Thursday, June 9, 2011

Week 1: Summer CSA Blog Begins!

This year, I signed up for my very first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  It's not just any CSA, it's designed so that rather than simply picking up a weekly box, I get to harvest my own produce from the farm, for a more community-oriented, hands-on experience.  The other amazing piece to it is that it is one of the only CSA's where the farm is actually within city limits!  It is just down the street in the West 7th neighborhood.  

I intend to chronicle this CSA experience; sure to be the tastiest, freshest summer of local food, yet!

Here's more info on the farm:

What was particularly interesting for me was how passionate Susane (the farmer) is about her garden. No chemicals are used, she plants based on health and variety.  She is very much a gardening "mad genius"... planning out the garden beds to the degree that in some places, she is able to use the soil for 3 different 'turns' during the roughly 20 week season.  For example, where the potatoes are beginning to grow underground, spring lettuce mix is growing up top. When the lettuce is finished, the potatoes can use the space.   She is adamant about her rule of thumb: plant once, harvest ten times; and trains each garden guest exactly how to harvest each and every herb, fruit, vegetable and green in order to maximize its fruitfulness.  Now that's conservation!

Week 1 Yield:
Green onions, spinach, thyme, oregano, mint, curly parsley, leeks, chives, radishes, sorrel, russian red kale, mitzuna, red mustard greens, many other greens.. (there were so many different kinds of greens, I can't even name them all!!).  I know I missed a few things, but that was the bulk of what was harvested.  Week 2's Harvest is about the same, with the exception of a few more herbs. 

I bet you're wondering what I made with all of this great, local produce.

For starters, I made:

Parsley-Walnut-Lime Pesto

Bacon-Wilted Greens-Panzanella

Salads (I prep salads for Eric and I to take to work all week)

Ginger-Scallion Stir Fry with Basmati Rice

Minnestrone Soup with CSA Herbs, Sorrel, Kale and Greens (recipe for my Minnestrone will come at a later date.. )

(Recipes Below)

Watch for next week's pickup, coming soon!

Feeding the masses :)


Parsley-Walnut-Lime Pesto (mostly because I ran out of lemon zest... but it turned out great!)

Making your own pesto is such a useful skill, because you can easily modify it to incorporate your favorite herbs, nuts and flavors, but also because it is a fresh, flavorful, healthy item to add to so many things!  You can use it on flatbread pizzas, toss it with pasta or steamed vegetables, use as a dip or a bruschetta topping, etc...

For this particular pesto, I had no lemons on hand, so I used limes. Either is typically ok.

Several big handfuls of parsley- roughly picked (This means no large stems, but small, tender stems are ok. Basil is the traditional herb)

A few handfuls of Walnuts (You can really sub any soft nut. Traditionally, pine nuts are used)

A few tablespoons of oil.  You can use a flavorful EVO or Canola for less flavor, depending on preference.

Zest of 1-2 citrus fruit

A palmful of grated parmesan cheese.

Kosher Salt to taste

Roughly chop the parsley.  Put the parsley, a little bit of salt, the oil and the nuts in a food processor.   Pulse until it is a coarse texture. Season with K Salt, and stir in zest and parmesan. 

Your pesto will keep for a week or so in the fridge. 
If you have a pressure cooker, you could test the pH and can it for those winter months when you are missing the taste of fresh basil from your garden!  If you are going to can it, I would advise against adding the cheese; rather, add the cheese to "freshen it up" when you open the jar.

Bacon-Wilted Greens-Panzanella

This is a great "method" recipe to know as well, because you can put just about anything in it!  "Panzanella" literally just means "bread salad."  Another way I like to eat panzanella is caprese-style.  Fresh baby mozzarella, basil, and salted, garden-picked heirloom tomatoes.  Toss it with just a drizzle of balsamic and olive oil..   (I can really get off-subject when it comes to food...)

1-2 loaves of ciabatta
1/2 # Bacon or Pancetta, cut into lardons
1/2 cup onions or shallot, thinly sliced into rounds, cut in half
About 6-8 Cups of greens, such as baby mustard greens, kale, sorrel, spinach, etc.
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 TB fresh thyme, roughly chopped
2 TB fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 TB good vinegar, like balsamic
2 TB red chili flakes
K Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375. Cut your bread into 1" cubes with a serrated knife.  Toss them in a drizzle of Olive Oil and season them with K salt.  Do this in batches if you need to.  Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them for about 4-6 minutes so that they are starting to crisp up on the outside, but remain mostly soft on the inside.  Set them aside in your largest bowl.

Lightly sautee the garlic, shallot, chili flakes and bacon in oil.  Keep your heat at medium or below- you want to render the fat in the bacon, not crisp it up, which will happen with high heat.  Wash your greens well, and let them dry or hit them in the salad spinner.

