Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Inspiration - Week 5/2011

In this week's box:  Mixed salad greens, red oakleaf lettuce, fresh basil, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, snow peas, broccoli, chioggia beets and beet greens.

Before I get down to business with some menu ideas and recipes for this week's CSA box, I have to tell you about last weekend.  I went to Duluth with my fellow Rhubarb Sisters (we are a singing quartet) to perform at the annual Rhubarb Festival put on by CHUM (this is a group of 40 churches which supports various programs and services for homeless people.)  I brought along two of my favorite classic cookbooks - Finnish Cooking and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.  Both were written by Beatrice Ojakangas, a nationally famous cookbook author who has lived and worked in Duluth for decades.  I knew Ms. Ojakangas was going to be at the festival selling cookbooks and I wanted her to autograph mine.  And she did.  Plus a new book I bought about baking whole grain breads. Best of all, I was able to thank her for her work and tell her in person how important those books have been to both me and my husband and the quality of our food life.

I encourage you to invest some time to discover your favorite cookbook authors.  They have different personal styles and approaches - find one that works for you and invest in some of their books.  I have my favorites - Jane Brody, Alice Waters, Molly Katzen, Mark Bittman, Elizabeth David (You won't be able to get an autograph from her - she is in the big kitchen in the sky) and, of course, Beatrice Ojakangas.  Who are your favorite kitchen friends?  Even if you have a modest cookbook library - maybe especially if you do - give some thought to finding some authors you like and trust.  Stick with them and your kitchen will be a happier place.

Menu ideas for this week (If a dish is in italics, recipe follows)

1.  Steak Salad, Bread,  Roasted summer fruit

2.  Stir fry with pork, broccoli, snow peas, garlic scapes (cut on the diagonal in 2 inch pieces),  rice, mango sorbet.  (Cut broccoli into florets.  Peel and slice stems on the diagonal)

3. Sloppy joes with homemade BBQ sauce, braised beet greens, chocolate pudding.

4. Kohlrabi salad, roast chicken (save some for pasta salad another day), potatoes, buttered beets

5.  Chicken pasta salad - chop leftover roast chicken and combine with cooked and drained pasta, thinly sliced basil, broccoli and snow peas (either raw or cooked in boiling water just one minute, drained and cooled) and a favorite dressing.  Serve atop lettuce leaves, with some good bread.  Bring any leftovers to work for lunch.

6.  Lettuce rolls -- If you find yourself with some large oak leaf lettuce leaves make this snack.  Wash and dry leaves and pile (whole) on a plate.  Set out various fillings such as chopped peanuts, raisins, grated kohlrabi or carrots, bits of cheese or meat, sprouts - you get the idea.  Put a little filling onto a leaf and roll up, tucking in the sides. Enjoy.  Serve with a peanut or soy dipping sauce if you like. 


Steak salad
Wash and dry salad greens.  Wash and dry basil and tear off desired amount of leaves.  Toss with a simple oil and vinegar vinaigrette and divide between individual serving plates.  Pan fry a steak - preferably in a heavy cast iron pan - cook rare.  Thinly slice meat when done, saving any juices to pour on the salad.  Four to five ounces of meat per serving is plenty.  Garnish the salad with some or all of the following:  crumbled blue or feta cheese,  sliced sweet onion, julienned raw kohlrabi, snow peas.

Roasted soft summer fruit
Wash and cut up (large pieces) plums, nectarines, peaches, cherries, berries or pears or a combination.  Place in a heavy glass baking dish in a single layer.  Sprinkle with a little brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and dot with bits of butter.  Bake at 375 degrees until fruit is soft and slightly browned.  Serve plain or with a little vanilla ice cream or custard sauce.  Or serve with yogurt and a little granola for breakfast.

Beet Greens
Go to this post from last year for lots of ideas for preparing beets.  http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/07/focus-beets-beta-vulgaris.html

Homemade Barbeque Sauce
This recipe is from Country Tastes - Best Recipes from America's Kitchens by Beatrice Ojakangas
This sauce would be good combined with ground beef or pork for sloppy joes or served with pulled pork or cooked chicken.  If you want, you could vary this recipe by adding hot or sweet peppers.
Ingredients:  1/4 cup butter (or oil), 1 cup finely chopped onion, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 cup tomato ketchup, 1/2 cup dry sherry, 1 T. light brown sugar, 1 t. mustard powder, 1 T. fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 2 t. Worcestershire sauce, 1/3 cup water.
Saute onion and garlic in butter until onion is soft.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer one hour - stir occasionally and watch to prevent scorching.  If a puree is desired, put finished and cooled sauce into a food processor and process until smooth.

Kohlrabi Salad
Kohlrabi is excellent served raw - but it must be peeled to remove tough outer skin.  Slice peeled kohlrabi into 1/4 inch slices and then cut slices into thin strips.  Cutting thin strips like this will give you a "julienne" of kohlrabi.  Mix the julienned kohlrabi with a mustardy vinaigrette.  Combine 1/2 cup olive oil with 2 T. red wine vinegar, a little chopped shallot or garlic and 1 T. whole grain mustard.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Combine with vinaigrette.  Serve salad atop lettuce leaves if desired.  Note - if you don't want to julienne the kohlrabi, you could also grate or just thinly slice it.
Here are more ideas for cooking kohlrabi: http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/06/focus-kohlrabi.html

Friday, June 24, 2011

Focus: CHARD (Beta Vulgaris)

Chard is a flavorful, mild and nutritious workhorse vegetable.  It is a staple green in many kitchens.  Available from spring to fall, it can be used in soups, stir fries, salads, side dishes and quiches, frittatas and omelets.  It can be used in any recipe calling for spinach.  The very young and tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads.  But mostly chard needs to be cooked.

Chard is closely related to beets and is used similarly.  Both the bottom stems or stalks and the green leaves are edible - but need to be prepared differently.  The stems need longer cooking than the leaves and can be eaten like asparagus or else combined with the chard leaves in many dishes.

