Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday: Home again home again

Simple pasta with tomato and bell pepper sauce, topped with grated parmesan.

This was our first meal this winter made with ingredients from our frozen CSA, Winter Sun Farms. Both the tomato puree and chopped bell peppers came to us in cute little frozen packages. Otherwise, this is a pretty typical pasta sauce for us and a good way to ease back into the post-holiday routine.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Dinner 3: Return of the Brisket

Philadelphia Christmas 2009, clockwise from top: beef brisket, garlic-sauteed chard, butternut squash with mustard seeds, Lukas's cabbage, spinach-mushroom kugel, and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Well, you all KNEW we had left the door open to a sequel, didn't you?

We helped Lizz's parents with Christmas dinner in Philadelphia. They were mainly responsible for the brisket, cooked with 36 cloves of garlic (from the Gefilte Variations cookbook), and the mashed potatoes. You'd think we'd have tired of kugel by now, but we really liked this variation in which we swapped out the leeks for fresh wilted spinach. The squash recipe was a particularly nice addition to this meal since it is cooked with some brown sugar and is very sweet - it filled the spot typically occupied by something like a sweet potato casserole. (Which comes with marshmallows, if you are in Ohio. Which we luckily are not.)

Dessert was once again a couple of lovely pies made by Lizz's dad: one made with real mincemeat, and one pecan.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday cat blogging, Santa's Little Helper edition

Trying to get himself on the "nice" list for once this year, Oscar volunteered to help wrap Christmas presents.

Christmas Dinner 2: The Kugel Strikes Back

Clockwise, starting at top: cornbread, cranberry-beet sauce, quick-pickled collards, mushroom-leek kugel, mashed potatoes, gingered collards, and turnips in mustard sauce.

This was the sequel to last week's Christmas dinner. Like all good sequels, it is primarily derivative of the first dinner, but with a few new twists. In addition to the gingered collards, we made a quick pickle (more or less this, but without the pineapple). We also substituted Tokyo turnips in mustard sauce for the red cabbage. In this dish, the turnips are fried until lightly browned, braised in stock, and finally tossed in a thickened mustard-stock sauce.

And with that, we put Christmas dinner 2009 to a rest...or did we??

Farmer's Market Haul, 12/18/09

This mini-haul was just for our second Christmas dinner...

mushrooms (cremini, chanterelles, shiitake)

cream from Milk Thistle Farm

Thursday, December 17, 2009

PSA: On Food Preservation

These days, most people would think nothing of going into a supermarket in December to pick up fresh strawberries, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. Not too long ago, we did just that. But as we started to increasingly buy local and eat seasonally, we realized it's not possible to have those three things together. Not only that, but on some level it's not even desirable - when you regain a sense of seasonality, you get excited when you see the first strawberries appear in spring, and you wait anxiously through June and July for the first colorful heirloom tomatoes. Things taste better when you only eat them while they're at their best. Who needs strawberries all year?

When you eat seasonally, you also quickly come to understand food preservation in a whole new way. Jam isn't just a dessert - it's a way of preserving precious summer fruits when they're at their most bountiful. Same with pickling, which used to be one of the only ways to make fragile summer veggies last into the wintertime. All the myriad methods of food preservation actually only operate on a few different mechanisms, so we thought we'd share them here:

Adding a certain quantity of sugar to a food will inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. That's the basic idea behind all jellies, jams, "candied" fruits, and similar preserves - which is why they have to contain a certain percentage of sugar in order for them to be stored safely outside of refrigeration. (All the traditional Christmas desserts that contain candied fruits make a lot more sense when you realize that was the only fruit people had around during the winter.)

Large quantities of salt will also preserve foods - thus salted fish like cod and all manner of pickles (sometimes with an assist from vinegar, but not always). In the industrial food system "pickle" is treated as more or less synonymous with "cucumber," but basically any vegetable can actually be pickled. These days at the greenmarket you can find pickled beets, pickled green tomato, or pickled asparagus. Salt curing is also the mechanism for preserving hard cheeses like Parmesan, which keep much longer than softer types.

