Friday, December 23, 2011

Sushi Squares


Jack had bought the Wilton silicone bite-size brownie pan (with the intention of making mini cheesecakes), and we had an invitation to a hors d'oeuvres party, so we were looking for something interesting to make in it.

I turned to the Internet, but sadly, it turns out that most people are just using their brownie pans to make brownies. (Okay, here's someone doing sesame candy.) BORING.

Thinking about "fancy" and "bite-size" got me to sushi, so we improvised these sushi squares:

Sprinkle some furikake (fishy-tasting nori and sesame seeds) in the bottom of each cavity, pack each with sushi rice (short-grain rice mixed with rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt), turn out the rice cubes, and top with a bit of wasabi, cucumber, and avocado.

I'm pretty sure this is more time-consuming than rolling your own sushi (which we like to stuff with creative farm share ingredients), but there you have it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cranberry Orange Jam

I was feeling a little cocky about last week's fast, easy, recipe-free grapefruit jam, so I set out to prove I could do improvised jam-making again, 1) cooking it quickly at high temperature, while 2) making dinner.

(Turns out I can't.)

After I paused the project to finish the dinner and scrubbed the boiled-over sticky burnt mess out of my stove, I finished making this.

Cranberry Orange Jam

5-6 small oranges (or clementines, or satsumas, or tangerines), peeled and more-or-less seeded
1/2 bag fresh cranberries (left over from Thanksgiving)
1 cup sugar

Process oranges into a juicy slurry (I used the blender). Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and jammy.

On the way to jam, I realized that fruit topping, cranberry sauce, and jam are all the same recipe, cooked to different thicknesses -- stop cooking when you've gotten as far as you want to go (and expect it to thicken just a tiny bit more in the fridge).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quick Grapefruit Jam


Enterprise Farm sent us some beautiful Florida grapefruit last week, and seeing my roommate (usually a meat and potatoes guy) eat one for dinner inspired me to claim the other two for grapefruit jam.*

We've made proper marmalade (with a recipe and everything!) before, but our food processor is on strike at the moment (so including the peels wasn't feasible), and I was a bit distracted (because I was trying to make four cheesecakes at the same time). I was also feeling a bit cocky about improvised jam making after our Concord grape fest, so I didn't bother looking for instructions.

Here's what I did: Put flesh and juice of 2 grapefruit (and plenty of pith and membranes; I have in my mind that this helps it set, so it wasn't merely sloth) in a saucepan. Stir in 1 cup of sugar. Cook, stirring regularly, until reduced and thickened to a jamlike consistency. (Recipes will tell you to cook over low heat, which takes a long time; I started it hotter and cooked it faster, which just means you have be vigilant about burning.)

I used the jam as topping on a vodka-and-grapefruit cheesecake, and then ate the leftovers on waffles and toast. (In retrospect, more carefully removing the large pieces of the membranes would have made it more spreadable.)

* Jam includes the fruit's flesh; marmalade goes the extra step of including the peel; jelly is made from just the juice.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Video: Picadilly Farm CSA

The kitchen has been given over to cheesecake cooking for the last few days (as is annual tradition), so no new adventures in vegetables this week.

Instead, here's a little promotional video for our weekly potluck Picadilly Farm (which provided one of our CSAs this summer), by our own filmmaker in residence.



Farmshare from Ben Pender-Cudlip on Vimeo

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Side Dish Sunday: Sweet Potato Pudding Cake


For an unusual take on sweet potato pie at practice Thanksgiving, we made this Jamaican-inspired sweet potato pudding cake with coconut milk, rum, and raisins.

It bakes up pretty dense, like a cheesecake, and is satisfying in small slices. Also like a cheesecake, it has to chill for several hours after baking and is served cold, so it removed "make dessert" from my last-minute pre-dinner list. A+++, great recipe, would bake again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Side Dish Saturday: Stuffing 2.0


What do you put in stuffing?

