28 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 9

In this week's box:

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 lg. bag broccoli florets
1 green pepper
4 Ginger Gold apples
2 red tomatoes
2 yellow tomatoes
4 cucumbers
3 eggplant
1 zucchini
2 yellow squash
5 Star Fire peaches
6 nectarines
6 plums (some Shiroh, some Methley)

It was so impressive I had to take a picture.

This week I got double-whammied, because we ended up with a lot of Food Lab: Raw Meat leftovers as well (PERFECT avocados, grapefruit, watermelon, lemons, asparagus).  So we've enjoyed avocado and grapefruit salad with a honey poppy seed vinaigrette the past few nights and a watermelon and feta salad on the side of fresh pasta with an asparagus lemon sauce this evening.  Which of course is not helping with using the CSA produce.

The fruit is mostly gone, other than the apples, just from snacking - no special work there.  Likewise with the tomatoes - some went into pasta salad and the rest just got sliced and eaten with basil from my garden. The cucumbers went into a batch of "The Cuke" for the Food Lab crowd, which everyone loved.

The big news/discoveries from this week were:  that cucumber sorbet? AWESOME in gazpacho (had dinner with a friend on Sunday, she had made gazpacho, and I took it along).  I'll definitely be doing more of that as the tomatoes really start rolling in.  And the Thomas Keller ratatouille is on, but Chef Spouse wanted to wait until this coming weekend to make it - less time pressure.  I'll be sure to report back on how it turns out.

24 July 2010

Recipe: Apple Pie

Story: While the filling recipe comes from my mom, the crust is my great-grandmother’s recipe. My mom’s side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch farm people going back to before the Revolutionary War. They settled around Hanover, PA in the 1720s, and the overwhelming majority of my extended family on my mom’s side still lives within about a 100 mile radius of Hanover. Up until my grandparents’ generation, most of the family was still speaking Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of German) in the home. Pie is practically its own food group for farmers – it can be breakfast just as easily as dessert. My great-grandmother would have made the crust with lard, but lard’s not so easy to come by these days. If you can get it, though, use it in place of the shortening for the most tender, flaky pie crust you’ve ever tasted!

Recipe – Fool-proof Pie Crust
Makes two double crusts

4 c. all purpose flour (I like King Arthur unbleached white)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. salt
8 oz. cold unsalted butter, sliced into thin pats (2 sticks)
3/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 large egg
1/2 c. cold water

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry cutter until it forms a coarse meal. Combine the vinegar, egg, and water in a separate bowl. Pour liquids into the center of flour/fat mixture and mix enough to combine but not so much as to break up all the fats (you need to maintain pockets of fat for a flaky crust). Fold into a ball, cover (either in a bowl with a tight fitting lid or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap) and chill at least 15 minutes (or up to a week).

Recipe – Apple Pie
Makes 2 pies

6 c. apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 12-14 apples – I like MacIntosh best, but any good baking apple will do)
1 1/3 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Generous 1/2 tsp. ground mace
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Butter (unsalted)
Granulated sugar

Combine apples, sugar, flour and spices in a large bowl. Have the milk, butter, and more sugar at the ready.

Assembling the pies

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Get out two 9” pie pans and two cookie sheets with sides. Get the crust dough out of the fridge and cut it into a generous half (for the bottom crusts) and a scant half (for the top crusts). Have some flour handy in case the crust starts to stick to the rolling pin. Cut the generous half in half again, roll out the bottom crusts (I like to roll them out on top of a sheet of waxed paper, which makes them easy to transfer to the pie pans), and lay them in the pie pans. Do not overwork the dough or the crust will get tough. Do not trim the crusts (yet). Pour half the apple mixture into each pie crust and pat down firmly. Top each pie with several pats of butter. Roll out the top crusts and cover the pies. Trim the crusts and pinch the edges shut. Poke some vent holes in the top crust with a fork. Use a pastry brush to paint the crusts with milk and then sprinkle on a little sugar. Sit the pie pans on the cookie sheets (to catch drips) and bake for 40 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting. A scoop of vanilla ice cream, some whipped cream, or a slice of good cheddar cheese is yummy on the side.

