Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CSA week 16 - Sephardic celery and artichoke stew

Last time I promised a recipe for something you'd never heard of before. All I had left from the CSA was a head of celery so it was a tough assignment, but I think I've got something here to suit. I found this recipe over at where the poster says it was reconstructed by his father based on a dish his mother used to make in Morocco. I don't see it, or anything like it elsewhere on the web, in my north African cookbook or in the Sephardic cookbooks Google Books has scanned. If you have heard of it, do please tell me where.

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
0 - 1/2 pound stew meat [If you're going to use meat, lamb or goat would probably be most appropriate. Pork is right out. I don't have a local source of stew lamb or goat (although I'm sure it's not hard to come by in Miami if you don't insist on the source being between UM and my home. I used beef.]
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 bunch celery, chopped into 2-inch lengths
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup cold water
7 ounces (by weight) pitted Moroccan green olives, drained, rinsed and halved if large [I chose my grocery poorly and didn't find specifically Moroccan olives so I think I'm missing some spices that would have been included. I picked a tart olive without herbs in the brine to substitute.]
7 ounces (by weight) artichoke hearts, roughly chopped [My grocery had two choices and I picked the less vinegary one. The dish benefits from a bit of acid so you should pick the other one.]

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. add the meat and cook until half browned. Salt judiciously with a mind towards how salty your olives are. Add the garlic, turn the heat down to medium, and cook until the garlic is fragrant and becoming translucent.

2. Add the bay leaf and spices. Cook briefly until spices are fragrant. Add celery and water. Salt again otherwise your celery will be extra bland, but be careful. Stir well, bring to a boil, cover, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes until celery is just getting tender.

3. Add olives and artichoke hearts. Turn heat up a little and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes more until most of the water has evaporated.

Adjust seasoning and acid level. Garnish with parsley and/or cilantro, let cool a bit as hot olives are just weird, and serve over couscous.

The celery and artichoke end up quite soft so the slight chew of the olives and the meaty bite of the beef are important to add textural interest to the dish. Even after the cooking, the olives are pretty intense, dominating the dish, but the mild celery mellows them out and adds a slight sweetness. It's no great showcase for the celery, but the celery isn't just filler either. The artichoke hearts don't do much. There's some hint of their flavor in the mix, particularly as some of the leaves have come off and fallen apart, but it's mild and not far from the cooked celery. The spices counterpoint, laying earthiness under the tartness of the olives and tying the various elements together. The beef adds some bulk, but I don't think the flavor quite works. Go with the lamb or mutton if you can get it. A little gaminess would stand up better to the other flavors here. Other than that, I do like the dish. It's an unusual (to me) flavor combination, but not hard to get used to and quite pleasant.

Friday, March 26, 2010

CSA week 16 - Two sides brown noodles

A traditional chow mein seemed like a good way to use up the rest of the bok choy and at least some of the celery. Two sides brown is a name I've seen associated with the version that has the vegetables topping a crispy noodle cake. Because I looking under a different name, I only just now noticed that La Diva posted her recipe for a crisp noodle cake and stir fry not long ago. You shoudl probably read that too.

Mine uses a somewhat different technique and I think I've got a few interesting things to say. Still, it's marginally post-worthy. I'll try to make something you've never heard of when I get back from Passover.

The first step is choosing the right noodle for the job. From my research I found that fresh egg noodles were the way to go. I was going to make them myself, but I saw one recipe that called for wonton noodles and I thought I recalled seeing such a thing down at Lucky Oriental Mart. And indeed I had. I think this is wonton wrapper dough sliced long and thin.

Once it was cooked al dente, I drained but didn't rinse it and patted it down into a pan to cool and starch-weld itself together into a solid mass. This preparation is really helpful for later. It means that instead of trying to fry the noodles in a pan they barely fit in, I can use the wok and instead of having to use the tricky Spanish tortilla two-plates method of flipping after the first side is browned, I can just flick it up high and over. (I did take the wok outside to give myself plenty of room to maneuver and to keep the splattering oil from going all over the kitchen. Shame I didn't have anyone to video it; I'll bet it looked pretty cool.)

The stir fry is pretty standard chow mein mix. I used the rest of the bok choy, a stalk and a half of celery, a carrot, water chestnuts, onion, mushrooms and bean sprouts. The sauce is mostly soy and oyster sauce with good hits of sriracha and sesame oil. I made more and thinned it out with more chicken stock than I would usually use to make sure there was plenty for the noodles too. The umami-heavy oyster sauce makes for a heartier gravy-ier sauce than a lot of chow mein recipes use, but it goes well with the egg noodles.

