Showing posts with label frod can cook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label frod can cook. Show all posts

Friday, February 26, 2010

Oishinbo Style Miso Ramen

Several months ago, through a tweet by Chef Chris Cosentino, I learned of the Oishinbo books. Oishinbo is a Japanese manga series which ran to over 100 volumes in Japan, and which has been republished in several volumes here in the U.S. The comics are loosely structured around the premise that a newspaper has set out to create the "Ultimate Menu" - the best of all Japanese food. The protagonist, Yamaoka Shiro, is a lazy newspaper employee with an exceptionally refined palate who is tasked with the creation of the Ultimate Menu. Yamaoka has major issues with his father, Kaibara Yuzan, a reknowned artist, the founder of the "Gourmet Club," and the architect of the "Supreme Menu" that a rival newspaper has commissioned.

But I digress. Aside from the father-son rivalry plotline and others of equal literary depth, the books contain fascinating, well-researched, and often extremely detailed insights into all sorts of aspects of Japanese cuisine, and each of the U.S. volumes after the first one (broadly titled "Japanese Cuisine") is focused on a particular aspect of that cuisine: Sake, Ramen and Gyoza, Fish, Sushi and Sashimi, Vegetables, The Joy of Rice, and Izakaya--Pub Food thus far. I dare say I've learned more about Japanese techniques, ingredients, and cooking philosophy from these comic books than anything I've read elsewhere. As an added bonus, each book has an actual recipe or two, taken from the stories in that volume.

Frod Jr.'s gotten into the Oishinbo series too, and has also read through all seven volumes. So when we were in Sushi Deli recently, looking through the refrigerated cases waiting for a spot to clear, he said "Why don't we make the ramen dish from the Oishinbo book?" This is what's known as a proud parent moment. We were able to round up most of the ingredients that we didn't already have right there.

It's an unusual miso ramen dish, in that it uses a fish-based katsuobushi dashi broth instead of the chicken- or pork-bone stock that is customary, and the miso is not in the broth, but rather in the ground pork which goes atop it. I was a little dubious when I first read through it, but it turned out fantastic - good enough to be worth sharing the recipe. Frod Jr. helped all along the way.

Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen

(Note: I have adjusted the measurements in the book's recipe some, doubling up most things other than the noodles. The book's recipe supposedly got 4 servings out of 6 oz. of ground pork, which seemed unlikely. The measurements below are probably good for about 6 servings).


2 qts water
1 cup katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes)
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp hatcho miso*
6 tbsp sake
2 tbsp sesame or peanut oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 lb ground pork
6 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (recipe called for shiitakes, in their absence I used a mix that was available at the grocery store)
1 lb fresh ramen noodles (in the freezer case at Sushi Deli)
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Once it's reached a boil, add the katsuobushi, turn off the heat, and let it steep for 2 minutes. Strain through a chinois and return the dashi to the pot. Add the soy sauce (to taste) and hold on low heat while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. Mix the miso with the sake until well combined and set aside.
  3. Heat up a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the oil, then add the garlic. Once the garlic starts to make the room smell good, add the pork and shallots. Cook, stirring constantly and breaking the pork up into small bits, for about 3-4 minutes. Add the mushroms and the scallions, reserving some of the greens of the scallion for garnish. Cook for another minute. Add the miso-sake mixture and stir in well. Cook until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated, about another 4-5 minutes. Hold over low heat.
  4. Heat a large pot of water to a vigorous boil. Add the ramen noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they've just lost their firmness. Remove and drain the noodles and put them into bowls for service. Spoon some of the broth over the noodles, and top with the miso-flavored pork. Garnish with the chopped scallion greens.

This makes for an intriguing variation on a surf-and-turf. In truth, the dashi retains little in the way of fishy flavor once it's been bolstered with soy sauce and mixed with the miso-flavored pork, but it does provide a pleasingly smoky backnote, and has that unique combination of rich flavor and light texture that makes dashi so wonderful. And the pork, with the hatcho miso and mushrooms, is an umami-bomb of flavor. Together, and with some noodles to provide some ballast, they made for a great meal.

Fortunately, Frod Jr. and I were able to happily share credit for our preparation of this fine dish, and hopefully we won't be having any "Ultimate Menu" / "Supreme Menu" showdowns any time soon.