According to the Featherstone Farm Cookbook, chard is native to Sicily.  It was eaten by ancient Romans, Greeks and Arabs.  Chard is often called Swiss chard, because it was classified by a Swiss botanist named W.D.J. Koch.

One cup of chard contains 35 calories.  It is high in vitamins A, B, C and K and minerals magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and calcium.   Unlike spinach, chard does not contain oxalic acid, which interferes with absorption of minerals.

Storage and preparation

Storage - Do not wash the chard leaves or remove stems before storing.  Place in ventilated or perforated plastic bag in the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator.  The leaves should keep at least a week if kept cool and dry.  Stems can last longer.
Washing - holding the leaves by their stems, wash vigorously in a pan or sink of water.  Dirt or sand can sometimes hide in the crinkly leaves.  Use your fingers to rub the stems a bit to remove any dirt clinging to them.  Drain.
Once the chard is washed, separate the stems from the leaves.  If the stem ends are discolored, just trim them by cutting off a small slice.

In general,  stems will take from 5 to as many as 15 minutes to cook - depending on size and age.  Leaves should cook in 3 to 6 minutes.

Freezing - Chard leaves freeze very well.  Just put washed leaves in briskly boiling water for two minutes.  Drain, cool in cold water, squeeze dry and coarsely chop if desired.  Place in plastic freezer bags or containers.

How much chard is in a "bunch"?
This is a mystery.  Many recipes call for a "bunch" of chard and do not define that by weight or volume.  It is up to the cook to decide how much is enough.  Many recipes calling for "a bunch of chard" can be quite flexible.  The cook can add more or less chard according to taste.

One pound of chard leaves, once cooked, results in about 3 cups of cooked chard, depending on whether the leaves are chopped.  A quarter pound of stems cooks down to about 2 cups.

Cooking Chard
When cooking, separate chard stems from leaves

This is what one pound of uncooked leaves and one quarter pound of uncooked stems looks like. This is a big bowl.

Steam or saute stems about 5 -15 minutes, depending on size.  Young and slender steams cook faster.

If you are steaming chard, just add leaves on top of the stems and cook 3-5 minutes longer

Drain and cool leaves before chopping

This is what one pound of leaves and one quarter pound of stems looks like after steaming and chopping.

In general, cooked chard can be used in any recipe calling for cooked spinach.  Like spinach, chard has an affinity for lemon, nutmeg, dill, olive oil, onions, pine nuts, walnuts, raisins, cheese, cream, eggs, and smoked or cured pork (bacon, pancetta, prosciutto).

Chard is excellent in soups, cooked with beans (such as cannellini or chickpeas), stir fried or lightly steamed.  It can be cooked and served at room temperature with some oil and vinegar and toasted pine nuts or walnuts as a salad or antipasto.

Baked chard casserole - serves six
Cook and chop chard stems and leaves.  You should end up with about 3 cups chopped cooked chard.  Lightly brown 1 cup chopped onion.  Beat together 6 eggs, 2 cups milk or half and half, 1 t. salt, 2 T. fresh chopped dill.  Add the chard and onion and some chopped ham if desired.  Bake at 350 degrees until set - about half an hour depending on the size of pan used.  For a more substantial dish, add 2 cups cubed bread along with 2 extra beaten eggs and an extra one cup milk.  You may also wish to increase the salt and dill.

Chard with hot bacon dressing
Cook chard stems and leaves just until tender.  Serve with hot bacon dressing.
Bacon dressing (enough for about 4 servings) :  Fry 4 pieces bacon.  Remove bacon pieces when done and reserve bacon fat.  Saute some onion or garlic in the fat.  Add 1 T. sugar and 2 T. cider vinegar to pan.  Add a little extra olive oil if there is not much bacon fat.  Add a little celery seed and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over chard.

Stuffed chard leaves
Lightly steam large chard leaves.  Leave whole and lay out on a clean counter or board to cool.  Make your favorite filling using some rice or bulgar, currants, ground meat, crumbled feta cheese, dill or parsley or mint or some of each. Optional - use a little beaten egg as a binder.  Put about 1/4-1/3 cup filling on each leaf, depending on size.  Roll up tucking in the sides,  like an egg roll.  Place in an oiled dish, drizzle on some olive oil and bake in a moderate oven until heated through.  May be served hot or at room temperature.  Good served with plain or herbed yogurt on the side, and pita bread.

Chard stew - serves about 4
2 cups cooked chickpeas, 3 cups canned or chopped fresh tomatoes, 1 pound chard stems and leaves - washed and sliced but not cooked (it will cook with the stew), 1 large onion, 2-3 cloves chopped garlic (you could also use green garlic or even garlic scapes or garlic chives),  2 cups uncooked potatoes - cut in large pieces.
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add all the other vegetables.  Simmer until everything is tender.  If stew seems too dry, add some white or red wine or broth or even water.  Optional herbs:  parsley, dill, mint. 

Simple chard with Parmesan
Wash, cook and chop chard - with or without stems.  Squeeze dry.  Melt butter in a pan (about 1 T. per serving of cooked chard).  Add chard and stir until hot and butter is well distributed.  Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan per serving.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Inspiration - Week 4/2011

In this week's box:  Romaine, mixed baby lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli or zucchini squash, Swiss chard, fresh herbs (dill, cilantro and possibly basil)

The weather is cool, cloudy and damp in SE Minnesota this morning.  Good for the appetite and for working in the kitchen.  Afraid it rained again last night.  A lot.  Not so good for the strawberries.  But those of you who made the trip to the farm for the strawberry festival can be especially glad you were able to pick some berries to bring home.  I really enjoyed talking with some of you.  It always makes me feel good to hear people talk enthusiastically about their cooking adventures.  As Julia Child would say - you must approach cooking with courage! 

