Friday, February 29, 2008

CSA week 13 - collard-wrapped pork, shrimp and daikon dumplings

These are not dissimilar to the last collard-wrapped dumplings I made. I started with Chinese flavors because I wanted to use the daikon and as I had a little bit of leftover shiitake mushrooms and scallions left in the fridge it seemed like the way to go. Since joining the CSA, this is the first time I can remember that I've had proper leftovers and haven't had to deliberately buy ingredients for this sort of recipe.

For the meat, I used a typical Chinese dumpling mixture of pork and shrimp. I ground both up in the food processor, and mixed them with the shredded daikon. The shrimp made a good binder so I didn't need to add an egg. I hand chopped the mushrooms, scallions, and some peppers, garlic and ginger to leave a bit of texture. I mixed those in along with some dark soy sauce, a dash of rice wine and a bit of sesame oil. Then I let it all sit for a little while for the flavors to meld and the mushrooms, which were a little dried out, to soak up some of the excess moisture.

I had a little trouble working with the kale this time as it was a bit smaller and a bit crisper than last time and didn't really want to roll up nicely. The presentation ending up a bit sloppy but everything stayed inside. Ten minutes steaming and there you go. Despite all the seasoning the dumpling itself is still rather mild so the kale is able to add a significant greens flavor to the mix. Hints of the daikon show up in the aftertaste, but it mainly they just give the dumplings some texture.

On the whole, it's not something I'll be serving to guests, but not bad for a half-hour's work.

CSA week 13 - baked collard chips

You may recall my post back in CSA week eight about baked kale chips. It's somehow made its way to the first page of Google results on the term and become one of the main drivers of the meager amount of traffic that makes its way to my blog. So today I bow to public pressure and churn out a low-rent sequel; I hope you're all happy.

Right, so collard greens--at least the ones in my share--are substantially thicker and tougher than kale so would the same spray-with-olive-oil-sprinkle-with-seasoning-bake-at-350-for-15-minutes-tossing-occasionally recipe work? As it turns out, yes.

You can see in the top photo that three whole collard leaves over-crowded my pan a little so the leaves spent the first five minutes steaming more than baking. But after they had shrunk a little I was able to redistribute them. The only tricky bit was making sure nothing was folded over because the overlapping bits don't dry out right.

Because of the slightly heartier nature of collards I used a steak seasoning sprinkle. It worked fine.

On a related note: if you're going to put radish greens on pizza bury them under the cheese or they'll get all dried out and crispy which doesn't really work.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

CSA week 13 - Caesar salad soup

There are some fake recipes for Caesar salad soup out there using things like fennel and celery that have no business in a Caesar salad. I wanted to make a proper version: a lettuce soup with a classic Caesar dressing, croutons and Parmesan.

This is a recipe in three parts. Let's start with the garnishes.

Garlic Croutons

2 large cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 slices of white, French or Italian bread

1. Crush garlic and add, with a large pinch of salt, to olive oil. Let rest at room temperature for at least five minutes.
2. Cut bread into large chunks and lightly toast
3. Strain oil into frying pan. Heat over medium high heat until sizzling. Put the garlic back in the bowl. You're going to add it to the soup later.
4. Add bread to pan and fry, tossing frequently, until the oil is all soaked up and the bread is crispy, golden brown and delicious. Sprinkle with a bit more salt.

Parmesan Crisps

1 1/2 Tablespoon of Parmesan per crisp (Use a young cheese as an aged Parmesan doesn't have enough moisture to melt. It will just toast and after twice as long in the oven as the recipe says you'll get frustrated, mix it into the leftover grated Ementhal you have in the fridge, and finish it off in a frying pan. You'll get a nice texture, but the end result won't have the right flavor to go with the Caesar salad soup.)

1. Finely grate cheese into little piles onto a cookie, preferably lined with parchment paper or a silpat.
2. Bake at 325 degrees F for ten to twelve minutes. Alternatively, you can fry the grated cheese in a non-stick pan over medium low heat for several minutes, flipping when the bottom is browned. The crisps in the oven don't need to be flipped, but it wouldn't hurt to turn the pan around halfway through.
3. The crisps will harden up quickly, but just out of the oven you can roll them around a rolling pin or drape them over the bottom of a glass or, if you're really good, make an origami swan.