*Hatcho miso comes originally from the city of Hatcho and is supposed to be a very "pure" miso, with no rice or other grain added to the soybean base, consequently taking longer to ferment. It's very dark and rich, and less salty than other misos.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

CSA Week 11 and its uses

CSA Week 11

Clearly I have fallen out of the habit of doing weekly CSA updates, seeing that Saturday, Week 12 is upon us and I've not even posted on Week 11. Here it is above, working clockwise from the left: new potatoes, spinach, celery, lettuce, grape tomatoes, green pepper, green beans. These particular weekly "what's in the box?" updates seem a bit superfluous, given that the Bee Heaven newsletters are available online and that Redland Rambles provides such nice pictures every week too, a day in advance of the delivery even.

Those potatoes were exciting, if for no other reason than that we hadn't gotten any potatoes yet, and I was torn between doing a Pommes Anna and a Tortilla Española. The tortilla, a Spanish classic which can be found in just about every tapas bar in the country, won out. This recipe is taken from Anya von Bremzen's wonderful cookbook, The New Spanish TableNew Spanish Table.

tortilla miseThe recipe calls for 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled, sliced thinly (a food processor's slicing blade is recommended), dried on paper towels and rubbed with salt; 1 1/4 cups of olive oil; 1 onion, thinly sliced; 6 large eggs; and 2 tbsp chicken stock.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (it's a lot of oil, use a big pan) over medium-high heat, then bring the heat down to medium-low and add the potatoes. Cook, stirring periodically to keep the potatoes from browning or sticking, for about 7 minutes; they won't be cooked through. Add the onion, stir it in, bring the heat down to low, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Everything should be nice and soft but not browned.

Remove the potatoes and onions from the pan with a slotted spoon, and drain in a colander set over a bowl to catch the oil. Salt the potatoes and onions to taste. Reserve the oil, you'll be using some of it again shortly.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the chicken stock and a couple pinches of salt. Once the eggs are scrambled, stir in the potatoes and onions (break up the potatoes a bit with a fork) and let them sit for 10 minutes.

Put an 8" skillet (non-stick is a good idea) over medium-high heat and add a couple tablespoons of the reserved olive oil. When it's hot, add the egg-potato-onion mixture and bring the heat down to medium-low. It will just about fill the pan. Use a thin spatula to pull the edges away and let more egg mixture seep underneath. Cook it this way for about 6-8 minutes, until the top is no longer completely liquid.


Now comes the fun part - you need to flip the tortilla. It's all about confidence: if you think you can do it, it'll work. Run the spatula all around the edges, and as far underneath as you can, to ensure the tortilla won't stick. Put a plate (bigger than the skillet!) over the top of the skillet, then with one hand holding the plate and one holding the skillet, invert the pan (and the tortilla) onto the plate. In an ideal world, you'll now have a tortilla with a still-somewhat gooey bottom on the plate, and an empty pan. Add a little more oil to the pan if needed, reduce the heat to low, then shuffle the tortilla back into the pan, gooey side down, to finish cooking. It should take about another five minutes. The recipe recommended one more flip and trip back into the pan for another minute, this seemed unnecessary to me. Check to see if it's done all the way through by sticking a toothpick in the middle and seeing if it comes out dry.


When it's cooked through, slide it out of the skillet onto a plate and let it cool a bit, then cut into wedges (or however else you might like) to serve.

A couple thoughts. First, I wonder if all that oil is really necessary for cooking the potatoes, though it might well be, since the idea is really to sort of poach them rather than sauté. Second, as you can see in the final photo, mine seemed to separate a bit, with the egg retreating to the exterior of the tortilla and the potatoes layered in the middle, more like an omelette than the homogeneous egg-potato-onion concoction I'm accustomed to at tapas places. Maybe a longer soak for the eggs and potatoes before cooking was in order.

Monday, February 8, 2010

CSA Week 10 and its uses

CSA Week 10

What's in the box this week? From bottom left: thyme (one of my favorite herbs), arugula, green onions, komatsuna, radishes, cilantro (very boisterously scented), Ponkan tangerines, carambolas, and a canistel.

Some of the green onions went into an omelette this morning, along with last week's avocado (ehhhh...). Little Miss F is making quick work of the Ponkans. We tasted one of the carambolas tonight: beautifully fragrant and juicy, but still just a touch over-sour. And then this afternoon, the thyme, green onions and arugula got me thinking: Zuni roast chicken.

