Sunday, March 30, 2008

CSA week 18 - sausage with potatoes and cabbage

Why do people make recipes that produce enormous quantities of food? "Serves four" I get but "serves eight"? Who has eight people to serve on a regular basis? Of course if this recipe explicitly said "serves eight" I would have halved it, but it didn't and I wasn't paying close attention so I'm halfway through my prep before I notice the enormous piles of vegetables accumulating.

On the plus side, there goes half my share in one go and I think it will freeze well. Also, if you poke around the website where I found the recipe, you see that it's specifically intended for slow food/local ingredient cooking; I'd feel like a jerk making it with supermarket vegetables.

So the recipe in question is this one slightly modified from Jessica Prentice's cookbook Full Moon Feast. I used a spring onion (including the green bits) instead of the leeks, dandelion greens for the generic greens, and subbed in a a turnip for one of the potatoes. I considered roasting everything to get some extra flavor but I was concerned about overcooking so I just made sure to get some color on as much of the vegetables as possible before my pan filled up and everything started steaming instead of frying.

I also threw in some Spice House Bavarian seasoning (and some parsley) since I was using bratwurst for the sausage and I wanted to localize the flavors. It could as easily been an Irish dish or Portuguese depending on the type of sausage and the seasonings.

Finally, I used some Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It isn't emphasized in the recipe, but it really pulls the whole dish together. And pulled together nicely it did, I'm pleased to say, as I've got enough here for at least four more meals. A big pile of limp cabbage isn't much for presentation, but the turnips and red-skin potatoes do add a touch of color.

I served it over spaetzel, but I think the potatoes and turnip were starch enough so that wasn't really necessary. It's a shame my lighting was so bad on that photo, it looks like I managed to pretty up the plate, but you can't really see it. Ah well.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Coral Gables Wine and Food Festival

I did mention that I was attending this so I probably ought to say what I thought of it just in case anybody is following along and wants to know.

OK, I recognize that the point is to sell cases of mediocre wine and foul candy-flavored vodka, but some effort on the food end would have been appreciated at least for my part. On the other hand, since the only food there was a real line for was sausage subs I can see why most restaurants couldn't be bothered.

Still, I've never encountered such a mass of undercooked, overcooked, ill-conceived and more than anything else under-seasoned food. I didn't get to try everything I admit so I may have missed some gems, but the only dish that really jumped out at me as being flavorful, well-prepared and interesting was the ceviche from Novecento.

Christabelle's venison on creamy grits with a blackberry demi glaze was well done too, if a bit obvious and lost amongst the many slices of red meat on offer.

Other than that, I was deeply disappointed. I wanted to single out one or two dishes but as the list of offerings printed up bears little resemblance to what actually appeared I don't know who to blame. Somebody should have known better than to try serving a badly clotted macaroni and cheese and there was a Spanish squid stew that was inedibly past its prime but neither appear in the list. But as I said, mainly it was dull food blandly prepared. Did any of you go? What did you think?

CSA farm subscription - week eighteen

Now that's the most interesting batch of vegetables we've seen in a while. My first thought, looking at the cabbage, turnips and the potatoes from last week is to make something Irish. My second thought is that I've had that first thought before and somehow never got around to doing anything about it. Probably because Irish cooking mainly involves boiled cabbage, turnips and potatoes. Still, I'll take another look and see what I can come up with.

OK, I've had my look and I didn't care much for what I saw so nix on the Irish cuisine unless some nouvelle variation presents itself. I know the trend exists but it's so new I can't find any recipes that have filtered out.

Upon consideration, the bigger issue here is that we've got a load of winter vegetables just as the weather is about to turn tropical. This requires either thought or cranking up the air conditioner.

The other notable item today is the dandelion greens. They, along with ramps and garlic chives, are part of that questionable trend in gourmet circles of selling weeds at $20 a pound. I have no experience in dealing with them as I've never voluntarily bought any. But now that I find a fair amount of dandelion greens thrust upon me, I find that they're just another bitter semi-robust green not far distinguished from last weeks escarole. So it's the sauté pan or soup pot for them, then.

That leaves the parsley, mushrooms and peppers. Hmm...that sounds like a steak topping. I haven't had a steak in quite some time and I suppose if this is a week for hearty Winter fare now's as good a time as any for it.

Finally, we've got the star apples. They were OK fresh, but nothing too exciting. There's an interesting Filipino sherbet recipe I saw or maybe a sorbet with lime.

Friday, March 28, 2008

CSA week 17 - kabak mucveri

I had hoped to make the oil down today but breadfruit has proven elusive. I can think of a couple other likely places to check so all hope is not lost. On the other hand, it doesn't use any CSA vegetables beyond the onions so it can wait a few weeks until I have nothing else on the agenda.

