Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CSA week three wrap-up, week four start-up

As I predicted last week, I cooked a lot of stuff, but nothing so complicated or interesting it was worth it's own post. Mostly, I focused on using the herbs in quantity and in combination.

First off, I had a few herb-heavy salad filled with basil, parsley, garlic chives and tarragon along with the salad greens, but that's boring to look at so I didn't take any photos.

I herb crusted a pork chop and cooked some pole beans with that. If I recall correctly, that was tarragon, thyme and basil.

I stuffed a bunch of herbs under the skin of a chicken and roasted it. I roasted the squash with it, but didn't get a picture. I used rosemary, bay and parsley for this. Too much really as the bird tastes as much of herbs as it does of chicken. The rosemary came out a too strong really, but it's not bad.

I topped pasta with sage, parsley and ham.

I used half the dill to pickle the okra. There are a couple jalapeños, a small eggplant and a small squash in that jar too.

The other half I used for gravlax. Along with the dill, salt and sugar, I seasoned the salmon with a smokey, peaty scotch that added a lot of really nice flavor to it.

And I made an agua fresca from a handful of mint, a cucumber, sugar and lime juice. With a sugar cane swizzle stick.

I left the cabbage alone. It'll keep until a really good application presents itself.

On to week four then:

Another herb-heavy week, but they're varieties easy to use in bulk so I don't mind.

That's a big bag of basil in the lower left hand corner. It's a mild sweet variety, but I'm probably going to go Thai with it anyway. I'm just not a big fan of pesto.

To the right is a bunch of cilantro. Along with the four tomatillos and the jalapeños center top, I could make a tiny batch of green chili. Or I could do some salsa.

Above the basil is mint. That agaua fresca was mighty refreshing with a jigger of rum added so I'm definitely making that again. That uses the cucumber too. Actually, that cucumbers pretty tiny. I'll have to buy some supplemental cukes to match the mint.

Above the mint is another squash and zucchini sampler. I want to pair that with the chard in the upper right corner as they both go so well with cheese and cream sauces. I could do a risotto, but it would be a big batch and it doesn't store so well. Maybe a bread pudding?

A couple eggplants in the center there. I haven't been happy with the texture I've been getting out of eggplant recently by doing the salting, purging and squeezing method. I'd rather roast them until they collapse this time around. Maybe I'll make baba ganoush.

And finally, in the bottom right are a small head of lettuce and a smaller head of pak choy. A salad and a ramen soup garnish respectively.

Of all that, the basil dish might be worth writing up and possibly the squash. That's about it. I'll probably just end up with another wrap-up post.

But, in the meantime, Friday UM's hosting a food truck night. They don't usually come this far south so I'm looking forward it. There's no info I can find on who will be there, but I've got my fingers crossed for Dim Ssam a Gogo and the GastroPOD. Even if I skip lunch I don't think I'll be able to try more than, say, four so I'd appreciate suggestions of which trucks to prioritize.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

CSA week two wrap-up, week three start-up

Lots left unaccounted for from week two.

To start, all that eggplant. I decided to split it up; half went into an Italian pasta bake sort of thing along with a fair bit of the basil. The other half, I tried to incorporate into Vietnamese sugar cane shrimp. Unfortunately, the 50/50 shrimp/eggplant ratio made the resulting paste too soft to stick the sugar cane. Made quite respectable fritters, though.

I left the avocado too long, let it over-ripen and it got watery and bland. It took me a long time to realize that that was my fault and not just the natural state of Florida avocados. They can be good, but you've got a really short window of time you need to use them in. My mistake was putting the avocado in a paper bag with some bananas which accelerated the process rather more than I was counting on. I got to the bananas just in time, but the avocado went to waste.

I should mention the peppers, too. A couple went into the nachos the avocado was supposed to accompany and the others I'm saving to go with the okra. I don't think I've ever encountered jalepenos so fresh and crisp before. Very impressive.

As I just implied, I haven't used the okra yet. I'm sticking with the pickling plan, but held off in hopes of receiving some fresh dill this week. And, hey, some arrived just as I had hoped. I'll be setting them up today, I think.

And speaking of this week, let's take a look at what's newly arrived.

