Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Inspiration - Week #3

One thing I like about cooking out of the CSA box is that it simplifies my life.   Some of you may be thinking, "What is she talking about?  This CSA thing is complicating my life.  Just look at the huge pile of lettuce and braising greens I need to deal with this week!"

Let me explain.  I don't go to large supermarkets too often - because the nearest one is about 40 miles away and because between our garden and the CSA box and our local farmers (milk, cream, meat, eggs) I just don't need lots of things from a big grocery store.   (I also like to shop at area co-ops for things like beans, grains and spices).  Anyway - I was in a large supermarket this past weekend and it was wonderful and terrible at the same time.  The wonderful part was all the choices -- quite an amazing array of items.  You could buy the components of just about any kind of exciting or ordinary meal you could imagine - especially if money was no object.

But the terrible part was the same as the wonderful part -- all the choices.  I am an experienced and pretty disciplined grocery shopper, so I can handle the sheer magnitude of it all pretty well.  I just stroll right by the fancy bakery section (most of that stuff looks better than it tastes anyway).  I don't slow down for the steaks.  Not even a passing glance at Chef Boyardee and Hamburger Helper.   I did have to hunt to find the house brand of shredded wheat hiding amongst the circus of cereals.

This all made me wonder how normal, busy people (especially inexperienced cooks) manage to get in and out of these places with their sanity and budget intact.  I mean it.  I guess that is why brand names and advertising are so effective.  They give people some way to navigate through the flood of food.  Some way to get help with all those meal decisions.  I also think it is why most people pretty much eat the same thing over and over -- it is just too hard to make all those choices. Or why they eat out a lot.  Sure you have to choose something on the menu but someone else will take responsibility for implementation.

So that is one reason I like my CSA box.  Fewer choices.  Simpler life.   A molehill, not a mountain, to climb.   So let's talk about some meal ideas for this week.

Recipes with an asterisk printed below.  Check blog archives for recipes and posts on poached eggs and wilted lettuce.   After the recipes, see my step by step pictures : washing and drying red oak lettuce.   How very exciting.

Tomorrow: Dig In -- Compost

Pasta with beet greens and diced roasted beets*; Bread; Fresh pear 

Filled Butter lettuce cups with Asian style dressing*; Ice cream (if you eat such a healthy supper you can eat a nice serving of ice cream and feel really good about it.  You could even have a cookie too.)

Braised greens*,  Rice (make extra rice for fried rice another day),  Grilled, baked or broiled meat, fish or chicken or tofu

Red oak lettuce salad with pancetta or bacon and a warm oil and vinegar dressing (basically wilted lettuce) and a poached egg on top;  Toast or cornbread

Fried Rice* ; Seasonal Fresh fruit

Hamburgers or meat loaf,  oven roasted or mashed potatoes,  Raw or lightly steamed veggies (green beans, snap peas and kohlrabi?)  and dip, side salad with simple oil and vinegar dressing.  Garnish the salad with roasted beets if you have extra beets.  A sprinkling of sunflower seeds would be good, too.

Pasta with Beet Greens and Diced Roasted Beets 
1. Roast beets
(Note:  roasting the beets takes some time - you can do this ahead and refrigerate the beets until you need them.) Scrub beets, cut off tops to 1/2 inch.  Put in a covered dish with 1/2 water or wrap in foil and bake in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until tender. larger beets take longer.   When beets are cool enough to handle, skins should rub off with your hands.  Use a peeler if the skin is stubborn.
2. Steam beet greens
Wash and then steam beet greens 5-8 minutes.  Drain greens,  cool and coarsely chop or cut into strips, set aside.  (add cooking water to pasta cooking water for extra nutrition.  Or save for soup stock)
3. Cook and drain pasta.  Keep warm.  (Warm the serving plates too - a nice touch.)
To assemble :
Saute the chopped beet greens in some olive oil with a handful of chopped garlic scapes or some chopped onion or garlic.  Add diced beets in desired amount, along with a handful of golden raisins or even dried cherries or diced prunes.  Stir in pasta, along with some cheese.  (blue cheese, ricotta, or some kind of soft goat cheese would all be good).  Serve topped with toasted pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts.

