Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dave's Garbage Minestrone

A guest post by Dave:

One of my hidden talents is making a meal out of whatever is left over in the pantry.  After two or three nights of incredible Cooking-the-Seasons meals, Renée sometimes takes a night off.  She will complain to me, "there's nothing in the fridge," in response to which I only chuckle.  That saggy celery?  That half pint of olives?  That leftover rice?  Nothing?  Throw in a few scraps of meat and I will produce something that tastes at least half as good as the meal it was derived from.  One great pleasure I take from our surfeit of CSA veggies is coming up with clever ways to turn them into calories.

So it was with gusto that I accepted the challenge put to me the other night at Renée's bachelor uncle's house.  She had roasted a chicken the night before, and as I hate to throw out a perfectly good carcass, I decided on soup.  Making the stock would not be a problem.  There were no onions, but I put the chicken carcass in a pot with 6 cups of water, cut up 3 carrots and 3 celery stalks that were definitely past their prime but not rotten, 8 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, a bit of thyme and rosemary (I usually use tarragon), and let it simmer all afternoon.

In the evening it was time to make a meal out of this.  First I strained out everything that had been cooking in the water all day.  I know, you're saying, "Even the meat, Dave?  EVEN the MEAT?!?"  Yes, even the meat.  Taste it!  Yeah, what do you say now?  Doesn't taste much like meat anymore, does it?  The flavor has in fact gotten all infused in the water, which is what we wanted it to do when we decided to simmer it all afternoon.  Don't be sad!  That meat has done its job.  It can now go into the garbage can.

Okay, now what to add to this nice stock?  Checking the cupboards.... whew, how can he live like this?... let's see, this can of garbanzo beans will be nice.  Strain them, throw them in.  Then some carrots and celery from the newer bag (I used up the older ones making the stock).  A big can of crushed tomatoes?  Yes please.  Tomatoes give lots of flavor.  Diced up two potatoes.  A couple handfuls of macaroni.  The last handful of green beans from the bottom of the veggie drawer.  Bring it to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

While simmering, season to taste.  I am gun-shy of spices because I know once you go too far you cannot come back.  So I add salt, pepper, a bit of cayenne, basil, dried parsley, and a little powdered garlic EXTREMELY slowly, bit by bit.  After many excruciating minutes of this, I ask Renée to have a taste.  She tells me it's completely flavorless and starts dumping in spices willy-nilly.  "STOP!" I think.  But we've been through this before, and I know not to get in her way.  When she finishes her promiscuous seasoning, the soup tastes just right.  The moral of the story is either, A) don't be so afraid of spices, soup can handle it, or b) listen to your wife, she knows what she's talking about.

Serve with salad and toasted bread with raw garlic rubbed on it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Don't swap the zucchini

Our CSA has come up with the wonderful idea of a swap box - after you pick up your share you can leave off things you really don't in exchange for someone else's discards.  Recently, there has been more and more zucchini in that box.  That's probably because while many other things come and go pretty quickly at the CSA (we had two or three weeks of onions, potatoes, kale), the zucchini just keeps on coming.  New to me this year, though, is the variety: alongside the long dark green zucchini and slightly bell-shaped yellow summer squash are beautiful light green bell-shaped ones, and perfectly darling two-fist-sized dark green balls.  I've been happily hiding away my loads of them in tomato sauce, but the beautiful variety of shapes really calls out for stuffing.  And it helps that stuffed zucchini offers up a filling that little ones just adore (they avoid the outside and without knowing it gobble up all of the zucchini in the middle).

Serves 4

4 medium zucchini (the round ones are my new favorite to stuff, but for the best presentation, use a variety of shapes and colors)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 can tomato paste (or, 1/2 cup blended roasted tomatoes)
1/4 cup water
leaves from 1 large sprig oregano
1/3 cup rice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350.  Saute the onion in olive oil until just soft.  Add the garlic and saute until the onion is translucent.  Meanwhile, scoop out the insides from the zucchini, leaving just enough shell to hold its shape.  Set the zucchini shells into a baking pan.  Chop up the zucchini insides.  Remove the onion and garlic and set aside.  Saute the ground beef until brown.  Add  back in the garlic and onion, zucchini, tomato paste, water, rice, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook, low, for about five minutes.  Remove from heat and stir parmesan.  Scoop the stuffing into the zucchini shells, making as high a hill as can hold itself together in each shell.  If there are any leftovers, you can bake them in a ramekin.  Bake 30 minutes. 

