Sunday, June 26, 2016

Week 5

Clockwise from left: quart of strawberries, assorted zucchini, bag of tatsoi, bag of sugar snap peas, radishes, three heads of lettuce, bunch of mixed kale and swiss chard, parsley, little broccoli head

Lovely selection this week and here are some of the plans for it:

  • We're celebrating father's day one week later than everyone else did since Brian was out of town so tonight we'll have a dinner of grilled flank steak, sautéed sugar snap peas with fresh mint, and a salad that will use the radishes and head of iceberg lettuce (it's the lettuce in the foreground.) I know it sounds wacky to get iceberg in a farm share box but the local organic stuff is miles away from the bowling balls in the grocery store. (Not that I don't enjoy the bowling balls--they have their place. We refer to that kind of iceberg as "gateway lettuce" since it was the first lettuce my kids would eat and convinced them not to freak out when romaine then spinach and now--occasionally--arugula appears on their plates.) This head of iceberg will get the royal treatment when served with a homemade blue cheese dressing that is spiked with the parsley and some basil and then sprinkled the sliced radishes and crumbled bacon.
  • I ate half of the quart of strawberries immediately--they were so good I couldn't stop--so what's left will become father's day desert: sliced, tossed with a little honey and a teaspoon of orange flower water and spooned over vanilla ice cream. It's supposed to hit 90 degrees today so we're going to do without the shortcakes.
  • The greens, broccoli and tatsoi will go into a stir fry with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and seeds and a little honey to be served with kimchi and pressed tofu. The tofu is super basic but becoming a recent family favorite for when we are all sick of chicken: just slice firm tofu into slabs, press between two cutting boards with a cast iron skillet on top for a few hours to get the water out (put a dishcloth underneath the bottom cutting board to soak up the water), then roll each slab in cornstarch, salt and pepper and sauté in some canola oil until it gets crispy and brown. It's about as basic and versatile as a chicken cutlet.
  • That leaves the rest of the lettuce and the zucchini to be used for salads and grilled zucchini with basil and balsamic to accompany some grilled burgers later in the week.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Week 4


Beautiful CSA box this week! From top right: summer squash and zucchini, strawberries, garlic scapes, a big bag of shelling peas, three heads of lettuce (their Boston lettuce is amazing), small bag of baby spinach, head of green cabbage.

plans:

  • half the cabbage will go into my favorite coleslaw ever 
  • the rest of the cabbage and the garlic scapes will go into a ground pork stir fry made with lots of ginger, thai basil, cilantro and lime juice.
  • the strawberries and peas are going to be eat straight and raw at a performance of Shakespeare in the Arb tonight
  • the summer squash and zucchini will probably just get tossed with olive oil and red onion chunks in a basket on the grill and finished with basil and balsamic vinegar
  • I think I'm getting a little sick of yogurt based dressing so will go back to my standard vinaigrette for the lettuce (chopped shallot, dijon mustard, a dab of anchovy paste, salt, pepper, a little maple syrup, sherry vinegar and a mix of olive and toasted walnut oil).



Saturday, June 11, 2016

Week 3


This week's share is a bit better than last week's skimpy offerings: (from left: small head of lettuce, some kale, garlic scapes, spring mix, lemon balm, butter lettuce, asparagus, thyme

Plans:

  • garlic scape pesto. Thankfully I have a whole bag of garlic scapes that my mom gave me to supplement the farm-share ones. Some will be consumed with pasta and the asparagus, the rest frozen in ice cube trays to be enjoyed in the depths of winter.
  • Just enough kale to make the kids some kale chips.
  • I'll make some iced tea with lemon balm; since it's going to get into the 90s today that'll be a nice way to stay hydrated.
  • I'm still enjoying the homemade yogurt salad dressing I posted last week so this week's version will have the thyme chucked in. I'll get two, maybe three salads out of the farm share lettuce if I supplement it with lots of extra vegetables.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

hmmmm....

The contents of this week's farm share are not very impressive:



Two very nice heads of lettuce, a wee bunch of kale, some rhubarb and (not pictured) a few wilting sprigs of parsley that I stuck in water in an attempt to revive them.

