Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mystery Food Week 9: Heatwave edition

Another very fruit-filled box this week!

Here we have a tomato, melon, doughnut peaches, freestone peaches, green beans, and summer squash. I made a great little dish out of the tomato, green beans and squash sauteed with hot peppers, garlic, and onions. Topped a bowl of it with a slice of provolone and let it melt. One of the best vegetarian meals I've had in awhile. Nice and simple too for these dog days of summer.

It hit triple digits here over the weekend and of course our air conditioning decided to die. Fortunately, it was after I finished baking an assortment of 6 dozen cookies for co-workers (mine and Joe's) because, well, who doesn't like homemade baked good surprises? Here's the sampler plate...I had leftover chocolate ganache in a ziploc bag and decided to do a little art project.

One knows that it must be unbearably hot outside when, aside from a lone box of Italian ice, the grocery store is entirely sold out of popsicles and sorbet. Thus was my experience on Tuesday evening. There was still an array of ice cream on the shelf, but I wasn't really in the mood. I wanted something refreshing, cool, and fruity.Well, if you want something done you've got to do it yourself sometimes. I'm seriously disappointed that I couldn't get a good picture of the final dish, because it was absolutely out of this world.

Peach-Basil Sorbet (with vanilla whipped cream and double-berry preserves)

for the sorbet:
-5 to 6 ripe medium sized peaches, diced. (You can peel them if you want...I never do.)
-Handful of basil leaves, torn.
-1 tbsp. lemon juice
-3 tbsp. sucanat or sugar
-1/2 cup water
-Pinch of salt

for the cream:
-Whipping cream
-Sugar, to taste (I used about a tbsp.)
-1 tsp. vanilla extract

for the topping:
 -Blackberry/blueberry preserves

-Combine the sugar, water, salt, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.
-Add the basil leaves and boil for 10 minutes or until slightly syrupy.
-Combine the peaches and basil syrup in a blender and process until smooth.
-Churn in an electric ice cream maker for about 20 minutes and then transfer to a freezer safe container and chill.
-Whip the cream, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks are formed.
-To serve, place a scoop of the sorbet on a plate, top with a spoonful of preserves and a spoonful of the whipped cream. Garnish with more torn basil if desired.

It is a really wonderful summer dessert with all of those components, but that's only if you can keep yourself from eating the sorbet straight out of the freezer. It's a challenge.

Enjoy the week and stay cool!

Ciao for now,

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mystery Food Week 8: Summer Ragout edition

Before we get down to the joy of Mystery Food, I want to express my joy and thanks to all of the family and friends-that-are-like-family in Pittsburgh who made the July Birthday Extravaganza so wonderful. I enjoyed it this much:

(Special thanks to Rendezvous for letting me make a guest appearance!)

Onto the tasty things…Mystery Food week 8 was summer in a box. It was perfect: 

I received yellow peaches, doughnut peaches, apples, summer squash, zucchini, apricots, sweet corn, and a basil plant.

Between all of the squash, fresh herbs popping up in my garden, and a can of amazing San Marzano tomatoes (thanks dad!) I started thinking, "Ragout, ragout, ragouuuuuut."

Let’s talk about stew/ragout/ragu. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Stew? Neen, really? It’s been in the 90s in Arlington for the last few weeks and you’re thinking about warm, fuzzy-sweater-cozy stew?” And while I’ll confess that what I’m about to present is a hot meal, I’ll argue to the end of the world that there is no better time to have it than in summer. The squash is perfectly sweet and tender, complemented by warm notes from bacon and cayenne pepper, all brought together in a sea of tomato-basil goodness. All it requires is some chopping and one pot. So without further ado, here's...

