Monday, June 28, 2010

Learning to be Flexible

It’s Monday night. Tomorrow I’ll be getting my second CSA delivery of the season. I went to the store yesterday and bought a few ingredients to make some recipes with what will be delivered. The only problem is I shopped before I received my list of vegetables using a list from the week before. If you know anything about farming, you know that crops aren’t that predictable. Last week’s rain means I have just the right items to make a great chard dish as well as a kohlrabi salad, which are no longer part of the delivery. Instead I’m getting leeks, fennel and beets, which I’m not sure what I’ll do with yet.

I could have done some research tonight, but I didn’t have time. Instead of preparing for my night in the kitchen tomorrow, I was eating dinner and celebrating my cooking club’s 10-year anniversary. In honor of the occasion we waived our usual pattern of choosing a theme and contributing a dish for dinner at a local tapas restaurant.

There are 12 of us now in the group. A few have been there since the beginning, a few have come and gone along the way, and the rest of us showed up at one point or another. I joined sometime after the first year reading about it on the Cooking Light website, the magazine that produced the club.

When I joined I wouldn’t have ever guessed that I’d still be in this club nearly a decade later. But who ever imagines something like that? I was new to town and wanted to meet some new people and share something I liked to do. I remember showing up at that first meeting, with my dish in hand, and thinking about turning around and leaving. It was immediately clear to me that I was way out of my league.

The others in the group were far more advanced than I was, discussing ingredients I had never heard of and utensils I didn’t own. But each month I came back and listened and learned. It was the members of my group who first taught me about CSA shares and gave me the courage to sign up.

Along the way I’ve made wonderful friends and learned that when it comes to cooking nobody’s perfect. Each of us has had our share of flops but we never leave a meeting without having shared a good meal. So tomorrow when I get my box, even though I’m not that prepared, I know I’ll figure out what to do with the vegetables I didn’t plan on. I’ve learned a lot about cooking over the past 10 years from some of the finest cooks in town.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cabbage Day

Yesterday was Father’s Day, so I don’t think it was an accident that I found myself making coleslaw with one of the two cabbages I have left from last week's CSA share. I have vivid memories of my dad using his giant mandolin to shred cabbage onto a cutting board in the kitchen.

He kept the slicer underneath the kitchen sink where it could be retrieved at a moment's notice if he found himself with an extra head of cabbage. The mandolin I used, a slight white plastic piece, was nothing compared to my dad’s mandolin. I’m pretty sure mine will snap in half someday as I use it, something that never happened to my dad in a lifetime of making coleslaw.

The mandolin was wood and nearly as big as my whole arm, with blades that twisted in and were locked tight. I suspect it was homemade, not because of the craftsmanship, but because it seemed to be made out of exactly the same wood as our cutting board, which slid out from a square cut beneath the counter. The slicer was exactly the same thickness and if you placed it on top of the board, you might lose it there, were it not for the silver blades to tell you where it was hiding.

My dad favored a simple vinegar and oil dressing that he mixed up with a little sugar in whatever jar he could find. Sometimes he might use a metal measuring cup to mix the dressing ingredients together, capping the top with his big broad hand and making sure none escaped as he shook it. But whatever was handy would work too. I remember any number of washed out peanut butter and mayonnaise jars serving the purpose.

The Pampered Chef Measure, Mix and Pour I use to mix my dressing is a far cry from an old jar, but no better at the task. The recipe I make starts out similar to my dad’s but as with my materials, I take a more modern turn as I finish it out. I start with apple cider vinegar, olive oil and sugar and then decide to add some curry powder, ginger and hot sauce for an unexpected flavor, finishing with some peanuts.

All in all I’m pleased, but I’m not sure my dad would like it. I’m pretty sure he never had anything with curry in it during his whole life. But, knowing my dad he’d be too polite to say anything bad. As I finish my dinner and pack up the leftovers for another meal, I sneak another bite out of the bowl, just as my dad used to. “Not too shabby,” I can almost hear him say.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Simple Broccoli

Last night, after a day of snacking on the monster cookies I made last week, I was only a little hungry and craving something a little healthier. Lucky for me, I had saved the broccoli from my CSA box for just such an occasion. I love broccoli and feel it has magical powers. With my stomach a little mad at me for the transgressions of the day, I knew this cruciferous vegetable would make me feel better.