My thoughts:
  • What? No asparagus? It's all over the place at the farmer's market.
  • I know that it's early and not a lot is growing yet, but this feels skimpy. I sure hope that later in the season the box is full and makes up for sparse spring produce.
  • I'll make 2 good sized salads from the lettuce. The yogurt dressing I made last week was better the day after I made it. The flavors deepened and it was a really good complement to the really tasty lettuce (and yes, the lettuce really is significantly more tasty than anything you buy in a supermarket, even organic supermarket lettuce.)  This week's dressing variation: 1 C whole milk yogurt, 1 small garlic clove, 1 t dijon, 1/4 C toasted walnut oil, parsley, basil and chives, 2 T sherry vinegar, black pepper.  And I'll make it a day ahead this time.
  • I think I'm going to freeze the rhubarb so I can use it in another pie when Michigan strawberries ripen in a few weeks. Last week I used the farm share rhubarb to make a strawberry rhubarb pie and used a quart of organic supermarket strawberries. The pie was good but not the kind of mind-blowing-good you can get when the strawberries are really ripe.
  • The kale? It's such a wee bunch that it'll only work as a side dish for one person so I'll probably just have it for lunch one day this week when I'm home. Or I'll pick up more kale at the farmer's market to supplement it. 
Meh. Feeling a little let down this week...here's hoping to more generous and more interesting future shares.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jumping back in!

I decided to take the plunge and jump start my cooking inspiration again this year by signing up for a CSA. I've been in a recipe and cooking rut and need the element of surprise that a CSA provides to jolt me into the realm of cooking for fun and trying new recipes again. This time I went with convenience. I didn't research all the CSA options out there--I went with a pick-up time and place that sounded easy. Because easy is a big part of keeping me happy these days.

Arbor Farms is hosting a CSA with Homer Farms, an Amish organic CSA. I drive there between 7:30 and 8:30 on a Saturday morning and there's a box waiting for me curbside. It took me 10 seconds to pick up my share this morning which is awesome!
I felt a little giddy opening it.
Beautiful! Not surprisingly the first box of the season is light. It's been a (lovely) cool spring and plants are a little behind schedule:
Two heads of lettuce, rhubarb, radishes, bok choi, lovage and oregano and a big bag of multi colored popcorn.

My kids are going to be thrilled about the popcorn because I told the two still-pretty-damn-picky-eaters that they have to try something from every box. No problem getting them to eat popcorn and thanks to this thingy they even make it for themselves which counts as cooking to them. (Not only are they picky, they are lazy as hell in the kitchen.)

So salad, strawberry rhubarb pie, a ground pork/bok choi stir fry (I'll try and post that when I make it because it is a good regular around here) and lots of popcorn is on the menu. Not anything that breaks me out of my recipe rut but I'll give myself a little pick me up by making good salad dressing to highlight the beautiful lettuce: yogurt, walnut oil, lemon juice, green garlic, chives, the oregano, salt and pepper whirled together with the immersion blender. It's simple but more interesting than my usual bottle of vinaigrette.

I already feel more excited and inspired about being in the kitchen which means the CSA idea is working. Welcome summer and the beautiful vegetables to come!



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Brushing up

I've been brushing up an old skill lately--namely contorting my body into the physical position that allows me to knit and read at the same time. The first few times I tried recently to revive this skill my right hand fell asleep. Then I encountered a new challenge as the 55 lb dog climbed in my lap (she's a heat seeking missile) and complicated things. I had to try and prop the book on her head and not poke her with a needle. But I finally got the hang of it and so was able to finish a sweater and read a really good YA novel. And the dog got a lot of loving.

You'd think that my knitting would have picked up because of the lovely new yarn shop that opened in town (and where I occasionally work). Spun has beautiful yarns and is an inspiring place to spend some time and satisfy the fiber cravings. But Fiona requested that I knit her this sweater in mid-November and Spun didn't open until December 1st.

Owls by Kate Davies knit in Lion Brand Chunky Wool-Ease in Silver Gray. 
And look--the pre-teen is smiling! That's pretty notable these days...

The significance of her asking me to knit for her cannot be understated since she has pretty much refused my offers of knitwear for the past few years (though she will occasionally still wear the fish hats that I made.) I didn't want her to change her mind so I rushed out and bought yarn at the big box craft store and cranked this baby out in washable acrylic/wool mix. (If I'd been a bit more patient and waited for Spun to open, I probably would have still bought an acrylic mix--like the affordable and soft Berroco Comfort Chunky that Spun carries--because my kids are crap at taking care of their clothes and I fully expect to find this sweater crushed in a corner under Fiona's bed...no premium fibers for them until they learn that a sweater is not a dust rag.) The pattern was easy and speedy and fun to knit. There are only two tiny seams to sew up at the end, but there are 36 (damn) buttons to sew on for the owl's eyes.