21 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 8

In this week's box:  BOUNTY!

4 ears of corn
3 yellow squash
2 zucchini
6 cucumbers
2 green peppers
2 tomatoes
1 onion (looks like a Vidalia)
8 plums
3 Ginger Gold apples
large bag of broccoli florets
small pile of roma green beans

Garde manger is a funny thing.  I saw peppers and onions this week and immediately thought:  fajitas (into which we also put the kernels from two of the ears of corn)!  Which necessitated buying cilantro for the marinade.  I don't grow cilantro because it's frankly too much of a pain in the ass - in order to keep a continuous supply, you have to keep re-seeding and re-seeding and re-seeding.  And it's cheap and easy to come by at the market.  And it keeps reasonably well, as long as you lop off the ends of the stems, plunk it in a glass of water and pop it in the fridge as soon as you get it home.  But it comes in LARGE bunches (at least at my local market).  Garde manger to the rescue!  How about flank steak with chimichurri sauce? Plus I have all that flat-leaf parsley in the yard.  Of course, one batch of chimichurri sauce is way more than you need for flank steak for two.  Would it be good on boiled little red potatoes?  Yes!  What about broiled snapper?  You bet!

Anyway, the other thing that this week's bounty said to me was: ratatouille.  We always make the traditional stew-like version, and it's good, don't get me wrong, particularly when make with fresh herbs from my garden. But I'm dying to try the version Thomas Keller created for the eponymous Disney movie.  I suspect I'll have more opportunities.

I made another run at the cucumber sorbet, this time going back to basics:  cucumbers, basil, lemon juice, a little gin, simple syrup, a little salt.  That's it.  MUCH better.  As the tomatoes start rolling in from the CSA, I'll be making gazpacho and I think a scoop of the cucumber sorbet will be an EXCELLENT addition. 

The plums seemed a little under-ripe to me, so we drizzled them with honey and popped them on the grill the night we had the flank steak, turning it off and cooking them with the residual heat, then tossing them with a little cinnamon before eating.  Yummy and simple.

The broccoli, the other two ears of corn and the rest of the squash have gone to side dishes, but I haven't used the roma green beans yet, and they're starting to look a little peaked.  Any ideas?

My colleagues came to the rescue on the apple situation - I only had 5 between last week and this week and they were smallish.  That's not even enough to make one pie.  Word got out that I was looking for CSA apples to make a pie, and apples came pouring in, with the request that if I got enough to make TWO pies, could I please bring one into the office?  Done and done! 

Upcoming:  the apple pie recipe (it's a good one!) and...THE NEXT FOOD LAB!  Topic? Food Lab: Raw Meat.

18 July 2010

Recipe: Black bean & corn salad

I love corn on the cob, don't get me wrong, but with the abundance of corn showing up from the CSA these days, I had to come up with some other things to do with it.  This recipe is adapted from the black bean, corn and tomato salad in Joy of Cooking.

Cut kernels from about 3 ears of corn.  Put them in a small pan and boil in just enough water to cover for 1 minute. Drain, rinse under cold water, and put them in a large bowl.

When it comes to corn on the cob, YMMV on amounts.  You're looking for 1-2 c. total, depending on your preferred ratio of corn to other ingredients.  You'll count your minute from when the water starts to boil. 

Next you're going to make the vinaigrette:

2 Tbsp. any flavorful vinegar (but probably not any of the fruit ones - if you've made homemade herb vinegar, though, this would be a GREAT application)
several cloves of garlic
salt & pepper to taste
5 Tbsp. good quality olive oil
1/4 c. (or thereabouts) basil (or other green herbs)

OK, the EASIEST way to make a vinaigrette is to use a stick/immersion blender.  If you have one, just bung everything into the tall cylindrical container that comes with and have at it.  If not, you're going to have to do a lot of fine dicing, chopping, and whisking.  You don't want a big glob of basil - or garlic - in your mouth, and you need to WHISK WHISK WHISK to make sure it emulsifies properly.