While my last experience at Zuni Cafe was less than ideal, the cookbook remains one of my all time favorites. And one of the best recipes in there is the famous roast chicken. You can find the recipe online and there's plenty of walk-throughs on various blogs as well, so I won't belabor it too much here. Plus I was scampering to get the bird done before the Super Bowl started, and my photos - and my presentation - were not so sharp, so no pix. But you won't need much else outside the CSA box to make it happen - a chicken, some currants and pine nuts, the rest is just pantry staples like olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper - and it's a fantastic recipe that can be made in about an hour. I encourage you to try it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

CSA Week 9 - Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco Sauce, Olive Oil Fried Egg

When we were last in Spain, we were fortunate enough to be there during calçot season. Calçots are a Catalan specialty, where they take a typical full-grown white onion and replant it, keep it mostly covered with soil while it sprouts, and then harvest it in late winter, when it's grown long shoots like a small leek. Traditionally, they're grilled over an open fire till blackened on the outside and tender within, then served with a romesco sauce for dipping. To eat, you peel off the blackened outer layer, then dip and dangle the onion over your mouth like a sword-swallower. In parts of Spain they have festivals - calçotades - dedicated to their consumption.

The four spring onions that came in last week's CSA box were hardly enough for a festival, but I find their mild sweet flavor pretty similar to calçots, and thought I'd duplicate the preparation on a small scale.

There are many variations on romesco recipes, but the standard components are dried peppers, hazelnuts, bread crumbs, olive oil, paprika, and a touch of vinegar. Tomatoes make an appearance in many recipes, as do roasted red peppers - sometimes singly, sometimes in combination. I had not done a shopping trip in preparation, so my romesco was more of a raid-the-pantry version. The mise en place:

spring onionsromesco mise en place

Spring onions; dried guajillo pepper (soaking in hot water); toasted pine nuts; toasted bread; garlic; pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika); jarred piquillo peppers; olive oil; red wine vinegar. Not quite right, but it'll do.

The garlic, pine nuts, and bread (cut into small cubes) went into the food processor and were chopped to a paste. Then the chile pepper was chopped into small pieces and added, along with a drizzle of the soaking water, and processed. Next, the piquillo peppers, and a spoonful of pimentón. Then drizzle in olive oil - about 4-5 tablespoons - until it gets a glossy, creamy texture. The guajillo pepper was still pretty fiery, so I added a bit more water too. Finally, a drizzle of red wine vinegar to taste to perk up the flavors (I used about a tablespoon), and salt to taste.

This is more pungent and spicy than a typical romesco, but still pretty good. Most recipes I saw called for sweet rather than smoked paprika, and the guajillo probably packs more heat than the ñora peppers traditionally used in Spain, but if you're not afraid of bold tastes, both modifications will still pass muster. Next, the onions are rubbed with olive oil and hit the hot grill pan:

spring onions

I covered the pan for a few minutes to let them steam and grill at the same time, and with about 2-3 minutes per side these were tender with nice char marks. Then, since this was going to turn into breafkast, I toasted some bread, cooked a couple eggs sunny side up in hot olive oil, and final assembly:

spring onions w romesco and fried egg

These onions are marvelously sweet and tender, with just a hint of the typical allium bite. And the romesco has lots of other functions. Even made with more traditional components than I used, it's a robust, hearty sauce. It's good just with plain vegetables, raw or cooked. It's also very good with all but the most delicate fish, where I find it makes a nice flavor bridge to enable a pairing of red wine with fish. And it's got enough substance to match up even to a hearty steak - at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, for instance, you'll find it paired with a grilled short rib.

It's not quite a calçotada, but it's not a bad breafkast either.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

CSA Week 9 + Catching Up

CSA Week 9

What's in the box this week? Clockwise from lower left: French breakfast radishes, broccoli raab, lettuce, spring onions, broccoli, parsley, grapefruit, "Ponkan" tangerine, avocado.

You'll notice you only see one Ponkan there. There were two in the box, but one didn't even make it home because Little Miss F devoured it within about five minutes. Glad I got a picture quickly because No. 2 is now gone too. They were sweet with nice texture, though not terribly juicy. It's apparently an Asian varietal, also known as the Chinese honey orange or Chinese honey tangerine, and it's grown extensively in Florida. Some more information here or here if you desire further reading.

The radishes have also been good for snacking, this time sliced thin and scattered over buttered toast, and sprinkled with some coarse sea salt (a minor variation on the radishes/butter/salt theme). The lettuce loooks hale and hearty, as does the parsley. I see salsa verde in my future, though the open question is what it will go on top of. And I love those spring onions too, they're great just sautéed or roasted, with a vinaigrette or a romesco over them (or I could grill them and pretend they're calçots).

