Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Inspiration - Week #14 (and a footnote about rain and cooking)

In this week's Grande box:  Eggplant (two kinds), tomatoes (roma type and slicing), basil, mustard greens, green beans, hot and sweet peppers, garlic, radishes, raspberries, watermelon

Today is the last day of August, school has started again for many and we are still enjoying the fruits of summer in our kitchens.  I am NOT enjoying the continuing humidity, however.  This week's box presents a challenge - quite a nice mixture of sweet, hot, spicy, crunchy and soft foods that could be used any number of ways -- but how to get them working together on the plate?  Time for some imagination and even a little daring.

There is another lovely bunch of basil in your box.  Plus plump garlic in primo condition.  None of those icky little green sprouts that always seem to be present in ordinary grocery store garlic.  Enough garlic so you can use some now and store some (cool, dark, dry place).
Hmmmmm.  What to do?  What to do?  I know ................

MORE PESTO!  Maybe you are experiencing a slight case of basil fatigue -- but I promise you this winter you will thank me for pushing the pesto.  It just takes a second -- quickly wash and dry the basil and strip off the leaves.  A few pieces of stem won't hurt the pesto.  Process with garlic and olive oil. and a little salt.  You can add nuts and cheese now or later.  The last time I made pesto I grated in some fresh lemon peel and I really liked what that did to the flavor.   I have frozen some pesto and I also have been profligate in my use of it the last few weeks.  Try some as an omelet filling (you don't need a lot) or as a spread on a BLT instead of mayo.  Add some to a can of white beans and smash or blend or process into a dip or sandwich spread.
See below for recipes - for dishes marked with an asterisk

Dixie Dinner
Black eyed peas and mustard greens*,  baked whole sweet potatoes (or you can roast in pieces like oven fries - you don't even have to peel them), corn bread, watermelon.   If you are a carnivore and want to go all the way - add some pulled BBQ pork to this menu.

Taste of Greece
Eggplant moussaka*, roasted or steamed green beans, bread,  butter cookies or honey cake  Maybe this is the right time to try making baklava.  You will need lots of butter, phyllo dough, a good pastry brush, quality walnuts, and a couple of hours.   If you want a good recipe let me know.

Better than cornflakes
When I saw the precious little package of ripe raspberries in my box, I thought  - Meusli*!  (either that or a cheesecake with raspberries on top.)  This classic healthy Swiss cereal is very easy to make from scratch and is a good way to get a lot of mileage out of a small amount of fresh (or frozen) berries. 
Serve muesli with good quality plain yogurt on the side.  If you want to serve this as part of a big brunch, include some bread or hard rolls, sliced swiss cheese, ham and tomatoes and even some hard boiled eggs.

Mideast hot dish
Eggplant-pepper-tomato-chickpea stew* with rice;  roasted or steamed green beans if you have any left; melon

Pasta - simple is good
Fresh tomato-basil-garlic sauce with pasta*;  Cheese bread  - slice good bread thickly.  Put grated cheese on top.  Broil or bake until lightly browned. Add a little minced garlic to cheese before cooking if desired.
Beans - jazzed with salsa
I think it would be fun to chop up some hot and sweet peppers, watermelon, radishes and just a teaspoon or so of garlic.  Add some fresh lime juice or rice vinegar.  Cilantro if you have some.  Or even fresh basil.  Maybe just a teaspoon or two of honey or sugar.  If you have one or two more tomatoes that need to be used up - chop them up and throw them in too!  Taste - adjust sweet/hot/acid tastes as desired.
Serve with beans and tortillas.   Soft with crunchy.  Cooked with fresh.   Nice.


Black eyed peas with mustard greens  (adapted from Still Life with Menu by Mollie Katzen)
Simmer 3 cups of dried black eyed peas in 6 cups of water.  Cook gently, partly covered,  about 30-35 minutes.  Check every so often to make sure there is enough water.  Add six cloves of minced garlic about halfway into the cooking.
When black eyed peas are just about tender, add 1 1/2 t. salt, 6-8 cups, packed, of chopped mustard greens (you could also use collards or a mixture.  Collards will take longer to cook than mustard greens).  Mollie Katzen also recommends adding two chopped leeks.  You could add one large chopped onion instead.  A chopped red sweet pepper would also be nice.  Cover and simmer a few more minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.  Good served with hot pepper vinegar or other hot sauce.

Eggplant moussaka
This dish requires a little time and assembly but is well worth it.  It has three basic parts: the eggplant, a tomato meat sauce and a bechamel, or white, sauce - with some cheese. (Note - I am going to talk about bechamel on Thursday in my Hands On post.)

1.  Eggplant - slice one large eggplant into 1/2 inch slices.  Roast on a well oiled baking sheet until it is tender - about 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  (Note: some people like to lightly salt the slices first, let sit about an hour, rinse and dry.  This removes any bitterness which might be present in the eggplant. )  You could also dip the slices in beaten egg and then crumbs and bake or fry.  I think roasting is the simplest.