Because we were making ours as part of practice Thanksgiving (that non-holiday weeknight when we make a full Thanksgiving dinner -- this year including a turkey -- for twenty-five), Jack proposed we try an agile approach, developing a minimum viable product and then adding features as time allowed.

The minimum viable product for stuffing is box stuffing, prepared according to package directions -- add water, seasoning packet, butter. (Having already tried both this year, I can advise you that Trader Joe's stuffing in a box is much better than Whole Foods's stuffing in a bag, which was all but dust when it reached us.)

Features are any additions to that basic stuffing -- onions, celery, mushrooms, apples, dried fruit, herbs -- which we might prep and add if we had time, according to customer feedback (the guests would be arriving by the time we started cooking it).

To develop a list of possible features, I searched for "stuffing" on Epicurious, copied the ingredient lists for the first fifty recipes, and used Wordle to generate a tag cloud. (I did a little data cleanup first, joining some two-word phrases like "olive oil," and a lot of discarding extraneous words, like "tablespoons," after.)

(See the results larger on Wordle or download the PDF.)

My technique innovation this year was making the stuffing in our giant rice cooker to free up the stovetop (and leave some psychological space in the kitchen). I browned onions and celery in the bottom far in advance, and then, ten minutes before I expected everything else to be done, added apples, dried cranberries, the stuffing mix, butter, and a kettleful of hot water, and turned it on. The rice cooker shut off when the water was gone (no danger of burning; no need to stir), and it kept the stuffing steamy hot until serving time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

I had stopped at Trader Joe's to buy a dozen eggs. But at the front of the store, they had fresh brussels sprouts on the stalk, with a sign next to them suggesting that you roast them as is (in one piece, without removing the sprouts).

YOU CAN DO THAT?!?

It was fun to do. It's definitely a dramatic presentation. And it's especially mind-blowing for any of your dinner guests who haven't seen brussels sprouts on the stalk. (I was blase about that, and then I Googled to see a brussels sprout plant and had my own mind blown.)

A few caveats:
  • A whole stalk of brussels sprouts is longer than any of our cookie sheets and just barely fits diagonally in our oven. 
  • After the first fifteen minutes, I had to edit my stalk with some scissors to remove the sprouts that were overhanging the cookie sheet and burning. 
  • Very few of the sprouts actually touch the cookie sheet (even if you rotate the stalk every 5 or 10 minutes), so you don't get the nice roasty browning that makes, in my opinion, eating brussels sprouts worthwhile. (A good number of ours were burned leaves on the outside and mushy boiled-cabbage texture inside.)
P.S. The stalk: Some people say you can eat it like broccoli stems. But after roasting, ours was too hard to even break with a cleaver, and too big to fit in the kitchen wastebasket.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Butternut Squash Noodle Kugel

I should start by confessing that I have no idea what a kugel is. I may have had a taste of one off of someone else's plate once or twice in my life. (I'm pretty sure it was here, actually.) So I have no grounds for asserting that what we made tonight was in fact a kugel.

However. I roasted two butternut squashes yesterday, and no one, myself included, seemed excited about eating them. Today I wanted to use them up, but I was also hoping for something ... light? Something un-squash-like?

I was Googling for "butternut squash souffles" when "butternut squash kugel" turned up. That seemed promising ...

But beware! It turns out that "kugel" can be a synonym for "casserole." I emphatically did not want to make baked squash in a pie pan. I wanted noodles. (In retrospect, here's the kind of kugel I dream about.)

What I ended up making was something like this recipe, with double the squash, some whole milk poured around the edges before baking, lots of fresh sage and rosemary, and dried cranberries and walnuts on top instead of pecans.

