Saturday, February 27, 2010

CSA week 12 wrap-up, week 13 start-up

Oh boy, more greens! Well, that's not entirely fair. I managed to use up all last week's greens in one shot so I wasn't eating them in various preparations all week long (although I have got around a dozen servings saved for later). So all I've got to do is stay away from Cajun and I'll have refreshed my palate.

My first thought is to do a spinach lasagne. Good for the cold weather and handy to keep in the freezer. For the komatsuna (if I don't need it for the lasagne) maybe a Japanese-style soup. The oyster mushrooms could go in either of those. And the sage would make sense with a northern Italian dish like spinach lasagne.

The kale I'll do anything but braise. I'll probably shred and flash-fry it Brazillian-style as a side dish with a chunk of meat. I've got a chicken I've deboned and am going pan-fry whole like I did last November. It should go well with that. Oh, I see I actually suggested using kale back then. Who am I to reject my own advice? The turnips should go nicely with that too.

The garlic chives I want to stir fry. There's not enough here to use them properly, but if I make a small batch I can probably come close. I may end up snipping them into the komatsuna soup instead, though.

That leaves the strawberries. There's absolutely no reason not to eat these out of hand, but I might make ice cream if I can think of some clever variation. I think I've still got that little bottle of lavender extract. That might be nice.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Potato Pandemonium at Possum Trot

Last night was an underground-ish dinner down at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery. Robert Barnum, the proprietor of the place (geez, now they've got me doing the alliteration) was our host and chef. Margie of Bee Heaven Farm helped organize it. Marian Wertalka of Redland Rambles did some previews on her blog and took a bunch of photos too so I think you can expect her write up on the event too. They both mentioned being part of the taste testing in preparation for the evening and I believe Margie supplied the potatoes. Robert of Robert is Here is also thanked on the flyer but his contribution isn't explained and I didn't meet him there to ask. That is a different Robert than Robert Barnum, right?

Robert served eight dishes for, I'd say five or six courses depending on your definition. He was aided in the kitchen by three interns or hired help or some such. I didn't get everyone on film or catch all their names so I'll have to refer you to Redland Rambles again because I'm pretty sure Marian was rather more conscientious about that than I was.

All the dishes featured potatoes; Several just were potatoes. Refined fancy cuisine this was not. Then again, professional chef Robert is not and the point of the evening was more to highlight the quality of the produce than to wow us with technique.

That causes a bit of a problem for me since that makes my usual write-up of bitchily picking apart and critiquing the dishes seem a bit mean-spirited. For the Cobaya dinners I know the dishes are experimental so maybe my feedback is helpful. For the other dining events I just expect professional results from professionals and the public ought to know if the chefs deliver. Robert told me straight out he's not going to be reading this so the first justification doesn't hold and he's not running a restaurant so the second doesn't really apply either. ... OK, I've given it a bit more consideration and I think I've changed my mind. Robert is intending to do more of these dinners if there's demand, it's easy enough for feedback to get back to him though Margie or Marian and he does have "Cantankerous Chef" on his business card. So bitchy critiques it is.

As usual, I let other folks take pictures of the people while I concentrated more on the food. I refer you again to the Redland Rambles blog if you want pics of who was there. I did take a few shots during Robert's brief tour of the farm immediately surrounding the house. Here he is proffering a, I think, cas guava or possibly an araçá.

I had some forewarning of local coffee but I had no idea you could grow cinnamon around here, miracle fruit or bay leaves. Funny you don't get more bay in tropical cuisines if it's a tropical plant. We also saw the smoker out back which will come into play later.

There were around ten of us in attendance. Two people expected didn't show. I barely made it myself given the weather, traffic and the Google Maps directions that sent me to the unmarked back entrance. Luckily, I stumbled across the front door where they had stationed a fellow with a red truck visible in the gloom to wave people in.

Before dinner, we had a bit of homemade wine. Ignore the labels, these bottle have been refilled. I had a brief tour of the winery after dinner. It's not a big operation, just 45 gallons this year. Robert had several varieties on offer (and several more not on offer including lychee and antidesma wines); I had the dry bignay wine which I found easy drinking--smooth, light and floral. Not complex, but nice. Miles better than Schnebly's tropical fruit wines to my mind.

The first course we sat down was the vichyssoise with potato chips. It needed a bit of salt, probably intended to be supplied by the potato chips, but I wasn't going to waste extra-tasty fresh potato chips by dunking them in cream soup. Luckily there was a small pot of salt supplied although I didn't see anyone else taking advantage of it. It's not an insult to the chef to add salt, you know. Experience of flavors is subjective and varies between individuals. If you, like I, have a low sensitivity to salt, you need to add more to bring the flavors out. That's just the way it is. Anyway, once properly seasoned, the soup had some good potato flavor with little potato shreds adding texture.

