Thursday, December 14, 2006

This thing

I never told you about this thing, did I?
(This isn't exactly it...the one I have is from IKEA and looks just like this without the metal railing, but apparently they don't make it anymore, so there's no photo on their site.)

The long and short: I have wanted one of these rolly-butcher-block-shelf-island-cart things for years, but have never wanted to pay $129 new...I've even come close to buying one on Craigslist for like $70, knowing full well that no non-sofa IKEA item should be $70 secondhand. But I always talked myself out of it.

One night last month, I was grumpily walking home from the record store at night (the L train wasn't running), and one of these islands was sitting on the street, in fine condition, just needing some cleaning up and missing one shelf-slat. So I took it home, nearly broke my back getting it up the stairs, and, after a serious scrubbing...I doubled the usable food prep space in my kitchen. Yay!

Anyhow, I was thinking about that today while moving this thing out of the way to vaccuum, and thinking "what did I do before this thing?" Plus it's not like I have any vegetable news to report. Sigh.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I guess winter isn't so bad when you have applesauce cooking on the stove...
Went to the Monday greenmarket and got a pound of spinach, two heads of garlic, and eight pounds of apples to tide us over. All the apples (in two pots) are going into the applesauce - it goes quickly around here.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Winter really is winning

No greenmarket today. Too cold. Too sniffly. Too achy. Instead I stayed home and napped and nibbled. However, I did find some excellent-sounding recipes from new food blogs. And I finished off the broccoli.

This means no more greenmarket 'til 2007...I'm going home for the holidays next Sunday morning, and won't be back until January 2, when the whole city will be covered in snow and I can't imagine what the greenmarket will have to offer (other than "seriously good bacon," that is)....

Friday, December 08, 2006

Winter is winning

Super-chocolatey hot cocoa for people who try not to eat any sugar usually but it is 20 degrees outside, people
2 tbsp. cocoa (Droste is nice)
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup milk

Put cocoa and sugar in a mug, adding just enough milk to mix into a smooth paste. Warm the rest of the milk, pour into the mug, stir, and enjoy momentary respite from the dark cold sadness infiltrating your soul.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"3 Hurt in Greenmarket Melee" - NY Times

But not, as I would have guessed, fighting over the last jumbo head of Rocambole garlic (limit ten per customer at Keith's organics):
NY Times: 3 Hurt in Greenmarket Melee

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Total anarchy

Broccoli for dinner!! Grilled cheese for breakfast!!!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

When the cat's away...

As I have probably mentioned before, my live-in photo assistant/ dining companion HATES broccoli - to the extent that if I cook it in the house, he gets grossed out. But he's going out of town next week, so like any hot-blooded American twentysomething gal with an out-of-town significant other would, I plan to party. And by "party," I mean "cook and eat lots of broccoli." Probably I am going to stir fry it with slices of garlic...

Today was a good day:
1 head broccoli (!!)
1 bunch baby rainbow chard
2 bags spinach
1 zucchini
1 small tomato
1 bunch basil
half a dozen shallots
2 jumbo heads Rocambole garlic
3 sweet potatoes
8 lbs. Mutsu apples
Total spent: $38

Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary today at the USG; I arrived quite late so it was already extremely busy. I bought the basil and shallots because I'm going to make tomato sauce; I guess the fresh basil must be grown in greenhouses or something, since it's a sunshine-loving plant, or maybe it's sticking around because of the unseasonal heat we've been having. Either way, it's likely the last hurrah for the year, so I'm going to make a huge batch of sauce to freeze and keep.

3/4 of the apples are already bubbling away on the stove for applesauce - the last batch I made went so quickly that I had to double the recipe this time around. Homemade applesauce can really take the edge off of winter-angst. (So can great coffee, like the cup I had at the Mud Truck across the street from the greenmarket).

Otherwise, we had grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, made with whole-wheat artisanal bread, chopped-up garlicky sauteed spinach, and (gasp!) Kraft singles. I challenge the world to invent a better grilled cheese sandwich. I don't believe it can be done.

The spinach this week seems especially good. Lately the leaves have been quite large and full of stems (which I can't stand, so I trim them all off), but this week's batch, from the same vendor, was all tiny leaves still in bunches, which not only is more tender but easier to prepare.

What happens, I can't help but think, as the days get colder and shorter, when it freezes? Does that mean no more spinach? Can hardy root vegetables like carrots survive? Perhaps I'll ask some vendors next week...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Roasted squash and cumin soup

I made this soup from Lex Culinaria tonight, and it was excellent! Though I did make a few changes. My butternut squash was only 3.75 lbs, so I adjusted some seasonings accordingly, as well as using 1 cup shallots instead of the called-for 2 cups onions, and...this was perhaps the questionable decision...I had no ginger, so I used 1 tsp. coriander instead. It turned out very good (coriander and cumin are very compatible), but I think next time I'll use the ginger. And no fancy grilled-cheese croutons for me, though I did make some croutons out of the end of a great loaf of whole-wheat sourdough which turned out great. All in all, a very filling, healthy, and tasty soup - good thing, too, since I have tons leftover, which I'm freezing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The food mill: Great kitchen tool, or the greatest kitchen tool?

Last night after the Turnip Incident, I made good on my applesauce promise, since we were both wanting dessert and I was hoping to drive the hideous turnip smell from my home. The applesauce turned out delicious, as the Mutsus are full-flavored apples; I added only a bit of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, and a little brown sugar.

But the process reminded me of how essential my food mill is to certain recipes, standing in for a food processor at times (for pureeing or ricing), and one-upping a food processor at other times (when, like with applesauce, it both purees and strains the mixture). With the mill, I can cook my apples with their skins on, which adds apple flavor and helps keep them from falling apart; doing so without it would require pressing apples through a sieve, which is much more work and mess.

Most other cooks I know, even those with particularly well-equipped kitchens, don't have food mills, and I, for one, think they don't know what they're missing. When I talked to my mom about this once, she said that they have a reputation (left over from the hippy-parenting '70s) for making homemade baby food and not much else. Too bad - the food mill is perfect for sauces, soups, and purees - and easier to clean up than a food processor.

Yay food mills! On that note, here's how to make homemade applesauce - less a recipe than a guideline:
apples (use a crisp and tart variety; Mutsu or Granny Smith are ideal)
brown sugar

Core apples and cut into wedges, leaving peels on. Place apple slices into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, making sure you have at least an inch of room between the top of the apples and the lid of the pan; add enough water just to cover apples. Add cinnamon to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp for 3 lbs. apples), and a dash of nutmeg; stir gently. Bring water to a boil; turn down, and simmer until apples are almost tender, about 20-30 minutes. At this point, taste an apple slice and adjust seasonings; stir gently. Continue cooking until apples are completely tender, drain, and run through a food mill (use the disk with the largest openings). While applesauce is still hot, add brown sugar to taste (I used about 1 tbsp. for 3 lbs., but this will vary with your preference as well as the sweetness of your apples). If you don't have a food mill, you'll have to peel the apples before cooking them; after draining the hot apples and adding sugar, mash with a potato masher.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Are you kidding me??!?

People LIKE turnips?!?!?!!

Oh, they are so disgusting. They're air out your apartment after cooking them, can't even get one bite down disgusting.

I have a new least favorite vegetable.

Thanksgiving recap + early morning USG visit

My photo assistant was still sleeping when I got home from the greenmarket at 9:15 (left at 8), so I have no photos of today's wintry bounty, but luckily, I have a shot of our Thanksgiving feast. We had delicious curry dip and cheesy toasts (the greatest use of cheese known to man, I think) for appetizers; Tofurky, squash puree, mashed potatoes, garlicky spinach, and homemade cornbread stuffing as our mains; and probably the best apple pie I've ever had (sorry Mom!), as well as pumpkin pie, for dessert. All in all, a bit of a crazy spread for just the three of us, but lots of fun.

Regarding the dishes I made, I thought the acorn squash puree was good, but a little over-nutmegged, the mashed potatoes (German butterballs) were terrific, and the stuffing was well-received by stuffing fans (recipe at the bottom of this post).

Today's USG cornucopia:
2 bags spinach
1 bag salad mix
1 bunch carrots
1 lb. turnips
1.5 lbs. ruby crescent potatoes
1 butternut squash
1/2 lb. shallots
4 lbs. Mutsu apples
2 "mother of Mutsu" apples
Total spent: $27

I went a bit overboard with the apples, so I think this week I will finally make good my promises of applesauce. And I do love using my food mill...

Other plans include carrot/turnip mash alongside sauteed tofu and spinach tonight, with the rest of the spinach being added to pasta, burritos, and anywhere else possible for lunches. Leftover turnip and carrot mash will hopefully work for fritters tomorrow.