A rather better picture this week. Moving right under the florescent kitchen light and a tighter grouping on the square butcher block both helped quite a bit. You should be able to recognize most everything, I think.

The aforementioned dill is on the bottom mid-left. To the right is lemongrass, mostly stems I have no use for and very little of the actual good stuff. Maybe it's good for making a tea? To the left is a big bag of rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano. Along with all the leftover herbs from the last two weeks (which are keeping up surprisingly well), this is officially way too much. I hope the herb to everything-else ratio goes down soon as this does not serve my needs.

Above the herbs are some generic light greens, grape tomatoes and a cucumber. That's a salad right there to which I can add some of the herbs, I think. Basil, parsley, tarragon--those should all work. Maybe some mint, too. I can use a handful of sage with a brown butter pasta sauce. Rosemary and thyme I can use in bulk with a roast chicken. I'd throw in the tarragon, but I already did that and I've still got leftovers.

The squash sampler pack would be nice roasted along with that hypothetical chicken.

That leaves the cabbage, which I like with pork and/or yakisoba. And the pole beans which look so fabulous (although it's hard to tell through the plastic bag and, I just checked and their color's faded overnight in the refrigerator. I hope their flavor hasn't turned khaki too.) that I'm probably just going to steam them up and eat a big bowl full.

Nothing really blog-worthy in that list, is there? This may be a slow week.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thit Heo Nuong Xa

That would be lemongrass-marinated pork in English.

From the picture it looks pretty complicated, but it's really very simple and easy to make.

It's just a couple thick pork chops or a hunk of pork loin (not too lean!) marinated overnight in a paste of:
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon shallot, chopped
3 Tablespoons lemongrass, white bits finely grated
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon black soy sauce
1 1/2 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 Tablespoon neutral oil. Grill or fry them up and slice it it thin against the grain.

Add grilled green vegetables. I had pak choy on hand. Also sliced tomato and cucumber and a poached egg are nice additions.

Put those over a big bowl of coconut rice:
6 oz rice
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
cooked on a standard rice cooker cycle.
Plain white rice is OK, but the coconut rice does add a nice little something.

and top with drizzles of:
Nuoc Cham
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
125 milliliters water
heated until just about to boil and then mixed with
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 hot pepper, thinly sliced
2 tbsp lime juice
1 small carrot, shredded
and cooled

Scallion and garlic chive oil
250 milliliters neutral oil
4 scallions, finely sliced
1 handful garlic chives, finely sliced
1 pinch salt
1 pinch sugar,
simmered briefly and cooled,

and sambal hot sauce
from a bottle and better suited here than over-hyped Sriracha to my mind.

OK, maybe it is a little complicated, but you don't have to do it all at once. You can make a big batch of the pork and keep it in the freezer, make the sauces a day or two before and cook whatever vegetables you've got to hand.

It's as tasty as it looks. More tasty if you don't think it looks so good.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sorrel tarragon frittata

I went to the Slow Food Miami Lebanese Feast last night, but it was, let's say, problematic, so let's talk about the meal I threw together when I got home instead, OK?

I knew I wanted to use the sorrel complete, but I was concerned that the leaves would cook down and I'd end up with a pan full of stems as I have too many times with other greens. Running it through the food processor with a little olive oil and salt seemed a good plan. I originally planned to just chop things up a bit, but went a little overboard and ended up with a sorrel paste, but I could make that work.

After tasting the sorrel, I gathered a few more ingredients that I thought would go well with it: thinly sliced onion and bell pepper, roughly chopped green olives and a handful of tarragon. I briefly considered making this a pesto-esque pasta sauce, but went with eggs instead.

Once I had the ingredients together, I kept the preparation pretty simple. I sweated the onion and pepper until soft, added the sorrel and olives and cooked out some excess moisture. Once I was happy with a fairly firm texture that wasn't releasing much liquid, I poured it out into a bowl and mixed in a little frozen butter to cool it down rapidly so I could add three beaten eggs, the taragon and a little salt and pepper without starting to cook the eggs.

I left the pan on the heat, hoping to get it hot enough to get a Spanish tortilla style puff out of the eggs, but it didn't work. That's why I'm calling it a frittata instead even though I didn't finish it off in the oven. Maybe it's just an omelet?

