Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More Madhur Jaffrey and Kohlrabi

Since we're on a Madhur Jaffrey kick, why buck the trend? The page jut before the chappal kebab recipe (Scroll up) has Ground Lamb with Tomatoes and Peas (keema matar). Perhaps this was not quite the proper undertaking for a week night; simmer for 25 minutes, simmer for another 10, chop 6 tablespoons of cilantro?! Never mind that we didn't eat until 10:20pm, this is up to Mrs. Jaffreys usual standards. I did find that the immediate product was just a bit watery (even though it was completely delicious) however I wasn't worried. This, like any kind of ground meat chili, improves after spending a night in the fridge. I took a taste while dishing up lunches for today and it indeed exceeded expectations.

Speaking of lunch, as a side I decided to add the kohlrabi from Farmer Pam. Remember how I was lamenting the mediocre cherries and warning that this was part of the perils of a CSA? Welcome to the flip side of the coin, and the reason why you join a CSA. Produce doesn't get better than this. Normal grocery store kohlrabi should be peeled and cooked like a potato (or other root vegetable). But very very fresh kohlrabi (*as certified by my Quality Assurance inspector Derby in the above pic) can be eaten as is, with perhaps just a dash of salt to bring out that flavor. Think of it as a giant, yet mellow radish. It has a subtle, delicate peppery/mustard almost flavor in the background and a cool crisp crunch, but it's not overpowering like your usual cherry bell or french breakfast radish.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Beef Grenades

So far things are going well with the most recent CSA haul, however we did run into one issue. Farmer Pam warned that the cherries had been compromised by the weather and we should eat them right away. We did, and they were... mediocre. This is another one of those 'things' with getting food from a CSA; most of the time the quality is very superb, but sometimes mother nature doesn't make things easy. It isn't that big of a pitfall, and as you saw it was only a small component of last weeks share, but it's a possibility.

In Beef news, we defrosted some "beef grenades" and made Peshwari Chappal Kebabs from Madhur Jaffreys book. I've seen quite a few variations and I'm sure someone will say "that's not really Peshwari at all..." so perhaps I should just call them South Asian inspired Sliders? Which is what they really are.

No matter what you call them, they're quite good "stuffed sliders" with jalapenos, loads of cilantro, cumin, and a little bit of egg to keep it together (recipes that also add chopped onions and tomatoes have more egg). Served with naan/pita bread and turmeric rice these were fantastic the night of and great reheated the next day.

/also, if you follow that link to the recipe and scroll down to the "Most delicious meat cubes/boti gosht" recipe, that one is pretty much our default lamb shoulder recipe. We've probably made it over ten times in the past year. Curry leaves are easy to get from most Indian grocers and highly recommended.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

CSA Haul June 24th

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Latest CSA swag!
Starting at the top left, it's:
a bag of basil (probably will be pesto'd along with my own basil from the garden),
Toy bok Choi (stir fry?),
a potato sitting on a bag of potatoes (will be pressure cookered, mashed, and eaten with filet steak),
carrots (two made it into lunch today),
Kohlrabi (eaten raw, probably as part of a salad),
snap peas (perhaps in that bok choy stir fry?),
beets (probably made into red/pink pasta, the greens will be made into risotto)
and our favorite, garlic scapes!

Scenes from a CSA pick up: Act I

(rummaging through bags)
(holds out a sack to our protagonist. Interior of sack: GARLIC SCAPES)

Ugh. Do you want these? I can't stand these.

(takes bag)
Well, what have you done with them?

I've tried them in salads, but they're too, garlicky.

I will take these from you, but you might want to give them a second shot and try cooking them. You can dice them, throw them in with some diced onions, saute for a bit, then add in a can of chopped tomatoes, turn the heat really high and boil down the liquid, so you have this ...

really concentrated flavor?
Yeah! Then, scramble in some eggs and serve! But if you don't want them, I'll take them.
(grabs the scape bag back)

Hmmm, sounds good, I'll give it a shot. Thanks, Bye!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

CSA share in review


with last night's kale prosciutto and penne, we are fully caught up with our last CSA haul! Everything got used! Well, we do have some mint left over, but we did our best to make as many guanábana mojitos as possible.

