Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Produce Stories Best Of 2008

So the ballots are in, and I've finally tabulated the scores in the first annual Produce Stories Best Of The Year...
Okay, nobody is voting but me, so "tabulating" means "remembering" and "typing stuff." Also, I know that I used a tacky font for the Best of 2008 header. I happen to enjoy "groovy '70s" font and have no other outlet in my life for it. Okay?

Vegetable Categories
Best Vegetable (Overall): Brussels Sprouts
    Runners-up: Green Beans, Kale
Best Leafy Green: Fancy Italian Kale whose name I don't remember (from Northshire Farms)
    Runners-up: Collard Greens, Red Oak Lettuce
Most Overrated Kale: Lacinato
Best Root Vegetable: Carrots
    Runners-up: Shallots, Beets
Best Vegetable Dish: Quiche with Caramelized Shallots and Thyme (recipe below)

Fruit Categories
Best Fruit (Overall): Nectarines
    Runners-up: Blackberries, Tristar Strawberries
Best Apple: Macoun
    Runner-up: Mutsu
Favorite Fruit Dessert: Applesauce (recipe below)

Fresh Herb Of The Year: Thyme
    Runner-up: Italian Parsley
Favorite New Culinary Skill Acquired This Year: Canning
Favorite Food I Stopped Hating This Year: Mushrooms

Quiche with Caramelized Shallots & Thyme:
Makes 6-8 servings
1 single pie crust
2 cups shallots, cut into 1/8" sauté slices
4 large eggs, well-beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
Freshly grated black pepper
3 oz. colby cheese, grated
3 oz. parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and blind-bake pie crust with weights 10 minutes. Allow to cool. Turn oven down to 350.
Make caramelized shallots: Soften shallots with a pinch of salt over medium-low heat in small amount of olive oil (cover pan to speed softening); turn up heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are evenly brown. This will take about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, thyme, and a generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper.
Distribute shallots evenly around bottom of pie crust; then add cheeses, distributing each in an even layer. Pour egg mixture over cheese.
Bake quiche on the middle oven rack for 30-35 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and set all the way through. Allow to cool to room temperature before slicing.

Makes about 8 servings
4-5 lbs. apples
3 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (optional; or use 1/4 tsp. each nutmeg and allspice)

Was, quarter, and core apples, and place them in a large pot with a lid. Add spices and fill pot with water to cover by at least 1". Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat; reduce heat to low and cook until apples are completely soft but not falling apart.
Drain apples and let sit in colander until cool enough to handle. run apples through food mill using largest- or second-largest-holed screen. Serve hot or cold.

Making/taking stock

This was the type of morning that makes it hard to romanticize being a Greenmarket farmer (which romanticizing I will admit that I do quite often). Below freezing and windy, today makes me want to stay inside my warm apartment, baking and nestling up on the couch with a book and a hot drink - while all day, the vendors are outside, selling cold produce to warm-home-bound people like me. And the fact that standing outside in the freezing cold all day is probably one of the least difficult aspects of farming as a profession, especially in winter? Hard for this California-bred vegetable-lover to fathom.

I said lots of "goodbye 'til next year"s today:
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch red Russian kale
1 bunch collard greens
1 lb. fingerling potato "roasting mix"
3/4 lb. assorted chile peppers
4 lbs. onions
4 lbs. carrots
1 bunch celery
1 lb. cranberries
3 lbs. apples
1 head Shaman garlic
Total spent: $49.50

I have stock on the stovetop now (5 quarts water and 2 lbs. onions, 2 lbs. carrots, 1 lb. celery, 2 bay leaves, 4" kombu, 5 black peppercorns, 2 sprigs thyme, pinch of salt), and I'm also planning to make applesauce, a mushroom quiche, and maybe a loaf of bread or some pita or tortillas, if I'm feeling adventurous. And I'm not sure if I'll do it today, but I'm planning to make some cranberry jam or jelly - these are the first cranberries I've seen at the market this year, and I'm excited.

And later, I will finally finish my tabulating and announce the Produce Stories Best Of The Year!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Freezing toes; greens galore; announcement!

Lately I've been reflecting a lot on the person I was a few hours ago, when I was getting ready to leave for the greenmarket, a person I don't understand. Actions speak louder than words, so I think the best way I can sum up this enigmatic past me is the decision, upon finding via weather.com that the temperature outside was 31, to wear the pictured holey sneakers rather than, say, one of the many heavy boot options available in my shoe wardrobe.

My toes are still freezing after half an hour in my warm apartment. What was I thinking? At USG, I kept hopping from one foot to the other while vendors added up my purchases, and lest they think me ungraciously impatient, I was impelled to explain my toe situation. Despite my frostbite-fearing hurry, I managed to find some great vegetables among the dwindling winter offerings.

Cold feet, warm kitchen:
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch lacinato kale
1 bunch fancy Italian kale
2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1 lb. assorted chili peppers
1.5 lbs. assorted mushrooms
1.5 lbs. sweet potatoes
1 lb. miniature, multi-colored potato "roasting mix"
Total spent: $32

The mushrooms will go into quiche when my quiche-loving photo assistant comes back from LA, the greens will be blanched and sautéed/stir-fried, and I haven't decided whether to make chili or lentil pepper-pot with the chili peppers.

I'll use the sweet potatoes in lunches - spicy roasted sweet potatoes with blanched greens are a great lunch side. And the apples left from my Wednesday USG trip will become applesauce at some point today.

In camera news, it's apparently working again.

In other news: Announcing the first annual Produce Stories Best Of The Year Countdown - next week I will be sharing my picks for best produce of 2008. How will you stand the anticipation?!?!? I honestly don't know - you might try meditating, or maybe you could take up a new hobby? I hear knitting's popular.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving market trip and things I made today

Still no photos. Also: afraid if I sit down too long I won't get back up. Not enough sleep last night.

Ready for the not-so-big day:
1 sugar pumpkin
3 sweet potatoes
3 lbs. German butterball potatoes
1 lb. crimini mushrooms
1/4 lb. shiitake mushrooms
2 heads Rocambole garlic
3 lbs. onions
1 lb. shallots
1 bunch sage
1 bunch rosemary
1 lb. carrots
1 head butter lettuce
1 bunch Siberian kale
2 cute little squashes
6 lbs. Mutsu apples
Total spent: $70

Things I made today:
Quiche (whole wheat crust with caramelized onions, cheese, fresh thyme, greenmarket eggs, Amish cream)
Spelt bread (on its final rise right now)

Things I will make for Thanksgiving:
Celebration roast (artisanal ersatz meat roast, for fun)
Mushroom gravy
Mashed potatoes
Sautéed greens with caramelized onions
Cornbread stuffing (is it dressing because nothing is getting stuffed?)
Pumpkin pie (using roasted pumpkin and sweet potato, per Cook's Illustrated)
Ginger cookie ice cream sandwiches

There will only be three of us (though more are expected later for dessert) so I think I am going to skip another starchy side, though this sweet potato recipe, which my friend Zeb sent me, sounds really delicious. Maybe I'll make it one of these non-Thanksgiving days.

Also want to make soon: polenta lasagna with portabellas and kale from Fat Free Vegan.

I'm pretty sure that quiche is my favorite food ever. It is so nice and self-contained, and just tastes amazing. That may have something to do with the fact that it is entirely composed of butter, eggs, cheese, and cream. Maybe. Looking forward to quiche almost makes up for the fact that the sun started setting before 4 today. Almost.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Excuses, excuses

There are a few reasons why I haven't posted the past two Saturdays: German composer houseguest, getting over nasty cold, extreme laziness. But now the reason is that all I can think about is Thanksgiving! We're having a small group this year (I think about four including us) and I've just started working on my menu...and of course, I'm coming up with more "totally essential" recipes than it's possible for four people (two of whom are on the tiny side) to eat.

As it stands now, I am planning to serve:
Celebration Roast (from the Field Roast company)
Salmon (maybe)
Mushroom Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Cornbread stuffing
Squash (recipe TBD)
Sauteed greens
Cranberry sauce
Raw beet pickles
Pie (still deciding, probably apple) with whipped cream
Alternate dessert involving ice cream (I have a very exciting idea for this but I'm not yet willing to share it)

I'm making an apple pie this week to practice my pie crust and to work on converting the recipe to maple crystals rather than white sugar. Though ever since the quiche I made last week with caramelized shallots, fresh thyme, and lots of cheese, all I can think about is quiche. It's so delicious!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Things I made today

Pictured: granola, minestrone
Not pictured: vegetable stock, yogurt

(Pardon the iPhone photos, still haven't sorted my camera)

Beautiful morning, productive day

Photos later, once the boy and his iPhone return from errands. The Saturday scramble to get things made has become a weekly occurrence...