Next up was a potato salad with carambola relish and smoked eggs. The dressing looks heavy, but it was really quite light and the potato flavor came right through. There were several sorts of potatoes in there and I tried to taste the difference but if there was any it was lost on me. The carambola was the particularly sour sort which was an odd pairing, but not bad. A little more fo the pimiento, celery, curry powder and/or smoked egg would have added some dimension, but it was pretty much just potato.

The dishes started piled up at this point. Here you can see, in the back, scalloped potatoes with betel leaf and a beef stew with potatoes and carrots. In front are smoked potatoes on the left and parsleyed potatoes on the right.

There's not much more to the front two dishes than those names: smoked potatoes with a little olive oil and rosemary and boiled potatoes slightly mashed with parsley and a little butter. Neither really needed any more. Both had moist texture and a good balance of flavors and would have been fine side dishes in a more sensible meal.

Robert skimped on the betel in the scalloped potatoes. Partly as a deliberate decision and partly due to how badly the betel bushes fared in the cold. It really could have used more and the cheese he used didn't have a lot of flavor and the dish could have used something to punch it up. I saw a lot of this dish leftover at the end of the evening.

On the other hand, the beef stew was quite popular. I'm not entirely sure why, though. If the grass fed beef (from 4 Arrows Ranch in Citra, FL) was anything special, that specialness had been boiled out of it. The gravy was rich, but greasy and the vegetables on the edge of mushiness. What I really liked, though, was the raw white carrot that garnished the stew. That was sweet, bright and crisp--pretty yummy.

After a few minutes wait so it could come out of the oven perfectly done, came a light and fluffy potato soufflé. I'm told that the trial-run soufflés fell and tasted like potato pancakes. These stayed up and tasted mostly of egg with a subtle note of hashbrown. I might have added a little maple syrup and/or hot sauce to round out the flavors myself, but since Robert didn't expect it to turn out so breakfasty, I can understand why he didn't.

And finally desert--potato pancakes with cas guava/passion fruit drizzle, chunks of mango and slices of another unidentified fruit underneath. Along with that we had small glasses of araçá wine. The wine had a liqueur-like intensity with caramel notes balanced against green apple. It was fairly tart, but much less tart than straight araçá (or so I'm told never having tried araçá before). This dish was the most professional of the night, with a lovely balance of sweet, savory, tangy and tart plus a variety of textures.

And that was the meal. Overall, a lovely evening and slow food in every sense but the capitalized one, but to be honest, that's way too much potato. I get the idea of featuring one item in multiple ways, but when your secret ingredient is something as meat-and-potatoes as potatoes, you've got to be extra clever to make it continually interesting over the course of an evening Robert is no iron chef. There were definitely some good dishes in there, but they'd be stronger in contrast, not surrounded by similar-tasting dishes. I'd certainly consider coming to another Possom Trot dinner, but I'd have to consider the concept and the menu first.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CSA week 12 - Gumbo z'herbes

I'm not entirely certain about this. There are lots of recipes out there but they all agree on simmering the greens two hours or longer. Collards, OK maybe they can handle that. But chard and turnip greens? And what about the dandelion greens? Most of the recipes put them on the list of greens to include but nobody prepares them to deal with the bitterness.

I'm going to try it, but I dunno.

First step, clean and prep 2-3 pounds of greens--whatever you've got, the more variety the better. For those who haven't read the previous post, I had 1 bunch collards, 1 bunch chard, 1 bunch dandelion greens, 1 bunch turnip greens and 1 bunch radish greens. I did this prep the night before to avoid having dinner too very late.

Next step, get a gallon of water and/or stock (I used two cups of shrimp stock and the rest water) to a boil in a large pot and add the greens. Simmer for at least an hour.

Meanwhile,make a roux. I used the in-oven method. Mix equal parts fat and flour (I used 2 Tablespoons bacon drippings, 3 Tablespoons canola oil and 5 Tablespoons flour) in a big cast iron pot and put it in a 350 degree oven for at least an hour. No stirring necessary. The recipes that specify call for a peanut-butter colored roux, but they all also call for filé powder added at the end too. I don't have any filé so I'm not going to get that thickening. And, as you probably know, the darker the roux, the more flavor, but the less thickening power. So I pulled it out of the oven at around 1 hour 20 minutes. It looks peanut butter colored, but it started a little dark from the bacon drippings so I think I'm in good shape.