And it starts all over again! I'm off to pick up this weeks CSA goodies.

Once more, into the breach!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beer can chicken results

Despite not finishing until 10:30pm, the chicken came off without a hitch. Okay, there were a few hitches. The dog bumped me on the way out, spilling some of the beer. And since this was a larger bird, the hanging tray in the grill lid knocked over the bird, spilling beer again.

But there was enough beer left to make for a proper braise on the grill. And this lovely, moist chicken will make a repeat today as lunch; atop a bed of the last of our greens from our garden (and the last of the bibb lettuce from our CSA share).

However despite the deliciousness, this will probably be the last chicken that I put on a tall-boy can of beer. Given the use of BPA as a near-universal can liner (page 2 of the link) and the fact that high temperatures release carcinogens at a greater rate, and given that extra grease and salt and spice from the inside of the chicken gets into the can allowing the beer to get to an even higher temperature ... well, it's not a recipe for longevity.

Thankfully, there are some stainless steel options to replace the actual beer can itself

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekend grab-bag

Since I forgot to add it last week, at the top of the page is the evidence of the sour dough baguettes.

We finished up the last of the Key Lime pie (mid pic); the crust was made from crushed vanilla cookies (from the store) and juiced Key limes, low fat sour cream and Neufchâtel. As you can see, we tried to lighten it up, but it was still about 440 calories for each of the ten slices. Not pictured was the sour cherry pie we made. The reason being, we didn't even have time to let it cool; we were late to get to my sisters house and despite our best efforts someone even ended up wearing some of the filling! :( I think it was still warm by the time we hit dessert. The two pieces that remained were swiftly whisked into the fridge by my sister, so no evidence of it even existing remain!

The dinner plan for tonight is beer-can chicken. We have tried to stick almost exclusively to locally raised meats from local farms, and chicken proves to be a difficult one to deal with. Most of the time, you just get a whole chicken, complete with neck. Sometimes you can get a half... but when you have recipes that call for six chicken thighs or breasts, that three whole chickens that you need to get parts from. As a result, whole chickens make it difficult to follow a recipe exactly.

The other difficulty of local chickens (at least in Maryland) is that you can't get them from November to May, unless you settles for factory farmed chickens. It's too cold out in the pastures for the broiler hens, there are no bugs for them to eat, anyway, and those who have tried to raise broilers found they spent all their time staying warm and did not put on much meat. We had five birds in the deep freeze this winter, but by late February they were all gone. April was our breaking point; we went to Whole Foods and bought chicken. Processed chicken. An entire pack of just thighs! Or just breasts! We succumbed to convenience.

My local, free-range bird dry spell has finally let up: I took delivery of five birds from Foxhollow Farm and that's what we're grilling tonight.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Patio Grilling

Moving from the garden to the patio, we're not leaving well enough alone and are enlisting that space to grow herbs. Basil has proved completely un-cooperative with the past eight weeks of "full week rain, then sun" cycle Maryland has received. It took about five separate plantings, but I *think* I'm getting some basil now!

In years past, Cilantro and Parsley have been difficult for me to keep past the spring. Too much sun and too high/humid temperatures mean no growth or they bolt straight to seed. This year, I'm trying to be 'clever' by planting them amongst the caladium. Once they fully leaf out they should provide enough shade and protection. Well, that's the theory anyway. As the temperatures rise I can roll them out of direct sun as well, to a shadier spot on the patio.

Speaking of rising temperatures (and terrible segues ;), this weather is great for grilling. And that's exactly what I plan to do with whatever remains of the 148 lbs. of pork still in the deep freezer. Actually, In all fairness, I'm probably down to somewhere between 80 and 100 lbs. The shoulder roasts were the first to go, we did an 8 lbs. ham for easter and ham slices throughout the spring, and we've been trying to keep on top of the pork chops and sausages. We got a bunch of those; something on the order of 15 pounds of each. So when my wife said "I've got a craving for sausage and peppers" I jumped to it; because things take a few days to defrost in the fridge and if I don't do it at that second I will forget; and then there will be no defrosted meat. This is a major drawback to buying locally raised meat in bulk; its flash frozen but if you get a craving for burgers, be prepared to wait two or three days.

