Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Late Summer Vegetable Quiche

I've changed my mind since the last time I wrote about quiche. I spent a couple paragraphs back in January disparaging the idea of crusts. But when I actually ate that crustless quiche, tasty as it was, I missed the extra texture and flavor elements a crust contributes. On the other hand, a proper crust is still a pain in the butt and still likely to end up mushy on the bottom and dried out around the top so I wasn't entirely sold.

But I saw an interesting alternative on an episode of Sara Moulton's new show: Weeknight Meals or something like that. She made a savory version of a graham cracker crumb crust by leaving out the sugar and using a plain cracker. It looked like she used a Trisket or something akin but annoyingly she never showed the actual recipe on-screen and I can't find it anywhere on her website. I think I'm supposed to buy the cookbook. So, failing that I used the whole-wheat flatbread I had on hand--made a cup of crumbs, added four Tablespoons of melted butter and blind baked it for ten minutes at 350 degrees. When I've done this with graham crackers or nilla wafers the crusts held together after baking and cooling, but this one stayed a bit crumbly so I had to move it around carefully. I think the added sugar melted, spread out and held bits together in the sweet crusts. In this case I spread cheese around inside the crust before adding the quiche fillings in the hope that it would melt into the crumbs and serve the same purpose.

Those aforementioned quiche fillings were the last of the CSA squash and eggplant (surprisingly well shredded by my food processor) which I salted, let sit for a half hour and gave a squeeze to get out some moisture and then quickly browned to add a bit more flavor, a bit of ham, some sliced cremini mushrooms and a bit more cheese on top. The quiche itself was five eggs mixed with a cup and a quarter of half-and-half (more or less. It was my leftover milk and cream from my last ice cream.) and I topped it all with slices of tomato.

Here's the result after thirty minutes at 375 degrees and one minute too long under the broiler.

And here's a look at the crust. There's a notable note of the cracker's flavor and few crunchy bits along the sides (as there was no exposed crust during baking). Mainly the crust adds structural integrity which was notably lacking in the crustless quiche I made. My advice at this point is that a savory crumb crust is well worth making but you need to choose your crackers and cheese carefully to match the vegetables. The Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and whole grain crackers I used, although they went nicely together, didn't work particularly well with the eggplant and squash. Probably something in a Swiss would have been a better choice. Still it was palatable enough even if it missed the harmonious synergy I stumbled into last time.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Maple Ice Cream with lots of bits in

I mentioned a few posts back that I've been looking through some ice cream cookbooks for interesting recipes. This one comes from Bruce Weinstein's Ultimate Ice Cream Book. And like the recipe I made from David Lebovitz' Perfect Scoop it was praised so much more than my original creations that I'm of a mind to stop making ice cream altogether (or at least stop sharing it with my coworkers).

Weinstein does a couple interesting things in his recipe that I haven't seen elsewhere: making the custard with less than half of the total dairy and adding a couple teaspoons of flour. I can see the latter helping thicken the ice cream, but I'm not sure what effect the former would have. Other than, by leaving most of the dairy cold, speeding the cooling process enough to turn ice cream making from a three day to a two day process which might be reason enough on its own.

I should note that despite the good reception the ice cream got, it would have been rather dull without mix-ins. Maple is a familiar and rather simple flavor that needs a bit of help to sustain interest. Weinstein pads his book's recipe count with a half dozen minor variations. It was difficult to put my own twist on it when he thought of a bunch of them first. I decided to use three of them by mixing in chunks of frozen banana, peanut butter candies (Weinstein suggests Mary Janes but I couldn't find any. I don't think I've seen any Necco-produced candies in Miami; maybe they don't distribute this far south. I used the crunchy wafer-y peanut butter candies you see in bags on pegs in the corner bodegas and I think they worked better. Mary Janes are chewy and probably stiffen up when frozen. The candies I used retained their crunch which was a nice contrast.) and candied pecans. I had some raw pecans leftover from a rocky road ice cream I made (with difficulty as my freezer was having difficulty maintaining below-freezing temperatures) a couple weeks back. To candy them I just tossed them with brown sugar, salt and butter and baked them at 350 degrees for ten minutes. I used plenty of salt to add some extra flavor interest to the ice cream. I also wanted to add a bit of hot sauce just for little extra kick, but I forgot. But if I was going to go that route I really should have skipped the candy and included chunks of breakfast sausage instead. Hmm...they probably wouldn't freeze well, would they?

