Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jess & Nick's CSA Delivery #3 - May 31, 2012

I just picked up this vibrant box of fruits and vegetables earlier this afternoon.  It's our third delivery of the season from our beloved farm.  This week we received red radishes; strawberries!; baby white turnips; mini red, and green (not pictured) romaine lettuce; garlic scapes; new-to-us mibuna greens, which are described as having a mild mustard flavor; hot pink rhubarb; asparagus; and, in the tiny, center picture, some potato or Egyptian walking onions...I'm not sure which.  We also received a bag of spinach, and more pea vine (which I left in the swap box again for some lucky CSA member that loves pea vine more than we do).

I am contemplating baking a strawberry-rhubarb custard pie.  Whhaaat?  I know that I claim to hate rhubarb as a baked entity, but I keep hearing really great things about this particular combination.  My hope is that the custard helps hold everything together in a nice semi-solid mass to prevent the dreaded weeping and subsequent sogginess that I abhor.  I'm still undecided, but I'll keep you posted.

Obviously we will be having asparagus tonight, perhaps in this dish from last season.  I am also looking forward to repeating this meal with the baby turnips.  Other than that, I'm thinking salads and pestos with our greens, and maybe some fun sandwiches so that we can use our lovely little lettuces.

Our kitchen is getting a major overhaul tomorrow.  If all goes well, new counter tops and a new sink and faucet will be going in, followed by a little DIY project involving a subway tile back splash that will probably take me a least through next weekend.  Wish us luck.  Once everything is finished up, I'll take some photos and post them here so you guys can get a little sneak peak.

As always, thank you to our hard-working crew at Harmony Valley Farm for delivering such a beautiful box this week!
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Peach Season - May 31, 2012

It is peach season at our house! When Richie came back from Home Depot some years ago with some fruit trees, I thought it would be an interesting experiment but never imagined they'd actually be productive. Hundreds of peaches, dozens of pears, and a few apples later and I can't imagine not having this amazing bounty each summer.

The peach tree took a direct hit during Hurricane Irene last year and nearly toppled over, but thankfully it survived. We staked it up and did some serious pruning and it has had a relatively productive year. Not quite as impressive as last year, but still more than we know what to do with!

I've been enjoying peaches with my yogurt (homemade of course!)... Shown here drizzled with honey and garnished with a few mint leaves from the herb garden.

We've had peach cobbler... Served with some of my homemade ice vanilla ice cream. Dinner Clubbers may recall that I have been in the past adamantly opposed to "a la mode." Well, let's just say that change is possible. I have definitely changed my tune on that preference, especially when the ice cream is this good.

And we've preserved some peaches for the winter months. Shown here are the four pints I put up so far (alas, one didn't seal so I'll be turning it into peach-mulberry cobbler tonight).

I also made a batch of peach jam with some of our earliest windfalls, but I should have probably crushed the fruit a bit more as it ended up separating from the jelly part. Live and learn!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Seared Scallops with Pan Sauce over Parsnip Puree - May 24, 2012

After a recent visit to a neighborhood restaurant, I was inspired to make this meal.  Nick and I had two deliveries worth of CSA parsnips, and this was the perfect use for all of them.  I followed the instructions for pureed vegetables in How to Cook Everything.  This simply involved cooking the parsnips in boiling water for 15 minutes, straining, and blending in the food processor with a little reserved cooking water and some butter until they got to the creamy consistency that I wanted.

I also consulted Mr. Bittman for the scallop recipe.  He says to use half butter and half olive oil in the saute pan and cook the scallops over medium-high heat for about two minutes per side.  The pan sauce is just lemon juice added to the pan after the scallops have been removed, combined with all the delicious brown bits and the remaining fat, and cooked for another two minutes until it all forms a nice glaze.  We garnished our bowls with fresh parsley.  The whole meal was incredibly delicious and couldn't have been simpler to make.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fresh Nettle-Morel Ravioli with Charred Asparagus and Miso Soup - May 21, 2012

Local farmers' markets are starting up here in Minnesota and Nick and I visited one in our neighborhood on Saturday.  While we get more than enough vegetables from our CSA share, farmers' markets are a great excuse for us to purchase some delectable pastries, food truck lunches, and other locally produced goods.  We splurged on this nettle and morel ravioli from the Broder's stand at Fulton Farmers' Market, thinking it sounded delicious.  It was pricey, $18 for a small package, but due to the exorbitant cost of morels, not out of line for fresh, handmade pasta.  I don't think I could have made it myself for much cheaper.