Sausage and peppers are pretty much the simplest things to make. Which is why I have NO IDEA why Cooks Illustrated seems intent on adding as many extra (an IMHO superfluous) steps as possible. Take an enormous amount of onions and peppers, combine in a bowl, and microwave? Then mix mid-microwaving? C'mon! Although I should expect such things from people who insist of adding tapioca to so-called Texas Chili.

All you have to do is chop/cut what you want, layer in a 13x9 foil pan, cover with heavy duty aluminum foil; cook on the grill for 15 minutes. At this point everything is nicely steamed, and the veges have bathed in the pork and seasoning juices. Remove the sausages and peppers and grill. Keep the onions in the pan until the liquid has cooked down. Pair that with some sourdough baguette your wife just-so-happened to make for the occasion, and you've got a hearty meal!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Victory in the Garden

Garden Maestro Peas (second pic), your dead reckoning has come. We sort-of practice square-foot gardening which basically means intensive planting of a small amount of crops. The theory is an attempt to control your yield with a finer granularity, geared towards what you can handle.

That's the theory, anyway. While I would still recommend Mel's book, one needs to approach it with an eye of incredulity. As beautiful as this sounds: "my ideal way to water is ladling out a cup of sun-warmed water from a bucket that can be left in the sun next to your garden" (can't you hear the butterflies frolicking in the morning dew?) it is ludicrous on two fronts. Standing water? Hello mosquitoes! Also, a cup? that's it? Sorry, but the mid-July Maryland sun laughs at your feeble attempts to water and doesn't care just how many water-holding amendments you've made to your soil. Nothing short of a twenty-minute watering, three times a day via soaker hoses will do! Unless of course you'd like to tax your plants by depriving them of water and make them more susceptible to disease and insects.

Also an issue I've had is transitioning from a spring crop to a summer crop; by late May the spring vegetables are just about to yield fully, however the summer seedlings need to go into the ground at the same time. The way I've handled that in the past has been to only run the garden at half capacity; leaving squares unoccupied. This is a good plan for squares that neighbor tomatoes or squash (who grow and spread with the fierceness of a thousand suns and will choke out the light of anything around) but I'm left with the feeling that I'm doing something wrong. This isn't so much a problem with Mel's methods as it is my own inexperience. And into my fifth summer I think I've come to a solution, but more on that later. We came not to praise my methods, but to bury the Garden Maestros.

So the problem with the shelled peas is that for the space I have allocated (four one-by-one squares, eight seeds per square), thirty-two plants simply aren't enough to get a sufficient amount of mature pods at the same time. There is not enough at any given time for you to cook with them. While it certainly is nice to grab a 'snack' off the vine and eat the peas right there, if left for too long they lose their sweetness and are a bland starchy mess. Also, mysteriously, one square of eight peas did not grow at all, yet the square to the north and the square to the south had no issues.

Now, contrast that with the sugar-snaps right next to them (the other pics above). Same number of squares, same plants per square. These also suffered the misfortune of not being properly staked, so a few collapsed on themselves and broke just as they were flowering (ugh!). However I was still able to collect about twelve ounces of delicious pods, with the promise of more on the way.

Looking towards next spring, I see eight full squares of sugar-snaps. I may stagger the planting (four squares at the beginning of the season, four squares a few weeks afterwards).

/and as a note on making a graceful transition from spring crops to summer, I've started using the edges of squares, more. This allows me a little bit of space to put a seedling right in the middle of that square while the spinach or lettuce is still going. The beds are deep enough and seedling small enough that I don't think root contention is an issue. In the final picture, the second column from the right has "false alarm" not-very-hot jalapeño hybrids in the middle of spinach plants and red oak lettuce.
//Baby Girl tomatoes in the first column, third column has two false alarms on top, two fairy tale eggplants on the bottom, fourth row has another false alarm/fairytale split, fifth row shows the pea cages that protected the sugar snaps from marauding birds as seedlings.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Toast to the Gril Roast

