Friday, July 31, 2009

Green Beans

Last Monday while Renée prepared her fantastic dinner, her husband Dave and I took the kids and went green-bean picking at Red Fire Farm. It was a long 90 minute drive from Somerville and I’m sure that we spent more on gas than we saved gathering the free monthly pyo at the farm, which of course raises the problem of pollution, but it was great fun sitting between rows of beans for an hour or so and stuffing our six quart-boxes to overflow. And best of all was watching the kids tromp up and down munching sweet fresh green beans and talking about how they grew (while constructing a complicated power rangers-versus-pests game, the forerunner I’m sure of a greener trend in super-heroes).

By the time we got home I’d had my daily fill of raw green beans, so I made my version of one of my mom’s summer staples: steamed green beans and onions. This is especially delicious with the super-sweet new onions we got in the veggie share on Friday.

Steamed Green Beans and Onions

Trim the ends but leave whole about ½ pound green beans

Cut in half and then into slices about the thickness of the green beans 1 onion

Roughly cut about 1/8 cup parsley

Toss with salt and about 1 T butter in a steamer basket. Steam for about five minutes, just until the onions are soft.

If the green beans have been sitting in the bottom of the fridge for a week and are a little less tender and delicious, you can then lightly sauté the whole thing with butter at which point ½ cup sunflower seeds make a great addition.

Blanching and Freezing Green Beans

Extra green beans can be blanched and frozen for sautéing, soups, and much more in mid-winter. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. In the meantime, trim the green beans and cut in half if desired. Toss in about 1 quart at a time. As soon as you put the beans in, cover the pot. In exactly three minutes, scoop the beans out with a colander and either plunge into a bowl of ice water or run under very cold tap water. Then let drain completely and freeze.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Currants, Tuna, Kohlrabi, and BBQ sauce

The farmers' market had gorgeous bright red currants last week. I had seen a meringue recipe in Martha Stewart Living calling for currants. I wanted to try it, but where to find them? So, when I saw a quart-sized container for $6, I jumped. Then I got home, made the recipe, and found I still had a quart of currants. So I added some to a berry ice cream I was making, which was not bad. But then I had 1/2 quart left. They sat in the fridge for four more days while I looked through cookbooks for a currant recipe. Jam came up, but I really needed baskets of berries to make it worth it. Cake was an option, but who wants the oven on when it's 80 degrees out? So, I put them into a small sauce pan, stems and all, added 1/4 cup water, and simmered, stirring every few minutes, until the currants were breaking open. I mushed the stemmy mass through a strainer and ended up with a few tablespoons of this beautiful, vibrant, thick, sour, candy-apple-red sauce. That sat in the fridge for two more days, until we were making crepes. I slathered the sauce onto the crepes, added the usual chocolate and berries, and it was fantastic.

Here is something that must not sit in the fridge. Eat it all the day you buy the fish, or cook the leftovers.

Tuna carpaccio

Serves 4 as a side or appetizer

1/2 pound thinly sliced sushi grade tuna

1/4 cup tomato paste

4 TBSP olive oil divided in half

2 cloves garlic, very thinly slices

2 TBSP capers

1 scallion or a small handful of chives, thinly sliced

a few leaves basil, minced

1 teas. sea salt

Lay tuna on a serving plate and spread tomato paste on all pieces.

Drizzle with 2 TBSP olive oil.

In a frying pan, heat 2 TBSP olive oil and add garlic slices. Stir frequently until garlic lightly browns and gets crispy. Remove from pan and let cool a few minutes, saving oil in pan.

Sprinkle capers, scallion or chives and garlic chips over tuna.

Drizzle garlic oil from pan over tuna.

Sprinkle basil and sea salt over top.


Tomato and kohlrabi salad

Thinly slice equal amounts of tomato and kohlrabi. Layer on a plate and sprinkle with salt (cilantro salt is nice).