Lots of green in this week's box -- I feel healthy just thinking about eating this food.  The romaine will keep all week in the refrigerator if you put it in a ventilated plastic bag.  I encourage you to wash and dry the baby lettuce and eat it soon.  I also think the cilantro will keep better if you wash and dry thoroughly and store in a plastic bag.  You could also try storing part of the bunch with the stems in a little jar of water, covered with plastic.

Here is a link to last year's cook out of the box post on cilantro.   It will give you lots of ideas for how to use this lovely aromatic bunch of herbs.  http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/10/focus-cilantro-coriandrum-sativum.html

Menu ideas (if a dish is in italics, a recipe is below)

Mixed lettuce salad with dill dressing
Pasta with steamed broccoli or zucchini, minced garlic, dill, smoked salmon or chicken and cream (Note - if you have some extra snap peas steam them briefly and you can use them in the pasta too.)
A plum, pear, peach, nectarine or cherries

Korean style romaine salad
Grilled marinated beef or other meat
Lightly blanched or sauteed sugar snap peas or other vegetable.  You could also simply saute chard - including chopped stems - with some oil and garlic (steam with the cover on a few minutes to help cook the stems) and sprinkle on some soy sauce and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.

Small plate of sliced smoked or cured meats such as salami or proscuitto and some melon slices or chunks
Chard-quinoa cakes with yogurt sauce
Raw sugar snap peas with dill dip

Caesar salad (with grilled or broiled chicken or fish if desired)
Ice cream sundae - go all out and add some nuts and maybe even some whipped cream!  You just had a salad for dinner.

Lettuce salad - with either baby mixed lettuce or romaine.  Serve with simple oil and vinegar vinaigrette
Black bean tortilla pizza
A piece of dark chocolate

Caesar Salad
If desired, you can add a broiled chicken breast just like they do in the restaurants.  Or some broiled salmon or other fish.  There are a lot of bad Caesar salads to be found in restaurants.  Sometimes they think that if you just pile shredded parmesan and croutons on romaine and maybe squeeze on a little lemon then they can sell it as a Caesar.   Too bad.  You owe it to yourself to make the real thing.  This recipe has good instructions for coddling an egg - which is an important step in an authentic Caesar salad.  http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/caesar-salad-i/Detail.aspx  If you hate anchovies you could leave them out.  A compromise would be to use a bit of anchovy paste.  A hint of anchovy flavor is most desirable in a Caesar salad.  I am not crazy about anchovies but I do like some in a Caesar salad.

Dill Salad Dressing
Here is a link to a good recipe from Epicurious.  You could substitute some chives for the chopped garlic.  You could also substitute yogurt for the sour cream if you are watching calories.   http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Creamy-Dill-Dressing-101084

Dill Dip
When my kids were little this was their preferred companion for all kinds of raw vegetables.  I wonder why most children seem to prefer their veggies raw rather than cooked?
Combine equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream.  Add some minced onion and chopped fresh dill weed to taste.  Stir.  Add a few drops lemon juice or wine vinegar and a dash of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.  If you want a sturdier dip, add a few ounces of softened cream cheese and mix until smooth.   A food processor helps with this task.

Black bean tortilla "pizza"
Ingredients:  One or two corn or flour tortillas per person, depending on size, black bean puree (see below for recipe), shredded or crumbled mild Mexican type cheese or co-jack, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped fresh peppers, onions or tomatoes if you have some, fresh romaine leaves, sliced in thin strips, wedges of fresh lime.
You don't need me to tell you this - but the black bean puree would make a good dip, too.  Even sandwich filling with some lettuce, onion and extra fresh cilantro.
Spread black bean puree on a tortilla, sprinkle on shredded cheese and some chopped onions, peppers or tomatoes.  You could even add some chopped olives.  Bake on a baking sheet about ten minutes at 400 degrees - or until tortillas are crisp and cheese is melted.  Serve topped with lettuce (or finely shredded cabbage) and chopped fresh cilantro.  Squeeze on a little fresh lime juice.
Black bean puree
Ingredients: 3 cups cooked black beans, 1 cup chopped onion, 2 t. minced garlic, 3 T. fresh lime juice, 2 t. cumin seed (crushed a little with a mortar and pestle or improvise if you don't have a M & P,  chopped jalapeno or other hot pepper to taste, 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, 1 T. oil.
Saute onion, garlic, hot pepper and cumin seed in oil until onion is soft.  Combine with beans, lime juice and cilantro and process in a food processor until smooth.  If you don't have a food processor you could just mash everything together with a potato masher.  The end result will not be as smooth but will taste just fine.

Chard quinoa patties with yogurt sauce
Ingredients: one pound swiss chard or fresh spinach or a combination, 1 cup cooked quinoa (cooked brown rice, bulgar or even barley would work too), one egg, 1/4 cup grated parmesan or crumbled feta cheese, minced garlic or green garlic to taste, plain yogurt - stirred, fresh dill or other herbs, a few tablespoons of olive oil for frying.  If you don't have garlic, saute a little onion or shallot until soft and use that.  Optional addition - some toasted sunflower seeds.
Wash the chard, including the stems.  Chop the stems in 1/4 inch pieces.  Boil stems in an inch of salted water about three minutes.  Add the chard leaves and cook another three minutes.  Drain (save the cooking water for stock) and squeeze dry.  Chop the leaves fairly fine.  Stir together the greens, stems, grain, egg, cheese, garlic, herbs, sunflower seeds if you are using them and some salt and pepper.  Form into four patties.  If you want, dredge each patty in some fine bread crumbs or a little flour.  Heat oil until a drop of water sizzles in it - then fry the patties a few minutes on each side until done.  Serve with plain yogurt on the side.  Serve more chopped fresh herbs on the side too if you wish.