I bought the ruby crescents because the sign describing their "hint of chestnut" flavor has tempted me every time I've walked by for a month; I'll probably make a potato puree with them (again with the food mill). Otherwise, I plan to try a recipe for squash and cumin soup I found on a site I "bloghopped" to from The Food Blog Blog and so can't remember its name. If it's good, I will find it again and post a link.

Vegetarian Cornbread Stuffing (Dressing?)
4 tbsp. butter
1 cup finely chopped shallots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups peeled, large-diced apples (tart and crisp - I used Mutsus)
1 cup seeded, diced zucchini
1-2 tbsp. fresh sage
1-2 tsp. dried rosemary (you could use fresh, but I only had dried)
1.5-2 cups vegetable stock
1 egg (optional)
4-5 cups slightly-stale cornbread, cut into 1" dice (to dry out fresh cornbread, cut into 1" slices and leave out overnight on a baking sheet, covered with a kitchen towel)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

All measurements are approximate.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add shallots and celery, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Do not allow shallots to brown. Clear the middle of the frying pan, and add sage and rosemary; stir into rest of ingredients when spices become aromatic. Add zucchini and apples and cook, stirring, until zucchini is tender and apples have softened (they will not be completely soft).

Allow vegetable mixture to cool. Place diced cornbread in large bowl and add vegetable mixture, one cup of vegetable batter, and salt and pepper to taste; add egg after tasting for seasoning. Use your hands to mix thoroughly. Continue adding stock until all ingredients are moistened and stuffing is coherent but quite moist, like muffin batter. Spread stuffing out in a 9x13 baking dish (or stuff whatever you need to stuff with it), and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until browned all over and crusty around the edges. Or, stuffing can be made up to this point and refrigerated overnight to be baked the next day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jerusalem artichokes: attempt #1

At the last minute, I decided to use this recipe to prepare the Jerusalem artichokes, rather than pan-frying them - I think I wanted to hide behind the Parmesan. It seemed that I might have undercooked the artichoke chunks, but I couldn't quite tell - all the recipes I've read call for them to maintain "a bit of snap" or "a little crunch," so perhaps they turned out just right. At any rate, next time I'll try the pan-fry, cut into thin slices; we both enjoyed the potato-artichoke flavor, but the texture wasn't the best: dry and somewhat hard.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reunited, and it feels so good!

Did I go overboard today at my beloved USG? Perhaps. But I did have the excuse of Thanksgiving preparations...

My shoulders still hurt:
2.5 lbs. German butterball potatoes
3 zucchini
1/3 lb baby rainbow chard
2 bags spinach
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch parsley
1 basket shallots
2 heads Rocambole garlic
7 assorted chiles - jalapeno, anaheim, and "inferno"
1 celeriac
3 Jerusalem artichokes
6 Macoun apples
4 Mutsu apples
total spent: $40

The Jerusalem artichokes are an experiment, heavily influenced by my recent purchase The Vegetable Bible, which was on double-sale at the bookstore and so ended up being around $10 (such a deal!!). It's terrific, effectively balancing the scientific names and associations of various edibles with their common names, what they taste like, and how to prepare them. Next week I want to try burdock root or salsify, but I thought the Jerusalem artichokes would be a not-too-scary first step into the world of semi-exotic root vegetables. Perhaps I will play it safe again, though, and go for turnips; there were some lovely-looking white ones available several places this week. Also on my winter schedule, thanks to the book, are kohlrabi and rutabaga.

Meanwhile, I couldn't be gladder to be back home and stocked with produce again; tonight I'm planning celeriac risotto (substituting shallots for the leek, which I forgot) and sauteed rainbow chard with garlic. On the dark green leafies front, good chard was difficult to find this week, which was a bit alarming; I'm not sure if it was my late start (and the pre-holiday crowd) or if there's just less of it around, but I had to hunt and eventually buy the expensive stuff from the biodynamic cart. Luckily spinach was readily available from the usual places, and I bought an extra bag to make for Thanksgiving.

It has been pointed out to me that I somehow forgot to mention the delicious-and-extremely-strange meal I experienced in San Francisco at the organic Japanese restaurant Miyako. This was, hands-down, the weirdest meal I had during my visit, but it was definitely delicious. I had an avocado tempura (!!) sushi roll and green beans, which were both incredible, as well as decent vegetable gyoza and some nibbles of a vegetarian eel roll. The service was incredibly strange - almost psychically attentive at times, lax at others, and earnest in a not-too-friendly way that vaguely made us feel like we were in trouble. Also, in the bento box one of my dining companions had, there was this sweet...thing. It was maybe tofu, but certainly didn't taste or feel like anything tofu I've ever had. It exuded this sweetened liquid when you pressed on it, but sucked it all back in when you let go - like a sponge. It was a rounded rectangular cube, and looked a bit like an art gum eraser. We didn't figure out what it was, and no internet menu searches have proven helpful in the matter.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

At long last...

...I am home! And it's not CMJ! And things can settle down...somehow. Thank goodness butternut squash keeps so well at room temperature. I haven't had any cube-shaped roasted vegetables in far too long. And I couldn't satisfy my dark green leafies cravings in SF, either, though I did manage some chard here, some spinach there.

Culinary highlight - other than the amazing Golden Era, and the equally stunning House Of Nanking (their string beans, and pretty much everything else, are to die for) - I made an omelette for three Saturday morning, with perfect California avocadoes, chard that I had sauteed with shallots and garlic, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. On the side were a sweet Yukon Gold and a nice waxy red potato.

Good things are appearing on the horizon. Not only will I be able to get back to my dear greenmarket on Saturday, but once I start my new job, I'll have two days off per week instead of just one, which means...more time for vegetable shopping and trying new recipes. I am very excited.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

CMJ = no vegetables; no fun

No greenmarket this week - CMJ has me running around like crazy and staying up way too late. Next week, things should be back to normal! Though I do have a butternut squash, a sweet potato, and a few other hardy root vegetables left, the days are going to be bleak without apples, greens, etc.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Standard fall fare

Tonight we had pan-fried glazed tofu sauteed with spinach, and spicy roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes, which I made using this recipe, which I've used before and love. Dessert was sliced apples - Fujis, which, the fellow at the apple stand said, came off the tree this morning. I was a bit hesitant to post this photo, as it looks a bit too homogenous - and the shape of the tofu triangles give it a very stereotypical "boring vegetarian food" look. But it was actually quite tasty, and the root vegetables are a lovely color.

Nothing to see here...

It was pretty much same old, same old this week...and winter vegetables just aren't as lovely or varied as summer's crops. So I'll have to start taking photos of our meals instead, though it's tough to wait to eat them! Today I was on a budget, but still managed to get (almost) everything on my list.

This week's pickings:
1 butternut squash
1 bag spinach
1 bunch red chard
1 bunch carrots
3 sweet potatoes
2 zucchini
1 head Rocambole garlic
6 apples (Macoun, Empire, and Fuji)
total spent: $19

Last week, we had an assortment of what I have mentioned before has become the fall/winter standard meal: sauteed greens with tofu or grain sausage and roasted root vegetables. Though I am still making pots of black beans for burritos or with rice, which we also pair with spinach or chard...I'm thinking of making some chili next week, though. It should ease my transition into full-on winter's requisite soups and stews.

However, the celeriac risotto, which I made, as promised, from this Epicurious recipe, was fantastic. It was extremely rich and creamy, though I only used 1 tbsp. of butter, substituting olive oil for the other 2 tbsp. called for in the recipe. When I make it again, I'll use all olive oil. (One caveat: the celeriac doesn't get tender in 10 minutes, as the recipe claims - it takes 20-25, so the recipe is a bit more time-consuming than stated). I've got a leek and a celeriac leftover from last week, so I may just make it again. It's definitely not a low-fat recipe (lots of Parmesan), but it's extremely comforting on dark and rainy days like we've been having recently.

As I mentioned, I had a list today, and wasn't adventurous - but next week, I'm going to try spaghetti squash. Recipes are totally divided as to the best way to prepare it (in order to avoid mushiness), but I found one on Recipezaar that has lots of positive feedback, and seems rational. But for now, I'll stick with butternut - it's easy to roast, and tastes a lot like sweet potatoes.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Celeriac and friends

Nothing really photo-worthy today, other than this gorgeous monstrosity... I am still sick, and I was feeling a bit grumpy, so I made a list (!) and stuck to it.