Nothing revolutionary to report on the disposition of prior weeks' produce. Many different greens have been cooked off with some jowl bacon. Cabbage has been cooked with butter and bacon, and paired with some nice white trout that was pan-roasted with some lemon and garlic bread crumbs. Tomatoes became a very lazy variation on pan con tomate (bread toasted, drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic, tomatoes cut and rubbed onto the bread). Canistels and black sapotes have ripened, been harvested and are waiting in the freezer for something to happen to them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CSA Week 6 - Canistel Flan

The more I did my homework on the canistels that came with the Week 6 CSA drop-off,[*] the more convinced I became that a flan was the direction to go. The fruit is also known as the egg fruit because when ripe it has a vivid yellow-orange color, and the flesh is supposed to have a texture similar to hard-boiled egg yolk. It is of the same family as the mamey sapote and bears similarities both in shape and in flavor. When I tasted a bit, I picked up some of the "egg-y" flavor (reminiscent of a Chinese custard bun), plus sweet potato or pumpkin and almond notes similar to those in mamey.

Like the black sapotes we've gotten in other weeks, canistels must go very soft to be fully ripe, and the fruit bowl of late has been looking like something out of a Peter Greenaway movie (I should have taken a picture). Of course, they rarely cooperate by ripening simultaneously, so I harvested the flesh of these as they ripened and froze it until they were all ready. Fortunately, Little Miss F liked the flavor of the canistel much moreso than the black sapotes (she's a big fan of mamey) so I had a willing assistant in preparing this.

I looked mostly at pumpkin flan (a/k/a flan de calabaza) recipes for inspiration, and after considering several variations went with the following (look, an actual recipe!):
  • Flesh of 3 canistels (~1 cup)
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
Preheat your oven to 350F. Defrost the canistel flesh if it's been frozen. Add the four eggs and one yolk to the canistel in a large bowl and mix. Add the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix until well-incorporated. I used an immersion blender to break up the lumpy bits of canistel. The condensed milk is already plenty sweet, plus we're making a caramel, so it won't need any more sugar. You should end up with something like this:

Note that the color is almost entirely from the canistels, not the eggs. Then, make Thomas Keller proud - pour it through a strainer:

Next, the caramel. Put the 3/4 cup sugar into a saucepan over medium heat. Some recipes I read said stir constantly. Others said leave it alone until it starts to melt, then stir only occasionally. I eventually learned the latter instructions were the right ones. Just leave it be until the sugar starts to melt, then stir occasionally with a fork to incorporate the rest of the unmelted sugar. I stirred too early and ended up with big lumps that took longer to dissolve. After about ten minutes, you should have liquid (molten! be careful) golden-brown caramel.

Monday, January 25, 2010

CSA Week 7 - Sardine & Avocado Sandwich

I've made clear before my unkind feelings about Florida avocados. Another arrived with the Week 7 CSA delivery, and when it ripened this weekend, I decided to pair it with something that many other people have equally strong feelings about: sardines. The inspiration was Alton Brown's sardine and avocado sandwich recipe featured on a recent episode of "Good Eats" (though on the Food Network website it goes by the more demure "Sherried Sardine Toasts"), which you can see more of here. Of course, I actually have Oswald Cobblepot 's fondness for silvery fish, so I had no particular aversion to the sardines, though I've always eaten them fresh rather than the ones from the tin.

The mise en place: brisling sardines packed in olive oil; a couple slices of good bread; one Florida avocado (a "Brooks Late Avocado," per the newsletter), some dill (substituting for the parsley called for in the recipe), and a lemon; off stage are sherry vinegar, pepper and coarse sea salt. I halved the recipe on the Food Network site since nobody else in the house wanted to share with me.

Here's a closeup of the little buggers. You begin to understand the expression.

You pour off the oil from the can into a mixing bowl, and add a little sherry vinegar, some chopped dill, lemon zest, and black pepper. Then toss the fish in the dressing you just made. The recipe says to let it sit and mingle for up to an hour. I had no time for that (c'mon, who thinks of making a sandwich an hour in advance?)

