Friday, June 25, 2010

Friendship Farm Friday: Arugula Development Time

Here are this week's glorious vegetables.  From left to right and top to bottom: Italian parsley, arugula, knob onions, Sugar Snap peas, mint, Spicy Mesclun greens, lettuce, broccoli, Swiss Chard.

My friend Babs coined the term "Development Time" as a pseudonym for "acquiring a taste."  Development Time is the process of going from hating a food to loving it.  The first time I tried arugula, I was not keen on it.  The fierce peppery bite nearly knocked my socks off.  When I found out that in some countries it's called rocket, I thought this makes sense because it has the power to blast off taste buds.  But, I'm not one to ever give up easily, especially regarding matters of food.  I was certain that arugula had virtues, even if it's virtues were an acquired taste.

My Arugula Development Time was short.  In fact, I hit on a great recipe right away.  (Don't just try to use arugula willy-nilly in any old salad.  I used this recipe for Giant Black Bean Salad from 101 Cookbooks.  In this particular salad, a vinaigrette dressing with lime juice, jalapeno, garlic, and honey is tossed over arugula and black beans (feel free to substitute regular black beans as I did) and then topped with toasted almonds and cheese (I used goat cheese instead of feta).  What I found was that the spice of the jalapeno was brightened by the peppery arugula.  But even more, the contrast of the sweetness from the honey and the almonds had my taste buds singing.  Finally, I reveled in the textural contrast of the crunchy almonds and creamy goat cheese.  Now I can eat arugula in any setting. 

So for all you arugula virgins out there, make this your gateway arugula recipe.  You won't regret it.


Rainbow Chard Saute

My household is undergoing a financial experiment.  Hypothesis: How long can we go without buying groceries?  (We got back from our trip to Nebraska on June 8th, and aside from a minor slip up to buy butter and maple syrup when Kent surprised me with a pancake dinner, we've not bought any food since.)  This is partly frugal necessity, and partly foodie challenge.  Although I'll spare you the details, let's suffice it to say we've had a lot of expenses this first part of the summer. Plus I've had a 6 week gap in paychecks due to the early end of spring term teaching and the late start of summer term teaching.  We are broke.

However, on the bright side, I look at this experiment as a fun cooking challenge.  We will hardly be going hungry.  I collect pantry items like most 3rd graders collect Silly Bandz, and I have a freezer stocked with produce from last year's garden.  Add to that a garden that's just coming into harvest season, an already paid for weekly CSA subscription, and four feathered egg-makers in the backyard, and I have a lot of ingredients to work with without needing to grab a shopping cart.

I see this as a chance to be creative, to improvise for ingredients I don't have on hand, and to find new ways to cook what I do have.  Which is why I've been cracking open The Flavor Bible frequently.  The Flavor Bible is a reference book for anyone who wants to abandon cooking with recipes or wants to make up their own recipes.  Working with what you have, instead of rushing out to buy a long list of ingredients from a fancy new recipe can save anyone money.

The Flavor Bible reminds me of a thesaurus.  You look up an ingredient and under that ingredient's listing, there is a list of other ingredients that play well with it.  So when I looked up Chard here were some of the listings: garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, raisins,  balsamic vinegar, red wine, eggs, pasta, polenta, red pepper flakes, Parmesan, and so on.  The most challenging thing about using The Flavor Bible is that you must show some restraint--trying to create a dish that has too many flavor pairings could be disastrous.

For me, the dish that follows is a classic and easy way to work a bunch of Swiss Chard.  Keep in mind that it is flexible.  I used pine nuts and currants just because I happened to have some in the pantry.  You could easily omit them, or use raisins instead of currants.  Also, it would be fine to riff on this dish, adding a fried egg would be splendid or a heavy grating of Parmesan.

Rainbow Chard Saute

1 large bunch rainbow chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil

1/4 cup currants (or raisins)
splash of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Separate chard stems from leaves.  Finely chop the stems, and coarsely chop the leaves.  Heat olive oil in saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add chard stems and cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.  Add garlic and saute for one minute more.  Add chard and cook until completely wilted.  Remove from heat.  Add a small splash of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with pine nuts before serving.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Friendship Farm Friday

Like last year, Kent and I are members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. In the early spring, we buy a "share" of the farmer's projected harvest from Friendship Farms, which entitles us to a box of fresh, organic vegetables every Friday for the entire 20-week growing season.  The first week this was the haul, pictured above from left to right, top row: Easter egg radishes, spicy mesclun mix, arugula, spring mix lettuce.  From left to right, bottom row: rainbow chard, baby turnips, broccoli, bok choy. 

If you want to eat locally and sustainably, CSA  is the way to go.  There are many reasons why I love being a member of a CSA, let me count the ways...

1. I know exactly where this food was grown, how it was grown, who grew it.  My farmers, Susan and Laura, (yes, I like to think of these incredible women as MY farmers.) are incredibly transparent about their farming practices and members are allowed to tour the fields anytime.  I'm assured that this produce is grown in ways that is not harmful to the environment or to the farm workers.

2.  I know how fresh these veggies are (not picked more than 24 hours, before they get to my kitchen), and how many miles they traveled from farm to plate (17.5 miles).  Try getting that information from your Kroger produce manager!
3.  Working with vegetables this fresh makes cooking easy.  I feel like a giddy Alice Waters every Friday when I unpack my box of veggies.  The veggies are so flavorful because they're fresh and organic, and as a result, they don't need a lot of fussing over to taste good.  The mesclun mixed greens, for instance, have a lovely spicy complex flavor.  A short saute in good olive oil is all they need to be incredibly fabulous!  Getting unusual or unfamiliar vegetables in my box is inspiring--it pushes me to be a more creative (and more healthy) cook.  But, I also like the the using the recipes that Friendship Farms staff share in the weekly newsletter.  

