Friday, June 26, 2009

Choppin' Broc-o-lay

A sure sign that you experienced 1980s popular culture is if you sing Dana Carvey's "Choppin' Broccoli" song from Saturday Night Live whenever you bring home a stalk of broccoli. I am so there! "My lady, she went down town....she bought some broccoli....she brought it hoooooome." Well, we got a lot of really, really nice broccoli in our CSA box this week, and I've been "choppin' broc-o-lay" to my heart's content.

Another broccoli-related blast from years ago is that salad that used to show up at all the pot-lucks and family dinners. It was made of broccoli florets, bacon and raisins drenched in a kind of sweet, creamy dressing that must have had mayonnaise in it. I never learned to make it, so I can't be sure, but I always loved it. Some years ago, I found a significantly lightened version with no mayonnaise, but all the best flavor elements of that original salad.

I've adapted that recipe, probably making it more caloric, but with only a teeny bit of mayonnaise. You'll hardly know it's there, but the dressing has a little more body to it than a vinaigrette. I also swapped out the raisins for dried cranberries, which we love around here. They make the salad less sweet and a little more perky and their chewiness contrasts with the crunchy broccoli. The smoky, salty bacon rounds out the cast. Everything is better with bacon. (Leave it out if you don't "do" bacon. The salad will still be great.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a couple more broccoli recipes to try. I'm choppin' broc-o-lay, choppin' broc-o-lay...

Sweet and Tart Broccoli Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

2 slices bacon
1/4 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
4 cups broccoli florets
¼ cup thinly-sliced red onion
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook bacon until crisp. Drain and cool. Crumble or chop.

2. Place the almonds in a small pan on medium-low heat. Shake the pan or stir frequently until the nuts are beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes (but watch carefully, since they can burn quickly). Remove from heat and cool

3. Combine vinegar, sugar, and mayonnaise in a large bowl. Whisk very well to blend completely.
4. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss well to coat.

Makes about 4 servings

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Carb-Carrying Member

I love bread. So, needless to say, I did not jump on the low-carb bandwagon that began touring the nation years ago. Americans, in a move that frankly baffled me, ditched ages-old foods like bread and noodles, declaring them suddenly unhealthy. Bakeries and pasta manufacturers went out of business while sales of no-carb pork rinds and cholesterol medications skyrocketed. Sure, lots of people lost weight and some even kept it off. Fine, whatever works for you works for you, but I’m going to keep my homemade bread. It’s made with real ingredients, no preservatives, and hardly any pork rinds.

Not too long ago, a bread-baking book got my attention. It’s called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and was written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (you can get it here or here). I was intrigued, but felt a little like this should be advertised by a shouty salesman, like Billy Mays or the Sham Wow guy. “Five minutes a day! You’ll never be hungry again! Just pay processing and handling!” I assumed the process would involve special equipment or delicate yeast starters and such things, but then, the book’s authors were guests on The Splendid Table, a radio show about food on NPR. Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the show’s charming hostess, tasted the bread right in front of the microphone, and I could hear her crunching the crust and mmmmming as she chewed. This might just be worth a try.

The whole thing got even better when I learned that The Splendid Table website had posted the basic recipe. I printed it out in early April, lost it at least three times, put “try Artisan Bread recipe” on several to-do lists, and finally, this weekend, when it was beginning to get disgustingly hot outside and it would practically be an act of self-immolation to turn on the oven, I got around to trying this bread. (Perhaps it’s not very “green” to run the oven and the air conditioner at the same time, but…all in the name of good bread.)

To make a short story that I’m making too long short again, I liked it. The recipe is super easy and the results tasted terrific. I followed the basic recipe, which you can get here, pretty much exactly. I used bread flour, but since the recipe just calls for “unbleached flour,” I think you could use all-purpose flour. Basically, you just mix up water, yeast, salt and flour and forget about it until you need it. (“And it’s just that easy!”) You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for a couple weeks and it supposedly develops in flavor over that time. All you do when you want to bake some bread is hack off a blob of dough, form it into a round loaf, let it sit, and bake it.

The resulting bread is dense and chewy, and quite flavorful. I’ve been eating it alongside salads (of course), soup, and pasta. It’s also good thinly sliced, toasted and spread with jam or marmalade. You may want a softer sandwich loaf for something like a fluffer-nutter sandwich, but this bread is the kind of stuff you cut off a big chunk to use as an extra utensil with a rustic soup or pasta sauce.

