Thursday, May 20, 2010

Get your engines running...

Our CSA share has started up again. Unlike the past two years where we split a four person box with another couple (each got the box every other week) we are on our own again! Splitting was super convenient and a wonderful way of helping someone else explore what it is to both support a farmer directly and have a ton of fresh vegetables. However we were too successful and are back on our own again :)

But we're not despairing; this is a challenge to eat a metric tonne of vegetables and the key is planning and aggressive cooking. No more "I'm tired from a long day of work" excuses; no more "we'll just wait until the weekend and use up four heads of lettuce" delusions. This is further compounded by having our own "victory" garden in the back yard. Last year our swiss chard grew wonderfully but it was mostly ignored.

And we're off to a good start; last week was asparagus, two pounds of rhubarb, spinach, lettuce, baby greens salad mix, radishes, spring garlic (which look like big scallions) and chives. The only thing left standing are some chives.
- The Asparagus was mixed with oil, salt and pepper, roasted and served with pork chops.
- 1 lbs of rhubarb found its way into a tart with strawberries (which were uncooked), the other pound found its way into a coffee cake which we've been having for breakfast.
- The spinach was combined with this weeks mushrooms (and some spring garlic) oregano and white wine and some chopped bacon into a lovely pasta
- the lettuce and radishes were lunch all this week
- the baby mix was combined with a home-made chicken salad with roasted pecans (I had no celery for the salad but radishes worked in a pinch and added wonderful color)
- the remaining spring garlic was used in cheddar scones.

Yesterday our haul contained more lettuce (already chopped and prepped for todays lunch), mushrooms (which you've already heard about), spinach, spring garlic, and more rhubarb (which will probably get reduced into a simple syrup and used for rhubarb-tinis). I'd like to see the spring garlic mixed with a farmhouse cheddar on a grilled pizza...

All we've got to do is keep up the pace!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apple Strudel Pizza

The last time I said "dessert pizza" I was quickly chastised by my wife. "That's not a dessert pizza, it's just a rustic tart/pie. We'll make a REAL dessert pizza, then you'll see."

And so we did! Though it is sometimes uneven (I think the topping quantities are for 20" pies so I adjust down accordingly) the Pizza book has a chapter on dessert pizzas. These real pies start with an almost-normal dough recipe (honey, cinnamon and nutmeg are the only variations), the dough can be tossed (though the book categorically recommends rolling out all dough with a pin. I disagree wholeheartedly and ignore the book completely), it's topped with cheese (I did a cheddar/mozzerella blend)

and gets lovely bubbles in the crust like a normal pizza.

Apples, raisins, brown sugar and toasted walnuts complete the picture

And the result can be topped with ice cream or powdered sugar

(note: after the sorry pic on the left I decided to use a sifter for the powdered sugar. That slice looked much better!)

Now the book is not perfect; they had a weird scheme where you first cook it (dough with just cheese) on a perforated pizza screen, THEN transfer it to the pizza stone, THEN add the topping and cook some more. This was not only fussy it was over kill and lead to some charring of the crust on the edges. Now on a normal pizza charring on the crust is excellent. For dessert? Not so much. But this (along with the rolling vs. tossing issue and the toppings quantity issue mentioned before ) is really a minor quibble. The recipes here have some good 'bones'- you need to flesh them out with your own style and verve.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh the horror... the horror!

It's taken a week to post this only because it was too difficult to face. (actually, I was a bit busy with a 5k for brain cancer research)

Above you'll find the crime scene photo. And this was not the result of long term neglect; this was the result of a single locally raised chicken roasted to a smokey end in about an hour.

While it was absolutely delicious, the smoke alarm went off no less than five times. The recipe (from Cooks Illustrated) had you roasting upside down at 450 for 25 min, flipping the bird over and roasting another 15-20 minutes, then pumping the heat up to 500 and finishing off. The high heat makes for a crisp skin but as the fat dripped from the bird it spattered from the pan and all over the oven.