Beautiful Red Mustard Greens

Garden Fresh Spinach

When the bacon is fully cooked, yet soft, add the vinegar and scrape up the flavor bits from the bottom of the pan.  Toss in your greens, 1 handful at a time so that it all fits.  You want to cook it down to the point that the greens are all tender, but not falling apart.  See photo.

Slowly adding the greens so they all fit

Greens are wilted not overcooked
Once the greens are ready to go, season with K salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add the greens to the bowl of bread and toss.  Serve warm or room temp.

Serve and enjoy!!
There's no mystery here. Simply wash your garden lettuce well, dry it, and make up several matching "tupperware" containers complete with your own favorite lettuce blend, sprouts, tomatoes, etc.  I recommend making a separate container, or even a small ziplock bag to put your salad "toppings" into, and then toss together at work each day with your favorite dressing!

Ginger-Scallion Stir Fry with Basmati Rice
This one is SO easy, and it makes use of a huge volume of green onions, if you have a surplus.  If not, sub any of your favorite veggies that are in season. It's just a very simple, basic stir fry.

About 8-12 cups+ of your favorite veggies, or in this case, scallions, cut into 1" lengths. Try to use some variety in color. It makes for a more appealing looking stir fry.
1 medium onion, cut into 1" strips, or pieces cut a similar size to the green onions
A 2" piece of ginger, sliced thinly and then cut into thin strips.
A few cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Soy Sauce
Red Chili Paste
Red Chili Flakes
Sprouts are a nice addition, if you like them.
Canola Oil
4c Basmati rice or other rice of your choice

Use a seasoned wok if you have one. The idea with a stir fry is that you are cooking the veggies with high heat, over a short amount of time, tossing frequently.

Make your rice first, according to the instructions on the bag, and have it warm and ready to go.

Get your oil hot. The amount you need will vary on the quantity of ingredients you are going to add. I start with about 2 TB.  Add the ginger, chili paste, garlic and (bulb) onions.  Stir fry them until they are starting to soften.  Add the veggies. Continue to toss frequently so the veggies cook to the desired softness.  Towards the end of cooking, add the chili flakes, a few good splashes of soy sauce, and salt and pepper.  Taste.  Remove from pan so the veggies don't overcook.  Serve over rice.   Enjoy!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fire-Roasted Corn & Poblano Soup

Aah, spring showers are here, and I've got just the thing to keep you warm and toasty on a rainy spring day.  This soup is perfect for the transition from winter to spring because it's light and healthy, yet filling, and has a TON of good, smoky flavor built in that is sure to satisfy!

This soup is vegetarian, but I make it often and have enjoyed including a shredded, seared chicken breast or two.  You could also pump up the flavor by rendering some chopped bacon, and cooking the veggies in the bacon fat as the base to the soup.  YUM.  You could use the bacon as garnish, or keep it right in the soup.

I'm sure you are going to love this recipe. Many of my friends have tried this at my house- please post your comments!  What have you added to this soup to make it yours? 

Here we go!

Fire-Roasted Corn & Poblano Soup


3 Poblano Chilies
1 Red Onion, medium dice
2c Black Beans, preferably cooked from scratch, but canned are ok
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped
1c Edamame
1 Can (14.5oz) Fire Roasted Tomatoes
6 Ears of Fresh Corn (stripped from cob), or 20 oz Frozen Corn, thawed
1 Fresno Chili or Jalapeno, finely chopped, add more if you like it hotter
4c Vegetable or Chicken Broth
1 Bunch Cilantro, some whole for garnish, rest chopped roughly
1 Avocado, diced
1 Lime, halved
1 Bag Tortilla Chips, or toast your own tortillas in the oven
1/2c Sour Cream
2 TB Vegetable Oil
2 tsp Cumin, split
1 tsp Ancho Chile Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp + Kosher Salt to taste
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

*Don't forget your mise en place! - and that includes a group of tasters for your soup!

1. Toss tortilla chips in a ziplock bag with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, and a little bit of black pepper.   Set aside.  Squeze lime over avocados, toss gently with chopped cilantro.

2. Broil Poblanos and Fresno Chilis or Jalapenos until blackened on all sides.  Immediately place into a bowl and cover with saran wrap to steam.  When cool, peel, seed and chop. 
3. Heat your biggest, flat-bottomed skillet.  DO NOT use a teflon pan- you won't be able to char.  Add corn, a few handfuls at a time, and let char.  Scrape them up and let them blacken a bit on the other side.  Scrape them into a bowl and set aside.  Continue in batches.