Instead I made the squash fritters I mentioned last Saturday. This is a Turkish zucchini fritter recipe that I found here. If you remember my last squash fritter, that time I ran the squash through the food processor and it ended up mush. This time I shredded it by hand, salted it and drained it for a half hour (although a few good squeezes at the end did most of the work). It's still mush, but it's a mush with a much lower water content and a good bit of flavor. In another minor substitution, I used the stalk of a green onion to substitute for the scallion and yellow onion called for.

The recipe gives a choice of kasseri or feta cheese and I was rather surprised at how different they were when I found the kasseri. The feta was much more flavorful--this is the same feta I called bland last month when I made a lousy Greek salad, but it's aged very nicely--but the kasseri promised to melt much better. In the end I went half and half.

I noticed too late that the recipe called for shallow frying in a flat pan, but I don't think deep frying did any harm other than to the aesthetics. The fritters were quite mild, but gained flavor as they cooled. Even around room temperature they never really burst with flavor, but at least you could tell they were made with squash. The original recipe suggests pairing with a lemon-garlic-yogurt sauce and grilled meats which are both good ideas. The mild fritters' flavors were emphasized by the contrasts. The suggested garnishes of tomato, olives and hard-boiled egg seem like they'd work too if I had remembered about them. I'll try them with the leftovers later.

On the whole not bad, but not fabulous. I do wish I could have tasted the dill and parsley. Maybe if I boosted the fresh herbs with dried in the next fritter I make.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CSA week 17 - Sweet and sour chicken gizzards and shrimp

I found the time to throw together a quick stir fry tonight mainly because I somehow managed to spend way over my budget on a simple dinner out last night.

Now for those of you going "ugh. Sweet and sour gizzards," I'd like to point out that not only is deep-frying the quintessential gizzard preparation, it is a traditional meat for sweet and sour dishes. And anyway, it's no more or less icky than any other chicken meat. It's just a different sort of muscle.

While the stir fry was quick, it was actually little complicated. Sweet and sour dishes are generally made in three parts.

1. Deep fried protein.
In this case the gizzards and shrimp. I tossed both in a Tablespoon of cornstarch, two Tablespoons of soy sauce and a bit of salt. If I had more time I would have preferred a more substantial batter, but this was fine. There was a particularly nice effect on the shrimp as the batter got caught in the legs and shell and crisped up.

2. Stir fried vegetables.
I used the leftover heart of the mei qing choy (which was still in great shape after all this time. I'll have to remember to keep a head around in the future), a tomato from a couple weeks ago (just on the verge of going off), the bottom of the stalk of a spring onion from this week, a pepper of some sort that I had around and some canned sliced water chestnuts. I didn't bother to clean out the wok after emptying out the deep frying oil so the stir fry ended up a bit gritty, but it was tasty grit so I don't really mind. When the vegetables were nearly done, I threw the protein in to get them warmed back up and everything mixed up.

3. Simmered sauce.
The sauce was 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 3/8 cup water heated in the microwave to dissolve the sugar along with a handful of pineapple chunks from the freezer. I boiled that for about a minute and then added a mixture of 1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch, 1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce, a few shots of hot sauce and a 1/4 cup water. Once it came back to a boil it thickened up and everything was done (except for the rice I forgot to make).

Easy and mighty tasty, but man did I make a mess of the kitchen.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A slight delay (for CSA)

I had hoped to jump right back into my cooking groove this week, but it looks like I'm going to be working evenings the next couple of days and then going to the Coral Gables Wine and Food Fest on Thursday. Add to that working a bit late today followed with an exceptionally crowded and frustrating grocery shopping expedition and all I'll have made before Friday is a salad.

But Friday should prove interesting and just in case anyone is actually looking here for ideas for what to do with their CSA share I wanted to point out this idea while you still had your callaloo to use (unlike me. I opened his refrigerator yesterday to discover that my callaloo had wilted and blackened like a Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You guys with full shares have had a bit of practice; how are you storing this stuff?). I had been poking around on-line looking for an alternative to callaloo soup or crab and callaloo both of which include okra which I don't feel up to just now. I mentioned pepper pot on Saturday I think, but it turns out I was thinking of another recipe with the same name: Caribbean pepper pot doesn't really appeal.

I found some more interesting recipes when I learned that callaloo is also called dasheen. In particular, I thought the recipes for Oil Down looked worth a try. From what I can tell, the Grenadian version has callaloo, but the Trinidadian version doesn't. It's pretty simple: salt meat of any description simmered with breadfruit, coconut milk and aromatics (and maybe some dumplings) until all of the coconut is absorbed except a bit of oil down at the bottom of the pot. I think the sort of salt pork we can get here is fattier than what the recipe authors are thinking of, but the salt cod we can get should be fine and I did find salt beef at my local Publix that should work. I've never had breadfruit before so I'm looking forward to trying it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week seventeen

Well, my lazy week rapidly turned into my eating very badly week which then transformed into my lying in bed quite ill week. Perhaps it was a case of fresh produce withdrawal.