Ideally, I'd serve this by presenting the stir fry over top of the noodles, but I've got a bunch of servings here and I'm just one man. I'm carving off a wedge of noodles and serving the stir fry alongside.

The noodle cake is crisp outside, soft inside. That's a style not a mistake, but it's a style that would work better with the thicker round noodles I was hoping to find at Lucky. (The wonton noodles were a second choice.) That would have given a crisp/chewy contrast instead of the crisp/soft I'm getting here. For flat noodles, a thinner cake and/or a looser weave so the oil can penetrate and crisp everything up would be a better choice.

Oh, I nearly forgot, I bought some La Choy chow mein noodles too for the authentically midwestern approach to the dish. Let's see how they work...Hmmm, they're pretty wheaty since there's no egg in there, but they're not a bad match for the sauce and bring out the celery flavor for some reason. Keep their crunch too. Nah, still like the noodle cake better.

The stir fry itself turned out great with the vegetables fresh, colorful, crisp but not undercooked and meat tender and tasty, but since I wasn't paying close attention to what I was doing, I can't tell you just why. And you know how to make a stir fry, right? If you don't, post something in the comments and I, and readers who feel like jumping in, can try to troubleshoot whatever problems you're having.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CSA week 16 - Beef (and some pork) barley soup

This isn't much of a recipe, but it's all I've made so it's what I've got to post about. The only thing that's really noteworthy here, if anything, is that I made the stock from scratch first.

This morning, I loaded up my slow cooker with a medium turnip, a couple carrots, a stalk and a half of celery, half an onion and a couple cloves of garlic, all roughly chopped; thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper; a meaty beef shank well browned on both sides and enough water to get everything floating (nine cups which really was too much) and set the slow cooker to low and headed off to work.

When I got home I discovered that the vegetables were still surprisingly firm and the meat wasn't falling apart the way it should have been. Also, the broth was pretty bland. So I turned the cooker up to high and gave it an hour. That seemed to help a lot. I fished out the now cooked-out vegetables and the shank.

The vegetable are for the compost heap (or would be if I had one. Can I just bury them near my plants?) and the beef went into the refrigerator to firm up. Ideally, I'd like to let the soup cool and skim the fat at this point, but dinner time is approaching and I don't feel like starting from scratch at this point. So instead, I chopped up fresh turnips, carrots, celery and onions and fresh stew meat (The chunks of beef in the freezer turned out to be pork, but close enough.) to add to the pot along with some sliced mushrooms and half a cup of barley. I also dumped in some soy and Worchestershire sauce and a Tablespoon or so of Spice House's Milwaukee Avenue spice blend. I figure anything that's supposed to be good on steaks and chops should work here too. And another hour of simmering.

That should do it. I broke up and returned the beef to the pot and dished out a bowl to refrigerate down from tongue-scorching temperatures so I could check the seasoning. desperate need of salt and a bit greasy (although I'd have to add richness some other way if it wasn't), but otherwise quite good. The broth is clearly not just generic beef broth; the vegetables and herbs have added a lot of depth to it. And it's great to have vegetables that are both firm to the bite and actually deliver significant amounts of distinctive flavor.

So, was that useful at all? Even vaguely interesting?

I'll have something moderately better in a day or two and then I'm off to Columbus to visit my sister and I'm not blogging the Seder dinner. I might find my way to Jeni Britton's ice cream shop, but I'm guessing I'm really the only one who'd be interested in that.

I still need someone to take next week's share off my hands. Just post a comment and it's yours.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

CSA week 15 wrap-up, week 16 start-up

All right, I've got two minor dishes from last week worth mentioning before we move on to week 16. First off, I did add the radishes to the hindbeh bil zayt recipe I made last year

It works pretty well. The fried radishes have a savoriness and a chewy texture that's missing from the dish otherwise so it's a nice addition.

I also made a quick dish by dressing steamed green beans in last week's mazuna pesto pulled pork. Pesto and pork are both good matches with green beans so it was there wasn't much of a brainwave there. I think I might have liked a more traditional pesto better, but it worked just fine once I thinned it out to make it saucier and added a bit of acid to perk it up.

That leaves me with mainly leftover bits of celery, cabbage and bok choy. That's essentially the recipe for chop suey which is a thought. I wonder if there's a way to make it not be lousy while retaining its chop-sueyness. Or are overcooked and bland essential characteristics? I'll have to give that a bit of thought.

