I’ve figured out the secret…

21 09 2008

I’ve figured out the secret to eating seasonally.  Lore has it that the food tastes so good, it’ll spoil you for everything less.  I’d say that’s at least 75% of it.  Since either buying produce at the farmer’s market or growing it, the bar has definitely been raised.  I do think there is another factor at work:

If you eat what you grow and you have a lot of it, you may end up so tired of a particular vegetable that the next thing in line tastes even better for it.   If you’re not the type of person who escapes the kitchen for a local restaurant, I imagine this is magnified 10-fold.

(I am getting tired of tomatoes.  I don’t think it is PC to actually say that you are tired of eating tomatoes off the vine, but I am getting there.  I was doing OK keeping up with the tomatoes up until a couple of weeks ago, but having had to take time away from the garden, I am way, way, way behind.  The chard has been tackled.  The pak choi has been partially tackled.  It was time to deal with the tomatoes. Next, while I am letting some of the green beans go to seed, I really should continue picking the rest.  I keep thinking they are done, but no.)

One of the things I have learned from this year’s tomato growing experiences is that, in the future, if I have sufficient space, I really could grow enough romas to put up to get through the rest of the year.  The bad news is, doubting whether my romas would ever turn red, I put up 30 lbs of tomatoes from the farmer’s market.  I don’t want to put up any more!  So, I have to find things to do with them.

I pulled out nearly 3 1/2 lbs of romas today, and I haven’t even dared think about the dozens upon dozens of cherry tomatoes waiting impatiently for me.  I eat as many as I can while standing in my garden plot, but there’s only so many of these things you can eat at a time!

I am trying out a new recipe for a fresh tomato soup.  It’s from the newly-published Cooks’ Country cookbook.  That said, I’m adapting both the proportions and some of the instructions.  This may be problematic for reasons mentioned below.  If it’s a success, I give total credit to the Cooks’ Country folk.  If it’s a failure, it’s really not their fault; I’m ignoring one rather crucial instruction.  It’s a little different than my other tomato soup recipes I’ve made, but I was pretty much able to make it with stuff straight out of the garden.

I cored and quartered the tomatoes and chopped up the three remaining small onions.  I threw in a few peeled cloves of garlic, and drizzled the entire thing with three tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar.

Now, the recipe both called for more tomatoes and instructed the cook to spread them on a large roasting pan.  I don’t have a large roasting pan at the moment, so I’m using my buffet casserole.  The mixture is supposed to be roasted at 450 degree for 1 1/2 hours.  The potential problem is that, with the veggies so close together, they seem to simmer and steam rather than roast, per se.  BUT, this is supposed to end up as soup, so I’m hoping that I’ll hit close enough to the mark for it to still taste good.  We’re about 45 minutes into it, and it smells pretty amazing.

The roasted tomatoes and onions are incredible.  The problem is that when I pureed them, per the recipe, they make a VERY thick puree.  This is supposed to be the basis for the rest of the soup.   The recipe called for either slicing OR plum tomatoes, and I had plum tomatoes.   Well, plum tomatoes have much less liquid to spare than slicing tomatoes, so while I was worried about there being too much liquid, the opposite has happened.

Then, realizing that I needed another pound of fresh tomatoes to mix with the basil that goes into the soup, I went down and picked a bunch of cherry tomatoes.  Now, whether it is the cherry tomatoes or the puree, the soup is too sweet.  I added very little sugar, so it’s not that; it is the tomatoes.  Too thick. Too sweet.  What to do.

(—– Half Hour Time out—–)

OK, despite everything I said above, I think there was an error in the recipe, which is so uncharacteristic of those folks, but this was so far from the mark for them, I think they forgot to write something down.  The recipe didn’t call for ANY additional water or broth.  This might have been OK with slicing tomatoes, but definitely not with my tomatoes.  Considering I had downsized the proportions pretty evenly, I don’t think that was the problem either.

I tried adding water at first.  That thinned it out, but the soup was still thick and sweet.  I went out and grabbed a goodish sprig of oregano, chopped it up, and threw it in.  That rounded out the flavors somewhat, but we still couldn’t imagine sitting down to a bowl of this.   I threw in quite a bit of chicken broth and some more salt, and A LOT of freshly ground pepper.  That did the trick.   It was no longer too sweet or too thick and actually tasted like a pretty great tomato soup.   We mopped it up with grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread and handmade Beecher’s Flagship cheese.





Chard Ravioli

19 09 2008

This is my fall back recipe for using up extra spinach or chard.  It is a combination of recipes from Cook’s Illustrated, The Herbfarm Cookbook, and my own experiences.

Chard filling: (Thanks to having 2 1/2 lbs of chard, I basically tripled this)

  • 3/4 lbs chard (or spinach)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt

Wash and stem the chard.  Leaving water on leaves, put in a pot over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until leaves are just wilted.  For best flavor, the chard should stay a nice bright green.  Remove from heat.  Run leaves under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze all water of leaves.  Chop fairly finely.

Heat butter in large skillet.  Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add chard and stir until evenly mixed.  Remove from heat.  Salt to taste.  I add a bit more salt to chard than I do to spinach in order to bring out the best flavor of the chard.  Sometimes chard can taste too much like “greens” without enough salt.  Let cool.

Mix ricotta, parmesan, and egg yolk.  Add cooled chard / onion mixture.  Stir until cheese and greens are evenly mixed.   Store in refrigerator until pasta is made.

Handmade pasta can be a real pain in the arse, but I’ve found that it is really worth taking the time to figure it out.  The hard part is getting a sense of how much flour the dough needs on that particular day.   Believe it or not, weather conditions really do seem to make a difference.