The dough is wet, and did stick to my pizza peel when I used cornmeal between the dough and the peel. I had good results when using parchment paper instead. Also, I did need to bake the bread just a little longer than specified in the recipe. To check for doneness, I insert an instant-read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf. If the bread is about 200 F inside, I call it done. (You want the interior completely cooked, but don’t want all the moisture to steam away.)

I hope to try making other shapes, like baguettes and flatbreads with this dough (especially if I can use the grill…enough oven for a while!). I’ll try to keep you informed if the results are interesting. I may even actually buy the cookbook, and see what else the authors have to offer. It looks like this recipe, as easy and flavorful as it is, will help keep me a carb-carrying member of the breakfast, lunch and supper clubs for some time to come.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Salad for Breakfast

I feel like I have come to visit the Emerald City and have had a pair of green-tinged spectacles locked onto my face. There are edible green and reddish-green leaves everywhere, thanks to a great season at the CSA to which we subscribe. It has even prompted me to change the colors on this page. I had always intended to modify the colors of fonts and lines on The Messy Apron to reflect the season, since my cooking and food commentary have a decidedly seasonal theme. Just now, all green seemed more than appropriate.

I have to admit, though, there were a few meals over the last week that did not include a salad. Perhaps I put some lettuce on a hamburger or sprinkled some over a cornbread pizza with ground grass-fed beef. But only salad uses up lettuces in the volume I require, so I have some catching up to do. I’m expecting that any night now, I’ll be having a nightmare about an ever-growing head of lettuce in a “Little Shop of Horrors” role, but, in a Bizarro-like twist, it’s shouting “Eat Me!” rather than “Feed Me!”

There seemed to be only one way to get through all of this beautiful embarrassment of lettuce riches. I was going to have to start eating salad for breakfast.

Right away, I thought of modifying Eggs Benedict. I was surprised to find a recipe or two for an Eggs Benedict salad, or at least something similar, so I borrowed what I wanted, and simplified things a bit. I could easily make English muffins into croutons by just tearing them up and baking them. The rich Hollandaise sauce could easily double as a salad dressing, especially if I made it lemony and mustardy. I had some deli ham, which could stand in for Canadian bacon well enough for me. There was only one problem. I had never poached an egg in my life. Oh well, I’m not getting any younger and it’s never too late to learn (or, perhaps you can’t teach an old dog new tricks).

If you have a reliable Hollandaise sauce recipe, by all means use that here. I like this one because it’s easy and flavorful for a salad. If you already know how to poach an egg better than I do, which is likely, ignore my inexperienced instructions. When I put my eggs in the simmering water, they just sunk to the bottom of the pan and stuck there. Luckily, they were actually quite resilient, and I could salvage them pretty easily. You could also just fry eggs (I’ve done this before to make Eggs Benedict) or even use hard boiled eggs if you happen to have them. Just skip the ham or Canadian bacon, and this is vegetarian.

Eggs Benedict Salad
I’ve written this for 4 servings, because I could conveniently make 4 servings of Hollandaise.

For the Hollandaise sauce
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of each salt and pepper

For the salad
2 English muffins
4 eggs
2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
4 slices deli ham or Canadian bacon
4 cups salad greens

1. To make the croutons, preheat oven to 400 F. Tear the English muffins into bite-size pieces and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 F until golden brown and crunchy. During the last few minutes, place the ham or Canadian bacon on the baking sheet and warm through.

2. To make the Hollandaise sauce, whisk the egg yolks and mustard in a medium heat-proof bowl that will fit over a medium saucepan (to make a double boiler). Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in the saucepan. Place the bowl over the top. The steam from the simmering water should heat the bowl (do not boil the water hard), but the bowl should not touch the water. Whisk the butter into the egg yolk mixture one piece at a time until it melts into the mixture. Repeat with all remaining pieces of butter, whisking almost constantly. The result should be a thickened sauce that is paler in color than the egg yolks were. (If you are concerned about egg safety, test the sauce with a thermometer, and make sure it is heated to 140 F for at least 3 minutes.) Whisk in the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Keep sauce warm over the simmering water until needed.