2.  Meat sauce - make a basic tomato meat sauce - use about a pound of lamb or beef.  Saute some onion and garlic in olive oil, add a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes or equivalent amount of fresh chopped tomatoes and about 1/2 cup red wine.   (If you use fresh tomatoes, you will need to simmer the sauce longer.)  The key thing in this sauce is the seasoning.  Simmer with one bay leaf.  Also add about 1 t. ground cinnamon and 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

3.  Bechamel - make a basic white sauce.  Melt 1/4 cup butter.  Whisk in 4 T. flour and cook on low heat about 10 minutes.  Add 3 cups warm milk (whole milk is nice for this recipe.) You want a fairly thick sauce.

4.  Grated cheese - use kefalotyri if you can find it.  If not - asiago or romano or other sharp tasting cheese.

Assembly --Make two layers of meat sauce and eggplant (Note - if you don't have enough eggplant you can supplement with sliced roasted zucchini or sliced cooked potatoes.)  Spread half the meat sauce on the vegetables.  make another layer of vegetables and meat sauce.  Spread the bechamel on top and add a generous sprinkling of grated cheese.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 45 minutes - until top is lightly browned.  Let stand about ten minutes before serving.

This is one of those recipes that can be varied according to what you have on hand.  The amounts listed should serve about 6.  If you have leftovers,  refrigerate in a covered dish - will keep a day or two.  You can decide how "wet" or "dry" you like your muesli - the amount of milk required for soaking will vary also according to the state of your oats.

Rolled oats (thick or old fashioned - not quick cooking) - about 2 cups (you could also use other rolled grains like barley or wheat or a mixture)
Wheat germ or ground flax seed or oat bran or other "supplement" (optional) - about 1/3 cup
Milk - just enough to soak the oats - about 1 cup
Honey or maple syrup or other sweetening - about 1/4 cup
One apple, grated (or you could use a pear)
1-2 T. fresh lemon or orange juice
Chopped nuts - I really like toasted hazelnuts - about 1/2 cup
Raisins or other chopped dried fruit (dried pears are nice) - about 1/2 cup
Fresh raspberries or other fresh berry or even chopped peaches or nectarines

Add milk and sweetening to oats - let soak an hour or so or even overnight.  Grate apple, mix with citrus juice.  Stir together oats, wheat germ or flax seed if you are using that, apple, nuts and berries.  Serve with more milk or with yogurt.

Eggplant stew
Cubed eggplant - about 3 cups (No need to peel) If you are concerned that the eggplant might be bitter, salt the cubes and drain about 1/2 hour - then rinse and use)
Sliced onion - about 1 1/2 cups
Fresh or canned chopped tomatoes - about 2 cups
Chickpeas - canned or cooked fresh - about 2 cups
olive oil
Saute eggplant in about 1/4 cup olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Add onions and saute another 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and chickpeas.  Bake in a heavy covered dish or pot in the oven at 350 degrees about 45 minutes - until all vegetables are very tender.   Serve with rice.  Excellent served the next day.  Optional - add cubed feta cheese and/or calamata olives at the end of the baking.  If dish seems too soupy, remove cover and bake another 15 minutes or so.

Fresh tomato-garlic-basil sauce (uncooked) -  for pasta (that, you need to cook)
This is the way to go when you have good tasting ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.

Chop fresh ripe tomatoes - no need to skin or seed.  You might want to drain off some of the juice (save for soup or just drink it).
For each cup of sauce, add 1/2 t. minced fresh garlic. 2 T. fresh basil chopped or cut into fine strips, 1 T. olive oil, 1/4 t. salt or more to taste, a little black or red pepper to taste.  If you have fresh mozzarella, a few cubes of that would be good to add.

A footnote about rain and making do
If you have not yet read the letter from Jack that was in your box, I hope you put that on the top of your to-do list.  He speaks eloquently about all the rain we have been having this year and the challenges it presents to him as a farmer.  We, as cooks and eaters, are partners with him in this challenge.   Our job is to make do with what we have.  The human race has been doing this for millenia, with varying degrees of success.  In the case of the CSA boxes, we have a lot to work with and I for one am grateful for the beautiful produce we have received.  Even more so because I know how difficult some of the planting and weeding and harvesting has been.

My education in making do began when I became the partner cook to my husband's garden starting about eight years ago. If we had a good tomato year, we canned a lot of tomatoes.  If the beets got wiped out by a brazen Bambi we got along without beets.  If we had a disappointing germination rate from the bean seeds - we ate a little more zucchini.   I don't know what the SE Minnesota climate and rainfall will be next year and the years after.  I do know that I will need to learn to be an adaptable and grateful cook - and make do with what I have. 

Jack said the farm has received 20 inches of rain in June and July this year and that the normal annual rainfall in this area is about 32 inches.  It is also interesting to know that the average June and July  rainfall in the area of the farm is about 8.5 inches -- meaning that this year's rain has been about two and a half times more than normal.   Considering that level of excess, I am very impressed that the boxes have been as good as they have been.  That is due to hard work and good-on-the-ground decisionmaking. 

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