Saturday, January 31, 2009

CSA week nine - corn shrimp and sausage chowder

I looked at a few corn and shrimp soup recipes trying to decide just what I wanted to make, but I ended up mainly just winging it.

The first step was to get the corn off the cobs since I need the cobs to make the stock in step two. I used the Bobby Flay method I picked up watching Iron Chef: hold the cob vertically in a medium bowl and slice the kernels off downward without slicing too close to the cob to avoid getting too many nasty bits into the corn. Once the cob is bare, scrape it down with the back of the knife to get the corn-bits that stuck and the corn milk. I found I had to scrape both directions to get everything.

Next up, that shrimp stock. The two cobs, broken in half, go into a pot with half an onion, a couple of smashed garlic cloves, a couple celery ribs, a couple pieces of carrot and the 12 ounces of shrimp shells I've been accumulating in the freezer. That seems like enough for four cups of water, but it took five cups to cover so I'm hoping for the best here. That all comes up to a boil for thirty minutes of covered simmering before straining. I didn't add any salt so I can more easily control the salt in the dishes I use it in. That, I read recently, is how you're supposed to do it. OK.

Meanwhile, I brined my shrimp with both salt and sugar. I only have a quarter pound so I also defrosted a couple links of southern-style sausage and sliced them into quarter-inch coins. Oh, hey, I bought some potatoes earlier today. (I don't usually keep them around. I understand they're not actually very good for you. Unlike southern-style sausage.) I finely diced one of those too. When I got tired of waiting I pulled the shrimp from the brine, shelled them and cut them into quarters.

I only got a cup and a third of corn out of my two ears so I'm setting that aside to be the chunky part of the soup. Another cup of corn from the freezer I blended with a cup of my shrimp broth to thicken the soup.

Next up are my aromatics: a quarter cup each of red bell pepper (I guess I'm not stuffing it after-all), green bell pepper (from last week), celery and onion. Also, I chopped a handful of cilantro and the rest of the onion.

Now, I think I'm ready to start cooking.

I started by browning the sausage in a Tablespoon of butter, a minute or two on each side over medium-high heat.

Then I removed them and browned the potatoes.

I removed the potatoes, turned down the heat to medium low and added my aromatics including the extra onion I decided to chop, but not the cilantro. The potato absorbed a bit more fat than I had hoped for so I added a bit more butter.

After five minutes I returned the sausage and potato and added the blended corn mixture along with another cup and a half of stock, the fresh corn, most of the cilantro and some salt and pepper. I brought that back up to a boil and then simmered for ten minutes on medium-low heat until the corn and potatoes were tender. (The potatoes more than the corn. I may hold off returning the potatoes until later next time.)

Then I added the shrimp and a half cup of cream and simmered for five minutes more. And it's done.

The broth has lots of flavor, not just from the corn, but from all those additions, too none of which have had time to complete dissolve so there's lots of texture here. The shrimp and sausage aren't washed out so they retain their individual flavor and texture in the mix and their flavors haven't had time to leach out into the soup so each spoonful is a bit different. The fresh corn is a touch undercooked but has a lot of sweet fresh flavor even after being boiled for fifteen minutes. I think that shows a very real difference between CSA corn and supermarket corn. The soup needs a shot of hot sauce at the end, but that's traditional so I deliberately avoided adding any heat earlier on. So, overall, not too bad for a first try.

And now I'm tired. I'll post about the stone crab picnic tomorrow.

CSA week nine start-up

Clearly, when I called last week a light share I didn't know what I was talking about as the freeze left us with even less to work with this time around.

I ought to use the corn today as it loses sweetness quickly. If I've got enough shrimp left I think I might make a shrimp and corn chowder.

The green beans are a bit too much for one side dish, but not enough to be the main component of a dish. I haven't come across many recipes that use green beans as one of several major ingredients. That's kind of an odd thing about green beans, isn't it?

The bok choy, on the other hand, is precisely the right size for a side dish and I have a recipe for restaurant-style Chinese greens in oyster sauce. I'd often order that as a secondary dish when ordering a meat-intensive main dish at the more authentic sort of Chinese restaurant. The mysteriously generic "Chinese greens" was my preferred version, but it's good with bok choy too.