3. To poach the eggs, bring a large pot or pan of water (4 inches deep or more) and the vinegar to a simmer. Do not boil hard. Carefully remove each egg from its shell and into a small container. Gently pour each egg into the simmering water. Simmer until the egg is opaque but still soft.

4. Place 1 cup salad greens onto each of four plates. Arrange ham and croutons on the greens. Carefully remove the poached eggs from the simmering water with a slotted spoon. Place one on each plate. Pour about 2 tablespoons Hollandaise sauce over each salad.

Serves 4

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lettuce Play

First of all, there’s a new blog you need to start reading. It’s Harry’s (my husband, in case you don’t know him). It’s not a food blog, but a super-cool astronomy and star-gazing blog. It’s called the Messier Pro (and if you know that Messier was French, you can see that he totally stole the title from The Messy Apron!). Anyway, it’s geared toward anyone who likes to look up at night with a goal of helping you get the most out of your telescope, pair of binoculars, or even your pair of eyes. Check it out here, or, I’ve added it to the Other Cool Stuff link list at the right. See you there!

Well, the lettuce is still looming large in quality and quantity in my refrigerator. In addition to the head of dark red leaf lettuce and the baby greens that we received in our CSA box last week, there was a very nice head of green butter lettuce. This stuff is perfect for wrapping around tasty cooked ground meats and flavorful condiments or vegetables. I think such lettuce wraps got a boost in popularity during the low-carb craze, since the lettuce acts as a small, practically calorie-free tortilla.

I’ve had a sort of flavor anticipation (like a craving only more sophisticated…or pretentious) of crunchy vegetables, diced and drowned in big, big flavors, like sour and spicy. I thought a lettuce wrap might just be a good way to turn this anticipation into reality (as well as use up some lettuce.)

This recipe has crunch and lots of Asian-inspired hot and sour flavor. It is very spicy thanks to the whole serrano chile pepper, and the juice of a whole lime brings on lots of sourness and acidity. I bumped up the sour even more with a secret ingredient: rhubarb, which is hard to distinguish from the celery as you’re crunching away, but provides another layer of depth to the sour flavors. Radishes and raw ginger and garlic just serve to make it even more bold, though still balanced. The ground pork makes this a main dish, but also tames the vegetables a bit. I just happened to have to pork in the freezer, but you could use ground turkey or chicken or crumbled tofu if you want, or just leave the protein out and serve the wraps as a side dish or appetizer.

I usually don’t test recipes extensively before posting them on The Messy Apron. That’s why it is a blog and not a cook book. As a result, I am guessing on the number of servings this recipe makes. I only had ½ pound of ground pork, but the veggies and sauce mixture that I put together was enough to serve with twice that amount. The ½ pound was enough to feed 4 people 2-3 lettuce wraps. I served these with a side of basmati rice flavored with ginger, garlic and green onions.

Hot and Sour Lettuce Wraps with Pork

juice of 1 medium lime
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 serrano chile pepper, stem removed, thinly sliced
½ cup celery, diced
½ cup radish, diced
½ cup rhubarb, diced
½ cup green onion (scallion) finely chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, cut into thin strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 head butter lettuce, well washed and leaves separated
1/2 cup chopped peanuts

1. Combine lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and chile pepper slices in a medium bowl. Add the next 7 ingredients (through garlic) to the lime juice mixture.

2. Place pork, salt and pepper in a medium frying pan. Brown over medium heat until fully cooked. Drain and remove to a plate for serving.

3. To serve, spoon about 2 tablespoons pork into a lettuce leaf. Spoon about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the vegetable mixture over the pork. Sprinkle with peanuts. Wrap in the lettuce leaf.

Serves 6 to 8 as a main dish (makes about 16 lettuce wraps)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Frozen Fool

Remember that fool that I made last week? (Not the one I made of myself, the Strawberry-Rhubarb Fool.) By the end of the post, I had begun musing on the possibilities of making it into a frozen treat. It turned out to be as easy as putting it in the freezer.

I made the fool similarly too the way I described it in Fooling Around, using all that I had left of the Strawberry Rhubarb sauce. I also added a little more sugar to the whipped cream, mostly because I didn’t refer to the posted recipe and was going from (apparently bad) memory. The little extra sugar probably didn’t hurt, since the flavors of a very cold mouthful tend to be deadened a bit.