The woman at the booth recommended a simple butter sauce that wouldn't overwhelm the delicate flavors of the pasta.  I looked up a butter-Parmesan sauce in our copy of How to Cook Everything and followed it, adding in pine nuts, finely chopped potato onion, and chopped fresh parsley.  Since the ravioli servings were small, we supplemented dinner with some left-over Miso Soup with Nettles and Sorrel, and some charred asparagus spears with olive oil and salt.  We grated fresh lemon zest over everything.

The pasta was amazing.  Stuffed full of morels and ricotta, every bite was delicious.  The nettles in the soup complimented the nettle pasta, and the charred asparagus was perfectly crispy.  We thoroughly enjoyed this dinner.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin - May 20, 2012

This year we are getting most of our eggs and meat through the Polyface Farms urban buying club. This eco-friendly "beyond organic" farm in Virginia was made famous by being featured in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. The recent reading I have been doing in light of my newly developed food allergy has opened my eyes to the danger of our conventional food supply, both for our personal health and for the planet. I've decided to swear off conventional factory farmed food (as much as is possible) and eat only organic and/or naturally produced local foods.

The good news is that since going this route, not only do we feel better, but our food tastes better than ever! This dish is one such example. I've never been much of a fan of pork tenderloin in the past as it always seemed rather flavorless too lean. In fact, this was only included in our first order as a substitution for the cheaper cut of whole pork loin that I originally requested in order to cure and smoke for homemade Canadian bacon. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Polyface's natural "pigerator pork" is far superior to the spongy supermarket stuff I'd experienced in the past. It came with a nice layer of fat on the topside that made the whole thing juicy and had a fantastic "porky" taste. I pan-roasted it with coriander seeds from last year's herb garden, fresh thyme from this year's garden, and garlic. Served with roasted organic yellow potatoes from the farmer's market and a salad of greens from our own garden, it was a perfect local meal.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spiced Rhubarb-Ginger Nectar - May 20, 2012

Usually, the rhubarb Nick and I get in our CSA share gets used for beverages.  While I like rhubarb's taste, I don't care for it's texture and it's tendency to make baked goods really soggy.  I find infusing it into assorted liquids is the best way for me to enjoy the tart flavor and fleeting season.  In the past, I've infused vodka and gin, custard for making rhubarb ice cream, and simple syrup for homemade sodas.  Of this list, I've found the simple syrup gets the most use due to it's versatility.  I briefly considered making rhubarb iced tea and rhubarb-ade (via A to Z), but in the end, the syrup won out. 

This go around, I wanted to make the syrup more complex, inspired by my favorite Thyme-Pink Peppercorn Soda that Jaime just posted about, and decided to use a combination of rhubarb, fresh ginger, and lemon juice.  I seasoned this with an assortment of toasted spices.  Here's my recipe:

Spiced Rhubarb-Ginger Nectar

1 lb fresh rhubarb, chopped in 1/2 in pieces
2-3 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped finely
Juice of two lemons
2 1/2 C sugar
3-4 C water
1 T coriander seeds
1 T pink peppercorns
3 whole white cardamom pods
1 whole star anise

Lightly toast the last four ingredients in a pan over med-high heat, until just fragrant (60-90 sec).  Transfer to a mortar and pestle and tap the spices firmly three to four times to lightly crush, and release more flavor.  Secure the spices in cheese cloth.  Put cheese cloth-wrapped spices in a large pot with all other ingredients and heat to a gentle simmer.  Simmer 5-10 minutes and remove from heat.  Cover pot and let steep for 30 minutes to an hour (mine actually steeped a bit longer since I got wrapped up in watching Star Wars Episode III on TV...oops).  Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth.  Transfer to a storage container and chill.