As for this week, it's slim pickings but only because I left the lettuce behind and got shorted a zucchini. What we've got--celery, carrots and turnips--is pretty much a stock starter kit. I made chicken stock recently but I could use a batch of beef stock, which would be a good use of the rosemary too. Maybe I'll make a proper stew. Probably enough celery left to make a seperate dish with too.

The turnip greens I've already eaten; they always seem to go first. Lots of stems there too that I'm saving up for a vegetable stock.

The strawberries this week finally have some good flavor, but they're going into the freezer anyway. I've made a lot with strawberries recently (including a galette I haven't posted about) and I'm a bit burnt out on them.

The loquats are interesting and new. They share the same tart-and-mild problem the strawberries have had, though. I can see them as a compote accenting something savory, but I might try adding a little sugar to see if I can bring out their flavor and then go for a sweet application.

Finally, I'm going to be out of town visiting my sister for Passover next Saturday. Anyone want dibs on my half-share? As before, passing it along to someone normally shareless would be my preference.

Friday, March 19, 2010

CSA week 14 - Lion's Head

I said I was in search of something a little different to do with the bok choy and I'm pleased to say that "a little different" is a pretty good description of this dish. "A little silly" would be a good description too considering it's giant meatballs in a bed of shredded cabbage. The story goes that it's called lion's head because the fringe of cabbage resembles a lion's mane; Judging from the Google Image search results, most folks try for something a bit more dignified. Not me, though.

First things first, though. The meatballs:
1/2 pound ground pork
2 ounces (by weight, 1 ounce by volume) water chestnuts, chopped
1 green onion, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, minced
1 Tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked 30 minutes and minced [I don't like little hard bits of ginger and shrimp in my meatballs, so I ran them, along with the green onion, through my spice grinder.]
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 Tablespoons rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 beaten egg
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1. Mix gently but well and form into two or more meatballs depending on the serving size you're aiming at.

2. Heat 2 inches of peanut (or other high-smoke-point oil) in a wok until shimmery. Add meatballs and fry 3 minutes, turning halfway through, until the outside is well browned. Set meatballs aside to drain. Let oil cool and drain off all but 1 Tablespoon.

Now the cabbage. Napa cabbage or bok choy, whichever you've got seems fine judging by the recipes. Select two large leaves for each meatball. My bok choy didn't have enough large leaves so I used some small ones too which caused a little problem later on. Separate the thick stems from the leaves, break the stems into serving-sized pieces and shred the leaves. I sliced the leaves thickly; next time I'd go thinner, I think.

And for the sauce:
1 clove garlic, minced
1 quarter-sized slice ginger, minced
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch white pepper

3. Reheat the wok. When it's quite hot add the garlic and ginger and stir fry a few seconds.

4. Quickly dump the bok choy stems into the wok and adjust them until they form a single layer. Place the meatballs on top so they're well elevated. Pour in the chicken broth (and some water to compensate if a lot evaporates immediately). Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer uncovered five minutes.

5. Toss bok choy leaves with sugar, salt and pepper. Layer leaves in the wok to cover the meatballs, cover the wok and cook gently for 15 minutes more. Optionally, remove the meatballs and cabbage from the wok when they're done and cook down the sauce a bit.

Serve each meatball with a couple pieces of cabbage stem surrounded by a wreath of cabbage leaves and topped with a couple spoonfuls of the sauce. Some recipes suggest mixing the leaves with bean-thread noodles (2 ounces for the halved recipe I made). It seemed like a good idea so I included them.

The texture of the meatballs is a little off, pretty clearly from the cornstarch. Just leave that out and and think it would be fine. Actually, now that I consider it, I think the cornstarch got misplaced into the meatball ingredients from the sauce ingredients in the recipe I cribbed that aspect from. The sauce could have done with some texture.

The flavor of the meatball is good, though; the seasonings are subtle and nicely enhace the porkiness. And it's a good match with the flavor of the bok choy.

The bok choy leaves still have a bit of flavor and bite to them as do the larger of the stems. The thinner ones got mushy, though. The rice noodles are a nice addition; They add some textural interest and hold on to the sauce which is important since it wasn't thickened.

So, overall, not bad, but not the classic dish it's cracked up to be. That's probably my fault. I should try a restaurant version to see what I should have been aiming at.

That reminds me, I finally had restaurant mofongo recently. I wasn't all that far off from my disappointing homemade version which turned out to just be too heavy on the raw garlic. There really is nothing much to it. I don't understand the enthusiasm some folks have for it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Carolina chicken collard greens stew

Unlike a lot of recipes I make, there aren't a lot of variations of this one on the web. There's just one and it's only on two pages. According to those pages, it was created by Candace McMenamin of Lexington, South Carolina. I just googled her; she's doesn't have a webpage of her own, but she shows up in a whole lot of cookoff finalist and winner lists. Here's an article with an interview with her if you're interested.