The big bunches of parsley and cilantro make me think of North Africa as that's the only cuisine I know of that uses large amounts of both. There's a braised chicken and chickpeas that will use maybe a quarter of each bunch. Parsley salads aren't too tough to come by. I did a little searching just now and found that you can find cilantro-intensive recipes if you search for "dhania" or "dhanya" which is the Hindi and/or Punjabi term for it. I'll have to sort through what I found for a bit before I know what I'm going to cook.

Also in my North African cookbook was a charred red pepper salad that looked pretty good. Or, since it's so big, I might stuff it instead.

The extras bin was full of black sapotes when I got to my pick-up spot kind of late so I think a lot of people have given up on them. I took one so I'll be sure to have a full cup of pulp to work with when they're ripe. Given my success with the oat bars I think my next attempt might be a black sapote congo bar or maybe substituting them into a fig cookie recipe. I've got to deal with my nearly-ripe canistels first, though.

That leaves the tomato, which I'm sure will find a place, and the strawberries which have been so good fresh that I'm happier eating them by themselves or with a little cream than processing them at all.

After picking up my share I headed over to the Coral Gables Farmers Market and did a little shopping before it was time for the Slow Food Stone Crab Picnic. At the Rare Fruit Council booth I picked up a pummelo and a dragonfruit cutting. Pummelos are sweeter than grapefruit, but there is, I'm told, a fair bit of variation so I won't know what I'll be doing with mine until I get it open. The dragon fruit cutting, though, I've already planted. They're supposed to grow pretty quickly so I should know fairly soon if mine is going to do well.

I also bought some onions, potatoes and peppers. The peppers are nothing unusual, but I like how they looked with the pummelo and dragon fruit so I put them in the photo.

That's kind of long and it's getting well into the afternoon so I'll talk about the picnic in a separate post later.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CSA week eight round-up

I've finished up early this week due to the scant share and a bout of tummy trouble that left me disinclined to any serious cooking. Along with the dishes I already posted about I just made chips from the kale and did a spicy sweet pickle with the zucchini and some leftover eggplant. I'll post about that in a few weeks when I crack open the jar and see how they taste. That leaves the canistels and avocado still not quite ripe and the lettuce which I haven't touched.

There is one other thing, though. A little while back, tired of not having access to an important southeast Asian ingredient, I mail ordered a kaffir lime tree which has finally arrived. I'll grant you that it's currently more of a kaffir lime twig but I'm hopeful it'll grow into the pot I bought for it. The recipes that call for kaffir lime leaves generally only call for one or two so maybe it's indulgent to buy a tree (and the pot and the soil and the fertilizer and the watering can) just for that grace note of flavor. But kaffir lime leaves are often the flavor that gives that ineffable something that's so distinctive about Thai cooking. There's no substitute and when it's there you know something important is missing. It's not like making Chinese food without soy sauce; it's more like making Chinese food without ginger. It's not in the forefront, but it's not right without it. So, something to look forward to, there.

Next post Saturday with the new share and the Slow Food stone crab picnic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CSA week seven - Black sapote oat bars

Yet another night I really don't feel like cooking dinner, but these bar cookies are simple enough and since they've got fruit, nuts and oats in them I can pretend they're healthy and eat them for breakfast.

The last time I made these I made the fruit filling with a jar of black cherry jam, a bit of vanilla and a quarter cup of a spicy red wine. The next time, I'm going to use pumpkin butter, ground almonds and nutmeg. This time I used the black sapote swirl from the coffee cake recipe in the week seven newsletter (cut down by a third):
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
1 cup mashed black sapote
3 Tablespoons ground walnuts (I don't know why I expected a powder when I ground walnuts in my spice grinder. I actually got nut chunks in half formed walnut butter. By the way, walnut butter? Really good. I did not know that.), and
1 pinch ground cinnamon
blended together.
I added
1 generous pinch fine-ground coffee
and a pinch of salt.

The bar itself is made of:
3/4 cup butter, softened,
1 cup packed light brown sugar
and then mixed with
1 1/2 cups rolled oats,
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
and another pinch of salt.

That's half packed on the bottom of a buttered 9"x13" baking pan, then spread with the black sapote mixture. The other half is mixed with a small handful of crushed walnut bits and crumbled on top.

All baked at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until light brown. Well, actually, it starts light brown. Slightly darker brown?

Like I said, simple enough.