Korean style romaine salad
This is a quick and simple salad recipe from Epicurious.  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Korean-Style-Romaine-351894

Friday, June 17, 2011

Focus: STRAWBERRIES (Fragaria Ananassa)

Minnesota may not have pineapples or oranges, but we have strawberries!   For fruits grown in the U.S., strawberries are second only to apples in popularity. They are probably the most commonly planted fruit in home gardens. Traditional varieties bear fruit in late June or early July and for that reason have been called "June bearing" berries. New varieties that extended the season - but produced slightly smaller berries - were called "everbearing". Now a third type of strawberry has been introduced which produces berries throughout the season - they are called "day neutral".   When most people think of Minnesota grown berries, however, they think of a June season. 

Strawberries, along with blackberries and raspberries, are members of the Rose family. The true fruits of the strawberry are the little seeds on the surface of the berry, which are called achene. The tasty flesh surrounding the seeds is not the fruit - you could think of it as the "packaging" for the fruit.

The strawberry is native to both Eurasia and the Americas. The Romans planted strawberries in their gardens and the French cultivated them as early as the 14th century. Early in the 1700's the French brought large berries native to Chile back to France. Thus began the breeding which has led to our modern varieties and larger berries.  Delicious as cultivated strawberries can be, however, many believe that wild strawberries surpass them in flavor.

About 83% of American strawberries are commercially grown in California.  Thanks to harvests in California, Florida, Chile and elsewhere, strawberries are available to most Americans year around. But the flavor of most commercial berries does not compare to that of "fresh and local" berries.   While those huge California berries may look beautiful, their less flashy homegrown cousins pack a superior taste punch.

A one cup serving of fresh strawberries contains more than a day's worth of vitamin C.
Strawberries are also high in manganese, folate, potassium, iodine, dietary fiber and antioxidants.  Strawberries are low in calories - only 43 calories in a cup.

Storage and Preparation
Store berries unwashed.  Before refrigerating, remove berries that are soft or have any signs of mold.  Very ripe berries should be eaten (or frozen) within a day or two.  Store berries in a ventilated plastic berry box or produce bag.  I have had luck spreading berries in a single layer on a kitchen towel or paper towels on a cookie sheet, loosely covered with another towel or ventilated plastic bag.  This inhibits spoilage due to spreading mold.  Gently rinse berries just before using.  Drain in a colander and lightly pat dry with a kitchen towel. 

Freezing - Sugaring berries before freezing improves their color, flavor and shape.
Dry pack:  Add half a cup of sugar per each quart of washed and sliced fruit.  Place in freezer bags or containers and freeze.
Syrup pack:  Place washed whole berries in containers.  Cover with a syrup made by heating one cup of sugar to every one cup of water.  (Cool syrup before pouring over berries.)
Whole unsweetened berries:  Wash, dry and hull berries.  Place on baking sheets or trays and freeze solid.  Then pack into freezer bags.  These bags of berries are great to have around for fruit smoothies during the winter.

One way many people like to preserve berries is to make jam or preserves.  Here is a good link for jam making.   http://www.freshpreserving.com/pages/all_recipes/215.php?recipID=211&pageNum=1

Methyl Bromide (MeBr)
Despite the Montreal Protocol on Depletion of the Ozone Layer, it continues to be common in the conventional strawberry industry (as well as other agricultural sectors) to rely on preplant fumigation with methyl bromide.  MeBr depletes the stratospheric ozone layer.  For that reason the amount of MeBr produced and imported in the U.S. was phased out by January 1, 2005, EXCEPT for "critical use exemptions".  The exemptions are "designed for agricultural users with no technically or economically feasible alternatives."  One nice thing about your Featherstone Farm berries is that you can be confident they were grown without the use of methyl bromide.   

Want to learn more?
This link will bring you to an excellent website listing all manner of resources about strawberries.  Warning - it takes a little while to load.


Strawberry Sorbet

First make some simple sugar syrup - one cup of water and one cup of sugar, bring to a boil, stir to dissolve sugar.  Let cool and then refrigerate.
Wash and hull about 4 heaping cups fresh strawberries.  Place in a blender and puree along with cold sugar syrup.  Put in an ice cream freezer (I love my Donvier - easy to use, inexpensive, no electricity or rock salt) and freeze.  If you want, put into a container in your freezer until a bit harder.  It it freezes hard, just take out 15 minutes or so before serving so i is easier to scoop.
That's it.  If you have good ripe berries it is all you need.
Strawberry Onion Relish
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups sweet onions, in large dice
1 pint strawberries, chopped
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy cooking pan.  Add the onions and cook slowly,  stirring frequently, until they are soft and the color of light brown sugar. (You are caramelizing the onions.  Now you know how easy this is.)

Next, add the strawberries, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and continue to cook over medium low heat until thick. Remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes.

Serve warm or room temperature with meats or other dishes, as you would a chutney.

Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake
1.  The biscuits.  Make some plain buttermilk or cream biscuits - but add a little sugar to the dough - about 1T per one cup flour.   If you don't have a recipe, here is one: http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2011/02/hands-on-bakery-in-your-kitchen.html

2.  The berries.  While the biscuits are baking, wash and slice berries - at least half a cup per serving.  Add sugar to taste, mash a little with a fork and let sit until juicy.

3.  The whipped cream.  Just before serving, make some whipped cream.  Please don't use "whipped topping".  Please use the real thing.  Add just a little sugar to sweeten.  If you have some sour cream or yogurt or creme fraiche around, add a little to the whipped cream for a nice tang.

Assembly:  Split a biscuit.  Spoon some berries on the bottom half.  Put a spoonful of whipped cream on the berries.  Put the biscuit top on the top.  If you are feeling extravagant, put another small dollop of cream on the top biscuit and top with a whole berry.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Inspiration - Week 3/2011

Happiness in a bowl: Fresh strawberries with unsweetened yogurt and brown sugar

In this week's box:  Red leaf lettuce and salad mix, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes, red oakleaf lettuce, STRAWBERRIES!, Fresh herbs (either basil, garlic chives or cilantro - this will vary over the next three weeks)  (If you need some ideas for how to use basil or cilantro - just use the search feature on this blog for some inspiration.)