I didn't make any changes (other than halving the amount) when making her recipe so I don't feel right making any changes in writing it up either. I'm only borderline comfortable in reposting it here. Here's her recipe as she presents it:


"This is one of my family's favorite recipes. Collard greens are plentiful here in the South, and I developed this recipe to showcase them in a stew. Some folks say they don't like the taste of collards, but I believe that is because they have not had them fixed correctly. Trust me, anyone who tries this stew with a chunk of homemade corn bread will be begging for the recipe."
Candace McMenamin, Lexington, South Carolina
Serves 4

• 3 cups chicken broth
• 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 celery stalk, sliced
• 1 medium carrot, sliced
• 1 large potato, diced
• 1 tablespoon chopped thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 tablespoon chopped basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
• 1 tablespoon chopped oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 2 tablespoons white vinegar
• 4 cups loosely packed chopped collard greens
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 4 crisply cooked bacon slices
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. Heat the chicken broth and 3 cups water in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chicken thighs. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon; keep warm.

2. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, potato, thyme, basil, and oregano to the broth. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the sugar, vinegar, collard greens, salt, and pepper. Return to a boil, reduce die heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

4. Shred the chicken into 1-inch strips and add to the stew; mix well. Simmer over medium heat until the chicken is thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes.

5. Ladle the stew into 4 shallow soup bowls. Crumble 1 bacon slice over each serving. Sprinkle pecans over the top. Serve immediately.

And as long as I'm giving credit, the cornbread I made was from a recipe by professional food writer Cyndi Allison. Here's here FoodBuzz profile.

Is this the right etiquette for this sort of situation? I really don't know.

Anyway, it's a darn good stew. The collards are just barely tender--the thicker bits not quite. The flavor hasn't been boiled out as it would be in a mess of greens; the broth tastes more of the herbs and aromatics while the collards are fresh and bright with their own contrasting flavor.

Funny that there's so little chicken flavor. It's just outclassed by all these great vegetables. I don't think I'd leave it out, though. It's an important background flavor element and an important part of the texture. You could easily halve it, though.

I'm also surprised at how good the pecans are as a component, lending not just toastiness, but their own distinct buttery nutty flavor, to the mix. I've never considered them as a garnish on a savory dish before. And, of course, you can't go wrong with bacon.

The cornbread is straightforward with good corn flavor and just a touch of sweetness. It's moist enough that you can eat a piece on its own, but dry enough to soak up the soup. A nice accompaniment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Just a quick pointer

I've already used my green beans and radishes (in nothing terribly exciting so the details will have to wait for the wrap-up), but if you haven't used them or your collards, you might want to try a recipe I found that calls for all three. It's Sinigang na Manok, a Filipino dish of chicken in a sour soup. Here are a couple typical recipes. One substitutes in lemon for the traditional tamarind. I wouldn't do that, personally; The tamarind is the main flavoring. This page has another variation along with some interesting background information and advice.

If you do try it, do please let me know how it goes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

CSA week 14 wrap-up, week 15 start-up

After a couple weeks without, I've finally got something worth mentioning in the wrap-up section of this post.

I said I was thinking of pickling the broccoli in last week's post and I found a few different recipes out there. I decided to try a particularly simple one instead of over-accessorizing the broccoli with spices. It called for tossing peeled thin-sliced stems in a little salt, letting them sit overnight and pouring off the expressed liquid, dressing them in two parts olive oil to one part vinegar plus a few crushed cloves of garlic (I added a couple shots of hot sauce) and letting it sit overnight again. So, more a simple broccoli salad than a proper pickle. Mighty tasty, though. Well worth a try.

The broccoli crowns I served over penne as I often do. I tried cooking them along with the pasta this time but too much of the flavor ended up in the water so I'm going back to a quick blanch and cook-down in a pan with plenty garlic and olive oil.

The strawberries were disappointingly tart again this week so I cooked them down into a syrup and, along with the previously week's ice cream, made milkshakes. Also, mixed with a bit of raspberry jam and heated up a little, it made a lovely filling for buckwheat crêpes.

I was going to braise the celery with tomatoes and olives, but the recipe was annoyingly fussy and I wasn't feeling it. I could have simplified, but I ended up making a pretty good celery and smoked salmon salad and ate it with crackers instead. Still half the head left, but it was a small head so I can probably consider it an herb and not worry about it, just like I'm not worrying about the thyme, sage and rosemary I've got lurking in my refrigerator.