I think having all three mix-ins, and plenty of them, really elevated the ice cream so I should feel a little better about it than I actually do. And a maple ice cream isn't all that hard to make smooth and creamy. The textural difficulties I've been having with my ice cream recipes come more from using yams or sapotes or whatever as structural components.

Anyway, here's Weinstein's recipe and you can decide for yourself what you think:

Maple Ice Cream

6 large egg yolks
1 cup maple syrup (I used grade A dark which is a little strong for pouring on pancakes but good for this sort of thing)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 cups light cream (I used heavy cream as a) that's what I've got and b) what sort of wimpy ice cream uses light cream?)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the maple syrup, flour and salt. Set aside.

2. Bring the half-and-half to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Slowly beat the hot half-and-half into the egg mixture. Return to saucepan and heat on low heat. Stir constantly until custard thickens slightly (170 degrees).

3. Pour the custard into a large clean bowl (through a strainer if you overshot and your eggs scrambled. If there's just a little thickened layer on the bottom of the pan don't strain it out as it's useful in thickening the mix and will get broken down during churning).

4. Cool slightly, then stir in cream and vanilla. Cover and chill to 40 degrees. (Usually this takes a night, but with this technique I'll bet it could be done in four hours.)

5. Churn in the usual way and mix in whatever you want to mix in. Ripen overnight in freezer.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Back in business

The repair-guy came in a fixed a major water leak in the replacement refrigerator which, he said, should do the trick. But the next day it was still at 50 degrees so I complained again and, sick of my whining, the handyman (who outsources his appliance repair so it's not the same guy) came by and gave me an actually new refrigerator. Yay!

In retrospect, the replacement refrigerator was technically working correctly. The compressor was pumping out cold air, but with an underpowered fan dribbling it in and a leaky door seal letting it right back out again it may have just been approaching a new equilibrium in the safe temperature zone very slowly. Or maybe not. I can't say I care much at this point and I'm sure they can find a tenant who'll use it mainly to store vodka and mixers who won't mind if it's a little warm.

I've been off restocking and slowly getting back into the cooking mode. Now that I don't have a regular audience of people trying to figure out what to do with their CSA share I have to raise the bar on how interesting a dish has to be to be post-worthy. After this post, anyway; this post is mainly human interest.

I decided to try using the multi-grain blend I had such trouble with a while back. Since then I learned that adding salt to whole grains makes them take forever to cook and I figured that must have been my problem. It still didn't come out right this time around, but it did come closer. The baby garbanzos were less undercooked and the Israeli couscous less overcooked at the ten minute mark. Unfortunately, not salting meant that the pasta--the couscous and the orzo--tasted pretty crummy. If any of you have forgotten to salt your pasta water you know that salting afterwards doesn't entirely fix the problem. Plus I didn't get to toast the couscous which is an important step in building flavors. I stirred in shrimp, prosciutto and a bit of onion sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with smoked paprika and thyme and I ended up with an OK dish, but it could have been a lot better. I'm done with ill-conceived grain blends.

Another not quite note-worthy dish I made this week is beer battered chicken gizzards, squash, eggplant and mushrooms. The main goal here was to use some of the surviving CSA vegetables before they finally started rotting. Looking around at the various beer batter recipes I settled on this interesting one that calls for separating an egg and folding a meringue into the batter. One egg white is too little to beat in the mixer so I had to do it by hand. I think I managed a pretty good job considering and the batter ended up nicely light and fluffy. Briefly. The first batch turned out beautifully, but the process of coating the chicken and vegetables burst the bubbles pretty quick. I'll use a recipe with baking powder next time. The batter is yellowish because I used the Gullah-style seasoning mix I picked up in South Carolina a while back. I was going to recommend taht you mail order it from the Gullah Cuisine website and I think you should because it's just what southern fried chicken is supposed to taste like, but you can't. Sorry. I had a few different dips planned but I didn't make any because I didn't want to mask the flavor.

And I made another loaf of no-knead bread and once again I screwed it up. I keep forgetting to adjust for the humid Miami weather and make it too wet to support its weight when it rises. It's tasty (as I add whole wheat and rye flour) but it's dense and too flat to make a sandwich with. It's still good for croûtons and at least I've figured out the problem. Next time I'll do better.