 You have some lovely fresh lettuce in your box this week -- I recommend you wash and dry and eat the oakleaf lettuce early in the week as it is so tender and perishable.

I hope you are not having trouble using up all the produce in your box.  If it is a struggle, here is a tip.  Try thinking at least one day ahead about meals.  Maybe on your way to work Wednesday morning you can think about what you will make for dinner on Thursday.  That way Wednesday night you can do a little prep work or even pick up a special ingredient you might need.  Lots of people don't think about dinner until half an hour before they want to eat.  Sometimes that works just fine, but it also can lead to unnecessary anxiety and crisis in the kitchen.  Or emergency pizza deliveries.  In these days of instant everything,  thinking ahead is becoming a lost art. When it comes to putting meals on the table, I think it is essential. After a while it will become a habit and mealtime will be less stressful.

I will be at the Featherstone Farm strawberry festival on Saturday from 11-3 and I hope to see you there.  I'll be baking shortcakes that morning for strawberry shortcake and also demonstrating how to make a simple strawberry sorbet.

Here are some ideas so you can think ahead about some possible meals for this week.  If a dish is in italics, a recipe or link appears below.

1.  Cup of bean, lentil or pea soup,  Wilted lettuce salad, crusty bread and butter, fresh strawberries topped with plain yogurt or cream and a little brown sugar
I think the heads of red oakleaf lettuce in the boxes this week are pretty hefty.  Wilted lettuce salad is a great way to use up a lot of lettuce.  Saute some chopped garlic scapes or garlic chives (if you have them) along with the bacon for a little extra zing.  If you don't want to mess around with soup, you could put a handful or two of cooked white or garbanzo beans in the salad for some extra protein.  Not traditional but would be quite tasty and filling.

2.   Sugar snap peas and pork, rice

3.  Green salad with strawberries, corn meal muffins

4.  Garlic pasta, simple green salad, bread, an orange or pear

5.  Try this for breakfast or even lunch - real, from scratch muesli!  A great way to use some of your fresh strawberries.


Wilted lettuce salad
The wilted lettuce recipe is near the end of this blog post from last year.

Lettuce salad with strawberries
Wash and dry mixed lettuce greens.  Place in a large bowl and toss with a simple dressing made with 4 parts olive or walnut oil to one part fresh orange or lemon juice and a little salt and pepper.  Divide greens on to serving plates.  Place on top of the greens:  Sliced fresh strawberries, crumbled feta, goat or blue cheese, toasted walnuts or almonds and sliced sweet onion.  If you have a little proscuitto or other cured meat around a little of that might be nice on the side.

Sugar snap peas and pork - serves two
Ingredients:  1/4 pound thinly sliced lean pork - marinated in 1 T Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry and 1 T. soy sauce; 1/2 pound sugar snap peas (blanched for one minute in boiling water and drained); 1 T peanut oil; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 t. grated or minced fresh ginger,  1 cup chopped garlic scapes or 4 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces; 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. sugar, 1 t. cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup water or stock.  Optional - 1 t. toasted sesame oil

Heat oil until very hot in wok or large frying pan.  Stir fry garlic, ginger and scallions or scapes 1-2 minutes.  Add pork and marinade and stir fry another 2 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, including snap peas,  and stir fry another minute or two, covering pan the last minute.
Serve hot with rice.

See last year's blog post all about rice here:  http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/06/tried-and-true-rice.html

This cereal is chock full of fiber, nutrition and great flavor.  You will never buy the boxed kind again once you have tried the real thing.  You can easily bring this to work for a great lunch.
You will need the following, per serving:  1/3 cup plain uncooked old fashioned rolled oats, 1/3 cup milk, 1 T. each of raisins or other dried fruit and your favorite nuts, 1 T bran, wheat germ or ground flax seed (optional), 1-2 T. honey, maple syrup or other sweetening,  1-2 t. fresh lemon or orange juice, 1/4 cup grated fresh apple, 1/2 cup fresh berries- whole or sliced.
Soak the oats in milk at least half an hour or as long as overnight.  Mix in remaining ingredients just before serving.  Serve plain or with additional milk or plain yogurt.

Garlic pasta
Cook your favorite pasta in well salted boiling water and drain, saving about 1 cup starchy cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, make this simple sauce.  Saute chopped garlic scapes and garlic chives and even some chopped green garlic if you have some in olive oil and butter (about 2 T. per serving).
Toss cooked pasta with the garlic sauce, adding some cooking water to desired consistency.  Serve with salt, freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes if desired and plenty of grated Parmesan.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Focus: RHUBARB (Rheum Rabarbarum)

Rhubarb is botanically a vegetable - not a fruit - and is a member of the buckwheat family.  To many cooks and gardeners, rhubarb stands for all that is homegrown and homemade.  It is welcome as one of the first fresh foods widely available after a long winter.  It is especially user-friendly since with just a little care and feeding a plant can be productive for a few decades or more. It is often used in old fashioned pies, crisps, cobblers, cakes and sauces - earning it a reputation as midwestern comfort food.

Most rhubarb is grown in small backyard patches in areas with cold climates.  It needs a period of two or more months of mid-morning freezing temperatures to prepare for spring.  It is unusual to find large concentrations of rhubarb production - such as that found in Featherstone Farm's perennial rhubarb beds. There is such a thing as commercial rhubarb - the 2,000 acre (more or less)  "national crop" is clustered in various locations in Washington, Oregon, California and Michigan. There is even a Washington Rhubarb Growers Association.  There are a lot of rhubarb recipes - and some interesting rhubarb history -  on this web site.  http://www.rhubarbpiecapital.com/

The Rhubarb Capital of Minnesota is the little town of Lanesboro, just 15 miles west of Featherstone Farm.   Lanesboro hosts a rhubarb festival the first Saturday of June every year.  One of the festival events is a rhubarb tasting.  Creative cooks come up with new uses for rhubarb every year.  The festival website contains many good recipes.  http://www.rhubarbfestival.org/recipes.php

A cup of rhubarb has only 25 calories.  Rhubarb is 95% water and is a good source of calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A and C.  It contains significant amounts of lutein, a carotenoid which promotes eye health.  Do NOT eat the leaves, which contain oxalic acid, a poisonous substance.  A lethal dose would require a person to eat seven pounds of leaves - the reason why you have never read of someone dying from rhubarb poisoning. 