I've still got the cabbage too, but it's hodling up well so I'll just use it as the need arises.

As for this week...

We've got dandelion greens again (on the left). I'm not making the mistake of trying to use them without proper preparation to leach their bitterness. A recipe I made last year called for simmering them with baking soda. I might try that method again. Actually, I may well make that full recipe again. I wrote that I quite liked it.

The little squash I've already cooked, along with some mushrooms, onions and the remaining broccoli crowns in a macaroni and cheese. A good combination of flavors, but I overcooked the noodles a little so I'm not happy with the texture.

The spring onion, I'm just going to use in recipes calling for onion/shallot/scallion. If there was a second in the extras bin, I'd have had enough to make a savory tarte tatin that I've had in the back of my head for a while. I think spring onions would be particularly well-suited.

The bok choy is versitile, but only within a narrow range. I mean to say that it's only really good for stir fries and east Asian soups, but it'll work in just about any stir fry or east Asian soup. There's nothing else here that shouts out for a either one of those, though. I do have an unusual, but tradtional, recipe for creamed bok choy I might try. It might be the only recipe in the world that calls for both milk and dried shrimp.

The radish tops were past their prime so I've trashed them. The radishes themselves are the sort better cooked. I can see them working well with the dandelion greens.

The mint I'll ignore and then throw out in a month as ususal.

The garlic chives are an herb too, but one I have more use for. I want to use them in something where they're the primary seasoning, not just one more ingredient thrown in the mix. Just what, I'll have to think about.

The green beans I think I'd like to find a central Asian recipe for. I've made a lot of green bean recipes, but I don't think I've ever used them in something from that area. There's probably something; they're used on either side. I'll have to do some research.

The collards I want to do anything but cook Southern-style since I still got an enormous amout of gumbo z'herbes in the freezer. I tried wrapping sticky rice in collards last year but had some difficulty. In retrospect, I should have cut out less stem and steamed the leaves for a minute or two to get them flexible. And, as long as I'm switching in collards for lotus leaves, there's no reason to stick with Chinese fillings in the rice (other than the fact that that tastes really good). Maybe I'll try mixing that up a bit.

That's quite a bit to deal with. I wouldn't be surprised if some of this ends up in the freezer instead.

Friday, March 12, 2010

CSA week 14 - Cream of green bean soup

This is a cross between three cream of green bean soup recipes I found, all from the Hungary/Transylvania area. I liked the use of sour cream in one, the bacon in another and the blending from a third. This is probably the sort of thing that sparks border wars in the old country, but I think I'm sufficiently removed that I can do what I want here.

3 cups water
1/2 pound green beans, cleaned and broken into short lengths
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 slice bacon, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream (or yogurt)
sweet or hot paprika
salt and pepper
white vinegar

1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the beans, garlic and less salt than you'd use if you were just boiling green beans, but still a fair bit. Cook for a few minutes until beans are al dente.

2. Meanwhile fry bacon over medium heat in a small pan. When the bacon is crisp, remove it to a bowl retaining the bacon fat in the pan. [For a vegetarian version, substitute butter for the bacon fat and use smoked paprika later.]

3. Add flour and onion to pan and cook, stirring, to create a roux. (That's called a rántás in Hungarian I've just learned. Interesting.) Cook until the flour browns then remove from heat and add a few spoonfuls of the bean-water and stir to dissolve.

4. Mix the roux into the saucepan with the beans. Add the sour cream, paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Don't worry if you can't get the sour cream to fully dissolve. Gently simmer the soup for five more minutes until it thickens up a bit or you start worrying about overcooking the beans.

5. Remove half the green beans to a bowl, making sure to leave the garlic behind, and blend the soup, either in a blender or in the pot using an immersion blender. Return the beans.

Serve at any temperature you'd like, garnished with the bacon bits, a dash of paprika and a slosh of vinegar. And some parsley if you've got it. Oh, garlic chives wouldn't be bad. I should have thought of that.

Careful with the vinegar, particularly if you used yogurt earlier. The tanginess is just supposed to balance the creaminess, not overwhelm the dish. I cooked the beans about right;They're tender but not quite soft and have retained enough flavor that a spoonful with one ends with clean bean flavor after the creaminess, tartness and smoke have faded. It adds a little extra interest to an otherwise nice but not terribly exciting dish.