After that time, the greens have wilted considerably. Here they are along with half a cabbage, 1 bunch scallions and 1 bunch parsley that are going back into the pot with them later.

But before that, the pot with the roux goes up on the stove and in goes 1 large white onion, 1 green bell pepper and 3 stalks celery, chopped. I cooked that for 10 minutes over medium-high heat before adding the reserved stock and greens which I've roughly chopped, the cabbage, scallion and parsley (although what good scallion and parsley added this early will do I dunno), a ham hock, 2 bay leaves, 4 stalks thyme, 1 stalk rosemary, 4 allspice berries and a generous amount pre-mixed Cajun spice blend because I'm lazy.

It's at this point that I finally understand exactly how huge this batch of gumbo is. I'm going to be eating this for a month; it better be good.

Normally, that's the dish. Just simmer an hour more and serve, but I wanted it a little heartier so I added a couple links of andouille sausage and, 5 minutes before the end, a quarter pound of shrimp.

And here it is served over rice: real thickening at all. Or roux flavor, either, disappointingly. This is basically a huge mess of greens in a bucket of pot liquor. Lacking the filé powder, maybe I'll make up a slurry and bring it back up to a boil to thicken it up. It'll probably add a little raw flour flavor, but I'll trade that off for making this sauce into gravy. The greens still have a tiny bit of texture to them--the cabbage a little more--but mainly it's just soft. It's not falling apart like I expected though, so it's still in a pleasant neighborhood.

The flavors of the greens have all melded together to just a generic tasty green. No notable bitterness, or skunkiness from the boiled cabbage either. The herbs and spices round out the flavor a little and there's a hint of smokiness there. The sausage and shrimp weren't in long enough to swap flavors with the greens so they've retained all their flavor. The shrimp are a nice match, the sausage a bit less so. That'll probably change as everything melds in the refrigerator over night, though. I'll have some for lunch tomorrow and report back in a comment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

CSA week 11 wrap-up, week 12 start-up

Wow, that's quite a load of greens. I've got, from left to right, collards, turnip and radish greens (in good shape for a change), baby bok choy from the extras bin, dandelion greens, chard and cabbage. I saw all this and immediately thought of a couple mixed greens stew recipes I've been reserving just for a week like this. My first though was tsigarelli, a stew from the Greek island of Corfu, but I'm leaning towards Cajun gumbo z'herbes. Tsigarelli traditionally uses just tender greens, but gumbo z'herbes is designed to use collards, scallions and cabbage too. Plus it calls for last week's leftover celery and parsley and fresh thyme and rosemary too. A darn near perfect fit.

I'll probably leave out the baby bok choy though since they're so good with oyster sauce. That just leaves the carambola and radishes to eat out of hand and a few turnips which I think I'll have glazed as a side dish with a chunk of meat of some sort.

Oh, I should mention last week. I found an interesting Transylvanian cream of green bean soup I was planning on making, but when it came to cooking time I was more in the mood for one of those CSA-standard throw everything in the pot vegetable soups. First time I've done that, I think. It turned out tasty, mainly thanks to all the bacon I started the dish off with, and nicely used up a fair amount of cabbage, potato and parsley as well as all the green beans. Not really worth taking photos of, though.

So I guess it's just gumbo for this week unless I change my plans and do something novel with the bok choy. I'm also heading down to Possum Trot for the big potato dinner Wednesday. Anyone else going?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

CSA week 11 - Celery pesto

Looking at the widely varying recipes on-line for celery pesto, I get the impression that such a thing doesn't actually exist, at least not in any codified form. Each version seems like an independent invention rather than a variation on an established theme. Usually I try to find that theme and work my own variation, but this time I just winged it and saw what I got.

Like I said last Saturday, my celery was exceptionally leafy. I got a full two cups of leaves off of it. I added a handful of parsley to that along with 3 Tablespoons of lightly toasted pine nuts, a couple cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt. I blended all that together and drizzled in extra virgin olive oil until a loose paste formed. About 1/3 cup did the trick.

Now that I've got it, what to do with it? One of the recipes suggested adding Italian sausage and a bit more garlic and serving over pasta. Seems like a sensible idea to me.

The pesto is very light and fresh without being agressively celery-y. The chese helps it pair with the sausage, but the contrast between the fresh greens and the savory sausage is the main thrust of the dish and quite like how they balance. Whether that's better or worse than a standard pesto I can't really say; the lack of an agressively sharp basil or parsley makes this easier on the palate but that also means it's lacking in strong character. I guess it all depends of whether you've got two cups of basil or two cups of celery you need to find a use for; both have their charms.