I know I said that I'd divulge the secrets of the victory garden, but this Article in todays WaPo Food section was too timely for me to pass up. As you may not know, I bought half a Berkshire pig earlier in the year from Wagon Wheel ranch. And this particular piece of meat has been a comedy of errors. Initially what I wanted was a pork loin; just the loin tied up with string. However somewhere between myself, the rancher who took my order and handed it over to the actual processing facility, what I ended up with was some bizarre, hybrid loin rack roast that had gigantic slices through the loin portion! Frankly, I think they assumed they were cutting pork chops, saw that they screwed up, and simply said "wrap it up!"

Shame on you, Mt. Airy Locker. Shame on you! >:(

This extra surface area throws a bit of a wrench in the handling of this cut. Initially I was going to defrost it, cut the loin from the ribs myself, truss, brine for four hours, then indirect grill and smoke with chips. Given this revelation post defrosting, the entire first section (cut, truss, brine) was now out of the question. But I suppose that saved me four hours...

Instead, this joint was allowed to come to room temperature for an hour, safely within the confines of the microwave (cats and dogs still haven't figured how to open it). Then a simple rub of kosher salt, black and red pepper corns, and garlic granules was rubbed and sat in place for about forty minutes, while the wood chips soaked.

I don't know exactly how long the grilling went on for; about an hour? perhaps a bit more? Once the grill behaved and settled at just south of 250 degrees F, I mostly forgot about it.
I know the article in the WaPo whinges that opening the grill is anathema and one should get a remote probe, however my instant read meat thermometer is too good, making a second one superfluous.

All in all, this came off wonderfully. We paired it with kale and black olives and a petite syrah. (okay, the wine wasn't a perfect match, but I was too pumped about the excellent meat to care!)

Oh, and for the record, this was done on a gas grill.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Great E-Scapes

Great news, food fans, I've found a great usage for the garlic scapes!

There is a very basic Mexican-style scrambled eggs recipe I've got in Bayless' Mexican Everyday book. Very basically, it's sauteéd onions for about five minutes*, garlic for mere seconds, chopped tomatoes (with juice) on high until almost completely boiled off, then add your eggs, scramble, and serve with warm tortillas (and serve in a pig with perhaps a margarita, just like my masthead picture!).

*now there is a 'fantastic' digression here on the details of how you treat these ingredients. With onions there are those who tend to keep the heat below medium and cook for ten minutes our longer to get them soft and sweet, and those who keep the heat just above medium to get a caramelized outer while the inner portion of the diced onion still has some 'bite' to it. I tend towards the former and I've even seen reproductions of recipes on line where they change a five minute cooktime for onions to ten minutes for this very reason. However with this scramble you've got a lot of soft components to it; the eggs and the cooked-down tomato. Mix up the texture by keeping your onions a little bit sharp.

And speaking of tomatoes I might as well start to explain one of my foibles. I don't ever buy fresh tomatoes from the grocery store. I either buy canned tomatoes, or I pluck fresh tomatoes from my victory garden in the backyard. My tomatoes (*and I would assume any farmers market tomatoes) have such a better flavor, that I don't waste my money on flat-tasting tomatoes.

For this recipe I used a 14oz can of fire-roasted tomatoes, but regular canned ones would work, and perhaps even 'fresh' ones from the grocery-store; since we are cooking them on very-high heat until no water is left in the pan you are concentrating the flavors to an incredible effect; as a result, I only season the eggs with salt and a little bit of pepper. It doesn't need any thing else.

Which brings us to the garlic scapes! Normally a chopped clove of garlic just gets lost in the other stronger flavors of this recipe. But scapes aren't normal garlic. So after a minute or two, I added chopped scapes to the chopped onions. Cooked those for five minutes, added tomatoes and increased the heat to cook them down, beat two eggs with salt, pepper and a tablespoon (or two) of water, reduced heat and poured the eggs over the top, stirring occasionally.

This worked. It can take a large number of scapes at a time, it still only gives a hint of garlic with the other strong flavors, and you don't feel like you're wasting your precious local CSA vegetables.