I also made an ice cream, but that deserves its own post so more on that later.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Still alive

I haven't abandoned the blog, but after coming back from a long weekend I found my replacement refrigerator at 60 degrees so I'm not yet ready to restock and get back to cooking. Once I do, unless I get distracted by some other ideas I intend to explore using unusual grains more and looking through ice cream cookbooks to see what tricks they've found that I haven't figured out on my own.

Also, since I don't have weekly shipments of vegetables to deal with I hope to get out to dinner more so I might start some restaurant reviews. I've noticed that the Miami Beach area is over-covered but there aren't many bloggers looking at restaurants around Miracle Mile where I live so I might be able to contribute something to the discussion.

Anything else I could do that would keep you guys reading in the CSA off season?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An ignomious end to my CSA subscription

I had big plans for cooking this week. I even had jotted down a written menu to make sure I had everything covered and all the ingredients I need and I never do that. But on Sunday my refrigerator broke down. And not in that nice way where the fan dies at the same time as the actual refrigerating bit so the cold food stays safe in an insulated box while you look for solutions. No, my fan kept running, blowing in warm air and nice defrosting my freezer and bringing my refrigerator into the bacterial-fun zone.

I salvaged most of the produce (along with the cheese, the booze and a few other bottled items I hadn't broken the seals on), but they're slowly wilting in a neighbor's fridge. Everything else I had to trash. There are a few things I could still cook even with my reduced means, but I've been eating the defrosted leftovers from previous weeks' cooking. That seemed like a sensible plan before I wrote it down; Now I'm not so sure. Maybe I'll cook something tonight.

I look forward to getting the refrigerator repaired or replaced so I can start anew.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

CSA bonus week - Spice crusted burgers with scallion-lime slaw

The original recipe I mentioned in my last post called for a 3 inch thick tenderloin, but I'm not a huge fan of steak and the rare occasion I make it, I generally ruin it. On the other hand, I've been craving a hamburger recently so I decided to go that direction.

That same original recipe called for marinating lengths of scallion and then occasionally nibbling on one as you eat your steak. I decided to upgrade that into a full-fledged slaw to incorporate into the burger.

As usual, all measurements are approximate and you should be judging for yourself anyway.

2 scallions, cut into 3-4" lengths and jullianed
1/3 cup green cabbage, sliced thin
1 habenero pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1/4 cup lime juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon peanut or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all and let sit in refrigerator for at least two hours, tossing occasionally.

I was suprised how much this improved over time. As the vegetables wilt and absorb the flavors the slaw goes from lousy to really tasty.

The spice rub I changed a little, mainly by using ground spices instead of crushed. Unfortunately, that meant that when I added the sesame oil everything clumped up. I'd leave it out next time or go with crushed spices if I have everything on hand.

1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
1 teaspoon crushed white peppercorns
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch crushed red pepper

I chopped around half a pound of beef in my food processor along with a bit of salt and black and white pepper, then I let it rest in the refrigerator for a couple hours before trying to form it into patties. It seemed to help. Once I had two patties made I pressed in the spice/herb mix and fried them up in a cast iron pan.

I served them on sliced Italian bread with a thin slices of onion and yellow tomato and topped with piles of the slaw (with the marinade drained). I think I used a bit too much of the spice rub for the amount of meat I had, but not a lot too lot so the flavors weren't too unbalanced. The coriander matched well with the lime and the scallions matched with the beef. It was a nice melange all around with some strong flavors balancing against each other. I was pretty happy with it and if I were to make any changes next time (beyond switching to crushed instead of powdered spices), I'd experiment with adding a little mayo. Even with the marinade left on the slaw, the final result was a little dry.

Community Supported Agriculture - bonus week

So this is the last week of regular CSA shipments for me. I thought that would be true for most of the other subscribers too, but if my drop off point is typical most of you didn't miss any weeks and finished up last time. I guess I shouldn't have saved my wrap up post for today.

Overall I enjoyed the CSA experience. The surprise selection of vegetables each week forced me cook more, cook better and cook more interestingly than I would have otherwise. I could have done with a lot less lettuce and I never need to see another sapote, but otherwise I was pretty happy with the selection we got. The quality and flavor were always tip top which works well with my natural tendency to keep recipes simple.