Kind of scattered, but the variety's decent:
1 bunch beets with greens
1 bunch Swiss chard
2 lbs. German butterball potatoes
1 butternut squash
3 lbs. onions
1 bunch celery
3 lbs. cooking carrots
1 1/2 lbs. eating carrots
4 lbs. yellow heirloom tomato "seconds"
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1 bunch parsley
1 lb. crimini mushrooms
1 lb. Lakemont seedless grapes

Total spent: $58

I plan on making an omelette with the sauteed mushrooms and cheese, and serving it with garlicky beet greens. We'll start the meal with leftover borscht.

This week was so hectic and rushed, dinner at home and homemade lunches weren't possible most days - hopefully now that we've both got our offices moved (and within walking distance of home!) things will settle down.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Technical difficulties continue

Oddly beautiful morning that opened an emotional roller-coaster of a day. Every year as winter begins I forget what seasonal affective disorder means...for about a week.

And my camera is still not working. I think I'm going to order a replacement battery, after I consult with my dad about it.

Not on a budget this time:
1 lb. shelled fresh Tarbais beans
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch lacinato kale
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch celery
1 head Red Oak lettuce
1 head French Crisp lettuce
2 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
2 lbs. zucchini
2 1/2 lbs. soup carrots (big)
2 lbs. eating carrots (little)
1 lb. red tomato "seconds"
2 lbs. German butterball potatoes
2 1/2 lbs. apples (Macoun and Winesap)
1 lb. Mars purple seedless grapes
1 bunch dill

Total spent: $70

I've already used most of the soup carrots in an oat-thickened carrot cream soup, which I served for dinner, garnished with fresh dill; inevitably, we started with a big green (and red) salad. The carrot soup was the recipe we had to prepare for our midterm, and despite the practice runs and the stress of making it for the test, I still like the stuff. And my photo assistant, despite his disdain for carrots, lemon, and ginger - the soup's primary constituents - also finds it agreeable.

More carrots and onions, along with the celery, most of the fresh dill, and the beets I've been saving, will go into the season's first batch of homemade borscht. I'm going to use some of the fancy French Tarbais beans instead of limas.

Otherwise: Brussels sprouts for breakfast tomorrow, and lots of greens to eat this week. I feel good about this haul.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Can you stand it in the cold light of day? Neither can I.

This morning was crystalline with a sharp chill, the kind that can only happen in early fall and seem replete with meaning - the sky's clarity and cold an almost embarrassingly obvious metaphor - the type of morning that carries with it a plangent demand for urgent forward motion and harsh self-examination. Or at least, that's how the morning looks just after coffee to a person as ennui-leaning as myself. It was uncomfortable in a way that felt necessary.

Beautiful morning, lovely time at the market, didn't get quite everything I wanted but got closer than usual. Sadly my camera is on the fritz, as the light today has been perfect.

I've got a market bag full of allegories:
1 head Romaine lettuce
1 head French crisp lettuce
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
3 lbs. carrots
3 lbs. onions
1/2 lb. shallots
3 lbs. tomatoes
1 small butternut squash.
2 heads Rocambole garlic
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch thyme
1 box raspberries
4 lbs. mixed apples
1 lb. Lakemont seedless green grapes
1 qt. red grape juice

Total spent: $64

Some of the onions, carrots, thyme, and parsley, along with last week's celery tops, went into a four-quart batch of vegetable stock. It didn't turn out quite as flavor-y as I had hoped, but then again, it is very tough to tell with unseasoned stock. Next time I think I'll brown the vegetables first. I'll use it first in some minestrone with the tomatoes, as well as more carrots and onions, though I am disappointed that I couldn't find cranberry beans at today's market for it. I think I'll substitute lentils as an experiment.

Eventually I'll probably make some butternut squash soup.

And lately, I've been eating Brussels sprouts for breakfast.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What culinary school does to your brain

This morning, when I was about to get in the shower and I was looking in the mirror to judge whether my hair could go another day without washing, the first words that came to mind were "it's within range."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Punk rock died when the first kid said...

Despite my morning grumpiness, the sun, perfect blue sky and not-quite-chilly temp made me glad to be a vegetable obsessive, rather than the sunglass-wearing aging punk I sat across from on the train back to Brooklyn. Nothing wrong with his way, of course, just that fiddling with the safety pins on a black hoody while reading Barthes (whom I recognized by the author photo alone - thanks, liberal arts education!) just doesn't strike me as the way to get the most out of such a lovely morning. Though shuffling through a crowded market with aching, laden shoulders may not appeal to lots of folks either, I suppose.
Greens greens greens:
1 bunch beets with greens
1 (gigantic) bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch dinosaur (lacinato) kale
1/3 lb. mixed salad greens
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1 head celery
2 1/2 lbs. carrots
2 lbs. German butterball potatoes
1 lb. seedless grapes - green Lakemont and purple Jupiter
6 lbs. mixed apples (Empire, Gold rush, Macoun, Gala)
2 Bosc pears
1 pint strawberries (?!?!)

Total spent: $56

Being on a budget at the market always requires sacrifices: today, I gave up on getting tomatoes, and had to forego goat cheese in favor of eggs and bread. Though I suppose there was no question of whether or not to buy the strawberries once I saw them, which are some of the best I've had all year...and will be perfect over our favorite coconut milk ice cream for dessert tonight. Beets always make me feel like a smart shopper, though, since they're two vegetables for the price of one.

The Brussels sprouts were an impulse buy as I was still in the shallows of the market - they're not really an economical choice for the household since the photo assistant won't eat them. But if buttered Brussels sprouts and toast for lunch at 11 a.m. are wrong, I don't want to be right!

It's become the time of year when hearty greens make it into every meal - blanched and chopped in tacos instead of lettuce, added to chilis and soups, and sauteed with garlic and olive oil to accompany just about anything. Tonight I'll probably have garlic-sauteed beet greens (my current fave!) along with roasted potatoes and veggie sausage for dinner. My friend Amanda makes a yummy dish with lacinato kale, lemon, and I think red pepper flakes - I'll try that this week.

And of course, given the tough economic times (which for me have nothing to do with Wall Street, rather the increase in my monthly student loan payment for culinary school), I'll save the stems from all the greens and stir-fry them with tofu at the end of the week, like I did last night. Not the tastiest dish in the world, but good if it's spicy enough, healthful with brown rice, and frugal.

One of my favorite greens dishes lately is toasted English muffin halves topped with (in this order) goat cheese, minced chives, garlic-sauteed chiffonade-cut greens (chard is ideal), a butter-fried egg each, and more minced chives on top. The chives may seem optional, but they absolutely make this dish - combined with the goat cheese they elevate an ordinary breakfast combo into a dinner-worthy meal. Tomatoes on the side are an excellent accompaniment and predictably, I precede this with a big green salad.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Minestrone fixings and grapes

It was an undeniably chilly morning at the USG; there's no turning back from this fall thing, people.
The budget was tight today:
1 bunch chard
1 bunch kale (the same fancy kind I got last week)
1 bunch beets with greens
4 lbs. carrots
4 plum tomatoes
3/4 lb. mixed greens
1/2 lb. Lakemont variety seedless grapes
5 lbs. Concord grapes
1 Osage orange

Total spent: $56

I got a bug to make minestrone with fresh cranberry beans, so I bought some tomatoes that looked perfect for soup (it's the tomato equivalent of having a face for radio), a bunch of chard...and made quite a serviceable minestrone with whole wheat rotelle.

The grapes are for another batch of homemade jelly, but I have to find some Pomona's Pectin, since Brooklyn Kitchen is out. I really have no idea where else to look, but I've got to figure it out soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't worry, baby

"We'll have them for awhile still," volunteered the man who grows the best carrots I've ever had, as I paid for my weekly three-pound ration of the hairy, knobbly, bright-orange jewels (pictured here). No doubt he saw the fear in my eyes, saw the wildness with which I clutched my bags of greens and tomatoes; as fall undeniably chugs in amidst mornings fragrant with mist and chilly evenings, harvest bounties dwindle, and I am left to dread my squash and sweet potato-laden near-future.
Late summer and early fall mix:
1 bunch chives
1 bunch dill
3 lbs. plum tomatoes
1 bunch fancy flat kale (can't remember the variety)
1 bunch green Swiss chard
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1 lb. crimini mushrooms
1/2 lb. mixed salad greens
3 lbs. carrots
1 1/2 lbs. zucchini
2 ears white corn
4 lbs. mixed apples
1 Bosc pear

Total spent: $57

Once again I forgot that my photo assistant is leaving town tomorrow, meaning this week's haul is all mine to eat. I should have bought broccoli!