Monday, February 15, 2010

CSA week 11 - Aloo palak

So my third thought for using the spinach and potato together was an Indian curry. There are lots of recipes for aloo palak out there, but almost all are basically the same: shred some spinach and cube some potatoes, put them in a pot with a little water and cook until done. Yeah, 15 minutes of cooking will turn spinach into a sauce of sorts, but that's an awful thing to do to an innocent vegetable. Better to take another approach that I've seen in Indian recipes--cook the elements separately and then combine them just before serving.

1/2 onion, chopped
1 mild green chili, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed (garlic is rare in the recipes I saw, but I included it anyway)
1-inch knob ginger, crushed
1 large bunch spinach, roughly chopped

4 medium new potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 Tablespoon ghee (or failing that, butter)
whole cumin
ground coriander

cilantro, chopped
tomato, chopped

1. Add onion, chili, garlic and ginger to a medium pot along with a quarter cup of water. Simmer over medium heat a few minutes until onion and pepper soften. Add the spinach in batch, adding more as previous batches wilt to make room in the pot. When all of the spinach is cooked, pour everything into a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

2. Return the pot to the heat, add the potatoes, water to cover, generous salt and a bit more turmeric than you think you need (since most of both the salt and turmeric will stay in the water). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, around 10 minutes maybe. Drain potatoes in a colander.

3. Return pot to heat, turn heat back up to medium and add ghee. When it finishes sizzling add a few dashes of cumin seed. Cook briefly until it becomes fragrant and add spinach. Add coriander and salt to taste and a little cream if needed to loosen the sauce. Then add the potato. Stir to combine and heat through.

4. Serve with rice and/or Indian bread, garnished with cilantro, tomato a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of cream.

Pretty good. It's just spinach and potatoes so it's not spectacular, but both flavors are brought out well so: pretty good. The garlic, ginger and spices add a bit of interest but don't overwhelm the basic flavors. It could use a little acid, but I left my last lemon at work to fix up my ice cream. Maybe a little white vinegar...yeah, that's not bad. The sauce is creamy (cream will do that) and the potatoes soft. Not a whole lot of textural interest; I should have pulled the potatoes out a minute or two earlier.

The dish isn't entirely satisfying. Some paneer wouldn't have hurt. Or maybe a second dish with some contrasting flavors. A fine side component of a meal, let's say.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

CSA week ten wrap-up, week 11 start-up

There are a few items unaccounted for this week.

The baby arugula, disappointingly, was partly rotten straight from the box. I tried to pick out the good leaves but the rot was mixed through and I ended up tossing the lot. I had similar issues with the cilantro, but there I was able to toss the offending stems and clean the rest.

The canistels remain far from ripe so no action there.

The komatsuna I blanched; dressed in sesame oil with a little sugar, a little soy sauce and some sesame seeds; and served with a piece of rather badly prepared miso-glazed halibut.

One other thing to close out the week: last night I attended Cobaya Gras, the New Orleans-themed Cobaya dinner. I'm not going to give it a full write up since there were plenty of people there documenting the event, but I do want to highlight my favorite course which I don't think is going to get the love it deserves. That's the crawfish pie and tasso ice cream. The empanada-style pie had a delicately light and crisp crust filled a spicy mixture that was mainly big chunks of crawfish, with just enough other miscellany to enhance it the crawfish without competing with it. The tasso ham ice cream was a lovely balance of sweet and savory with a spicy finish. The ham flavor was infused into the ice cream so it was full of flavor without being full of chunks of ham. I found that the contrasting temperatures and textures brought a lot of extra interest to the complementing flavors in the two halves of the dish. The ice cream wasn't just a novelty, it was an enhancement to the dish which I though brought relevance to the overplayed pork-based ice cream idea. Judging from the ice cream left on the plates I saw being cleared away, it may have been a bit too unusual for some of the diners, but I appreciated it.

On to this week then.

The most prominent items are the big bunch of young-ish spinach and the pile of new potatoes. I really want to use them together. My first thought was a gratin, but my second thought, gnocci, is more interesting. I may yet have a third thought, though.

For the green beans, I'd like to take a second shot at one of the green bean recipes I made last year that didn't turn out as well as I hoped. I haven't done my research yet to pick one out or even to confirm that such a thing exists, but it seems likely. Last year's CSA was pretty green bean intensive.

I noticed that the celery is unusually leafy so I wonder what sort of recipes would make good use of that. Maybe a salad or a pesto? Add them to the parsley in a chimichuri?

The parsley, pepper and tomatoes are staples so no need to find a specific use for them, and the conspicuously missing lettuce I left behind.

Just three CSA-intensive meals this week. Maybe I'll finally go out for dinner when it isn't some foodie event.