4. In a large, deep pot or dutch oven, heat oil over med-high heat.  Add the red onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook until onion has softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the cumin.  Stir in the broth, tomatoes, poblanos, chilies, corn, edamame and beans.  Warm through.

5.  To serve, pour soup into bowl; garnish with a dollop of sour cream, avocado/cilantro, and a few seasoned tortilla chips.  Enjoy!

*Tip: If you are making this soup to bring to work-- put your sour cream and spoonful of avocado/cilantro into a snack sized ziplock.  Also put your tortilla chips into a ziplock.   Heat your soup, then top with garnishes!    Pretty and delicious!

Here's a little sneak peek for next time....

 Bacon, Mushroom and Thyme Hash with Poached Eggs 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Restaurant tips for a PERFECT dinner party!

It can be a tough thing to strike that perfect balance between playing host or hostess at your own dinner party, and actually slowing down and enjoying your time with your guests.  Here are some invaluable lessons I have learned through catering experience, restaurant experience, and just plain old trial and error!  It may take a little practice, but it really IS possible to enjoy some quality time with your favorite people during your own dinner party!   Here's how:

Step 1: Know your friends.  Who has the best handwriting? I know it's not me! Have everything ready to go so when this guest arrives- you can put them to task so you can get back to welcoming your guests.  Have your pal with the best penmanship hand write any place cards, wine markers, cheese labels, etc.  (Back up plan: Print them in a modern font ahead of time).

Step 2:  Set up a BUSSING STATION!  Find a corner out of the way of the kitchen sink, out of eyeshot from the dining room table that you can put a dish bin. Ask a friend to be in charge of clearing plates after each course. People love to be put to work- especially when they know how much you appreciate it! Putting the dirty dishes in a special bussing area keeps them out of the sink. You might need the sink to finish preparing your meal; if not- no one wants to look at dirty dish pileup in the kitchen where they're going to be hanging out after dinner! Keep the dirty dishes out of view until after the party. It makes a big difference!  Think restaurant service.  Create your own "dish pit" area that's out of sight. 
Step 3:  Have a plan.  Plan out every little detail. Have a spot ready for your guests to place their wine. Have a place planned out for their coats, etc.  You don't have "last minute time" to be getting things ready!  Plan your first course so that it can be sitting at room temp as your guests arrive, buying you more time to enjoy with your friends and start preparing your next course!  I like to start with a cheese course. Look how pretty those hand-written cards look!  Thanks Wade! 
I like to have a timeline written up just for me that lists out what I need to slack from the fridge when- that way you're not trying to put cold meat into a hot pan. You want a lot of what you cook to be closer towards room temp. It speeds up cooking time as well.  Thinking through every single detail of each step to complete each course ahead of time will save you headaches, and keep you on pace even if you get distracted!  Check items off as you go!

Step 4:  Have a water station set up.  Buy a big glass jar with a spigot, then fill halfway with ice, and the rest of the way with water. Throw in some fresh herbs, fruit or vegetables- I like lemon and thyme, or cucumber and mint.  Even carrot makes a great light tasting water!  Keep an eye on it and fill it up throughout the night. This way, everyone can take care of their own water, and it's one less thing for the hostess to need to do!  To top it off, it looks great!

Step 5:   Don't spend a fortune on table decorations.  Use things that you already own. What can you re-purpose?   Plants in clay pots with candles and green moss makes a great tablescape!  The only cost is the minimal cost of tealights!


Step 6: Mark your glasses.  You can either put fun wine charms on, or better yet- grab some ribbon and some cardstock.  Print or have your handy friend write fun random words.  Each guests picks their own word and ties their wine marker on the stem of their glass.  You can make this as interactive as you like.  Follow a theme!  I like to create words in pairs- so the dinner guest has to "find" the other word. It's a conversation starter!  You could list streets in St.Paul, or funny adjectives. Make it something people will talk about!

Step 7: Set up your salads ahead of time.  You can't make them too far in advance (and definetely DON'T dress your salad ahead of time), but 15-30 minutes isn't going to hurt.  Dress them a la minute.  If you have enough fridge space, prep your salads, place on sheet trays, and hold in the fridge even for a few hours!

Step 8: Make menus.  It helps your guests know what their eating, in case they're too busy chatting away, especially as the night goes on!  List your wine pairings too.  It will help you keep on course as you're trying to cook, and it allows your "guest sommelier" to pour the wine without consulting you each course!   They also make a great takeaway for a special night! 

Step 9: Don't go crazy.  Don't try all-new recipes in front of a crowd.  It's just asking for disaster!  Make something you're familiar with, or try it ahead of time (with a few glasses of wine) so you're sure you've got it down!