Caesar Salad Soup

1 pound (about 8 cups) romaine lettuce
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 egg
2 1/2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 drops Worcestershire sauce
2 anchovy fillets, minced
coarse ground black pepper to taste

1. Tear up, wash and dry lettuce.
2. Boil the broth and the one cup water, add lettuce and a sprinkle of salt, turn down heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.
3. Heat a small pot of water to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook egg for one minute. (I overcooked the egg a little, but it's all getting blended so no big deal.)
4. Mix the garlic from the croutons with olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy and pepper.
5. I let everything sit for a half hour to cool so I didn't have to worry about the egg getting cooked. If you intend to serve the soup hot you'll need to temper the dressing before adding it to the soup by mixing in spoonfuls of the hot soup.
6. Mix egg into dressing.
7. Blend soup until smooth. Drizzle in dressing while blending.
8. Serve with garlic croutons and grated Parmesan optionally in crisp form.

The soup was light, smooth and velvety. Possibly a bit too light; I think the egg white was holding on to a bit of incorporated air. I liked the somewhat less smooth texture of the plain lettuce soup a bit better, but I blended that less, too. As I didn't have to worry about adding any extras. I think next time I might blend the soup to the texture I want and then mix in the dressing by hand.

The primary flavors were the lettuce and lemon with accents of anchovies and olive oil. Nicely complex and balanced, but it was mild and a bit overpowered by the intensity of the croutons and the cheese crisp. Grating Parmesan on top instead will help with the balance. The croutons really were the best bit so I can't in good conscience tell you not to use them, but maybe smaller croutons would work better. I'll have to experiment with the leftovers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CSA week 13 - Gizzards and turnips (with tops) in red wine sauce

I was a bit disappointed in this dish, but I don't think the preparation or the turnips were to blame. The fault lies squarely with the bland and dull chicken gizzards. I shouldn't really be surprised; they came from the bland and dull battery chickens they sell at Publix. It's a shame I couldn't get better. I need to find a real butcher around here.

As I mentioned back on Saturday, I wanted to pair the turnips with sweetbreads. I thought I had seen them around but I couldn't find them at my usual groceries. The lady behind the meat counter at Green Market had never even heard of sweetbreads. (I wonder if she was more confused by someone apparently asking for pastries at the meat counter or by my explanation that I actually wanted thymus glands.) I'll have to keep looking. Green Market had no organ meats at all, but Publix did have beef tripe and liver and chicken gizzards, livers and hearts. I figured chicken gizzards would work too.

The preparation itself was quite simple. I started by cutting up the gizzards and turnips into similar-sized pieces, patting the gizzards dry, seasoning them with salt and pepper and dredging them in flour. I probably should have shaken off a bit more of the flour as I had some trouble with the sauce over-thickening, but otherwise so far so good.

I heated olive oil over high heat and added the turnips and gizzards all at once. Three minutes without stirring started some nice browning despite a slightly over-crowed pan. The pieces were too small to turn individually to get the other side so I had to stir, cook for two minutes, stir again and give it two minutes more.

Then I turned down the heat to a high simmer, added a half cup of red wine (For the wine, I wanted something that could stand up to the gamey flavors I expected from organ meat but not just be a rough table wine. I took a chance on a Spanish 2001 Marques del Puerto Rioja. It was fine enough in the glass with light balsamic and vanilla flavors which contrasted nicely with the dish, but it didn't work so well as an ingredient.), a couple teaspoons of thyme and a bit more salt and pepper, covered and simmered for a couple minutes. I noticed the sauce was getting too thick so I stirred in a couple splashes more wine before adding the turnip leaves and returning the lid for another minute, gave it a stir and cooked uncovered for one minute more. And that was it.

The turnips were tender and tasty, the sauce (after I thinned it out with a bit of water) aromatic but the gizzards, while about as tender as they were likely to get, were dull dull dull. A real disappointment.