The result was sort of a semifreddo, which means “half cold” in Italian and refers to desserts that are half frozen. Since the cream is whipped in my frozen fool, it doesn’t freeze rock-hard, but the texture is a little fluffier than ice cream. This is easy to do and requires no special equipment, or even any extra steps after the fruit and cream mixture is placed in the freezer. I’m sure this could be made with other flavors as well. Think peaches and raspberries or blueberries and ginger.

The recipe below calls for the entire batch of Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce as made in the Fooling Around post, and the appropriate amount of whipped cream. I didn’t mention this before, but if you are going to make this with Keith around, make sure to prepare extra whipped cream. He will steal some.

Strawberry Rhubarb Frozen Fool (a semifreddo-style dessert)

1 recipe Strawberry Rhubarb sauce (about 1 ½ cups), well chilled
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional)

1. Whip the cream until it begins to thicken, and lifting the beater or whisk leaves soft, floppy peaks. Add the sugar and optional orange liqueur. Continue whipping the cream until lifting the beater from the bowl leaves firm peaks that stand up.

2. Pour the Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce onto the whipped cream. Fold the sauce into the cream like this: take a rubber spatula and use it to cut through the fruit into the cream. Turn the spatula to sort of scoop up some of the cream and bring it up from the bottom and over the top. Turn the bowl a little and do it again until there are only a few faint streaks of fruit running through the well-mixed fool. The idea is to incorporate the fruit sauce without deflating the cream.

3. Line a 8” or 9” bread pan with plastic wrap using large enough pieces of wrap to extend over the sides of the pan. Pour the whipped cream mixture into the pan and spread it out evenly. Draw the plastic wrap extensions up over the top of the mixture (or cover with another piece of plastic wrap if not long enough). Place in the freezer for several hours.

Makes 8-10 (polite) servings. You can eat the whole thing in one sitting if you want to, but I’m not responsible for the consequences.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salad Daze

"...My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood..."

-Cleopatra, from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

I’ve been eating really a lot of salad lately, and perhaps my judgment is greener than it once was. I don’t mean that quite the way Shakespeare implied, but in the sense of environmentally “green.” All my salad greens are organic and come from the CSA* to which we subscribe. Sometimes, Kermit the Frog was right, it’s not easy being green, but with this CSA subscription, it sure is bountiful…and tasty!

I rarely buy salad dressing anymore (although if I was going to see Cate, I’d certainly buy her favorite “dip”…I like it, too!) Part of the reason is that I’d rather make things for myself when I can (thus, a food blog). I also, however, prefer variety, and to have a bottle of dressing for every mood would require a second refrigerator.

Besides, salad dressing is easy. You can make just enough to dress the salad you’re about to serve, or enough for a few days that you can keep on stand-by in the refrigerator. A whisk and a bowl are my favorite tools for blending ingredients, but you can use a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake the dressing to your heart’s content. For larger batches of dressing, you can even use a blender…if you don’t mind cleaning it when you’re done.

Below are four recipes for salad dressings that I’ve been making and eating during my salad daze. Three of them are designed for two servings and can be easily multiplied. The Buttermilk-Herb Dressing recipe serves four to five. I have included two vinaigrettes, a honey-mustard dressing, and my answer to ranch dressing, which I love. I must admit that I rarely measure ingredients for salad dressings, so the recipes are more like guidelines.

The Basic Vinaigrette can be varied to your personal taste. It is basically an acidic liquid and olive oil in equal portions with a few other flavorings. You can use just about any vinegar or citrus juice, and add herbs or spices to match the flavors of your meal or other salad ingredients. This is good on most green salads.

The Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette is the same dressing I used in the Simple Shredded Carrot Salad in the Pomegranate Preference post. I just substituted walnut oil for the olive oil and added a touch of orange flower water for even more exotic flair. You certainly can leave out the orange flower water if you don’t happen to have any on hand (why wouldn’t you…I really am joking). I used this dressing on salad greens with fresh apricots, cherries, walnuts and shaved parmesan. I also think it would be good with other fruits like fresh berries later this summer, or apples and cranberries in the fall or oranges and pomegranate seeds in the winter.