What I liked about it
  1. It used up two whole butternut squashes.
  2. The big chunks of fresh sage and rosemary (from our just-moved-indoors herb garden) made the whole thing seem lighter and fresher.
  3. It had pretty colors! (Orange and green and cranberry.)
If I had it to do over, I would have
  1. Blended the squash (instead of leaving it in chunks) with some milk to make it a smoother, saucier consistency.
  2. Added some additional dairy -- cheese, cottage cheese, or cream cheese. (I was misled by some of the recipes I looked at being parve, containing neither milk nor meat).
  3. Had some egg noodles instead of plain ziti. Relatedly, checked how many eggs we had. (I put in the three we had, but that wasn't anything custardy about it.)
  4. Not burned the walnut and cranberry topping under the broiler. (The walnuts and cranberries pictured were added after the burned ones were removed.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remarketing Borscht

Our farmers at Picadilly braved 18 inches of snow to bring us "borscht in a box" last week: beets, turnips, carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes.

We made borscht last year to use up our beets and cabbage and root vegetables, so I was pretty comfortable winging it as "vegetable soup that happens to contain beets and maybe is partially pureed" (how I make soup) this time.

But still, announcing "borscht" made the potluck guests uneasy. Housemates hovered in the kitchen to supervise what went into the pot. Some declared, bravely, their determination to try it. Another brought vodka.

We'd accumulated some beets and quite a bit of cabbage from previous weeks, so we made, um, sort of a lot. (Cf. the Canadian idiom "Cheap like borscht.")

Having a lot of unpopular magenta soup is not a plight unique to our refrigerator. In the Wall Street Journal, the borscht-making Gold family brainstorms new ways to sell their trademark project:
"It needs a totally new look to it," Steven Gold declares. "A sexy look." He advocates taking the word "borscht" out of the equation altogether. Call the product "Beet Smoothie," he suggests. "Power Beet Juice," offers Howard Gold.
And, in response, some (apparently earnest) suggestions on "making borscht cool again":
My key suggestion is to target babies and toddlers with a baby food (e.g. steamed and pureed beats) and a fun children’s borscht. This could be a very strategic move that makes beets and borscht a normal (and fun) part of childhood ... To target a very different audience than the Whole Foods crowd, I could imagine trying to get Borscht the official drink of an ultimate fighter or WWE wrestler. 
Jack, however, discovered the best marketing strategy for leftover borscht: combine it with cheese sauce.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Apple Butter

I'm not sure what got into us, but we had the opportunity, so we rescued another sixteen pounds of unlovely city-grown apples. (Yes, that's a third time scavenging apples. I told you about the first time we made applesauce this fall, but I don't think I told you about the second fifteen pounds, which made four more quarts of applesauce.)

These ones were tart and delicious, so the lookers got diverted into a pie. The rest cooked down to three quarts of applesauce, but we didn't need any more applesauce. (I'm out of canning jars and lids, so everything has to go in the fridge now.)

Apple butter is applesauce cooked down and caramelized, usually with sugar and spices added. (And sometimes with additions like apple cider. But who has apple cider they're trying to get rid of?)

We found a simple slow-cooker apple butter recipe, but we didn't find the slow-cooker, so I made it in an saucepan, stirring constantly for about an hour. Three quarts of applesauce makes about three pints of apple butter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Canning #4: Grape Jam

After our success canning urban applesauce, we were alerted to a backyard arbor of unwanted Concord grapes.

So, like any normal person would do, we picked 40 pounds.

Concord grapes have seeds, so to get them out of your jam, you peel the grapes (they just squirt out of their skins), cook the skins and insides separately, mill the insides to get the seeds out, and put it all back together. I used this recipe.

(Yes, we peeled 40 pounds of grapes. By "we," I mostly mean Erica.)

I cooked them in small batches, using every pot in the house (multiple times), burning a few, and learning a lot about jam making.

Twelve hours later, we had 12 half pints of jam, 8 pints of jam, and 3 quarts of grape sorbet base, and EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD was purple and sticky. Somehow, I ended up with jam on my feet.

P.S. What's the difference between grape jam and grape jelly? Jam has actual chunks of the fruit fiber in it; jellies are made from just the strained fruit juice.

