25 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 13

In this week's box:

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
4 tomatoes
4 nectarines
4 peaches
4 apples
2 zucchini
1 yellow squash
6 ears of corn
1 bell pepper
little pile of okra!

Outside the box:

Yellow watermelon (it was too big to fit)

This week Chef Spouse was on a short business trip, and I was on a business trip for pretty much the entire week. He managed to get through everything but a few tomatoes and enough side veg for dinner on my arrival home tonight.  How?  He took all the fruit with him since he was driving (lucky boy!) - and ate a lot of veg the nights he was home!

I really love yellow watermelon - and we ate about half of it before I left.  Texturally, it's very similar to red watermelon, although I think it's a little crisper.  But the flavor is far more subtle and interesting - and I say that as a watermelon lover in general.  It's sweeter and a bit like honeydew (at least to my palate), but again, with that wonderful watermelon crunch. 

While I was on my trip, I had a delicious summer cocktail - a watermelon margarita.  It was a very traditional margarita (tequila, fresh lime, Cointreau, a little simple syrup) made with muddled fresh watermelon, not that nasty watermelon schnapps shit.  It was FANTASTIC.  Sadly, Chef Spouse had consumed all the watermelon by the time I got home to share this discovery with him.  Perhaps next week...

17 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 12

In this week's box:

6 more ears of that AWESOME corn
big pile of green beans
the largest jalapeno I've ever seen
2 cantaloupes (1 med, 1 bitty)
2 zuchinni
2 yellow squash
3 HUGE peaches
6 tomatoes
6 black plums
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce

I have no idea how they're continuing to get lettuce to grow in this heat.  Must be magic.

We've had plums every week for the past several weeks, but they're different varieties each time.  Impressive.

Now that we've hit the mid-point of the CSA year, we're conducting a survey of participants (to see what they think and whether they're interested in doing it again next year) and non-participants (to see if they want in next year).  Plus a comment box. 

The good part is that 18 of the respondents to date are currently participating and 21 (so far) are interested in next year, so the experiment was a success. But the comments have been kind of hilarious and demonstrate to me that most people really have no idea what growing food is actually like.  Also, apparently, many of my colleagues could really stand to eat more produce on a regular basis.

I was fortunate to grow up with an avid gardener for a dad, so we had a large vegetable garden every summer, plus a yard that sported, at various times, 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees, 2 peach trees, and a sour cherry tree (many of them are still there), plus a strawberry patch (that isn't), raspberry and blackberry bushes (likewise) and blueberry bushes (that still go gangbusters every year).  And in the last few years, my dad added an herb garden right be the back door (which is, of course, the most logical spot for an herb garden, assuming your light exposure permits).

Most people aren't that fortunate.

Thanks, Dad!

11 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 11

In this week's box

6 peaches
6 plums
4 apples
4 little onions
2 HUGE red tomatoes
6 ears of corn
2 green peppers
2 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
1 watermelon
1 cantaloupe

I could barely lift the box and couldn't even get everything repacked so that the lid would go on once I'd checked out the haul in my office!

Obviously, none of this has been complicated to use, even though we went out of town this weekend and Chef Spouse continued on from  there to a week-long training class in Ohio.

I actually woke up this morning thinking, "Thank goodness it's Wednesday! I'm almost out of produce, even though I supplemented at the market this weekend with more peppers, more plums, cherries, figs, a cucumber, and some carrots!"

The out of town trip meant I got to share some of the AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS corn and the cantaloupe with our hosts (my folks), who have a large garden (more on that later) but don't grow corn (too space-consuming) or melons (too much trouble, learned from experience).

I can't tell you the last time I had a seeded watermelon.  When I first cut it open, I was a little concerned, not so much because of the seeds but because it looked pretty pale to me.  I was worried it might be a little tasteless.  Those worries turned out to be unfounded - it's tasty and juicy, and I'd forgotten how fun it can be to spit watermelon seeds.

I'm all set on apples for a pie, which is a good thing, since I need to make one this coming weekend to take to a dinner party, and everything else is gone (aside from 1 plum and the onions, which will keep).

08 August 2010

Food Lab 4: Raw Meat

Saturday, July 24, it was about a million degrees in DC (which has pretty much been the case the entire summer).  We couldn't have picked a better time to do a no-actual-cooking lab:  raw meat.  As usual, we bit off too much, testing both ceviches and tartares. 

We had all brought a bunch of the side ingredients, but if you're going to be eating raw or nearly raw meat and fish, you want to make sure it is F-R-E-S-H.  So we started the day at DC's fantastic Eastern Market.

One thing you need to know about Chef Spouse and Mad Kitchen Scientist - they should not be left alone with credit cards and a vast array of amazing potential ingredients.

We had planned to get some beef and some tuna steaks (for the tartare) and some white fish (for ceviche).

What we got?

An entire eye of round, several pounds of tuna steak, shrimp, octopus, squid, red snapper, and Chilean sea bass.