Well, tomorrow I'm going to make the caesar salad soup and I have high expectations for some pizazz out of that. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 25, 2008

CSA week 13 - miso glazed fish with daikon and yukina savoy

My original plan was to steam the whole lot: a bed of yukina savoy, a mattress of shredded daikon and the fish on top. But I got sidetracked by this recipe. Well, actually, more by that picture which, it turns out, is about as accurate as the pictures in McDonalds commercials. In retrospect, I think I've narrowed down the problem to this sentence: "Remove any excess marinade from the fish, then place on the prepared baking tray," and the fact that I don't know what constitutes "excess" marinade or exactly what a baking tray is. I removed almost all of the marinade and placed the fish in a baking dish and my results looked like this:

I have to admit that the miso sauce glazed beautifully all over my baking dish, though. The 30 minute marination made the surface of my fish mushy so maybe basa was just the wrong choice. Ah well; despite the textural problems is did still taste nice.

The vegetables were nearly as problematic. I laid out the yukina savoy in my steamer, chopped the daikon into half-inch slices, tossed it in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame and chili oils and dumped them on top. And then I steamed for fifteen, twenty minutes without the daikon getting any closer to being noticeably cooked. Looking on-line I saw recipes that called for three minutes of steaming. Of course, now that I go back and check, they don't specify how thick to cut the daikon. Eventually I gave up, dumped the steamer out into the pot and just boiled it for ten minutes. That did the trick.

I've got to stop trying to use vague recipes. I always pick the wrong way to do things and it just leads to heartbreak and frustration.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week thirteen

I don't know about you, but I'm not nearly done with my Week 12 share yet and another box of vegetables is the last thing I need. On the other hand, this week's share, at least mine, was full of the largest, freshest vegetables yet. I've got to bump this stuff up to the top of the queue and figure out what to do with them quick because they're too large to fit into the storage bags I've got and they're going to go down hill quickly.

I've figured out a workable recipe for caesar salad soup and have picked up some bread appropriate for making croutons (and also suitable for cucumber sandwiches ((paper-thin cucumber with cream cheese on thin-sliced crustless country white bread)) which I've been enjoying more than I expected to. I do feel bad that I'm not making watercress sandwiches, scones and the rest of high tea too, but I think I'll have to get over that.) so you should expect that in the next few days. That will use the romaine from two weeks ago which just leaves me with two heads left. Sheesh.

For the daikon, the honey-preserved recipe in the newsletter is very interesting so I may use one there. The other (I picked a second one out of the extras bin) I think I'll use with fish and miso in something traditionally Japanese. No need to be fancy or innovative when there's a whole cuisine that considers daikon a basic ingredient. The greens I'll probably have with pasta; I haven't done that for a bit.

For the radish, I've realized recently that I should be eating more offal while I'm in Miami and have access to good quality. I'm thinking of radishes braised with sweetbreads in a red wine reduction. I don't see any recipes like that on-line, but I think it will work.

The basil I have no great plans for. None of the other vegetables in the share call out for Italian preparations. I wonder if I can freeze it.

The collards, I may use in a caldo verde (I know that usually calls for kale, but that's I understand that that's just substituting for black cabbage which you can't get outside of the Iberian peninsula so why not collards?) or just make up a mess of greens. The collards from my share are thicker, tougher and firmer than any I've seen before; that makes me think that a long braise instead of just tossing them into soup is the best approach. A mess of greens or some variation it is then.

And the star apple, I'll just eat.

CSA week twelve - squash fritters with cheese, ham, peppers and onions

I had a squash leftover from my pickling project so when I happened across this recipe I thought I'd give it a try. I made a few modifications that I don't really think resulted in improvements but I think others had promise. Compare the two and judge for yourself.

Deep fried squash fritters with cheese, ham, peppers and onions

* 1/2 lb yellow summer squash
* salted water
* 1/2 cup finely shredded sharp cheese (I used Ementhal and added some herbs de Provance to match)
* 1/4 cup grits
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1 egg -- beaten
* 1/4 cup onion, chopped
* 1/4 cup pepper, chopped
* 1/4 cup ham, chopped
* oil for deep frying