Today's (small) greenmarket haul:
2 big celeriac (about 3 lbs.)
5 sweet potatoes
1 butternut squash
1 bag spinach
1 bunch green chard
1 bunch red chard
1 extremely expensive organic leek
4 Empire apples
total spent: $25

Plans include: celeriac risotto, finally, which will use the celeriac and leeks; spicy oven-roasted sweet potatoes from a Recipezaar recipe; oven-roasted butternut squash; and I'll have greens and white beans, tofu, or grain sausage alongside. It's going to be a good week, I think.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Frozen spinach: meh

Shocking news: frozen spinach sucks compared to fresh spinach.

Okay, I'm not surprised. But I had the Trader Joe's "organic flash-frozen" kind left over from the e.coli scare, and wanted a green with was okay, but it was just so...blah. I sauteed it like usual, and it didn't take long - and when it cooked up, it certainly looked like regular cooked spinach - but the texture was a bit spongy, and the taste just bland. Meh.

Acorn squash: meh

I think acorn squash, the very mention of which sends my dear mother into raptures, is one of those things that needs piles of seasoning and butter in order to taste good. We had it baked last night, and it was fine, but just not...powerful. Then again, there's also the chance that nothing is quite tasting as much as it ought to me right now, since I'm sick.

Luckily, I realized that today before overseasoning my black beans into oblivion. Though I don't think I had quite enough peppers for this batch - four jalapenos, two roasted Anaheims and two roasted poblanos. I needed something with more punch.

But I do like baked things in fall, and as my veggie options are rapidly becoming limited, I will undoubtedly try acorn squash again. Butternut has been getting nothing but raves, so tomorrow I'll pick up another, and try the latest squash variety I've got my eye on: spaghetti. I'm also planning on getting more celeriac (a surprise hit!) to make the risotto recipe I found on epicurious, though it includes a weird-sounding "pesto" made of the celeriac tops...which I will eschew this time, not least because I have no food processor.

And sweet potatoes. I have about 20 delicious-sounding sweet potato recipes. I see my fall/winter meals shaping up to be basically all the same: starchy squash/root vegetable dish of some sort, dark green leafy, and a protein - tofu, other meat sub, or beans. Perhaps I'll be able to branch out into soups soon enough...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Too many guests, not enough time

We had multiple houseguests this weekend, which meant no room for photos on Saturday morning...and no time to describe the goods. However, here's a recap.

Monday evening, we had roasted winter vegetables, from guidelines I found on Recipezaar: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and celeriac, all cut into 1"-ish cubes, drizzled with olive oil and tossed w/ salt and pepper. Accompanying were sauteed chard and pan-fried tofu. The vegetables turned out wonderful - and the celeriac was loved all around, so I'll have to get more next time. It was quite satisfying to peel off the hairy rooty outer layer and make a smoothly faceted orb.

Last night we had oven-roasted green beans with crispy, browned garlic slices and parmesan alongside our ravioli with tomato sauce; I'm so glad it's roasting season, so I can make my favorite green beans again! I roasted nearly two pounds, thinking we would have leftovers...but instead, we ate them all. For dessert, baked apples - I used the Mutsus, cored them, cut away a 1/2" strip around the middle to avoid splitting, rubbed the insides with cinnamon, stood them up in aluminum-foil cups in a baking dish, and filled the centers with brown sugar and a little butter.

Otherwise, we've had greenmarket baby lettuce salads for lunch, and greenmarket spinach everywhere possible...tomorrow night, I'll be trying out the Brussels sprouts recipe my friend Kris gave me, along with acorn squash, last week's tricolor fingerling potatoes, and some grain sausage.

More guests this weekend, but I'll try to do photos nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

World's greatest leftovers

Butternut squash risotto is terrific leftover, which is lucky because my recipe ended up making about 8 servings. I had some for lunch today, topped with cooked spinach, and it was perfect. This week has been hectic, but tonight I'm going to prep some lunch veggies and make plans for Thursday dinner...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Risotto & dinner success; deals; grapes

Last night's dinner was a smashing success. Our apartment was too dark for effective picture taking, but the butternut squash risotto alongside garlicky spinach with grain sausage plated quite prettily. The risotto was very good, but next time I'll change a few things - add a little squash, simmer the squash innards with the broth as the recipe instructs for flavor, and use 1/2 to 1/3 the lemon juice I used this time. The slightly too bright flavor imparted by the lemon juice isn't bad, or bitter, as I feard it might be, just a little too much.

And, speaking of spinach, I weighed the $2 bag of "tender young spinach leaves" I bought at the greenmarket, and found that it's about 17 oz - so I used 1/3 of it for last night's repast. But what a deal! Usually, a 6 oz. back of baby spinach leaves is around $2.50 at Trader Joe's, and $4 at most stores. And this spinach was really terrific, and even pre-washed (though I did rinse and spin it again). Not to mention, it's locally grown, so won't have come from one of the Salinas Valley farms that supplied the e.coli-contaminated bagged spinach. (Don't get me wrong; I love the Salinas Valley. But those are some big farms - anyone who's driven the 101 a few hundred times knows it.)

We brought some of the grapes to the movies last night, and this morning I remembered the name of the variety - Canadice - which have an odd woodiness or spiciness to them, but which are quite good nonetheless. Their insides are softer than ordinary table grapes, so they "peel themselves" when you bite down on them. Luckily their peel has a nice tart flavor. I need to investigate the grape season, to see how long we'll have this fresh fruit option. I don't want to think about what's going to happen when there's nothing left...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A chilly autumnal harvest at USG

It was a chilly morning, and I was sleepy and underdressed, hoping it would warm up (no dice). But once I had some coffee (at Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man choco-emporium), I felt better. And once I walked into USG and noticed all the new fall vegetables, I got excited, for the first time, about the prospect of squash, root vegetables, hearty greens, and - of course - more apples.

Today's cornucopia:
Dried oregano and rosemary
1 butternut squash
1 bunch carrots
1 lb. green beans
1 bag spinach
3 heirloom sweet potatoes
1 lb. mixed fingerling potatoes
1 basket shallots
1 lb. red seedless grapes
8 apples (Mutsu, Honeycrisp, Jonamac, Empire)
Total spent: about $37

I've got a Cook's Illustrated recipe for butternut squash risotto, so I'll try that - perhaps served with grain sausage and spinach. The green beans and apples are for lunches, and I'll roast the carrots. Sweet potatoes will be baked and mashed, while the adorable tiny tri-color fingerlings I'll just roast with olive oil, rosemary, and salt.

The proliferation of oven-ready vegetables is a good indication of my current mindset - I'm ready to hibernate, but since I can't, cozying up with a blanket on the couch while a low-maintenance dinner spends an hour or so in the oven is the next best thing.

Last week's promises proved empty: I didn't get any celeriac, because I was tempted by squash and sweet potatoes and didn't want to go overboard; and applesauce will have to wait another week. I just didn't have it in me to carry all those apples along with my already-heavy haul. Though I'm thinking a combination of Mutsu and Macintosh will make a lovely sauce, when I do get to it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Items: spinning greens; brown rice

Item: I caved and bought a salad spinner. It's come in handy pretty much every day since I've had it, for salads and for greens. As I was spinning my de-stemmed tat soi dry this evening, I realized I haven't mentioned this yet. Even better, I bought it at the luxuriant Sur La Table; it's Oxo and terrific (see photo). There, are you happy? I have a salad spinner, and I'm not ashamed. Okay, I'm a little ashamed. But I'm working through it. [In related tat soi news, I have been scooped by Jack Bishop in A Year In A Vegetarian Kitchen, who recommends tat soi for all the reasons I'm trying it.]

UPDATE: Tat so and tofu stir-fry was perfect. Tat soi is delicious and mild, with a spiciness that complements the Asian flavors of soy sauce, garlic, and honey. I'm going to have to get more this week.

Item: Every cookbook/recipe seems to have its own method for cooking "troublesome" brown rice. I don't get it. Cooking brown rice is easy, so long as you don't cook too much at once, or try to cook it too quickly. Plus, since brown rice isn't just starch, you can stir it without fear of turning it mushy. Here's my brown rice method, which has never let me down, and which doesn't take the "at least 40 minutes" most folks claim it needs - just don't cook more than a cup (which will serve at least four people) at a time - and you'll be fine. I can't remember where I learned to saute the dry rice in oil before adding water, but it makes all the difference in the world as far as flavor and even cooking.
Foolproof brown rice:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup brown rice
2+ cups water
salt to taste (1/4 tsp or so)
Heat oil at medium-high in straight-sided 10" saute pan (preferred) or heavy 3-quart saucepan. Add rice, stirring, until most grains are browned and rice smells nutty and delicious. Turn down heat to low and add water - be careful! The pan is still really hot, and water will steam. Add salt, stir, and cover pot. Simmer until water is nearly gone; test a few grains for doneness; if still crunchy, add a few tbsp. water and continue cooking until done, about 20-30 minutes total.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I love peppers! And dinners!