The corn will join the lima beans I bought and didn't eat Monday in the last succotash of the year for dinner tonight, topped with red pepper coulis and served alongside crispy "crash" potatoes and eggs baked with butter, chives, and goat cheese. We'll start with big green salads topped with the handful of plum tomatoes that wouldn't fit on the sheet pan with the rest which are currently slow-roasting in my oven.

I bought the Bosc pear to poach in preparation for my upcoming midterm; today's order is studying after a bit of housecleaning and laundry. Living the dream, people. Living the dream. Speaking of which, to meet my loyal readers' furious demands for more kitten coverage, here's an outtake from the carrots photo session:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

News flash 2: making grape jelly is worth it

It is so good it is so good it is so good it is so good

News flash: making grape jelly is tedious

I started with 4 lbs. of Concord grapes, and after mashing them, simmering them for ten minutes, running them through my food mill, and straining them through cheesecloth twice, I have 3 cups of grape juice and lots of middling grape almost-liquid that is dropping out of my cheesecloth-lined colander at approximately the same rate that microwave popcorn pops when it's time to take it out.

Once I've got the 4 cups of juice I ought to have, it should be easy enough to boil the stuff with pectin and agave nectar, check for jell, pour into jars, and process...but right now things are a bit dire and boring. Though I suppose I can use a bit of forced relaxation given the way things have been the past few weeks...season change being what it is.

Today is stretching out errand-free until I have to go to class at 5, so once I've got the jelly sorted I'm going to make granola, lentil pepper-pot soup, and start some yogurt. And tonight before bed I'll put in a couple sheets of tomatoes to slow-roast while we sleep.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Smoky Split-Pea Soup With Greens

I made this soup last week on a whim, using roasted peppers and ancho chili powder for a double-shot of the smoky flavor ordinarily supplied by ham hocks. It turned out wonderfully - possibly the best split-pea soup I've ever had, which is exciting to a split-pea-soup-lover like myself! The beet greens were great, but chard, spinach, or kale would work too. It's even better served the next day, and I bet it would freeze well, too. Not sure on the yield here, but we got about six servings out of the batch.

Smoky Split-Pea Soup With Greens

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup minced onion (about 2 small)
1 cup carrot, chopped into 1/4" half-moons
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 roasted Poblano pepper, diced
1 roasted Anaheim (or other mild) pepper, diced
zest of 1 small lemon (about 1 tbsp)
4 cups stock
2 cups water
4 cups split peas
1 bunch greens (I used beet), about 4 cups torn-up leaves
sea salt and lemon juice to taste
minced parsley (optional, for garnish)
lemon zest curls (optional, for garnish)

Heat oil, reserving about 2 teaspoons, over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add onions and a pinch of salt and sweat until onions begin to soften; add carrot and cook until onions are completely soft, but do not allow onions to brown.

Push onion and carrot to the sides of the pan and add reserved oil and garlic to center; combine garlic with oil and cook until garlic is aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add cumin and ancho chili powder and stir into garlic for about 10 seconds, until aromatic; add lemon zest and diced peppers and stir into carrot and onion mixture until everything is combined.

Pour in stock and water. Add split peas and bring to a boil; turn heat down and simmer, covered, until split peas are completely soft and broken down, about 30 minutes.

Uncover pot and add greens, simmering until completely wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice, allow to stand, uncovered, for 5 minutes, and serve, garnishing each bowl with minced parsley and a couple of lemon zest curls, if desired.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

That is the tempo

Until this week, I've been mostly successful in avoiding tomatoes, despite the gorgeous piles they make everywhere at USG - because they're nightshades, they cause inflammation, they give me canker sores - but yesterday I chanced upon this recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes, and I knew I had to make them, despite the whole "leaving the oven on for 10 hours" thing. And once I had bought the plum tomatoes, I thought I may as well try a lovely low-acid yellow heirloom and a pint of my favorite Sungolds - totalling about five pounds.

So much more than tomatoes:

1 (small) bunch collard greens
1 (huge) bunch kale
3 lbs. carrots
2 lbs. yellow cooking onions
1 1/2 lbs. green beans
1 head celery
3 lbs. mixed summer squash (avocado and cousa)
3 lbs. plum tomatoes
1 pint Sungold tomatoes
1/2 lb. mixed salad greens
1 large yellow low-acid heirloom tomato
1 head Rocambole garlic
2 pints strawberries
1 box raspberries
Total spent: $60

Incidentally, almost everything I bought today was organic. My four favorite produce stands are organic, and I bought everything from them. If I don't have the option of local and organic, I will always choose local, but it's nice to find both - especially because the organic stands (whether certified or not) tend to have the best-tasting produce.

The tomatoes are already in the oven at just over 200 degrees - here's a shot just before they went in. I'll check them at about eight hours, but I'm expecting to leave them in for 10-12, like most of the recipes I've found online have indicated.

Otherwise, a pretty standard trip to the market, tinged with a bit of summer's end gloom. Peaches are finally waning - the last few I've gotten have been a bit mealy, and green beans are no longer young and tender. I think I'll have to roast these to make them delicious, as they're a bit tough. Tonight I think I'll make a light pasta dish with tomatoes, summer squash, greens, and parsley. We'll start with a salad and have berries for dessert, in late-summer style.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wow, I want to eat this immediately

Sweet corn ice cream sounds AMAZING!

Tiny market, giant Swiss chard

Today I got up late, and I was way too tired and grumpy to consider dealing with the 10 a.m. USG crowd. Since I needed to stop by my vet on Berry Street, I decided to go for a long walk to McCarren Park and do my weekly shopping at the pint-sized Williamsburg greenmarket.

Not too shabby for a little market:
1 lb. wax beans
1 bunch carrots
1/2 lb. mesclun greens
1 bunch GIANT Swiss chard
1 bunch beets w/ greens
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch arugula
3 onions
1 lb. nectarines
1 lb. peaches
Total spent: $30

For scale, here's a photo of the chard leaves positioned next to a lounging 15-lb. tomcat. As you can see, they are about the same size.

There were fewer than ten vendors in McCarren Park, but a few of them had good selections. Things seemed a bit more disorganized than with Union Square vendors, perhaps because the crowds at the Williamsburg market are smaller, and a bit more laid-back. I don't think I'll start going to this market regularly, but it was a nice change of pace for a morning when I just didn't feel like making the trek out to Manhattan. I was disappointed that nobody had any corn - I'll have to go to USG midweek for our corn-on-the-cob fix.

On the way home, I stopped by Brooklyn Kitchen to pick up a dozen more mason jars and a box of pectin. Today I'm making nectarine jam, and I think I'll do half with pectin and half without so that I can eventually compare them.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just a reminder...

...that créme anglaise is pretty much the most delicious substance in the known universe.

Culture (and nectarine) jamming

Today I made a list, and stuck to it!

1 1/2 lbs. yellow string beans
3 heirloom tomatoes
2 lbs. green and yellow zucchini
2 jalapenos
1 1/2 lbs. carrots
2 ears bicolor corn
1 lb. cranberry beans
1 bunch kale
1 bunch chard
1 lb. (mixed) sorrel, pea shoots, and salad greens
1/2 lb. shallots
2 heads Rocambole garlic
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 bunch thyme
1 box blackberries
2 lbs. peaches
3 lbs. nectarines
Total spent: $68

Nectarines are rapidly disappearing, so I'm going to have to decide whether to eat or jam this batch. I think I might do half and half - even two jars of jam from these otherworldly nectarines will be wonderful to have on hand for winter. In other fruit news, I'm going to attempt to make vanilla bean creme anglaise to pour over the blackberries for dessert tonight.

I'm currently reading Unmarketable by Anne Elizabeth Moore, and while what's socking me in the stomach about every four pages are her astute and unflinching observations about the way corporations co-opt underground culture, including music (and the spectrum of complicity from the underground artists and producers she names, several of whom are friends and about half of whom I've worked with), the connections to the way food is marketed are unmistakeable.

The USG, for all its sprawl, flapping banners, and denim-clad, often-grubby-handed vendors, can instill in shoppers a sense of local pride, as well as a feeling of connection to the food and the land; above all, meeting and talking to the people who grow our food creates a sense of community and trust. Emotional responses to consumption (discussed in depth by Moore) are nothing new, and in this case, they're based on genuine shared experience.

