30 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 5

In this week's box:

2 cucumbers
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
4 potatoes
1 sm bunch scallions
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 head cabbage
small pile of green beans
6 little carrots
1 bag broccoli florets

Week 5 brings us another episode of "Chef Spouse is out of town."

Before he left, he sauteed the yellow squash and zucchini with ginger, garlic, soy, scallions, and sesame oil as a side dish.  Chef Spouse was displeased because the pan wasn't hot enough when the squash went it, so it steamed more than browning.  So make sure your pan is HOT!  It was served on the side of cornmeal-breaded, pan fried cod and okra sauteed with roasted red pepper and the scallions.

The broccoli, once again, was just eaten as a side dish, as were the green beans and potatoes.

Another taste test:  little CSA carrots versus regular grocery store (organic) carrots.  The CSA carrots are SO much sweeter.  They've been used, with the lettuce and cucumbers, in salads, and are a revelation in carroty goodness.

Speaking of cucumbers, I'm still working on the cucumber/mint/lime gin drink.  When I perfect the recipe, you'll be the first to know.

I'm hanging onto the other head of cabbage (which tends to have a pretty good shelf life anyway), because we want to do a repeat of last week's braised cabbage, replacing the duck fat with bacon fat, and that really requires two eaters - a full head of cabbage is a fair amount of cabbage.

24 June 2010

Recipe: Salted Caramel Ice Cream

This is based on the recipe at Epicurious.

Heat 1 c. sugar in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it melts and gets to a dark brown

The dark brown stage is important - you want a good, strong caramel flavor because ice cream is cold, which dulls flavors.  Burn it?  Start over.  But be bold.  Much like roux, the trick is knowing the difference between something that's burning and something that's burnt.

Add 1 1/4 c. heavy cream a bit at a time, stirring continuously

Pour the cream in a little at a time.  It will bubble up BIG TIME.  Keep the heat to medium high, but take your time adding the cream.

Pour the sugar-cream mixture in a bowl and stir in 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract and 2 Tbsp. flaked sea salt

It doesn't have to be flaked sea salt, but flaked dissolves easier.  Make sure your bowl is on some sort of trivet or hot mitt (like in the photo).  Before you ask:  yes, this is a lot of salt.  Remember in the Food Lab: Milk post how I mentioned that this doesn't really freeze solid like you'd expect ice cream to do?  It's the salt content.  But the thing is, if you want salted caramel that actually tastes salty, you need to go there. 

In the meantime, make your custard.

Whisk 5 egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl and keep ready

What to do with all those egg whites?  Make Ramos Gin Fizzes, of course.

Bring 1 c. milk, 1 c. heavy cream, and 1/4 c. sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan.  Just when they reach a boil, remove from heat and add at least half the hot dairy mixture to the eggs, stirring continuously.

Why do you do this?  You're tempering the eggs.  If you just dump those yolks into the hot dairy mixture, they will scramble.  Which will be tasty, but not what you're after.

Pour the tempered egg/dairy mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture reaches 170 degrees F.  Do not boil.

OK, the reason the recipe says "do not boil" is that if you do, the egg yolks will scramble regardless of the tempering.  Actually, they might scramble anyway.  As long as you follow the next step carefully, it really won't matter either way.

Strain the custard through a very fine meshed sieve into a large bowl, then stir in the caramel.

If the custard scrambles, you're not screwed.  Just make sure that sieve is REALLY fine, and use a metal spoon to press the custard through.

Chill the custard overnight.  Process in an ice cream maker for at least an hour.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.

Given the salt content, this ice cream is never going to get really firm.  It doesn't matter.  It's the bomb-diggity (at least if you like salty/sweet things).

22 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 4

In this week's box:

1 bag broccoli florets
1 sm bunch scallions
5 med potatoes
1 head cabbage
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
2 zucchini
2 yellow squash

This week was a breeze - that's enough veg for, like, two dinners. We had to BUY veg at the grocery store to make it through the week.

Chef Spouse ate the zucchini and yellow squash for lunches, sauteed with garlic, ginger, soy, sesame oil, and scallions.

The broccoli was just a side dish early in the week.

Last week's turnips and this week's potatoes went into a gratin as part of Food Lab: Milk.