And the book I read while knitting the end of the sweater is this one:


I loved Patrick Ness's previous books, particularly The Knife of Never Letting Go, and loved this one, too. The Rest of Us Just Live Here has a clever concept that, with a different author, could have been irritating. The beginning of each chapter has a brief summary of a parallel tale--one that will be familiar to YA readers (particular fun is poked at Twilight with numerous references to vampires, but the same could be said for Harry Potter.) Pretty much any novel that has a "chosen one" aspect and some form of paranormal activity is referenced in these brief bursts. Then the rest of the chapter shifts to four (mostly) normal kids and what it is like to witness weird stuff happening but be more focused on real world problems like family dynamics, crushes, what comes after high school and particular mental challenges. The main character, Mikey, suffers from OCD and his struggles with it make for some really poignant writing which Ness manages to make more interesting that the weird blue light and enchanted deer that keep appearing in the background and that are the problems of the chosen ones (not our main characters.) The satire never dominates but is gentle and appreciative and eventually does end up intertwining with the paths of the four main characters. It was a really lovely read and one which I couldn't predict what would happen which was a welcome change from a lot of the recent YA fiction I've read.

And now I need to go do some yoga stretches to straighten out my posture before contorting again for the next yarn/book project!


Monday, November 16, 2015

This is what I'm bringing to Thanksgiving....

...because it isn't f***ing beige.


It also tastes great.  Crunchy, spicy, sweet and salty--it hits pretty much all of my happy tongue spots and is the antithesis of mashed potatoes, stuffing and turkey.  If you are a lover of Thanksgiving foods, then don't make this. Or at least, don't make it for Thanksgiving. If, like me, you dread the festival of beige, bland foods and yet have to do most of the cooking for it because you love people who love it, then do yourself a favor and slip this onto the sideboard. Most people will ignore it which is great because then there's MORE FOR YOU!

I plan to load my plate with this, the spicy cranberry relish that my sister introduced me to years ago that has kept me sane at every following Thanksgiving, and some roasted potatoes. This will also mean I will have plenty of room for apple pie (which is one beige food in the Thanksgiving spread of which I heartily approve).

Cabbage, feta, date salad
adapted from this recipe on Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/2 of a medium head of red cabbage, sliced thin on a mandoline if possible (or use a very sharp knife)
  • 1/2 C chopped Italian parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 -3 T olive oil
  • 1 T pomegranate molasses
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 t sumac (can skip this if you don't have any, but it gives an extra sharp burst of flavor that complements the lemon)
  • 1 T of Aleppo Pepper flakes (use only 1 t or less of regular old crushed red peppers. Aleppo Pepper is milder and wonderfully addictive and you can order it online pretty easily these days.)
  • about a 1/2 C dates, sliced lengthwise into halves and then crosswise into thin half circles
  • about 1/2 C crumbled feta
  • 1 T toasted sesame seeds


In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac, salt and peppers. Taste for seasoning and adjust for how you like it. Then gently toss in the dates and feta and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Can be left at room temp to wilt a little or popped in the fridge if you like your cabbage crunchier.



Saturday, September 05, 2015

Salmon, two ways

The big revelation this summer is that my kids will eat salmon. I had assumed that the two humans whose eating habits so frustrated me at one point in time that I started a (now dormant) blog about them called The Picky Eater Chronicles would reject salmon simply because they somehow intuited that kids don't like fish (believe me, that would have been one of their more rational reasons for rejecting a food).

And because I love fish but lack confidence when cooking fish--I often order it in restaurants, but have found my own attempts making fish lackluster--I just stuck with canned tuna and omega 3 fish oil pills to get some of that good fat into all of us.

But one day in June I was in Costco and I cast my eye longingly over the seafood case, trying to figure out when I'd be able to go out to some restaurant and order fish. The wild caught salmon in particular was so beautiful and orange and fresh looking. So finally, I just said, fuck it and chucked a tray in the cart. Of course, this being Costco, it was a big tray with two full long fillets, enough fish for 8-10 people depending on hunger and portion size.

When I got home, I was pretty motivated to figure out how to cook it since I had just spent $28 on food I wasn't sure anyone would eat.  I can't remember where I found the super basic technique, probably by googling "idiotically easy salmon recipe" or something like that, but I found something that has worked well beyond my wildest dreams and I now make over and over and over.

I take the filet, pat it dry with paper towels. Cut it into portions and sprinkle the non-skin side with salt and pepper. Then I heat up a ceramic non-stick pan* until it is pretty hot, put in a couple of teaspoons of neutral high smoke-point oil (like canola), and then slap in the salmon, skin side down.