I'm still not feeling my best so when I look at this week's share I'm less inspired than somewhat queasy. Luckily, the only item out of the box that needs immediate attention is the callaloo. I think I've seen salt beef at Publix so I should be able to make Jamaican Pepper Pot soup (Urgh. I can't think about food now. I need a lie down. More later...)

OK, I feel a bit better now. I learned recently that dill is part of a traditional herb mix from Barbados so I'd like to use the fresh dill in that, probably with fish.

The squash isn't big enough to stuff (which I wanted to do two weeks ago but got sidetracked by the zucchini salad). I have an interesting Turkish zucchini fritter recipe that should work well enough with the squash substituted in.

That leaves the staples: lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and onions. The potatoes I'm going to save; they really aren't very healthy, organic or not, so I don't want to eat a bunch all at once. They should store fine in the pantry. The onions and tomatoes I'm sure I'll find some use for without much effort. The lettuce I took in a spirit of pure optimism. Maybe I'll make another version of lettuce soup or maybe I'll just hold onto it for a while to occasionally look upon with regret.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lazy week - post one

Those tomatoes from last weeks CSA share are ideally suited for use on pizza. They're so meaty they stay structurally sound in the hot oven and don't leak a lot of juice to make the crust soggy. Plus, with a bit of salt, the roasting nicely intensifies the tomato flavor.

I used to make my own pizza dough and sauce and buy fresh mozzarella to put on top, but in retrospect, that turned a convenience food into a pricey chore. Mighty good though, if your oven is up to it. In my last apartment, it wasn't so I got out of the habit.

As this is lazy week, the pizza pictured above was frozen--Freschetta Brick Oven 5-cheese to be specific-- and it kind of stunk. I was under the impression that frozen pizza technology had significantly improved over the last decade what with a variety of rising crusts and real cheese and all. Have I been misled? Or was the on-sale Freschetta not the best example?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

CSA farm subcription - week 16

I've decided to take the week off. Originally the plan was to catch up on the piled up vegetation, but I managed to go through a good bit this week so I only have some mei qing choy, the tomatoes, and a couple of really old heads of lettuce left. So mainly this week will be to get some rest and to enjoy some dinners out. If you want to tell me what I'm missing or if you want to post what you'll be doing with this week's share, please feel free to post it in this post's comments.

CSA week 15 - marinated zucchini salad

I was off to a potluck barbecue today so a salad was in order--nothing too fancy or weird for a change. I wanted to use the zucchini and looking around I found a nice simple recipe: slice the zucchini thin; marinate in lemon juice and olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper; finish with fresh herbs. I decided to unsimplify it.

1 lb zucchini, sliced paper thin
1/4 medium onion, sliced paper thin
1 large or two small lemons, juiced. I tried meyer lemons but I think that was a mistake.
2 garlic cloves, crushed and cut in half
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt, plenty. (The one thing you can always say about zucchini is that it could use more salt)
fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (basil would have been my first choice of herb, but I don't think it worked with the meyer lemon)
1 tablespoon fresh scallion, chopped
1/2 tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed

As in the original recipe, I tossed everything together and let sit for the salt and citric acid to work on the zucchini's texture. That recipe called for 4 -8 hours, but I found the zucchini getting limp and the marinade getting diluted by the released water within a couple hours. First I added the onion for a bit of crunch, but that went limp fast too. As a second attempt (and in response to learning that a bunch of extra people were coming to the barbecue) I sliced up and added the summer squash and some more onion which helped quite a bit.

It turned out fairly well. The zucchini and onion retain the individual flavors and there are hints of citrus and herbs. The garlic, unfortunately, is too forward. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I should have used less garlic. Still and all, a fine accompaniment for grilled meats. In fact, putting it right on top of the meat in the hamburger bun along with a slice of tomato was a very nice way to go.

1/2 lb summer squash, sliced paper thin
1/4 medium onion, sliced paper thin

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sesame lemon white chocolate ice cream

I often pick up good ideas from Iron Chef. Top Chef is less fruitful I find. The iron chefs often use familiar ingredients in novel combinations; the Top Chef candidates use more unusual ingredients and complicated preparations which means I have a tough time envisioning--entastening?--their dishes. I can get a better sense of how Iron Chef dishes will taste more often than Top Chef dishes.

I made note of two particularly interesting and potentially doable flavor combinations from the latest Battle Chocolate: white chocolate and sesame and dark chocolate and pumpernickel. The latter seems familiar but I can't recall when I had it. The former, I decided to check out.