Halve an avocado and then mash the flesh right in its shell (a good idea from Mr. Brown); meanwhile, toast some bread, and pour some of the fish marinade over it (recipe says to do this in the converse order, which might well be a good idea). Then spread the mashed avocado across the toast, top with the fish, drizzle any remaining marinade over the top, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Voila:

I'm dubious that you could lose fifty pounds by eating this, as Alton Brown says he did (in fairness, there was a good bit more to his agenda) - unless of course you hate sardines and won't eat them - but I thought it was a genuinely delicious use of both sardines and (the dreaded) Florida avocado. This particular avocado was less watery and insipid than other Florida avocados I've had. I'm still not sure whether it would stand up to being the star attraction in a dish, but as a complementary note to another strongly flavored item (i.e. the sardines) it worked well. I'm not sure whether this will make a convert of any sardine-loathers out there, but it's worth a try. And for those who need no such conversion, it's a good quick snack to add to the repertoire.

Friday, January 22, 2010

CSA - Catching Up

As a result of travel and other distractions I've sort of fallen off the wagon with my CSA updates. There's not been anything revolutionary going on in the kitchen anyway, so you're not missing out on much.

Possibly my favorite item from the Week 6 delivery were adorable French breakfast radishes, pointy little guys with a pinkish-red blush on one end and white on the other end. They needed nothing more than some good butter, good salt, and good bread. The betel leaves were used in a successful repeat preparation of the bò lá lốt, with bok choy leaves serving as an effective substitute wrapper when the betel leaves were used up. The canistels from Week 6 finally ripened (like the black sapotes, they need to be really soft - seemingly ready to be thrown out - before they're ripe enough to eat) and I've harvested the flesh on these which is in the freezer, potentially turning into a flan this weekend. A word of warning - I wouldn't use your best knife with these, the skin has a sticky substance that really doesn't want to wash off the blade. Nothing particularly exciting happened to the rest of Week 6.

I was out of town this past weekend and Mrs. F did the pick-up, so no picture of Week 7 (though Redland Organics has the newsletter online). This was the "freeze" week. While the greens and cabbage looked none the worse for wear, the citrus was spotty - and sour! Unfortunately the carambola was too. Mrs. F cooked off the kale with some andouille and white beans, and it was delicious. I've got some more ideas for the black sapote. And the avocado may get used for a sample of the Alton Brown "sardine and avocado sandwich diet."

It will be interesting to see how much the cold snap is going to affect the rest of the season's harvest.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

CSA Week 5 - Black Sapote Ice Cream

Ice cream machine! Ice cream machine! Yes, as warned, I decided it was time to break out the ice cream maker to deal with the black sapotes in last week's CSA bag. The basic recipe: flesh of two ripe black sapotes; 1 cup heavy cream; 1 cup milk; about 1/3 cup sugar (I happened to have sitting around some extra sugar which had been used to coat some candied orange peels, which was imbued with the scent of the oranges' oil, and used that); zest of one clementine. (I was aiming roughly for the flavor profile of the long-gone Baskin-Robbins mandarin chocolate sherbet, the odes of which I've previously sung). Mixed well to incorporate the sapote into the cream, chilled, and then into the ice cream maker.

I'm actually pretty pleased with the results. The flavor of the sapote is perhaps somewhat indistinct, possibly because I'm not accustomed enough to it to recognize it. But there are some dark chocolatey notes, as well as some dark fruit notes like date or dried fig. The orange is not overwhelming but is noticeable and lightens up the flavor some. If I were to be generous, I might say the flavors are reminiscent of a port. I might try a little agar-agar next time to improve the texture. I tried it with a spoonful of arequipe, a Colombian dulce de leche type product with coconut that I found in the grocery store; not bad. I may also try with some candied kumquats to up the chocolatey/citrusy quotient.

The real test will come when I have the kids try it tonight.

Monday, January 11, 2010

CSA Week 6

What do we have here? Green peppers, an eggplant, canistels (on the left; a fruit related to the mamey, also known as eggfruit since the color and texture supposedly resembles a hard-cooked egg yolk), bok choy, some adorable French breakfast radishes, green beans, komatsuna, and more betel leaves. Some of the green beans have already found their way into a pasta, along with last week's tomatoes and some fresh mozzarella. The radishes will be perfectly pleasant just with some good butter and salt. That's a lot of green peppers for someone who prefers red ones. Though I'd like to try something different with the betel leaves, the fridge already has all the fixings for bò lá lốt, so we may see a repeat performance (with either the bok choy or komatsuna serving as extra wrappers). And I'm doing my homework on canistels. Meanwhile, last week's black sapotes are looking ready to explode, which means they're ripe, and notwithstanding the chilly temperatures, I'm thinking they're going to become ice cream this time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