Remove stem and blossom ends of squash and cut in large chunks. Place in a large pan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat; cook until squash is tender. [After ten minutes my squash was perfectly done and I didn't have the heart to deliberately overcook it to make it more easily mashable. Instead I ran it through the food processor. That full liquidification was probably my main mistake as it led to some serious structural integrity issues. The switch from corn meal (which I've run out of) to grits didn't help on that account either. I'm not sure if using the whole beaten egg, instead of the half halving the original recipe required, helped or hurt. Certainly the end texture was more omelette-y than I expected.] Drain well; mash. Add all but onion, pepper and ham and blend well. Mix in the rest. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to thicken. To fry, heat oil in the deep fryer to 370°. Drop squash batter by spoonfuls into hot oil. Cook until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with a bit more salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Something went wrong with my phone-camera and the picture I took of the final results wasn't recorded. Ah well. You can get a sense of them from them still in the oil; they browned nicely but fell apart a bit more when I took them out of the pan.

Personally, I liked the fluffy, gritty and crunchy texture that resulted and was a bit disappointed with the lack of squash flavor. But I can see how others might disagree on both points and fritters that held together better would not be a bad thing.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

CSA week twelve - green bean-smothered pork chop

The Italian preparation of green beans isn't really much different from the Greek minus forty minutes cooking time and plus a good bit of herbs. I made a few changes myself though. My original plan was to just add some pork sausage but I seem to have run out. I did have a pork chop left though. Ideally, for proper smothering, I'd want one rather thicker which could cook along with the sauce. One as thin as this is fully cooked when it's done browning so this is more properly green bean-sauced than smothered. An inch thick pork chop would have been just right.

Also, if I had had any on hand, I would have liked to served the dish over gnochi. The soft pasta would have contrasted nicely with the firm crunch of the beans. The best substitute I had available was spaetzle whose chewiness worked well in its own way.

So I started by blanching the green beans for a couple of minutes. That way they keep their nice bright green color and don't have to cook nearly as long in the braise with the tomatoes.

The next step was to brown the pork chop at high heat in some olive oil (after brining it for an hour to make sure it stayed juicy under this sort of treatment and seasoning it with pepper and basil). A couple minutes on one side and one on the other cooked it through so I just set it aside until the vegetables were done, but I left as much of the drippings in the pan as possible.

Turning down the heat to medium, I added three large cloves of garlic and fried them briefly. If I had remembered, this would have been the right time to add onions, mushrooms and/or peppers. But I forgot so after about 30 seconds I dumped in a can of chopped tomatoes and a couple Tablespoons of fresh oregano. Fresh tomatoes would be better, but all I've got are the grape tomatoes and I'm not going to try peeling and seeding those little things. If I had used fresh, I'd have cooked it for a while so they'd start to break down and release their juices, but the canned start out that way. So I only cooked them for a couple minutes before adding the beans. (and, if it weren't already cooked, I'd return the pork chop at this point too.)

I gave the pan a stir, covered it, and let it cook for around ten minutes before checking for doneness and for the amount of liquid left in the pan. I wanted it to work as a pasta sauce so I wanted it a bit wetter than if I were just making a side dish. I believe it took around fifteen minutes for the beans to get as tender as I wanted and then I finished it off with a large drizzle of balsamic vinegar, put the pork chop on the pasta and added the sauce. A garnish of shaved Parmesan would have been nice, but I couldn't be bothered. Even without, I think the combination of flavors and textures worked well. I think it will survive freezing better than the Greek green beans did, too.

Next time we get green beans, I'm thinking cajun-style.

Monday, February 18, 2008

CSA weeks ten, eleven and eight? - salmon tartar

I've talked about salmon tartar before (way back in week two) so I won't go into too much detail here. If you've been reading along for a while you may have noticed a decreasing level of precision in my cooking. With all of the practice I've been getting I think I'm developing more of a feel for working with vegetables and I'm becoming more comfortable with improvising. I only made the tartar tonight because I started thinking about dinner a bit too late to start brining the chicken; I didn't have a game plan in mind or all the ingredients on hand that I wanted. The original thought was a dill and cucumber sauce for poached salmon but my sour cream had gone all pink. Instead I just started throwing things together. Cucumber from this week's share and dill leftover from a few weeks ago were naturals with salmon of course, and a bit of spring onion wasn't too risky. The interesting ingredient, if there is one, is the shiitake mushrooms from last week. In retrospect they give the same earthy base to the flavor that usually comes from the toast points. I also tossed in some capers (preserved in salt, not vinegar. The vinegared ones would be a bit too strong I thought.), a few shots of hot sauce, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a pinch of dried dill to supplement the faded fresh herb.