Obviously, everything that goes into a vinaigrette is to taste, so make sure you taste as you go. Don't have basil?  Use cilantro.  Want to toss in some shallots?  Go for it.  Garlic is always to taste, as are salt & pepper.  A little lime juice?  Divine.  The only requirements are some sort of flavorful oil and some sort of flavorful acid.

Rinse 1 15 oz. can of black beans and toss into bowl with corn.

The Joy recipe calls for about twice as many black beans and encourages you to do the overnight soak/long cooking time thing.  Dude, this is a SUMMER dish.  I don't really want to steam up my kitchen by simmering beans for an hour or two.  I also think a roughly equal balance of beans and corn is what you're after, not twice as many beans as corn.  But you may not agree.

Now comes the good part.  The Joy recipe just calls for you to add cherry tomatoes and red onion.  Whatever!  Here's what I added:

2 large, very ripe tomatoes chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
several thinly sliced scallions
1 finely diced jalapeno

This is about using your produce.  The tenor of the dish will be influenced by what you decide to include.  Include jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice? Viva la Mexico! Oregano, feta cheese and black olives?  Sounds Greek to me.  Stick with the recipe above but take out the jalapeno and add some chopped zucchini, and it seems kind of Italian.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables in the bowl, let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, stir, taste and serve.

Stir gently - you don't want to smush the beans or the tomatoes.  As always, remember to taste and adjust seasonings before serving!  Because of all that starch, the flavor can be a little flat.  If it does, you want to add more acid (citrus juice, tomatoes, or vinegar) or salt.  You should be using really fresh, ripe corn and tomatoes, so there should be plenty of sweetness.  If your produce was sub-par (which during the summer it absolutely should not be, and if it's not summer, you shouldn't be making this), you might want to sprinkle on a TINY bit of sugar.  Don't be too stingy with the olive oil, either - you need fat to carry flavor.

This makes a great side dish with a simple grilled steak or broiled fish. 

16 July 2010

Recipe: "The Cuke"

This is adapted from a recipe that was entered in a summer 2006 New York Times cocktail contest.

Have a large pitcher at hand.

I love pitcher drinks for summer, for parties, and especially for summer parties.  They're invariably cold, refreshing and not terribly alcoholic - and you can make them in advance. 

Peel and VERY thinly slice at least 3 cucumbers.  Drop them in the pitcher.

The original recipe only calls for 2 cucumbers and calls for you not to peel them.  Wrong on both counts. The cucumbers become a tasty bonus snack.

Thinly slice 3 limes.  Drop them in the pitcher too.

Add several tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice to the pitcher.

The original recipe says to juice 3 limes, but you really need to do this to taste, because limes don't produce a consistent amount of juice nor do they have consistent acidity.  We've adopted the practice of purchasing a bag of limes just about every week and then squeezing them all at once and storing the juice in the fridge in a plastic squeeze bottle so we have plenty of fresh lime juice on hand.  You'd be surprised at how much use you'll get out of it.  Also, remember to microwave the limes for about 15 seconds before squeezing them (or roll them vigorously on the counter) to help them express more juice.

Add about a cup of mint leaves (no stems) to the pitcher.

This is also an approximation - if you're not big on mint, add less.  If you love mint, add more.  If your mint plants are going crazy, add LOTS more.  Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

Add about 1/2 c. of simple syrup to the pitcher.

The original recipe calls for straight sugar and then encourages you to muddle all the above ingredients. But it's hard to dissolve the sugar fully unless you muddle really energetically, and then the lovely cucumber slices end up all mashed, which is appealing neither to the eye nor the palate.

Add 2 c. gin to the pitcher. Shake or stir gently.

The original recipe calls for Hendricks, but there's so much going on in this drink taste-wise, I wouldn't waste Hendricks - use a simpler, less expensive gin like Tanqueray or Blue Coat or Bombay.  You do need to stir or shake (if you can seal the lid on your pitcher) to mix all the ingredients, but do it gently to preserve the yummy cucumber slices.  The original recipe also says that you can use vodka, but why would you want to do something like that?

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust ingredients.

You want to let the flavors blend.  After that, you'll want to taste to see if you'd like more of any of the elements listed above - lime, cucumber, mint, sugar.