Across the street, shoppers entering Whole Foods are encouraged toward the same emotional responses, but for these shoppers the responses are engineered by the marketing departments who put together the stores. Though local produce constitutes a relatively low proportion of what's available at Whole Foods Union Square at any given time, the word "local" in various home-style fonts swirls around the high-heaped market-style displays, implying that just by shopping at Whole Foods, the local community is enriched. Slogans throughout the store make frequent use of the pronoun "we," encouraging a sense of attachment to some (false, artificially constructed) Whole Foods community.

Perhaps most ludicrous is Whole Foods' current attempt to brand themselves as an economical choice, offering "smart shopper" tours that tout sales and their in-store brands - thoough it doesn't appear that any actual price-cutting has attended this new marketing effort. However, Moore makes the point that nowadays advertising messages don't need to be true; even claims that are instantly refutable are made in such a way that consumers will unknowingly embrace the associated "feeling" (in this case, connecting Whole Foods with economical shopping) even when the facts speak otherwise.

Emotion-based branding is so extensive that most of us probably don't realize how much we've been affected by it. I've recognized some of my own attachments: e.g. no matter how much I disdain its ownership by Nike, or how tacky I find their new shoes, there is an unshakeable place in my heart for Converse. When I was a kid, they were still the shoes of the counterculture, and when I put on my first pair in 7th grade, this symbol of misunderstood cool salved the everyday torture of middle school for a nerdy smart girl. Regardless of how much the company and I have both changed, that association is too powerful to dissolve.

Given its connections with comfort, family, body image, self-control, and health, food is already a highly emotional area for many of us; thus food shopping, already rife with anxiety and perceived stigmas, provides immediate emotional access to marketers. The more we hear often-misleading mainstream media coverage of the locavore movement and carbon footprints, meat recalls, e.coli outbreaks from spinach, the debates over the value of organics, or the healthfulness of dairy products, eggs, or fish, the more vulnerable we become to the type of food marketing (like that practiced by Whole Foods) that offers to soothe the seething worry.

As with most powerful marketing initiatives of our age, the irony is palpable: across the street from the "eat here and you'll be fine"-messaged Whole Foods (and its plethora of nutrient-fortified, lab-formulated, sugar-laden, processed "health" junk food) are food choices that can genuinely negate these anxieties. The meat, eggs, and milk are pasture-raised from local, grazing animals and therefore pose little or no risk of heart disease; some of the vegetables are organic while some are not, but none of them are processed in the type of facilities that are vulnerable to e.coli contamination; the locally-baked breads are preservative-free: in short, it's unlikely that any meal sourced from the greenmarket will be detrimental to health.

Whole Foods and many of the corporate-organic "health" brands it sells benefit from keeping us confused about what's good to eat, then offering their brand as an umbrella answer - though many of the foods they sell range from simply unhealthy to actually toxic. Local farmers, who sell genuinely healthful, sustainable foods, don't market themselves. Whole Foods is crowded every time I shop there, but so is the greenmarket, and increasingly so: while our branded world honestly terrifies me, the weekly crowds at the greenmarket offer some room for hope.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ol' Strawberry Arm in the media

I have long meant to post a photo of the tattoo I have on my arm - a reproduction of a botanical illustration of a strawberry plant - but I am quite lazy. Luckily, Bill from Tattoosday recently featured it on his blog. Read his post and find out what a nerd I really am HERE.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lentil pepper-pot

We had dinner last night at 10 p.m. because I got home late and had a bug to make this lentil soup I'd dreamed up on the train. I just used the peppers I had on hand, which weren't Anaheims but were similar; the soup turned out terrific, but next time I might heighten the smoky flavor by adding some ancho chile powder along with the cumin. I served this with whole-wheat tortilla triangles that I sprayed with olive oil, sprinkled with cumin and smoked Spanish paprika, and crisped under the broiler (on the "low" setting). I'm not totally sure on the yield but it makes LOTS, probably at least ten cups.

Lentil pepper-pot soup
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup minced onion (about 4 small)
1 jalapeno pepper, cut into very small dice
2 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper, roasted and cut into small dice
2 Anaheim peppers, roasted and cut into small dice
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 cups red lentils
4-6 cups Swiss chard leaves torn into 1-2" pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
salt to taste

Heat 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil in medium-to-large heavy-bottomed saucepan (5 qt. would be ideal), add onions, jalapenos, and a pinch of salt, and saute until soft and onions are slightly golden.

Clear the center of the pan, add remaining 1/2 tbsp olive oil, add garlic and cumin, and stir together until fragrant, about 30 seconds; add roasted peppers, stir all ingredients together, and cook about 1 minute.

Add stock, water, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cooking, stirring occasionally, until lentils have completely softened and broken down, about 20 minutes? (oops, I wasn't paying attention to how long this took).

Add lemon juice, salt to taste, and chard leaves, and cook 3 more minutes, until chard is completely wilted. Remove from heat, taste again for seasoning, and serve.

Currently reading

I picked up Stuffed And Starved by Raj Patel while browsing at St. Mark's Bookshop the other evening, surprised I hadn't heard of it until then. It's an in-depth look at the global food economy, and how corporations and governments have worked together in creating our highly profitable but volatile and totally unsustainable worldwide network of producers, distributors, and consumers.

It's been so eye-opening already: as early as the 1940s, US food aid has been used to shape political policy overseas, ensuring the political pliability of countries who become dependent on this aid. Patel also examines the growing phenomenon of farmer suicides, and looks at activist movements in countries like South Korea and Mexico that have grown up in response to "free market" farm policies whose implementation threatens small farming. This quote, from South Korean legislator and activist Kang Ki Kap about the WTO, is beautiful and its truth applies to so much about our current economic climate (italics mine):
The most essential things for human beings are the elements - sun, air, water and food. These are the essential resources for people's lives. God decided that these things would be the enjoyment of all, so that all might live. He does not intend that we monopolize the elements - yet because they're so abundant, people treat them as trivial, do not take them seriously. The trend, the wind behind the WTO, is the globalization of the capitalist system. The fundamental contradiction is the polarization of the rich and poor, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. Some might say that this is the natural logic of competition. But if you're a human being with reason and conscience, then the WTO should be eliminated. Especially the agricultural sector and market pressures. To live, people need to eat. You cannot commercialize this. It's such an anti-human behavior, not just anti-social, but anti-people.

Patel posts at the interesting Stuffed & Starved website as well. I think the next book in my Global Food Crisis Reading List will be The End Of Food by Paul Roberts - I've heard a lot about it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quick summary - greenmarket demo, jam, dinner

Today, I was part of the Greenmarket, not just a shopper! The Natural Gourmet has students at Union Square demonstrating seasonal recipes every Saturday through November. We made sauteed eggplant with basil and balsamic vinegar, and sauteed red potatoes with parsley and fresh garlic. It was kinda fun, but mostly just uneventful. I went shopping beforehand and stashed my haul in the walk-in refrigerator at school during the demo.

It was a long day:
1 1/2 lbs. lima beans
3 ears white corn
1 bunch swiss chard
2 lbs. carrots
1 lb. onions
3/4 lb. salad mix
4 Empire apples
2 lbs. peaches
2 lbs. nectarines
half-flat of blackberries
Total spent: $61

I've already made the insanely flavorful blackberries from Fantasy Fruit into five gorgeous jewel-toned half-pint jars of jam - though after I tasted a couple I wanted to eat the lot. I used the same basic recipe as I used for the strawberry jam, but I used 1/2 cup grated apple and 3/4 cup agave nectar. I don't know if it was the increased apple or just that blackberries have more natural thickener than strawberries, but this jam set up in ten minutes. Next, I'll do apricot and nectarine.

The limas were boiled until tender (about five minutes), then sauteed into a pseudo-succotash along with the kernels from two ears of corn, one finely-diced onion and a couple pinches of cumin; I plated it topped with some of the roasted red pepper coulis I made a few days back (roasted red pepper, hot sauce, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice). We had salad with refrigerator-pickled beets and goat feta from Lynnhaven farms first, then the succotash with half a grilled Tofurkey sausage. It was a terrific dinner!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A late-night strawberry jam session

It worked! I went pectin-free this time, using a bit of grated apple instead. The resulting jam is much softer than our peach jam, but I like the texture. And it tastes wonderful - the Tristar strawberries from Fantasy Fruit Farm are so sweet and flavorful.

The one drawback to my jam experiment beyond being up past midnight on a work night? It was pricey. Figuring in the cost of six pints of strawberries, three lemons, an apple, and the jars, I spent more per half-pint jar than the $5.50 Phillips Farms charges for their delicious jams.

But I did get to use agave nectar instead of sugar or white grape juice concentrate, and go without the pectin. And my photo assistant and I were careful to adjust the sweetener just perfectly to our liking. If I had my own garden, or if I lived near a much-less-expensive "pick your own" farm, this jam would have been a lot more economical. As it is, I have four beautiful jars of strawberry jam I can crack open to combat winter doldrums.