The roux didn't do a heck of a lot of thickening. I don't really know what I'm doing with rouxs--I can't even pluralize the word correctly--This isn't the first time I've squandered its thickening potential. (I did find the filé powder at Millams by the way.) Point is: blending some of the beans was a pretty good idea and helps a lot in giving the soup body.

More of the vegetable flavor comes out as the soup cools. I haven't tried it cold yet, but the flavors are well balanced at room temperature. On the other hand, I like the mouthfeel a bit better when it's warm, so it's a compromise.

OK, it's tomorrow and I've tried it cold. There are textural issues. Let's call slightly warmer than room temperature the optimum serving temperature.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CSA week 14 - A mizuna pesto variation

As Caroline wrote on her blog earlier today, pesto's an easy way to use up an overload of CSA greens and it works just fine with mizuna. I've been having trouble finding a good use for the mizuna so I decided to punt with a pesto, but I didn't want to make it too easy on myself. As long as I was switching out the basil, I might as well throw in a few more switch-ups and see where I ended up.

I had a vague idea of making a Southwestern-style pesto so to the mizuna I added a handful of cilantro. And to the garlic I added a modestly hot pepper. The olive oil I kept the same. For the parmesan, I substituted an aged queso blanco and for the pine nuts I substituted corn nuts.

And, in a last minute decision, for the pasta, I substituted pulled pork.

The results left something to be desired, but, surprisingly, it wasn't my substitutions that caused the problem. It was the bitterness of the mizuna. Once I added a couple pinches of sugar and a drizzle of vinegar to balance against the bitterness, it was much improved. Now it tastes like a proper pesto with a bright fresh grassiness and slight tanginess. Without the bitterness prominent, a lot of the distinctive character beyond a generic green comes from the cheese and the corn nuts which give subtle hints of funk and toastiness respectively. And a lot of salt from both. All of this plays surprisingly well against the savoriness of the pork. This was just a lark, but I've stumbled upon something really quite tasty. I wonder why there isn't a tradition of pesto-based barbecue sauces. Maybe the smokiness of proper barbecue (as opposed to my crockpot pulled pork) throws the balance off? Or does such a thing exist; have any of you heard of it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

CSA week 13 - Komatsuna udon

This is actually a cross between two traditional Japanese dish--sansai udon and ohitashi--to create something that isn't quite either but I think takes some good elements from both.

The common element between the two is greens--komatsuna commonly--and a soy-dashi broth. I created a somewhat richer and more complex broth by caramelizing (or at least browning. I haven't got the patience or temperature control on my stove to properly caramelize onions.) half an onion and then sautéing the CSA oyster mushrooms until they'd browned a little and started releasing moisture. Then I added:
4 cups water
2 teaspoons instant dashi crystals
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine
4 teaspoons mirin, and
2 teaspoons sugar.

Once I had brought that to a simmer I added a pack of udon noodles and cooked for the three minutes recommended on the package. Then I fished those out and set them aside.

Then into the broth went the thicker komatsuna stems and six ounces of deep fried tofu. You can buy pre-fried tofu, but the stuff you buy is puffy and I prefer the chewy texture of homemade. The six ounces is half a standard block of tofu. After a minute of simmering I added the komatsuna leaves, waited until they wilted down, and then turned off the heat and let them soak for ten minutes. One of the recipes I drew from instead left the komatsuna whole and had you tie the leaves into a bunch with butcher string and dangle the stem ends in the broth for a minute before dropping the leafy ends in too. I didn't really have room in my pot for that, but it's an interesting idea.

After the ten minutes are up, warm the soup back up and put serving portions of the noodles into individual bowls. Once the soup's at serving temperature, add greens and tofu to each bowl, ladel over the soup and garnish with scallions, garlic chives and shredded nori.

I accidentally deleted my first draft (first time since starting the blog which isn't a bad run) so I don't have a detailed description of my impressions of the dish when I ate it last Thursday. The broth, I recall writing, was rich and complex, having absorbed flavors both from the onion and mushroom but also komatsuna. The noodles, greens and tofu each absorbed some flavor from the broth too, but not so much that they lost their own distinctive flavors. There's a nice variety of textures in the bowl too. I particularly liked how the tofu squishes out stock when you chew it. It's a tasty and pretty hearty dinner considering the lack of meat (beyond a bit of fish in the dashi).