On the show, the white chocolate was accompanied with a sprinkle of raw sesame seeds, but sesame comes in a variety of forms and I did some taste tests to see which worked best. I actually thought the raw sesame seeds didn't hold up against the chocolate. On the other hand, tahini and white chocolate was interesting in a sort of white nutella sort of way. But what really blew me away was white chocolate and toasted sesame oil.

There's probably some way to make that combination work in a pastry, but I'm more practiced in ice cream and it seemed pretty easy to mix the flavors in: melt the chocolate in the dairy and mix the oil into the egg yolks. Specifically, I used one cup milk, a cup and a half of cream and about a 2 inch cube of white chocolate; and three egg yolks, a scant half cup of turbinado sugar and about a Tablespoon of sesame oil. Adding a teaspoon of lemon extract was a last minute decision; the cream was mellowing out the sesame oil's high notes so they needed boosting. I would have used orange extract if I had any on hand. That might have made it a bit more visually interesting, too. I'm tempted to make a sauce just to add color, but it's so flavorful, complex and interesting already I really shouldn't.

I'm quite proud of the results as both the flavors and textures are lovely. All that fat keeps the mix from hardening during the churning or holding much air so the results are smooth, dense and rich. (On the minus side that does mean that it melts very rapidly.) The flavors are all quite intense. They start with the lemon--sweet, but not lemon candy sweet and sour, but not lemonhead sour--with undertones of white chocolate that slowly cross-fade into the toasted sesame oil. The savory toastiness of the oil plays against the sweetness of the sugar and chocolate. There's a fair bit of stuff happening and I find it difficult to explain. I'm going to bring it in to work on Monday; maybe one of my coworkers can give their impressions in the comments.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

CSA week 15 - roasted broccoli, spring onion and grape tomato

This is a slight take off from the Cook's Illustrated (a.k.a. America's Test Kitchen) recipe for roast broccoli. The main differences being me not bothering with most of their refinements. That's not unusual for me as they often overcomplicate recipes, but usually each step or ingredient I leave out is a small but noticeable deviation from an ideal result.

This time, though, the difference was in the broccoli. They don't mention it explicitly, but it's safe to assume that their recipe starts with supermarket broccoli. The CSA broccoli we have is more delicate; I think it's a hybrid with the trippy fractal Romanesco variety. You can see a little bit of the spirals and the distinctive light green coloration in the heads. The delicacy meant that I didn't need to peel the stems (such as we were given) and I couldn't cut the florets into tidy halves to lie flat the way the recipe prescribes.

The key bits of the Cook's Illustrated recipe I kept were tossing the vegetables in olive oil with a dash of salt and sugar (to encourage browning) and cooking them at 500 degrees F for ten minutes or so. I was quite worried the onions would scorch far before that but they held up well. On the other hand, I was hoping the grape tomatoes would burst and start creating a sauce, but they just shriveled up.

My initial plan was to roast the broccoli, onion, tomato and maybe some pepper and mushrooms to go into a macaroni and cheese. (Not the instant sort. I have a very nice recipe for from scratch. Well, maybe the instant sort. Kraft dinner isn't anything like real macaroni and cheese but it has charms of its own.) But I decided that for the first time I made this, if it turned out, I wanted to really taste it and not drown it in a heavy cheese sauce.

Instead I figured I could add a bit of butter and use it as a pasta sauce on its own. My choices were plain or egg pasta (in various shapes), or one of the three varieties of ravioli I currently have in the freezer: black olive artichoke, garlic Gorgonzola, and three mushroom. Which would you pick? After some deliberation I went with the garlic Gorgonzola ravioli. Gorgonzola goes with broccoli; It's true. But I've got to say I liked the roasted vegetables best all on their own without any pasta or cheese getting in the way. In retrospect, they'd work better as a topping for steak than for pasta. The same goes for Gorgonzola now that I think about it. Now if only I actually liked steak.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

CSA week 15 - yakisoba, sort of

I was due another clear out the refrigerator dish and I was craving noodles so I decided to go with yakisoba or some facsimile. There were a range of noodle dishes up and down the east Asian coast I could have done and since I wasn't paying close attention to the mix of vegetables the major differences were in the type of noodle and the sauce.

An interesting thing about yakisoba, I learned as I was researching the dish, is that apparently it is very difficult to do well outside of Japan. All but the least ambitious recipes I saw were preceded by a lament over the fact. Maybe it's just people complaining that they can't reproduce what their favorite childhood corner dive made, but I'm willing to take them at their word that I've never actually had a decent example. Given what I've had at Japanese restaurants I actually wouldn't be at all surprised.

The first problem is finding the flat egg noodle required. As I wasn't planning a trip out to the Asian grocery I didn't even try. I used the instant yakisoba noodles I had in the freezer. Upon inspection they replaced the egg with yellow die #5; that was a bit of a disappointment.