Next on the list? Blackberry. Or nectarine. I'm going to try pickling jalapenos, too - and maybe some cucumbers to keep things traditional.

Strawberry Jam
6 pints strawberries (makes 4 cups mashed berries)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 to 3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup grated peeled apple

1. Sterilize five 1/2-pint jars by boiling them in a hot water bath for five minutes. Turn off heat and leave jars in water until ready to pack.
2. Wash and stem strawberries (I washed mine three times - little ones can get quite dirty).
3. Transfer stemmed strawberries to a wide-bottomed bowl and mash them. You can use a potato masher, but I used my fingers.
4. Stir mashed berries, lemon juice, agave nectar, and grated apple together in a heavy-bottomed three-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.
5. Bring to a full, rolling boil and boil at least 10 minutes, or up to 15 minutes. Adjust sweetener to taste after 5 minutes and again after 10 minutes. To test for jelling, put a white plate in the freezer when you start cooking the jam; when ready to test, put a teaspoon of jam liquid on the plate, and return to freezer for one minute. You should be able to make a line in the jam with your finger that doesn't fill back in at all, but this never happened to me - the line filled in most of the way even after 14 minutes boiling. My jam turned out awesome, though, so just boil it as long as you see fit, but no more than 15 minutes. Remember, the worst possible outcome at this point is runny jam, which will be delicious on ice cream or yogurt, so don't overcook your berries to try to make them jell.
6. Remove a jar from the water, ladle hot fruit mixture into jar leaving 1/4" headspace, wipe threaded rim of jar clean, and attach lid and band. Repeat until all jars are full. You will probably have enough to fill four jars, with some left over. Fill another jar partially with the excess, refrigerate, and use within a few weeks.
7. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Leave undisturbed overnight or until completely cool (about 12 hours), check seals (they should be concave and should not pop in and out), and store. Any unsealed jars should go into the fridge and be used within a few weeks.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wart a dilly!

I've never really understood this pun from Chicken Trek. It's one of the many pickle-themed taunts yelled at Oscar and his cousin Dr. Peter Pretchwinkle as they cross the country in the Picklemobile (which, to be exact, is actually at that point called the RemDem (tm), though its pickley appearance is really all that's relevant here).

Regardless, the phrase always pops up when I think of dilly beans. For these, I was inspired by a recipe I found on this Gardenweb thread. I used about 2 lbs. snap beans, dill, serrano peppers, slightly bruised garlic cloves, a half-and-half water and apple cider vinegar mixture, and kosher salt. Everything went smoothly, though I panicked a bit when it was time to remove the air bubbles, since I didn't know how - turns out it's easy enough to do with a rubber spatula. All the lids have popped and gone concave, which seems like a good sign. Also they are cute!

Also I made granola, which turned out fine, though next time I'll use fewer sesame seeds. I also attempted to make seitan, which was a total failure: I guess blithely ignoring the fact that the recipe calls for bread flour wasn't such a good idea. But batting .667 isn't bad for a Tuesday.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A coupla nice melons

I know, I know, another boob joke. I just enjoy them, is all. In fact, I wasn't going to photograph this pair (!) 'til I thought of the boob-joke possibility. But the real story here is that the gal on the left is a canteloupe - a green-fleshed canteloupe. I know from honeydews, and this is definitely a canteloupe, even though I've never seen anything like it. But this internet website says they exist. I haven't yet sorted out exactly what type of magical powers they are supposed to have, but it really explains a lot about my day to know that I've been carrying around an enchanted fruit.

Today I got up earrrrrly and went to the greenmarket before work, because I was out of town at our yearly distribution summit on Saturday. The Monday market is always fun, but toting fifteen-or-so pounds of vegetables on my shoulders twenty-five blocks isn't so much. And the melons added lots of weight.

My weird walk home from the train, laden as I was, was undoubtedly due to the mysterious influence of the green canteloupe. First, I saw a beefy young fellow wearing a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo shirt. Note to my parents: if this is the private investigator you hired to follow me around and make sure I'm not partying all the time, you might want to try someone else. A block later, I saw a fellow who looked and was dressed exactly like Howard Jones. Later, a guy with an extremely round head wearing a Pavement t-shirt that had the New York skyline on it smiled at me.

At any rate, I'm hoping that green canteloupe will cast a goodluck charm on my project for tomorrow - canning part two: dilly beans!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mission accomplished!

We made jam!

Sixteen ways to brighten my day

1 bunch rainbow chard
2 lbs. zucchini
2 bunches small carrots
1/2 lb. shallots
2 lbs. red new potatoes
1/2 lb. purslane
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 pt. sungold tomatoes
4 Nardello peppers
5 jalapeno peppers
4 ears bicolor corn
2 pts. strawberries
1/2 pt. blackberries
3 lbs. peaches
1 lb. nectarines
1 lb. apricots

Total spent: $67

What a morning! I arrived at USG around 8:45, finding none of last week's crazy crowds (I guess everyone slept in?), and enjoyed a non-stressful greenmarket experience. My leisurely pace is attested to by the eclecticism of my choices.

Purslane is a mild-tasting green that's higher in omega-3 fatty acids than any other land vegetable; I'll throw it in a salad. The potatoes are beautiful and will be made into potato salad (along with some shallots and parsley), and everything else is self-explanatory.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A tough day redeemed by berries and dinner

This morning I was tired and listless at the Union Square greenmarket. After wandering back and forth three or four times, aimlessly picking up something here and there (sometimes visiting the same vendor multiple times), I realized I just needed to be home.

Luckily I managed to get a reasonable amount of food, despite my haziness; however, it took me so long to wend my way to the Fantasy Fruit stand, they had sold out of Tristar strawberries by the time I arrived. I was so close to the end of my rope I almost cried - now I know why my intuition has always sent me to their stand first.

But when I got home and started eating the delicate heritage raspberries and spectacular blackberries I bought from Terhune Orchards, I felt a lot better. There will be more strawberries next week!

I don't remember buying half this stuff:
1 pt. blackberries
1 pt. raspberries
2 lbs. peaches
1 lb. apricots
2 lbs. lady apples
2 ears bicolor corn
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 stalk celery
1 bunch carrots
2 lbs. green beans
2 lbs. zucchini
2 heads Rocambole garlic
Total spent: $50

Since it was ungodly hot today, I had to work up to the idea of making dinner for a couple of hours, and decided on stir-fry, with the vegetables cut into thin strips. This has the hot-weather advantage of quicker cooking than larger pieces, and, even better, I got extra knife skills practice.

For two people, I French-cut about 1/2 lb. green beans (French-cutting green beans is so hard!!), cut 2 medium-sized carrots into matchsticks, and chiffonaded 6 big Swiss chard leaves. I also pan-fried about 1/3 block of tofu, pressed briefly and cubed. I threw the carrots and beans in, then once they were almost ready, added a twince more oil and tossed in the garlic and chard, then added the tofu once the chard was almost wilted, just to heat it back up. We had this with my favorite grain, short-grain brown rice. Why is it so good? All other forms of brown rice are dead to me.

We also had the corn, steamed, to start, with butter, salt, and smoked Spanish paprika. I like bicolor corn, but regular yellow is much sweeter - I hope it shows up at the market soon. And of course, dessert will be more fresh berries!

Speaking of berries, I desperately need to get on the canning wagon. I had planned for Tuesday, but the photo assistant and I are going to see The Dark Knight instead. Next Saturday, then, I will be making my first batch of jam. I can't let another summer's bounty get away from me...and as I have an offer open to practice with peaches from a friend's family's tree, I have to hold up my end of the bargain and figure out how to do it, stat.

(Photo is not mine! It is from futurowoman's Flickr photostream)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just the facts on my rushed morning

I was in a crazy hurry Saturday morning, but somehow I managed to pick up an excellent assortment of produce.

Variety is the spice:
1 bunch kale
1 bunch collard greens
1 lb. shell peas
1 lb. pattypan squash
1 bunch spring onions
1 bunch carrots
2 lbs. zucchini
2 ears bicolor corn
1/2 lb. cherries
2 lbs. peaches
1/2 lb. apricots
1/2 lb. Shiro plums
2 lbs. lady apples
2 pints Tristar strawberries
Total spent: $67

Why so few cherries? According to one of the vendors, the cherry crop has been truncated due to a hailstorm and bad weather over the week - so no more! Despite this heartbreaking news, I was able to console myself somewhat with delicious peaches, apricots, plums, and strawberries.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

We fly the planes ourselves

Due to our disdain for a) fireworks and b) drunk people, as well as our indifference to c) barbecue, my photo assistant and I have developed the perhaps-antisocial July 4 tradition of seeing three movies in the theater. Yesterday we were three for three, with Wanted, Get Smart, and Hancock all coming through with all the car chases, gunfights, explosions, special effects, pratfalls, and one-liners we hoped for. And what's more American than that?

