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.