The basic theory of fermentation is that by encouraging the growth of certain good types of bacteria, you can inhibit the growth of the bad ones. This produces all types of tasty foods like yogurt, miso paste and soy sauce, and of course wine.

Plenty of foods are dehydrated for storage, including seaweeds, fruits, seeds and herbs, legumes, and even meat (that's what beef jerky is, after some marination). When foods are completely dried out, bacteria can't grow in them and cause them to spoil. Apparently these days you can buy small home dehydrator units over the internet to make your own dried fruit slices.

Not as important as some of the others, but smoked salmon is tasty enough to merit its own entry on this list. Many other fishes and meats are smoked as well. Lots of things that are smoked are simultaneously salt-preserved.

Ever since World War II, freezing has been a dominant form of food preservation in the US - not always with good results. Freezing slows down the chemical activity in a food until it almost grinds to a halt, making it last much longer before spoiling. This is obviously a more energy-intensive form of preservation than the others, which makes it somewhat less sustainable, but it can have definite nutritional and taste advantages. When turned to purposes other than processed instant dinners, freezing can be a force for good.

Thursday: Curried Squash

Curried acorn squash with walnuts, served with soba noodles.

Though it's "curried," this isn't actually an Indian dish - it's Japanese. Premixed "curry powder" is popular in everyday Japanese home cooking. Here the squash is just cooked in a little butter and curry powder, followed by a quick braise in a little water.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CSA haul, 12/16/09

Get excited, because today is your first look at our other CSA: Winter Sun Farms. This is a pretty unique model - they buy produce from local farmers during the summer months, flash-freeze it, and then store it for distribution during the winter. You might feel a little skeptical about frozen vegetables, as did we at first, but we quickly learned that starting with good quality vegetables makes a world of difference. These veggies are flavorful and retain a good texture - and it's hard to express how exciting it is to see the bright reds, yellows and greens of summer veggies and fruits just when you're starting to get a little tired of potatoes and beets...

green beans
red tomato (this comes frozen in a bag in a quasi-pureed form)
bell peppers
yellow and green summer squash
pea shoots


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday: Holiday Antidote

Mustard greens sauteed with ginger and topped with fried cashews, served on quinoa.

Having finally finished the first batch of Christmas leftovers, the last thing we wanted was another rich meal.

CSA Haul, 12/15/09

You might be wondering what a CSA is, and why we are hauling from it as opposed to the greenmarket. Well, CSAs are often called farm shares - you pay a lump sum to a particular farm early in the season, and then pick up a box of produce delivered by the farm at regular intervals during the harvest. You get whatever is fresh, so the mix of vegetables varies with each pick-up. This particular CSA is different, because we've only bought a winter share. The harvesting is done - instead, we'll be getting a selection of vegetables that have been stored in root cellars, a few fresh vegetables still being grown in hoop houses (small makeshift greenhouses), and some other special items (like eggs, milk, and pickles).

CSAs are great for farmers because they're a way of raising money before the season begins, instead of having to go into debt, and because people who buy in each receive a share of whatever the farm produces - if one crop does badly that year, the farmer doesn't lose money on it. They're also great for people like us because it's quick and easy to pick up your CSA box every so often (depending on the CSA, generally once a week or once a month) and then enjoy wonderful local produce. We really enjoy going to the greenmarket in the summer, but come wintertime, it's often hard to get cellared items reliably. This gives us a way to keep eating locally...and it means we don't have to eat the same few meals over and over again all winter!

Just as we did last year, this winter we've joined two CSAs: this one, Norwich Meadows Farm, provides the types of items we described above. (The other, Winter Sun Farms, is a bit more unusual, but you'll hear about it soon enough.)

Without further ado:

jar heirloom tomato puree
green cabbage
acorn squash


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Dinner 1

Clockwise from top: mushroom-leek kugel, gingered collard greens with fried cashews, cranberry sauce, cornbread, Lukas's red cabbage, and mashed potatoes.