CSA Week 5 - catching up

What with holidays and travel I have sort of been falling behind, both in blogging and actually consuming some of my CSA share. For better or worse, a lot of this stuff is very easy to deal with though the results are not particularly notable. Greens get cooked down with some onions and pork products. Lettuces and tomatoes go into salads or on top of flatbreads. Those harukei turnips from last week (actually week before last now) are very nice as is; sliced thin they have a nice wet crunch like a daikon and a bit of a peppery bite like a radish. Week 5, pictured above, brought a head of cabbage, a head of lettuce, some beets, plum tomatoes (Little Miss F got excited for these and immediately started eating one like an apple), dill, oyster mushrooms (I think Mrs. F put these in a frittata) and more black sapote. Fortunately some of these items like the beets and cabbage are pretty hearty and seem to be coping well in the fridge despite my neglect of them.

On an unrelated note, if you are accustomed to getting FFT through an RSS feed, I have switched from doing a full feed to just a short-form feed. Sorry for any inconvenience, but there is a website which is pirating my content without linking back to the site, without my permission, after being asked to stop doing so. So, in the hope that they "aggregate" this post as well: are a bunch of rude, thieving, copyright-violating douchebags. Please do not follow that link and reward their douchebaggery. That is all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

CSA Week 4 - the beginning, plus some leftovers

So what do we have here? Clockwise from the left, collard greens, hakurei turnips, dandelion greens, parsley,zucchini, tomato, green pepper, the dirtiest grapefruit I've ever seen, and Lula avocado.

Nothing much of note has happened to any of them yet. I quickly trimmed the greens off the turnips and stored them separately, until they eventually got together with last week's white chard, the dandelion greens, an onion, and some serrano ham that was lurking in the fridge:

This will eventually wind up with some pasta, over some toasted bread with a fried egg on top, or in an omelette. Need to dig up my friend's recipe for Ethiopian Yegomen Kitfo for those collard greens.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CSA Week 3 - roll 'em if you got 'em

When I first saw a bag of big, strange leaves in my CSA box, I didn't even know what I was looking at. Thankfully, the newsletter helpfully explained that these were piper betel leaves. They looked like they really wanted to be wrapped around something, and eventually my mind got to thinking about the Vietnamese dish called bò lá lốt, or grilled beef wrapped in leaves.

Lo and behold, the traditional wrapper for the dish would appear to be none other than betel leaves! I looked up a few different iterations of the recipe, all of which appeared to be variations on the same theme, and improvised some. For a pound of ground beef, I added about 2 tbsp. of finely chopped lemongrass, 2 tbsp. chopped green onion, a clove of finely chopped garlic, a couple tsp. of curry powder, a couple glugs of fish sauce, a spoonful of sugar, a pinch of salt, a grinding of black pepper, and mixed well with my hands. I laid out the leaves and added a torpedo-shaped spoonful to the upper third of the leaf and rolled it backwards on itself. My basic assembly guide can be found here.

If the leaves still have the stem attached you can use that as a sort of toothpick to hold the roll together, otherwise an actual toothpick will work (as will a longer skewer, which you can stick through several at once). Then just brush with a little oil and grill them in a hot grill pan:

The leaves, which start off feeling somewhat waxy, quickly soften and then get slightly crispy. After about 3-4 minutes, turn or roll them to cook the other side. Conveniently, once the leaves are wilted and cooked all over, the meat inside will also be done. I only got five leaves in my box, not nearly enough for a pound of beef, but I did have another leafy green hanging around. I trimmed off the leaves of some of the white chard and quickly blanched them for a minute or two in boiling water, then dried them on a paper towel.  I wrapped the rest of the beef in the chard leaves and gave them the same treatment:

I also whipped up a quick nước chấm to use as a dipping sauce. There seem to be many different schools of thought on the proportion of ingredients in a nước chấm. I used the juice of two limes, one thinly sliced chile pepper, one clove of minced garlic, about a tsp. of sugar, about 2 tbsp. hot water, a squirt of sriracha chile sauce, and about 1/4 cup of fish sauce. It wasn't bad but it could have used more tweaking if I wasn't ready to eat, right then and now.

The betel leaf wrappers had a wonderful frilly, slightly crispy texture and an interesting, subtly smoky flavor. The chard had a more substantial bite, but took nicely to grilling and had a slightly sweeter flavor. I liked the filling, which when cooked has a nice firm, but not tough, texture with brightness from the lemongrass and scallion.