Saturday afternoon, I roasted peppers and called my mom. When I told her what I was doing while we were on the phone, she said "weren't you doing that last time we talked?" She was right - I roast peppers pretty much every week now, and I talk to my parents on the phone every week. They're easy things to do at the same time.

This time, I was roasting the three poblanos, two Anaheims, and three "El Diablero" peppers. The Anaheims were hotter than I expected - about the same as the El Diableros - so I ended up only using the poblanos, Anaheims, and one of the El Ds in my big pot of black beans (5 cans; I make extra to freeze), as well as three small, unroasted jalapenos. So I have two leftover roasted peppers for the next giant pot of black beans. This batch was especially great. The combination of all the different peppers made the beans spicy and smoky - just extremely flavorful. Otherwise, just shallots, garlic, cumin, and oregano - the chiles did most of the work.

So for dinner Saturday night, we had black bean tacos with garlicky chard and golden tomatoes. Wonderful! I suspected that the chard's hearty texture would work well with the black beans, and I was right. Usually I add spinach to my black bean tacos, but the chard was even better in this case; its natural bitterness was mostly masked by the flavorful beans. I would have taken photos of our colorful plates...but everything smelled too good to wait.

Sunday night we went to Diner in Williamsburg, where I hadn't been in a long time. Their menu is quite meat- and seafood-heavy, but can always be counted on for some excellent vegetable dishes. We shared a cheese plate, and I had a brilliant tomato salad with black olives and grilled haloumi, a Greek cheese I've wanted to try since reading about it in a cookbook, as well as a side of greens. The tomatoes were terrific on their own, but the salty/meaty olive tapenade and the smoky grilled cheese combined to make the salad spectacular. We were so pleased with ourselves for our healthy restaurant dinner (he had tomato-eggplant soup and a green salad) that we went a bit crazy and got the chocolate bread pudding for dessert. Of that, the less said the better - it was extremely delicious, what with the fresh whipped cream and all.

Thursday I'm planning the tofu and tat soi wraps, or maybe we'll just have a simple stir-fry over rice. I hear spinach is back some places, but I've been meaning to try new dark green leafies regardles...

Saturday, September 30, 2006

One faux pas, but an otherwise uneventful trip

Green, green, green. Everything other than the squash is green these days, and half of it is bell peppers (which I hate), and broccoli (which I love, but which I can't buy because my photo assistant hates it). Maybe it was because I got up too early, but I had an unfortunately blah trip to the USG today...but I still managed to make some interesting choices.

Today's (mostly-green) selections:
1/2 lb. salad mix
1/3 lb tat soi
1 bunch Swiss chard
3 zucchini
4 assorted peppers - Anaheim and "El Diablero"
3 poblano(?) peppers
1 lb. seedless green grapes
1.5 lbs. nectarines
10 assorted apples - Honeycrisp, Mutsu, Macintosh, Macoun
1.5 lbs. whole wheat flour
Total spent: $36

The apples are for lunches - though I'm almost ready to settle down and make some applesauce. Maybe next week...though I don't look forward to carrying 15 lbs. of apples home on the L train! The Mutsus seem to be likely applesauce candidates, but I'm trying multiple varieties this week. Usually I use two types of apples in my applesauce, and nothing else.

I'll use the peppers like I did those from week before last - roasted in a big pot of black beans. The combination of poblanos and Hatch chiles I had last time was terrific, so this time I wanted to try new varieties. The Anaheims are mild, and the "El Diablero" were labeled medium, despite the ominous name. The poblanos I bought bagged, and there's about a 30% chance they're actually just very-dark green bell peppers. Luckily I have peppers to spare, in case they prove unusable.

The two dark green leafies will, once again, be used instead of my dear spinach; last week's chard wasn't as bitter as I expected. I heard about tat soi on a food blog message board as an alternative to spinach. Raw, it tastes a bit like a really mild sorrel. The tat soi, which I got from the weirdly antiseptic "microgreens" vendor I'd never bought from before, was the reason for my USG faux pas. I picked up a leaf to sniff it, to see if it smelled bitter or spicy, when one of the proprietors ran over. "Please don't touch anything!" she said, in a terribly alarmed tone, and threw away the leaf I'd touched. "Everything's washed." I apologized, and wanted to leave without buying anything, because of her unfriendly, accusatory tone, but I had to try the tat soi. Her attack wouldn't have been so offensive if there had been any signage up anywhere in their stand notifying customers not to touch the produce, but there weren't. It's the greenmarket. People touch stuff! But all their produce looked nice and clean, so maybe she had a point.

I'm not a huge fan of grapes, but my photo assistant is, so I bought him some seedless green ones (next time I'll remember the exact variety) as a surprise. We'll see what he thinks. The sample I had just tasted like grapes. As far as fruit goes, the options are rapidly diminishing. Peaches weren't looking very inspirational, so I went with some little organic nectarines - the kind that are "so organic that they're all blemished, but in a lovable way" - as well as the aforementioned apples and grapes.

In general, I've known "the change" would happen - fall, then winter, with fewer and fewer produce options - but that doesn't make me any happier about it. I'm going to have to start researching squash recipes in earnest; pumpkins and the like have been taking up more and more greenmarket real estate every week. Though I'm looking forward to getting to make soups, stews, and baked goods now that the weather's cooled off, it's hard to accept that berries are gone until next year, that tomatoes will soon be unavailable, that soon enough the last of the corn will disappear. But I'm optimistic that fall/winter will force me to try/enjoy more new vegetables than week I'm starting with celeriac!

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Honeycrisp" indeed!

Yesterday, I cut up one of the Honeycrisps for my lunchtime apple slices - a more aptly -named apple has ne'er been seen. I shared with my record-store coworker Koen, and we were both enamored of the things. So crisp, so sweet, but with enough tartness to keep things interesting - I'll definitely be stocking up on this apple next week!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Getting out of my USG rut

It sounds simple, but I started on the other end of the greenmarket today. Usually, by the time I slog my way through from the lower, southwestern corner, up to the bend, I've already got bagsful of produce - out of room, patience, and money. And it worked! I ended up finding lots of new apple varieties, and buying my "staples" from different vendors than usual, with the exception of peppers (I had a great conversation with the fellow at my usual pepper stand), shallots, and herbs.

My more-eclectic-than-usual take:
1 bunch fresh basil
1 bunch fresh oregano
6 apples, various types (among them Honeycrisp, Macintosh, Jonamac...)
3 peaches
2 purple plums
2 nectarines
4 shallots
2 heads Rocambole garlic
1 lb. green beans
1 bunch kale
3 Poblano peppers
3 Hatch chiles
5 jalapeno peppers
total spent: about $28

Three of the shallots, half a head of garlic, and most of the fresh herbs have already been simmering in my tomato sauce for a few hours, with unsurprisingly delicious results. (And I now know why most people don't use fresh oregano - after you've rinsed and dried what feels like 1000 little stalks, you have to pluck ten or so delicate, fuzzy leaves from each, then chop all of it somehow.)

Kale was a risk, but since I don't like Swiss chard, and spinach might poison me, I had to do something green and leafy. Luckily, Recipezaar provided a really great-sounding recipe for white beans and kale, so I'll try that one of these nights. The recipe couldn't get more wintry, unless it were served in a butternut squash bowl.

The green beans will have their usual fate - blanched, cold, for lunch snacks - and all the peppers will end up in a gigantic pot of black beans. I'll roast the Poblano and Hatch (as my pepper guy instructed), and probably won't use all the jalapenos, though they are little (and were 5 for $1).

Last week's early goldens weren't as crisp and sweet as before I went on vacation, so I eschewed them entirely in favor of a mixed bag of "crisp"-promising varieties. The Macintoshes I picked up last week were terrific (and I got a couple more this time around), though I feel a bit mainstream saying so.

Speaking of mainstream, I bought Kitchen Confidential today, and I'm devouring it, despite Bourdain being a semi-sexist vegetarian-hater. (I think he just hates vegetarians who are irritating about it when they're at restaurants. But who doesn't?)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Drool-worthy heirloom tomatoes

These lovelies were harvested by pal Matthew Taylor in his New Mexico garden (not only a green thumb, but a talented member of rock band Bellini). Tomato varieties include black plum, green zebra, roma, yellow pear, and sungold.