Neen's Summer Ragout

-One summer squash, diced.
-One zucchini, diced.
-6 or 7 Roma tomatoes, chopped or one can of San Marzano tomatoes.
-2 ears worth of sweet corn kernels.
-2 spring onions (or one medium white/yellow onion).
-3 small cloves garlic, minced.
-1 slice thick-cut bacon.
-1-2tbsp. grape seed or olive oil.
-A few splashes of white wine (optional).
-A few strips of dried cayenne pepper, diced (or cayenne powder to taste).
-Handful of basil leaves, torn.
-5 or 6 sprigs of lemon thyme leaves.
-Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
-Grated parmesan cheese, to garnish.

-Place the slice of bacon in the pot over medium heat until it is cooked through and the fat has rendered out.
-Remove the bacon and dice it.
-Add the onions and garlic to the pot, add a little bit of oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low.
-Cook until the aromatics are golden-brown. Add the diced bacon.
-Move the pot off of the heat and add a few splashes of wine, then return the pan to the heat and turn it up to medium.
-Add the zucchini and summer squash and sauté gently for about 7-8 minutes.
-Add the tomatoes, corn, cayenne, herbs, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
-Put the lid on the pot, reduce the heat so that the ragout is simmering gently. Cook for 1 hour, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so, and cook until the squash is soft, but not mushy. Remember to taste and adjust your  seasonings along the way!
-Garnish with a bit more basil and some parmesan cheese if you like. Voila!

I ate mine as it was, but ragout certainly goes well over pasta, brown rice, or quinoa. Ground turkey breast, browned and put into the pot when the tomatoes are added is another nice way to make a heartier meal. It also freezes/reheats nicely—always a bonus.

Finally, remember that watermelon plant that I mentioned was taking over my garden like a kudzu vine? It’s been covered in little yellow flowers with no signs of fruit. This morning, I found this:

Cutest. Watermelon. Ever.

There are four of them, each about the size of a kidney bean at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get one or two that ripen fully.

Ciao for now!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mystery Food Week 7, Vacation, and the Fresh-Food-Panic

We've all been there.

A fridge full of beautiful, fresh food. And you've tried, (oh you've tried) to eat and use as much of it as possible. Alas, here it is the day before your vacation and well...there's still food.

It makes me really sad to waste food. There are a lot of hungry people in the world and I am grateful to have a job that allows me to put healthy meals on the table. I became really interested in canning when I was still living in Boston. After a trip to pick apples at a farm not too far from the city, I realized rather sheepishly that in my excitement seeing all of the delicious varieties of apple trees, I'd bought far too many. Lots of people got spiced apple pie filling for Christmas that year, but nothing went to waste. I don't even peel thin-skinned fruits like apples, tomatoes, or peaches.

In this instance, it was the drupe-fest that came last week, and in Mystery Box Week 7:
I got a lovely napa cabbage, yellow and white peaches, spring onions, purple frilly basil, summer squash, cucumbers and apricots.

Last week's mystery box was also full of peaches, apricots and some red plums. Swimming in stone fruit, (I know, woe is me right?) I needed to take care of it all before leaving for a trip to Pittsburgh-yay!-to see my family and party with them.

In light of that, I thought I'd share some of my favorite last-minute techniques for preserving things when you just don't have time to can.

Drupe Project 1: Fruit Sauce
Applesauce is awesome, but stone fruits make some excellent fruit sauce. My "drupe-sauce" was simply peaches, plums, and apricots cooked on the stove until nice and soft and then mashed up. If you like smoother sauces, go ahead and run it through a blender. Add a little bit of lemon juice so it doesn't lose the pretty color. Stored in a well-sealed container, you can keep it for a good week or so.

Drupe Project 2: Fruit Leather
I have a dehydrator, but you can also do this in your oven on a parchment lined baking sheet. Set the oven to its lowest temperature--don't worry if it doesn't go as low as the dehydrator temperature I mention. Using a food dehydrator, about 135-140 degrees is fine. Blend pitted, diced fruit together with a tablespoon of honey (this keeps fruit leather pliable) and then spread the mixture out on a cookie sheet or dehydrator tray. It is ready to remove from the oven when it is dry all the way through and feels pliable, but not mushy. Store in a cool, dark place in a jar between slices of wax paper.