Serve with mashed potatoes, rice, or bread (there will be yummy sauce you'll want to sop up with something) and salad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I have been so busy freezing peaches for the winter that I almost forgot to just eat them.  Luckily, a few days before they start to go bad, their sweet smell starts to creep around the house, and I remember.  There was one pile left in my fruit bowl from last week's farmer's market.  All but two went into the meal.  But this is high harvest time in New England, so we also had eggplant half from my garden and half from the CSA (the Asian eggplant that I put it are growing beautifully and thickly), and a savory watermellon salad inspired by a fellow CSA member who described something similar at yesterday's pickup.  But we haven't found a new meat CSA, so I did have to go to Whole Foods for that.  I went in thinking I would get pork loin or ribs and make a rhubarb barbecue sauce with the rhubarb that's finally really taken off back behind my tomatoes.  But the pork was from Oakland, California.  (Oakland is a city, so I hope it's really from somewhere nearby, but just that suspicion is one more reason to buy local meat!).  The only really local meat that the Fresh Pond Whole Foods carries is beef.  There were some beautiful and expensive steaks, and a stack of quite inexpensive and intriguing "Beef shins."  The butcher had never made them either, but another customer told him that they're best cooked slow and have nice marrow (so right).  So I took home much more than I needed (4 lbs, even with all of that bone, would easily serve 6 people) and threw it in the crock pot with just what I had though of for the ribs.  That was 1:00.  When we started cooking at 5, the meat was a little tough and the sauce kind of bland and thin.  But by the time we were ready to eat, around 7, the meat was falling off the bone tender and the sauce was thick, rich, and tangy.  I put the leftovers in the freezer to use later with some roots for a nice Fall stew. 

serves 2

4 peaches, peeled
1/2 cup tarragon grappa
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1tsp. lemon juice
1 T agave nectar

Blend thoroughly and serve over ice

serves 3-4
1 small watermellon, cubed (about 2 cups)
1 small red onion, roughly chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup feta cheese, cubed

Dress with:
1 T olive oil
1 T while balsamic vinegar
dash salt
dash pepper

My friend Liz made a version of this for me when I was in China visiting her a few weeks ago.  The taste stayed with me.  Steamed eggplant takes on a wonderful almost silky texture, and is perfectly balanced with this spicy, salty dip.  Use 1 large or 2 small eggplants per person.

Steam the eggplants whole for about 20 minutes, until very soft, almost mushy, to the touch.  You can let them sit in the steamer, covered, until you're ready to serve.  When you do serve, place the eggplants whole on a plate.  They will break open into long almost stringy parts with the most gentle prodding of fork or chopstick.  Set the bowl with dipping sauce in the center of the table so everyone can lift out pieces from their place and dip to taste.

Dipping Sauce
1 tsp. Chinese hot pepper paste
1/8 c. tamari
1 T dark rice vinegar
1 T light rice vinegar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

serves 4-6

2 large beef shins
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
12 rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1/2" pieces
2 T tomato paste
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T worsteshire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Brown  beef shins and set in crock pot. In the drippings, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent.  Add in all other ingredients and briefly stir.  Pour over the beef shins in the crock pot and turn to coat.  Cook on low 6-8 hours.

serves 4-6

For those who've been following us for a while, we made this using half of our clafouti recipe from April, substituting half peaches for the raspberries, and baking it in a small (half of a lasagna-pan) pan.  Here's the whole thing laid out:

3 peaches, peeled and halved
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350.  Set the peaches in the pan, flat side down.  Whisk together all of the remaining ingredients.  Pour around the peaches.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Cool slightly before eating.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sushi in Detail

I will now attempt to explain how to roll sushi, something I have been avoiding for a long time, since I am self-taught (and therefore self-conscious about it) and also still improving my technique. My one suggestion is to get good ingredients and, worst case, you eat a bowl of sushi rice, vegetables, seaweed, and fish.