CSA week ten - White chocolate tangerine ice cream

[I accidentally posted this yesterday with last Wednesday's date on it so I think people might have missed it. I'm sending it off again with today's date. I apologize if it turns up in the RSS feed twice.]

I say "tangerine", but really I used the sour oranges too and threw in a carambola. All in an attempt to get some fruit flavor to come through, but all our fruit, while sweet and juicy, didn't have a lot of character so I wasn't entirely successful. Infusing the cream with flavor from the zest would have helped but I didn't trust the white specks that were starting to appear on the skins of my fruit. Plus the fruit was getting mushy so zesting would have been difficult. Still, there's a basis here to work on.

Juice of 2 sour oranges
Juice of 2 ponkan tangerines
Juice of 1 carambola
4 ounces white chocolate
2 cups cream
1 centimeter knob of ginger, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese

I didn't want to apply any heat to the juice so I forwent the cornstarch part of the Jeni Britton formula. I figured the white chocolate should help with creaminess so it shouldn't be missed too badly.

I juiced the oranges and tangerines, whisked in the cream cheese and vanilla and set aside.

In a microwavable bowl I mixed the white chocolate, sugar, ginger and a half cup of cream. I microwaved it for 15 seconds at a time, stirring in between, just until the chocolate and sugar were fully dissolved. Then I added that to the juices. After a taste I decided it wasn't fruity enough so I squeezed in a carambola. That chilled and the next day I churned.

Part way through churning I found that the fruit flavor and the sweetness had both receded further so I poured in some agave nectar which helped a bit. I should have squeezed in a lemon too. By the way, did you know that agave nectar would be more properly called high fructose agave syrup? Came as a surprise to me. But I don't suppose the fact that it's an industrial product makes it any better or worse than corn syrup or honey. Fructose is fructose wherever it comes from.

The texture is creamy, but firm improving when I leave it out of the freezer for five minutes. It melts away to nothing quite rapidly like ice milk, which, on average, it sort of is, I suppose.

The flavor isn't as citrusy as I would have liked, but that's the mildly-flavored fruits I had to work with. Overall, it's is pleasant but undistinguished, vaguely identifiable as orange or tangerine and white chocolate but without any tartness to bring it to life.

I've taken it around and it's not getting an enthusiastic response. That's fair; I'm not entirely enthusiastic myself. With the citrus not popping, the flavor combination is kind of weird. I'm going to bring in a lemon tomorrow and see what it's like if I squeeze a little over top. In the meantime, a little honey's a nice addition.

OK, it's tomorrow and I can confirm that a little squeeze of meyer lemon does perk things up nicely. I'm going to take it around with my lemon to see if I get a better reception. ... Those who tried both slightly preferred it with honey. It's sweeter for one, plus the drizzle of honey is a very nice presentation. Maybe using both is worth trying.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

CSA week ten - Szechuan shrimp and scallion stir-fry

This is an exceptionally simple recipe from my favorite purveyor of exceptionally simple recipes, Mark Bittman. Here's his introduction:
"It isn’t often that I stumble across a dish that’s minimalist in every aspect: quick, simple, requiring few ingredients and yet sophisticated, or at least unusual. This stir-fry, a mixture of shrimp, scallions and not much else, is one of those."

Oh, I didn't notice that weaseling before. Unusual. That's a big step down from sophisticated. Well, I've already got the shrimp defrosted, peeled and deveined so I might as well go ahead and see how it turns out.

He tried a half dozen variations that detracted from the dish; maybe I can find an improvement he passed by. I suspect it's going to involve chili oil.

2 store (or 1 CSA) bunches scallions, cleaned
1 garlic clove, peeled
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon black bean sauce
1 teaspoon Guilin chili sauce

1. Roughly chop 1/4 of the scallions. Chop the rest into 3- to 4-inch lengths.

2. Boil a pot of salted water and blanch the lengths of scallion for 1 minute. Remove to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Put in a food processor with the garlic and a little of the blanching water. Blend until smooth.

3. Heat oil in wok or large pan over high heat. After a minute or so add the sauces. Stir and cook briefly until they become fragrant. Add the shrimp, toss and cook until almost fully cooked, 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, add the cilantro and the chopped scallion, toss, add the scallion purée. Stir, check for seasoning and serve with rice.

Oh yeah, that's some good stuff. The fresh bright bite of the scallion and the rich butteriness of the shrimp are the stars, but the sauces I added give it some subtle extra dimension and just enough of a savory backbone to tie it all together. Really tasty.

