black-brown and slightly thickened.
7. Freeze in ice cream maker according to directions
8. Ripen overnight in the freezer.

So how does it taste? At least straight from the churn, you can identify the sapote, the orange, the honey and the rum in each bite but they all work together too. It's a nice chord of flavors but nothing synergistic.

The picture up top is the ripened final result. The flavor didn't change much, perhaps the rum is a little more pronounced. The texture stayed soft but looks a little grittier. It still melts smooth and milkily (not creamily given the lack of cream, obviously) on the tongue though so it's just cosmetic.

[Edit: I've got another black sapote sherbet recipe that's at least as good. Click here.]

Sunday, January 20, 2008

CSA week eight - baked kale chips

I was looking around to see if you could successfully use kale as a steaming wrapper (as mentioned in the last post) when I came across a cornucopia of interesting kale recipes in this Chowhound message board thread.

There is a nice Thai-style steamed kale roll recipe there but I got distracted by this post by daveena:
"Kale chips are my favorite! The method I use comes from "Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven" - take off the stems (I chop them and put them in soup, or frittatas), wash and dry the leaves, cut them into 1" ribbons. Spray with olive oil and coarse salt, bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice.
It can be hard to get them just right - stir too infrequently, and parts burn (although gently burned parts are very tasty). Stir too often, and the whole pan comes out a little more steamed than toasted. When they come out right, though, they're fantastic - nutty and minerally - I've been known to eat an entire head of kale while watching tv..."
and I was off to my kitchen.

I wanted to add a bit of my own to the recipe and I figured this is precisely the sort of application spice mixes are best at. I had three good candidates amongst the Spice House mixes I have on-hand: Very Hot Cajun Style Seasoning, West Indies Barbecue Seasoning and Smoke House Seasoning. (Penzies no doubt has equivalent versions with slight variations on the names.) I settled on West Indies because the sweet heat should counter the bitter greens. It works for callaloo anyway.

So I prepared the leaves as per the recipe substituting in the spice mix for the coarse salt. Also I tossed the leaves after the first spray with olive oil and gave them a second spritz to get the other side before seasoning and a second toss to get everything distributed.

Here they are before cooking:

Here they are after ten minutes:

and after fifteen minutes they were done:

You shouldn't entirely trust my timing, though. In the pictures you can't see that my baking sheet has those big chunky ergonomic handles that keep it from fitting into a normal sized oven. My oven door is always cracked open a bit when I use it and I know it affects my cooking times. Exactly how varies depending on exactly what I'm cooking though. I think, but I can't swear, for a dehydrating application like this, the venting causes a breeze that speeds up my cooking times.

The dried kale has a insubstantial brittleness interspersed with chewy slightly thicker leaves that retain a strong bitter kale flavor. The West Indies seasoning does work nicely with that, but you'll still want a beverage on hand if you're going to eat a bowlful. And I liked it enough that I did eat the whole bowlful. I think I'm going to regret not having it on hand for a dinner recipe later, though.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week eight

An interesting share this week as there are a lot of supporting players but nothing to take the lead role in a dish. Kale could do it, but not with just four leaves. I may have to go buy more for a recipe. Or I wonder if they can be used as wraps for steaming.

The dill gave me an excuse to throw out the dill from a few weeks ago but I have as little to do with this as I did with that. I'm just insufficiently fond of the flavor.

The lettuce, along with the leftovers from last week's romaine is only really suitable for salads. I tried serving sauce-heavy dishes over the romaine as a substitute for rice or some other starch, but that only seems to work well with baby greens.

The pepper I think I'll stuff. I have an interesting idea for a Moroccan-flavored stuffing that should work nicely.

Some of the scallions I'd like to use in the spice-crusted beef recipe I mentioned a few days ago. I might just keep the rest in reserve as uses for scallions do come up.

That leaves the canistel and the sapote. One of those is going to some ice cream. The mamey sapote ice cream I made before didn't turn out fabulously because I treated it like a banana, but it didn't have the unusual chemical properties bananas have that substitute for fat. I'll have to treat it more like a standard fruit ice cream and make a compote to add to a vanilla base. I have the feeling I'm going to be waiting a while, though. Can any of you tell me how long these things take to ripen?

Friday, January 18, 2008

CSA week seven - pan-Pacific fried rice

a.k.a. cleaning out the refrigerator.