It turned out just how I wanted it, spicy and complex.  I feel like all of the flavors are nicely balanced, with no one being overly assertive.  The rhubarb hits the palate first, followed closely by ginger, and then the lovely, mysterious flavor of the spice blend finishes the sip. 

I've used this syrup to make Spicy Rhubarb-Ginger Sodas by adding a quarter cup of syrup to a glass and topping it with soda water.  Nick and I also made cocktails last night using equal parts rhubarb syrup and liquor (Nick used Tito's Vodka and I used Old Sugar Factory's Honey Liqueur), crushed ice, and soda water to fill the glass.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pickled Asparagus - May 19, 2012

My second home canning effort! A few of the stands at the Alexandria farmer's market yesterday still had asparagus and I decided it would be fun to try out the recipe for pickled asparagus I'd just read about in The Preservation Kitchen, a new cookbook I decided to buy based solely on Amazon's recommendation due to my recent purchase of a canner and assorted canning accessories.

This is the first recipe I've tried (and I haven't tasted it yet!) so I can't do a full review yet, but it is very fun to look at and read. When I bought it I didn't realize his restaurant was in Chicago, so it was a delight to read about him sourcing local ingredients from Wisconsin and Illinois. Makes me really miss the midwest!

I ended up halving the recipe that called for four pounds of asparagus and would make about 4 quarts, primarily out of concern for my budget. Half pound bunches of asparagus were $4 each, so the two pounds I did buy cost me $16. Plus, I had to buy two bottles of white wine vinegar (the recipe called for champagne vinegar but I decided that was just too expensive and white wine would have to do) at $4 a piece. The dill is growing on my patio, so that was essentially free. Adding in a few cents for salt and garlic, the we are approaching $12 a quart! Yikes! I sure hope that when I actually bust into these preserves this winter, I decide they were worth the expense!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Brown Basmati and Asparagus Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette - May 17, 2012

Asparagus always gets used first whenever it arrives in our CSA box, preferably the very same night we receive it.  It's flavor changes rapidly after it's picked because the sugars convert to starches, so it's best if eaten quickly.  The June 2012 issue of Bon Appetit has a nice spread on grain salads, which are a favorite around here at Chez Jess & Nick, and was the inspiration for this dinner.  I didn't use any of their recipes, instead choosing to riff on what I had available to me.

For our version, I sauteed asparagus lightly in olive oil, adding in a big bunch of saute greens right before turning off the heat.  While the rice was cooking, I chopped up the rest of our chives from the previous delivery, two green garlics, and six or eight French Breakfast radishes.  To this, I added the zest of two lemons.  Once the rice finished cooking, I combined my fresh and sauteed ingredients, stirred them into the rice, and dressed with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a splash of red wine vinegar.

It turned out pretty well and had great flavor.  My rice, however, was a little mushier than I would have liked, even though I added less water and thoroughly rinsed off the surface starches prior to cooking.  Bon Appetit has a tutorial at the back of the magazine for cooking perfect rice.  Perhaps I'll have to follow it next time.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jess & Nick's CSA Delivery #2 - May 17, 2012

Here is our second delivery of CSA vegetables.  We received asparagus; Hon Tsai Tai greens, with the pretty yellow flowers; more delightful French Breakfast radishes; rhubarb; more parsnips (yikes, I haven't used up those in the last delivery yet!); our herb packs, which I have diligently planted this afternoon; green garlic; and potato onions.  We also got a bag of salad mix and saute mix, and some pea vine.  I, somewhat guiltily, left the pea vine in the swap box at our delivery site.  Nick and I find the texture of the stems to be too fibrous and we're too lazy to strip the leaves from them before cooking to alleviate this problem.  Sounds a little like a case of "The Princess and the Pea Vine," doesn't it?  I'm trying hard not to be ashamed of myself.  I hope they find a good home in some one's kitchen who appreciates them more than we've been able to.

Thank you Harmony Valley Farm!  I hope my left-behind pea vine doesn't detract anything from my heartfelt gratitute for all the work you do to bring this beautiful food to our table.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Crazy" Chocolate-Coconut Layer Cake with Buttercream Frosting - May 13, 2012

To complete Nick's and my celebratory week, I made this layer cake on Sunday afternoon.  I used a recipe for Crazy Cake, which my mom used to make when I was little, and I loved.  I believe it's called "Crazy" because you mix up the ingredients right in the baking pan and then just pop the whole thing in the oven.  Since I didn't follow this methodology, choosing instead to make a layer cake, I'm not sure if the name still applies.  Regardless, I remember it being the best chocolate cake, really dense and moist.