Looking back at the recipe from week two what I did, this week wasn't too different, but I was winging it then too (although after having done my usual research). I'm still quite pleased with the combination of flavors and textures and proud of my decision to use the mushrooms; You can't take that away from me.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

CSA week twelve - pickled squash

A little belatedly for my initial post I realized that this week's full boxes represent a bumper crop and call for the traditional response: pickling.

I looked around a bit and found some worrying info on the subject from Utah State University:
"There are currently no safe, tested recipes for pickling summer squash followed by
boiling water canning. ... The heat required to can squash results in the squash flesh turning into mush and sinking to the bottom of the canning jar. The compacted flesh will not heat evenly. Therefore, all process times and temperatures are unsafe."

Huh. I did not know that. Well, refrigerator pickling is still an option. For my refrigerator pickles I use ceramic coffee jars. They're big enough to hold a full pound of vegetables, have a good tight seal and don't take up flavors. No real need for mason jars if you're not going to be boiling them.

I'm rather suspicious of a lot of the recipes now because many call for the full canning process and others call for simmering the squash for ten minutes. There are some mushy-looking pictures too so I guess they don't mind. I'm using this recipe minus the twenty minutes cooking time which I know is way too long for squash in any application. Don't people test recipes before sharing them? Anyway, the flavor combination seems interesting and I like that it doesn't go really heavy on the salt. The whole Tablespoon of cinnamon seems a bit odd and makes the brine a rich dark brown you don't see much in pickling, but it didn't enirely overwhelm the other flavors in the brine and the squash itself ought to balance it out. Remind me in a month and I'll tell you how it turned out.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week twelve

Before starting out the new week, there are a couple dishes left from this last week worth mentioning. I complained about the bowl of wilted stems I got from the mizuna, but I managed to make a dish of that description work. I've been saving up the stems from the tougher greens from the last few weeks--some kale, some collards and some chard--and had enough by now to braise them like a mess of greens. It took a bit longer--about 20 minutes, but I didn't actually time it--and the pot liquor wasn't anything to speak of but otherwise it was just fine.

Second, I got some very tasty bratwurst down at the Whole Foods and made a smothered cabbage dish with it. I cooked a brat in a cast iron pan, removed it to a bowl, added a half a cabbage sliced thin along with a grated carrot and some sliced onion. Browned it at high heat for a few minutes, added some sliced cherry tomatoes and browned them too. Then I added a couple splashes of cider vinegar and a couple teaspoons of sugar, stirred well, turned down the heat to medium, covered and steamed for a couple minutes. When the cabbage was tender I returned the cut up sausage along with its juices and a Tablespoon or so of mustard. That turned out nicely, too.

So, the new share.

First off is the cilantro. I bought some cilantro a few days ago for the peanut soup and it's an interesting contrast with the local stuff. The California cilantro is dark green, has short stems and is much more aromatic than the cilantro in the shares. I wonder if it was treated in some way for shipment or picked younger. That's probably it.

Next is some more lettuce. After a big salad for lunch I'm down to just this head of...eruption, I guess, and most of last week's romaine. Both are pretty sturdy so I might try a stir-fried lettuce recipe.

The yukina savoy is another bunch a bit smaller than I'd need to for a full meal. I wish I had checked my share first as there was a big bunch in the extras box. My first thought was to use it as part of a stir fry but if I'm going to be stir-frying the lettuce I'll have to come up with something else.

The green beans I'm out of clever ideas for. I'll have to do some more research. I've done typical Chinese, Greek and American preparations. There must be other cuisines to mine. I have vague memories of traumatic childhood experiences involving poorly prepared french-cut green beans. I wonder what that the French preparation is supposed to taste like.

I already used one of the cucumbers in a salad. Another I'll use in a tuna tartar, I think. Maybe more salads for the others if I can work up the will power.

The squash I definitely don't want to use in a stew again. This week's is definitely going to be roasted. I've got a whole chicken that I was planning to butterfly and broil, but the squash wouldn't hold up to that sort of treatment. I'll try some more gentle cooking method that the squash can come along for.