Variations: layer in fresh mozzarella, cucumbers, avocado, or jicama

Barbeque sauce

This sauce is a good accompaniment for grilled pork. Lightly coat what you are grilling with the sauce. Cook until done. Serve remaining sauce with the meal. Avoid putting too much on while cooking, as it will increase the chance of burning the meat.

Makes approximately 2 cups

In a sauce pan over medium heat add:

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup molasses (any kind; I like black strap for a thick, dark sauce)

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup grated or minced onion

1 TBSP dark brown sugar

2 teas. garlic powder

1/2 teas. mustard powder

salt to taste (may not be necessary so definitely taste before adding)

Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, for five minutes. Remove from heat and eat!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Grilling and Slaw

As I mentioned in last week's post, I had the annual grill fire. What I didn't mention was, I think the grill is toast. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the coating on the inside appears to be peeling off, most likely due to too many degrees of flame licking at it over ten years. It was a wedding present, so it's fitting that it's going out within days of our tenth anniversary. I have thought it was too bad to use many times before, but the plastic-y peelings drifting onto the food have even swayed my loving husband.

What all this means is, I'm using the charcoal grill. For those of you who swear by gas, you won't care, and for those of you who swear by charcoal, you already know, so this is for those who waffle between the two, feeling a little like frauds for using gas but feeling a bit too lazy, or overwhelmed, or short on time to use the hibachi: charcoal grills are fun! If you start the fire early enough, it doesn't actually add time to meal prep. You can't run out five minutes before you want to cook and start it, but with a little forethought, you're good. You can make a salad in the meantime, or weed the garden.

Okay, my plug is over. It won't stop me from getting a new gas grill, should one appear on the horizon, but it's nice to reconnect with the old fashioned method of cooking.

One last time, we had soft-shell crabs. They're only around for a week or two more, so overdose now. Tonight, I did a different salad base than last month's recipe, but it was equally yummy. We had it with monkfish, The Lobster Tail of Fish, as we call it in my house. It's dense, meaty, chewy, slightly sweet. It takes drawn butter, too, but then, what doesn't?

Grilled Monkfish Tail

Serving size depends on size of fillet. If you are only eating this, you need 1/2 pound per person. If served with something else, less is needed.

If your fishmonger fillets the tail for you, skip ahead to the next step. If you start with a whole tail, gently and carefully cut along either side of the backbone, taking small slices to get as close to the backbone as possible. You should end up with two long, thin fillets.

Grill over medium heat for three or four minute per side, depending on thickness of meat. I had 3/4 inch fillets.

Dip in drawn butter.

Soft-shell Crab with Tomato Cucumber Salad

Serves 2

Pat 2 soft-shell crabs dry and salt and pepper both sides.

Grill over medium heat until they turn pinkish orange and are firm when you press on them, approximately 4 minutes per side.

Serve over a salad of:

3/4 cup tomato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

3/4 cup cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/4 cup kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1/4 cup cilantro roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

How funny that Keja posts a coleslaw recipe the same week I do. Or not, since we are splitting a CSA share.

Coleslaw Keja Wouldn't Eat

Serves 4

Grate 3 cups cabbage

Add mayonnaise to taste, approximately 3/4 cup but start with less and add as needed

Add 1 TBSP pickle relish

Salt and pepper to taste (cilantro salt is great in this)

Coleslaw #2

Serves 4

Grate 3 cups purple cabbage

Grate 1/2 cup carrot

Add 1/2 cup raisins

Add mayonnaise to taste, approximately 3/4 cup but start with less and add as needed

Add salt and pepper to taste

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Schedule

I know I've really fallen into a summer schedule when I've no idea really if it's Thursday or Sunday... well, it's Sunday and I meant to post this Thursday but the sun has been sunny and we've been eating leftovers and ice cream for three days.

But it's thanks to those wonderful long-lasting summer salads that we've been able to get by on so little.