Here's a shot of some of his tomato plants and basil plants (he grows three varieties!) growing together.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Just my luck

Of course all my plums ripened at the same time. After the tragic loss of two peaches to some sort of gross fuzzy mold thing, I have been longing for some fresh fruit for dessert...and now I've got it tenfold. The "yellow egg" plums are tasty - not superior like the Green Gage, but still very flavorful. Good thing, too, since I have five of them to eat with lunch!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How can I miss you if you don't go away?

Back to the dear, dear USG today after weeks of questionable eating. But while in Cali, I had some really delicious strawberries and pluots (sexy hybrids like that never make it eastward, it seems), as well as all the ripe, buttery avocadoes I wanted, which was lots.

I came home with:
4 "Early Golden" apples
2 Macintosh apples
2 zucchini
1/2 lb. yellow snap beans
1 1/2 lb. green beans
3 peaches
1 lb. "Yellow Egg" plums
2 ears yellow corn
3 tomatoes
2 Poblano peppers
1 Anaheim chile
1 lb. fingerling potatoes
Total spent: about $30

The peppers will go in a pot of black beans, the tomato, corn, and zucchini will comprise another (late-)summer saute, and I'll roast the potatoes in the oven with olive oil and salt (as the sign over the bin recommended). I usually try to avoid the simple starches, but the potato vendor had so many beautiful varieties that I couldn't resist, and it was easy to choose fingerlings of the same size for even roasting.

I'll boil the green beans quickly with salt, and keep them cold for lunches, as a substitute for edamame (we eat quite enough soy in this family) - and, of course, the apples will be slices for lunch. The Early Goldens are absolutely my favorite - so crisp and sweet-tart! - so I hope they stay around for awhile...but I'm going to try a different variety also each week.

The plums were a total gamble - I have no idea what they'll be like, but their color was similar to my beloved Green Gage plums, so I went for it. You'd think my spotty plum history would advise caution in this type of decision, but I was still dizzy with joy at my return to the greenmarket when I hit the Red Jacket Orchards stand. The yellow snap beans were $6/lb., but I couldn't resist getting a few - and, once again, the boy who sold 'em to me was a bright-eyed cutie of about 22. What is it with snap beans and good-looking boys?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

vegetable vacation

No Greenmarket this week. I'll be in sunny California, eating peaches and avocadoes by the dozen!

Monday, August 21, 2006

I was so wrong!

I take back everything I said about you, plums. These Green Gage plums are so delicious. Forgive me!!!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Beets update

If someone had told me 20 years ago that cooked beets just taste like corn, but purple and with a hint of dirt flavor, I would have been eating them this whole time. I like beets! I'm not afraid to say it, people. Beets are delicious, and I like them. And my weird dinner isn't so weird, after all. It looked quite traditional on the plate.

Boil 45 minutes?

I'm cooking the beets as we speak - most recipes I found called for 45+ minutes boiling time. But they smell really good, so we'll see. Once they're boiled, I'll toss them with olive oil, garlic, vinegar, and salt, an idea which came from Recipezaar. I noticed that most beet recipes have some sour element, usually vinegar; that must be to cut the sweetness. It's weird to boil something for 45 minutes. Even weirder is going to be having a dinner of vegetarian meatballs, brown rice, and beets, which is what my dinner is shaping up to be. These cupboards are pretty bare.

Beets: they're what's for dinner

...or are they?

Today, I was on a budget:
1 bunch beets
4 peaches
5 Ginger Gold apples
1/2 lb. apricots
1/2 lb. Green Gage plums
3 ears white/bicolor corn
4 small zucchini
Total spent: $19

The apples are delicious, like last week's (but they're not the same type) - sweet-tart, crisp, perfect in slices - and I loaded up on them for lunches next week. And as promised, I am re-trying plums, this time with Green Gage, apparently the "plum of royalty" or something; we'll see if they live up to the hype.

Beets are the real experiment. I've never really eaten them on their own, or as the main ingredient in a dish. I've found a lot of ideas from Recipezaar, but from what I've read, baked beets are the way to go to really enjoy them - and that requires 1-2 hours of baking in a 400-degree oven. Today's not really a 400-degree-oven type of day, and for a few hours? Yikes. So do I suck it up and boil them? Or do I wait until a more oven-friendly evening? We'll see. Perhaps it will cool down 30 degrees tonight, and I can try 'em out.

Otherwise, a pretty pedestrian trip to USG. I did run into some friends, which made me seem a little less crazy for getting up early to shop for produce. But since Jeremy is going to be out of town most of the week (and since I'm broke), I couldn't go on as many interesting tangents as usual. The real tragedy was having to ignore the heirloom tomatoes this week - one stand had about 10 different varieties, all arrayed beautifully, labeled with their evocative variety names. Maybe next week!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Saturday dinner photos; more about apples & green beans

Saturday night we had marinated baked tofu, which I made using a recipe from recipezaar; it was a good foundation, but I'll change some measurements next time I make it. On the side, we had zucchini sauteed with garlic and olive oil, with fresh basil and a perfect tomato tossed in at the last minute - delicious.

Tonight's dinner was more tofu and brown rice (my favorite pan-glazed tofu recipe), with green beans on the side. These beans were quite big, and not quite sweet or crisp enough to enjoy raw, but I boiled them quickly in salted water to soften and sweeten them up just enough, then added them to the garlicky pan sauce after the tofu was done, to add a bit of flavor. And I have some leftovers for a snack tomorrow.

But the real story is the great Golden Delicious apples. I may have to try to hit USG Wednesday during lunch to get some more - they're perfectly crisp and tart (but sweeter than e.g Granny Smiths), just exactly what a good apple should be. Sorry, Tydeman, you're good, but nowhere near the Golden D. Also I had six (!) apricots for lunch today, because they were ready this morning, and they were just ripe enough to be sweet without getting mushy, which is a real problem with the small variety I've been getting.

Tomorrow night's dinner will be especially exciting (and colorful) - we're having guests. Hopefully I can get some photos!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A beautiful day, darkened by eggplants

Today's USG trip was harrowing for two reasons: 1) I hadn't had any coffee; 2) the place was lousy with eggplants, ranging in color from deep purple to pure white. Now, eggplants are lovely, I will admit, but I absolutely loathe them. Bell peppers, another non-favorite, are also very much in season, and mocked me alongside their eggplant brothers from every vendor's stall. The coffee problem made me impatient, so I didn't go out on any limbs (unless you count the sorrel, which I have no ideas for) - though I did go a little overboard. Since all I feel like doing lately is eating, that should work out just fine.

My shoulders hurt from carrying all this:
1 lb. shell peas
1 lb. green string beans
3 heirloom tomatoes
4 zucchini (2 green, 2 yellow)
2 poblano peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
1 bunch sorrel
4 ears sweet white corn
5 peaches
1 lb. apricots
2 Golden Delicious apples
2 Tydeman apples
total spent: $35

The shell peas were a great surprise, as nobody's had any for the last few weeks. I think I'll whip up a new version of my "summer veggie saute" using peas, corn, and zucchini. Since I'm not savvy when it comes to cooking peas, I'll probably blanch them first, then add them to the saute right before adding the corn, to make sure they get cooked but not dried out. The super-sweet bicolor corn was not available, but my usual corn vendor assured me that both his white and yellow varieties are quite sweet, so I chose white for how it will look in the pan.

Last week's black beans were missing something, and, though I included three roasted poblanos, I think that missing something was jalapenos. This week, I'll use both. (I also think the Trader Joe's organic black beans I bought were especially tough - back to Goya for me!)

The green beans I'm planning to boil for a couple of minutes in salted water, then keep them, cold, in the refrigerator, for lunches and snacks. Last week, I boiled some yellow string beans for dinner and forgot to serve them, so I had them cold the next day as a snack at work, and they were delicious. I'm hoping to repeat this with green beans while they're still sweet enough, as an alternative to carrot sticks (which certain members of this family refuse to eat).

The Tydeman apples are quite good, especially with (gasp!) a slice of good cheddar cheese. Otherwise, the apricots and peaches are from the same places as last week's. The Red Jacket Orchards folks, where I get my apricots, also had a golden variety this week, but after learning they're sweeter than the tiny ones I've been getting, I stuck with the usual, which are sweet enough for me. And I was almost tempted into plums again, at the place where I bought the peaches and apples - they had some beautiful tiny, purple ones - but I held off. Next week, I'll get nectarines and red plums, to keep things interesting.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


1. Peaches continue to be nature's greatest gift to humankind.
2. We're out of vegetables. That'll teach me not to bring home a haul so slim next time!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why I Love Cook's Illustrated

From #82, Sept/Oct 2006: "Like communism or sunless tanning, roasting chicken and vegetables together is far more appealing in theory than in practice."