The Boston Bibb served as the basis for a Salad Nicoise.  Surprisingly, Boston Bibb is what Julia recommends, and I don't think it's a very good choice.  I think you really need a lettuce with more structure, like Romaine.

Last week's cucumbers got turned into a Thai sweet and sour cucumber salad to accompany red curry chicken with sugar peas and red bell peppers.

We braised the cabbage according to a recipe in Alice Waters's vegetables cookbook that uses duck fat (!!), and served it on the side of pork chops in a mushroom sour cream sauce.

21 June 2010

Food Lab 3: Milk

On Saturday, June 19 the milk challenge was on.

Why milk?  Well, you may recall that the IA by Day-Chef by Nights were unable to participate in the Deglazing lab due to the early arrival of The Spawn.  So...new baby = milk.  Yes, we're all secretly 12 year old boys.

So we started with a taste-test that included:
  • Skim milk
  • 2% milk
  • Whole milk
  • Kefir
  • Goat milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Half and half
  • European style heavy cream
  • Regular heavy cream

Among the "regular" milks, whole milk was the clear winner.  Actually, the only reason we even had skim was because Chef Spouse insisted we needed to include it in the test trials.  Verdict?  Yuck.

When it came to cow's milk versus goat milk, there wasn't as much difference as you'd think.  The cow's milk was a bit sweeter, but without doing a direct comparison, you might never notice.

The kefir was tangy like yogurt and thick like heavy cream.  Quite yummy, but very different.

The verdict on buttermilk was that it tastes better all by itself that anyone thought/remembered.

Half -n- half versus whole milk?  There's not as much difference as you'd think.

Same thing with the European style versus regular heavy cream.  Although European style has more fat (35% versus 30%), there's not much of a difference, taste-wise.

So once the tasting was over, we got to cooking with milk products.

The initial focus was various ice creams. We made 3:
  • Salted caramel - recipe forthcoming
  • Peach - very traditional - peaches, sugar, heavy cream, cinnamon, uncooked
  • Avocado - salt, sugar, lime, coconut milk, also uncooked
All 3 were delicious, particularly the salted caramel that is extremely rich and the consistency of soft-serve.  More on that later.

For the main meal, we made milk-braised pork (whole milk), a gratin of potatoes and turnips based on the recipe in Larousse Gastronomique (using the kefir), Parker house rolls (two batches - cow versus goat milk), and sliced tomatoes with chiffonade basil and cheese we made with skim milk.  We also made a shortbread that we ate with strawberries and cream.

Skim milk does not make good cheese.

The Parker house rolls were good either way - the cow's milk were a bit fluffier, but the goat's milk seemed to make better tasting rolls.

The gratin was quite tasty - between the turnips and the kefir, it definitely had extra zing.

As usual, we played around with some drinks, too.

We made Ramos Gin Fizzes using the recipe detailed back in March.

We also had some blueberries, so we made a drink with milk, gin, basil, the blueberries and sugar, topped with club soda that was surprisingly tasty.


Skim milk sucks.

Kefir is really, really unusual and yummy.

There's a reason people used to drink buttermilk straight.

You could probably replace the half and half in your coffee with whole milk without even noticing the difference.

And if you drink milk, you'll want the whole around anyway.

15 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 3

The box this week included:

1 qt. strawberries (sadly, probably the last ones of the season)
3 turnips
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 med. cucumber
1 zucchini
2 yellow summer squash
pile o' peas
1 sm head of broccoli

The broccoli had started to bolt, which apparently freaked some people out. Sadly, we ended up composting ours because one small head is not enough for the two of us, and by the time the next week's box arrived (with more broccoli), it had started to go bad.

Seeing as we keep getting cucumbers, we really need to get cracking on our cucumber/mint/gin cocktail.  We've had variations on this at a number of local DC bars recently - it's kind of like a gin-based mojito, but not as sweet and with the addition of cucumber.  In other words, VERY refreshing.  We've started playing around it with at home and are having some trouble with the sugar balance - they've all been too tart.  Anyone have a recipe they want to share?

The strawberries were gone in a flash.

The squash got eaten as a side dish, prepared my favorite way:  chopped in quarters, then sauteed in butter with garlic, scallions, and fresh herbs from my garden.