I usually get laughed when, upon being asked if there’s anything I don’t eat, I respond “Mayonnaise.” But my aversion for mayonnaise actually can be quite limiting: no egg salad, devilled eggs, tuna salad; no too many potato and pasta salads. Of course, there are all sorts of mayo substitutes and I make versions of all of these dishes. Until recently, the one thing that I just went without was cole slaw. Well, that’s not entirely true. Topic of the Town, in Littleton, New Hampshire makes a cole slaw that I adore. (And it’s completely changed my experience of fish fry, since the fact that tartar sauce also has mayonnaise has always kept me to just lemon and vinegar on my fish and chips.) So with cabbages carrots, kohlrabi, and turnips already coming in through the veggie CSA, I decided I’d try to recreate it, and it worked! Or at least, I made a cole slaw that I like.

You’d never know there’s mayo cole slaw
Serves 10-15 as a side or 2-4 for three days straight

1 cabbage
4 carrots
1-2 kohlrabi
1-2 turnips

4 T mayonnaise
1 cup plain yoghurt
1 cup sour cream
4 T vinegar
1 ½ tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Cut the cabbage in half, and then cut each half into quarters. Then, slice as thin as possible in the short direction, so that you end up with very thin ½-1 inch strips. A grater can work too, but the pieces end up shorter and thicker, not nearly as elegant. Peel and grate the carrots, kohlrabi, and turnips.
Mix together the sauce, and mix all ingredients well. Let sit in refrigerator 4-6 hours before serving. Lasts up to 1 week in fridge.

Green Bean Salad
My bean plants (pole) have already climbed out of their tomato cages and are well on their way up the strings that lead far above my head to the porch, with surprisingly beautiful purple flowers, but I've only had one ripe bean so far. But my friend Paul, who lives in Reading and planted a different (bush) variety about two weeks before I got my seeds in the ground, picked his first big bowl of home-grown green beans (bush variety) last week! They were so tender and sweet I ate a lot right off the vine, but I also dared to cook and dress a few, to wonderful results.

Serves 2 as a dinner salad with enough leftover for a light lunch
2/3 lb green beans
12 grape tomatoes
1 cucumber
2 hard boiled eggs
1 potato
4 small or 2 large carrots

Trim and snap in half the green beans, then steam for about 5 minutes. Peel and cut the potato into 1-inch squares and steam (conserve time and fuel by simply emptying the steam basket and reusing the hot water). While you steam the beans, make 1 cup of balsamic vinaigrette and divide it into two sealable containers. As soon as you take the green beans and then the potatoes out of the steaming basket, dump them, separately, into the two vinaigrette containers. Close briefly and shake to coat with sauce, then remove lid and allow to cool before placing in fridge, Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 2-3 days.

Cut the grape tomatoes in half and cut the cucumber, carrots, and eggs into ½” squares and toss with beans and potatoes before serving. One of the nice things about this salad is that it can keep, put together, for a day or two.

Perfect with a crusty bread.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Soil - the good, the bad, and the wet

First the bad: this article was in the Somerville Journal last week, and it is unbelievably sad. Get your soil tested if you are going to eat anything that's grown directly in it.

Okay, the good: because we've had lots of sun the past few days, our compost bin is working nicely. We still only have one, so now have to take a break for a few weeks to let this finish. It's heartbreaking to throw away the lovely veggie scraps from the veggies pouring in now from the CSA and the farmers' market, and even our own garden. We just ate all of the 20 green peas we grew and the beans are ready.

And, the wet: ah. So much rain fell in June that I fear many of my plants will not produce as expected, at best, or not at all, at worst. My tomatoes have lots of blossoms, but the majority are rotting on the vine. The pepper plants, which are supposed to be very easy to grow, are barely bigger than when I transplanted them a month ago. My rhubarb never got bigger than my pinky finger.

But, that's a home garden, folks. It happens. I'm fortunate enough to have a great farmers' market a 5-minute walk away and a CSA half share that fills up the two veggie drawers of my fridge every week. It's such a nice way to supplement a home garden or even just a regular grocery store.

Speaking of the farmers' market, we got this amazing fresh mozzarella cheese. It was salty and creamy and room temperature. The woman selling it said that if we were going to eat it the same day to leave it unrefrigerated. We made grilled cheese with whole wheat bread we bought at the market as well. So good so good so good.