P.P.S. The grape sorbet (recipe), once I recovered enough to freeze it, was also incredibly delicious.

Digression: Jam recipes vary a lot in how much sugar they call for. Epicurious says 1 cup per pound of grapes. The recipe I used called for 1/4 cup per pound of grapes. Low-sugar jam! But! You cook jam until it reaches 220 degrees F. What allows it to come to a temperature higher than the boiling point of water is that it's reached a certain concentration of sugar (something like 65%). So it seems to me that all finished jams have the same amount of sugar, and adding less at the start just means you're going to spend more time cooking it down -- and that you'll have finessed the proportions of fruit sugar to processed sugar (which is not necessarily an insignificant thing). Am I missing something here?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Canning #3: Applesauce


Canning project #3 this fall was applesauce, led by an offshoot of the Somerville Yogurt Co-op, which decided to 1) harvest urban fruit that would otherwise go to waste, and 2) teach its members some canning skills.

The first surprise for me was how delicious city apples -- small, bumpy, brown spotted -- were. I'd passed the tree they were on a hundred times without even noticing that there was fruit on it. But the apples were sweet and tart, and if not cosmetically perfect, still fine (with a bit of knife-work) to eat out of hand.

My second surprise was the absolute simplicity of applesauce as we made it: Quarter the apples (not bothering to remove stems, cores, or seeds); cook them in a tiny bit of water until soft (we used a pressure cooker, but that's not necessary); crank them through a food mill; and voila, applesauce!

(Here's how the USDA tells you to make it. To properly can applesauce in boiling water, process pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20.)

And my third surprise was the deliciousness of warm-from-the-pot, freshly made, pinkish-tinted (from the peels), nothing-but-apples applesauce. Once again, the canning was a superfluous step, as a pint is two servings in my house, and my whole share of our harvest lasted less than a week.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Canning #2: Tomatoes

The first week in September, Picadilly Farm again gifted us with bulk produce, this time in the form of twenty-pound boxes of tomatoes. We got two. (We actually requested four, so the forty pounds represented a scaling down of our ambitions.)

I told you about the six pounds I diverted off into ketchup and tomato jam. Jack, Anna, and Erica handled the other thirty-four, blanching, peeling, dicing, and canning something like sixteen quarts. (Jack made a neat time-lapse iPhone movie of their progress; maybe if you ask him about it, he'll post it where you can see it.)

(Many thanks to Nathaniel and Ariel who lent their proper canning gear -- pot, rack, and jar lifter -- for the project. You've seen what happens when we improvise.)

High-fives all around! We had our diced tomatoes for the winter ...

... or not. A month of tomato sauces and minestrones and one enormous pot of chili later, all the tomatoes are gone. We barely needed to can them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Canning #1: Cucumber Pickles


Our summer/fall of canning started in late July, when Picadilly Farm e-mailed all its CSA members to ask if we wanted an extra ten pounds of cucumbers. (It was the first time I'd heard of a CSA offering its shareholders their fraction of an unexpected bumper crop, and I was very impressed.)

DID WE? Why would we not?

They noted, "These are not pickling cukes." So of course, I was determined to pickle them.

Our friends Ariel and Nathaniel made some killer pickles last summer, so we borrowed their Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and made about six pints of bread and butter pickles and six pints of dills. (It looks like Smitten Kitchen has about the same recipe for bread and butter pickles, which I think are amazing. The dills I chose didn't do as much for me.)

We don't have a proper canning pot, so I had the brilliant idea of using our giant rice cooker to process the jars. This would have been a still more brilliant idea if 1) the jars had fit in the rice cooker, and 2) I hadn't, in order to make the jars fit, turned them upside down, allowing the brine to leak out before the jars sealed. (The really exceptionally brilliant part is that after this failed on the first batch of pickles, I DID IT A SECOND TIME.)