Basic pasta recipe:

  • 2 cups bread flour  (I’ve made pasta with both all purpose and bread flour, and I’ve found that the bread flour results in a softer dough, which I like)
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsps olive oil
  • water (2-4+ tbsp)

Through everything but the water in a standing mixer and mix with a dough hook or a paddle.  Add a little water until the dough comes together enough that when you grab a handful, it sticks together when you release it.  It is ok if it is somewhat of a shaggy mess.  If the dough is a little dry now, it’ll save you work later.  Put it in a ziplock bag or wrap it in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  I find the longer it sits, the easier it is to roll.

Then, roll it out using whatever pasta machine you have.  I have an attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.  It’s noisy, but it gets the job done.  I roll it until is at the 5th setting on mine.  If it’s thinner, I find the pasta tears too easily.

Here’s what I’ve taken to lately.  Many cookbooks talk about dusting your cooking area with flour.  Some recommend dusting with rice flour.  I have invariably torn the ravioli at some point using these methods.  I’ve taken to putting the pasta directly on parchment paper.  It is very easy to drag the parchment paper onto a baking sheet to slip it into the freezer.  Once frozen, the ravioli slide right off the parchment paper and into a ziplock bag.

And thus, endless leaves of chard are turned into ravioli for fall dinners.  These twelve, of course, are just the beginning of a long but rewarding process.





What does one do with cabbage?

3 09 2008

I pulled this nearly 2  1/2-pounder out of the garden this week.   To cabbage growers, my ability to produce a cabbage will not seem a very grandiose achievement, but I’m still dazzled at how the head went from some slightly crumpled leaves to a dense ball in just a matter of weeks.  I wish I hadn’t unnecessarily pulled the other cabbage plants out.  I do have a 1-pounder that I started eating this evening, but I think I really ended up wasting those plants.  Alas.

What I do appreciate about cabbage is how much food you get for the space.  Three and a half pounds of cabbage will go a long way as side dishes.   The question is, what to do with this much maligned vegetable?  I am neither a fan of any sort of recipes that makes cabbage limp, nor am I a big fan of coleslaw.  As I’ve been looking around, I’ve realized, as should have been obvious, that cabbage has really fallen out of favor with both cooks and cookbook authors.  Given what a sturdy food cabbage is, this really is a shame.  At the same time, I have zero interest in eating something that doesn’t taste good.

My favorite recipe for green cabbage is a stir fry with bean sprouts and peanuts.  You can find it at http://www.cooksillustrated.com.  I’d love to post the recipe, but it’s detailed enough that I don’t think I can fairly post it without violating their intellectual property rights.   I tried a more simple saute this evening that I enjoyed far more than I thought I would.  This was an experiment, so I cut off 1/4 pound of the smallest cabbage.  I sliced it very thin.  I melted a half tablespoon of butter, then added about a tablespoon of water. I added the cabbage and a pinch of fresh thyme.  I let it braise, covered, for about seven minutes, until the pan was fairly dry and the cabbage was crispy.  I sprinkled on a little salt and pepper and gave it a try.  It was good!  I think the key here is to not add too much liquid and to minimize the cooking time so the cabbage still has some crunch to it.

I’ve put in five cabbage plants into my fall garden, but more on that later.





Breakfast

23 07 2008

Rule About Eating #1:

I don’t think there is any faster way to create a poor eater than to force food upon someone else “because it is good for you.”

Rule About Eating #2: Never make a bad recipe twice. I have made my share of poor food as a result of bad recipes. Once you know either the recipe doesn’t work or that you simply don’t like it, don’t make the tragic error of ever trying it again.

So given these two rules, how does one actually end up eating something like chard? I’m sure that there are people who are born liking greens, but I am not one of them. But, greens are available locally nearly year round, and I wanted to find ways to prepare them such that I would actually LIKE eating them.

After much trial and error, I have found one and only one chard preparation I really enjoy. You can find the original recipe in Rick Bayless’ cookbook, Mexican Everyday. The original recipe is essentially tacos made out of tender greens. When I make it next, I’ll take photos. Inspired by that recipe and my love for breakfast, I have come up with this scramble. The best part of this recipe is that it is FAST.

This makes breakfast for one person.

Start with three or four large chard leaves, more if the leaves are smaller. I know, it looks like A LOT, but just wait and see what happens.

Cut the middle stems entirely out of the leaves. Some people like to cook with the stems. As of yet, I am not one of those people. Then cut the leaves into half inch slices. Give them a good wash under the faucet, and leave any remaining water on the leaves.

I like my breakfast with a kick, so I add spice from the start.

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. This pan is a bit big for cooking for one, but the dark bottom of my non-stick pans makes it hard to show what is going on. (Admittedly, the bottom of this pan is, uh….well loved.) Nonstick pans work as well as cast-iron. Toss in a clove or two of minced or pressed garlic and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Turn the heat to medium / medium -high and cook for about two minutes, until the garlic starts turning golden.

Then, toss in the chard leaves, about a 1/8th cup of water, and a generous pinch of salt. I know, it still looks like an awful lot of chard for any sane person.

Cover, and cook until wilted. This will only take 2-3 minutes. Take the cover off. Now, this is the part of the process that I think make chard worth eating. Keep the heat on medium high and press the liquid out of the chard until the chard is nearly dry. It will end up looking about like this:

When the chard is nearly dry, remove it from the pan. Turn the heat down to medium. In a non-stick pan, there is no need to add any extra butter or oil. In this pan, I add about a tablespoon of butter. Then I make scrambled eggs with three eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper. When the eggs are just about finished, I throw the chard back in. I sprinkle with some chopped chives from the garden and add a bit of whatever hot sauce I have in the cupboard.

But really, what is breakfast without toast with homemade strawberry preserves?

Yum.