History and geography
Rhubarb is native to western China and came to the United States in the 1700's.  It grows prolifically in Siberia and the Himalayas and has long been a common food in many areas of the Middle East.  Rhubarb is grown in Iraq, where you might find it thinly sliced in a salad with pomegranate seeds and feta cheese or other savory dishes.  Cold drinks made with rhubarb juice are also common in Middle Eastern countries.

Medicinal and other uses
Rhubarb has long been known for its laxative effect - hence its reputation as a spring "tonic".  According to the Featherstone Farm cookbook,  dried rhubarb root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Rhubarb stimulates the digestion and some even believe it is an aphrodisiac!

Rhubarb leaves can be used to scrub burnt areas on pots and pans to restore the shine.

Preparation and storage
Rhubarb leaves are usually removed prior to sale.  If they happen to still be attached to a stalk, remove and compost.  The leaves are not edible as they contain high levels of oxalic acid.  Rhubarb will keep - unwashed -  for about 10 days wrapped in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin in your refrigerator.  To prepare, simply trim off the root and stem ends, wash and slice.  No need to peel. 

Rhubarb freezes extremely well and does not require blanching.  Wash, dry and slice the rhubarb in 1/2 inch pieces.  Spread out on a cookie sheet or baking pan and place in the freezer.  When the pieces are frozen, place in freezer bags or other freezer containers.  To use, just add frozen pieces to the recipe.
There are many recipes for rhubarb jam, conserve, marmalade and chutney if you want to preserve rhubarb in the form of condiments.


Special note: red v. green rhubarb.  Some people think red rhubarb is better.  I am not one of them.  Rhubarb that is pale pink or even greenish is quite edible and tasty.

Rhubarb Sauce -  (This is on the tart side. You can always add a bit more sugar to taste. I do not add any extra water because I prefer my rhubarb sauce on the thick side. If you want a thinner sauce – or a soup – just add some water or even orange juice.)
8 cups rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces (You can substitute chopped strawberries for about 2 cups of rhubarb. Add those near the end of cooking.)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ¼ inch slices fresh ginger, optional
Mix together rhubarb and sugar in a nonreactive cooking pot. Let stand about half an hour. Stir a few times and add the ginger if you are using it. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat. Simmer gently just until rhubarb is tender. Best served chilled. This will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. It is good eaten plain or served on top of plain cake or ice cream. It can also be the fruit base for a cobbler or simply spread on toast or served with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Rhubarb Ketchup - This is the recipe used by Lanesboro’s Bethlehem Lutheran Church youth group every year at the Rhubarb Festival. It is great on hot dogs.
4 cups diced fresh or frozen rhubarb
3 medium onions, chopped
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained
2 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. pickling spice (tied in a cheesecloth bag or in a strainer ball)
Mix all ingredients in a large nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer about 1 hour until thickened. Cool. Refrigerate in covered containers. Yields about 6-7 cups.

Rhubarb Custard Pie
3 Eggs
3 T. Milk
2 C. Sugar (note from P. : You could cut this back to 1 1/2 cups if you wanted to.)
1/4 C. Flour
3/4 tsp. Nutmeg
4 C. Rhubarb, cut up
1 T. Butter
9 Inch Pie Crust and Top
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Beat eggs slightly and add milk. Mix sugar, flour and nutmeg; stir in. Mix in rhubarb. Pour into pastry lined pie pan. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust. Brush top crust with 1 T. milk. Bake 50-60 minutes until nicely browned. Serve warm or cold.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Inspiration - Week 2/2011

In this week's box: Carrots, green garlic, asparagus, salad mix, red oak leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, rhubarb

It is almost 9:00 p.m. as I write this.  The outdoor temperature is hovering around 90 degrees and the first day of summer is still two weeks away.  Lighter meals sound appealing.

After I brought my box home today, I spent some time dealing with it.  Nothing to be gained by putting off those little jobs.  While our dinner pasta boiled, I whacked off the carrot and radish tops (they will be composted) and bagged up the carrots and radishes.  Then I washed and dried the spinach and oak leaf lettuce - bagged those too.  I put the asparagus in a vertical container with a little water and covered it with a bag. Now everything is bagged and in the refrigerator - I can think about what we can eat this week.

If the name of a dish is in italics, a recipe is below. I also have included a few links to recipes.

Special dinner
Red oak leaf lettuce tossed with simple vinaigrette (walnut oil and sherry vinegar would be very good, along with just a few toasted walnuts)
Roast or grilled chicken (Make some extra so you will have leftovers.  And save the bones to make a little chicken stock - use the green tops and some of the stems of the green garlic in the stock)
Rice pilaf or potatoes or bread  (I am eagerly awaiting the first new potatoes of the year!)
Glazed carrots with mint
Rhubarb sundaes

Soup and sandwich
Green garlic and semolina soup with spinach
Chicken and lettuce sandwiches  (Or make sandwiches with hummus or egg salad)

Not your usual lasagne
Tossed salad (with mixed salad greens)
Asparagus lasagne  (save a few asparagus tips for a composed salad)
(Note: if you don't want to mess with lasagne noodles, you could make this recipe with penne or similar pasta and serve as a casserole.)
Fresh fruit and a few nuts for dessert

Flavors of the Mediterranean
Spinach rice dill gratin (bring leftovers to work for lunch)
Moroccan carrot salad
Pita bread, olives and feta cheese
A few dates or dried figs