The betel leaves seem like they could come in handy for a number of other uses. I will no longer feel the urge to panic when I see them in my CSA share. In fact, I'll be looking for more in the extras box.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CSA Week 3 - pesto and pisto

I've been making quick work of my CSA share this week. The Thai basil started changing color on me from green to purplish-brown, which told me it was time to make pesto, and fast.

It's sort of a shame pesto seems so dated and 1980's, as it's tasty, versatile stuff and the basic concept works with a broad variety of different combinations of herbs, cheeses and nuts. I went traditional here though, starting with three cloves of peeled garlic and about a 1/2 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted in the toaster oven. Those went into the food processor, along with the basil leaves, were pulsed until smooth, and while doing so, I started adding a drizzle of olive oil through the feed tube. I don't measure the olive oil (OK, I don't really measure anything); the texture I look for is a loose paste. It could have been anywhere between 1/2 and 1 cup of oil.

I could try to convince you that I prefer to grate the parmesan separately and then add it to taste, but the truth is I forgot the cheese. So, by accident rather than design, I grated about a 1/2 cup of parmigiano reggiano and then added that to the rest of the ingredients. Salt to taste. It all came out OK.

I blanched the green beans (3/4 lb.) in boiling salted water for about five minutes, then shocked them in ice water to keep them from overcooking. I then used the same water (I use a spider to fish them out rather than dumping the water through a colander) to boil about 3/4 lb. of dry linguine. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and throw it in a big, warmed bowl (I stick it in the oven at 200ºF while the pasta is cooking), and toss with a big generous spoonful of the pesto and green beans. Use enough pesto to evenly dress the pasta: I used about 3/4 of the batch of pesto I'd made (probably about 3/4 cup). Grate more parmesan over the top, and grind black pepper to taste.

I made this over the weekend for the kids and one of their guests for lunch, and they all wolfed it down. That makes me proud.

OK, that's pesto - what about pisto?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

CSA Week 3 - the beginning + ratatouille

I started CSA Week 3 with some of Week 2's bounty still in the fridge, which turned out to be a good thing.

In the box this week were some Swiss chard, green beans, a "suntan" pepper, a cucumber, an eggplant, cherry tomatoes, long stalks of Thai basil, curly parsley (extras box), and some piper betel leaves. Left over from last week still were a zucchini, yellow squash and a red pepper. Do you see where I'm going here?

I said last week I saw ratatouille in my future. It was meant to be. I briefly contemplated doing the fussy, layered version that Thomas Keller created for the movie "Ratatouille"[*] (a/k/a "Confit Byaldi"), but quickly abandoned that notion for a simpler approach. An onion from the pantry was chopped into about 1/2" pieces and sautéed in olive oil in a big sauté pan. Next in, the pepper, also given a rough chop. Next the eggplant - skin removed is up to you (I did so this time). The eggplant tends to soak up a lot of oil and you'll probably have to add more at some point to keep everything from sticking. My general thinking, similar to stir-frying, is to start with the harder vegetables that need more cooking time, then move to the softer ones. Some people actually cook each separately and then combine them, which seems overly fussy to me. I salt each addition to the pan as I go.

At this point my pan was getting full, so I dumped everything into a large bowl and started over again (if there's not enough surface for the new veg when they go in, they'll just steam instead of sauté). Here I added some chopped garlic to the pan, then the zucchini and yellow squash (also cut into about 1/2" pieces), then finally about 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered. Once they all had softened, the onion, pepper and eggplant went back into the pan so everyone could make friends. As I tasted this it kept calling out for more salt. Also some of the basil and parsley. To add a little depth of flavor, I also added a pinch of some Salish alderwood-smoked salt.

I find that ratatouille holds well and actually improves as it sits, at least overnight and for a couple days beyond (in the fridge of course), and have some further plans for this batch.

Meanwhile, I need to decide whether the Thai basil is too pungently spicy to make into a pesto, as that is the initial inclination I have upon seeing basil and green beans. The chard (which is nicely perky, a contrast to the somewhat droopy red chard from last week) will come to some good use. The cucumber will likely get a Momofuku-esque "quick pickle" and maybe find its way into some sandwiches. And after initially wondering, "What the hell am I going to do with piper betel leaves?" I'm now actually wishing I had more than the five that came in my box. Why? Because they're the traditional wrapping used for the Vietnamese dish bò lá lốt (grilled beef wrapped in leaves). Maybe some will have to be wrapped in chard instead.