We had a few friends over for an early Christmas dinner at our apartment, the first of two. (When you have a small apartment, it takes multiple Christmas dinners to accommodate all your friends. We suppose there are worse problems to have.) Many of the dishes above are familiar holiday fixtures, but a few deserve further comment.

Faithful readers will remember the pumpkin kugel that we made at Thanksgiving. The mushroom-leek kugel above was a variation in which we substituted sauteed leeks and mushrooms for the pumpkin puree and added two types of soft cheese, ricotta and fromage blanc. Finally, thyme and chopped sage were mixed in. We found this semi-original creation more interesting than the pumpkin version.

Lukas's cabbage is a recipe given to us by a former roommate. It's sort of a sweet-and-sour quick pickle of red cabbage. The cabbage is cooked with green apple, red onion, a little sugar, and a lot of balsamic vinegar.

Farmer's Market Haul, 12/12/09

German butterball potatoes
collard greens
red cabbage
curly mustard greens
red onion

mushrooms (oyster, crimini, shiitake)
fromage blanc and ricotta from Tonjes Farm
fresh egg noodles

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday cat blogging, deep thoughts edition

It might look like Oscar is pondering something very weighty, but he's probably just considering whether he's hungry right now.

Friday: Beauty and the Beast

Potato, celeriac and green onion gratin.

For this casserole-type dish, thin slices of celeriac and potato were layered with Jarlsberg cheese, sprinkled with chopped green onion, moistened with sherry and vegetable broth, and baked until everything was soft.

Nobody would accuse celeriac of being an attractive vegetable, but they sure are delicious once they're peeled and cooked:

Proving that looks aren't everything, they mixed it up with these beautiful purple potatoes:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday: Quick and Easy

Sardine-caper toast with carrot-mustard seed salad.

We were pretty tired this evening, so we just threw together two quick and easy dishes. For the salad, grated carrots were doused in mustard seeds that had been popped in oil. In a classic combination, canned sardines were mashed with a little lemon juice and chopped capers (see here for an example).

We usually use nonpareil capers (the little kind), but today we happened to have the larger, nicer caper berries in the fridge:

Caper berries from the Italian market

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Special Christmas PSA: Stollen

What is stollen, you ask? You must not have German grandparents. But seriously, stollen is a family Christmas tradition in the vein of panettone or fruitcake. But don't be put off by the mention of fruitcake - stollen is a soft, bready concoction studded with candied fruit, really more akin to challah in taste and texture.

Why only make it once a year? Well, aside from being a Dresden custom, making stollen is a huge pain in the butt(er). Because it needs several cycles of rising to develop its rich flavor, it takes about a day's worth of on-and-off labor to make one big batch. The process is much like that of any yeast bread, with a few extra complications: the batter is mixed, then left to rise and stirred down several times over the course of a few hours, adding butter halfway through. Afterwards even more flour is added to get the dough to its final bulk, followed by a few more cycles of kneading and rising. Some lemon juice, cardamom, vanilla, and almond extract are added for flavor.

The best part, of course, is adding your choice of candied fruits. Half of D4SA (Giselle) doesn't take too kindly to raisins, so we left them out, but traditionally they provide the bulk of the added fruit. We decided to stick with these guys:

Candied clementines, purchased from the Italian market

Green candied citron

Closeup of candied cherries

After some final cycles of kneading and resting, the dough is rolled out, braided into loaves, brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with slivered almonds, and finally baked. When it comes out warm and shiny the final touch is a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

One day of kitchen craziness is worth it for this much Chrismas cheer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday: Comforting Winter Stew

Chestnut-lentil soup with homemade biscuits.

In our pre-blog life, we had purchased chestnuts a few times and had always roasted them and eaten them plain. But this year we've discovered how versatile chestnuts are in cooking. Perhaps chestnuts have faded from the American culinary memory because of the blight, but good recipe ideas can be found in other countries, particularly Italy and Japan.