It also gave me plenty to fill up the blog with and, if I understand my stats right, around two dozen regular readers (most of whom are no longer judging by last week's numbers). I was disappointed that the other blogging subscribers dropped off posting about their cooking very quickly. I was hoping for a community with discussion to develop instead of just me monologuing on. Next year it would be great to have a discussion board on the Bee Heaven website for people to ask questions, give advice and post recipes. I'd happily abandon the blog and put my support behind that. On the other hand, having an audience was crucial to getting me to try new recipes instead of just getting rid of everything in the same old recipes again and again.

And speaking thereof, I managed to use up one of last weeks cucumbers and half a squash along with substantial amounts of dill and garlic chives in a tuna tartar yesterday. It didn't seem worth a blog post of its own since I've discussed tartars a couple times before. But it is worth mentioning briefly as I could easily have used tuna from a pouch (much better than the canned. You really should switch over if you haven't.), cut the cuke and squash a little smaller and had a quite presentable salad. Or I could have sliced the vegetables thin, mixed pouch tuna and the herbs with mayo and layered them in sandwiches. Thinking back to the very tasty cucumber sandwiches I made last month, now I'm really regretting not going that last route. I've still got another squash and cucumber left so I still might.

And by the way, last week I described the share as winter vegetables. While I was researching recipes I learned that they were really an typical end of summer vegetable collection. Just shows how dissociated from the natural harvest cycles I am from a lifetime of shopping in supermarkets. I know you guys knew better; why didn't you correct me?

Anyway, on to this week's share.

First up are scallions and yukina savoy. The scallions are so crisp and fresh that I really want to feature them in something right away. I never made the spiced beef with lime marinated scallions recipe that I found a while back. Maybe I'll do something with that.

The yukina savoy adds to the pile up of cabbage in the house. I still have all of last week's baby bok choy and a bit of the head of Western cabbage from before. If I want to go through a lot at once I think I'll have to do a stir fry or maybe a slaw.

Next I've got more tomatoes, which I will eat fresh this time since I squandered last week's box, a couple peppers once of which looks stuffable, a couple of possibly radishes/possibly turnips I found in the extras box that will roast up nicely either way and a nice big bag of shiitake mushrooms. If I'm going to do a stir fry with the cabbage, the mushrooms will likely end up in there.

And finally, a daikon, some Japanese eggplant, strawberries and cilantro. I did a bit of poking around for a recipe that would use both the daikon and the eggplant (and preferably some of the cabbage too), but nothing presented itself. I could do a tempura, but I've been defaulting to deep frying too much lately and I'd like to go another way.

The cilantro looks a bit faded so I wouldn't be surprised if it goes off before I get to use it, but otherwise I'll find a use for it.

And that leaves the strawberries. Last week I made some whipped cream to accompany them, but I don't think the whipping added anything. It'll be just plain cream this week.

Blogger (or possibly my internet connection) is being temperamental. I'll add the pictures later when I can. Or, alternatively, I'll accidentally delete them. Ah, you know what all those vegetables look like by now.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

CSA week 19 - fresh tomato and summer squash pasta sauce

I noticed today that my tomatoes were a bit past their prime so it was time to put them to use. However, since they were a little mushy I didn't want to use them raw, but since they were so nice fresh I didn't want to cook them very much either. The solution I came up with was a lightly cooked fresh tomato sauce.

There are two main approaches to fresh tomato sauces. Either you take a large tomato, blanch it, peel it, seed it, chop it and then cook it down a little bit, or you take a handful of small tomatoes and run them through the blender with a splash of wine and a drizzle of olive oil. I tried to leave the sauce thick and bit chunky, but the tomatoes were a little watery so I ended up with a rather thin sauce. Nothing a little cooking down couldn't fix.

But first I fried up some chopped squash in butter and olive oil and, on impulse, an equal amount of bay scallops. If I had known I was going to be adding seafood I would have used white wine with the tomatoes. After those ingredients were cooked through and a bit browned, I removed them and added the tomato sauce to the pan along with some basil. Fresh would have been nice, but I was all out so dried. I simmered that for maybe four minutes while the pasta cooked, returned the squash and scallops to heat through, added the al dente pasta (and some black olives which were a mistake so I'm not going to mention them). Cooked for another minute and, bar some grated Parmesan, it was done.