The result is really pretty good. The outer layers are, of course, crisp and oaty as they should be and somewhat less sweet than you'd expect given how much sugar's in it. The filling is creamy with a little more body than the epoxy gel the jam reduced to in my last batch. The sapote's fruitiness is hidden behind notes of nut and spice leaving a mild mocha start with a lingering toasted oat/walnut butter finish. Hard to guess that there's fruit in there unless you were told; the addition of coffee, I think, goes some distance to bringing out the sapote's psuedo-chocolate flavors. Call it mocha-cream walnut oat bars and I don't think anyone would suspect there's fruit in there. I may just take them in to work tomorrow to confirm that hypothesis.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

CSA week eight - Eggplant casserole rehabilitated

No point in wasting good food or even food that isn't so good I figure so I wanted to see if I could salvage my unpleasantly heavy eggplant casserole.

The process was hindered somewhat by the casserole already being assembled and cooked. It would have been nice to be able to disassemble the casserole into its component parts. Failing that I decided to chop it up into little squares, dump them into a bowl and mash it all up into a big pile of eggplanty, sausagey, cheesy glunk.

Then I boiled up nine whole wheat lasagne noodles and made a simple tomato sauce spiked with the fresh oregano and thyme from this weeks CSA share, red pepper flakes plus a good dose of red wine vinegar for some acidity to cut through all the oil. I also wanted to add some greens so I prepared the komatsuna and turnip leaves along with some baby spinach I had in the fridge. I didn't want to add any more fat so I wilted them in the pasta water instead of in a pan. Should have added the zucchini too? Nah.

Everything went into the baking dish in the standard way: a layer of tomato sauce, a layer of noodles, half the glunk, half the greens, more sauce, more noodles, the rest of the glunk, the rest of the greens, the final three noodles, the rest of the sauce and a bit of leftover cheese and some fresh grated Parmesan.

And into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes to get it all melty and bubbling again.

The result is a substantial improvement. There's no indication that the dish had a previous incarnation. The over-powerful cheese is now nicely balanced with the other flavors and textures. It's just a passable but undistinguished lasagne. But that sure beats a barely edible casserole.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

CSA week seven wrap-up, week eight start-up

I said in my last post that I came close to catching up on my cooking this week, but now that I take inventory I see that might have been a bit of an exaggeration. I was thinking of the tatsoi which is the last of the main-dish ingredient items I've got, but I forgot about the nearly full head of lettuce, half the cherry tomatoes, the black sapotes and carambolas (all now fully ripe), parsley, cilantro and a fair bit of cabbage I've still got hanging about.

The tatsoi I intend to sauté up for lunch today as a bed for a trout I've got. Maybe I'll add some cilantro and go for southeast Asian flavors.

For the sapotes, maybe a pie, maybe a quickbread or cake. The recipe from last week's newsletter (which Cintia lauds in a comment on last week's start-up post) uses the sapote just as a fruit layer not a full cake component but I'm curious if it could work that way. Bananas can substitute for eggs; applesauce can substitute for oil. Is sapote useful at all that way? Usually I'd take the lack of recipes as a good counter-indication, but sapotes are so obscure that it's worth experimenting. If only I felt like baking this weekend.

But on to this week.

To start with there's another head of lettuce. I still haven't tried a cream of lettuce soup so I think I might go that way this week. Oh, wait, I've got a lettuce and zucchini tart recipe I've been wanting to try which I found...hold on, let me I've never made pastry dough before so this may be a challenge.

The red kale below the lettuce I intend to bake into chips. It's a simple and common recipe-- spray with olive oil, season and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until crisp--but somehow my post about making them last year is now the third-ranked Google result. I wonder why.

The komatsuna in the upper right corner is up for another sauté or stir fry. Not much else to do with medium-weight greens.

The radish tops in-between are in for the same treatment, but in butter and olive oil and served over pasta. The radish bottoms appear to be breakfast radishes which are best raw so nothing fancy in the future for them.

The pepper is too tiny to worry about and the avocado and canistel won't be ripe for a week so I'll put them out of my mind too.

The strawberries we've been instructed to eat immediately and who am I to argue?

That leaves the herb bundle. The particular combination I've got is oregano, thyme and tarragon. You don't often see a recipe for all three but thyme works well with either of the other two.

Hmm, that's just four main dishes listed there. Maybe this is the week I get ahead of the game.

And here's that trout I was talking about:
It stuck to the pan a little which mars the visuals a bit, but with ginger, garlic, cilantro, scallions, garlic chives, lime, fish sauce (and some agave nectar not pictured) it's pretty tasty. Actually, this rainbow trout, farmed in New Zealand if I recall the label at Fresh Market correctly, was substantially more flavorful on its own than the trout farmed here in south Florida. I wonder if it's just the difference between species or if they're doing something differently.