That leaves the grape tomatoes and the tangerines, both of which I'll mostly just snack on. I've got one of the tangerines set aside for part of a sorbet, though. That's a new recipe for me and I'm curious how it's going to go.

Friday, February 15, 2008

CSA week eleven - mushroom faux-risotto

As I mentioned at the beginning of the week, despite having risotto rice available, I was of a mind to use Israeli couscous instead. It's rather easier to make (although real risotto isn't nearly as hard as it's made out to be) and it turned out poorly the first time I talked it up so I wanted to have another post with a successful use. And I'm pretty happy with how it turned out so on we go.

I started by slicing up half of the fresh shiitakes in this week's share, and equal amount of cremini mushrooms and half of the spring onion (the left half as I wanted both the white and the green bits). I also soaked a handful of dried mushrooms; since I was going downscale I didn't bother with the good stuff and just used some of my ever-growing collection of dried creminis. The nice thing about storing mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator is that they never go bad, they just dry out. Unfortunately they do so fairly rapidly so I end up transferring them to my pantry and buying a new batch of fresh mushrooms to start again. Dried creminis have a more intense flavor and a chewier texture than the fresh so they are worth keeping around as an addition ingredient option. Plus, you can infuse flavors in the soaking water (in this case I used a couple teaspoons of dried thyme) and use the soaking water as a substitute for broth. When all that was ready I gave it a sweat in butter and olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper over medium heat until everything was reduced in volume by half and nicely tender. I removed the mushroom mix to a bowl.

I added a bit more olive oil to the pan and briefly fried some chopped ham and pork (the sliced stuff for Cuban sandwiches). Again, since I wasn't doing a fancy real risotto here I didn't feel the need to go out and buy some prosciutto. Actually, I'll bet there's a good source of serrano ham in town somewhere. If any of you know, please post it in a comment. I used a couple slices of ham and a couple slices of pork which was probably a bit much. Once that had a bit of moisture drawn out and a little color I added it to the bowl with the mushrooms.

Then I wilted the turnip leaves and added them to the pile. Why not? I mixed everything together (adjusting the salt and pepper to taste) and added a shot of soy sauce to intensify the flavor of the mushrooms.

I heated a Tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and added a cup of Israeli couscous. I toasted the couscous over medium high heat for five minutes, stirring frequently, to get it a nice golden brown. This gives a lot of toasty/nutty flavor to the final dish so don't skip this step. You can do the same thing with pasta, too. Give it a try.

Next, I added a cup and a half of mixed chicken broth and mushroom soaking liquid. I had a bit over a cup of leftover chicken broth in the refrigerator but the ratio isn't important; use whatever you've got handy. Remember to strain the soaking liquid as it gets gritty. Brought it back to a boil, covered, turned down the heat to medium low and simmered for ten minutes stirring occasionally.

At this point the couscous should be just about done: tender and chewy and most of the liquid absorbed. I turned off the heat, added the mushroom mix, a handful of grated Parmesan and a quarter cup or so of some soft mild melty cheese. (I had caciotta al tartufo on hand but whatever you've got will work so long as it's mild or particularly good with ham and mushrooms), put the cover back on and waited five minutes. Then I gave it a stir to distribute the melted cheese, checked the seasonings, and served with a glass of white wine and I suppose a green salad would compliment it if you were in to that sort of thing.

In retrospect, I would have liked another quarter cup or so of broth to make a creamier sauce, but otherwise it turned out beautifully. The couscous was perfectly done much more easily than rice would have been and with less fuss, too. The rest was done no differently than I would have done a real risotto (the mushrooms get mushy if you leave them in while the rice cooks). I don't think the turnip greens added much, but they weren't a problem either. While the sauce unified the whole, each of the components got to keep its individual flavors and textures. The mushroom and toasted couscous flavors dominate with the pork supporting and the cheese mainly supplies texture. All around pretty easy and tasty.

Addendum: A point in couscous' favor is that it doesn't go all chalky and mushy when you freeze it like risotto does. I just defrosted a saved batch and the texture is indistinguishable from fresh. Since I freeze lunches to bring in to work, I really need to start making this more often.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CSA week eleven - basa with roasted radishes, capers and anchovies

This recipe comes from two sources I normally don't care much for: Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver. But I doubt Ms. Stewart personally vets every recipe that appears in her magazine and Oliver did prepare his recipe for the Queen so perhaps I can be forgiven for this lapse.