Composed Salad and rhubarb cobbler
Salad greens dressed with oil and vinegar
Arrange toppings of your choice on top of the greens. Some possibilities:   smashed radishes;  white beans with olive oil, garlic and parsley or a scoop of hummus; shaved Parmesan or crumbled feta; leftover grilled or roasted chicken; leftover Moroccan carrot salad - you get the idea.
Rhubarb cobbler
Green garlic and semolina soup (with spinach)- This recipe is adapted from one in Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food
Ingredients: 2 quarts chicken stock, 1/2 cup semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat, often used to make pasta), 3 green garlic stalks - chop fine the white bulbs and stems and save the green trimmings for stock), herbs such as fresh parsley, chives or thyme.
Bring stock and about 2-3 T. chopped fresh herbs to a boil.  Slowly add semolina, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Lower heat and cook about another 5 minutes, stirring often.  (You want the semolina suspended, not sinking to the bottom)  Add chopped garlic and simmer another 20 minutes.  Salt to taste.
Optional additions - add some spinach leaves in the last few minutes of cooking.
You can also serve a poached egg in each soup bowl and/or place some shaved Parmesan on each serving.

Glazed carrots with mint
glazed carrots with mint (you could use parsley, dill or chives, too)

The inspiration for this recipe came from Elizabeth Davids' classic - Summer Cooking
I highly recommend you get your hands on a mint plant or two and find a place in a pot or your yard for them.  A small amount of mint, strategically used, can really improve a dish. I will be recommending it often as we go along this summer, I am sure.  Watch out if you plant it in your yard - it can be invasive.
Scrub a pound of carrots (your Featherstone young spring carrots do not need peeling), cut into pieces and cook in a small amount of boiling salted water about 6 minutes (depends on size of pieces - they should still be a bit firm)  Strain (save cooking water for stock) and put into a heavy pan with 2 T. butter.  Simmer gently for a few minutes and then add about 1 T sugar and simmer some more until liquid is reduced and carrots are glazed.  Season with salt and fresh ground pepper and stir in a tablespoon of chopped fresh mint.

Spinach rice dill gratin
Per serving, you will need the following:
1 cup cooked rice (brown is most nutritious.  You could also use another cooked grain like quinoa or barley)
1 cup gently packed fresh spinach
1/4 cup chopped onion - plus a little garlic if you want
1 t. dried dillweed (more if you are using fresh)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese or cottage cheese (optional)
Saute onion until soft, add spinach and saute a few minutes until wilted.  Stir in all other ingredients.  Pour into shallow, greased baking dish (large or individual sized) and bake at 350 degrees until firm in the center.

Morrocan carrot salad
Cut 4 large carrots into matchsticks (large julienne) and boil until they are almost tender.  They should still be a bit crisp in the center.  Drain.
1/2 t. ground cumin, 1/2 t. ground cinnamon, dash of cayenne pepper, 2 T. fresh orange juice, 2 t. honey, 2 T. olive oil, salt to taste.
Pour the marinade over the warm carrots.  Marinate at least a few hours before serving.  Can be refrigerated several days.
Serve with a garnish of chopped fresh parsley and or mint.

Rhubarb cobbler 
This dish is easy.  First make some rhubarb sauce.  See recipe here:  http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/06/tried-and-true-rhubarb-sauce.html
Put about 3/4 cup rhubarb sauce per person in a baking dish.  Make a simple biscuit dough, adding a little extra sugar.  Drop spoonfuls of dough on top of the sauce.  Bake at 400 degrees until sauce is bubbling and biscuits are browned and cooked through. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, yogurt or plain.
If you need some help with the biscuit part - check this link.  http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2011/02/hands-on-bakery-in-your-kitchen.html

Smashed radishes
Whack a dozen radishes, one at a time, with a board, mallet or other heavy object - just hard enough to slightly split the radish.  Pour over the following marinade:  1/4 c. rice wine vinegar, 1 T. sugar, 1 T. soy sauce, 1 t. toasted sesame oil.    Marinate at least several hours before serving.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

FOCUS: Lettuce (Lactuca Sativa)

Green or red.  Tender or crisp.  Mild or bitter.  Leaf or head.  Smooth or crinkly.  Mix or match.  Lettuce is so much more than iceberg.  Don't get me wrong, iceberg has its place.  It can sometimes save a sandwich.  But iceberg all the time is boring.  I am in favor of imagination and variety, when it comes to lettuce  -- as well as a few other things I can think of.

Lettuce is only one kind of salad green which is eaten raw.  People also like to eat chicories (such as escarole, curly endive or escarole) and greens such as spinach, watercress, arugula or even dandelion greens.  Once you get acquainted with various salad greens and lettuces, it is really fun to combine colors, flavors and textures to make beautiful and nutritious salads.  Lettuce is mostly served in raw salads in the U.S., but in Asia and France lettuce is popular cooked in soups or stir fries.

According to The Featherstone Farm cookbook, lettuce seeds have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and lettuce "was recorded as growing in Babylonian gardens as early as 800 B.C.E."   Other sources say lettuce has been eaten for 4,500 years - starting out as a weed in the Mediterranean Basin.  Christopher Columbus brought lettuce to the new world.  (And the new world gave tomatoes to the Italians.   What a good trade.  Without it the world would never have had the BLT!)

The nutrient content of lettuce varies widely, depending on the type.  A rule of thumb is the darker the lettuce the higher the nutrition.  Romaine and looseleaf lettuce contain five to six times the vitamin C and five to ten times the vitamin A of iceberg.The Featherstone Farm cookbook tells us that a 2 cup serving of romaine "contains 143% of your daily requirement for vitamin K, 60 % of your vitamin A, nearly half of your vitamin C and over a third of your folate.  Lettuce is also a good source of manganese".  Most of us know it is very low in calories - only 10 in a cup of chopped lettuce.  The danger is in the dressing.

 Did you know that Lettuce has been named the Veggie of the Month by The Center for Disease Control?  Read all about it here:

The most familiar crisphead lettuce is iceberg.  Most of it is grown in California and Arizona, which have the climate conditions conducive to growing massive amounts of iceberg lettuce.  Iceberg has a very high water content and is very mild in taste.  It is valued more for its crunchy texture than its flavor or nutrition.