The difference in flavor and texture may be due to the lack of eggs and butter, since crazy cakes use vegetable oil and a combination of baking soda and white vinegar for levening.  I've read that the recipe's origens are from a time when eggs and butter were either hard to get, or rationed (the depression? WWII?).  I can't confirm or deny this, since I was introduced to it as an '80's baking fad. 

Let's get down to it, shall we?  Here's the recipe I followed, replacing the vegetable oil with coconut oil (which is where the 'coconut' in the title comes from).  I mixed up the ingredients in a big bowl, rather than the 9x13 pan that is traditional.  The batter, which remained disturbingly lumpy despite a brief spin in the stand mixer, baked in two 8x1 1/2 circular pans.  Since I didn't know how this would affect the baking time, after the initial 15 minutes I kept checking every 5 minutes or so.  It took at least 40 minutes, which is the high end of the range given in the recipe for the 9x13 pan.  I let the cakes cool in their pans for about 10 minutes and then took them out to cool completely on racks.  Once cooled, I sliced them in half along their cross-section to make four layers.  The cake crumb turned out despite my lumpy batter, and stood up well to my decidedly inexperienced cake disection (this is my first cake with more than two layers).

Buttercream frosting is the way to go if you ask me, although it's probably not what they used during the depression or WWII.  It must be an '80's addition.  This recipe made just enough for three layers plus the top and sides of the cake.

Despite all my modifications this is still just how I remember it.  Best. Cake. Ever.
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Strawberry Jam - May 15, 2012

I did it! My first ever jam-making and canning experience! These little jars are so pretty and so much more work than I expected went into making them that I can't even imagine eating them, although I'm sure I will change my mind when the dark days of winter roll around.

Cooking, cooking, cooking... What does "gelling point" mean, anyway??

My mother was a home food preserver, even in the 1980s and 1990s when it was not very fashionable. I think she was either ahead of or behind her time, not sure which! In addition to canning the tomatoes and freezing other veggies from our garden, she would buy crates of peaches, pears, and plums from the supermarket each summer and can them for us to eat throughout the year. I recall having a vague awareness of what she was doing, but never got interested in learning more. When I was very young I thought it was just something moms did, but then I got older and thought it was old fashioned and weird. No way was I going to go through all that work! I'd just buy canned stuff at the store, like everyone else in the normal world!

Which is exactly what I did, until my adult-onset food allergies threw me for a loop. Virtually all commercially produced canned tomatoes are a problem for me due to the citric acid (derived from corn) they add. Jams and jellies - even the "natural" ones without high fructose corn syrup - are still dangerous because there is no way of knowing what is in the pectin or what the fruit might have been treated with. So here I am... following in my mother's footsteps after all!

And to my great surprise, it is a lot of fun! And as I learn more about the commercial food supply, the more I am grateful that I had something push me in this direction.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sorrel and Stinging Nettles in Miso Broth - May 9, 2012

Between celebrating visiting friends, multiple birthday dinners out, flea market street food, and Mothers' Day last week, Nick and I needed a mid-week respite from the heavy (delicious) meals we'd been eating.  I decided that a healthy, green broth was in order, utilizing much of our CSA bounty.  The soup's broth I made using some of the sweet white miso paste that I purchased to make JJ's ginger-miso-apple salad dressing.  I usually use chicken stock, but the miso made a delicious and hearty base.  Sorrel, stinging nettles, potatoes (I should have used the sunchokes from box #1), green garlic, and chives all made their way into the soup.  When it was finished cooking, I pureed a portion of the soup with my immersion blender to make a thicker texture.  We garnished with chives and fresh lemon zest to bring out the lemony flavor of the sorrel.  This was just what we needed for a healthy break amidst the over-indulgences of last week.
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Strawberry Picking (and a new puppy!) - May 13, 2012

It's strawberry season here in Virginia! We drove down to south central Virginia on Saturday and on the way home, stopped at Gallmeyer Farms outside Richmond for our first ever experience of "u-pick" strawberries. I've had plenty of strawberry picking experience, of course, since picking in the garden was a task my sister and I were often given. But this was very different. For one, I actually WANTED to do it! Disgusted by the quality of supermarket berries and newly inspired to eat more locally grown foods, Richie and I have decided to make the most of the fruit growing season here. Next up will be blueberries and then apples in the fall. I'd love to find some cherries too, but that is proving a little more difficult.