The bread and butter pickles didn't leak much and sealed all right, but the dills ... did not, so I added some ex post facto vinegar and put them directly into the fridge.

I should mention that these are the very simplest kind of pickles -- sliced cucumbers in vinegar and salt. (Well, actually the easiest kind is when you stick fresh cucumber slices in the leftover pickle juice in your Vlasic jar. I have done this. It makes a mild pickle.) 

Complicated pickle recipes, which we will not be attempting here, involve fermentation and weeks of aging in a crock (with daily check-ins) and instructions like "Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all." (Here's Somerville's own JJ Gonson, with more on pickling.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cannery Row

Unexpectedly, the late summer/fall has been all about canning (and somewhat less about blogging) over here, so this week I bring you four stories, stories on the theme of Ball jars.

Act One: It begins with an unexpected ten pounds of cucumbers.
Act Two: The unaccounted-for thirty-four pounds of tomatoes.
Act Three: Locally grown, harvested, and canned applesauce.
Act Four: Forty pounds of peeled grapes make jam.

I also just cracked open the green tomato pickles I told you about, which, like the circus, are IN-TENSE!

(Our first introduction to canning was last winter, with our four Christmas marmalades. We've come a long way since those little jars, which I keep coming upon unopened in my kitchen and the kitchens of friends.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homegrown: Greenhorns screening

Look, I grew some peppers! Yup, that's my entire harvest.

If you're interested in more serious young farmers (I am! my former roommate is starting at the Farm School this fall!), the documentary "The Greenhorns" is showing at the Brattle tomorrow (September 28).

They say:
Our documentary is called "The Greenhorns," and is about the struggle and valor of young farmers in America. It was directed by a Cambridge native.

We need help promoting to Boston-area citizens who care about the present and future of fresh, local food and sustainable farming. Will you help us get the word out? We want to pack the house. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with young farmer leaders from the greater-Boston area.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Tomato Pickles

My tomato plants have given up the ghost (looking at my neighbors' healthy vines and the glossy volunteer plants bursting out of the window boxes at Johnny D's, I suspect the cause was neglect, not seasonality). BUT ANYWAY, I picked all the green tomatoes as a farewell to this year's garden.

And I made two pints of green tomato pickles. (Pretty excited about pickling this year; maybe someday we'll talk about our cucumber pickles.)

The recipe I used came from Brooklyn Homesteader (via a page I tore out of, oddly enough, Bust magazine), but I don't see it online. (There are plenty of other recipes for green tomato pickles, though.)

You can also make it up! Basically, for each pint, put half an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, and some pickling spice* in the bottom of the jar. Add sliced green tomatoes to fill the jar. Bring a mixture of half apple cider vinegar and half water to a boil (you'll need about 1 cup of liquid for each pint you're canning), and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 tablespoon sugar for each pint jar. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, carefully screw on the tops, and turn them upside down to seal. (These aren't properly canned, so store them in the fridge.)

My recipe also doesn't say how long to wait before eating them, but we'll probably give them a week or two before tasting.

* What's pickling spice? You can buy it premixed, or make your own according to a recipe, but I combined mine directly in the jars, based on what I had, with no attention to proportions. It's a combination of spicy/savory (mustard seed, celery seed, peppercorns, bay leaf, coriander, red pepper flakes or other chiles) and warm/sweet (allspice, cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves) spices, often using whole seeds or pieces (rather than ground).

P.S. Loving my "Yes We Can" T-shirt from these guys.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Stuffed Lipstick Peppers

These stuffed peppers are our next entry in the cabbage-disguised-as-Mexican-food sweepstakes (see cabbage enchiladas, previously).

Enterprise Farm sent us a dozen "lipstick peppers" (amazing small sweet red peppers) in last week's box. These ones are stuffed with a mixture of rice, refried beans, leftover tomatillo salsa, cheese, and sauteed onions and, yup, cabbage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cabbage Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa

A major feature of life around here recently has been brainstorming ways to eat cabbage.