Coming up this week: It came from the garden! (picture related)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

CSA Haul/Garlic Scape Escapades

Here's the latest from my CSA share, starting clockwise from the top: Spring Onions, Swiss Chard, Mint, Head Lettuce (almost looks like a type of bibb?) garlic scapes, kale, and strawberries in the center.

Now the plotting starts! How to use this in two weeks? (note: I share my CSA share with a colleague so I get it every other week) Especially since I still have Collard greens from last time?

So those collards are going tonight; getting cooked with some local sausage (from Wagon Wheel) and served over rice.

Approx half the strawberries went into my wifes lunch today, the rest will be munched on. The Kale and Swiss Chard are prime candidates for this excellent Rick Bayless recipe for swiss chard and goat cheese soft tacos (it can take any greens, from spinach to kale, to collards, it can take almost any cheese, and its fast for weeknight cooking!) so unless my wife decides she wants risotto with greens, they have a plan.

It's easy to say "Oh, I'll just make a salad with the head lettuce!" but given that I actually have a grilled chicken breast half in the fridge right now, I can assure you it will be part of my lunch, so no worries there. The mint will be made on Friday (remember that mint that went bad a while ago? It will go into that salad). I'd like to do something more with the spring onions than just put them in eggs every morning; perhaps we'll grill a pizza on the patio and use them as a topping.

Which brings us to my old nemesis, the garlic scapes! When I grew garlic, I didn't know what a scape was and I just cut them off. Last year we got scapes from our CSA and someone suggested making pesto out of it. Whoa. Uncooked scapes proved to be too much for my mouth and breath to handle; that pesto went unfinished. Now I see a frittata recipe where the scapes are cooked by themselves for five minutes! That explains why my initial pesto experience was too strong. (rule of thumb: always try something twice; the first time might have been messed up.)

This morning two scapes were chopped and sauteed for 5 minutes on just shy of medium heat. Then the usual egg scramble ensued.
While I wasn't that impressed with what I had, this was at least palatable and edible. But I have got to master these scapes! Suggestions are always welcome.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Last Spring Onion/Morning Routine

I'm proud to announce that of the bunch of spring onions we got two weeks ago, the last one is on the right, about to become breakfast!

This is another issue with CSA-swag : you really need to use it up, otherwise it stays around for a while. Stir-frys are a great way to move through miscellaneous vegetables; saute/steam hardier greens with some meat, etc.

But this was added to our regular morning routine; slice and chop, cook for a bit, add beaten eggs, water and spices for scrambled eggs, top with cheese. This is split between my wife and I, and we'll both have a piece of toast with it. Note: I know you only see two eggs, but trust me, they're huge. Our egg source keeps us well stocked!

Now, what to do with this brand new bunch of spring onions...?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jicama Salad: 'Meh' in a bowl

Sorry, Ingrid, but this one did not work out.
However I gotta think it has something to do with my Jicama. This is the first I've ever had jicama and she describes it as being sweet while also having a crunch; however this was pretty bland. Maybe my jicama was bad or old? It was also a strange mix of sweet and savory; sweet sauce with lime juice, brown sugar and peanut butter, radish and jicama, cilantro, mango. However adding in some green onions helped sway things in the right direction. Next time we will probably sub in green apples in place of the jicama.

I'd love to hear positive interactions with jicama; I'd hate to have this be my only experience!

Bread of the week

This week it's a bread machine recipe from Bread Machine Magic called San Diego Sunshine.

It is a mix of whole wheat and bread flour and contains orange rind. Of course it makes a great bread for toast in the morning, but I think it would also work as a sandwich bread, perhaps with turkey or ham.

You'll note the top looks a little 'shaved'- this guy rose to the very tippy-top of the bread machine; it's admirable that he didn't collapse in the center as most over-risen breads do. I think we're at that point in the seasons where the yeast loves the temperature and the humidity, so we need to go a bit more scant on those ingredients!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Coming Clean

Conquering the fear of the unknown is pretty much the driving impetus for this blog; watch me bumble and fumble, watch me figure it out, and watch me come to terms with a different way of approaching food.