The second problem was the sauce. It's amazing how many recipes there are on the web that do a basic Chinese noodle sauce and think that's good enough. The better recipes called for Japanese ingredients that I at best don't have handy and often didn't even recognize. The key seemed to be trying to approximate the meaty and fruity flavor of the traditional ingredients. I grokked the variety of recipes and came up with this:
1/2 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon mirin
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil

A lot of the sauces were sweeter, but that didn't make a lot of sense to me. Keep in mind that this is not meant to be a balanced sauce. It plays as an earthy base for the slivers of pickled ginger and nori that I belatedly discovered I was out of.

Beyond the sauce, some recipes called for steaming the vegetables, but I just did a stir fry as it was easier. I started with the mei qing choy stems, broccoli and the leftover roasted chicken. After a couple minutes I added the mei qing choy leaves, mizuna tops, garlic chives, scallions and ham. After those were nicely wilted I added the noodles, omelet slices and the sauce. Let that cook until the sauce was reduced a little and served.

I'm pretty happy with how the vegetables were cooked; the broccoli stems were still al dente while the mei quing choy were more tender. The rest wilted away but still had a bit of chew to them and some individual character. And please note the quite good noodle/vegetable ratio. That's not something I usually get right. The sauce wasn't bad although it clearly was missing sharper flavors to play against. Some bean sprouts would have helped making the dish yakisobier too. I'll make a note for next time.

Monday, March 10, 2008

CSA week 15 - shrimp and turnips in bagna couda-ish sauce

I wanted to revisit the radish and whitefish recipe I made last month and try a variation. Replacing the radishes with turnips was, I think, a step down. The radishes had a sweet complexity of flavor that the turnips couldn't match. I added some cherry tomatoes to compensate and I think that helped.

I also used shrimp instead of the basa I used last time. The fish did fine on its own before, but the shrimp works best dredged in the sauce. If I had been sure how long everything was going to take to cook I would have mixed them in. I played it safe by laying them down on top; that let me take them out after 8 minutes and put the turnips back in for another ten. I'll fix that in the recipe.

3 small to medium turnips, in 1/2 inch slices
the top of one spring onion, sliced into thin rounds
1 handful parsley chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon capers
2 anchovies, minced
8 large shrimp, cleaned in shell
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Louis Latour 2004 Pouilly Fuisse which, while lovely, is sweeter than I would have preferred for this dish)

1. Brine shrimp in salt and sugar solution for at least a half hour
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
3. Mix turnips with parsley, garlic, capers, anchovies, butter, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
4. Roast (or bake? What's the difference exactly? Or am I frying because of all the fat?) for 20 minutes.
5. Stir in shrimp, tomatoes and wine
6. Roast for 8 minutes more.

For a nice presentation (I've been watching Top Chef recently and have decided that I need to work on my presentation. That doesn't change my earlier decision that I need to eat more offal. You'll be seeing some nicely presented offal over the coming weeks on this blog.) lay out the turnips in a layer on a plate, arrange shrimp on top, pile the rest of the solid bits in the center and pour the sauce over top. Preferably more neatly than I did here, but by this point I had polished off a fair bit of that bottle of Pouilly Fuisse.

As for the taste, you can't go wrong with shrimp in a butter, olive oil and white wine and the anchovies and capers give it a nice extra dimension. However, I can't say it marries all that well with the turnips. I suspect a hearty whitefish or scallops would do well. Or radishes with the shrimp. Next time either turnips or radishes show up in the share, I'll find out.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

CSA week 15 - leblebi-esque escarole and chikpea soup

I was looking at the escarole and cannellini bean recipe in this week's newsletter and thinking that the chickpeas I had handy would substitute well for the beans I didn't. A quick search turned up this recipe for an escarole and chickpea stew that seemed promising. The author said it was based on leblebi, a traditional Moroccan breakfast soup. Well, it turns out there are a few different dishes that go by that name but when I came across this recipe I was hooked.

It hasn't really come out in the dishes I've talked about on the blog but I'm a huge fan of garnishes. My favorite presentation is a simple dish surrounded by a dozen bowls so everyone can personalize their serving. So this list of leblebi garnishes:
Lemon wedges
Coarse sea salt
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Chopped green and red bell peppers
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
Rinsed capers
Sliced pickled turnips
Flaked canned tuna fish (oil- or water-packed)
Freshly ground cumin
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Finely chopped cilantro
Sliced preserved lemons
Croutons or sliced stale bread
Thinly sliced scallions, both white and green parts
Olive oil

called out to me.

There's nothing to the soup itself: four cups of chicken soup (I used half my stock and half from a can), one can of chickpeas, one head of escarole. Simmer until tender (around five minutes I found). It's everything else that makes the dish.