It was a nice light fresh combination of flavors. It might be a little disappointing if you're expecting the intense flavor of canned tomato sauce, but it was subtle not bland. In retrospect, I think the flavors may have worked better at room temperature. I'll have to try that next time.

Monday, April 7, 2008

CSA week 19 - ratatouille de Provence

Heavens, are there a variety of ratatouille recipes out there. Most times when I do my pre-cooking research I find two or three recipes cut and pasted all over the web (without proper attribution I might add). Not with ratatouille. With the exception of the (really cool) version created for the eponymous movie, every recipe I saw was different.

The recipes fell into two general categories with mention of a third version that nobody makes any more. Classically, you cook up eggplant, squash, peppers and tomatoes in four different pots and then combine them once they're each done just right. I haven't the pots, burners or patience to do that. The standard version is to simmer the eggplant, squash and peppers all together, adding the tomatoes late. And then there's the roasted variant where you lay the four vegetables out on a baking dish and stick them in the oven. That last one was tempting, but I decided that it wasn't really a proper ratatouille and for my first try at the dish I wanted to not stray too far from the Platonic form.

But even within that general description no two recipes agreed on the ratio of the various vegetables, the cooking times or the details of the seasoning. In the end, I settled on two different particularly interesting recipes to work with. This one that added niçoise olives, Dijon mustard, red wine and herbes de Provence for a distinctly regional flavor, and this one for it's methodical, lab-tested procedure. I recommend checking out the Cooking for Engineers website in general when puzzling out a new dish. Along with Alton Brown's oeuvre and McGee's On Food and Cooking, it's a great resource for cutting through the kitchen lore to what you really need to do to make the recipe work. For instance, there was no salting and purging the eggplant as many recipes reflexively call for; doing that helps the eggplant stay firm which I didn't want and doesn't really do anything to cut bitterness which modern varieties of eggplant don't suffer from anyway (unless you buy the really old spongy ones which you should know better than to do).

I split the difference between the two recipes and came up with a trick of my own. I decided that the tomatoes from our share were too nice to cook so I used canned tomatoes and boosted the flavor with tomato paste. One other thing I learned that all the recipes agreed on was that there's no such thing as too much ratatouille so I used as much vegetation as could fit in my dutch oven. Most recipes use more eggplant than squash so I went with that and then used both bell peppers I had bought. The 14 oz can of tomatoes seems standard for the dishes that use canned I didn't use one of my 28 oz cans of fire-roasted tomatoes which is a shame as that would have added some nice extra flavor.

Here's what I ended up with:

1/4 cup EV olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes in juice, with tomatoes and juice separated. Squeeze the tomatoes a bit to get 2/3 cup of juice total
1 large eggplant, 1 inch cubes
2 small or 1 large summer squash (about half the weight of the eggplant), 1 inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, 1 inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup dry red wine (something Provencal preferably, of course)
1/2 cup pitted niçoise olives (which I had to pit myself I'd like to point out)
2 Tablespoons herbs de Provence (from Spice House)
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard (Dijon isn't particularly near Provence. If you can find Provencal mustard, use that instead.)
fresh thyme, parsley and basil
salt and pepper to taste (more than you think you need, probably)

1. Heat olive oil on medium high heat in large pot or dutch oven. Add garlic before it's fully up to sizzling temperature to ensure it doesn't burn. When it becomes aromatic add the onion and fry until onion is softened and slightly browned, around 10 minutes.

2. Stir in tomato paste and cook briefly. Add tomato juice, scrape up any browned bits. Add eggplant, squash and peppers. Stir well and cook for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

3. Add tomatoes, mustard, wine, olives, herbs, salt and pepper. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has evaporated, the peppers are just done, the eggplant is starting to get a bit mushy and squash, tomatoes and onions have completely disintegrated. (A lot of recipes call for longer cooking times and a big bowl of mush. Do what you like. You might even start the peppers first so they don't end up so much firmer than the other vegetables.)

4. Adjust seasonings and serve.

There. It's pretty easy when you hide all the chopping in the ingredient list.