Whatever it was, it turned out surprising well given its improvisatory nature. I was afraid the sorrel would be a bit harsh, as some greens can get when you treat them this roughly, but it kept its light citrusy herbal flavor. It blended well with the tarragon and countered the savory egg and mild olive tanginess and gave a pleasantly complex play of understated flavors over the course of each bite.

Not the most visually attractive dish, I'll admit. The red sorrel is at least partially to blame for that, I think. Imagine a spring of parsley on top and I think it's presentable.

The texture was light and buttery, just barely holding together, with a little chew from the onion and peppers and crunch from the olive-bread toast I served it on. Add a minerally dry white wine to cut the richness and it was a lovely late dinner.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's alive!

I'm as surprised as you are, but I'm back. It's for the same reason as last year's return; It's CSA season again, I'm cooking interesting stuff and I don't know anyone who'll sit still to hear me talk about it. I swear, if I ever develop a proper social life, this thing's gone.

I ought to talk a bit about why I was gone so long before I talk about why I'm back. There's the too-hot-to-cook summer doldrums, of course, but I also moved to a new place with a kind of weird kitchen I had a hard time getting used to.

OK, now that I look at the photo, it's actually quite nice. It's just the propane stove and oven that have been problematic. The oven runs about 70 degrees hot and doesn't cool down readily when you turn down the heat. It'll sometimes just keep getting hotter, but I've learned to keep an oven thermometer in there and readjust every 10 minutes.

The burners have been harder to work around. They each have a very limited range. One goes from go from high to very high heat, one goes from very high to very very high and the last goes from too low to hold a simmer to off. I tried adjusting them but only managed to blow a fuse while looking for adjustment screws that aren't where they're supposed to be. Luckily I discovered that if you turn the knobs backwards, in the bit where the flame is just about turning off, if you're careful, you can get low and medium flames, so I can make it work.

Back to the CSA. This year I decided to switch from Bee Heaven to Teena's Pride. There are a couple reasons, but mostly it's because they have a one-person box so I won't have to deal with the weekly vegetable onslaught I got from Margie. I just about managed to use it all, but it was a struggle and I really don't feel like struggling any more. Also, Teena's drop-off point is within easy bicycling distance to my new place which is nice.

This is actually the second week of deliveries. Last weeks box was mostly greens and herbs. I made some chicken in a tarragon cream sauce, Thai lemongrass pork, a chard and sweet potato gratin, steamed some green beans and ate some salad. And I used the arugula in tacos.

Here's this week's box:

Hard to tell what's what with everything individually bagged like that. I'll try to do better next time, but I really don't want to take everything out. They'll be very hard to get back in.

On the right are bunches of mint, basil and parsley. Then a small pak choy and a bag of okra, a stick of sugar cane, a bag of mixed salad greens, several jalapeños, red and plain old sorrel and a variety pack of eggplants.

So, let's see, the basil is spicy, so, along with the mint, we've got Vietnamese condiments. Is sugarcane shrimp Vietnamese or Thai? Works either way since I've got some leftover nuoc cham from the lemongrass pork. I could do something Vietnamese with the eggplants; I think I'll want to use them together despite their differences. I wonder if I'll be able to tell them apart in the final dish. That'll likely use some of the hot peppers in that too.

The okra, I'd like to pickle; that's the best of all possible uses for okra to my mind. I've had some not-so-good pickled beets sitting in my pickle jars for quite some time. Past due to toss them out.

I have to admit I'm not familiar with sorrel. It looks like dandelion, but it's mild and lemony. The red sorrel is maybe a little tough to eat raw, but the plain sorrel is pretty tender. Might be good in a quiche. Maybe I'll just add it to the salad mix which seems a bit skimpy, although that may just be contrast to the lifetime supply of lettuce I'd get each week from Bee Heaven.

Really truly skimpy is the pak choy. There's really not enough there to work with unless I use it as part of a stir fry. The leftover green pepper from last week might go into that too. Both should play well with a black bean sauce.

Anything left? Just last week's avocado that just ripened. I don't see anything here that calls out to be used with avocado, though. Eh, I'll figure something out.