Listen, fruit is less expensive than smoking, even in these quantities:
1/2 pt. raspberries
1 pt. Tristar strawberries
1 lb. peaches (!!!!)
2 1/2 lbs. cherries
5 Empire apples
1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb
3 lbs. zucchini
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 1/2 lbs. shell peas
1 lb. "soft" discount tomatoes
1 head Rocambole garlic
Total spent: $57 (of which $20 was for cherries)
Today we're going to a friend's house upstate for a barbecue, so I made rhubarb bars again. This time, I used brown rice syrup, which definitely has a hearty and almost caramel-like taste, which added a nice quality to the rhubarb filling - thing is, I didn't use enough sweetener in the filling, nor sugar in the streusel, so they taste more like breakfast bars than sweet desserts. I also used whole wheat flour because I didn't think it would make a difference in a recipe that already called for oats. These bars are hearty and taste a bit healthy, but I hope folks will still like them. I'm also bringing Tofurkey sausage, cherries, and half a dozen little zucchini for the grill. Despite the rain, it promises to be a fun trip.

Today I passed up apricots and the season's first corn on the cob, because I was out of money and my shoulders hurt, but I may pick some corn up on Monday for dinner - I'm quite excited about it. Tomorrow night we'll have peas, and maybe peaches for dessert!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The summeriest meal around

Tonight we had a gazpacho of sorts: shallots cut into whisper-thin salad slices and macerated in 2-3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar along with minced basil and salt; then added the seeds, juice, and flesh from a tomato I concassed and diced; let it sit for an hour or so at room temp while making the rest of dinner, tasted for seasoning, ladled into bowls, then drizzled with my fancy Pasolivo olive oil just before serving. It was on the magnificent side of wonderful, with the acid and salt countering the sweetness of the tomatoes and basil just so.

I got the shallot-vinegar-herbs idea from Peter Berley in one of our classes - he used it to dress roasted peppers, and mentioned that with tomatoes, it would make a nice gazpacho. And so it did.

Our main course was risotto with shelled peas (the biggest ones I've ever seen) and spinach, with Parmigiano and butter added to finish; I liberally sprinkled minced parsley over each serving, which really highlighted the fresh taste of the summer vegetables. An hour later, we upped the summeriness ante even more with a few handfuls of Tristar strawberries (eaten in front of the TV while watching House on DVD, naturally).

The gazpacho was wonderful! If only acidic foods didn't give both of us tummyaches, I would make it constantly this summer. But so it goes - this lovely healthful dish will have to be only an occasional treat.

Today I'll be making potato salad with the lovely "just dug" red new potatoes I bought at the Greenmarket yesterday, made with a dressing incorporating Mean Beans brine. More on this later.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

An exciting and impractical morning

What a morning! I miraculously awoke at 6:32, even though I'd forgotten to turn on the alarm I'd set for 6:30. I got up even earlier than usual so I could get to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket at 8:30 for a meeting about an exciting internship (more on this later so I don't jinx it), then to USG for shopping. I bought shell peas twice, once because I planned it, and once on impulse when I tasted sweeter ones elsewhere. It was that kind of morning.

Yes, I have an expensive fruit habit:
2 pints Tristar strawberries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
1 1/4 lbs. cherries
3 lbs. zucchini
2 lbs. shelling peas
1 lb. sugar snap peas
1 bag spinach
1 bunch spring onions
1 bunch carrots
Total spent: $57

I had a nice NYC moment today, during my convoluted subway trip (turns out I made the wrong call about how to get to Grand Army Plaza and back). A very nice woman asked me if I knew how to get to the Cloisters. "I've been there, but I'm not sure I remember," I replied, and racked my brain to recall the subway stop. After the not-so-helpful "it's somewhere above 180th, and you take a bus to Fort Tryon Park, I think" and multiple attempts to find secret clues by staring at the subway map, I had all but given up.

But! Miracle of miracles! When the memory part of your brain has been eroded by too-late-diagnosed ADHD, and you therefore have the short-term memory of a newborn bunny rabbit, you come up with coping mechanisms like writing down in a little black notebook any information you may need to know more than five seconds in the future. And so, luckily for my new friend, I found all transportation and contact information for the Cloisters in said notebook, to her delight and amazement. And we could be heroes, just for one day.

Clearly, I bought a ton of fruit this week - including blueberries which I don't even really like! - because I just can't get enough. It's only going to get worse when peaches and apricots come into season...but of course, I can't wait. Thank goodness I just got a raise! My photo assistant is currently giving up refined sugar, so I'm using that as an excuse to be even more lavish than usual with my fruit purchases - but I'm still eating the lion's share of the fruit (just like with everything).

We're having a friend over for dinner on Monday, and I think I'm going to make a risotto with the spring onions, spinach, and peas, serving veggie sausage and broiled zucchini on the side; I'll start with an olive and pickle plate featuring my new favorite, Rick's Picks Mean Beans. Dessert will be fresh berries, that is of course if we've got any left.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hilarity ensues

"Boy," I thought, munching on one of the blanched sugar snap peas I had brought in my lunch, "these are tough. Maybe they are going out of season or something? I did buy them from an unfamiliar vendor..." After struggling with the too-fibrous pods of a couple more, I gave up and decided to shell them, making a decent-sized mess to get to the tender interior peas.

"Gee," I thought, struggling to shell an especially intractable petit pois pod for dinner, "these are tough to shell." I reached for another equally-difficult pod, and had struggled through about five of them when it finally dawned on me what had happened. Of course, in my morning rush, I'd blanched the petit pois and put them in lunches, and I was now trying to shell sugar snap peas.

It's this kind of subtle hilarity that makes live worth living, really.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sweet treats and expanding horizons

What a wonderful greenmarket morning I had Saturday! I made it to Union Square by 8:30, and the crowd was manageable. I bought lots of fruit to make desserts for Katherine's birthday/housewarming party, as well as the season's first cherries.

Getting up early is worth it:
2 qts. strawberries
1 1/2 lbs. cherries
3/4 lb. rhubarb
1/2 lb. asparagus
1 lb. fava beans
1 lb. petit pois
1 bunch red Russian kale
1 bunch carrots
3/4 lb. shiitake mushrooms
Total spent: $47

For Katherine's party, I made rhubarb oatmeal bars, using a version of this recipe, but I cut the sugar in the rhubarb filling by about 1/4 cup, and added 1 tbsp. lemon juice to brighten the flavor. I also omitted "1/2 cup chopped" from the crust since I didn't know what to chop and add 1/2 cup of, and left out the vanilla as well. They turned out really delicious, but they didn't quite "bar up" to become independent desserts - you couldn't eat one out of your hand. I can't tell if I should have cooked them longer, or if the streusel just isn't substantial enough to be a bottom crust. Or maybe that 1/2 cup chopped would have firmed things up. (I'm thinking that shortbread would be insanely good, and just as buttery.)

I also made strawberry shortcake; I used the cream scone recipe from Baking Illustrated as the base (adding 1 tsp. vanilla), sliced and partially macerated the (quite wonderful on their own) berries with sugar and letting them sit for a few hours, and whipped 1 cup of Ronnybrook Dairy heavy cream with a few tablespoons of sugar to top. It was all lovely until I ate lots at the party (along with Allison's yummy pie), then had a severe sugar crash all of a sudden, got overwhelmed and cranky, then had to hurry home.

Tonight's dinner was shiitake mushroom risotto with buttered peas (excuse me, petit pois), which I had to have solo because my photo assistant is in transit and has been stuck at airports for the past six hours. He can have leftovers though. The peas were great - just a bit sweeter than regular English shell peas. Tomorrow night I have class, but I'm planning something exciting for a late-night Wednesday dinner involving those lovely favas.

And cherries!!! I have been talking about cherries for months, and now they're here! Of course the 1 1/2 lbs. I bought Saturday are already almost gone. I love them so much!!

(No photos this week due to extreme laziness.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Guess what this is?

You're right - it's a giant buttery pile of mushrooms and spaghetti, and it's what I ate for dinner tonight!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sometimes, my dinner is accidentally cute

I was too lazy to post yesterday, but tonight I worked up all the energy I had left after my bike rides and coffee-drinking and book-reading and talking, and made risotto. I love risotto to distraction. (In fact, today, I lost the thread of conversation at one point because I was thinking about risotto, then I pretended to be reading my book while actually I was planning this risotto, which btw, recipe below.)