The honey mustard dressing, like the basic vinaigrette, is good on just about any salad. You could probably change up the flavors by using different styles or flavors of mustard. Hmmm…I’ve got some cranberry mustard that might make things interesting.

The Buttermilk-Herb dressing is much thinner than commercial ranch dressings. I suppose you could add mayonnaise to it to thicken it up or even turn it into a dipping sauce (ie, for grilled potatoes). I used Organic Valley brand buttermilk, which I found to be less harsh in flavor than some other brands I’ve used.

If you start with these salad dressings and change the flavors to your taste, you can have seemingly endless salad varieties. I for one am hoping that my salad days go on for some more weeks and that my salad daze continues to be pleasant.

Basic Vinaigrette
You can use just about any vinegar here and add herbs and spices to your taste.

2 tablespoons wine or cider vinegar or citrus juice, or a combination
1 tablespoon minced onion or shallot
1 large pinch each sugar and kosher salt
a few grinds of pepper from a peppermill
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine the vinegar or citrus juice, onion or shallot, sugar, salt and pepper. Let stand for a few minutes or up to 15 minutes if you have time.

2. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until emulsified and very well combined (or shake in a jar with a tight-fitting lid).

Serves 2

Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
This is nice on green salads with fruit.

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper from a peppermill
1/8 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
2 tablespoons walnut oil

1. Whisk together the pomegranate molasses, honey, lemon juice, orange flower water salt and pepper. Gradually add walnut oil, whisking until well combined.

Serves 2

Honey Mustard Salad Dressing

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced onion or shallot
pinch of salt
a few grinds of black pepper from a peppermill
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine vinegar, onion or shallot, salt and pepper. Let stand for a few minutes or up to 15 minutes if time allows.

2. Add honey and mustard. Whisk to combine. Add olive oil and whisk until well combined.

Serves 2

Buttermilk Herb Salad Dressing

1 small garlic clove
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sour cream
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1. Finely chop the garlic. On the cutting board, add the salt to the garlic. Continue to chop, then make a paste by pressing and scraping the salt and garlic together with the flat side of the knife. Place the garlic paste in a small bowl.

2. Add the remaining ingredients the bowl and whisk well to combine.

Serves 4 to 5

*Community Supporte Agriculture

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fooling Around

There’s something about eating a few cubic feet of salad greens that makes me feel like I’m entitled to a bit of dessert. It’s still early for local fruits to make yummy pies and shortcakes, but rhubarb is here. I know rhubarb is not really a fruit, but its tartness is so fruity in character, that I can’t help thinking of it that way. I hope it will forgive me for my mischaracterization.

I’ve been munching rhubarb on and off for years. When I was little, we had a rhubarb plant at the end of the old garden in the back yard. I have a vivid memory of dipping a stalk (the leaves are poisonous) in a little plastic container (probably a re-purposed margarine tub) full of sugar and crunching away, wincing a little at the sourness the sugar couldn’t quite cover. I thought that rhubarb plant had died of old age, but my mom just told me this weekend that she has rhubarb again for the first time in years!

To me, rhubarb goes best with strawberries, and the strawberries that have traveled here from other states are finally tasting pretty good (although not as good as the ones that will be arriving soon from only a few miles away). I considered making a fruit crisp, but, though I had the ingredients, I never got around to making enough room in the freezer for the essential homemade ice cream accompaniment. A recipe I had collected for a rhubarb fool came to my rescue, and I thought I could easily add strawberries to it.

A fool is an old fashioned English dessert, classically made with gooseberries. While the originals were made with custard, it seems to have become standard these days to make fools with whipped cream. Stewed fruit is folded into the whipped cream, and, ta-da!, you have a decadent dessert. I may have made mine a little too decadent, at least in the serving-size department, but, hey, I’d eaten a lot of salad…

To make my fool, I started with a thick sauce or compote of strawberries and rhubarb. I added the lemon juice, not to make the fruit more sour (the rhubarb brings plenty of that) but to decrease the pH of the mixture (that is, make it more acidic), which allows the anthocyanin in the rhubarb to maintain its red color. Without the lemon juice, the rhubarb would dull in color, and the strawberries would have to do all the aesthetic work.