So I had the leftover negimaki, about half of the hon tsai tai (I used the rest in a dish halfway between the cavatelli with greens recipe and ham, eggs and greens recipe I've written up before. It didn't seem distinct enough to give its own post) the avocado and a good bit of leftover rice I'd accumulated over the course of the week. Looking around on-line, the only avocado fried rice recipe I saw was from the hardly-objective folks at, but there are plenty of Japanese dishes that match avocado with soy sauce and non-fried rice so I figured it was worth a shot. I added some shrimp and egg and hot peppers as all of those turned up in both the recipe and the more legitimate ones. A lot of them used lemon too, so I figured the lemongrass would work OK. I wanted to add some more heat and some vinegar as avocado goes nicely with those flavors both in Mexico and Japan so I made some more teriyaki sauce and dosed it with a whole lot of vinegar-based hot sauce. And I added some sliced water chestnuts and bamboo shoots because I had some to get rid of and it's fried rice and those always end up in fried rice.

I used the standard fried rice methodology.

I heated a tablespoon of oil to smoking in a cast iron pan and stir fried the rice until it rejuvenated, mixed in just enough sauce to plump the rice up again and give it a bit of color and removed it to a bowl. Then I heated a bit more oil, stir fried the spices and tougher vegetables for a minute, added the medium-tough vegetables, stir fried for another minute, added the pre-cooked ingredients and the shrimp, stir fried briefly, added some more sauce and some chicken stock, let it reduce a little, returned the rice, folded it together until the sauce was absorbed/evaporated, and finally stirred in the delicate ingredients--in this case the egg (pre-scrambled) and the avocado.

The end result wasn't nearly the fiasco you'd expect. It was actually not bad at all. Not good at all either, but not bad. The avocado really doesn't add anything, but it's not weirdly out of place. The lemongrass didn't really hold up against the other flavors so I did have to garnish with a squeeze of lemon.

If you were thinking of trying something like this, I'd recommend considering your sauce a bit more carefully than I did. Using cilantro, lime and hot pepper to bridge Mexican and Thai flavors seems a plausible possibility.

Almost No-Knead Bread update

In my last post about this recipe I declined to post the full recipe as it was still behind Cook's Illustrated's website's subscriber wall. Since then a) the recipe has leaked out to the wider web, b) my post somehow ended up on the first page of Google hits for "Almost No-Knead Bread" (but only if you include the hyphen), c) I've made it a few times and come up with a re-simplified and slightly improved recipe.

So, for all you Googlers, I hope this helps:

Bill's version of Almost No-Knead Bread

14 oz or slightly under 3 cups of unbleached bread flour (King Arthur is my favorite brand)
1-2 oz or 2-3 Tablespoons rye flour (this finishes the flavor rustification the beer starts)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
7-8 oz water, at room temperature
3 oz lager, Grolsch for instance
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup dough reserved from the last time you baked this recipe if it was less than a week or two ago (this gives a depth of flavor and a bit of sourdough tang), at room temperature

6-8 cup heatproof dutch oven or clay cooker
6-8 cup bowl (glass, ceramic, metal or plastic is fine)

1. Some time in the evening prior to a day you have off from work, mix bread and rye flour with yeast and salt in the 6-8 cup bowl. Add reserved dough pinched into small pieces. Add water and beer and stir until a dough ball is formed and reserved dough is dispersed. Check for texture. You're looking for something a little wetter than a traditional bread recipe. All the flour should be incorporated and the dough should be a little sticky and shaggy.

2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm room overnight. In the morning check to see that the dough has risen to fill the bottom half of the bowl and its surface is pitted with small open holes. If not, you woke up too early. Go back to bed for a couple hours.

3. When the dough is ready, remove plastic wrap carefully; you're going to reuse it. Flour a work surface and coax dough out onto it. Flour, wet or oil your hands and knead dough 10-15 times in 10-15 seconds. Cut a half cup of dough off and put it into a small plastic container in the refrigerator for next time.

If you want to add any herbs, fruit, cheese or what-have-you, now's the time to do it. If your additions are delicately flavored, you might want to use whole wheat flour instead of rye back in step one. Check dough to see if you've added appreciable amounts of flour during this process. If so, add no more than a Tablespoon of water.

Roll the dough into a tight ball and place it back on the work surface or into the bowl depending on which you don't feel like washing right now. You could do all of this in the bowl if it's a large one. I use a plastic cutting board that I can carry over to the stove in step five.

4. Let dough rise for 1 1/2 hours and then take a look at it. Is it nearly double in size and keeps a dent if you press it with your finger? If not, wait a half hour and check again. If so, place your dutch oven (including the lid) onto the next-to-bottom rack of the oven and preheat for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.

5. After the half hour wait, carefully remove dutch oven from oven, dump dough into it trying to keep it from sticking to the sides, replace lid, place back in oven and turn oven down to 425 degrees.

6. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid from dutch oven. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes more until instant read thermometer stabbed into the bread's center reads 210 degrees (give or take a degree).

7. Remove dutch oven from oven and flip bread out onto a cooling rack. Gingerly turn the bread right side up and let cool for as long as you can manage. Up to two hours would be good. One hour at least. That's four to five hours after you kneaded the dough which is why I told you to start first thing in the morning.

That should do it. One interesting note that I haven't seen anyone address about this recipe is that it doesn't dry out as it goes stale, it just gets denser and chewier in a way that toasting easily remedies. It remains quite palatable for nearly a week which is quite unusual for home-baked breads without preservatives. Store it in foil or a paper bag, or just on a cutting board with the cut side down.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

CSA week seven - gyuniku no negimaki

Until I did the research I had no idea how many types of beef and scallion recipes there were. I found a Chinese beef and scallion stir fry in hoisin sauce, Korean beef short ribs with scallions, a vaguely southeast Asian spice crusted beef with lime marinated scallions (which is definitely going on my to make list), and the dish that seemed like the most fun to try: Japanese beef and scallion rolls. I've seen asparagus and spinach versions of this dish at Japanese restaurants, but scallions sounded like they'd be good too.

The recipe itself is very simple. Take a decent quality piece of beef (I used top round), sliced thin. Pound it even thinner and then marinate it in teriyaki sauce. Teriyaki sauce is usually made with mirin but I was out so I approximated it. The full recipe I used was:
6 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 Tablespoons dry rice wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
mix well and add meat.

I cut the meat into seven inch wide pieces and marinated them for a bit over an hour, which was plenty.

I sliced the scallions to fit and found that I didn't have quite as much as I wanted so I added some slices of sweet yellow pepper as well. Then I rolled them up against the grain of the meat. That way, when I sliced it into rounds, the long rolled strips would be against the grain too and more tender. I think I got that right. Then I discovered that I had forgotten toothpicks to hold them closed.

I did a shallow fry in 1/4" of nearly smoking peanut oil for two minutes with a couple of turns and holding the rolls together as best I could. But even when they did stay more or less rolled, after I sliced them up, they didn't stay that way. The meat was tender and very flavorful, the vegetables crisp and light, but without the rolls staying together the presentation just wasn't working for me. So I decided to repurpose the ingredients into a teriyaki rice bowl.

I poured some of the leftover marinade into a small pot and boiled it down a little bit. For a fullfledged presentation teriyaki sauce I should have added some cornstarch and just heated it until it thickened, but this way worked too.

Meanwhile, I extricated the vegetables from an unsliced roll, cut them down to a more manageable size, 2-3" long, and cut the meat into smaller chunks. I reheated the vegetables in a nonstick pan with a bit of the used oil (which was infused with a bit of flavor by now I figured) at medium high, cooked them briefly, added the meat, heated it through and threw in a lightly beaten egg. Just as it set I scrambled it a little and dumped it all out onto a bowl of rice. A little of the sauce on top and there you go. Simple, easy and tasty. (Not very photogenic though. You've probably seen it and know it looks a little predigested in person too. Well, it has a great personality.) I don't know why I've never made it before.

I've just now noticed that the negimaki was supposed to be served with a squeeze of lemon. That definitely would have worked with the rice bowl too. I'll have to remember that when I finish the remaining roll later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

CSA week seven - bacon smotherered green beans

When I got home today really didn't want to turn on the computer and start doing research so I haven't actually read any of the green bean recipes I saw on Saturday. I ended up winging it, making some unusual cooking decisions along the way and got really lucky at how well it turned out. I didn't measure anything so this is a an approximate reconstruction of what I did.

4 slices thick hickory-smoked bacon, cut into 1/2" lardons
3/4 lb green beans, ends removed and broken into few-inch-long pieces
3/4 cup thickishly sliced red onion
3/4 cup thinly sliced cremini or baby bella mushrooms
1 handful cherry tomatoes, rinsed and well dried
1 cup chicken broth
1 large handful egg noodles

1. Boil water in medium pot and cook noodles to al dente firmness.

2. In very hot wok, render bacon in a teaspoon of canola, peanut or corn oil until browned and crisp. Remove to bowl with slotted spoon leaving behind as much fat as possible.

3. Add green beans to wok. Stir fry until the beans are cooked slightly and have browned bits here and there. Salt to taste. Remove green beans with a slotted spoon to a second bowl again leaving behind as much fat as you can.

4. Add onions and mushrooms. Fry briefly until onions and mushrooms are soft, but not browned. Salt to taste again. Remove to bowl with bacon. Most of the fat will have been absorbed by now.

