Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pretty Chard, Ugly Dish

Just look at that Swiss chard, isn't it beautiful? I decided to make an Indian-ish lentil stew with these bright leaves and stems. Brilliant, I thought, multi-colored lentils with multi-colored chard. I sliced up an onion, and sauteed it with some spices and of course, the chard. When I added some broth and lentils, the mixture looked something like this:

Not bad huh? But after I let the mixture simmer for a while, things began to look less colorful and more like the gutter-sludge of New York City in the winter after the snow has melted and the entire Department of Sanitation has been on strike for two months. The black lentils were a bad move... whoops. Not only did they make stew look like mud, but they weren't split, unlike the orange lentils, so they didn't fall apart like the orange lentils. This one definitely deserves a do-over. And when I do it successfully, I'll show it off and share the recipe.

Week 3: Mixing It Up

This week was marked by the non-arrival of Chinese cabbage. What we did get was the last of the bok choy, Swiss chard with assorted-colored stems, and zephyr squash, which are these cute little yellow guys that have been dipped in green.

I'm also really loving the different fresh herbs every week. My favorite thing to do with little-leafed herbs like this week's oregano is to pull the leaves off by running the entire stem between my fingertips. You do this by scraping downward, toward the bottom of the stem. It's also fun to do with thyme.

Someone with a full share also donated a head of grand rapids lettuce to us. Thank you, kind neighbor! We also got some very pretty buttercrunch lettuce. And to revolutionize our salads, my salad-spinning device finally arrived in the mail (yes, we're a little behind on the salad technology front). Check it out though, I purchased salad spinning bags that save space, are reusable, and don't cost too much ($11.75 + free shipping for 12 bags). And the best part is that they actually work... and they work your biceps a little too. You can find 'em here (don't be discouraged by the huge shoulder pads in the step-by-step photos).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bok Choy with Pancetta and Shallots

The title mentions pancetta, but let me be perfectly honest: I did not use pancetta. Last week I dined at some kind of Asian fusion-ish type establishment with my co-workers. One of the side dishes on the menu was bok choy with bacon and onions. I didn't end up ordering it, but the idea stuck. For my own version, I wanted to use pancetta and shallots, but my favorite grocer (Fairway!) was out of pancetta. I ended up going with leftover prosciutto that was hanging out in the fridge (less delicious white pork fat, but oh well), and I threw in some chopped garlic scapes just 'cause. It's like kitchen improv, no?

Also, I only recently realized that cooked bok choy has a mustard-like flavor. My tastebuds have failed me all these years!

1 head of bok choy
2-3 oz pancetta (or bacon), chopped
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 garlic scape, finely chopped
1/2 cup or so of chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
salt and fresh black pepper

Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium heat. Add pancetta or bacon, and cook until most of the fat is rendered. Remove and set aside.

Add shallots (and a little bit of olive oil, if you'd like) to pan, and cook until lightly caramelized.

Chop bok choy into 2-inch segments. Add stem portions to shallots, and toss to coat with oil. Add broth or water. Cook for just a few minutes, until stems start to look a little bit translucent but are still crisp.

Add garlic, garlic scapes, and leaves, and cook for another few minutes, until the leaves wilt. Remove from heat. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and top with crisped pancetta.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Potstickers From Scratch

I'm not even going to post a recipe for the pan-fried Chinese pork dumplings with napa cabbage that I made Sunday night, because 1. they went wrong in quite a few ways, 2. you can find recipes for potstickers all over the place, and 3. I really am that tired from making them. I don't even have photos of the entire process.

I've always wanted to make potstickers (鍋貼... I can't really read that, I just copied and pasted) since I was a little kid. With CSA napa (aka Chinese) cabbage and garlic (aka Chinese) chives at my disposal, it was easy to gather the remaining ingredients; the only thing missing from my pantry and fridge was ground pork. The wrappers were made with a simple kneaded mixture of flour, water, and salt. This is where most of the manual labor (and 1-hour wait time while the dough rested) came in.

Weary as I am, I'm glad I finally made potstickers from scratch, because the doughy wrappers are well worth the labor and patience required for their execution. I will no longer settle for the machine-cut supermarket variety. I will definitely have to re-attempt this the next time I have, oh, I dunno, three hours to spare.

Instead of a recipe, how about some tips?
  • Use fatty pork. It doesn't dry out the way lean pork does, and let's admit it: pig fat is tasty.
  • Chop whatever leafy green vegetable you're using very finely, then toss it with a generous amount of salt in a bowl. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then roll the vegetables up in a clean dishcloth. Wring both ends of the cloth to squeeze out allll the moisture. Until I learned this, all my dumplings would get soggy and fall apart.
  • Overwork the pork, to the point where it becomes more paste-y than granular. This way, you won't have little meat crumbles falling in your dipping sauce when you double-dip.
  • I've read that the edges of the wrappers should be rolled thinner than the middle, so that the sealed part of the finished potsticker dough is the same thickness as the rest of it. I found that my dough was soft enough to flatten out with my fingertips while I sealed the wrappers.
  • A tip from my mom: add a tiny bit of sesame oil to the water that you're cooking the potstickers in.
  • Have a friend help you make the dumplings. It's faster and a lot more fun.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mizuna and Soba Salad with Tofu

Another week with mizuna! I like this stuff; it has a nice, slightly bitter flavor. Last time, I tossed the leaves with some miso vinaigrette and sesame seeds. This time, I turned that basic salad idea into a meal by adding soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) and some tofu. Perfect for the hot and humid weather that's about to take over New York City.