Featherstone grows the Carimona variety of red butterhead and the Optima and Adrian varieties of green butterhead.  Very tender and tasty, butterhead makes an elegant salad.  The leaves are also good used for various kinds of lettuce wraps.  It is fun to set out a plate of butterhead leaves with lots of little tidbits that can be wrapped in the leaves and eaten as finger food.  Great meal for kids.

Romaine is a hardy head lettuce.  It keeps well and stands up to strong flavors such as anchovies (in Caesar salad dressing), Greek olives or onions.  Featherstone grows three kinds of romaine.

Featherstone Farm grows three varieties of green leaf lettuce and 2 kinds of red leaf as well as red oak leaf lettuce.  Looseleaf lettuce is versatile and can be used in salads, sandwiches and cooking.  Wilted lettuce salad is a great way to use up large amounts of looseleaf lettuce.

A word about bagged salad greens
Bagged greens have become VERY popular in the last decade or so, probably because they are convenient.  They are not cheap, however.  If you are willing to wash and prepare your own greens, you will save a lot of money.  You also can enjoy a wider variety of lettuce. 
Nutritionist Marion Nestle published a chart comparing the cost of various kinds of romaine lettuce in her classic book What To Eat (2004).  She includes a detailed explanation of the process she went through to try to compare costs of lettuce.  (Grocery stores do not make this easy.)   Per pound, pre-cut salad was four times more expensive than heads.
Aside from issues of cost or convenience, I prefer fresh leaf or head lettuce because it has a much better flavor than even high end bagged lettuce. 

I like to wash and dry lettuce as soon as I get it.  Then it is like fast food - ready whenever I need it.  If it is very fresh to start with (like your CSA lettuce) it can often last for up to a week in your refrigerator.   Individual mixed lettuce leaves are more perishable than head lettuce.  Romaine lettuce will store longer than tender Boston or butterhead lettuce.  Remember the fresher the lettuce is when you bring it home, the longer it will last.   I prefer a ventilated plastic bag or one of the new kind made especially for produce storage.  Several companies make these now and they are easy to find.  Keep the lettuce dry - it will be happier.

Fill a basin, sink or bowl with cold water.  Pull off any damaged outer leaves and cut out the stem end if there is one.  Gently swish the lettuce leaves in the water with your hands.  Wait for a minute to let gravity work and let dirt and sand sink.  Lift the lettuce out of the water and into a strainer or colander or the basket of your salad spinner.  And don't overcrowd the lettuce.  Do in several batches if you must.  If the lettuce is very dirty wash twice.  I have found that Featherstone lettuce amost never needs more than one washing.  Lettuce washing goes very fast once you get the hang of it.

Spin dry the lettuce in a spinner (small batches are more effective).  I like to spread the dry lettuce on a dry kitchen towel and roll it up and refrigerate until I am ready to use it.
If you want to know more about salad spinners, see this blog post from last year:   http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/2010/04/getting-ready-salad-spinner.html

The fresher the lettuce, the better the salad.  If you are lucky enough to have fresh greens from your garden, CSA box or the farmers market, all you really need to make it sing is a little olive oil, red wine or sherry vinegar and a touch of garlic.  (some people recommend rubbing the salad bowl with a clove of fresh garlic.)  Start with a ratio of 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil to one tablespoon vinegar.  Ultimately let your palate decide what is best.  A bit of salt and fresh ground pepper is also good.  The dressing should enhance, not overwhelm, the lettuce.  You want to be able to taste it the lettuce.  Save thick, gloppy dressings for the times you have sturdy vegetables or robust greens in a salad.  Fresh garden leaf lettuce cannot really stand up to  Thousand Island or Blue Cheese - even if it is good and homemade.  Chunks of iceberg can peacefully co exist with fairly heavy dressings, which is probably a reason iceberg is popular.

Think about banishing all kinds of commercial bottled dressings from your kitchen and laying in a supply of a few nice oils and vinegars instead.  You will save money and avoid a lot of sodium and other unnecessary chemicals and flavorings.   If you want convenience, you can easily make up a pint or even a quart of basic olive oil vinaigrette every so often and keep it in the refrigerator.

And can someone explain to me why Ranch dressing is now the most popular dressing in America?  I just don't get that.  

Herbs -- a few leaves of chervil, chives, tarragon or mint - can liven up a salad.  I also like to use sorrel or even lemon balm or lovage leaves.  A little usually goes a long way.  If you are adventurous try nasturtium flowers, which are a little crunchy and peppery and quite good in a green salad.

The Allium family 
Shallots - thinly sliced or chopped - make a very good addition to almost any salad.
Garlic - just a hint -or more - of garlic enhances a lettuce salad.
Onions -  when sweet onions are available I like to add them to a lettuce salad - especially in combination with oranges or strawberries.

Nuts - dried or fresh fruit - cheese
I think most restaurants overdo the nuts and dried fruit and other additions to salad.  (The dried cranberry-blue cheese-walnut thing is really getting to be a cliche.)   I think they do it to justify charging you a lot of money for a salad that really does not use very nice greens.  I would like to see a restaurant brave enough to serve a lettuce only salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing.  It could work if the lettuce was good enough. Use a light hand when adding fruits, nuts or cheese.  Experiment with various combinations. 

One Bowl Salad - a Neat Trick
Put the following into a large bowl: 2 T. olive oil, 1/2 t. finely chopped garlic, 1/2 t. Dijon-type mustard, 1 t. red wine or sherry vinegar.  Stir together.  Add about 1/2 pound leafy salad greens - washed, dried and chilled -- 2-3 ounces at a time.  Toss each time you add lettuce.  Add a little salt and pepper to taste.  Optional additions: sliced radishes, shredded carrots, cucumber, nuts, bits of feta cheese, etc.  Serve.