Then, this is one of the best parts, I walk away and go do something else in the kitchen for about 3-5 minutes (depending on the thickness of the filet). Don't poke or nudge or bother that fish! After 3-5 minutes, the skin has crisped up and a spatula slides right under it. Flip it over and leave it alone again for 3-5 minutes.
On the cut side, you can see the center of the fish start to turn opaque and use that to decide how long you want to cook it. Put it on a plate and, hot diggity, your main protein source is cooked and ready in less than 10 minutes.

So what happened when I put this down in front of the kids? Not one bit of drama. I'm slowly learning to shut the hell up so I just placed it in front of them and when they asked what it was, I said, "Salmon." That's it. Nothing more--no explaining, no preface about how salmon is mild and since they like tuna I thought I'd try this, no begging them to just try a bite.  And then my husband did something truly wonderful: he pulled off the crispy skin, popped it in his mouth and said, "Yum. Tastes like chicken skin."

Those are magic words in my house. If not watched carefully, my daughter will strip a roast chicken (or for god's sake, once at Thanksgiving, half of a turkey) of the skin and munch on it like potato chips.

And now she does that with salmon skin, too (!!)

That first night I served the salmon plain, just a squeeze of lemon on the grown ups' portions, and it was so good. Since then I've been buying wild salmon pretty much every time I go to Costco, about once every two weeks, and we eat it two nights in a row. I've also gotten better at figuring out interesting stuff to put on top of it: the cucumber yogurt sauce that I usually serve with kibbeh, the miso/ginger dressing from the baby bok choi recipe, some defrosted garlic scape pesto, all were really good and took the salmon in different directions. And best of all, the saucy stuff can be left off of the kid portions and I don't have to cook theirs separately (they still only want it plain, plain plain plain plain, thank you very much.)

Here is what this weeks two salmon dinners looked like:


Last night the salmon was topped with lime juice and a little lime zest, served with a corn, red pepper, radish, cilantro, red onion salad (which could have easily gone on top like a salsa, except I made so much of it--hey, it's corn season--that it would have buried the salmon), and a few slices of baguette.

Tonight's dinner looked like this:
Salmon and sesame noodles topped with a riff on David Chang's Momfuku ginger scallion sauce (recipe below), served with a Korean spinach and bean sprout salad and a nice glass of chilled Provencal rose.

By contrast here is what the kid-version of dinner looked like:

Plain salmon, plain sesame noodles, plain spinach, a plain sliced ginger gold apple and plain milk. Detect a pattern here? Oh my god they are the most boring eaters on the planet.

I enjoyed both dinners and even more, I loved the fact that both were fast to make and I got to eat them with no sour expressions, no kvetching, and no people sitting next to me sullenly poking at their food until it had disintegrated into an unrecognizable mush.


Ginger Scallion Sauce
adapted from David Chang's and Peter Meehan's recipe 
My version is a bit saucier than the original and I cut the quantity of scallions and ginger in half since there are only two of us who eat it in this household. It still makes plenty and is great for adding to things like leftover rotisserie chicken or, as Chang recommends, a big bowl of cheapo ramen noodles.

1 and 1/4 C thin sliced scallions
1/4 C fine minced fresh ginger, peeled before chopping
2 t sherry vinegar
2 t hoisin sauce
2 t (or more) tamari 
1/2 t kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Mix everything together in a bowl and let sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Any left over can be refrigerated and kept for a few days.
_______
*I love this thing. It's a T-fal ceramic non-stick that I got for about $20 at TJ Maxx and it works like a dream. The best thing for keeping it non-stick is to run a Mr Clean Magic Eraser over the surface after washing to get off any sticky oil blobs that resist scrubbing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winter break


I don't know about you, but I am heartily sick of roasted vegetables at this point in the winter. Roasted cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, parsnips, carrots, I could go on and on. I welcomed them when they first appeared in the autumn and happily consumed them with the roasted garlic, lemon juice and zest, black pepper and grated parmesan which works on just about any vegetable to make it taste great.

But I've had enough. Maybe it was the 14.1 inches of snow that fell a few weeks ago, or the heavy gray skies, or the stir crazy feeling of being inside too much because the windchill makes my face feel like it's going to fall off. It isn't fair to the roasted vegetables, but they are getting lumped in with everything wintery that I'm sick of (along with hot chocolate, hearty soup, fires in the fireplace, cozy wool sweaters and other things that were pleasant when they first appeared but have outlived their welcome.)

Rather than purchase disappointing tomatoes and other summer vegetables, I hit the Asian grocery store. Yesterday I picked up a massive bag of baby bok choi. They looked so alive and promising and like the antithesis of cauliflower.