1 bunch mizuna
6 oz dried soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
8 oz marinated baked tofu
2 Tbsp shiro miso
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sesame oil
sesame seeds

Heat some vegetable oil over medium-low heat in a large pan. Slice tofu into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Fry for a few minutes on each side, until lightly golden. You could also do this on a grill pan (or maybe even a real grill?).

Cook soba in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water (rinsing keeps the noodles from turning slimy).

Combine miso with soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil, whisking with a fork until smooth.

Chop mizuna into large bite-sized pieces. Toss with noodles and miso vinaigrette in a large bowl. Top with grilled tofu and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Week 2: Bigger and Better

This week's share was almost identical to last week's share, with debut appearances by:

garlic scapes, which are the young flower buds of garlic bulbs...

and summer savory, which is a strong, peppery herb.

There were repeat appearances by bok choy, Chinese cabbage, arugula, and red sails lettuce. This time, however, John the Boyfriend took over pickup duties (and will be from now on, since I have yoga on Tuesdays), and was able to get there early enough to pick out some gorgeous heads and bunches of everything. Our veggies were larger this time too; I assume it's because they had some extra time to sit in the ground.

At the risk of being unimaginative, I made the same salad that I did last week. I also learned that lettuce gets its name from the Latin word that means "milk." After cutting off the bottom part of a head of fresh lettuce, you can see why:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pan-Fried Noodles with Tofu and Bok Choy

This has been one of my Chinese-restaurant-favorites since childhood. Forget dim sum; my favorite thing to eat was pan-fried egg noodles, topped with a glistening, gelatinous mound of meat and vegetables. I love the contrast of textures: there are the crispy, slightly burnt edges of the noodles, and the soft, sauce-soaked part of the noodles. My CSA bok choy was perfect for this too: crunchy stems and tender leaves that weren't bitter. Here's my non-restaurant version of this noodle dish, with tofu (instead of what my dad calls "grade-F beef beaten to death with a meat tenderizer") and a lot less shine (less oil, way less corn starch).

12 oz Hong Kong style noodles (I used Twin Marquis brand)
1 small head of bok choy
8 oz extra-firm, baked, or fried tofu
10 medium shiitake mushrooms (about 3 oz)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 inch segment of ginger, peeled and minced finely (about 1 tsp)
2 Tbsp chopped garlic chives
*confession: I completely forgot to add the garlic chives when I made this
vegetable oil

for the sauce:
1 tsp corn starch
2 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2/3 c vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water (use a little more soy sauce if you use water)
1/4 tsp white pepper

Slice tofu and bok choy into thin strips. Remove stems from mushrooms, and clean them by gently scrubbing with a damp paper towel or a soft vegetable brush. Slice into thin strips.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Heat a couple teaspoons of vegetable oil over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet. Add noodles and fry until golden brown and crispy, about 5-10 minutes on each side. You may have to do this in batches. Twin Marquis noodles are already cooked, so all I had to do was pan fry them in a non-stick skillet, over medium heat, with a little oil and a little water.

Meanwhile, heat some oil over medium-high heat in a wok or wok-like cooking vessel (you could even use a large, deep skillet or saute pan). Add ginger, cook for about 30 seconds. Add tofu, and stir-fry for a minute or two. Add garlic, mushrooms, and bok choy. Stir fry for another few minutes.

Combine all sauce ingredients, making sure to dissolve the corn starch. Add to vegetable mixture. Add garlic chives. Stir to coat, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for a few minutes, until the sauce thickens. Spoon over fried noodles, and serve.

A Simple Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Arugula is usually the only green I dress with this dressing, but this time, there just wasn't enough arugula.

1 small head of red sails or red leaf lettuce
1 small bunch of arugula (about a handful of leaves)
juice of 1/2 small lemon (about 1 1/2 Tbsp or so)
2 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a small handful of toasted hazelnuts (I dunno, 15-20 of them?), roughly chopped
a sprinkle of salt
a few grinds of pepper from a pepper mill
some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (or other hard grating cheese)

Tear or chop the lettuce and arugula into bite-size pieces. I don't even bother actually making a lemon vinaigrette, I just squeeze the lemon juice and drizzle the olive oil all over the greens, add salt and pepper, and toss. Finish it off with the toasted hazelnuts and some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (I just use a vegetable peeler and a big block of cheese).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Week 1: Power Walking in the Rain

I could not have asked for a more memorable start to this whole CSA experience.

I admit, I am more likely to be late to things than most people. This is why I told myself I would leave work an hour before my CSA's pickup time ended (transit time is about 25 minutes, door to door). Naturally, I left about 15 minutes late. And hey, I'd still make it on time!

That was what I assumed until I got on the crosstown bus. "Attention ladies and gentlemen," said the bus driver, "because of the Museum Mile festival, Fifth Avenue is total chaos, and it's going to take me 30 minutes to cross Central Park." He then suggested that those of us in a hurry get off the bus at the west entrance of the park, and just walk across. So of course, I did. And of course, it rained. And of course, I left my umbrella at work.

After twelve minutes of speeding through the park on foot (not bad huh?), I discovered that Fifth Avenue had indeed become total chaos, especially after the heavy thunderstorm that sent children and Wicked Witches of the West (Side...? har har har) screaming and running for cover. Not only was there no room for me to hide from the rain, but the pickup site was closing in mere minutes.

When I arrived juuust in time, soaked down to my bones, I was rewarded with a bag of rhubarb, bok choy, Chinese (aka Napa) cabbage, red sails lettuce, mizuna, arugula, Chinese (aka garlic) chives, and sage (with flowers).

The bugs got to eat most of the arugula before we did, but I can't really blame them.