To serve, fill a highball glass with ice.  Use a bar spoon to fish out some cucumber and lime slices into your glass.  Fill glass at least half way (or a little more for a less-strong drink) with cold club soda.  Fill the rest of the way with the gin mixture, straining it as it goes into the glass.  Grab a straw, sit back and enjoy.

The original recipe gets all wacky with garnishes, but that's really defeating the purpose of the pitcher drink.  Chef Spouse observes that all tall drinks over ice need to be served with straws in the summer. No particular reason other than it just seems right.  Nibble the yummy cucumber slices as you drink and congratulate yourself on getting part of your Recommended Daily Allowance of vegetables during cocktail hour.

13 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 7

In the box:

1 tomato
1 green pepper
4 ears of corn
sm pile of green beans
1 head Boston bibb lettuce
4 cucumbers
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
2 Ginger Gold apples

Once again, Chef Spouse is out of town.

A - it's a good thing I like vegetables. 
B - if he's going to be around more next summer, we might need to upgrade to a full share.

I was warned that the apples might be a little tart.  So I'm hanging onto them in hopes of getting more next week and then making a pie.

I made another batch of "the cuke" cocktails with the cucumbers, with some key modifications to the recipe I found online.  That updated recipe will be forthcoming.

I ate one of the ears of corn immediately, but realized I wouldn't be able to eat the other four before their yummy freshness dimmed.  Black bean & corn salad to the rescue!  I based it on the recipe in Joy of Cooking, again with some significant modifications (that included the tomato).  That recipe is also forthcoming.

The squash made a nice side dish, sauteed in butter with garlic.

The green beans and lettuce are waiting for dinner on July 14, when they'll go into a Salade Nicoise in honor of Bastille Day.

The green pepper waited on Chef Spouse's arrival home to go into fajitas.

07 July 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 6

In this week's box:

3 ears of corn (!)
2 tomatoes (!)
1 zucchini
2 yellow summer squash
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
pile o' green beans
6 cucumbers

OK, so the cucumber situation had gotten dire.  Including the ones left over from last week, we had 8 cucumbers.  Time to do more than eat them in salads.

I had ideas:  the mythic cucumber gin drink I've been pursuing and a cucumber sorbet.  So I made both.

The cucumber drink, aka "The Cuke" was a huge hit. I made a recipe and a half (my pitcher wasn't quite big enough to accommodate a double recipe) and took it to an Independence Day pool party.  I love a pitcher drink for parties, because then you don't end up getting stuck behind the bar rather than hanging out with your friends.  Bonus? The thin slices of cucumber that have marinated in cold gin for a few hours are delicious - crisp and lightly alcoholic.  One change I think I will make the next time (which will probably be this weekend, because I just got 4 more cucumbers this week) is to use double simple syrup rather than sugar, which didn't completely dissolve, because I didn't want to muddle/smash the cucumbers. Oh, and I did peel them first (contrary to the recipe), and I topped the drink with club soda rather than sparkling water.  I would think it would also be good topped with a splash of champagne.

The cucumber sorbet...less so.  I used this recipe from the Washington Post/(purportedly) The Inn at Little Washington, only I substituted basil rather than dill, since I have TONS for fresh basil.  I think Patrick O'Connell's not telling us everything, because it didn't turn out great.  In the first round, although I chopped the basil VERY finely, it all settled to the bottom of the sorbet as it froze, leaving large globs of basil down there, taking the corn syrup with it.  Now admittedly, had I used dill, that likely would not have happened.  But also, the egg white didn't really seem to incorporate properly, leaving an almost meringue-like topping.  So it ended up in at least 3 layers, none of which were really all that good, and all of which had an odd texture. 

So I decided to take another run at it.  I completely thawed it, ran it through a chinoise to pull out all those bits of basil, re-mixed it MUCH more thoroughly to try to flatten the egg whites a little and incorporate them more fully, and re-processed it in the ice cream maker.  I did all that tonight, so I'm still waiting for it to re-freeze, and I'll let you know if it improves.

Edited July 16 to add: it's better, but it's still not very good.  I suspect tossage is forthcoming.  You can't win 'em all.