The other major difference was that I was free to pick what I liked. I could pass over berries to my heart's content and no one would scold me later for leaving some to rot on the vine or picking some that were not completely ripe yet. So freeing!

Altogether, we picked a little more than 10 pounds of berries. Not bad for about 30 minutes worth of effort! We had strawberry shortcake right away (yum) and then I sorted the rest. A big bowl of not-so-ripe ones are hanging out in the fridge waiting for me to get some canning jars and then turn them into jam (on my agenda for this week) and I froze another four bags to be enjoyed throughout the year.

The primary reason for our drive was to check out a new litter of chocolate lab puppies! It has been over a year now since we said goodbye to your beloved yellow lab Kili and have finally decided that the time is right for another dog. The puppies were adorable and we got to meet the breeder and see both of the parents (the father is an international champion... whatever that means!), who were healthy and very good natured. They were just born on May 2 so still have some more time to spend with their mother before our little one can come home on June 22. More pictures will follow then, but here is a teaser for now!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pink Peppercorn Thyme Soda - May 11, 2012

One of the fabulous toys I received for Christmas this year was a SodaStream machine. Jess gave me some yummy recipes to try, my favorite of which is for ginger ale. She told me she almost always has a jar of the syrup in her fridge and now I do too!

With the growing season now in full spring, my herbs are going great guns and I thought it was finally time (hah! no pun intended!) to try the intriguing recipe she also shared for pink peppercorn and thyme soda. Isn't it pretty? The taste is equally lovely and very refreshing on a warm day. Thanks Jess!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Jess & Nick's CSA Delivery #1 - May 3, 2012

It's the first CSA box of 2012!  Our warm and early spring brings us sunchokes; stinging nettle (wrapped in a protective plastic bag); sorrel; French breakfast radishes; black radishes; green garlic; over-wintered baby parsnips (extra sweet!); and chives.  We also received a lovely bag of over-wintered spinach, which is always the tastiest of the year. 

We are so excited to begin a new season with Harmony Valley Farm and are looking forward to a season full of new culinary adventures with the beautiful produce they provide us. Thank you, HVF!
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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Morel and Ramp Pasta - May 1, 2012

I saw the basket of morel mushrooms at the co-op last week and could not resist purchasing a small quantity for a special dinner.  At the co-op, morels are $50 a pound, so when I say "special" and "small quantity," I'm not kidding around.  Learning how to find these things in the wild has just risen to the top of my to-do list.    

The occasion was Nick's return home from a week-long trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines for work.  Such a homecoming called for a fancier than average weeknight meal.  To prepare the pasta, I cleaned and sliced the morels in half length-wise.  I plan to always slice the morels this way in the future because I found about 25 small ants living inside each of two of the hollow mushrooms and a little slug inside a third, none of which I would have known about if I'd decided to cook the mushrooms whole.  Easily removed and a clear sign of organic, foraged fungi, I didn't let the bugs bother me too much after my first initial gasp of surprise. 

I diced the bulbs and stems of a small bunch of ramps I'd been keeping in the refrigerator, reserving the green leaves to add later.  I sauteed the ramp bulbs in a generous pat of butter over medium heat for about five minutes and then added my morels with a pinch of salt.  This mix cooked happily for another five minutes or so, and then I added a splash of cream and some freshly ground pepper.  While this simmered gently, I grated in some fresh Pecorino-Romano and then added my partially cooked pasta right into the pan, along with some of the pasta water to help make a light sauce.  Right at the end I added the chopped ramp greens.

The end result was light and creamy, with balanced flavors of rich and earthy morels and bright, acidic ramps.  A reflexion of time and place, this meal is one way to define home. 

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