Step 10: Plan some entertainment!  Pick a Pandora station that sets the mood, or create a playlist.  Don't forget to add some entertainment during dinner!  Do some research on the wines you're drinking, and speak about each wine as you serve it for the course!  Eric even conjured up some improv poetry! The guests loved it!

Step 11:   Chocolate.  Ok, it's not a real step, but need I say more?  



Friday, January 21, 2011

Aah, Falafel. Think you can't? Think again!

It turns out that Falafel is considerably easier than you'd think. Heck, it's considerably easier than I thought, too! (and fresher!)  I will say, it did take me 2 tries to get it right....   However- now I've done the legwork for you, so you can get it right at first crack! 

The first time I tried it, it was a "falafel mess."  The chickpeas fell apart when I fried them.  I phoned a friend, and thanks to Chef Donald @ Forepaugh's, the second try it was a success.  The key: let the chickpeas process for longer in the food processor so that the starches are released and helps it to stick to itself!  That will make more sense once you read the recipe.  I've included all of the necessary recipes to make a full falafel meal:  falafel balls, salad, tahini sauce, pita bread(store-bought)  Here goes!   Have fun! 

4 cups dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed.
2 tsp baking powder
1 lg onion, roughly chopped
10 garlic cloves
2TB whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground *See instructions at bottom*
2TB whole corander seeds, toasted and ground (you can sub pre-ground cumin & coriander, it just won't be quite as fresh tasting, but it will still be delicious)
1 tsp red chili flakes
3 handfuls of parsley leaves- roughly chopped
2 handfuls of cilantro leaves- roughly chopped
kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
canola or other high-heat oil to shallow fry the falafel
2 pkgs of any whole-wheat pita pockets.
Tahini Sauce (recipe follows)
Salad (recipe follows)

Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with cold water.  Cover by at least a few inches.  Soak them in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours. Check on them to be sure they are covered with water at all times.  They will swell to 3x their normal size.  Drain and rinse well.

Put the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse to coarsely grind.  You don't want any whole chickpeas, but you don't want it to be smooth either.  Add the baking powder, onion, garlic, spices and herbs.  Process until it turns into a nice paste, scraping down the bowl as needed. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes. I recommend rolling out your falafel so they are all ready before you heat your oil, so that you can keep a close eye on it.  I fry my falafel in a 12" cast iron skillet.  You just need something that will hold a good inch and a half of oil, and you can retrieve your falafel from easily (so it can't be super deep). 

Fill your skillet or other pan with about 1 1/2 or 2" of oil.  Don't heat yet.  Roll your falafel into ping pong size balls and set on a  plate or sheet pan that you can carry to the stove with you.  I use a 2 oz scoop.  Heat your oil to about 375. It really is pretty important that you temp your oil, unless you are very familiar with oil and can tell whether it's hot enough. Carefully slip a 3 or 4 balls into the oil (you can do larger batches once you feel more comfortable). Make sure they don't stick to the bottom!  The oil should cover the falafel. If it doesn't, make sure you are rolling your falafel so it browns and cooks evenly.  It should take about 4-5 minutes per batch to cook. You want them to be a nice golden toasty brown.  Remove the falafel with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate with paper towels.   Voila!

For Tahini  Sauce:
Tahini is sesame seed paste.  All you do to make sauce is basically thin it out and add a little bit of flavor. It's really easy.
1/2 c tahini paste (use middle-eastern rather than greek if you have an option.)
1/2 c water
juice from 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced very finely
kosher salt
chopped parsley for garnish

VERY slowly, stir the water into the tahini tablespoon by tablespoon.  You don't want to stir fast- you need to stir it as slowly as possible, so it doesn't become a weird starchy texture.  Add the lemon juice and garlic.  Season with salt.   Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish it with the chopped parsley.

Falafel Salad:
Cut a red onion into quarters from root to tip.  Thinly slice the onion.
Dice a handful of Roma tomatoes, or sub grape tomatoes- cut into halves.
Cut a cucumber into half lengthwise. Slice thinly into half-rounds.
Coarsely chop a handful of parsley.
Mix all ingredients.

*For toasting cumin & coriander seeds, do them one at a time.  Heat a small frying pan (not a non-stick), add the seeds, roll them around pretty much continuously for a minute or so- you are watching for them to become extremely fragrant, and toasted but you want to stop before there are any hints of burnt to it.  Remove the seeds, throw in a spice mill or food processor and grind to a fine powder. Repeat for the other spice.  The fresher ground your spices are, the fresher they will taste, which is why you'd want to do them to order instead of making them ahead or pre-buying the ground spices.

To serve falafel:
Scoop salad into pita pocket, top with a few falafel balls, drizzle with tahini sauce.