That was, as you may note, a LOT of protein.   And did I mention that, due to other schedule constraints, we only had about 4 hours?  From when we started out?

We figured we needed to start with the ceviche first, since it would need time to cure.  Our first test was different citrus acids.  We prepared a base of a combo of the sea bass and snapper with red onion, jalapeno, garlic, and salt, divided it into 4 ramekins, and covered each with one of:


We also prepped the shrimp with lime and pineapple juices, leaving us with the cephalopods.  We divided the squid into two groups:  one with lime and pineapple, the other with grapefruit.  We also divided the octopus into two: one with lemon, one with lime.

Everything went into the fridge, and we moved onto tartare creation.

First, Chef Spouse made some wonton crisps:  olive oil and sesame seeds, 9 minutes at 350.

Then Chef Spouse hand-chopped the tuna, and we each made a tartare.

Well, the FIRST thing we did was have some of the gorgeous tuna plain on the crisps.  Other than the fact that it needed a shake of salt, it was divine. 

Chef Spouse made a tuna tartare with coconut, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger, lime, and soy sauce that he served on cucumber slices (fancy!).

Mad Kitchen Scientist made a tuna tartare with sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, and scallions.

The Executive Committee made a tuna tartare with wasabi, soy sauce, scallion, and jalapeno.

Mama IA by Day-Chef by Night made a tuna & fruit tartare with mango, coconut, onion juice, pineapple juice, and Hawaiian alaea salt.

I made a tuna tartare in the classic style:  olive oil, lemon, capers, salt, red onion, chives, and parsley.

We ate them immediately, because by this point, we were STARVING.  Verdict?  All were good.  You'd choose which direction to go based on the rest of the meal.  And the cucumber slices provided a very nice platform.

Then it was on to the beef and the IA by Day-Chef by Nights' fun surprise: amazingly fresh venison.

We tested hand chopped versus ground by the Kitchen Aid, the beef versus the venison (obviously), and getting the heat from jalapenos versus serranos versus chilies in adobo sauce.  All were based on the same fundamental recipe.  Papa IA by Day-Chef by Night also put together a chocolate cherry version with the venison.

The best was the classic recipe, hand chop...venison.  The various pepper versions were good, but we'd omitted the capers so as not to muddy the flavors.  And we missed them big time - there's a reason they're a classic.

After we got through the tartares, we decided it was time to check on the ceviche.

One problem we ran into is that we didn't really have enough time.  The squid and octopus didn't cook fully - they weren't bad, but they also weren't done.

Also, we were trying to test the acids, so we didn't "finish" the ceviches - no avocado, no olive oil, no salt adjustment, no cilantro - just the original red onion, garlic and jalapenos.

Even though they were mixed together, it was easy to tell that the sea bass was better than snapper.  On the citrus side, the lime and grapefruit won over the orange (which was not acid enough to cook the fish) and the lemon (the flavor was TOO strong).  But ultimately, they were all pretty one-dimensional.

What we ended up doing was combining all the differently citrused white fishes in a bowl, finishing them with avocado, olive oil, cilantro and more salt, and then divvying them up.  They were, unsurprisingly, better the next day.

What did we drink?  I made a batch of The Cuke, The Executive Committee brought a sort of sangria base (fruit in pomegranate juice), which we tried with both rum and a resposado tequila.  Tequila was the hands-down favorite.  When we busted out the beef, we moved over to martinis made with Spruce Rogue gin.

Oh - the shrimp?  The thing is, you can't eat raw shrimp.  And it never cooked.  It wasn't even close to cooked.  You know how some restaurants serve shrimp ceviche?  They're totally parboiling it first.  More than 24 hours later, the shrimp still wasn't cooked.  We finally gave up, treated it like a marinade, and grilled it.

04 August 2010

Tales from the CSA: Week 10

In this week's box:

4 apples
6 peaches
8 plums
6 nectarines
2 red tomatoes
4 green peppers
3 little eggplant
2 cucumbers
2 zucchini
2 yellow squash

As I was unpacking it, all I could think of was: "This is like a food clown car!" Delicious produce just kept on coming.

Three observations from this week:
  1. Even though that seems like a LOT of food, it was all gone by Tuesday morning, other than enough squash to have as a side for dinner Tuesday (grilled, then tossed with pesto made with basil from the garden) and the apples, which I'm hanging onto for pie purposes.
  2. PEACHES!  I had forgotten how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE peaches!  Supermarket peaches are crap, by the way, which may be the source of my forgetting. YAY PEACHES!
  3. The Thomas Keller ratatouille recipe really is better than the traditional.  Like, a LOT better.  Even though Chef Spouse had neglected to note that it would take 2+ hours to bake, which meant we ate dinner on Saturday at about 10:30 pm.  But it was totally worth the wait.  The thin slices of squash and eggplant are nice, but we agreed that the real difference is definitely the roasted peppers.