Once the sauce has cooled, it can be folded into well-whipped cream. I also added a bit of Grand Marnier (orange liqueur), which contributed a bit of sophistication to the dessert. You could certainly leave it out if you don’t have any on hand. To fold in the fruit, simply pour it into the top of the whipped cream. Take a rubber spatula and use it to cut through the fruit into the cream. Turn the spatula to sort of scoop up some of the cream and bring it up from the bottom and over the top. Turn the bowl a little and do it again until there are only a few faint streaks of fruit running through the well-mixed fool. The idea is to incorporate the fruit sauce without deflating the cream.

You could also spoon the sauce, which should last several days in the refrigerator, over ice cream, or mix it into plain yogurt. You can make the sauce ahead of time and just whip the cream and fold in the sauce when you are ready to serve dessert. I made two servings at a time (although they could have easily been split into three or four servings).

I was also thinking that this fool mixture might be really good frozen. I hope to try this later this week, although it’s been cool enough here to appreciate a warm dessert instead. Anyway, I guess I’ll be fooling around with this yummy concoction for a while.

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

8 ounces rhubarb, chopped
8 ounces strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup sugar

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Heat, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit begins to give off liquid. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. Remove the lid from the pan and allow the mixture to simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened somewhat, about 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Cool, then chill until ready to use.

Strawberry Rhubarb Fool
This recipe is for two large servings. Follow this formula to multiply or reduce as desired.

2/3 cup cold heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (optional), or other orange liqueur
½ cup Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce, chilled

1. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. I used a heavy-duty stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and orange liqueur. Continue whipping until the cream forms firm peaks when the whisk is lifted from the mixture. Do not overwhip or you will have butter.

2. Pour the Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce on top of the whipped cream. Fold the sauce into the cream, avoiding deflating the cream. Spoon into attractive serving dishes.

Serves 2-4, depending on how much room you left for dessert.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What’s in the Box?

My own personal Boxing Day (and probably that of many other CSA* shareholders) has arrived. And boy oh boy is this exciting. A foodie like me can hardly contain herself. The person who gives us information at the farm is usually somewhat apologetic that the first few boxes of produce are small, but, as you can see in the photo above, there is nothing to apologize for! I think it’s fair to say that this is the largest head of green leaf lettuce I have ever seen!

It’s always so much fun for me to dive into each box and speculate on meals for the following week (hmmm…I’m thinking salads.) I prepare (ie, clean, trim, wrap, etc.) some produce, like lettuce and spinach, right away, and leave others, such as those little purple spring onions and green garlic alone until I need them. Some things will stay fresh longer if you don’t bother them too much.

To wash salad greens, especially spinach, which can be sandy, I fill a sink with cold water and dump the greens in. I swish them around a little, then put them in a colander and gently rinse them. I then spin off as much of the remaining water as I can in a salad spinner, (I have the Oxo brand plunger-top model), wrap the leaves loosely in paper towel and put them in a zip-top plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. Most greens will keep in the refrigerator this way all week (some will last even longer).

Happily for me, the farm can usually let us know in advance what we are getting in the produce box, so I can prepare by making tentative menu plans (one of my favorite things to do) and making room in the refrigerator (something at which I am not so good). But what to eat first? It was quite tempting to attack the asparagus like a lion on a gazelle, but I know that will last a while in the refrigerator. (I stood the spears upright in a tall container with a little water in the bottom, like flowers in a vase, and draped a plastic bag over the top. I’ve heard that this is a good way to store asparagus, but this is the first time I’ve tried it.)

My previous experiences suggested I should eat the spinach first, since that is what seems to lose its luster most quickly. I like the Greek-style dish Spanakopita, a pie made of cooked spinach or other dark greens, flavored with herbs and onions, or whatever you like and topped with several layers of crispy phyllo dough. It seemed a dirty shame, however, to cook down this ultra-fresh and really tasty spinach, so I opted for a salad with the same flavors, a sort of deconstructed Spanakopita.

This seemed like a good time to try the Phyllo Croutons I saw Giada DeLaurentiis make on "Everyday Italian" on the Food Network and top my salad with them. They are basically strips of phyllo dough tossed with melted butter and parmesan cheese and baked until they become members of the illustrious brown and crunch food group. I had a ratty partial package of phyllo dough in the freezer that offered itself to the task. I didn’t slice the phyllo into pretty ribbons like Giada did, but just crumbled my dried out sheets into a bowl. As a result, my croutons don’t look like Giada’s (much the way I don’t look like Giada herself), but they are soooooo good. The leftovers keep well in a plastic bag, but I’ll warn you, you might just keep munching until there are no leftovers.

