Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bitter Greens

We've been having trouble figuring out what to do with the dandelion greens, and we had two weeks' worth in the fridge yesterday.

I gave my housemate Jack half a leaf and asked if they were too bitter to put in a salad. Yes, he said, giving me half of half the leaf back. (Mind you, this is a man who has let me put lemon curd on popcorn and who thinks tomato-and-basil ice cream is a good idea.)

So I went looking for ways to cook them. Epicurious does them sauteed and spicy and sauteed. The New York Times suggested Provencal Greens Soup.

But because I always trust Mark Bittman, and because it was good weather for comfort food, and because there were potatoes in this week's box, I decided on Green Mashed Potatoes (article, recipe). I had seen this recipe when it was first published in the spring and made it then with kale; I'd forgotten it actually called for dandelion greens.

Mark said to boil the greens for one minute. I did, tasted, and found them ... bitter. I boiled them for five minutes ... bitter. I boiled them for ten minutes, while running to consult my cookbooks and the Internet on whether longer boiling could reduce bitterness.

By then, all I could taste was bitter. I borrowed my housemate Erica's taste buds. Bitter, she pronounced. Would you eat it mixed with mashed potatoes? No.

So I chickened out and added a few big handfuls of this week's mixed salad greens (speed-wilted in the microwave) to the potatoes instead. (I also went off-recipe and grated some Parmesan over the top.) Delicious.

I did go back to the Internet afterwards; there are a lot of enthusiastic dandelion eaters out there, including many who claim the greens are hardly bitter at all. This piece on making dandelions palatable seemed the most promising in terms of admitting that dandelions are, in fact bitter, and providing several strategies for masking that bitterness.

As for our dandelion greens ... they're in the fridge, boiled to death. Any suggestions for what to do with them?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prep for the Week

It is a truth universally acknowledged that vegetables are more likely to be eaten if already prepared. (If not, well, there's a reason I know that you can eat six-month-old turnips. Those turnips actually moved from Brookline to Somerville with me last winter.)

To help us get through our farm share, as well as because most of us pack lunches and/or eat at least some meals on the go through the week, I'm trying to be more conscious about doing some advance prep of vegetables and grains on Sunday nights.

Last week I had three pots boiling at once: brown rice, corn on the cob, and beets.

My new favorite method for cooking the corn is to bring the water to a boil, put in the corn, cover the pot, and turn off the stove. The corn's done in five minutes, but it doesn't seem to get overcooked if you leave it longer (which is good if you want it ready at the same time as the rest of your meal).

A former housemate taught me how to boil the beets, which always seems to me a little faster and easier than roasting them. Scrub them and trim the tops and bottoms, boil for 30 minutes to an hour (fork them to see if they're done), then run cold water over them and the skins -- like magic! -- slip right off. I usually cut the boiled beets into small dice, then people add them to salads or whatever else they're eating through the week. Sometimes they're good by themselves with salt and pepper or a little balsamic vinegar.

I also roasted a little tray of potato cubes (tossed with oil, salt, and cayenne; in the toaster oven on broil for, oh, 12 minutes or so).

Any ideas for preparing lettuce or cabbage in advance to encourage daily consumption?

This is only marginally related to food, but another way that I'm wasting time on a Sunday evening is by playing Cheese or Font?, a little online game that encapsulates everything I've learned as a cookbook production editor.

Corn Chowder

Inspired by the corn, potatoes, and onions in this week's share (and by the cold, rainy soup-making weather), I spent a couple hours Saturday afternoon making a corn chowder. (I used this recipe, made vegetarian by omitting the bacon and using vegetable bouillon cubes.)

I more than doubled most of the vegetables -- red peppers, carrots, celery, and sweet potatoes, as well as the onions and corn -- to make it a little more harvest-based than cream-based.

One of my biggest fears about living in a co-op (a small one -- there are five of us here) is that I will never be able to go back to cooking a normal amount of food again.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Making Salsa and Not Canning Tomatoes

Probably just like everyone else, we used the tomatillos to make salsa verde this week. (What else do people make with tomatillos?)

The recipe world seems to be a bit divided about whether you boil the tomatillos, roast them, or use them uncooked. I chose this recipe because it had a roasting option (we broil pretty much everything around here) and because it matched the ingredients already in the house.

(Recipes also seem to differ quite a bit in whether you need to add water. This recipe has no additional water, while the recipe in the Enterprise newsletter called for adding 2 cups. Ours was fine without when I made it, but it's solidified a bit over a couple days in the fridge.)

Making salsa got us started thinking about canning. It seems like I've been reading about the resurgence of home canning everywhere recently, often tied to the idea that it's a money-saving thing to do in tough
economic times

We use a lot of canned tomatoes in our house, for pasta sauces and soups and pizza, so the idea of jarring a bunch of the beautiful heirloom tomatoes we've been seeing at the farmer's market to draw on through the winter was pretty appealing.

The USDA has very comprehensive canning resources available online. My enthusiasm for the project was damped a bit by all the OMG YOU WILL DIE OF BOTULISM (though this is not really a concern if you can follow a recipe -- always a question for me -- and stick to high-acid foods, like tomatoes, if you don't have a pressure canner).

But it was really the mathematics of the thing that put the kibosh on canning for us. The USDA told me that for crushed tomatoes, no liquid added, I would need about 2 3/4 pounds of tomatoes per quart. I didn't make it to the Davis Square farmer's market on Wednesday, but at Copley heirloom tomatoes were $3 or $4 per pound. So about $8 to $11 worth of tomatoes in each quart. Jars and lids looked like they'd run about another $1 per jar.

So figuring a cost of about $10 per quart, canning 12 quarts of tomatoes would have been an upfront investment of $120. (By comparison, we buy fancy canned Muir Glen organic tomatoes for $2.69 for 28 ounces, or about $3 per quart.)

Are people really saving money canning? (I think it's a bit of a cheat to say that the produce is free if you grow it yourself -- at least on the scale that I grow tomatoes, they're about the farthest thing there is from free.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Empty Refrigerator Cabbage Stir-Fry

We pick up our share on Wednesdays, so finding things to eat on Tuesday can be a little rough.

Fortunately, this week we were armed with your comments suggesting additional things to do with cabbage. We ran with JamieLichtenstein's Asian-sounding stir-fry idea, and came up with this.

Empty Refrigerator Cabbage Stir-Fry

1 head of green cabbage
Kitchen staples: an onion, garlic, ginger, Asian chile sauce, soy sauce, cilantro

I sauteed an onion and a couple cloves of garlic, then threw in the chopped cabbage. There was too much to saute, so I added a little water and let the cabbage steam until it was pretty well cooked.

Then we tossed in some chopped ginger and dressed the whole mess with generously with Asian chile sauce and soy sauce and -- housemate Jack gets full credit for this -- a secret ingredient. (I'm pretty sure you'd get similar results from a bouillon cube, if, bless you, yours isn't the kind of house that has five-year-old British condiments in the back of the fridge.)

Then we stirred in some chopped cilantro in and served it over white rice. No leftovers.

P.S. I was a little skeptical about it coming together while I was cooking, but let me just say, I've never before had housemates arrive home while I was cooking cabbage and say "That smells delicious!"