Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steamed asparagus with hollandaise

Frank brought home a pile of asparagus from the garden yesterday so of course I had to make some hollandaise.  This simple but luxurious sauce is not something to eat everyday.  But it is a must with the first asparagus of the year.  It is pretty good with steamed broccoli or spinach, too.

Some people like to peel the bottom of an asparagus stalk but I am a snapper myself. Just grab the stalk near the bottom and bend.  It will snap where it is supposed to.  You can save the tough bottom parts of the stalk for soup stock if you want to.

Asparagus can be roasted but if you are going to serve it with a sauce I think it is best steamed.  I recently purchased a new silicone vegetable steamer.  I am still getting used to it and haven't decided yet if I prefer the folding metal kind.   I just put some water in the bottom of a pot, brought it to a boil, lowered in the steamer with the asparagus and covered the pot.  It was done in about three minutes.  The handles on this kind of steamer make it easy to lift. 
If you don't have a steamer in your kitchen - it would be a good idea to get one.  Many vegetables take quite well to being steamed.

For the hollandaise all I needed was one raw egg yolk,  2 T of fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 a juicy lemon) and 6 T. cold butter (that is 3/4 of a stick)  I whisked together the egg yolk and the lemon juice in a small saucepan.  Then - over very low heat - I gradually whisked in one T. of butter until it melted.  Then another T. and another until I had a beautiful thick bright yellow sauce.  The trick here is to keep the heat low, add the butter one piece at a time and keep stirring gently.   Some recipes tell you to use a double boiler but I have never found it necessary.

To serve just pour sauce over warm asparagus.  If you want a more substantial meal, poach one or two eggs per person and put those on top of the asparagus before you top with the sauce.  Serve with good toasted bread or even corn bread.  A spring feast.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting ready - pick a perfect peeler

Any kitchen worthy of the name has at least one decent vegetable peeler living in it.  Today's assignment is to go through all your kitchen drawers and find a peeler.  I hope it is not rusty.  If you have not used a peeler in a long time, practice a little with the peeler(s) you have in your kitchen.   Use a carrot or a potato or even a cucumber.   Don't press too hard - a light but confident touch is what you want to achieve.  Is the peeler comfortable in your hand?  Does it glide smoothly?  Does it do a good job removing just the unwanted skin and not the vegetable insides?  If you can answer yes to these questions then you are all set.  Just keep your peeler in a handy spot.  Because if you are getting a CSA box this year you will be needing your peeler.

If you can't find a peeler in your kitchen or the one you find doesn't make you happy, then it is time to go peeler shopping.  If you think I am now going to tell you what peeler to buy then I am sorry to disappoint you.   I cannot make this decision for you.  It is personal.  Me choosing a peeler for you would be like me telling you what color to paint your bedroom.

But even if I can't pick the perfect peeler for you, I can give a little advice.  First, remember that you are buying a peeler, not a new car.  If you decide you really don't like the one you bought, get a different one.  Second,  don't obsess about this.  Life is too short.  Remember that your Mom probably did fine for decades with a 99 cent Ekco number that she got at Woolworths or the Ace Hardware.  Really.  Look at this picture. 

See the peeler with the smashed up green bean frencher at the bottom?  That is my absolute favorite peeler.  I use it all the time. I don't even remember when or where I picked it up but if my house was on fire I think I would take a few extra seconds to find the peeler before I ran out the door and called 911.

A few months ago I decided I needed to upgrade my peeler infrastructure.  I knew there were all kinds of new materials and ergonomic designs out there.  I certainly didn't want to get in a rut, peeler wise.  I don't want to be like those women who haven't changed their hairstyle since their senior year in high school, you know.  So I went to a fancy schmancy kitchen place and asked a not so knowledgeable clerk to help and brought home a new swivel type ceramic peeler.  It is fine.  But I still use my old friend the beat up peeler.  It is good enough for me.