But I think it was fortuitous that this blog post was delayed (procrastination: what can't it do?!). As I relayed this tale of horror to a friend of the family (Hi, Vivian!) she said "Have you heard of Barbara Kafka? It sounds like you really need to."

Apparently my enormous 16-inch roasting pan is absolute overkill for a small chicken. An overly large roasting pan was the culprit. Apparently IKEA has a small roasting pan that's perfect for the job, although perhaps just an appropriately sized cake pan could do the work, as well. Since there won't be a rack to fit just pad the bottom with potatoes and onions (etc) to elevate the bird.

In the meantime I'm relegated to the grill for bird-work, but with another five birds coming in the weekend from Fox Hollow farm I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities to test this out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yes, Baldrick, a round of Geralds

What's better than Brats and Käse Spätzle with a slice of sourdough bread?

Brats and Käse Spätzle in a sandwich of sourdough bread!

Feeling Autumnal we decided on a classic and hearty pairing. The brats had the traditional treatment of a quick sear on the grill followed by a beer steam bath, and the käse spätzle came from Cookin' with Cyndi. FULL DISCLOSURE: sourdough was store bought and so were the spätzle egg noodles. It is okay to think less of me now.

But the meal was just... okay. Even with mustard the brats were drowing in the sourdough breads dryness, and the spätzle, despite/because of being packed with emmentaler cheese was a bit greasy but didn't have enough flavor pop. Perhaps the onions weren't carmelized enough? (they weren't, but sometimes they provide a textural foil that way) Perhaps we needed a cheese mix? More salt? Pepper?

Days later while deciding what to have for dinner my wife instinctively says "Panini*." And then due to divine inspiration says "Brat and spätzle panini!" The idea was just crazy enough to work!

*yes that is a panini maker... feel free to think even less of me now but I really like it. I used to 'ruin' grilled cheese and this not only cures that but also makes them much faster (no flipping) and even does a solid job of grilling small amounts of delicate things (thin eggplant grilled on this never comes out oily because I don't have to worry about it sticking to the grates so I only use the slightest touch of olive oil). Sure, it *is* a hassle to clean but I'm fine with scrubbing each individual ridge with a paper towel for cleaning. If you are okay with that detailed work, a panini press might be a good choice for you. If not... skip it.

The end product, despite having exactly the same ingredients in a slightly different (and reheated) configuration was PURE GOLD. The theory is maybe the flavors melded in the fridge, the extra oil from the käse in the spätzle gets absorbed by the bread. And the onion, while still not carmelized, was shining through and bringing flavor in a big-way.

This wasn't dry, this was perfection.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pizza For Dessert

You know you've got a pizza addiction when just seeing the recipe title alone gives you shivers. But so what?! Know your demons and learn to roll with them.

Autumn is going in full swing (just ignore those San Marzano tomatoes still ripening on the vine!) and the air is getting cooler. The perfect time to sit back with a hard cider and a slice of cinnamon-apple pizza.

This is the second time we've made this particular recipe; we reduce the apples to only using three granny-smiths and halving the topping (or making all the topping and saving it in the fridge for a week or two); so you aren't chained to the sink peeling apples all day.

The biggest challenge is working with the crust. Like the comment on the website says this is only marginally less effort than a pie. However what this has over a pie is it's relative flatness, it's not a gooey and, as such, makes a GREAT treat to get packed into a lunch.

A technique of old (from Cooking Light) was to completely cover the dough with plastic wrap before rolling out. A layer underneath and a layer above. What my wife has been experimenting with is half that idea; flour on the bottom of the pastry board and just a layer of plastic wrap on top during rolling. The loosening the crust from the patry board with a long offset spatula, folding the four 'corners' of the pizza in, transferring to pizza sheet, unfolding and rejoining the dough along the cracks where the folds were. No apple 'goodness' dripped through the dough onto a safety jelly roll pan below so the crust was no worse for wear.