The most important garnishes are the stale bread underneath and the loosely poached egg and harissa on top. Harissa, if you didn't read my previous post on it, is a North African chili oil. The particular bottle I've got has the other ubiquitous North African condiment, preserved lemons, mixed in. I also added tomatoes, green pepper, capers, scallion, cilantro and parsley, black olives (which weren't on this particular list but they're also typical for North Africa), sea salt and olive oil. I probably wasn't suppose to use all of that at once, but I liked having a different combination of flavors and textures in every spoonful. Five minutes cooking didn't give time for the soup's flavors to blend. The escarole and chickpeas retain their character in the crowd. This is simple (sort of) hearty comfort food. You can tell that even if the flavors are unfamiliar. My only advice is to go easy on the harissa and preserved lemons or they'll walk all over the other flavors.

One final thing just so Googlers with different terminology can still find this recipe: garbanzo, garbanzo, garbanzo, garbanzo. There, that should do it.

CSA week 15 - chicken shepherd's pie

So, that shepherd's pie I mentioned in the last post. Sorry about the blurry pictures; they looked OK on the small cellphone screen.

I separated the potatoes and carrots out of the leftover roast vegetables from earlier in the week. They went into the food processor along with a bit of butter and a splash of milk and I processed it until they were smooth. I needed to add a bit more milk, but it's better to start with too little than to add too much and have to cook a potato to throw in.

Next, I chopped up a bunch of vegetables including some of this week's broccoli and turnip plus carrots and onion, fried them in butter until tender. Then I added the leftover roast onions and peppers, some frozen peas, salt, pepper, some herbs and some shredded roast chicken. Once they were hot I threw in a handful of flour and cooked a little while. Then a couple ladles of the stock and maybe a quarter cup of milk. I let that cook briefly to thicken up and then poured it out into a pie pan. The pan I was using was oven safe but if it's big enough to fry the vegetables in a single layer, it's too big for the final dish. In retrospect I could have used twice as much filling; it would have been tricky spreading the topping over a full pie pan, but it also wouldn't have produced just one serving.

A sprinkle of cheese goes on top and then the processed potatoes and carrots. 30 minutes at 350 degrees F and 5 minutes under the broiler and here's the result:

It's very tasty, which I mainly attribute to the roasted vegetables, the concentrated stock and the cheese and well worth the bother, but after cooking all day I'm more interested in a lie down than dinner.

CSA week 14 & 15 - chicken stock

I was looking at the leftover roasted chicken and vegetables and I decided to make a chicken shepherd's pie. But for that I'll need some chicken stock and, as this is a nice cool day for a long simmer, I decided to pull my accumulated chicken scraps out of the freezer and make my own.

Here in the pot you can see:

~ 2 lbs. chicken bones with a bit of meat attached, some raw some cooked
1 large turnip, eighthed
1/2 large onion, quartered
2 carrots, broken into large chunks
1 potato, quartered (normally I don't bother with potatoes as they don't add much flavor, but if any potato is going to it's an organic, locally grown one so I thought I'd let it strut it's stuff)
3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
all the accumulated greens stems from the last few weeks substituting for the traditional celery
1 handful parsley
2 pinches peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

I added water to cover, ten cups as it turned out, gave it a stir, laid a steamer over top to hold it down and cranked the heat. After ten minutes I got this:

The scum comes from the bones so it's a good sign that things are moving along. Then all there is to do is turn the heat down to medium low (I'm looking for just one or two bubbles at a time popping on the surface; about as low a simmer as possible. My stove isn't capable of maintaining this so I set it a bit higher. Higher is better than lower here as you need to keep the temperature out of the microbial comfort zone.), skim the scum every ten minutes or so to start and then less frequently after the first hour, add water when the vegetables stop floating and after six to eight hours simmering all the flavor and gelatin is out of the chicken and it's ready to go. I've also got my secret weapon of the concentrated chicken goodness from the roasting that I saved. I'm going to add that in near the end. And here's the result:

hey it looks like soup. The final thing to remember is to cool the stock down quickly in an ice bath until nearly room temperature and then get it in the fridge to race through that aforementioned microbial comfort zone.

And that's it. I'm not sure how much I ended up with. Theoretically it should be near the 10 cups I started with, but I think I'm down to 8 or so. The sign that it turned out right is that after a night in the refrigerator it's a solid block of jelly. I'll have to warm it up to liquid stage again, but the next step is to measure out 2-cup portions, bag each separately and freeze them for later.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

CSA farm subscription - week 15

There's an interesting variety of vegetables in the share this week with a bit of a challenge in dealing with the small amounts without falling back on a stir fry and if my crisper drawers weren't still full of last week's share I'd be pretty enthusiastic right around now. I think I'm going to have to take next week off to deal with this backlog.

Starting off we've got a head of escarole. It's just about tender enough to eat raw, but man is it bitter. Soup is traditional and it is a good way to use up a whole head. The details I'll have to work out as there are plenty of different possibilities.