[*]Ridicule me if you wish, but I think Ratatouille may be among the ten best food films ever made. As mentioned in this story, Keller was a consultant for the film and the filmmakers actually spent a week in the kitchen at The French Laundry. The whole project reflects a genuine commitment to "getting it right" that is unexpected in a "kids" movie. The food looks right, the details are on target (when they refer to wines, it is to 1947 Cheval Blanc and 1961 Latour), the interactions are those you could well hear in a real restaurant kitchen ("Keep... your... station clear! If meal orders come in, what will happen? Messy stations slow things down, food doesn't go, orders pile up, disaster! I will make this easier to remember: keep you station clean... or I WILL KILL YOU!"), and the performance of Peter O'Toole as the critic "Anton Ego" is priceless. In fact there is a scene of Anton Ego writing a review which I think is about as wise as anything I've read about food criticism:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

CSA Week 2 - the rest

I've already given the gripping account of how part of my CSA Week 2 share became a midnight snack after happily discovering that Mrs. F had cooked off the red chard and dandelion greens. So what about the rest?

I warned you it wasn't going to be that exciting. The romaine found its way into some salads. The garlic chives were perfect in an omelette along with some goat cheese. I did another take on bok choy with Momofuku miso butter - added just a tiny bit of honey, and that did a good job of balancing it out (also didn't add soy sauce to the stir-fry pan this time, as the miso was plenty salty on its own). After staring down My Nemesis (the Florida avocado) all week, I cut it open today only to find that it was still rock hard and unripe. Avocado Fail #2. The black sapotes still don't seem ripe, so they will continue to bide their time on the counter.

And I was glad to have hung onto the zucchini, yellow squash and bell pepper all week, as my Week 3 share included eggplant, tomatoes, and another bell pepper. Ratatouille! The gang's all together now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

CSA Week 2 - Midnight in the Garden

It has been a pretty uneventful week with my CSA share so far, in part because I've barely been home to do any cooking. As a result I am sharing with you a "recipe" for what really amounts to a midnight fridge raid.

After getting home a couple nights ago after midnight without having had any dinner yet, I was thrilled to find that Mrs. F had cooked off the red chard and dandelion greens. My reconstruction (a strong hunch based on the usual methodology for greens in our house) is that she sauteéd off some sliced onion in olive oil, added the roughly chopped greens to the pan with a bit of their water still clinging to the leaves, wilted them till they were tender, and added some pistachios and some dried cherries (plumped first in some warm water).

There was also some leftover steak from Las Vacas Gordas from the night before (I am fairly certain you can reconstruct about 50% of an entire cow from the parrillada there), and one of my favorite leftover vehicles, tandoori naan bread (made by Fabulous Flats and available at your local grocer - this is an unpaid and unsolicited endorsement, I just really love slapping almost anything on top of them and calling it a meal).

I popped the naan bread in the toaster oven to heat up, popped the steak and the greens into a sauté pan to warm through, topped the bread with the greens, then sliced the steak and - voilà - dinner.

It seems some people found their dandelion greens too bitter. I didn't find this at all. Not sure if it's because they were mixed with the chard, but there was enough dandelion to make their presence known if they were that bitter. I note that both of the links to other sites mention blanching the dandelion greens before sauteéng them, a step we never bother with in our household. I can't imagine why blanching would contibute to bitterness, I've just never understood why it's necessary as I find that pretty much all greens will soften just fine in a sauté pan with a tiny bit of water on them (throw a lid on top for a few minutes which will steam them if they need it).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

CSA Week 2 - the beginning

So here's this week's take for my CSA half-share:

A head of romaine lettuce, a bunch of dandelion greens, some red chard (out of the extras box), a bok choy, some garlic chives, a zucchini, a yellow squash, a red bell pepper, a couple of black sapotes, and my nemesis: the Florida avocado (a Monroe cultivar this time).

What with the zucchini, squash, and pepper, I definitely foresee some ratatouille in our future. The greens, especially the chard and dandelion greens, may not need much more than some olive oil and garlic, though they often get along well with their friend the pig. Little Miss F is usually my go-to girl for the exotic fruits (she loves carambola, dragon fruit, mamey, persimmon) and even though I tried to explain that this is in the persimmon family, she was not entirely convinced by the "chocolate pudding fruit" description. I might well take a hint from this guy and break the ice cream machine out. Given the persimmon family relationship, I was thinking about doing some candied persimmon to go with (I've found some nice ones at the grocery store recently, both Fuyu and Hachiya) but Mrs. F and Litle Miss F just started candying some orange peel which might be sufficient. Chives will surely come in handy for something. And that avocado? Well, let's see what happens this week.