I think I missed out on sophisticated though. And it reminded me of Chinatown-standard scallion sauce so it wasn't all that unusual. Now I'm wondering what I missed by not making it straight.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

CSA week ten - Thai canistel and radish omelet

OK, I recognize that this one is going to require a bit of justification.

First off, I had a leftover roasted canistel from last week that I was looking for ways to use. You may recall that I mentioned that it tastes rather like pumpkin which would explain why I was searching for savory pumpkin recipes. A technique I use while trolling around the web for recipes is to pair the ingredient I'm hoping to use with various proteins and cooking styles and seeing what pops up. In this case a search for "pumpkin and stir fry" turned up a couple of southern Thai recipes for pumpkin and egg stir fries. Who knew that was a thing?

As for the radishes, when you thinly slice them and fry them until they're browned around the edges they lose their peppery bite and take on a lovely savory/sweet flavor that goes well with eggs. I've substituted them in for the potatoes in Spanish tortillas before with quite good results so why not try them here too?

So I fried up a handful of thinly sliced radishes and a couple links of lop chong in a little peanut oil until both were nicely browned.

Removed them and fried the canistel until it was browned too. That went rather more quickly than I expected; it looks burnt, but it just tastes caramelized.

Returned the radish and sausage, squirted on some fish sauce and then added three beaten eggs and a handful of chopped cilantro.

My attempts at omelets generally fall apart at this point. It ended really more scrambled eggs. Ah well. But that just made it easier to serve over a bowl of rice with a bit more fish sauce and sriracha to taste.

I know this isn't terribly plausible, but I think it works. Both the canistel and the radish have been transformed. The canistel is more like roasted squash while the radish is savory/sweet without a hint of bite. Both flavors are enhanced by the saltiness and umami of the fish sauce. The radishes taste nothing like the Chinese sausage, but they both have similar savory/sweet balances that work well together. The eggs add richness and tie everything together. But the real standout here is the canistel with sriracha; the combination creates a lovely sweet heat that definitely merits more exploration. Give it a try and see what you think.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

CSA week nine wrap-up, week ten start-up

I made a couple dishes worth mentioning here but not worth a full post. The radishes, cabbage and avocado garnished fish tacos made with beer battered mahi mahi. Mahi is a particularly good fish for the purpose, by the way.

I also made a yakitori using more cabbage, spring onion, green pepper, carrots and rapini (which I misidentified last week, but can recognize now that I've got some proper komatsuna for comparison). Most recipes just toss everything in a pan, fry it up and call it a day, but I found one with an interesting approach I wanted to try. I separately cooked the meat, vegetables and noodles, keeping each a little al dente. Then I fried the noodles in a large pan long enough to dry them out a little but not to get them crispy and mixed in the meat and a somewhat watered-down sauce. Then I laid the vegetables out on top of the noodles. Once the sauce came to a boil, I covered the pan and reduced the heat. The idea is that the excess water boils off, steaming the vegetables while the noodles absorb the sauce's flavors. Once the pan is just about dry, it's done. The goals is to keep the flavors clean and distinct and I think it worked pretty well. A step above previous yakitoris I've made where the flavors have been on the muddy side.

I finished the week with half a cabbage, one spring onion, a little parsley and a completely untouched head of lettuce left. So I think that's the last straw; I'm leaving the lettuce behind from now on.

For week ten, let's start with the fruit. Hidden in the back left corner are a couple carambolas and in the middle are two tangerines and two sour oranges. I think. There were supposed to be four tangerines and one orange, but I think I've got everything correctly identified. The oranges are very juicy so, if they've got both and good and a good amount of flavor, unlike much of the fruit we've had so far, I'm thinking doing an ice cream.

Also on the left hand side is a bunch of komatsuna. I want to use it in its traditional role in a Japanese soup or hot pot. I might freeze it to wait until we get some daikon so I can do it properly. Or maybe I'll just wilt them down, dress them in a sesame dressing and serve them as a bento-style side-dish.

Next to the komatsuna are four tiny canistels. I've just used my leftover roasted canistel in another savory application (even stranger than the meatballs) so I want to make something sweet with these. I'm curious if I could use them in the meringue cookie/mini-spongecake recipe I came up with last week so I might try that.

Next up a big bunch of scallions. Combined with my leftover spring onion and a bunch of store-bought scallions I've got, that's quite a bit and hard to use up in one shot. I've found a Greek scallion pie recipe that's interesting, but I don't really want to make it without the fresh chervil it calls for and I know I'm unlikely to get my hands on any. Maybe I'll ditch the dill and mint it calls for too and completely switch around the flavor profile. Other than that, there's Chinese-style scallion pancakes, but those use less than you'd expect. I'll have to think about this.