The onion, well it's an onion. It'll get used.

The tomatoes appear to the be the same meaty variety we got before but they're too small for stuffing like I did before. They should be just right for making sauce, though.

I remember coming across an interesting recipe for the zucchini and/or summer squash but I have no recollection what. If I can't track it back down, I'd like to do the fritters again now that I've got some proper corn meal.

The turnips I'll probably roast as I've concluded I like them best that way. Maybe substituting in for the radishes in the fish recipe I made a couple weeks back if nothing else occurs to me.

The broccoli I'm surprised turned up in florets instead of a whole head. Maybe there wasn't enough to go around? It must have been an an enormous amount of work to cut them down and there's a lot of perfectly palatable stem missing. Plus they seem a little worse for wear already. All that said, I'm thinking of adding them to the stir fry lined up to finish off last week's mei qing choy. Or maybe not; they do best with a heavier sauce than the mei qing choy does. The other option is to stick them on the roast list; there were instructions for roasting broccoli in the issue of Cook's Illustrated with the Almost No Knead Bread recipe (which I'm still making with minor variations every week or two. The next significant variation I'm planning is pumpernickel).

Next up are the garlic chives. My half share allotment is four, just enough to toss into some dish.

Finally, the parsley. I haven't used last week's cilantro, but I see European recipes ahead this week so there should be uses for the parsley.

Now that I'm done I should admit that this whole post has been slightly disingenuous as I've had the chicken stock you've read about above (or will on your next visit) on the boil the whole time so I actually knew what I was doing with half the turnips and a some of the parsley. I'd have to do some serious introspection to learn why I made the decision not to mention it. But since I just did I now have it both ways and I can go happily on my way without that insight.

Friday, March 7, 2008

CSA week 14 - A few thoughts on fried rice

I worked late yesterday so I get to go in late today; that gave me time to have breakfast so I decided to make fried rice.

Breakfast fried rice is a traditional in China and a few other places in east Asia and while I've certainly eaten fried rice for breakfast I don't think I've deliberately made it for that meal before. I figure there are two things that make fried rice breakfasty - bacon and eggs.

On the bacon side, I would have liked to use Chinese bacon, but the freezers were on the fritz the last time I went down to Lucky Oriental Market so I wasn't comfortable buying any. So I used the American sort. I bought some really good bacon (better than Oscar Meyer which was my previous benchmark for bacon when I judged the house brand or whatever was on sale) a while back for a recipe I ended up not making because one of the other ingredients stopped being available. (Thanks a lot Fresh Market. What with this and that lousy chicken, you're going on the list.) I recommend trying it once if you haven't; there's no going back.

As for eggs, there are two philosophies on adding them to fried rice; some people prefer to make an omelet in a separate pan, slice it up and then add it to the dish while others add the raw eggs directly into the rice. I'm normally in the first camp, but for breakfast it felt right to mix the eggs in. At first I couldn't place just why that was, but eventually I realized that it turned the dish into a porridge. Porridges--oatmeal, congee, grits or malt-o-meal--are traditional breakfast fare all over the planet. Probably because food that sticks together in a lump is the easiest to successfully transport from bowl to mouth while half asleep.

I'm not going to insult you by telling you how to make fried rice, (If you do wish to be insulted, e-mail me and I'll make arrangements.) but I do have some thoughts on the process worth sharing.

First, many recipes just add the cold rice at the end, but it's important to re-fluffify the grains by frying them at the start of the cooking. Once they've woken up, set them aside and return them to the pan at the end; it makes a big difference in texture and you don't end up overcooking the other ingredients while you're waiting for the rice to stop being crunchy.

Second, use dark soy sauce. It doesn't add a lot of extra flavor, but it does give that lovely dark color that most restaurant fried rice has.

And finally, unless you've only got a half cup of everything it does a lousy job of using up leftovers. I'm going to have to make another refrigerator-emptying dish tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

CSA week 14 - warm green bean tomato and feta salad

I had other plans for the green beans but I noticed a program listing with this recipe while scrolling through the cable guide yesterday so you can thank this morning's episode of Sarah's Secrets for this dish. I was surprised to discover Sarah Moulton airing at all on the Food Channel, even as a Wednesday morning rerun. I thought she had been banished along with Mario to give Rachel Ray and Paula Dean more airtime.

Here's her version with all the right ratios of ingredients. I didn't catch everything as they flashed up on the screen so mine turned out a bit differently. Mainly I misread 1 1/4 pounds of green beans as 1 3/4 pounds so my scaled down version is significantly beanier than the original. Also, I threw in a couple handfuls of shredded leftover roast chicken. Beyond that, I used the cherry tomatoes halved instead of chopped larger tomatoes, used red wine vinegar instead of white and garnished with fresh oregano.