5. Return green beans to pan. Add chicken broth. Turn heat down to medium. Stir and scrape bottom to get up any browned bits. Cook uncovered until broth has reduced to half cup (several minutes). Cover and cook until beans are just tender (another couple minutes).

6. Meanwhile, in separate cast iron or non-stick pan, heat a teaspoon of oil. When hot, add tomatoes to char, stirring frequently. This is simulating grilling. If you can do that conveniently, go ahead.

7. Uncover beans and add noodles. Cook for another minute. Add everything else. Mix and heat through. Adjust seasonings. Serve.

I think the unusual order of cooking is important so that onions and mushrooms don't absorb all of the fat before it can get used to cook the mushrooms, but they do get it out of the way so the beans can braise properly.

The end result is very tasty with lots of bacon flavor but each of the vegetables clearly coming through as well. Maybe it could use seasoning beyond salt and pepper. Thyme maybe?

I'll bet this recipe would work well with asparagus spears too.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

CSA week seven - crab, scallion and tomato quiche

I have just discovered that every quiche I've had before now was overcooked. I suppose I should have figured that out considering how rubbery and dry they all were. But an counter-example does wonders where logic falters.

As I mentioned in the last post, quiche is one of the few applications for a whole bunch of scallions. I pieced together the recipe I used from a half dozen or so I found on-line plus a little actual thought on my part. The most valuable information I found on the web was this generalized recipe for a generic crustless quiche. I knew I wasn't about to make a crust; for one thing it's a pain in the butt. And for another, I'm skeptical of the whole idea of a crust on a quiche. They always turn out dried out on the edges and gummy on the bottom. If you really need some starch, have a slice of bread. Anyway, when I went shopping for the rest of the ingredients the only ready-made crust available was Pilsbury and while that, somewhat surprisingly, had the lard required for a tender crumb, it also had sugar as it was intended for pies and I didn't think that would work out so well. But crustless isn't a problem. I didn't have the deep dish 9" pie pan the recipe called for so I used my paella pan. It's eight inches at the bottom and ten at the top, so close enough.

The recipe calls for around a cup and a half of solid ingredients. I had 6 oz. of crab meat (The real stuff, but not the good stuff. There are too many other ingredients to make the really good stuff necessary. I do wish I could have used local crab instead of a can imported from Thailand, though.), three small tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (I didn't use the grape tomatoes we got in this week's share. I happened to purchase a box of tomatoes and a bunch of scallions not long before the share arrived so I've got more than plenty of both. Given the choice I passed on trying to peel grape tomatoes and used the slightly larger tomatoes I had picked up at the market.) and a bunch of scallions wilted in a fair bit of butter. That added up to a bit more than 1 1/2 cups but the crab didn't pack very tightly so I figured I was good.

I added to that 1/2 cup or so of Gruyere cheese, which is a nice match with crab, a good bit of pepper, a judicious application of salt and a couple teaspoons of Parisien Bonnes Herbes, an herb mix from Spice House that contains tarragon, chervil, basil, dill, chives and white pepper. It has a sweet flavor that goes nicely with shellfish, onions and eggs so I was pretty confident it would work here (which it, in fact, did). With the pricey Gruyere and the crab, this may be the most expensive recipe I've come up with for the cheapest subscription ingredient. But given the lovely results, I can't really argue.

The recipe calls for 1 to 1 1/2 cups of liquid mixed with four eggs. I used a half cup of heavy cream that I had leftover and about 3/4 cups of whole milk. I suspect most quiches I've had before now have skimped on the fat to the detriment of the texture. You could use skim milk and egg substitute if you really wanted to. I'm not going to recommend it, though.

It only took 30 minutes at 375 degrees to finish cooking the quiche which is substantially less time than most recipes call for. The slightly larger pan made for a slightly shallower quiche which may have contributed to the short cooking time, but I suspect most published recipes have a cooking time bumped up by ten minutes due to salmonella concerns. Since you're only using four eggs that shouldn't really be an issue, particularly if they're organic (as I presume most CSA subscribers are buying).

Serve with a salad, crusty bread and a white wine (something fairly dry to counter the sweetness of the crab and herbs. I'm having a Louis Latour 2006 Chardonnay Bourgogne. Since I'm only willing to pay $15 for a bottle I prefer to get a low end bottle from a high end vineyard than than the top of the line from a low end vineyard. It's a philosophy that has worked well for both wine and home electronics.). I am very happy with the results; this may be the most successful of the CSA recipes I've made so far. It's buttery, sweet, light and tender. And despite all the other flavors going on, the scallions make a major contribution so it's worth calling a CSA dish.