And the end result? It's eggplant, squash, tomatoes and peppers; if you like them, you'll like this. Actually, I don't overmuch, but the wine, olives and mustard do add some complexity and I'm finding (as I think many have) that ratatouille is compulsive eating (possibly because the lack of protein makes it not terribly satisfying). It's supposed to be better tomorrow, which makes good sense for a stew like this, good with eggs and good cold with hearty bread. I'll add an addendum when I give that a try.
OK, it's Wednesday now and I had some cold ratatouille for lunch. First off, the flavor was better at room temperature than refrigerator temperature to my mind. Second, the flavors continued to meld and change over time. Yesterday the mustard flavor was a bit too strong when the ratatouille was cold, but today it's retreated a bit into the flavor mix. There's just enough background flavors from the herbs and mustard to keep the vegetables subtly French. That was my main goal in including them in the first place as these particular vegetables could easily be in an Italian dish and that's not what I was aiming at. So, on the whole I'm pleased. Now I just need to see how well it survives freezing.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week 19

Quite a heavy box today. It's an end of the season blowout cornucopia! Which makes me wonder what's left for next week's make-up share, actually. Time enough to worry about that next week.

First off, I've already polished off the breakfast radishes which I had sliced thin on slices of bread with butter and a bit of salt interspersed with the last of my grape tomatoes. No doubt there are more sophisticated ways of preparing radishes, but with good quality of all the elements involved there's really no need. The radish tops are rather wilted, but I think I might be able to salvage a little for a pasta sauce or somesuch.

Next up are the eggplant, squash and tomatoes which clearly constitute a construct-a-ratatouille kit (although I'll have to go get some yellow peppers to complete the color palette). I've never made ratatouille but it seems a straightforward and flexible recipe from my initial investigations. To me that means that it's easy to throw together something mediocre; I'll really have to look into what I want to do if I want to make something worth the effort. At a guess, I think I'll end up roasting everything first.

It's a shame we're only getting eggplant here at the end of the season. It's really versatile and I would have liked the chance the try a few different cooking methods and cuisines. I suppose I can always pick some up at the supermarket.

The baby bok choy aren't so tiny that you need to treat any different from plain old adult bok choy (which is a shame as the itty bitty ones make a lovely presentation). They store well so I'll hold on to them until until an interesting application presents itself. There must be something other than floating them in soup or stir frying them.

The cucumbers I've given up doing anything fancy with. I've come to the conclusion that this sort of cucumber is best raw so it's salad or carpacio or tartar or the like for them.

The garlic chives put the chives in my little herb garden to shame so I'd like to use them somewhere where their flavor can really stand out more as a final finishing touch than as an ingredient as I don't think the flavor will survive serious cooking. I was a moment ago going to use the leftover dill with the cucumbers, but the garlic chives sound like a better bet now.

The strawberries I have no great plans for; my ice cream for the week is set and has no place for fruit. Anyway, like the radishes, they're lovely just the way they are and don't need any dressing up.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

CSA week 18 - paprika cream of turnip and potato soup

My original plan was to do some clever play on the cream version of lettuce soup but I got it into my head to use the dandelion greens as a garnish which would have been a bit much green on green. So the soup turned to turnip.

Of the many turnip soups out there, I thought this one had a more interesting spicing than most. I made it pretty much straight other than only having 3/4 lb of turnips left and having to make up the difference in potatoes. I did salt at each step along the way instead of just at the end. I suppose since everything is blended smooth at the end it wasn't really necessary but I'm just more comfortable seasoning as I go along.

The recipe doesn't specify so I had to decide what sort of paprika to use: sweet, hot or smoked. I went with sweet so as not to overwhelm the flavors of the turnip and potato. They're good quality vegetables and I didn't want to hide them.

The suggested garnish, crisp shallots, sounds nice enough, but I don't have any shallots on hand. I figured a garnish of bacon and turnip greens would more than suffice. I would have added some croutons too if I had any bread at the appropriate level of staleness.

The end result is nothing spectacular but nice enough. I would roast the vegetables next time instead of sauteing them in an overcrowded pan which really limited the browning I could do. That should boost the flavors. And I might mix the paprikas to give hints of heat and smokiness. If I did that it wouldn't hurt to replace the bacon with a garlic sausage. I'd definitely have to add croutons then to keep some crunchiness. I wish I thought of all of that a couple hours ago. Next time, then.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

CSA week 18 - beef & bulgar stuffed peppers

The last couple times we got peppers in our shares the ones in my box were rather too gnarled for easy stuffing. That's not a real complaint; beautifully shaped, extra large vegetables are the hallmark of factory agriculture and they usually taste of nothing much at all. So it was just luck that my peppers this week had nice big hollows suitable for stuffing. Or maybe they had longer on the vine now that we're at the end of the season? I dunno.