We also prepared the peas as a side dish the same night, based on a recipe from Alice Waters.  We shelled the peas, then sauteed more CSA scallions with fresh thyme in butter, then popped in the peas with a little water to steam, then topped them all with fresh chives.  Chef Spouse decided that he had undercooked the peas slightly, but they were still quite tasty.

The protein that accompanied all this lovely veg?  Salmon fillet.

The lettuce just went into salads - nothing exciting there - and we hung onto the turnips for use in Food Lab 3: Milk, set for Saturday, June 19.

14 June 2010

Recipe: Bread Pudding

Every June, we gather a the biggest group we can to go to Wolf Trap's annual Louisiana Swamp Romp - an afternoon of eating, drinking, and dancing to Louisiana music in the sunshine.

The best part about Swamp Romp is that it's just a big party where everyone brings yummy comestibles and a lot of sharing and making friends goes down. We're Team Julep for reasons that probably don't need explaining.  Most years, we set up near Team Crawfish, a great group that comes with a cooler (a hotter?) full of crawfish, corn, and potatoes.  This year, they couldn't come - hence the photo to the right.

This year's menu included:
  • Gumbo (from Donald Link's Real Cajun cookbook, although Chef Spouse has tracked down the recipe for Prejean's famous pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo, but not in time to do a test run)
  • Jambalaya (from a recipe I clipped from...somewhere)
  • Chocolate chip cookies (for making friends with the nearby children)
  • Mint Juleps (for making friends with the nearby adults)

Plus goodies made by the Romp crew:
  • homebrewed beer
  • duck tamales
  • pralines
  • gazpacho
  • ceviche
  • sangria
  • fruit salad
  • more wine
  • more beer
  • Popeye's fried chicken (it's traditional and a seriously delish guilty pleasure)
And...Elizabeth’s New Orleans-style Bread Pudding

This is based loosely on recipes from the Commander's Palace cookbook and from Joy of Cooking.  But here’s the thing to remember about bread pudding: it’s an inexact science. This is a dessert that was created to use up stale bread, so all quantities are approximate.


Butter a 4 qt (ish) casserole dish
Thinly slice about 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter on the bottom of casserole
Spread golden raisins over bottom of casserole

Don't have/don't like raisins?  Use other dried fruit - or even fresh fruit that holds up well to baking (i.e., any kind of stone fruit, apples)

Slice 1 loaf of stale French bread about 1/2 - 1 inch thick

Don't have French bread?  Use whatever you've got - but probably not whole-grain.

Stack the bread tightly in the casserole 

I like a spiral pattern

Sprinkle on some more raisins (for about 1 c. total, give or take)

Make sure you press them down - any fruit that doesn't get coated by the custard mixture will tend to burn

Whisk 3 large eggs in a medium bowl

Have extra yolks hanging around from an egg whites only preparation?  Feel free to substitute 2 yolks for an egg

Add 1 c. heavy cream
2 1/2 c. milk
2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

You can go heavier on the heavy cream (reduce the milk accordingly) for a richer dish, or heavier on the milk (reduce the heavy cream) for a lighter dish, or replace some (or all) of the dairy with half-and-half.  Use what you have on hand.

Pour custard mixture over the bread and let stand for about an hour

Press bread down into custard mixture several times during the hour it’s resting - this makes sure everything gets fully saturated with the custard mixture before baking, which is what you're after.

Bake at 375 for 1 hour

Meanwhile, make the bourbon sauce:

Melt 1 stick (8 oz.) butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat

stir in 1 c. sugar
1/3 c. bourbon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

If you like it a little less boozy, you can replace a few Tbsp. of the bourbon with some water.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves
Remove from heat

Whisk 1 large egg in separate bowl
Whisk egg into bourbon/butter/sugar mixture
Cook over medium heat about 1 minute, whisking continuously, until the sauce thickens

Ok, this is where the magic happens:

When the bread pudding comes out of the oven and while it’s still hot, pour the bourbon sauce over the bread pudding so it soaks in.

You can hang onto a little of the bourbon sauce and re-heat to pour over individual servings when you serve it, but you don't need to. (Actually, you could also make another batch of the bourbon sauce for additional saucing of individual portions, because it keeps in the fridge and it's really good on ice cream, pancakes, waffles, pound cake, shoeboxes....)

08 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 2

I was a little concerned last week. I know Farmer Eric told us we'd be getting a lot more produce as the year went along, and I was certainly hoping so.  This week, I was not disappointed!