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Tonight's meal can only be called epic. The three of us had pan-fried tofu with a glaze modified from the A Year In A Vegetarian Kitchen recipe (I omitted red pepper flakes and added fresh basil), stacked on the plate with slices of heirloom tomato, and a zucchini/fresh corn saute. The zucchini/corn dish was similar to the ratatouille/succotash described below, but I kept it simple - just olive oil, two shallots, two zucchini, and kernels from four ears of corn - adding the tomato and basil flavors to the tofu instead. It was so good. I only feel okay saying that because I had very little to do with it - the super-sweet corn and perfect tomatoes made it easy to put together a delicious meal so simply. I will say that my plating was especially nice this evening, though! (Again, no photos - we couldn't wait to eat.)



Union Square Greenmarket: Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

Today was all about tomatoes at the USG. Multicolored, bumpy, speckled heirloom varieties were everywhere. For whatever reason, I never find myself eating tomatoes, so I usually resist them - but today's were just too tasty and well-priced (for heirlooms) to pass up. And, of course, they're quite lovely.

A smaller haul than usual:
1 lb. apricots
5 yellow peaches
3 ears bicolor corn
1 lb. cherries
4 small zucchini
3 heirloom tomatoes
3 poblano peppers
total spent: $22

The apricots and peaches are in a big paper bag, ripening (I'll be crossing my fingers that they don't all "arrive" at once, or I will incur a severe stomachache trying to eat them all).

Tonight, I'd like to make a version of the "ratatouille vs. succotash" I had last week, but with just the zucchini and corn sauteed together, and fresh tomatoes sliced on top, maybe served over rice.

I'll roast the poblanos and use them in a big pot of black beans, or maybe I'll try one of them, roasted, with a tomato and an avocado in a fresh salsa.

Meanwhile, I still haven't eaten last week's radishes! The cream-cheese plan fell apart, because yesterday I worked late and then went on a movie date. I'm just going to have to try them raw and plain, like my mom suggested. More news about this later.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


I have been eating the apricots one-by-one as they ripened this week, but I knew that at some point, I'd have half a dozen ripe apricots on my hands. Well, that point was yesterday evening, and I made the ultimate sacrifice of eating all of them. Luckily, they were extremely delicious. The variety I have seems to tend toward mealiness, but that translates into a nice firmness when ripe, and intensely concentrated flavor. I still prefer peaches, but these were an acceptable alternative.

In other news, we had the yellow snap beans tonight alongside pan-fried tofu and brown rice (a recipe from A Year In A Vegetarian Kitchen). I blanched them in boiling water for about a minute, then cooled them down quickly with cold water. After the tofu was done, I just added a little bit of olive oil to the remaining garlicky glaze in the pan and sauteed the beans for about a minute. They still had a bit of crunch to them, which was perfect for how fresh and sweet they tasted. I was planning to photograph our meals, which were plated quite artistically, but I was too hungry to wait.

And I haven't touched the radishes yet. The best-sounding "recipes" I've found are for cream-cheese-and-radish sandwiches, so I'll pick up some cream cheese tomorrow and get brave fast.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sad but true (part two)...

Red carrots are kinda bitter and yucky.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Most nutritious fruits and vegetables

My most faithful reader, Katherine, asked me to investigate the most nutritious fruits and vegetables, recalling that she'd read an article on the subject years ago.

A simple Google search turns up multiple articles on the subject, but while sources agree, generally, that the most popular fruits and vegetables in the American diet (iceberg lettuce, potatoes, apples, bananas) aren't the most nutritionally dense, they don't agree on which specific fruits and vegetables are the very best.

That stands to reason, given that no fruit or vegetable is an island: they all provide part of the vitamins, nutrients, and fiber we require every day - and everyone has different standards as to what aspect of "nutritious" is most important. Most sources agreed that an easy way to get balanced nutrition from fruits and vegetables is to eat a variety of different colors, since color generally indicates what nutrient a certain fruit or vegetable contains.

However, most sources agree on the following:
dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, collards, kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.)
Brussels sprouts
sweet potatoes
red peppers
berries (all kinds)

While lots of lists include at least one tropical fruit, they're evenly split between papaya, guava, and mango. Since these lovelies have similar taste profiles, perhaps they are similar nutritionally. Similarly, several sources credit asparagus and artichokes as being "nutritional powerhouses," but there wasn't enough consensus for me to include them. And perhaps the biggest surprise for me is that avocadoes, while they made a few lists, weren't universally listed - I bet they're a victim of bias because they're so fatty and nobody wants to believe healthy vegetables can taste like butter and still be good for you.

Bananas and apples get harsh treatment here, since they're so common and not as nutritionally rich as the selections from this list - but apples are great for their fiber, and my muscles get all twitchy when I don't have my potassium-rich banana smoothie in the morning. So to avoid being overly diplomatic, I've got to say that I think a "most nutritious" list is unnecessary for folks who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, which is exactly what nutrition experts recommend. Though it would be easier if we could eat the same one or two plant foods every day and get the maximum possible nutrition, that's just not possible, and this type of list could lead folks to limit themselves.

Except spinach. I'm pretty sure spinach is the greatest food known to humanity.

What To Eat

I know I mentioned this book in a previous post, but I've since finished it, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in corporate marketing strategies, the politics of food, eating healthfully, organics, locally-grown produce, or anything in between. But instead of taking a hard-line "eat vegan" or "go organic" approach, author Marion Nestle simply outlines the facts, assesses the situation, and makes her recommendations, most of which are quite centrist. She explains, in detail, the facts about methylmercury/PCBs and fish, and the huge potential for harm, but recognizes that some fish consumption can still be safe.

And throughout the book Nestle articulates and decries the multi-billion-dollar food industry's often-successful attempts to shift responsibility for food safety and healthful eating onto the consumer. Yes, she realizes, we are ultimately responsible for what we eat, but we should have waterways clean enough that eating fish more than once a week isn't dangerous; food-labeling should be clear and concise, not nearly impossible to decipher amidst non-standard serving sizes, outlandish health claims on packaging, and difficult-to-understand daily requirements; and the production and transportation process for foods like eggs or beef should be clean and heavily monitored to avoid outbreaks of E. coli and other harmful bacteria (and she supports her claim that this is possible with lots of evidence), rather than focusing on consumer cooking practices.

Even the most skeptical food consumer will find this book eye-opening. The chapter on whole grains was especially edifying - the tales of how cereal manufacturers earned the right to put "heart healthy" on even the sugariest, most calorie-laden children's breakfast cereals are quite sordid. I realized that I've been trusting food labels subconsciously, even while professing skepticism; when it comes to claims about omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, I'm especially gullible. Also, the chapter on fats is as a handy reference for levels of nutrients and fatty acids in different cooking/salad oils - and now I understand why monounsaturated fats are the best, rather than just knowing that they are.

Most importantly, though, especially for summer readers - Nestle's style is conversational (but not condescending) and quite engaging, so it's a fun read, and the toughest concepts to grasp are outlined and explained with tables, as well as friendly analogy. The bad news is that it just came out, so it's still only available in hardcover.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ratatouille vs. succotash

I can't decide if this recipe is ratatouille because of the tomato and zucchini, or if the presence of corn makes it a succotash. Either way, we had this for dinner alongside tamales, and it was crazily good. The best part, though, was that I got to use the corncob-stripping gadget my friend Christina gave me, and it worked really well. It probably goes without saying that this wouldn't taste like anything without fresh ingredients - especially sweet, ripe, tomatoes.

Ratatouille or succotash?
2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 large (or 2 small) zucchini, seeded
1 small shallot, minced
5-6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped into thin strips
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tbsp)
kernels from one ear of corn
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to tatste

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet (with lid) over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until soft and translucent, about five minutes. While shallot is cooking, quarter zucchini and chop into strips about 1/4" to 1/2" wide. When shallot has softened, add garlic, and saute until aromatic. Add zucchini and a dash of salt, mix well, and saute, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is just beginning to get tender. Remove zucchini from pan, season with black pepper, and set aside. Add corn kernels to pan and cover; steam for one minute. Uncover pan, add tomato and basil, and mix well. Return zucchini to pan and cook, stirring, until all ingredients are heated through. Salt to taste and serve.

She's like a rainbow

It was a colorful day at the greenmarket! I got yellow zucchini, yellow beans, and red carrots...and it seemed like everything, from tomatoes to radishes, was available in at least three colors. Radishes were regular red, pink, or white; tomatoes red, green, yellow, or multi-striped; carrots came in orange, red, purple, and white.