The Stewart recipe I found here and, as you can see, it basically calls for slowly roasting radishes while they soak in bagna couda. I'd be perfectly happy with packing peanuts soaked in bagna cauda so the spicy and flavorful radishes we got in our shares this week are more than adequate.

For Oliver's part, I am attempting an vague approximation of a dish he made in an Iron Chef battle with Mario Batali. The secret ingredient was some obscure bland whitefish which may as well have been cod, really. One of Oliver's dishes was a reproduction of a dish he said he prepared at a state event: fish coated in herbs and roasted on a bed of thickly sliced potatoes and mushrooms. I substituted radishes and onions and probably used different herbs (Parisien Bonnes Herbes in my case. I don't think we ever learned just what Oliver used.) but the main point is the fish lending flavor to the vegetables and vice versa which I do think I accomplished to some small extent.

Basa was my fish of choice as amongst what Publix is offering frozen lately that's what Montery Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch suggests as most ecologically congenial. I buy the frozen fish at Publix as fish frozen on-board the fishing boat is actually fresher than something that's been sitting in a display case who knows how long (and may well have been frozen and defrosted before it got there) and I like Monterey Bay out of the various seafood guides because it does regional guides well suited for aspiring locavores. Their 2007 Southeast guide even has a stone crab on the cover. Unless there's a Florida-specific guide out there, this is the best you're going to do. [Find it at]

Here's the actual recipe

1 CSA share radishes, cut into 1/2 inch slices (the original recipe called for whole or halved radishes but I think what we got is much larger than average)
1 teaspoon brined capers, rinsed and chopped if they're particularly large
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (my bottle of anchovies have welded themselves into a solid mass. I used about a Tablespoon.)
2 cloves of garlic, minced (Martha calls for 1/2 clove. My general policy is to double the garlic and add a clove.)
1/2 onion sliced not too thin
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (substitute in some butter for a more bagna-cauda-y effect)
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges
1 large or two small fillets basa or other whitefish
whatever herbs you think would taste nice with these other flavors

1. Place oven rack in upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Toss together radishes, capers, anchovies, garlic, onions and oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on bottom on 8x8" baking dish. Put in oven.

3. Coat fish in herbs, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

4. Bake radishes for 20 minutes.

5. Stir radishes. Lay fish fillets over top. Squeeze lemon wedge over fish trying not to get too much on the radishes which we're trying to dry out a bit so they can soak up the oil. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Check for doneness. (My thin fillets were just barely done at this point so you may need another five minutes. The radishes can take it. )

6. Squeeze another lemon wedge over top and serve with bread to soak up the extra sauce.

CSA week eleven - banana-habenero ice cream with cinnamon-honey-peanut butter candy chunks

The honey is the CSA bit by the way.

Banana ice cream is a special case. There's some magic chemical reaction in the bananas that gives a mixture of bananas, sugar and milk a texture hard to distinguish from an egg custard ice cream. This is the second banana ice cream I've made. For the first I used a recipe from David
Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop cookbook crossed with bananas foster that turned out fabulously. Lebovitz's recipes get huge raves so I was naturally cynical, but the two I've tried were both wonderful so I really should stop screwing around with my own little experiments and just buy the book.

Before I go any further I ought to get my version down for the record.

Bananas Foster Ice Cream

3 medium ripe bananas, peeled
1/3 cup or 70 grams packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup light rum
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bananas into 1/2-inch pieces, toss with brown sugar and butter and lay out on a cookie sheet or baking dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes depending on how spread out the bananas are, stirring once or twice and checking diligently for burning. Remove pan when they are browned, cooked through, and a caramel is just starting to form.

Scrape the bananas, sauce and caramel into a blender or food processor. Add everything else and puree until smooth. Chill in refrigerator to 40 degrees F (overnight is best) and see how thick it is. Mine had solidified into a pudding texture and could well have been served just like that. Instead I whisked in another 1/2 cup of milk before churning. Your results will depend on your bananas.