Drupe Project 3: Brown Sugar-Spiced Peaches
Another dehydrator/lowest-oven-setting project. Dice up some peaches, toss them with lemon juice to keep them from browning, and then toss with a tablespoon of brown sugar and a few shakes of cinnamon. Lay the fruit on a dehydrator tray or parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake until dry, but still pliable. A fantastic addition to cookies, muffins, or quick breads. You can also rehydrate them later for fruit compote.

This dehydration technique (minus the sugar/cinnamon/lemon juice) can be used with tomatoes and peppers as well. Great for making homemade cayenne powder. Mmm.

Drupe Project 4: Dreams of Future Baked Goods
Just freeze them! Pit and dice your fruit, lay them on a baking sheet and freeze. When the pieces have frozen, put them in a labeled/dated freezer bag and store in the freezer for...a long time. Doing this keeps the individual pieces of fruit from sticking together in a frozen lump. Oh, it's the middle of the winter and you want peach crisp? No problem, just grab that bag out of the freezer and you get a little piece of summer back.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mystery Food Week 6: Post-vacation edition

I have discovered that the school semester becomes marathon-like when reduced from 15 weeks to only 10 for the summer. You would think that after last summer’s adventures with the Great Perl Dragon (and its subsequent defeat) that I would have learned to select only one course.

Not so. Not stubborn, “determined-to-do-the-weird-difficult-or-strange” Neen. I’ve never really understood this obsession. It’s like my brain goes, “Hey, I wonder if I can do____” and I have to try it. Can and preserve jam/relish in a one-bedroom Boston apartment kitchen with absolutely no counter space? (Yes) Take three classes during my first semester of graduate school? (You betcha) Ferment yogurt using only a large pot, cooler, and a heating pad? (Done) Bake 65 dozen cookies as Christmas presents for co-workers and family in the midst of working and school-ing full time? (Just call me Santa) Dry beef jerky using a box fan and several layers of furnace filters? (Okay, I stole that idea from Alton Brown)

So when Joe asked last week if I’d like to go down to Chincoteague Island over the 4th of July weekend, I spent the next two days on schoolwork overload so I could turn off and read science fiction on the beach and back porch all weekend. It. was. blissful. And for once, instead of the return from vacation being a difficult let-down, I felt more motivated than ever to push through these last 6 months of brain-stuffing. I mean, it's pretty impossible to NOT feel good after spending a weekend like this:

Top L: View from the back porch of the house
Top R: Annual VFD carnival which culminates with the famous Pony Swim at the end of July.
Bottom L: Fresh caught shrimp and homemade garlic bread, grilled up and ready to devour.
Bottom R: Cigar and Kindle on the screened-in porch. The sweet life.

And then, THEN I came home to this:

The first of the cayenne peppers from my garden decided to grace me with their ripeness. So pretty and bright…yet, painful in large doses. I think I will put them in the dehydrator and then run them through the food processor to make homemade cayenne powder. A pinch of it in a batch of marinara sauce is so good. It adds just enough heat to balance those nice, sweet summer tomatoes that are coming our way.

A mere day later, the produce gods smiled on me once again, with a very fruity CSA box!

Beets, spring onions, red chard, apricots, peaches, and plums. I’m never too sure about beets. They are good roasted, pickled, or fresh on top of a salad, but I always long to do something a little more interesting with them. Of course, the farmers market is always inspirational (for the devoted/obsessive cook) and I tasted some really amazing beet relish that I’m going to try to replicate. I just kept thinking how good it would taste on a smoked turkey or rare roast beef sandwich.

I hope you all had a wonderful 4th and that you too got 'back to the grind' without too much trouble.

Ciao for now!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mystery Food Week 5

It was a very fruity week for the farm share:
I got beets, spring onions, peaches, apricots, plums, and an arugula plant! All very delicious and wonderful.

But alas, this is a short post because I'm on vacation with Joe this weekend. :-) Happy 4th all!

Ciao for now,