Anna and the amazing technicolor produce:
1 yellow zucchini
1 bunch red carrots
1 lb. yellow snap beans
1 bunch red radishes
1 lb. apricots
1.5 lbs. sweet cherries
1 pint strawberries
1/4 lb. salad greens
1 bunch shallots
1 head Rocambole garlic
4 ears bicolor corn
3 tomatoes
Total spent: $30 exactly

It's been so long since I've had fresh apricots that I had to call my mom to find out how to tell when they're ripe. (She said it's the same as for peaches.) We also talked about the radishes: I'm planning to find a recipe that includes them cooked, but the idea of cooking radishes is anathema to Mom. "Just cut off the stalk and eat them," she said, "or cut them up in salads." I think I'll try both.

Cherry season will be over in another week, and there were only two vendors that had any sweet cherries at all. I had to hunt and peck to find 1.5 lbs of relatively perfect ones...they're so sweet and delicious - I hate that they'll be gone so soon.

The corn I'm planning to pack for a picnic tomorrow, pre-cooked (it's sweet enough to be great without any condiments), I'll make a fresh tomato sauce this evening with the tomatoes and some of my long-suffering basil plant's leaves, and the zucchini and carrots I want to use in a multi-colored stirfy later in the week. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Quick thoughts

Shelling peas is a lot of work, but seems worth it. We had fresh peas and the remaining baby Yukon Gold potatoes in a Spanish omelet with saffron (recipe from A Year In A Vegetarian Kitchen) - so delicious. And the leftovers were perfect cold for lunch the next day.

I don't think I "get" plums. My mom has always been a serious plum advocate, but I don't think they do it for me. The Shiro plums I bought were ripe, but the flesh was only slightly sweet and a little perfumey, with super-tart skin that forced my face into a comical pucker. To varying degrees, most of my plum memories are the same. Maybe they're just not for me. I'd rather have peaches.

Tricolor snap beans were just as delicious as I imagined, but like so many other veggies, the purple beans turned a disappointing dark green when cooked. I blanched them, then roasted them in a 375-degree oven with a little olive oil and salt for about 7 minutes. They still had some crunch - which is what I wanted, in order to highlight their freshness and sweetness. Despite the color change, they impressed my dinner guests last night. I hope they're available again!

We've been eating lots of spinach lately, and that coupled with my love for fresh green salads (rather than the bagged kind), makes me want to suck it up and invest in a salad spinner. They seem really dumb to me, but I might just need it. We'll see.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

8:30 a.m. - The Opposite Of Hallelujah

After forcing myself to wake up at 8:30 after being out 'til 2 at the Jens Lekman show, and 1.5 hours of travel time (due to multiple unexpected train changes), I arrived at the Union Square Greenmarket a bit sweaty and worse for wear. Luckily, I encountered strawberries and more compensations immediately, and couldn't regret the trip (or the sleep deprivation) one bit. Also, I would pretty much go to hell and back for Jens. (I think the coffee probably helped, too.)

The takings:
5 ears bicolor corn (for a barbecue tonight)
1 pint strawberries
1 lb. cherries
3/4 lb. tricolor snap beans
3/4 lb. tiny Yukon Gold potatoes
1/3 lb. salad mix
1 lb. shell peas
5 yellow peaches
3 Shiro plums
Total spent: $25-$30 (I stopped counting)

Forgive the photo background - my photo assistant was out of town. After photos and eating all the cherries and strawberries that didn't fit in my tupperware, I proceeded to make what will go down in history as the Greatest Lunch Ever, which was a bay shrimp-stuffed salmon fillet from Trader Joe's with oven-roasted green beans and Yukon Golds.

The green beans were from last week, and turned out perfect: I left them whole, blanched them for about 30 seconds, then, after they were completely cooled by cold water, tossed them with a little olive oil and sea salt, and roasted them in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes, turning once. Similarly, the potatoes turned out divine - I cut the little guys in half, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted them along with my fish for 25 minutes. They were creamy and full of potato flavor, which is a weird thing to imagine until you taste it.

Very excited about the tricolor snap beans. The cute boy at the produce stand thrust a yellow bean into my hand, which I munched obediently - the beans are sweet enough to be delicious raw. I think a blanch and quick saute in some olive oil will take them to new heights. Meanwhile, I'm guessing produce boy has no trouble with the ladies.

The shell peas I bought for a recipe, but I've never had freshly shelled peas before, so I might prepare them simply - braised or sauteed in a little butter.

Strawberries felt like another miracle (especially given my rough morning). And unfortunately, I found out from a grower that the cherry season is on its way out, as well. There were certainly fewer cherry vendors this week than there have been for the last month or so, but I hope they'll last at least another week or two...I'm not ready to give up having fresh cherries whenever I want them!

Now reading: What To Eat by Marion Nestle. This was recommended by a friend, and is a clear, unromantic look at supermarket food offerings - from the health/political/environmental benefits of organic vs. locally-grown vs. conventional produce, to an explanation of what trans-fats actually are, to investigating the different sides of the health claims made for soy products, it's been quite educational thus far, and her writing style is compelling. Though her initial conclusion - that the best thing you can do for your health is eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise, and that successful weight loss/maintenance is based on calore consumption, are not revolutionary, they're certainly easily obscured by the marketing arms of the food industries she discusses.

Basil plant update: The remaining plant looks to be thriving, with lost of new little leaves, though an alarming yellowness is showing up near the roots of the plant. I've got to start cooking with basil pretty soon - there are some big leaves up top that need trimming.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chard/tofu stir fry with roasted carrots

The sauce for the stirfry needs some adjusting, but I'll share the roasted carrots recipe:

4-5 medium carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim carrots; peel if necessary; chop into pieces about the length and width of your index finger. Whisk together oil, soy sauce, and honey. Spread carrots out in one layer in a 13"x9" baking pan or casserole; pour sauce mixture over and toss carrots with hands until evenly coated. Bake 20-30 minutes or until carrots have reached desired doneness (at 20 minutes, they'll still have some crunch).

In other news, I ate the last of the strawberries this morning. That's all for this season, I'm afraid. And my corn-identifying skills have improved quite a bit: the two ears I chose (without husking!) from the farmer's market were excellent, with cobs full of sweet kernels.

Basil plant update: The one plant is thriving, though the second plant in the pot has gone the way of the first: it's a shriveled brown stick. Despite setbacks, I still refuse to buy basil at the greenmarket, even though its in huge bushels for $2 lately. Maybe I'll get some to make a pesto next week.

Sad but true...

Empire apples are kinda mealy [shudder].
Photos of Sunday night's meal forthcoming; the internet gave up on me last night when I tried to put them up.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

USG: The Brief-Yet-Triumphant Return of Strawberries

One farm had the very last delicious little dregs of this season's strawberry crop (thwarted by rain, as I gathered from overheard conversations). They're tiny, but still juicy and sweet/tart...wonderful berries. I think I'm a convert to Saturdays at the Greenmarket - there are just so many more options.

This week:
1 pint strawberries
1 pint sweet cherries
4 yellow peaches
2 Empire apples
2 Mutsu (Crispin) apples
1 bunch chard
2 ears bicolor corn
1 head garlic
1 1/4 lbs. string beans
total spent: about $25

The chard I'm planning to use for a stir-fry with tofu and a side of roasted carrots (with a honey/soy-sauce glaze).
Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, though I might look for an interesting recipe for some of the string beans...with fruit for dessert!

Basil plant update: Its health is flagging again; I think there were multiple plants and the one that's growing tall and strong is fighting the others...I used some leaves for a fresh tomato sauce over pasta, and it was quite mild. But despite all the delicious-smelling giant bunches of basil beckoning from every stand at the Greenmarket, I'm staying loyal to my little plant!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Spinach and sorrel omelet

At a loss for what to do with the sorrel, I looked it up on Recipezaar, and found a recipe for "spinach, sorrel, and romaine omelet." I didn't actually read the recipe, but used the idea.

I used about 3:1 spinach to sorrel (probably about a pound total, though I only used half the cooked greens for the omelet), sauteing it with olive oil, three cloves of garlic, and a dash of salt, then draining the greens after they were totally wilted. I made an omelet for two with three whole eggs and three egg whites in a 12" nonstick skillet (with about a teaspoon of olive oil), and it came out just about perfect. The sorrel added a nicely lemony taste to the filling, without being overpowering or bitter like lemon juice can be. However, it did turn an alarming brown color when cooked, which stood out against the spinach's bright green.

And during my sorrel research, I discovered that sorrel is "sourgrass"...and tasting the raw sorrel made it obvious. I loved sourgrass as a kid - my neighbor would always pull out tons of it when she weeded her garden in the summer, and my friends and I would chew sourgrass stems 'til our teeth squeaked. Luckily, the leaves are more mild than those stems, and even more so when cooked.