And that brings up another point I'd like to ask the group about. I'm trying to eat more fish, because it's healthy, but at the same time be careful to buy sustainable fish which I'm having trouble finding. Farmed trout is OK and so is farmed tilapia but I haven't found sustainably caught tuna or salmon anywhere I've looked and a lot of the other fish on the best-choices list just aren't available. Do you have any recommendations of fish to try or places to shop?

Friday, January 23, 2009

CSA week seven - Eggplant and Colombian chorizo casserole

I need to stop picking up vegetables from the extras bin. I was nearly caught up this week, but I grabbed a second eggplant and it needed to be cooked. I had picked out an Arabian chickpea-eggplant stew to make, but the flavors were pretty close to the caponata I made earlier (minus the ginger and curry powder), so I was hesitating.

I saw in this week's New York Times Dining section is a profile of Donald Link, a New Orleans chef who is bringing authentic Cajun to New Orleans in contrast to the bastardized version that became popular in the wake of Paul Prudhomme prominence in the 1980's. A couple of his recipes accompanied the article and I was interested in this one:

Eggplant and Merguez Casserole

Adapted from Donald Link

Time: 55 minutes


4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

For the casserole:

Olive oil, as needed
1 large (18 to 20 ounces) eggplant, peeled and sliced into
1/4-inch-thick rounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
9 ounces merguez sausage
12 ounces fontina cheese, grated
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated.

1. For the béchamel: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk until pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add milk, salt, white pepper and nutmeg, and whisk to combine thoroughly. Cook, whisking frequently, until thickened and smooth, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. For the casserole: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, and thoroughly coat both sides with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Roast until fully cooked, 12 to 15 minutes, then remove from heat but do not turn off oven. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium-low heat, sauté merguez until browned and fully cooked. Remove from heat and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.

3. Oil an 8-by-11, 2-inch-deep baking dish. Spread one-third of béchamel in baking dish. Top with half the eggplant, then half the fontina and half the merguez. Coat with half of the remaining béchamel. Top with remaining eggplant, fontina and merguez. Spread with remaining béchamel and the Parmesan.

4. Bake until hot, bubbling and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to rest for a minute or two, then serve.

Yield: 6 servings.

The merguez is north African so I'm assuming it's substituting for some downhome alligator sausage that you can't get outside the bayou. That means I don't have to feel bad about substituting for it since, unsurprisingly, I couldn't find any. Merguez I know is heavily spiced both with hot pepper and other flavors so looking over my options at Publix, I decided on Colombian chorizo. I've never tried it, but it looks like it's got a lot of character.

Next up is the cheese. That's quite a lot of $20/pound cheese there so I decided to compromise a little. I used half proper fontina and half fontinella which I assumed to be closely related. It's actually rather sharper and a somewhat less creamy, although it still melted fine. For the Parmesan I mainly used a young domestic type and suplemented that with a nicely aged authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. The milder taste of taste of the domestic should balance with the sharpness of the fontinella and get me somewhere in the right flavor area.

One other thing worth noting is the instruction to "thoroughly coat both sides [of the eggplant slices] with olive oil. You know as well as I do that eggplant does not coat with oil, it soaks up oil. I realized afterward that he probably meant for me to use one of those olive oil spray pumps. I drizzled and spread the oil as best I could but it didn't really coat and I used a lot more oil than I really wanted to.

Another point is to be careful with the salt. I forgot just how salty all that cheese would be so I was generous on the eggplant and the final dish is a bit over-salted.

That all said, here's the result: A little bit of eggplant and a few pieces of sausage floating in a goopy, tangy, cheesy mess (with a nice crispy top). Just looking at it as it cooled made me break out the lettuce and cherry tomatoes I've been ignoring all week so I could fill up on salad in self-defense.

It turns out the chorizo I chose wasn't a bad match with the eggplant and cheese so it's all rather tasty, but it's eggplant, cheese and sausage so no surprise there.

But it's so heavy it's hard to enjoy. How to lighten it up? Well, first, spraying the eggplant instead of soaking it. I could slice the sausage before frying it to let some of that fat escape. I suppose low fat cheese is an option, but I'm philosophically opposed to such things. Can you make a decent béchamel with 2 percent milk? Beyond that, why not turn it into lasagna? Layers of pasta would space things out a bit. Couldn't hurt to add some onions and peppers too while I'm at it. Any other ideas?