This salad recipe is a little loose in the details, but most of the time, you really don’t need to precisely measure salad ingredients. Add what you like and omit what you don’t. If you think the vinaigrette bears a striking resemblance to the one I used for the Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors, you’re absolutely correct. It is quite tart, so, depending on your preferences, you might want to add a bit of sugar or honey. Just dip a leaf into the prepared vinaigrette, taste it, and adjust it as you wish.

Deconstructed Spanakopita Salad
This recipe can be easily multiplied to serve more than two.

prepared Phyllo Croutons from Everyday Italian on the Food Network
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
a pinch of salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
about 4 cups fresh spinach leaves, torn
a few thin slices of red onion, separated into slivers
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
about 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Place the spinach leaves in the bottom of a medium bowl. Arrange the onion, olives and feta on top of the spinach.

3. Add the olive oil to the vinegar mixture and whisk vigorously until well-combined. Pour the dressing evenly over the salad. Sprinkle each serving with some of the Phyllo Croutons. (Store leftover Phyllo Croutons in a plastic bag and add them to other salads, or float them on soups.)

Serves 2.

*Community Supported Agriculture

Monday, June 1, 2009

Soothing My Impatience

I have such a short time to wait. The day is almost upon us. I’m prepared, if a little nervous. I have lists of thing’s I’ll need. I have ideas for continuing this regular communication. Just a short time now. Just until Tuesday. The big day. My Christmas in June. The first offering from Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to which I subscribe.

What will be in the box? I’ve got a pretty good idea: salad greens and spinach and, best of all, snappy, sweet, super-fresh asparagus, all grown organically and with a special kind of love.

But while Tuesday afternoon is coming soon, it’s not soon enough. What to do until then? It’s all summery and I want to grill and I want salads with my grilled food. Perky salads that cut through the smoky flavors of grilled meats and my stodgy lentil burgers. I can’t buy supermarket lettuce now! That would be akin to blasphemy!

But a salad it will be, one that I can make easily when my pantry and refrigerator are well-stocked (as they usually are). My patio herb garden is reasonably well-stocked as well, although it seems rather puny when I think of the good stuff brimming with potential in the June fields at Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables. Still, I’ll celebrate porch bounty, too.

I might as well get into good vinaigrette shape as well. I know from the experience of subscribing to the CSA for two years that I’ll be making a lot of them over the next month, and I couldn’t be happier. The chickpea and olive salad I present here has a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and lots of garlic. I like to use kosher salt as an abrasive to turn the garlic into a paste. Said paste seems to dissolve in the dressing without any harsh bits of raw garlic awaiting an unsuspecting eater.

First, I mince the garlic using a chef’s knife, then I sprinkle it with the salt. I chop at the mixture a little more to work the salt into the garlic. (You could use a mortar and pestle to do this. To me, it’s just another thing to wash, and I’m getting pretty good at this knife method.)

I then mash the garlic and salt together with the flat of a chef’s knife, pressing and scraping until I have a paste.

I was going to have this salad with grilled food, but it began to rain just as I was about to start dinner. The George Foreman counter-top grill (or the Geo Fo, as I call it) saved our dinner, just as this Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors soothed my impatience (I have mentioned that I’m impatient, haven’t I?) as I would wait until Tuesday for my box of veggies from the CSA.

Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors
Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1/3 cup diced red onion
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup chopped pickled pepperoncini peppers (the yellow slightly spicy kind)
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon minced rosemary leaves

1. In a medium bowl, combine vinegar and lemon juice. Mince the garlic. Sprinkle the garlic with the salt. Chop the salt into the garlic, then rub the mixture with the flat of the knife repeatedly, pressing against the cutting board until a paste is formed (see photos above).

2. Add the garlic to the vinegar and lemon juice. Allow this mixture to stand while you prepare the other ingredients.

3. Add the black pepper and olive oil to the vinegar and garlic mixture. Whisk until well combined. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well to coat.

Makes 4 servings.