Asparagus is almost gone, but I've got plenty of greens:
1 bunch red chard
1 bag spinach
3 heads baby red lettuce
1 bag (about 1/2 lb?) baby bok choy
1/2 lb. garlic scapes
1 lb. sugar snap peas
1 bunch baby carrots
2 lbs. green and yellow zucchini
1 lb. asparagus
1 qt. strawberries
Total spent: $48

The strawberries were much nicer than last week's - they are from my favorites, Terhune Orchards. Terhune was offering two varieties, a larger and a smaller (of course I've forgotten the names because apparently notepads haven't been invented yet), and I chose the latter, assuming they'd be sweeter. While the quart I have is uneven as far as taste, by and large they are lovely, sweet, fragrant little gems. Oh, how I love strawberries. Next weekend, for Katherine's birthday/housewarming, I'm planning to make strawberry shortcake, though I may have to incorporate rhubarb somehow. Or maybe I'll make two things. We'll see.

I have no idea how I'll use the garlic scapes, though they always have so much hype that I figured I would join their bandwagon late. And I bought the baby bok choy specifically for the stir-fry I made last night, but in classic Anna form, forgot to use it. Instead, we had a stir-fry of asparagus, sugar snap peas, and matchsticked carrots, which was very lovely but leaves me with unplanned bok choy. I think I'll have to make another stir-fry; it's too small to grill and there's not enough of it for a main dish.

This spinach and havarti risotto may be my favorite I've made yet, and being as though my photo assistant is out of town, I'll have leftovers all to myself for days. I sautéed some asparagus spears simply with a little olive oil and sea salt on the side, then when I plopped everything on the plate together, it was accidentally cute - like a little asparagus bow for my risotto face...or something. The raw-milk havarti is from the vendor at USG whose name I can't remember, but which always has a lot of good-looking tan vaguely-punk kids in their 20s working behind the counter, and lots of lactic acid-fermented pickles. It's great cheese! It has flavor dimensions regular havartis only dream of, while remaining quite a mild cheese. The shallot browned a little bit while I wasn't paying attention, but it ended up adding a really nice little bit of caramelized flavor to the risotto. I may do it on purpose next time.

Spinach and havarti risotto
2 shallots, cut into small dice (about 1/4 cup)
3 tbsp.-ish olive oil
3/4 cup Arborio rice (brown rice takes forever, trust me)
4 cups vegetable stock
lots of spinach, along the lines of 6 cups before it's cooked maybe, washed well, stems removed, and ripped into 2" or so pieces
3/4 cup grated havarti cheese
sea salt + fresh grated pepper to taste

Heat vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan; turn down to a simmer. Heat olive oil over medium in a heavy-bottomed saucepan (small Dutch oven works great too, especially for showing off that you have a small Dutch oven), add shallots, and cook until completely softened. (Optional: get distracted reading a book so that a tiny amount of them brown a little bit.)

Add about one cup of stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently but not necessarily every single second, until almost all the stock is dissolved. Continue adding one cup of stock at a time until it's all gone and the rice is softened to desired consistency. (If you run out of stock, just add a little water - no need to open another container of stock just to splash in 1/2 cup or so.) Remove from heat, add cheese, salt, and pepper to taste, stir, and cover.

Set your vegetable steamer up in the pan you used for the stock; add water, and steam spinach until completely wilted, just a few minutes. Squeeze spinach with tongs, remove to cutting board, and chop; add spinach to risotto. Stir in about two tbsp. of delicious pasture-fed cultured butter and serve to yourself and two lucky friends along with some wonderful local asparagus. Or, if you are flying solo, eat as much as you want then let the rest cool before spooning it into two plastic containers, and you've got lunch sorted for the next two days! Lucky you.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Oh snap!

Almost as if in answer to my response in this Serious Eats thread about the Saturday USG, this morning's excursion was especially hot and crowded - and I got very cranky. But the rewards were myriad.

Maybe I am a poser, but my shoulders hurt for reals:

1 lb. sugar snap peas
1 lb. asparagus
1/2 lb. pea shoots
1 lb. shelling peas
1 bunch curly kale
1 bag spinach
1 bunch lamb's quarters
4 shallots
3 onions
1 quart strawberries
Total spent: $52

Last night was the celebratory barbecue for my friends Sam and Nat, who are getting married on Sunday. From the Friday greenmarket, I brought blanched sugar snap peas for finger food, blanched asparagus for the grill, and lots of baby lettuces. We had way too much food, but the sugar snaps (they're so sweet this year!) were gone in an instant, and the grilled asparagus went over well too. The salad was so lovely - the baby heads of lettuce so fresh - that I once again mourned the flavorless salads that most folks end up eating. They can be good, with the right dressing, when you've got bland greens, but when you have a mix of the type of lettuce that is tasty enough to eat alone, it's a totally different experience.

Tonight, I'm excited to sautee the pea shoots with garlic, then serve them with spaghetti so they can be wound around the fork at the same time. I'll have that with buttered peas on the side and some of the Field Roast sausage we have leftover from the barbecue.

The lamb's quarters I bought on a whim; they were described as similar to spinach, but without any oxalic acid. I'll try sauteeing them with garlic. A few minutes after picking them up, I was utterly seduced by the gorgeous spinach from Windfall Farms - it's bright green, with big, flat, un-crinkled leaves - and so crisp and fresh. So now I've got spinach and a spinach stand-in. Luckily, I love greens, so we'll make short work of the lot.

But of course, the most exciting purchase I made today was that quart of strawberries. They're not quite ready, I'm afraid - flavorful, but still a little lacking - but I will take strawberries over no strawberries any day. Lots of vendors had them, so I'll probably head to work early on Wednesday morning to try some more. I don't have any illusions that this box will last past the weekend.

In general news, I'm still getting used to my school schedule, which is not easy to do. Having free time is something I'd grown fond of, you see.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Travelling, busy, and...lazy

Last Saturday was a wonderful day at the Greenmarket, but despite having Sunday off for Memorial Day, I never got around to photographing or documenting my haul. I did find a new favorite vegetable of the minute, pea shoots, which I like to eat raw. They taste a bit like grass but more like what they are - a fresh, juicy precursor to wonderful sweet peas.

Most everything else was the usual stuff - zucchini, kale, ramps, asparagus - but I also have conquered my fear of collard greens. We had some braised quickly in class that I just loved, so I have been trying to recreate them at home. I've had varying levels of success, but every time I have them, my collards craving heightens. Now that I've run out for the week, I'm not sure what to do.

This Saturday I'm going to a friend's engagement brunch, so no USG for me...but if I can motivate early tomorrow, I might try to swing by on my way to work for staples. Adding the Natural Gourmet as well as a wonderful Wednesday night meditation class to what was already a busy-feeling schedule has made my spare time next to nonexistent. But I don't feel stressed because everything I'm involved in right now is so positive.

Next week I may try sauteed pea shoots with an omelet. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get some fava beans soon! I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You might want to sit down for this.

Last night in class, I ate mushrooms...and I liked them!!

We also spent about four hours talking about vegetables, which was pretty much a dream come true. Things have started to get interesting.

No greenmarket this week, because I'm going to the UK for All Tomorrow's Parties. Wish me luck finding food.

(photo from Flickr - Ex Libris's photostream)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Quiche and tell

After a lovely greenmarket morning on Saturday (marred only slightly by the bushels of flowers flinging eye-burning pollen around everywhere), I had brunch with friends at our new favorite brunch spot, the never-crowded-enough Old Devil Moon, and spent the rest of the afternoon making quiche with Kara, in honor of Mother's Day.

Pretty much the same as last week, with a "berry" important addition:
3 lbs. asparagus
1 bunch ramps
2 1/2 lbs. zucchini
1 bag spinach
1 box sprouts (sunflower and red clover)
1 box raspberries!!!!!
4 apples (Winesap and Mutsu)
Total spent: $41.10

We ate the raspberries during quiche prep. They were greenhouse-raised and $6.50 a (tiny) box, but so delicious. I made my quiche with a pre-made whole-wheat crust (sorry, Mom, I was so lazy), Knoll Crest Farm eggs, Lynnhaven goat cheese, soymilk, a little heavy cream, ramps, and blanched asparagus. When I served it this morning for brunch, I sprinkled a bit of shredded Parmesan on each slice and heated them separately under the broiler; this plus a bit of freshly-ground black pepper turned out to be just the thing.

I think quiche may be my new favorite meal. It's great to make in advance, can be done relatively healthfully, and is so versatile! I'm already planning my next one: Lynnhaven's goat feta, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, and spinach or zucchini. And yes, I'll make the crust homemade next time.