Speaking of bumble of fumble, we have already fumbled this CSA season. Since I don’t have new produce to show you this week (pick up is Wednesday), I’ll show you the haul I took from May 13th and expose my recipes, warts and all. (the May 27th haul was almost exactly the same; the only difference is we got Romain lettuce instead of spinach… but you’ll have to wait to hear about that!)
So what’s in the picture? Lettuce, Baby Spinach, Spinach, Radishes, Asparagus, spring onions, rhubarb, salad mix, mint.

The main recipes that stand out from 3-4 weeks ago was our classic daily lunch-box special, “grilled chicken over salad.” These chicken breasts were from Whole Foods, not one of our local producers* (*side note: specific Whole Foods stores do carry local meats. For example, my Beef and Pork Rancher supplies lamb to my Brother-in-law’s store.)

The ‘classic’ go to recipe for grilling chicken is to put it in a zip-top bag with crushed garlic, olice oil (2-3 TBSP? I go by feel), Lime juice (1-2 TBSP? again… I wing it), salt, pepper and oregano. Shake it all about, grill for 16 minutes until thermometer registers 160F. Easy, peasy, the whole thing takes 20-25 minutes stem to stern. We also made Ingrid “Simply Delicioso” Hoffmann’s Rum Chica Rum Chicken and served over salad for lunch. Now the marinade for this recipe was thrown together in 20 minutes; I had a tight schedule and a hard time limit because I was driving my wife to her salon appointment. And everything from garlic crushing to orange zesting and juicing to cilantro cleaning separating and chopping all got done in 20 minutes (but not the cleanup ☺). It was definitely simple. And the depth of flavor was very impressive. Ingrid gets a gold star.

The rhubarb was made into Rhubarb Dream from a King Arthur cookbook.
This was a custardy bar-type dessert and the rhubarb really shined (hats off to my wife for finding and executing!).

Now; the bad news. The mint went bad, almost immediately. That’s the thing with CSA produce and the difference between it and what you can get from a grocery store; it’s fresh and ready NOW. It can’t wait around in your fridge! Where as stuff in your grocery store came from potentially hundreds of miles away, and may have a little longer shelf life. But frequently that shelf life comes at a cost to flavor.

We had a recipe (another of Ingrids’) planned for the Radishes, but by the time we got the Jicama and ‘got around’ to making it, those huge, beautiful, fresh radishes became completely squishy. Ewwwww. Such a sad waste of fresh produce.

The Asparagus never had a chance to go bad; dressed with olive oil and tossed with a kosher salt-pepper-garlic granule mixture (originally combined for a Paula Deen fresh ham recipe that was simple and fantastic) it was grilled to perfection and eaten with grilled salmon and washed down with a Grüner Veltliner.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Today in Food

Today In Lunch (photo right)
Salami pasta salad from William Sonoma complete pasta cookbook (out of the 20+ recipes we have tried, only one was mediocre. Everything else has been excellent. I still dream about that Morrocan fish pasta salad…)
Dessert was coffee cake with Rhubarb (from our CSA).

Today In Breakfast
Scrambled eggs (eggs from Fox Hollow Farm) with spinach (from our backyard) and chives with flowers (from our CSA), and a slice of buttermilk cheddar bread(recipe from Breadmachine Magic).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

First Post!

The purpose of this blog is two fold; it's partly to follow my journey into eating fresh local food, and partly a food diary of what I do with all this in-season stuff.

How Local is Local?

Local is from Calvert Farm located in Cecil County, Maryland.
Local is from farms and ranches ranging from a 40 minute drive to 10 minutes to get eggs, lamb, beef, and pork.
Local is from my 'Victory Garden' in my backyard.

I still go to grocery stores and my wife and I still plan out meals, but we base our decisions around whats fresh and what we've recently received from one of the above sources. It's a very different way of eating and can be challenging, so I wanted to show people what exactly we do and share in the lessons learned. Maybe you'll like it and want to join in, too, but no one wants you to bite off more than you can chew!

will be once a week; preferably on Wednesdays, because that is my CSA pick up day. However as that moves, publishing is subject to change.