Cool, and serve with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Specialty Knives

You can't have food without proper tools for preparation. Well, that's a lie. You certainly can. But ever since the first cro-magnon man picked up a stick to use as a crude implement (i.e. to poke his friend Oog in the stomach while out of immediate hitting distance) humanity has embraced tools for their ability to impress our friends while breaking as little sweat as possible.

Today, we've got a two-for. We not only look at the single-purpose tomato knife but we also extrapolate this experience to understand ceramic knives and their place in your kitchen.

The warning about ceramic knives is that much care must be taken to ensure you don't chip the blade. This includes not only careful handling and storage but also limits your applications of the blade to only vertical cuts. That nifty trick where you smash a clove of garlic with the fat part of a chefs knife? NOT ON YOUR LIFE with a ceramic knife! That bend you put in a blade while filleting fish or carving a bird? Not unless you want to stress-fracture your blade.

Right off the bat we've ruled out a large portion of a cooks arsenal. But what about a super-sharp paring/small slicing knife? Again, this won't fit the bill for many strenuous paring tasks but a dedicated small, precise slicer is something that everyone could use. Thus, the decision was made: ceramic tomato knife.

I've heard admonitions before about caring for specialty cookware. I've seen an entire set of Calphalon non-stick cookware go to the dogs; some before it's time, some due to natural wear and tare. So from the start I knew exactly how to handle this blade. It had it's own place in the knife block; there is a knife block portion of the drying rack. And I wasn't going to ask it to do any slicing that would jeopardize the blade. This was always going to be treated as a precision tool.

Hopefully you can tell from the above picture, but after three or so years the knife has noticeable nicks in the blade, despite my careful handling. Given that, ceramic knives get a vote of No Confidence; they are too delicate for a kitchen environment.

Onward to the tomato portion!

So how do they rate as a tomato knife?

On one side is a thin slice from my normal chefs knife. On the other the results of the tomato knife. I actually don't remember which cut was which; I just know that both slices were darn precise and almost indistinguishable. (things aren't looking too good for the tomato knife!)

Really the biggest value in having a tomato knife is that after a long day of cutting and chopping your chefs knife will lose some of its edge. Instead of stopping and re-honing/sharpening, you can grab another knife from the block for some quick delicate work.

All in all, it's not a necessary tool even if you have a constant supply of tomatoes in the back yard (there are still two good ones on the vine as I type this).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Do not go gentle into that good night

Just like summer, bacon ends. (*sniff*)

What started earlier in the year as a cornucopia of bacon and pork products in general,

I'm now down to my last pork chops (1/2 inch cuts; very thin but perfect amount of meat for one person each) and last pound of Italian sausage (which was really great, but next 1/2 a pig I will just get ground pork and add my own seasonings and make my own sausage. I've heard on Ruhlman's blog that the Kitchen Aid pasta/meat grinder attachment isn't so good at grinding meat but should be perfect for stuffing sausages from pre-ground meat. Though I'm not sure exactly where I'll get casings from. My... this has turned into quite a digression! Back to the bacon!)

So there it is; the last piece. It's exit from the kitchen should be the stuff of legend.

And with that in mind it formed the basis of a classic "home to leftovers" recipe, chilaquiles!
The bacon was chopped small and rendered over medium heat, chopped white onions added for a few minutes, also some chopped home-grown green peppers. Then 2 or 3 chopped home-grown tomatoes were reduced until most of the moisture had gone, at which point scrambled eggs (from Fox Hollow Farm) and just-fried tortilla chips (I love my deep fryer!) were added and stirred.

The final touches that really perfect the dish are the addition of green onions on top (providing a cool crisp texture difference to the 'egg mash') and crisp tortilla chips on the side, also for texture difference.

My wife gushed, learned that this was the last of the bacon, nearly cried, but found consolation.
Just as Spring breathes new life and brightens us, so will that half of a Berkshire/Kurubota pig from Wagon Wheel Ranch I just put money down on...

/In addition to foraged acorns, the pigs are also being fed whey from goat cheese and will be finished on peanuts like the Smithfield hams of old. I'm quite excitied!