CSA week seven - Garlicky steak and greens tacos

This is my modified version of a Rick Bayless recipe for a taco he had at a market stall in Toluca, Mexico. It's pretty simple even after I added the steak so I think it's mainly meant as a vehicle for Bayless' rather more complicated roasted tomatillo chipotle salsa. It looks really good, but even if I could get all of the specific peppers he calls for I'm in no mood to deal with all that soaking and toasting and roasting and scraping and all so salsa from a bottle it is. I'm sure it does the recipe some harm, but there are good bottled salsas out there, right?


Makes 8 to 10 soft tacos.

  • 8 to 10 corn tortillas (plus a few extra, in case some break)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for blanching
  • 6 cups loosely packed sliced green or red chard leaves (one 12-ounce bunch) [I used the Asian braising greens minus the stems on the purple flowery stuff. I think that was more like 4 cups all told]
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 pound quick-fry suitable steak. [I used thin sliced top round]
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely crumbled Mexican queso fresco; queso anejo; dry feta; pressed, salted farmer's cheese; or Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup Rick's Essential Roasted Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
  1. Warm the tortillas: Place a vegetable steamer in a large saucepan filled with 1/2 inch of water. Bring to a boil. Wrap tortillas in a heavy kitchen towel, lay them in the steamer, and cover with a tight lid. Boil 1 minute, turn off the heat, and let stand without opening for about 15 minutes.
  2. Prepare the filling: While tortillas are steaming, bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add greens, and cook until barely tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander, and spread out on a large plate or baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add steak, cook for 5 minutes more. Add garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add greens, and stir for about 1 minute, just long enough to heat them through. Season with salt.
  4. Prepare the tacos: Scoop the filling into a deep, warm serving dish, and sprinkle with cheese. Serve with the warm tortillas, salsa, and cilantro sprigs.

When I lived in Queens, New York, there was a Mexico City-style taqueria a few blocks away. I'm not going to say that this recipe turns out something I might have bought there, but the flavors definitely took me back. The properly steamed corn tortilla did half the work there, but the rest was in the right neighborhood, too.

I didn't expect the greens to wilt away quite so much. I wanted the filling to be mostly greens with a bit of beef but they're more equal partners which gave unfortunate prominence to the fact that the beef wasn't cooked in a big bubbling vat of meat juices the way real taquerias do it.

The greens, on the other hand, I think were cooked nicely: just a little al dente so they've still got some character both in texture and flavor. It would have been easy for the salsa to walk all over the other flavors, which were rather more subtle than you'd expect with all that garlic, but the lightly cooked greens helped the filling hold its own against it. Unfortunately, while I could find a quality tomatillo salsa, that left out the chipotles whose smokiness wouldn't have been a bad addition. Maybe I'll add some in with the onions if I make this again.

I'm thinking about variations and tweaks but I find I don't want to over-complicate it with a bunch of extra flavors. Simple is best for tacos. I do think I'd like to take out the steak and add shrimp for a baja-style greens taco. I think I'd want a red salsa with that, but no need to change the seasonings otherwise : shrimp, garlic and olive oil is a classic no matter the cuisine.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CSA week six - Broiled canistel with avocado mayonaise

If you've been searching for a palatable canistel dish don't get your hopes up too high here as this is more of a science experiment than an actual recipe. If you have been searching you've probably came across the serving suggestion of canistel with salt, pepper, lemon and mayonnaise. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds entirely appalling. And yet I didn't have any better ideas and it's not like it's going to waste a lot of other perfectly good ingredients so I thought I'd see what I could do with it.

Another experimental element today is pictures taken with the proper camera I've finally bought. I rather expect picture quality to get worse for a while until I figure out what I'm doing with the thing.

Let's start with the avocado mayo. There are a fair number of avocado mayonnaise recipes out there but they generally fall into two categories, either glorified avocado purees or standard mayonnaise with some avocado blended in. What I'm doing here instead is using the fat in the avocado to substitute for the vegetable oil in a standard mayonnaise recipe. I don't usually go to science blogs for my recipes, but that's where you'll find this one; it's from a blog called Adventures in Ethics and Science.