4.  CSA subscriptions are an economical way to get high quality produce.  Each week's veggie box costs about $20.  I know I'd be hard pressed to buy this much organic produce in the grocery store at that price, and even if I did, it most likely would be grown industrial scale in California and shipped thousands of miles to me.  I know for some budgets paying several hundred dollars at once for food you don't see for weeks could be problematic, but I've found it evens out in the long run.  I have a very well stocked pantry, and I haven't went to the grocery store in 3 weeks!

5.  My CSA food dollar supports the local economy, rather than large conglomerates thousands of miles away.  In economically depressed, Northwestern Ohio, this is important.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Restaurant Review: Jim Dandy's Family BBQ- Cincinnati, OH

I’m in Cincinnati tonight finishing up a three days stint of teaching summer reading classes, and I went out to eat at the closet non-franchised restaurant from my hotel: Jim Dandy’s Family BBQ.  I know next to nothing about BBQ, and most people are so vehemently opinionated about BBQ that I’m almost afraid to weight in here.  So BBQ fans out there, let me know by what criteria you judge a good BBQ joint.  Jim Dandy’s did not disappoint me, yet I’ve lived too far North most of life to claim any authority on the matter.
 I ordered the pulled pork sandwich combo ($8.50).  The pork was juicy, tender and nicely smokey.  I chose the mild sauce instead of the hot sauce.  I think that was a mistake because I found myself wanting more heat; however, if I had ordered the hot I’d be eating Tums by the handful right now.

I was impressed with the many choices of sides: red beans & rice, baked beans, coleslaw, collard greens, green beans, mac & cheese, potato salad, apple sauce, bead pudding, and Saratoga chips.  I had collard greens, which were tangy—and as I understand it—cooked respectably in the Southern style, which is to say the greens were cooked down within an inch of their life.  The result: greens that nearly melted in my mouth.  But what I’ll be craving after I leave Cinicinati is the Saratoga chips.  These are housemade potato chips seasoned with Dandy’s proprietary rub—giving the chips just the right hint of spice.  Plus, they're just a bit thicker than commercial potato chips giving them a very satisfying toothiness.  Comparing Dandy’s chips to BBQ-flavored Lays like comparing a Twinkie to Julia Child’s crème filled yellow sponge cake.   The meal came with a little square of cornbread, which was moist and heavily tasted of milk and butter with a sweet finish.
Jim Dandy’s also seems to have a pretty simple, take on things.  Here’s their slogan:
 Work hard.  Play harder.  Count your blessings.  Eat Jim Dandy's BBQ.  Love God, Country, Friends, and Others Madly!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Travelling Companions: Quinoa, Beans, and Lentils

I am a strange road tripper because I'm particular about the food I eat, not because I'm a picky eater, but because I care about food and what I eat too much to leave it up to chance encounters in a drive through stall at McDonald s.  This week, Kent and I drove 14 hours straight through from Northwest Ohio to Omaha, Nebraska.  We didn't stop for food once.

I spend the day before we left cooking up road trip worthy foods.  When I'm looking for road food, I have a simple set of criteria.  First, it must be sturdy--dishes that get wilty, soggy, or mushy after a few hours in the cooler are not candidates.  In fact, the type of dish that is better the second day, after flavors have mingled are ideal. Second, it must taste good at any temperature.  I love hearty grain and bean salads that taste great both chilled or at room temperature.

The three dishes I choose for our trip were: Heather's Quinoa Salad, Carrot, Dill, and White Bean Salad, and Red Pepper and Red Lentil Dip with whole wheat flatbread.  (The first two recipes are from 101 Cookbooks blog, which I am obsessed with because the recipes are healthy, emphasize whole grains/beans/veggies, but don't taste like commune food.  The day's cooking spree culminated in a lunch with the best cat/chicken/garden/house sitter we've ever had as the guest of honor and there were plenty of leftovers for the next day.  The Quinoa Salad was earthy and toothy in a nice way, punctuated with the sweetness of  roasted tomatoes (preserved from last year's garden), and kale (from this year's garden), and held together with pesto (also preserved from last year's garden).  The Carrot, Dill, and White Bean Salad is slightly sweet and tangy.  Ever since the first time I made it, it has been in heavy rotation at our house.  I usually serve it with rice to make a complete meal out of it.  Finally, the Red Pepper and Red Lentil Dip, I created as an alternative to hummus.  Because even though I love hummus, I've managed to burn myself out on it.

 Red Pepper and Red Lentil Dip

This dip is smoky from the roasted peppers and smoked paprika, and it gets its zip from lemon and garlic.  Serve it with pita or use it as a sandwich filling.  Using an immersion blender to puree the lentils makes clean up a breeze.

1 1/2 cup red lentils
3 red bell peppers (or a mix of red, yellow, and orange peppers)
scant 1/4 cup of kalamata olives, minced
1 clove garlic, smashed to a paste
juice of half a lemon
1/2 t. smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste

In a 2 qt. saucepan, cover lentils with at least 3 inches of water and bring to a boil.  Boil over medium-high heat until tender, about 30 min. Drain.

Meanwhile, cut bell peppers in half, and seed.  Place cut side down on baking sheet and broil until skin is blackened, about 10 min.  Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil, let stand for 5 min, then peel skins off.  Mince peppers.

Mix lentils, garlic, lemon juice, and paprika in a large bowl, and blend together using immersion blender or food processor.  Fold in peppers and olives.  Adjust seasonings.

Allow to chill for several hours before serving to allow the flavors to develop and mingle.