Inspired by some delicious (non-cabbage) enchiladas we'd had in New York, we had the idea of cabbage enchiladas. (Jack plumped for cabbage hard tacos, but was voted down.)

Strangely, we were not the first people to think of this. The key question about cabbage enchiladas turns out to be whether you put the cabbage on the inside or the outside. (Yes, I did briefly consider "both." That's how much cabbage we have.)

The recipe we went with was this one for Mexican Cabbage Rolls, substituting rice and beans for the ground beef to make them vegetarian. They were tasty (if a bit hard to cut), and if you got home late, you didn't get any. (No leftovers counts as a big win when we're cooking with cabbage.)

Serendipitously, Picadilly Farm sent us tomatillos today, along with a simple green salsa recipe, which made a tasty enchilada topping. Their recipe called for serrano or jalapeno peppers, but we used some roasted green chiles our friends Nathaniel and Ariel imported from New Mexico and left at potluck last week.

Simple Tomatillo Salsa

Husk and wash your tomatillos, and cut them into halves or quarters. Throw into the food processor with a garlic clove, a big handful of cilantro, and chiles to taste. Process until smoothish, and add salt and maybe lime juice to taste.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ketchup and Tomato Jam

I have a story to tell you that starts with forty pounds of tomatoes, but to ease into it, I'm going to start with just six pounds: four for ketchup and two for tomato jam.

Either Malcolm Gladwell ("The Ketchup Conundrum"; totally worth a read) or Jeffrey Steingarten (The Man Who Ate Everything) is the original king of telling you that it's impossible to make a better ketchup than Heinz. Jonah Lehrer has written about the problem. So has the Washington Post. And the Kitchn.

So of course I was going to try. There are lots of ketchup recipes out there, but aspiring to match average all-American ketchup, I used the USDA-approved canning recipe. (I made 1/6 the recipe, using four pounds of tomatoes and ending up with less than one pint of ketchup.)

But to hedge my bets, I also plotted to make a spicy tomato jam from America's Test Kitchen. Should my ketchup disappoint, I could plausibly deny that I had even been trying to make ketchup.

I e-mailed Jack the jam recipe, just to emphasize that I was not planning to make ketchup.

He wrote back, "They are totally talking about ketchup, right?"

But the ketchup recipe and the tomato jam recipe were actually very different. The only common ingredients are tomatoes and sugar (and the jam uses six times more when you consider its yield). They also both have vinegar, but different kinds.

Also, and this is important when you're as lazy as I am: the jam was fast and did not require peeling tomatoes. Or painstaking sieving. It did not bring you to that stage, an hour into the process, when you realize you've made tomato-flavored water that you despair of ever reducing down to ketchup consistency. And it yielded more finished sauce than the ketchup, while using half the tomatoes.

The jam -- whose secret nonvegetarian ingredient is a healthy amount of fish sauce -- turned out savory and jammy and sweet and chunky and every kind of delicious. I'm really pleased with it, and I've been enjoying it on toast and eggs and grilled vegetables and everything else I can think of.

And the ketchup? It turned out almost exactly like Heinz ketchup. I'm not sure what to make of that.

P.S. The upshot of having homemade ketchup on hand is a French fry renaissance in our house. We're trying a new frying method courtesy of Jeffrey Steingarten (really, his The Man Who Ate Everything is mouthwatering, despite the food criticism being fifteen years old). Instead of doing a long low-temperature fry (to cook the insides) followed by a short high-temperature fry (to crisp the outsides), you just cover the potatoes with room-temperature oil, turn the heat to high, and pull them out when the temperature hits 350. Results so far are encouraging.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Almost Enough Tomatoes

This is just the tomatoes that have come into our lives in the last day.
Between our two farm shares, the four plants out front, and a peach-picking trip hastily turned tomato-picking trip*, we are starting to have something almost approaching nearly as many gorgeous ripe local heirloom tomatoes as we can manage to eat.