I whisked an egg with the juice of one lemon and some Dijon mustard to act as an emulsifier. Then I blended that with half of a Monroe avocado. The result was too thin and tasted mostly of mustard and lemon so I added another quarter avocado and gave it a full minute in the food processor. Now it's got the right creamy texture and is starting to take on that distinctive light tanginess of actual mayonnaise mixed with the avocado flavor. Not bad at all, but I'll have to make some tuna salad to make a really fair judgment. There's still a bit more mustard flavor than I'd like, though, so next time I'll have to use a chemical emulsifier instead.

Step two is the canistel. Beyond soups and pies the only cooking instructions I found for canistel were to "lightly bake". I have no idea what that means. I decided to broil it instead to a) see if it would melt, catch on fire, explode or what and b) see how it tastes with a bit of browning.

I cut my two canistels in half, pried out the seeds, scooped out the seed pods, sprinkled them with a bit of salt and pepper and drizzled with a little olive oil. Since I'm experimenting here I thought I'd try some additional flavors. The canistel soup recipe we got in the newsletter is flavored with Chipotle adobo sauce which I happen to have handy so I spread a little of that on one canistel half; The second I brushed with a jerk marinade; The third with a tamarind chili sauce; and the fourth I left plain as a control.

I neglected to time how long they spent under the broiler. I just waited until they started smelling cooked and the sauces had dried into glazes. They didn't brown as well as I had hoped but the bits that did got crispy and caramelized so they're going closer to the heating element if I do this again.

The broiled casinstel didn't do anything alarming to my disappointment. It firmed up and dried out to a texture somewhere between russet potato, winter squash and Play-Doh. It was better than that makes it sound and it sure beats the gritty pudding texture it has raw. On the other hand, it definitely needed the mayo to moisten. Interestingly, the peel, which you wouldn't want to eat raw, is of a piece with the flesh cooked so there was no point in not eating it whole. The flavor has become milder, losing the sickly sweetness and now isn't too far off from a yam. The avocado mayo is a nice accompaniment. Probably better than real mayo I think.

As for the sauces:
The adobo pairs nicely with the canistel and goes with the avocado mayo too.
The jerk not so much.
The tamarind chili sauce is pretty similar to the adobo and works well with the canistel but clashes a bit with the avocado mayo.
The plain needed something so I added some Pickapeppa sauce. The fruity tanginess marries with the canistel and isn't bad with the mayo, but it feels incomplete. I think it needs meat. But that's usually my reaction to Pickapeppa sauce. I think there's the start of a full dish there that I'll work on if I get more canistel.

So, overall I've had better dinners, but that could have gone a lot worse. If you're at a loss as to what to do with your canistels and/or avocados, it's worth a try.

Monday, January 19, 2009

CSA week seven - Eggplant caponata

This is a recipe by Todd English, chef and the restaurateur behind the Olives restaurants and a bunch of others, too. If you've seen his show Food Trip or seen him interviewed you'll know that his schtick, at the Olives locations anyway, is pan-Mediterranean--bringing together all of the cuisines where olives grow by adulterating dishes a variety of foreign (but not too foreign) substances.

I've seen him putting these dishes together on Food Trip and generally the results don't look all that appealing to me. I'm fine with complicating a recipe with lots of fiddly little additions, but I try to stick with classic combination of flavors within a cuisine or, if I stray, take the flavors entirely over to the new cuisine. But then, I'm just some schmuck with a blog and he's a restaurateur with sufficient reputation to sell out to Home Shopping Network. So when I saw this recipe (and you don't see a lot of his recipes floating around the web. Probably because they're a pain to make without a sou chef helping out.) I thought I'd give it a shot and see how one of his recipes actually tastes.

Caponata is a traditional Sicilian appetizer served on crostini; it's eggplant, tomatoes, a bit of vinegar and capers, maybe some olives--that's about it. English starts off by adding a big pile of sausage which is such an unusual addition that Google doubts that's what I mean when I search for "caponata sausage". So this thing is going off the rails even before we get to the orange juice and curry powder. I've got my reservations but it's got some intriguingly odd combinations; take a look:

Todd English's Eggplant Caponata

1 eggplant, peeled and cut in medium dice
12 ounces sweet Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh peeled ginger
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoons chopped capers
1 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 to 1 cup water

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1. Place a large non stick pan over a medium heat and when it is hot, add the eggplant. Cook until the eggplant is golden brown on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the eggplant and set it aside.

2. Reheat the pan, add the sausage and cook over medium high heat until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove the sausage, discard the fat. When the sausage is cool enough to handle, roughly chop it.