Last night, we finally ate outside for the first time all summer. It happened to coincide with the Annual Major Grill Fire so we didn't end up cooking outside, but no matter; the meal was delicious.

Roasted summer vegetables

This is an excellent way to use a lot of vegetables at one time

summer squash
spring onion (red or white)

In whatever combination you prefer, cut vegetables to similar widths and place on a cookie sheet with an edge. Vegetables should cover bottom of sheet but not overlap.

Drizzle on olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Stir until all veggies are coated.

Roast in 400 degree oven until veggies are soft, approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Stir 2 or 3 times during cooking.

Note: oven temp can be higher or lower, depending on timing of the rest of the meal. I actually started it at 425 for fear of it taking too long and then turned it down to 375 once I realized everything else was late, too!

Dave's Fresh Herb Crusted Mahi Mahi

My husband came up with this and - wow! - was it good!

Figure a half pound of fish per person.

An hour before you want to eat, mince the following fresh herbs and put into a bowl:
1 TBSP tarragon
1 TBSP rosemary
1 TBSP sage
1 TBSP cilantro
2 TBSP basil

Add in 1 teas salt and 1 teas freshly ground pepper

Stir in 2 to 3 TBSP olive oil to form a paste.

Rub evenly over fish. If skin is on, only rub on non-skin parts, as paste won't stay on skin.

Let fish sit out, covered in rub, for 45 minutes.

Heat grill (or broiler) and when hot, grill fish skin side down on medium (or broil 3 or 4 inches from flame) until cooked through, very approximately 7 minutes.

We had it with my uncle's Salade Tri Colore, which I will post at a later date, and prosecco.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pasta Salad

Summer is here, school is out, and one thing I do not want to do is spend all day inside. I often don’t even want to come back home in the middle of the day. That means I’m on the constant lookout for fun places to take a 4-year-old and two dogs with a comfortable spot to stop for lunch, and portable, nutritious, filling lunch foods. Last week, we went to Mondadnock Park in Arlington and brought pasta salad. And through a little packing mishap, we discovered that in addition to its other great qualities—can be made up to two days ahead, can be varied enormously to suit the season, fits into easily portable containers, can be repacked easily if you have to shift lunch locations—it is just fine as finger food.

Pasta Salad for 4

1 package of your favorite pasta

1 (8 oz) block mozzarella

½ cup basil

4 carrots

1 cup snap peas, broken in half if they’re big enough

1 cucumber

3-4 green onions

Cook the pasta as directed. Drain and then rinse with cold water. Pour into a large bowl, sprinkle lightly with olive oil, and toss. Cut the cheese and veggies into ½” squares and add to pasta. Make about ½ cup balsamic vinaigrette and toss well. Store in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator 1-2 days. Even if you’re planning on same-day consumption, it’s best if the pasta salad marinates in the dressing for at least a few hours. When you first put it into the container and when you remove it from the fridge, turn it over several times to make sure the dressing is evenly distributed.

This recipe includes only veggies I found in my garden (basil and peas) or got at the CSA this week. In a few weeks, I’ll have cherry or grape tomatoes (halved) and green beans and a few weeks after that green and then red peppers (of course, somewhere in there the peas will no longer be available). And then in the fall, I can shift to fresh or roasted beets and shallots.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Margaritas and a Confession

First the confession: I'm not innately a vegetable lover. Yes, tomatoes and petite green peas are always adored, and corn, cucumbers, avocados, green peppers, and beets are looked forward to, but when it comes to the real Good For You veggies - broccoli, kale, chard, turnips, brussels sprouts - I secretly balk. I eat them because they are good for me, and often I actually really like what I'm eating, but from a very early age I trained myself to eat my vegetables first so I could enjoy the rest of my dinner. And I still do this, some 30 odd years later.