Another interesting idea in one of the source recipes was, instead of udon, cooking rice in the broth. I tried that the following day but was a bit disappointed in the result as a lot of the broth's flavor disappeared, locked away inside the rice. Plus the rice got kind of mushy. That's probably more because of my rice cooker's sensors getting confused than anything inherent in the broth, though. I did like the suggestion in that recipe of adding a beaten egg to the rice when it was just about done cooking, but you'd be better served adding an egg to the noodle variation.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

CSA week 13 wrap-up, week 14 start-up

I only posted about the spinach this week, but I did actually manage to use all of the various greens we got. The komatsuna dish was interesting enough for a blog post, but since I got two posts out of the spinach I'm saving it for Monday. Most of the garlic chives ended up in that dish too.

The turnip tops I used as a pizza topping and the kale I shredded and fried up in pan drippings like I said I was going to a week ago. Some of the turnips went into a batch of chicken stock and most of the rest I pan fried pot-sticker style.

Is that everything? I think that's everything. I've still got a small head of cabbage from a couple weeks back lurking in the crisper drawer, though. I may get around to that this week. I've got a Serbian stuffed cabbage recipe I've been wanting to try.

There's less in the box this week than we've been getting lately, at least with the lettuce left behind, but enough to be the basis for four, maybe five, meals anyway.

I've got a couple recipes for the celery. The coq a vin variation looks more appealing at the moment, but I might go hunting for something else to make. I've found a new appreciation for celery when it's braised so probably something along those lines.

I'd like to make that cream of green bean recipe I passed over for a generic vegetable soup last time we got beans. The bag we got today is small, but I have some left over in the freezer that can suplement.

I took a head of broccoli from the extras bin because I didn't see the second head in my box. Now I've got a little too much. I'll end up separating the crowns and stems for two different recipes, probably pickling one or the other since it's been a while since I've pickled anything. Speaking of which, I never threw out the inedibly over-salty green beans I pickled ineptly last month. I'm going to go check to see if they've improved any...yes they have, but not enough to fix them. Out they go.

The dill is not, I think, going to go into the pickle jar. Pickled cauliflower is better spicy than dilly so broccoli is probably best that way too. Some of it will probably go into the green bean soup, though.

The mizuna I'm not sure about. The idea I had set aside for mizuna is too similar to what I did with the komatsuna so I'll have to head in some other direction. With its stemminess I'd like to avoid cooking it beyond a light steaming. Unless I was going to purée it. A pesto might work.

That leaves the strawberries. Like last week's these are tart enough to prevent me from eating them out of hand. Maybe I'll make jam. That should be incentive to bake some good bread.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

CSA week 13 - Strawberry lavender ice cream

This ice cream was supposed to have a lot more flavor notes in it, as you can see from the list of ingredients, but at the end it was just the strawberries and four tiny drops of lavender extract that come through. Not that anyone was complaining, mind you. This is based on a more straightforward strawberry ice cream from Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop book.

1 pint strawberries
1 banana, frozen and defrosted
1/2 cup chopped mango
1/2 cup plus a bit more sugar
1 Tablespoon vodka
1/2 cup Possum Trot cas guava and passion fruit sauce [There was plenty leftover after the Potato Pandemonium dinner and Robert let us pack some up doggie bags. It was very nice with buckwheat crêpes, but I thought it freeze up well too so I threw it in. And the chopped mango that was floating in it too.]
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup cream
1 squeeze lemon
4 drops lavender extract
1 pinch of salt

I cleaned and sliced the strawberries and put them in a bowl with the banana, the sugar and the vodka and set it out on the counter for an hour to macerate. I blended the bowl of fruit with the rest of the ingredients in the food processor until the fruit was in little flecks but not completely pulped. I checked for sweetness and drizzled in a Tablespoon or two of agave nectar to bring it up to par.

Then I chilled it in the refrigerator overnight and churned. Unlike a lot of other ice creams I've made recently, this one just wouldn't harden up. After 20 minutes it was starting to overflow the churn and it had reached about a soft serve consistency (which is when you're supposed to be removing ice cream from the churn anyway) so I got it out then.

The texture is very soft and creamy right out of the freezer and a little lighter than usual from the extra air churned in. It's a remarkable texture from an ice cream without a custard or corn starch. There isn't enough banana in there to account for it, but I think the vodka and the fructose in the agave nectar help too. The ice cream melts away in the mouth pretty quickly, like a bargain over churned ice cream, but it coats the mouth the way premium ice creams do. Kind of an odd combination of sensations. The coating carries a lot of flavor so it's still there when you're chewing on the little bits of strawberry and mango.

Because there's only half the strawberries you'd find in a batch of proper strawberry ice cream this size, the flavor is balanced with the slightly tangy cream and the aromatic lavender. Luckily, unlike my last attempt, the light touch with the lavender leaves it floral, not chemical, and it enhances the berry flavor in a lovely way.