I try not to beat dead horses but once again I am going to plug New Deal Fish Market. If you live in the greater-Boston area, go there. They have never steered me wrong and their sushi-grade fish selection is outstanding. The key to buying fish in general, and sushi in particular, is that the market should not smell fishy at all. New Deal does not; it smells like the ocean.

The other night my mother-in-law was visiting from Nebraska. She grew up in Maryland and loves seafood. It's very difficult to get fresh fish in her town and so when she comes East, she stocks up on her fish intake for the season. So, naturally, we decided to make her sushi. However, much of the traditional ingredients are not exactly local, so we brainstormed and took advantage of the CSA pick-up that day, and made fairly local, and definitely seasonal, sushi rolls.

Determining amounts is tough for me with sushi. Obviously, you shouldn't do the standard 1/2 lb. fish per person. I like to make sushi and sashimi, too, so I tend to get around 1/4 lb. per person plus a little more. The recipe below overly fed 6 hungry sushi lovers. We used about half the fish for sashimi (unadorned, raw slices) and half for the rolls.

1 lb. sushi-grade, raw salmon
3/4 lb. sushi-grade, raw tuna
1 avocado
1 carrot
1 beet
3 to 4 scallions
1 peach
1 summer squash
1 cucumber
5 to 6 green beans
8 to 10 sprigs cilantro
2 oz. cream cheese cut from block lengthwise
8 to 10 nori sheets or soy sheets, cut in half
8 to 10 servings sushi rice, made according to package instructions
2 to 3 TBSP mirin (found in New Deal, Whole Foods, or other grocery stores)
prepared ginger

Make the rice and when it completely cooked according to package instructions, stir in mirin until the rice is slightly loose but still sticky. Spread it out on a tray to cool.

My two helpers

Cut all vegetables into long, thin sticks.

Slice fish, against grain, into 1/4 inch thick slices. If you are going to have sashimi, too, leave some as is. Otherwise, cut slices into strips for rolls. The rolls can take odd and end pieces, so use the nicest cuts for the sashimi.

Cut cream cheese into thin strips.

Have a bowl of water and a tea towel at hand for rinsing sticky hands. 

Have serving platters ready to put prepared sushi onto.

Have a sharp knife ready.

When everything is cut and laid out in front of you, you are ready to begin filling.

Place a half sheet of nori in front of you. Imagine the nori in divided into 2 halves, top to bottom. With your hands, pick up ~ 1/4 cup rice and evenly spread it on the bottom half of the nori, leaving a one inch strip of nori at the very bottom uncovered. You may need a bit more rice. When it is evenly spread, gently but firmly press down all over rice to flatten it to the nori.

Place whatever fish/vegetable combination you desire in the middle third of the rice strip. My kids adore salmon, avocado, and cream cheese, so I make sure to do a bunch of those. Avoid overstuffing, as it will make rolling difficult. You may want to rinse your fingers if they are sticky from the rice.

Now you are ready to roll. 

Gently roll the bottom edge away from you, towards the top, holding ingredients in as you go. If you have not overstuffed, the un-riced edge on the bottom should meet the un-riced edge at the top and will seal well. If it is too full and you can't get the edges to meet, remove some of the ingredients inside. If the nori won't stick to itself, dampen your fingers slightly with water and use the water as glue.

When it is completely rolled and staying together, take a very sharp knife and slice the roll, lengthwise, into 6 to 8 pieces, each around one inch wide and place on a platter. If you are serving small children, you can cut them slightly thinner, as thicker rolls are difficult for little mouthes. Serve with wasabi, tamari, and ginger.