This thick soup, really more of a stew, combines chestnuts with brown lentils and carrots. The chestnuts and carrots both add a little sweetness and texture to the otherwise fairly standard lentil soup.

Biscuits are surprisingly easy and quick to make from scratch, and they require very few ingredients. You'll probably see them from time to time on this humble blog.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday: Squashmas

Pasta with roasted butternut squash and ricotta salata, served with hot mulled apple cider.

We originally got this recipe from the Times, but have made it a few times since then and come to love it. It's quite easy: just cube and roast the squash, then toss with cooked pasta and grated ricotta salata cheese. A little parsley and sage or rosemary go in for flavor and color.

Oh - and as you can see, Christmas has arrived here at D4SA...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday: Spelt Soup

Spelt-leek soup with grated Parmesan cheese.

As our faithful readers no doubt recall, we purchased what we thought was local farro at the Morningside greenmarket. After a bit of research, we realized that what we actually had was probably spelt.

In our defense - if you aren't too appalled at our ignorance to continue reading - spelt and farro are quite similar grains. Both are close relatives of common wheat, and they bear a strong family resemblance. Spelt, however, takes significantly longer to cook - which is how we realized that it's what we had.

Farmer's Market Haul, 12/5/09

curly mustard greens
all-blue potatoes
multicolored carrots

Bosc pears

milk from Milk Thistle Farm
yogurt from Milk Thistle Farm
eggs from Flying Pigs Farm
apple cider

Friday cat blogging, fashion forward edition

Oscar showing off his new flannel shirt. We never should have taken him on that shopping trip to Williamsburg.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday: Hake with a mustard-amaranth crust

Mustard and popped amaranth crusted hake with steamed broccoli Romanesco and couscous.

The amaranth plant is one of those agreeable vegetables that produces both a leafy green and edible seeds. The seeds, which are quite small, can be used as a grain, but they will also pop (like popcorn!) when dry-roasted. Popped amaranth can be used as a topping in the manner of breadcrumbs; it has a nice texture but not a particularly strong taste.

We improvised this topping for hake: mix dijon mustard with melted butter and a little lemon juice and coat the fillet, then cover with popped amaranth. (Although we usually broil fish, this was instead baked at 450 F for 10 - 12 minutes - we've learned from experience that the crust will burn if broiled.)

The broccoli Romanesco was cut into florets and then steamed in the microwave with a dash of crushed red pepper. We put the florets in a small microwavable bowl with a few tablespoons of water and covered with plastic wrap. We then microwaved the florets on high power for two minutes, then in additional one minute increments as needed until they tasted done.

Farmer's Market Supplement, 12/3/09

A supplement to last us through to Saturday: one butternut squash, a couple apples, eggs, chestnuts, broccoli Romanesco, milk, and bread from Buon Pane.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wednesday: Bare Cupboard

Green onion omelette with roasted beets.

We're down to our last vegetables here at D4SA, since we didn't make it to a greenmarket over the Thanksgiving holiday. Fortunately this is our last dinner before our regular Thursday supplement. Anyway, this meal wasn't half bad - plain roasted beets make a nice side dish.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday: Aloo gobi chaat

Aloo gobi chaat.

We've already blogged about chaat - an Indian snack food that can serve as a quick weeknight dinner. This was more or less a reprise of our previous chaat, but with the substitution of a small head of purple cauliflower for the tomatoes (no longer in season, sadly).

To save time, we once again used pre-cooked canned chickpeas instead of dried black or green chickpeas. Since the taste of canned chickpeas leaves something to be desired, we followed Madhur Jaffrey's method for quickly improving their flavor: drain and rise the chickpeas, then simmer for five to ten minutes in water to cover with whole spices (a bay leaf, cumin, coriander, cloves, or whatever you like) in a tea strainer or tied up in a little cheesecloth sachet. Although we don't use this technique every single time that we use canned chickpeas, it can really make a difference for dishes like chaat where the chickpeas are to be eaten whole without any additional cooking.