For dessert: the rest of the (absolutely delicious) cherries, and two of the peaches, which were extremely juicy but quite bruised, having been comically dropped two times by two different people.

Basil plant update: Thriving - I'm going to use some of the leaves for fresh tomato sauce tomorrow evening. Lots of new growth!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Early to rise...

I didn't make it by 8, but I did get to the Greenmarket early this morning - around 9:30. It was already pretty crowded, but there were a lot more vendors with a lot more produce than on weekdays.

I went a little crazy:
2 heirloom tomatoes
3 yellow peaches
1 pint sweet cherries
1/3 lb. sorrel
2 ears bicolor corn
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
1 bunch carrots
1 head rocambole garlic (w/ stalk)
1 bunch catnip
total spent: about $25

The cherries look absolutely amazing, and I can't wait for the peaches to ripen. The carrots were the same price as the ones I usually get, but for a bigger bunch of bigger carrots...better for carrot sticks in lunches, and sharing.

Garlic-wise, I couldn't resist the way the Rocambole looked and smelled, but wasn't quite ready for garlic scapes, which seemed to be everywhere. Maybe next week - I'll do some reading. I have no idea how to cook the sorrel (which came from the same stand as the fancy garlic), but i wanted a leafy green, and decided to be adventurous - the "great lemon flavor" description piqued my interest...I'll look it up on Recipezaar, but will probably end up just treating it like spinach.

The catnip has caused all sorts of disharmony in our family already, but in a really entertaining way.

Friday, July 07, 2006


The TJ's corn was really, really sweet and delicious. And the sugar snap peas were really great, too. I boiled them for about a minute in some salted water, then drained them and immediately tossed in a pat of butter. There's something grainy/chalky about the raw ones that the quick boil eliminated, leaving only the sweetness.

No Greenmarket today

No Greenmarket trip today because I needed things from Trader Joe's I have a few veggies left over from last week - that's how little we've been eating at home because of houseguests and business dates!

However, tonight I'm finally going to cook the snow peas - probably boiled very briefly with a little butter, as recommended by Fannie Farmer (where all vegetable preparation instructions include butter) - and serve alongside some spinach and the corn I bought from Trader Joe's. It's only 39c an ear, and is reportedly very good (and usually they're out by the time I make it to the store) - we'll see. I also couldn't resist some frozen asparagus and I feel like a traitor. Usually I bypass TJ's veggies completely, especially now that I've been avoiding bagged salads, but their California elephant garlic is loads better than the stuff I usually get at the grocery.

I also planned tomorrow night's dinner: the rest of the bok choy stir-fried with a few carrots over noodles. That will be the end of last week's veggies...maybe if I'm feeling extremely ambitious, I'll go to the Greenmarket tomorrow when it opens, and still have time to make it to brunch. If so, there will be photos!

Basil plant update: Repotted and thriving, though of the three little plants, one died quite emphatically by shrivelling up into a brown wire. If this fellow stays solid for awhile, I might invest in some more herbs for my windowsill. Too bad I've been far too lazy to make tomato sauce lately.

Cat grass update: The cats couldn't care less. I watered it and trimmed it for awhile, but now I'm tired of caring for a 5" square patch of grass. Why won't they just eat it??? If I had a juicer I'd make wheatgrass shots, but alas no.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

cherries, and little else

Veggie consumption has been very low since Friday, because we've had a band staying with us, which makes everything extra-chaotic, and cuts down on time/space for food preparation. However, I did eat most of the rest of the cherries yesterday, and came to this conclusion: Sour cherries are really sour! I threw a handful into the sweet cherries when I bought them, just to test them out. I guess they're better used in recipes...I'll investigate. The tomatoes were consumed as per last week, and were even more perfect.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Several hours later...

I love it when my dinner looks like it should be in a magazine! And I think baby bok choy might be my new favorite vegetable. That's brown rice - I used to think it made stir-fry too earthy, but lately I've decided that eating white rice is like eating Wonder bread.

Union Square Greenmarket 6/30: Heartbreak & Triumph

Heartbreak: no strawberries. Triumph: cherries!

My whole haul:
1 cousa squash
1 avocado squash
1 bag asst. baby lettuces
1 bunch carrots
3 tomatoes
1 lb. cherries
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
3 heads baby bok choy
1 container cat grass
total spent: $25

(photos, top to bottom, Sears Portrait Studio-style: baby lettuces (adorable!), baby bok choy, cherries, avocado squash (L) & cousa squash)

Depressingly picked-over by 2:30 p.m. I guess lots of folks had today off? I'd say "tourists," but what tourist visiting NYC buys produce?

Plans include stir-fry (carrots, avocado squash - I'm hooked!, and bok choy); salads (lettuce, obvs), probably saute the cousa squash, and maybe I'll braise the sugar snap peas...I'm not sure - they were an impulse buy, and I'm not overly fond of them raw. They're apparently quite abundant in NY-area farms, since pretty much every stand had some. The rest of the carrots will be made into carrot sticks for lunches - while I liked the roasted ones, it's too dismally hot here lately to heat up the oven.

Despite the cat-grass people's testimonials, my cats have shown zero interest in the cat grass.

Basil plant update: not looking good. We haven't had any sunshine all week, so it's looking pretty bedraggled. Hopefully that will improve once I re-pot.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stir-fry report: zucchini casualty, avocado squash is a winner! Also: roasted carrots.

Saturday night we had stir-fry. I used the excellent Cook’s Illustrated recipe, using tofu, broccoli, and both the avocado and Asian squash.

(CI’s brilliant way to stir-fry tofu, no draining/pressing necessary: cut a block of firm tofu in half, then cut each half into twelve triangles; coat each piece in cornstarch on all sides, then fry in 3 tbsp. vegetable oil – make it hot! – for 4-6 minutes per side, ‘til golden brown. It’s so delicious!)

I used the exotic squashes because I knocked the bowl of seeded/chopped zucchini onto the floor and ruined it. This was lucky, though, because avocado squash is perfect for stir-frying – it’s drier than zucchini, so you can forego tedious seeding and just chop it. The flavor is similar to zucchini, but a bit more intense. The Asian squash tasted almost exactly like zucchini, but had way more seeds – not great for stirfry, but probably good for baking/roasting.

Speaking of roasting, last night I roasted some of the carrots:
1-2 cups carrots, chopped into one-inch chunks
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425. Arrange carrots in roasting pan. Whisk together honey and olive oil (adjust honey amount if your carrots are very sweet or very bland), pour over carrots, and stir until all pieces are evenly coated. Roast for about 20 minutes (or until brown and caramelized), turning pieces once or twice during roasting.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fresh tomato sauce update, and baby lettuce report

The uncooked pasta sauce turned out delicious, but next time I'll add the salt just before serving - it makes the tomatoes expel juice, which makes things watery. The 10-15 minutes water-boiling and pasta-cooking time is enough time to let your fresh sauce sit so the flavors combine...then toss it with hot pasta just before serving.

In salad news, farm-fresh organic baby lettuce is not just ADORABLE, but it really does taste better than regular old store-bought bag salad mix. I have a real love-hate relationship with salad, but I do eat it every day, so lettuce leaves with legitimate flavor beyond just salad dressing is a treat. And the baby lettuce was fresh and didn't get all slimy in the refrigerator overnight. (The best thing in the world to add to salad? Trader Joe's Sweet and Spicy Pecans. They are totally delicious...and they add protein to make the thing more of a meal.)

Also, here's a near-pornographic shot of the other tomato before I sliced into it with my laughably dull chef's knife, and ate it plain with salt and pepper. (The whole deliciousness of fresh, ripe tomatoes thing is a cliche for a reason, people.)

Basil plant status: still alive.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Union Square Greenmarket, this afternoon

1 pint locally-grown strawberries
2 ripe tomatoes
2 zucchini
1 avocado squash
1 asian squash
1 bag assorted baby lettuces
1 head broccoli
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch shallots
1 basil plant

total spent: $21

The strawberries are so amazing. I don't think I've had delicious strawberries like this in years. I want to go back tomorrow for more, since I know I'll eat them all tonight.

We'll see how things go with the basil plant. I've got it in the front window - the least cat-menaced one - and I'll re-pot the plant next week. As far as the tomatoes, I've made a fresh pasta sauce to capitalize on their ripeness. I was going to add garlic, but it seemed like overkill.

Uncooked pasta sauce for extremely-fresh tomatoes:
1 ripe tomato
5 fresh basil leaves
olive oil
Chop tomato and mince basil leaves. Toss all ingredients to combine in small bowl. Serve over spaghettini or capellini.

Next time there will be photos!