That's a bag of thyme to the right. There's way too much to bother coming up with thyme heavy recipes to try to use it up. The last bag like this we got I just stuck in the freezer and have been pulling from ever since. The flavor's not quite as good as fresh, but it's not bad and it's certainly convenient.

The radishes I've already used half of. I really like them thinly sliced and fried, particularly with eggs, so I'll probably use the rest that way.

Below that's a bunch of cilantro. This particular bunch was already half rotted so there's less there than it appears. Since I've got parsley from last week too I might make something North African, but I might just pull from both to season whatever comes up. Most savory dishes could benefit from a handful of one or the other if you ask me.

And finally, the bag in the bottom center is full of baby arugula which I quite like wilted over pasta in a butter/olive oil sauce with a bit of ham and, maybe, a fried egg. I've discussed this before, I'm certain. It's one of my go-to comfort food don't-feel-like proper cooking dishes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

CSA week eight - Hirino me selino sto sáltsa avgolemono

a.k.a. Pork with celery in egg and lemon sauce

This is a Cretan dish that I read is typically served around the holidays. Traditionally it uses pascal celery which, judging from the pictures, is a small parsley-like herb rather like the Chinese celery we sometimes receive in the CSA shares. A pound of that is rather hard to come by around here so using regular parsley is a small compromise. The recipe I'm making, originally from The Food of Greece by Vilma Liacouras Chantiles, using the standard Greek methods of light seasoning and long boiling, but has a few more changes from most of the other versions I saw. I assume, because these additions build additional flavor elements, they're taking it away from the traditional Greek version. Is that being unfair? I'm probably being unfair. I don't really know much about Greek cuisine.

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pound lean pork, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
approximately 2 cups hot water
1 bunch celery, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 carrot, peeled and small diced
1 Tablespoon flour
1 egg
juice from 1 lemon
parsley to garnish

1. Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent. Add the pork and cook until it loses its pinkness. Don't brown it. Season with salt and pepper. Add hot water to cover, bring to a boil then cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the celery and carrot. If your celery is particularly leafy save some for the garnish. Take the egg and lemon out of the refrigerator too.

3. When the pork is not quite tender, add the celery and carrot. Bring back to a boil, re-cover and simmer gently for 30 more minutes or until both meat and vegetables are on the verge of falling apart.

4. When you're ready, remove the solids from the pot into a bowl. Pour the liquid into a measuring cup. If you have less than 1 1/2 cups add some water. If you have more, pour some out.

5. Add the other Tablespoon butter to the newly emptied pot. When it is melted and sizzling add the flour. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes until the floury clumps melt down. Add the 1 1/2 cups of pork stock and stir until it comes to a boil.

6. Meanwhile, in a small bowl beat the egg. Slowly drizzle in the lemon juice while beating. When the liquid in the pot has come to a boil beat a little into the egg-lemon mixture to temper. Then pour the mixture into the pot, mix well, turn the heat to low and stir until it thickens. Pour the sauce over the pork and celery. Garnish with parsley and any reserved celery leaves.

I'm rather surprised how much I like this. Boiling the heck out of celery really mellows it out. It's still celery, but it's not CELERY any more so it plays well with the lemon and the pork.

Pork, on the other hand, is better as PORK so boiling the heck out of it doesn't serve it so well. But the flavor lost is in the sauce so it's still in the dish and I can't complain over much.

The sauce is, foremost, tart, but also rich and with some depth of flavor from the use of the pork stock.

Overall, quite tasty and a fine way to use a whole head of celery which is a very small class of recipes indeed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Slow food dinner at the River Oyster Bar

I think I've finally figured out why I always end up chatting with the organizing committee when I go out to event like this. I go by myself and, when I arrive, choose a relatively quiet and well-lit corner to take my pictures and notes. That means I usually am sitting by myself, or at least with a spare seat or two around me, as everyone get situated so the very last people to get to sit down, the aforementioned organizing committee (minus the host of that particular event) end up at my table.

Last Sunday I managed to be on my own all the way through the amuse bouche course before anyone joined me at my table. Actually, I think a lot of the crowd took a typically Miami attitude towards punctuality as the waitstaff, tired of milling around with full platters, became insistant. I ended up amusing my bouche a full seven times. Eventually my table was filled with Leticia, the Slow Food Miami's gustatory coordinator, the rep from Domaine Chandon, thw winery that supplied the evening's wine pairings (all sparkling, by the way) whose name I rudely neglected to write down (and also Irene, the director of special events for a local organic Italian joint. But she doesn't fit my narrative so gets exiled into this parenthetical). Also dropping by the table were Alajandra from Romanico's who supplied little truffle boxes as place settings and Margie of Bee Heaven farm who supplied some of the vegetables for the evening.