Good luck and let me know how your peeler search turns out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Getting ready - salad spinner

If you have been following Featherstone Farm on Facebook like I have, you would know that lots of seeds and plants are photosynthesizing their little hearts out down here in Fillmore County so we can enjoy eating vegetables starting in -- June!  Which is not very far off.   It is time to start preparations for the coming of our CSA boxes.   (If you haven't signed up yet - deadline is May 28.)

Today I am thinking in particular of salad greens.  In our house we have been harvesting wintered over spinach from our own garden for several weeks now, so our salad days have already started. Washing and drying greens are an easy part of our regular routine, because we have a salad spinner.  I just fill a sink or large bowl or dishpan with enough water so the greens can float, swish them around, wait a few minutes for all dirt or grit to sink, gently lift out the greens and spin them dry in batches.  Once they are washed and dried you can bag them for later use (this is good fast food) or use them right away. Doesn't this spinach look nice?  Can you just hardly wait for your first greens?  Just remember - anticipation is half the fun.

If you don't have a salad spinner, I suggest you think hard about getting one.  You have about seven weeks to accomplish this task, assuming you want to be ready for the first greens of the season.    I have had mine for over 20 years and it is still serving me well.  I looked for a brand name and it just said Hoan.  It is so old it was even made in the U.S.A.!   Maybe you can find one at a garage sale or score one from an elderly relative whose salad days are past.  But even if you have to buy one (probably will cost about $30.) it will be a good long term investment.

I did some checking online (so you don't have to) and found a great link if you want to explore this topic further.  http://www.galttech.com/research/household-DIY-tools/best-salad-spinner.php
It looks like the Oxo and Zyliss make the most popular models.  There are lots of choices out there - maybe you have a favorite kitchen supply or hardware store - ask them for advice.  And if you just don't want to go the salad spinner route - that is ok too.  There is nothing wrong with spreading washed greens out on a big clean kitchen towel and rolling it up and putting it in the fridge for a few hours.  That is probably what your Grandma did.  I did that for years until I decided I was rich enough to afford a salad spinner of my very own.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Broccoli is not a punishment

David Brooks is a vegot and I am sad about that.  Vegot is my word for vegetable bigot.  Let me explain.  In one of his recent columns in the New York Times he stated: "Second, the whole deficit hawk brand needs a makeover.  Those people are a bunch of schoolmarms: "You've been bad.  Eat your broccoli.  Accept a lower standard of living".

"You've been bad"?  "Eat your broccoli"?  Did he think about what he was saying?  Probably not.  He was blithely unaware of the damage he was doing, undermining a perfectly respectable and quite tasty vegetable.  Vegotry is a serious problem. It is a killer of good meals.

I like David Brooks.  I even agree with him about a third of the time.  He is cute in a nerdy kind of way.  He probably even enjoys eating broccoli in the privacy of his own home.   But his offhand remark tells me that it is time for us all to confront a threat to the health and security of our nation that might just be a bigger threat than the deficit.  We need to start talking about the insidious scourge of vegetable hate.

This problem has been with us for a long time.  Remember the famous New Yorker cartoon which shows a young boy sitting at a table with his plate in front of him?  He declares to his hovering parents: "I say it's spinach and I say to hell with it!"  Now I like humor as much and maybe more than the next person, but this kind of thing hurts us all.  Why do people who won't tell Polish jokes anymore think that defenseless turnips are fair game?

Vegetable hate is non partisan.  David Brooks is only the tip of the iceberg.  Vegots can be found everywhere.  President Barack Obama has publicly admitted that he hates beets.  (Well, maybe he didn't use the hate word but the message was clear.  He isn't going to eat those babies even if Michelle grows them in the White House garden.)

I have no magic solutions for this problem.  But the national conversation must begin.  We can change.  Yes we can.  We can move from vegetable hate to vegetable love.  We can have new sayings like "Life is short.  Eat your brussels sprouts first".   This will not happen overnight.  It will happen one meal at a time.  One family at a time.  One community supported agriculture membership at a time.  One Mom at a time saying to her family:  "Guess who's coming to dinner?  Beets."