Anyway, I've discussed stuffing before and it comes down to a starch, a binder, finely chopped aromatics and optionally some meat. I happen to have some bulgar wheat that I picked up on a whim and have been wanting to use, so that's my starch set. Before I did my research, my assumption was that I'd find northern European bulgar-and-beef-stuffed cabbage recipes that I could modify to suit, but what I actually found were vegetarian Turkish bulgar-stuffed pepper recipes. I decided on this rather odd recipe from Good Housekeeping that pairs the bulgar wheat with ground beef, spinach, canned tomatoes, feta and dill. I don't know if that's supposed to be any particular cuisine or just a bunch of flavors they liked together.

I was intrigued by the technique of microwaving the peppers for a good long time before stuffing. They didn't say why so I wondered if it was to drive out moisture and it certainly did a little of that, but, in retrospect, I think the main point was to just get the peppers cooked. Everything else is cooked by the time it goes into the oven and the half hour at 350 degrees is just to warm everything through. If I had to do it again, I'd roast the peppers or at least microwave a little less and then char them on the stove.

I used the recipe as a vague guideline and didn't really pay much attention to the amounts. When dividing a recipe by four the ratios don't work out anyway. The biggest difference, I think, was using a couple handfuls of grape tomatoes instead of canned crushed tomatoes. I ended up opening a can of tomato sauce to compensate. That may have been a mistake as the canned sauce flavor ended up contributing to making the whole thing taste kind of generic and pre-prepared. I had hoped the odd combination of flavors would make something distinctively different, but other than some better textures, it could have been your standard Italian stuffed pepper. It wasn't a bad example of an Italian stuffed pepper, mind you, but I was hoping for something a little offbeat. That's what I get for following a recipe. I think now I know enough to improvise and I can do something really interesting the next time I stuff something.

CSA week 18 - Filipino caimito-banana sherbet

If you Googled for "caimito recipe" you couldn't miss this one as it dominates the first page of results. Well, just because it's popular doesn't mean it isn't good (assuming it actually is popular as it's not evident that anyone who posted the recipe actually made it) and I did find the idea of a sherbet made with evaporated milk an interesting one so I decided to give it a try.

I started by cutting the recipe by two thirds to make it a reasonable amount to fit in my ice cream churn. My calculations were a bit off as it turns out and I could have just cut it in half. Second, the meat of both my star apples amounted to something under a full cup so I added a chunk of frozen banana to fill it out. I intended to do that anyway as banana would serve to add extra flavor elements and improve the texture of the final result. I was also concerned about texture problems from just dumping in the sugar without dissolving it so I made a simple syrup with the sugar and water before adding it to the other ingredients in the blender. The rest of the changes are just little flavor tweaks: I added a pinch of salt, a few drops of vanilla, and a few grates of nutmeg. So here's what I actually made:

1 scant cup ripe caimito, seeded and mashed
sufficient banana to complete the cup (I'd add more next time and increase the water a little)

85% of a small can of Evaporated Milk (125 ml)
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cups water
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Boil sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Blend all until smooth. Chill overnight. Churn. Ripen.

The mixture solidified in a rather unpleasant way in refrigerator. That doesn't necessarily bode ill for the final result after churning, but with the already questionable sapote-family texture of the caimito I was concerned. I ended up thinning the mixture out with another quarter cup or so of water during churning which seemed to help.

After churning, the final texture isn't as bad as I feared; It's a bit crumbly in the bowl, but it melts nicely in the mouth with only a hit of that custardy sapote texture. It has a lovely violet color which is nice. The flavor is interesting as it is straightforwardly and pleasantly tropical, but not immediately identifiable as caimito. The fruits and the other flavors I added have blended seamlessly.

That's kind of interesting. Pina colada and strawberry/pineapple/banana do that blending thing too. I wonder if there's something in particular about tropical fruits that allows their flavors to combine so well.