Week 2 box:

1 lg head pak choy
2 lg heads broccoli
2 sm cucumbers
1 sm bunch scallions
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 qt. strawberries
1 head green leaf lettuce
1 bunch Swiss chard
3 bunches spring kale
5 potatoes

This was an interesting week, as Chef Spouse was out of town on business.  We used a number of the ingredients immediately, as we had a friend over for dinner on delivery night:  we had a salad of the last of last week's Bibb lettuce plus some of this week's leaf lettuce, goat cheese, about half of the strawberries, toasted almonds and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  Chef Spouse had already planned to make pork chops, so he used the scallions in the pan sauce, and we had the squash on the side, sauteed in butter with garlic, more scallions, and fresh herbs.  For dessert, we ate the berry sorbet we made with last week's strawberries.

The rest of the strawberries vanished pretty quickly, the lettuce and cucumbers were consumed in salads, the potatoes and broccoli got eaten as regular old sides, and the scallions got used in everyday food prep. 

Which leaves us - actually, me, since Chef Spouse had skedaddled by that point - with the greens.

I split the head of pak choy with a friend (it was REALLY big) and made a stir fry with chicken (thinly sliced thighs) for myself based on the the recipe provided by the CSA.  I say "based on" because I looked at the recipe and was like "where's the flavor?"  Marinade of rice vinegar and cornstarch and a sauce of 1 clove of garlic and chicken broth.  Right.  Make that sauce like 4 cloves of garlic, fresh ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and throw some more soy sauce into the marinade plus some of the scallions is more like it.

The spring kale got sauteed in olive oil and garlic, then sprinkled with some red wine vinegar, then tossed with pasta (Alice Waters's idea), sprinkled with a little fresh ground parmesan cheese (my idea) and eaten on the side of a nice trout fillet done under the broiler with herbs from my garden, olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt.

The Swiss chard got sauteed as well and served on the side of a steak done on the grill and some olive oil and garlic roasted potatoes.

03 June 2010

Recipe: Berry tequila sorbet

 So one thing about CSA produce is that it tends to have a short shelf-life, berries in particular.  And with being out of town when our first batch of berries arrived, we decided we needed to do something quick.  This sorbet resulted.

3 c. mixed berries (we used the CSA strawberries, plus some grocery store blueberries and blackberries)
1 c. simple syrup (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (or to taste)
1/2 c. tequila

Combine all in a blender and puree.  Taste and adjust simple syrup and lemon juice to match your palate and the sweetness of the berries.  Press through a very fine mesh sieve to remove all the berry seeds.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Process in an ice cream maker for at least 45 minutes.  Store in the freezer in an airtight container.  Serve with finely shredded fresh mint. Try to eat it within a week or so.

01 June 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 1

I've been working at my current job for about a year at this point.  It's an awesome place to work, not least of which because it's the most staff-friendly place I've ever been.  Case in point:  we have a wellness initiative, through which you can earn extra days off.  As a result, the senior leadership supported me coordinating a group (20+ people) to participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) on work time.  And the CSA we chose, Shallowbrook Farm, delivers to our office.  Which they also support.  It's great.

Anyway, this all helped me finally convince Chef Spouse to try a CSA.  He was worried about getting food he didn't choose and might not know what to do with.  But I bribed him with a copy of Alice Waters's Vegetables cookbook, and I figured out how to start an urban compost pile as insurance.

So I thought I might document what we get each week, and what we end up doing with it.

Week 1 box:

1 head Boston Bibb Lettuce
1 sm bunch scallions
1 qt. strawberries
1 lg head broccoli
1 yellow squash
5 med potatoes

Chef Spouse was disappointed - he knew what everything was on sight and knew exactly what to do with it.

The first thing we did was run a taste test.  There was not as much difference between the farm strawberries and the store strawberries as I would've thought. The difference was more in texture - the farm strawberries were much softer and juicier. There was a HUGE difference in taste between farm yellow squash and store yellow squash.  We didn't have anything else on hand to do a one-to-one test, but the broccoli was extra yummy, too.

We were out of town Memorial Day weekend, and we still managed to use everything - potatoes, broccoli, squash, lettuce and scallions were used in the course of normal cooking.  And we turned the berries into sorbet (recipe forthcoming).