But that's not enough tweaking that I feel entirely comfortable plagiarizing the recipe here. Just follow the link if you like the looks of the pictures.

EDIT: Well that was a pretty anemic post. I should have waited until this morning instead of trying to get it up just before heading to bed. I neglected to mention how the dish actually tasted. Pretty good, actually. The tomatoes cooked down into the base of a sauce enriched by the slightly melted feta. I've had orzo salads before where the cheese completely melted to create a gloppy mess with an unpleasant mouth feel. The nearly intact feta worked better as the beans, cheese, tomatoes and chicken each retained their individual character without being drowned by an overwhelming sauce.

One final thought: if you're going to try this dish (and why wouldn't you?), undercook the green beans a little at the start as they'll cook a little more waiting in the pan for the orzo to finish and you want them to retain some crispness. Also, I think adding beef or lamb would work better than chicken if you're going to add meat.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

CSA week 14 - roast butterflied chicken over root vegetables

This is essentially a cross between a Good Eats roast chicken recipe and America's Test Kitchen's version. ATK's is unusual for them in that they haven't managed to overcomplicate it until it isn't worth the trouble to make. I've cooked my version twice and was thrilled with the results the first time and somewhat less so the second. I'll note the differences as I go along, but I don't know which ones made a real difference in the end result.

Step one is to get yourself a chicken. The first time I used a slightly-under-3-lbs. Greenwise chicken from Publix. The second time a slightly-over-3-lbs. regular chicken from Fresh Market. I was rather surprised that Publix (at least that particular one) had an organic-ish free-ish range option while Fresh Market didn't. Next time I'll try a full deluxe grass-fed free-range chicken wherever I can find one. Whole Foods maybe?

Step two is brining: 2 quarts water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 to 1 cup salt depending on how fine grained it is. I could get my first chicken fully submerged, but not the second. I can't really see a mechanism for the slight surface exposure making a big difference, but second chicken was substantially blander and dryer. Maybe I should just have let the bigger chicken soak for longer than the suggested hour. (The short soak in a very salty brine is a ATK innovation I should point out.)

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and roughly chop up the vegetables. I used potatoes, carrots and onions the first time and added some peppers the second. ATK's recipe uses just potatoes sliced and laid out. The chunky vegetables are from a similar Good Eats recipe. However Alton uses vegetables past their prime and only uses them to hold up the chicken and add flavor to the sauce that develops. I liked the results splitting the difference made. Roll the chopped vegetables in olive oil and salt and/or whatever seasoning you're using on the chicken. Take a Tablespoon of butter out to soften and mix it with your chicken seasoning.

When the chicken is done its soak bring it over to a cutting board and cut out the backbone with a pair of scissors. Cut off any extra fat too, but try not to split the skin anywhere; exposed meat dries out. I save the backbones and other various chicken bits for making stock, but this method produces far fewer scraps than cutting a chicken into serving pieces so the bits I have accumulated have been getting freezer burnt waiting for a stock-making quorum. I may have to dump the lot.

Once the backbone is out slice the meat away on both sides of the breastbone. Turn the chicken over and flatten it; the cuts you just made will make it much easier. Take a paper towel and pat the skin dry. Slip your fingers under the skin to loosen it. Once you've made some space take pieces of the seasoned butter you made earlier and rub them into the underside of the skin. You should be able to get it distributed around both the breast and thigh areas. If you want to be tidier you can spoon a bit of the butter under the skin and distribute it from above, but I don't think it's nearly as effective. Finally, massage generous amounts of olive oil into the chicken skin. If this step isn't embarrassing, you're not doing it right. I don't think I used enough of either spices or oil on my second chicken so be generous; remember that you're seasoning a whole three pounds of meat.

Splay the chicken out on top of the vegetables making sure the meat is all covered and any loose flaps of skin are laid out flat. The skin that's exposed gets golden brown, crispy and delicious while hidden skin stays flabby and unpleasant so make the effort. At this point in my second attempt I tossed the extra bits of fat I had cut off the chicken earlier into the baking dish but I think it was a mistake as my vegetables ended up nearly submerged and didn't get the caramelization that was the highlight of the dish the first time around. That's also probably a good reason to not use the pepper either. I liked how it turned out, but the moisture it lost cost flavor in the rest of the vegetables.

And that's about it. The chicken goes into the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the pan around and put it back for 20-25 more until the thickest part of the breast reaches 160 degrees F and it looks at least as good as this:

Nothing complicated really to chopping the chicken and serving it with the vegetables. You can separate the au jus from the fat and make some gravy, but if you did things right the chicken will be juicy enough to not need it. Save it for some other application. I'll probably add it to the stock I'll eventually make as a chicken flavor concentrate. Don't toss the fat either as it's very tasty and should be good for frying or salad dressing or some such.