3. Reheat the pan an add the oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the reserved sausage, raisins, ginger root, capers, tomatoes, salt, orange juice, curry powder, pepper flakes, honey, reserved eggplant and 1/4 cup water, stirring well after each addition.

4. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the eggplant is soft and the mixture is chunky and saucey, adding more water if necessary, or about 30 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinegar, basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary and scallions. Serve at room temperature.

So is it any good? Well, if you like oranges and raisins, sure, as it's hard to taste anything pat the sweetly curried fruit. But it's a nice enough curry and the flavors are more harmonious than I expected; when you get a bit of eggplant or sausage that retains some identity, the sauce does compliment them well enough. I will say that the Mediterranean fusion thing is a bust. Change the sausage to something north African and you'd have no clue of an Italian origin. It's a fine enough dish, but is it a good caponata? I'd say no, but I'm not judging a caponata cooking competition here so I don't suppose it really matters. I kind of regret not trying something more classic instead . When you cook from a recipe do you prefer to stay traditional or a chefs' idiosyncratic creations?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

CSA week six - tomato-carambola sorbet

This isn't an unusual combination for salads (and if you haven't tried it, you should) and I always have an eye out for interesting possibilities for sorbets and ice creams. And interesting this did turn out to be.  

1 1/2 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 medium carambola, peeled as best you can and seeded (which is easier than you'd expect if you don't mind unsightly shredded results)
5 fluid ounces sugar (I used a not-fully refined sugar with a bit of molasses still in it)
5 fluid ounces water 
1 pinch salt
juice from one thick lime wedge
1 Tablespoon light rum

1. Purée the tomato and carambola. I ended up with about 2 cups worth so I scaled the other ingredients to match.

2. Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar, salt and water to a simmer. Let it cool for a few minutes.

3. Mix everything in a blender. You're blending the fruit twice to get it extra smooth.
4. Chill, churn, ripen, scoop. You know the drill.

You can see in the picture that the texture isn't as smooth as my sorbets usually get. I skimped a bit on the rum and over-churned. I've since broken it up like a granita so it's more crumbly than solid which isn't too bad. It'll smooth out as it melts a little.

The tomatoes from this week's CSA share never ripened quite right so the sorbet has that tart, resinous flavor slightly under-ripe tomatoes have. It's an interesting match with the tartness of the carambolas and the slight acid of the lime. I've got to admit that of all the ridiculous flavors of ice cream and sorbet I've made this is the first one that's really wierded me out. It's bright and fruity--the tomato and carambola seamlessly blended into a quite pleasant tropical-noted flavor, but it's still clearly under-ripe tomato in there and it's hard to get past that. I'm going to offer this to my co-workers without telling them what's in it to see if the tomato really is that obvious and how it goes over without that knowledge. 

CSA week six wrap-up, week seven start-up

So that's another week down. I haven't used this week's avocado which still isn't quite ripe or the canistels, one of which is finally ripe today and the other untouched by time.

I said last Saturday that I'd probably do a stir fry with the string beans and I did something similar. I did stir fry up onions, peppers and a little bit of chicken, but once I added the string beans it turned into a braise. I used sa cha sauce which is a Taiwanese condiment made of fermented brill fish and shrimp and some spices. Worcestershire sauce is made from anchovies in a similar way and both have deep savory meaty flavors that aren't particularly fishy. Sa cha sauce is traditionally used in vegetable-heavy stir fries and works pretty well with string beans, I thought.

I also made a sorbet that I'll be posting about later today. And I repurposed my failed noodle dough into a loaf of bread which is rising right now. I forgot to take it out of the refrigerator this morning so it got a late start but it still might be ready in time for dinner. I'll let you know how it turns out.

And on to this week's share.
Down at the bottom in the plastic bag is the Asian braising mix. Well, the instructions are right there in the name, aren't they? I think I may add the cilantro that's in the upper right corner and some fish sauce to make it a southeast Asian braise.

There's an eggplant hidden under the cilantro as well as the one you can see. That's enough for me to make something pretty substantial and I'm thinking a casserole of some sort. A lasagna, maybe, but there are plenty of other intriguing southern European variations.

To the left of the eggplant is a sizable bunch of collards. That's another braise right there. I'll have to get a smoked ham hock for that.

The two carambolas are too small to do much with but they're fine for a snack. So are the cherry tomatoes but I'll try to restrain myself so I can use them in a salad or two. You don't get a sense of scale but that's a huge head of lettuce so there's definitely some salad in my future.