I'm pretty happy with how this turned out. Now I know you can't reproduce the recipe as written without access to leftover Possum Trot cas guava and passion fruit sauce, but a little more sour cream and a little more mango or guava should substitute in well enough, I think. It was a big hit around the office so, if you've got the strawberries and the ice cream churn, you really ought to consider giving it a try.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

CSA week 13 - spinach ricotta croquettes

As promised, here's the final result from tinkering with yesterday's recipe, rolled in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried.
So that's:
1 pound spinach, cleaned and washed
8 ounces ricotta
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
2 eggs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper

Blanch the spinach, squeeze out the excess moisture and chop it fine. Mix with everything else (including the breadcrumbs I forgot to mention yesterday). Chill well. Form into 1-2 Tablespoon balls, roll in panko breadcrumbs, flatten slightly and deep fry 2-4 minutes until bronze brown. (Usually I say golden brown, but I liked these a little darker.)

Not bad at all. Crunchy outside, creamy and a little melty, but with a little firmness to the bite too inside. Good spinach flavor and the raw flour flavor's all gone. Not as fancy, but just as good as the gnudi.

Unlike the gnudi, this definitely doesn't need to be doused with butter. Instead, I found a spicy vinegary dipping sauce to complement it well. And beer too. These are darn fine bar snacks.

Monday, March 1, 2010

CSA week 13 - Spinach gnudi in sage brown butter

For those who aren't familiar with this trendy Italian dish, gnudi and basically balls of ravioli filling. They're supposed to be light and fluffy and it's a serious challenge to get them to hold together while you're boiling them. That's why, most of the time, they're encased in pasta.

I considered trying to make ravioli, but I can't even make the pasta come out of my pasta machine in tidy evenly wide sheets. There's a whole set of challenges there I don't feel like dealing with on a weeknight. Plus I'd have to invest in a ravioli cutter which I can't imagine using very often.

The lasagne idea was still an option, but I couldn't find a recipe interesting enough to post about and since my komatsuna plans are a bit lame too, this had to be the bigger deal of the week.

I found pretty wide range of recipes for spinach gnudi. Well, they all had more or less the same ingredients, but the ratios varied quite a bit and the methodologies for most seemed sloppy, leaving out important steps. I incorporated all the tricks I could find to ensure success. I haven't actually made them yet so we'll so how well that goes.

1 pound spinach, cleaned and washed
8 ounces ricotta
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
2 eggs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper

I started by blanching the spinach, rinsing it in cold water to stop the cooking, draining and then squeezing out the excess water.

I also squeezed some water out of the ricotta. One of the recipes I found said that American ricottas are looser than proper Italian varieties. That's one issue that can cause integrity problems in the gnudi.

After I pulsed the spinach in the food processor a few times to chop it up finely, I mixed all the ingredients and left it in the refrigerator for a while to let the breadcrumbs absorb some moisture and for everything to firm up a bit.

After an hour I took the dough out, lightly formed it into balls and rolled them in flour. The flour is supposed to form a gelatinous enclosure in the simmering water. I could see that working.

Finally, I simmered them gently without stirring for about three minutes, until they rose to the surface of the water. Here's the first batch:

Three out of four held together; That's not too bad.

The sauce is just sage and pancetta browned in butter. Nothing fancy, but a nice complement. The dumplings are light and fluffy with bright spinach flavor over a creamy base. Very nice with the herbal notes and little crispy bits from the sauce.

The second batch was less successful, but not as bad as it looks. They didn't really fall apart; they just split open. I wish I had realized that earlier before I started doctoring up the rest of the dough. Then I wouldn't have added a full half cup of flour.

Here's the first test dumpling from the recipe:

Well, it certainly held together better but the dense texture isn't nearly as nice. Plus the flavors have been dulled. OK, I'm adding a couple Tablespoons of ricotta to lighten it up and more salt and pepper to bring out the flavors. Let's try this again:

OK, that's substantially improved. It's doughy and hearty, but not nearly as heavy. Still got a bit of raw flour flavor, though. I think these would be better fried than boiled. I'll try that tomorrow and let you know how it goes.

Still, the first gnudi were the best. Now that I think about it, the problem was that I didn't flour the sheet I stored them on; A bit of the mixture stuck to the sheet leaving a small gap in the flour coating, an Achilles heel where the insides could leak out. All that extra messing about wasn't necessary at all.

Ah well, I'm sure deep-fried spinach and ricotta dumplings will have their own charm, too.