But then I got home and realized I don't really have any recipes for baby bok choi. I usually chuck one or two into a bowl of udon, but I'd be eating udon every hour if I wanted to get through all these before they spoiled. (Besides udon is soup which, as I mentioned above, I'm pretty sick of.)  Also, to compound the challenge, Brian is out of town and my kids don't like bok choi (maybe because they've only been served it limp in udon...) so I needed a recipe that could use up a lot of it and that was tasty enough that I'd want to eat it all.

Happily I can report success! I found a recipe in Fine Cooking that consists of basic sautéed baby bok choi that gets interesting by being doused in a warm miso ginger vinaigrette. It is bright and zippy and crunchy and fresh and an excellent antidote to the frozen dingy piles of snow outside. For lunch today I ate 1/3 of the big bag of baby bok choi that I'd purchased and can easily see replicating this again in the coming days.  Did I mention that it was fast and easy? It is. Next time I'll probably put it on top of some brown rice and add a little cubed firm tofu in with the bok choi, but it was excellent on its own too.



Baby Bok Choi with Miso Ginger Dressing
(very loosely based on a recipe from Fine Cooking issue #127 because I didn't measure anything)

Ingredients:
baby bok choi (as many as you want to eat)
some neutral oil
a clove of garlic
a small nob of ginger
miso (I used white but any kind will do)
a lime (if you have it)
mirin
rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce
sesame oil

Cut the baby bok choi in half.
Chop up the garlic and ginger.

Get a big skillet or wok to saute the bok choi and a little skillet for the miso vinaigrette. Pour a little oil into each and turn on the heat. When hot, toss the bok choi in the big skillet and the ginger and garlic in the small one. After about a minute, turn the heat off under the small skillet and plop in a spoonful of miso and a glug of mirin. Use a whisk to blend the miso and mirin until there aren't any lumps of miso. Then add a little vinegar and whisk again (meanwhile you are occasionally tossing the baby bok choi with a pair of tongs.) Squeeze in half a lime (if you have it) and whisk again. Put in a squirt of sriracha, whisk and then give it a taste. Do you want it sweeter? Add a little more mirin. More acidic? Add a little more lime or rice vinegar. Saltier? A little more miso. Once it tastes good to you, add a little bit of sesame oil, dump the baby bok choi (which have wilted but are still crunchy at the base) onto a plate or serving platter (if you plan to share) and then pour the vinaigrette over the top. Cooking time total was about 5 minutes; tack on a few more for prep and you can have a plate of these sitting in front of you in about 10 minutes--faster than takeout!

Relish that this tastes nothing like winter.


Monday, September 08, 2014

A well-stocked request list helps me feel secure

I'm feeling a level of mental contentment that is due primarily to the state of my library request list. It is stocked with lots of juicy books that will keep me content at least until early December, maybe even longer for the books that have really long wait lists. My whole family should be breathing a sigh of relief because they know that I am a nicer person to be around when I have good reading material to soothe me. What with the oldest critter starting High School (and come to think of it, now that he's taller than me, I probably should come up with a term more apt to describe him than "critter."  Maybe "great galumphing creature"?) and all of us adapting to lots of new situations and schedules, I need all the soothing I can get.

Thankfully the publishing industry seems to have anticipated my need because there are lots of terrific sounding books that have just come out, many of which I have requested and one which I bought.

I bought and started David Mitchell's latest, The Bone Clocks (and oh my god it is already so good).  I know I'll want to re-read it, so I went ahead and bought it rather than patiently waiting for a library copy. I have even cleared a bit of shelf space for its future home next to Black Swan Green, Ghostwritten, Number9Dream and Cloud Atlas.

Here are some highlights of books that I'm looking forward to:

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. I loved his book The Gone Away World.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Return to the world of Gilead? Yes please!

Some Luck by Jane Smiley. Sometimes I love Jane Smiley (The Greenlanders, A Thousand Acres) and sometimes not so much (Moo, Horse Heaven), but I always look forward to seeing what she's up to.

Lock In by John Scalzi. Time for some fun sci-fi to keep me from going into literary fiction overload.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. Her books don't always stick with me, but I do enjoy the process of reading them.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I've read/heard a few reviews of this book and it sounds fascinating--speculative and fantastical.

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark. I heard a Fresh Air interview of the author and the book sounds interesting.

Elephant Company by Vicki Croke. A little non-fiction history to keep me grounded.

Are there any new releases that you are eagerly anticipating? Send the titles my way and I'll add them to my (extensive) request list!