The head I received from the farm was small, about a cup or two when chopped, perfect for an individual serving. At first I thought about making a salad with it, but had a moment of inspiration when I spotted the walnuts in the pantry. Since it was already 7:00 p.m., I also wasn't up to anything too complicated. I decided sautéed broccoli with the walnuts was on the menu.

I added a bit of olive oil to a skillet along with the broccoli and the walnuts and cooked them together until the broccoli was that beautiful shiny green color and the walnuts were toasted. With about a tablespoon of feta to the top I was amazed at how beautiful it looked and how a few simple ingredients can come together to create something so much more. Although the broccoli didn't necessarily cancel out my sins of the day, I felt a little better after ingesting the greens after a day of golden browns.

This morning my stomach was raring to go again. I’ve been off of work the last week and celebrated my last leisurely morning by making scrambled eggs. When I opened the refrigerator, the garlic scapes curled out from the bottom shelf. I had planned to add a little cheese to my eggs, but instead grabbed one of the ribbons, cut it up and mixed it in. It added a nice garlic flavor to the eggs and complimented the Parmesan grated on top nicely.

Five days after picking up my first CSA box, I have worked my way through about half of my bounty. I have two heads of cabbage, some green onions, garlic scapes, and yes a salad turnip to use up. Putting it at the front of the refrigerator hadn’t helped. I’d completely forgotten about it. It looks a little wrinkled, but I’m sure it’s still crisp inside. I plan to eat it for lunch, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week One

June 15. The day I’ve been waiting for. My first CSA delivery of the summer. I open my box from Two Onion Farm in Belmont at the pick-up site and take a quick look at the produce inside. Since I did this last summer, the unfamiliar items, such as salad turnips and garlic scapes are recognizable to me now. There are also radishes, broccoli, a small head of cabbage, lettuce, pea pods, and green onions.

I pull out the lettuce and look in the swap box. Here you can deposit the items you don’t like and take an item you do like. Knowing I already have spinach at home for salad, I drop the lettuce in the box and take out a head of cabbage.

At home, I begin cooking. This will be my every other Tuesday evening ritual for most of the summer. Because the bounty is organic and untreated, I try to cook it as fast as possible so as not to waste it. I also try to find unusual uses for the items that aren’t my favorites and that might fall to the back of the crisper drawer and be forgotten until they are nothing but feed for the compost bin.

This week, it’s the radishes and the salad turnips. I’ve never been a huge fan of radishes and only learned about salad turnips last summer. I decide to pickle the radishes along with one of the salad turnips and a few green onions using this recipe. They turned out to be quite good. I have been eating them raw as a snack throughout the week and using them on toasted turkey sandwiches.

For dinner Tuesday night, I use my favorite item in the box, the sugar snap peas. Although I love these enough to sit down at the table and eat them raw, I have enough restraint to stir fry them with the garlic scapes and another salad turnip, which when cooked adds crunch like a water chestnut. I even take the time to make a brown sauce with sherry, soy sauce and cornstarch, instead of my short cut cooking with just oil.

The garlic scapes are long thin green tendrils that grow out of the ground above the garlic bulb below. If it is kept attached to the bulb it will turn white and opaque like the skin on the garlic and keep the bulb from growing. They add a subtle garlic taste and crunch to whatever you add them too. Throughout the rest of the next two weeks, I will throw them in anything that needs a little garlic taste and crunch.

For the first night, I’ve done enough cooking and sit down at the table to enjoy my first meal. As I crunch into the snap pea I make plans for the rest of the items. I found a recipe for curried cole slaw and I have a favorite sweet and sour cabbage recipe for the two heads of cabbage. The broccoli will be easy, as will the green onions and the garlic scapes, so I don’t have anything special planned for them yet.

It’s the other salad turnip I’m worried about. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just one of those vegetables that tends to get lost in the back of the refrigerator. I get up from the table and pull it out of the bag my vegetables are stored in, placing it prominently front and center on the top shelf, where I won’t miss it.