But, this week I had an epiphany: I got home from the Jersey Shore and found rainbow chard and lettuce ready to eat in my garden, and then picked up the weekly CSA farm share of summer squash, chard, and arrowhead cabbage, and then went down to the farmers' market on Saturday and got gorgeous beets, kohlrabi, and turnips. And all week I have been craving the time I can eat those veggies. Because of the 4th of July and the festivities around that, last night was the first night we cooked at home since picking up all of these really fresh, locally grown vegetables. The colors are vibrant, the flavors gentle and distinct, the cooking simple. This is what summer is made of, and this is why I was interested in this project in the first place. I just needed a reminder of why vegetables are so delicious.

Last night we lightly steamed rainbow chard and sliced raw kohlrabi and served it sprinkled with salt, which is a longtime favorite of my husband's family in Nebraska. I'm already dreaming of tonight's dinner when I can make mashed turnips and pick fresh peas from the garden. And beets and carrots are waiting expectantly in my fridge, too. Maybe we'll have a vegetable-only meal; won't my kids love that!

And now the margarita. My husband is a drink master, but this was actually dreamed up by my sister's boyfriend, Jason, himself a mixologist, with a little input from me, and mixed by my sister, Amy. A true group effort, and so good - - and seasonal.

The idea for cilantro salt came from Martha Stewart. She recommended it for grilled corn on the cob, and it was nice. We had a lot left over and rather than throw it out, we put it in a bowl and left it on the counter. We sprinkled it on meat, eggs, you name it. It went quickly, so I made more. I think it will last a while without going bad because the salt acts as a preservative, though three batches later, we still can't keep it around for more than a day or two.

Mince cilantro leaves until finely chopped and put in a small bowl or ramekin. Add an equal amount fine sea salt and stir until mixed well.

Mint Margaritas with Cilantro Salt

This recipe makes one drink. Multiply as necessary.

Rim chilled margarita or cocktail glasses with cilantro salt (pour salt onto a plate and turn glass upside down, rolling edges in salt until well covered; if salt doesn't stick, rub lime juice on rim).

Into a shaker add:

1 1/2 ounces tequila

6 mint leaves

Muddle mint with tequila using a wooden spoon until mint is bruised and breaking.

Fill shaker with ice and add:

1/2 ounce cointreau

3/4 ounce lime juice

Shake well, until very cold and pour into prepared glasses, adding a little ice.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Steak Soup

You know you’re living in New England when soup in front of a warm fire still sounds like a perfect dinner the first week of July! And in fact, the local seasonal foods line the counter for a perfect slow cooked soup. My latest twist on leftovers and soup is steak soup. I often make pan-seared steak by simply coating a good steak in coarse salt and cracked pepper, letting it sit for a half-hour, and then cooking it for about 7 minutes on each side on a hot pan with olive oil. But no matter how good it is, there are often leftovers. I thought a few months ago that I would dice the leftovers and freeze them to be reused in shepherd’s pie sometime. That would be nice, but once I saw all the nicely cubed steak bits, I remembered seeing a recipe for steak soup. I have no idea where the recipe was, and I don’t think I ever got around to reading beyond the title, so I made my own.

Serves 4 as a main dish

2 cups cubed steak

6-7 cups beef or chicken stock

2-3 carrotts, peeled and cut into ½” pieces

1 kholrabi, peeled and cut into ½” chunks

2 turnips, peeled and cut into ½” chunks

4-6 green onions, cut into ½” pieces

1 cup shelled peas (I had to use frozen ones this time)

¼ cup chopped parsley

Toss all ingredients into a soup pot or crock pot. Cook on stovetop 30-60 minutes at a simmer or in crock pot 4 hours on high or 6+ hours on low. Five minutes before serving, add peas.

At other times of year, I also put into this: 1-2 potatoes, 1 sweet potato, 1-2 cups green beans (in which case I omit the peas), 1-2 onions, kernels from 1-2 ears of corn.

Perfect with a loaf of homemade sourdough bread – I would have liked to have the oven going, but instead defrosted a loaf I had made over the winter modifying Nancy Silverton's La Brea whole wheat walnut sourdough into a whole wheat sunflower seed sourdough.