In contrast, that's a dainty little bunch of tatsoi. I've got enough leftover rice accumulated to make fried rice so I may use the tatsoi there.

That just leaves the black sapotes (currently green sapotes). Nobody wanted to try my black sapote colada sorbet so maybe I'll bake with these instead. The coffee cake in the newsletter looks pretty good; maybe I'll try that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CSA week five - potstickers, part 2

I stopped by Lucky Oriental Mart on the way home from work today and picked up some dumpling wrappers to substitute for my failed attempt last night. There were four choices: square vs. round and egg vs. eggless (and also, eggless with yellow die #2 so it looks like it has eggs in it). With egg was labeled Hong Kong-style and eggless Shanghai-style. I was tempted to go for Hong Kong as that's the home of dim sum, but I wanted to reproduce what I tried to make so round, eggless it was to be.

Once I had the package defrosted it was time to stuff. I didn't ruin any even from the start but it did take some time to find a method that worked really well.

I understand that fresh dough would stick closed on its own, but this dough I had to wet around the edges. I kept a little bowl of water and would dip a couple fingers and run them around the circumference. I tried a brush (as I had to redip a couple times to make it all the way around), but that spread too much water and made the dough mushy. So fingers it was to be which slowed the process down considerably.

For each dumpling I scooped out about a Tablespoon of filling using a coffee scoop and dislodged it onto the wrapper using a teaspoon so I didn't get it all over my fingers. After a bit I realized I needed to put the filling in the top half of the wrapper and press it down a little to spread it out. Then I could fold the bottom half up and seal it at one spot at the top. Once the wrapper was held in place I'd seal up which ever side had the filling closer to the edge first, pushing it in to even things out, and then the other side ending not quite at the bottom so I could squeeze out any excess filling as if it was a little pastry bag.

Once I had it sealed up I had to make sure it stayed closed so I pleated the edges starting from the top and then a couple times down each side ending with a folded in corner if I had enough spare dough to do it. It's a two hand process so I'm afraid I didn't get any pictures of the process; sorry. Try YouTube; there are video tutorials that are better than anything I could have done.

It's not tricky after you get the hang of it--kind of meditative, really--and my end results look about right, I think. Pretty time consuming, though. I filled up 38 dumplings total which is not a whole lot for the amount of filling I had. They do seem a little plumper than most I've seen. But then I'm not selling them by the dozen so it doesn't pay me to skimp.

I put most of them onto a sheet of freezer paper on a baking sheet so they can freeze individually before I pack them away. I made sure to press them down a little bit to give them flat bottoms so they'll sit up in the pan later.

But several I kept aside for dinner. You can steam them, boil them in soup, deep fry them, but I wanted to do use the real potsticker method. So I lighted oiled a non-stick pan (If you do this right, non-stick isn't necessary. That's how this method developed and how they got the name. The dumplings stick at first and then unstick themselves.), laid in the dumplings and then added enough water to come about halfway up their sides. Optionally, you can use chicken stock, but I wanted to see how my dumplings held up on their own first.

Then I just covered the pan, with the cover slightly askew to let steam escape, turned the heat to medium high and waited for the water to completely evaporate. When the water's gone; they're done. I gave them an extra minute since, as you can see, they bloated monstrously and I wanted to be sure they were cooked all the way through. That was a mistake, though, and I ended up overcooking the flavor out of them. When cooking them from frozen, you need that extra minute and this is the first time I've cooked fresh. I'll know better next time.

I am pleased that, despite the bloat, none of them burst (at least until I picked them up. They didn't stick to the pan, but they did stick to each other). Partially that's thanks to the store-bought, machine-manufactured wrappings, but my seals stayed sealed so there's that. They're nicely crisp on the bottom and soft and chewy on top as potstickers should be. And, even overcooked, they made fine meaty dipping sauce delivery tools. I made the traditional sauce: soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a bit of ginger, a bit of scallion and a bit of sesame oil. I like chiu chow chili oil thinned with a little soy, too.

You know, the pre-made wrappers were just fine and they only cost around $2.29 and I have trouble imagining my homemade would be any better even if I made them perfectly. I'm choosing to be O.K. with not successfully making my own.

Before I sign off here, I'd like to mention that, in a remarkable synchronicity, La Diva of is making gow gee, just about the same dumpling but steamed instead of potstuck. Check out her post about it here.