Now then, instead of Lebovitz's recipe as a base today I used Alton Brown's banana ice cream recipe:

3 medium ripe bananas, peeled (a little over 1 pound)
1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
3/8 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
to which I added
1 seeded and chopped yellow habañero pepper
that's just enough to add some background heat without competing with the bananas.

Brown didn't say why he used corn syrup in the episode of Good Eats this recipe comes from. In On Food and Cooking McGee says that corn syrup is used as a thickener in low fat ice creams but with the bananas and heavy cream in this recipe that's not a real concern. If I were to make this again I'd use sugar instead (or Splenda blend which has half the calories and no notable off taste when used in ice cream).

Preparation is simple. Freeze the bananas and defrost so they get goopy. Blend them with the lemon juice (watch out for seeds!), chopped pepper and vanilla. Add the corn syrup; blend some more and then slowly add the cream while the food processor is going. Chill and churn.

The other half of the recipe was intended to be a swirl. That's how it was described in some random ice cream recipe I stumbled onto on the web. And maybe if I had started with a supermarket peanut butter it would have worked that way. Instead I started with whole peanuts.

A bit more than a cup of whole lightly salted peanuts, blended for a minute or two made
2/3 cup peanut butter
to which I added
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup medium-dark honey
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon

when I noticed that it had turned into a solid mass I added a bit more of everything but peanuts. The cinnamon and honey were absorbed but the oil wasn't. I poured off most of the oil and gave it a good kneading to try to get some more incorporated. Not much luck there, but the extra blending did make the mass quite smooth and a bit gooier. The texture was like a sugar syrup at the firm-ball stage if there are any confectioners reading who know what that means. When I froze a small ball of the candy on its own it got pretty solid, but in the ice cream it stayed a nice soft caramel texture (presumably by stealing moisture from the ice cream). However, since it was warm when I mixed it in some crunchy ice crystals formed. Next time I'll tear it into pieces and then chill before adding them. Another small problem was a yumminess differential between the peanut-butter candy and the more mild and subtle banana flavor of the ice cream. The peppers made the ice cream speak a little louder but the candy was a much stronger flavor.

Still, on the whole, successful bar the whining about the pepper and my need to screw up perfectly good ice cream (before anyone tried it I should point out). Not as good as the bananas foster ice cream but quite nice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

CSA week eleven - curried peanut-squash soup

The thought just jumped into my head yesterday: "Doesn't African peanut soup use squash?" and suddenly peanut soup was all I wanted. Even if you can't use squash in it, I was going to make some. As it happens, there are plenty of recipes for peanut soup that call for squash, butternut squash primarily. But a summer squash I've got so a summer squash I'll use.

My next concern was the peanuts. I knew that the peanuts were substituting for something called "groundnuts" and I wondered if there was a better simulation than just stirring in a couple tablespoons of Skippy. A bit of research turned up the fact that peanuts are in fact replacing an ingredient called Bambara groundnuts, but they're doing it in African agriculture. People just like peanuts better as a crop and as an ingredient. Peanuts have even taking over the name; when you're in a West African village market and you ask for groundnuts, you'll get peanuts. I was still confident that a jar of peanut butter wasn't the best substitute and I was fully prepared to mail order some boiled peanuts from South Carolina and make my own non-roasted paste. But, yes, the peanuts are supposed to be roasted. I did learn that the all-natural unsweetened unsalted ground-on-demand peanut butter from the health food store is the closest approximation so I did learn something useful out of all that research.

Most peanut soup recipes use tomatoes or tomato juice or at least salsa, but I've made that sort before and I really don't like the combination. Non-tomato varieties are rare, but I found one I liked the look of here. I'm not sure the curry spices are entirely traditional but what the heck.

I made the recipe as written, but realized too late that the 20 minutes simmering was too much for a summer squash. So I added a cup of bay scallops with the peas to give a similar firm bite to a not-overcooked-squash. The end result is pretty nice with a lot of different interesting flavors playing well together.

You could easily use vegetable broth instead of the chicken to make this a vegan dish. Or add chicken to make it more substantial. Using a citrusy Singapore curry blend instead of a straight Madras mix would be an interesting variation. I might add some chunks of white fish filet to that, too. Now I'm thinking that the Singapore variation would be really good; I'll have to remember that one for next time.