Filled Butter Lettuce Cups with Asian dressing
Wash and dry individual leaves of butter lettuce - place on a large serving plate.
Chop the following (I suggest 1/2 inch dice or even smaller)  Proportions can vary according to your taste and the amount of items you have on hand: garlic scapes, sugar snap peas (raw or very lightly steamed), peeled kohlrabi, carrots, onion, radish, cucumber, cilantro, roasted peanuts.  You can also add tofu, hard boiled egg, mushrooms or cooked chicken or other meat or fish to the filling or on the side.  Some cooked brown or white rice, at room temperature,  would also be a nice addition to the filling.  If desired, serve the various filling ingredients separately instead of mixing all together.    Children might enjoy choosing their own filling ingredients.
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sunflower or vegetable oil
1 T. toasted sesame oil
2 t. soy sauce
2 t. sugar
a little salt, red pepper flakes to taste
optional - add a T. of toasted sesame seeds

Serve the lettuce leaves, filling and dressing separately.  Each person can serve themselves - making lettuce rolls to eat out of hand or filling "cups" of lettuce to eat with a knife and fork. 

Braised Greens
Wash greens in a sink or larage pan of water.  (I cut off about 3 inches of stems before washing.)
Lift out and drain - greens don't need to be perfectly dry.  The small amount of water clinging to the leaves will help cook the greens.  Finely chop one bulb of green garlic or 3-4 cloves regular garlic.  (More or less garlic depending on amount of greens to be cooked and your tastes)
Heat 2-4 T. olive oil in a large pan (again - amount depends on how many greens to be cooked and your tastes)  Saute garlic for a few minutes.  Add a little hot pepper flakes if desired.  Add greens (whole or sliced)  and cook, covered, about 5 more minutes.
Braised greens are good served with a sprinkle of either soy sauce or balsamic vinegar or your favorite hot sauce. 

Fried Rice
Fried rice is a great way to use up all kinds of meat and vegetables.  You can have it your way.  There are a few basic principles I suggest you follow.
First, you should have about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked, cool or cold rice per serving set aside and ready to add once the vegetables are cooked.
Second, it really makes a difference if you add some finely chopped fresh ginger and garlic ( or garlic scapes) to this dish.  It is a good idea to always have fresh ginger and fresh garlic around the house.
Third, you need some type of Asian seasoning.  If you don't have soy sauce you can use oyster sauce, black bean with garlic sauce or other favorite seasoning.  Sometimes I like to add a spoon or two of Hoisin sauce because I like that little hit of sweet barbecue flavor.   I also like to add a splash of rice wine or Chinese cooking wine or even sherry to help get the sticky bits off the bottom of the pan at the end.  Another really nice touch is toasted sesame oil.  A little - like a teaspoon - goes a long way.

Heat some cooking oil in a heavy pan or wok.  Stir in some minced ginger and garlic.  Then add vegetables of your choice.  You can use cut up sugar snap peas, green beans, broccoli, carrot, asparagus, garlic scapes - whatever you have on hand.  A little celery or onion or mushroom is always nice.  I even add chopped radishes at the end for extra crunch.  Stir fry the vegetables for awhile until they are just crisp-tender.  Then stir in the rice and soy sauce or other favorite seasoning.  If the rice is lumpy just break up the lumps with your cooking spoon.  If you have some bits of scrambled egg or omelet or cooked meat or other protein this is a good time to add them.  Bean sprouts and chopped fresh cilantro are good too.  A few big handfuls of fresh lettuce, cut into thin strips, is also a great addition to fried rice right at the end of cooking. It will cook down to nothing.  So if you get tired of lettuce salads - you can always add lettuce to fried rice.
If you make it a practice to have cooked rice on hand, fried rice is a great fast meal and a great way to use up all kinds of vegetables.  Experiment with flavors until you come up with your own special version.

Washing, Drying and Storing Lettuce 
It is for sure a little more work to prepare a fresh head of leaf lettuce compared to buying a ready to eat bag of salad shipped in from California or wherever -- but there is simply no comparison as to quality and flavor.  With this lettuce, you can make a salad you can be proud of.  Sometimes I like to roll the dried lettuce in a clean kitchen towel before I bag it just to make sure it is extra dry.  I think it keeps a little better that way.

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