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.