Continue above directions until you have as many rolls as you want. Keja and I have been enjoying taking the leftover odds and ends of vegetables and fish and making a poke (sort of a salsa-like, salad-esque fish and vegetable mix). It's delicious and a nice addition to the meal. 


Cube all leftover vegetables and fish from above and use the dressing below, or if starting from scratch, use the following:

1 peach (or mango)
1/2 avocado
1 cup sushi-grade, raw fish in any combination
7 sprigs cilantro, chopped

2 teas. toasted sesame oil
2 teas. tamari
2 teas. lemon juice

Chop peach, avocado, and fish (or other vegetables) into 1/4 to 1/3 inch cubes. Place in a bowl. Add dressing, stir gently, and serve.

Sushi rolled and ready to eat!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Creamy dessert, drink, and dinner

You can't get much farther from Somerville than China, so someone who knows will have to explain why while I was there the past few weeks sure I found plenty of fantastically delicious vegetables that don't even have names in English, but also in season the very same things that Renee was picking up at the CSA.  In fact, when you walk by a market in Chengdu in late July and early August, what wafts out are not the odd odor of unmentionable fowel parts that I expected, but the sweet sweet smell of ripe peaches.  And Liz who most generously hosted us has the simplest and most scrumptious way to turn peaches into ice cream.  She is also responsible for adding the little kick to my version of the Cucumber Margarita. 

Peach Ice Cream

6 large peaches (or the equivalent in small)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 pint cream

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and drop the peaches in for 3-5 minutes.  Remove and let cool until you can handle them.  Slip off the skins and cut in half to remove pits.  Drop peaches, cream, and sugar into a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour into an ice cream maker and follow directions. 

Ice Creamy Cucumber Margaritas
serves 4

4 cucumbers
1 cup tequila
4 T cointreau
4 T lime juice
Rock salt
1 jalapeno

Peel the cucumbers, cut four slices and set aside, then roughly chop the rest.  Put them in a blender and pulse until smooth.  Mix in with the tequila, cointreau, and lime juice.  Pour into an ice cream maker and follow directions, stopping when the mixture just begins to freeze and has the creamy consistency of a blended margarita (about 15 minutes).  Meanwhile, rub the rims of four (ideally, chilled) margarita glasses first with a cucumber slice, then with the inside of the jalapeno.  Pour about 2 T of rock salt into a plate and dip the rims into the salt. 

Creamy Totally Homemade Tomato Sauce

Up until last week, I considered my tomatoe sauce homemade if I cooked and blended it myself.  But I didn't look at the origin on the cans of diced tomatoes, knowing somewhere not so deep down that New England does not have a tomato canning industry.  Somehow, canned tomatoes had become such a regular part of my tomato sauces that I didn't even really consider it an option to use fresh instead.  But tomato season is finally in such full swing that between the CSA and my garden I had more tomatoes than I could possibly consume raw, and then these gorgeous romas were on sale that Farmers Market for $1.50 a pound, and I piled 16 of them into my bag.  The resulting totally homemade tomato sauce has me prepping and planning so I never used canned again.

This recipe makes about 24 cups or one big soup pot's worth of tomatoe sauce.  I freeze it in 2- and 4-cup containers since I use about 1 cup of sauce per person in most pasta with tomato sauce dishes.  This sauce also works wonderfully on pizza and in lasagna.

4 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
16 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 zucchini, cut in rounds
8 sprigs oregano, leaves and flowers, if they're out, only
(and if you have them, 4 carrotts roughly chopped)
2 T olive oil
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper

In a soup pot, saute the onions until translucent in the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for another 3-5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, zucchini, carrotts if you have them, oregano, salt, and pepper and stir well.  Cover, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook 30-45 minutes.  Remove cover and cook another 20 minutes, or until the liquid reduces enough that you'll get a creamy rather than a watery sauce (the liquid level should look like it comes up to about 3/4 of the pot height).  You can freeze and use it like this, but since I have a child who doesn't like to actually see as such the vegetables he's eating, I always blend the whole thing.  Also, blended in the zucchini gives the sauce a rich creamy flavor and texture.