We used this Epicurious recipe, as well as the recipe from Baking Illustrated as our guides, then improvised. Here's the recipe I came up with - next time I'd use about 1/4 more cheese though, and prebake the pie crust. Also, I plan to omit the cream, adding extra cheese and another egg yolk to keep the texture.

Springtime Vegetable Quiche
1 pie crust
3 large or 6 small ramps, white part sliced thinly and leaves cut into 3/4" wide pieces
1 tsp. olive oil
6 eggs
1 1/3 cups soymilk
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 oz. goat cheese
1 1/2 cups asparagus, cut into 1" pieces, blanched
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper

Saute white part of ramps in olive oil until soft; add leaves and cook until wilted. Set aside to cool. Whisk together eggs, soymilk, cream, salt, and goat cheese; add several grinds of pepper. Arrange asparagus pieces evenly in crust. Add cooled ramps to egg mixture and stir; pour egg mixture into crust. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until light golden brown; center should be just set and a knife inserted into the center should come out clean.
Note: If you have extra egg mixture after filling your crust, you can pour it into greased ramekins and bake them for cute crustless mini-quiches. This is also a good way to taste-test your quiche mixture before baking the whole thing. Not that I am forward-thinking enough to have done that, but you could do.

As for the rest of it, I'm planning to make another springtime vegetable risotto with the remaining ramps, as well as zucchini and asparagus; though the asparagus (from Terhune Orchards) is so good on its own, simply blanched, that it might end up gone before I get around to risotto. We've been eating the zucchini raw in lunches, with hummus for the photo assistant, and of course cooked in every possible dish. I think I'll make pasta with spicy zucchini sauce this week too.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Though last week was really my first visit of the season to a bountiful Greenmarket and requisite enthusiasm, it was a harried, hurried morning, and I ended up buying far fewer vegetables than I needed. But it gave me something to look forward to all week, knowing that asparagus, ramps, and other green and leafy wonders would be there for the taking. This is what got me out of bed by 7:30 this morning.

Welcome back, tired shoulders:
1.5 lbs. asparagus
1 bunch curly parsley
3 lbs. zucchini
1 bag spinach (at least 2 lbs.)
1 bunch curly kale
1 bunch ramps
3 lbs. Mutsu apples
Total spent: $42.50

And as the photo indicates, everything's green! One greenhouse grower had some tomatoes, which I skipped because I'm experimenting with lower my nightshade intake at the moment, and a few vendors had early rhubarb, which I skipped because I have no idea what to do with it; everyone else had cooking greens, ramps, salad greens, asparagus, zucchini. Though I've been really jonesing for carrots for the past few weeks, the joy of an overflowing vegetable crisper will carry me through until they arrive.

My friend Mark asked me yesterday if I could include some more breakfast recipes on Produce Stories - and mentioned that he is not a fan of omelets. (I love omelets, but they are a bit stressful, and even when perfectly cooked, I admit they don't thrill me the way they seem to thrill some.) Because I'm not the sweet breakfast type, I'm sticking with eggs, and recommending a frittata, which is what I'm going to make with most of the plate above: inside will be ramps and zucchini, sauteed together, and some Lynnhaven Farms feta, and I'll serve a few spears of blanched asparagus and some tender baby greens on the side.

Food Blogga has a good basic frittata recipe - the key is to keep the egg moving while it's on the stovetop, to avoid uneven cooking and dryness. And of course, like anything cooked under the broiler, keep an eye on the frittata to avoid burning. Like omelets, frittatas are very versatile, but they allow for a bit more flexibility in amount and type of filling, and a bit less precision, which is nice in the morning, especially pre-coffee.

If I had any bread in the house I'd serve this with toast, but I don't, so I won't. Potatoes would go well, too, but they're nightshades, so they're out too. Cold frittatas are really good leftover, too - when I studied abroad in Italy, we would often have slices of cold potato frittata in our packed lunches, which I loved.

Almost as exciting as fresh things returning to the Greenmarket is that I had my first day at culinary school on Tuesday! It was a bit of a non-event, mostly talking about procedures, protocols, and rules (apparently federally-accredited trade schools require all sorts of policies and procedures to maintain this status), filling out forms, etc. But tomorrow is my first full day (starts a 9 a.m, sigh), and we'll be starting knife work and have to wear our uniforms. More on this later!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Two new good things

New good things have been few and far between lately - hence my lack of posts. However, there are two I thought I should briefly mention.

1. My new bag. I am not the handbag type, nor the Dooney & Bourke type, but my mom won me over to both camps by sending me what has to be the biggest purse-type bag in the world. It is simply huge, and can carry lots of produce. Today at the greenmarket, I bought a five-lb. bag of apples (which are now bubbling away with lots of cinnamon on my stovetop for applesauce, of course), and declined an additional carry bag, dropping the (large, unwieldy) bag of apples into my enormo-bag, where it disappeared into the depths, much to the delight of the vendor. "Wow," she said, "It's like Mary Poppins!" Indeed.

2. I am going to culinary school! I have been officially accepted into the Natural Gourmet Institute Chef's Training Program. I start April 29. I am so excited!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Dark times

These are dark times, my friends. Today's rainy trip to the Greenmarket yielded very little in the way of fresh produce: a carton of sprouts, two onions, a few hydroponic tomatoes, a bagful of apples. No one even had any carrots! Migliorelli Farms was out of pear cider for the year, and the little stand where I usually buy my kale was gone, no doubt due to the weather. Last week's trip was much the same, minus rain.

This morning I slept late (well, 9:30), and had decided not to head to Union Square and its dismal produce offerings when I realized how much I rely on market vendors for staples like eggs, goat cheese, and apple cider - and I'm so spoiled by the quality of the local stuff that I trudged out into the elements, sweatshirt hood half-shielding me from the downpour.

Lucky thing, too, because I was able to invite Katherine over for a very-late brunch of spinach and goat cheese omelette and home fries. (Ironic given the subject of this blog, the only non-local element of this meal other than spices was the spinach!) And the apples bubbling away on the stove, smelling of wonderful Penzeys Ceylon cinnamon makes me even gladder that I made the trip.

But my point is that there's very little to report these days, and the winter monotony has me still struggling not to get too down. (Though I do think the B12-and-herbs cocktail in my Deproloft is helping too). I guess I'm going to have to start buying vegetables from Garden Of Eden and Whole Foods, unless I can figure out a lot of creative ways to cook cabbage...and spring vegetables are still at least a month away.

Though I have learned to make homemade pita, using this Epicurious recipe, which is especially nice fresh out of the oven with the aforementioned goat cheese and zatar. (Thank you, Kitchenaid, for saving me from ever having to knead anything.)

NYC Rainy day photo from Hialean's Flickr page

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Smoothie Stories

My mom and I were discussing smoothies recently (that's nothing new), and after we compared recipes, I realized how elaborate my smoothies have become since the Vita-Mix. Since they're so easy to make and I have everything easily at hand, I was surprised to find that the pictured pre-smoothie contained fourteen different ingredients, when, a year ago, my smoothies had four: strawberries, banana, apple juice, yogurt. This is a "wintertime" smoothie because I use winter vegetables and add spices for heat, and all the fruit is frozen. It may sound like a weird and gross combination, but...man, these smoothies are good, and they make me feel great!

Wintertime smoothie:
soy yogurt
small lemon slice
flax seed meal
curly kale
red clover sprouts
frozen mango
frozen strawberries
frozen blueberries
apple cider

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I have expensive tastes

There are two types of carrots available at USG these days. One vendor's carrots cost $1/lb. and taste like perfume. So I've started buying Windfall Farms carrots, which cost $5/lb. Also, the only spinach I can find is $6 per $1/4 lb. At these prices, I guess I'm lucky there aren't a lot of options.

Good thing I really like carrots:
1.5 lbs. carrots
1/2 lb. baby spinach
1 box red clover sprouts
1 bunch tat soi
Total spent: $22

I also got the usual goat cheese, eggs, and apple cider...though the pricey carrots did eat up my Rick's Picks budget. I do have four half-finished jars in the fridge, so I suppose I can manage for a few more days.

There are still a few pounds of apples in the fridge, left over from a few weeks back (!), so I'm going to make another batch of applesauce today. At the moment, though, I have a batch of chili on the stove. My favorite moment in the chili-making process is after adding the garlic, cumin, and oregano to the softened onions and jalapenos - the second when it becomes aromatic, just before adding the tomatoes and beans. That moment might be my favorite smell in all of cooking.

Otherwise, I'm going to put the tat soi in our smoothies, make another borscht with some weeks-old beets, and pray for spring.