The event proceeded the usual way Slow Food Miami events do--a series of courses paired with wines interrupted by short speeches by the chef--David Bracha in this case who spoke about how important it is to let people know what fresh, organic and local is like and how he supports Slow Food Miami's school gardens project--the provider of some of the ingredients--here Steve Garza (pictured to the right) of White Water Farm who provided the oysters and, I think, the conch--and a longer usually inaudible speech by Donna Reno. They've got a press officer so I'm sure the official minutes will be produced sooner or later, but you're probaly best served heading over to Miami Dish for Trina's well-researched background piece.

I'm just going to talk about how everything tasted.

First up, a queen conch pinchon served with scotch bonnet jam.

The scotch bonnet glaze dominates the first flavor sensations with a fruity sweetness and slight burn. That quickly fades into the mild, slightly burnt, flavor of the grilled (I'm guessing) conch. It was pretty tender as conch goes which I'm going to attribute to the species as I don't think the cooking style is a particularly gentle one. The flavor combination was pleasant, but the crossfade between them was brief. It would have been nice if they had more time to mingle. Maybe a marinade would help?

The other amuse bouche was a Sebastian Bay White Water oyster shooter.

Also in that shotglass is heirloom tomato water, Chopin vodka and grated horseradish. If you take a sniff of the shot, the horseradish knocks you back and if you shoot it as prescribed, that pungency plus the bite of the vodka overwhelm the mild oyster. But I found that if I downed half the liquid first and then shot the rest, the flavors were much better balanced with the oyster's sweet saltiness matching with the tomato and the reduced horseradish as a complimenting note.

The service started a bit confused so the wine pairings for these two were offered too early and too late and in the wrong order. But I did manage to obtain another shooter to try with the reserve pinot noir brut. Unfortunately, I thought the wine was a bit strong for the mild oyster and blew it off the palate. A pleasant sip otherwise.

The first course was a Key West pink shrimp a la plancha with white bean puree and a side salad dressed with an arugula-walnut pesto.

I was a bit trepidatious about this course as, in my limited experience with Key West shrimp, they can be a bit funky. And, in fact, my shrimp did have that smell about it, but I think that was just from the head as the actually flesh was buttery and sweet. The puree was a lump of smushed up beans that I expect didn't turn out quite as the chef had hoped. Not great on its own, but its earthiness grounded the shrimp's flavor nicely when tasted together. The salad had creamy goat cheese, fresh tomato, peppery arugula and bright pesto all playing off each other both in flavor and texture. Really quite fabulous.

The wine pairing was an etoile brut which was light but sour which I thought was a pleasant contrast with the pesto and cut through the richness of the shrimp.

The main course was a Key West yellowtail snapper on a bed of red chard, topped with grapefruit and microgreens with a citrus sauce.

The fish was flavorful but plainly prepared so you had to dredge it in the chokingly tart sauce to balance the flavors. But once you did, it was very nice. The grapefruit I'm not sold on. It gave a lasting sourness that clashed with the fish instead of the quick hit of sweet/tart the sauce offered. And the chard didn't do much. It was a bit limp and it's mildness didn't hold up against the other flavors on the plate. Maybe it's just me though; I'm down on chard in general in favor of callaloo, collards and other more flavorful greens.

The wine, a reserve chardonnay brut, mirrored the flavors in the sauce except less sweet which I thought worked well.

Finally, we had a choice of deserts. I passed on the rum-soaked coconut cream cake. Instead I had the Homestead goat cheese panna cotta with Florida honey, dates,port-poached blackberries and other more difficult to identify fruits as well. Unfortunately, I was undone by drink by this point and neglected to get a photograph. Fortunately, though, Trina got a pic of it during her preview so if you didn't look earlier, please head over now to take a look before reading further.

The panna cotta had a very nice texture--soft and creamy, just barely holding its shape. It has the goat cheese funk so a bit off-putting on its own, but able to stand up to the tart raspberry/honey sauce in a way a standard panna cotta couldn't. Quite nice. I particularly liked how the character of the dish would change depending on which piece of fruit you had in your spoonful.

I never got the reserve extra-dry riche that was suppose to pair with this dish, but I did get to try the ten cane rum that went with the coconut cake. Very light and smooth. I can't see it standing up in many mixed drinks except maybe a mojito, but dangerously easy drinking on its own.

And that's the evening. A very nice meal all the way around, I thought. If you were there, please leave a comment with your thoughts, a pointer to your write-up or admonishment for my write-up's shortcomings which I will endeavor to remedy.