I know, #firstworldproblem.

Jack and I scored a co-op hat trick, using up a rock-hard forgotten half baguette, some basil we'd grown ourselves, and a bunch of the tomatoes in a panzanella, or bread salad. (Incidentally, the New York Times apparently did a whole series on things to make with stale bread?)

Then Jack made a fresh tomato sauce over diced eggplant, sort of inspired by Cook's Illustrated's vegetable lasagna. (We also salted and microwaved the eggplant before cooking, as described in the Cook's recipe, which had the result of making one of our housemates ask "Where'd you get all the mushrooms?")

But Anna did it best, with a simple plate of sliced tomatoes topped with balsamic vinegar, a little oil, and salt. Yum!

* A field trip to Smolak Farms (where we had great success picking peaches and plums and nectarines last year) to pick peaches before they were blown down in the hurricane was a disappointment because of 1) lack of ripe peaches, and 2) lack of hurricane. Fortunately, they also have you-pick heirloom tomatoes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Broken Mayonnaise Zucchini Muffins


As you may recall, in our last episode, we had just left our heroine with the remains of a broken mayonnaise: namely, two eggs, a cup of oil, salt, lemon juice, and a spoonful of Dijon mustard, whizzed together into a frothy, not-at-all-mayonnaise-like, oily mess.

What else has lots of oil and eggs? Muffins! (I concede that the Dijon mustard is not traditional.)

A friend recently brought these amazing cream-cheese-filled carrot cake muffins to work. We didn't actually have any carrots, but what did we have spilling out of our crisper? Zucchini! (Literally. We had extras piled up on the counter because they wouldn't all fit in the fridge.)

Since we were making carrot muffins out of zucchini and mayonnaise anyway, it also seemed like a good day to try to use up a bag of homemade-cake-mix-gone-wrong. (We had a giant ziplock containing 2 parts sugar: 3 parts flour, with 1 teaspoon each baking soda and baking powder for every 5 cups of the mixture, so, you know, pretty easy math.)

We also had only half the cream cheese called for in the recipe (and, OK, yes, it was in the bottom of the freezer, left over from December). I will say, it wasn't so little that it didn't start erupting from the center of the muffins while they baked. (See center muffin in photo.)

Everything considered, it would have been a triumph just for the muffins to come out not tasting of mustard (which they didn't) ... but they were actually pretty darn good.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cape Ann Fresh Catch

A couple weeks ago, we had the chance to try the Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF (community supported fishery). As in a CSA, CSF members pay upfront for a weekly share, in this case of "local, sustainably caught, and wicked fresh" seafood.

Cooking (and possibly gutting and scaling) fish weekly has never seemed like a good match for our vegetarian household. But we'd been curious to check the CSF out, so we jumped at the chance to pick up one week's share for a member who was going to be out of town.

Jogging home -- through hundred-degree weather -- with two pounds of icy raw striped bass fillets under my arm (running errands, if you will) was a less-than-glamorous part of the whole affair.

(Should you want your own fresh fish, the fall CSF season starts at the beginning of September. See the site for a mind-boggling array of conditional options -- whole fish or fillets or both, every week or alternating weeks, numerous distribution points.)

We like to fry, so we did a straightforward fish and chips, and yes, that's an enormous mound of mixed greens (chard, kale, and anonymous) behind them. Jack had discovered a super-easy immersion blender mayonnaise he wanted to make again, and we learned that tartar sauce is apparently just mayonnaise + chopped pickles or capers and lemon juice. So we had a plan.

However, when it came time to actually make the mayonnaise, Jack was attending to the french fries' second fry. Since, regardless of foolproof technique, previously-worked-in-our-kitchen method, or even precise following of directions, I only manage successful mayonnaise half the time, this time, doing it in a rush, for an audience, I was doomed to fail.

Let me just say, fish and chips are good with ketchup, too.

Tune in next time to find out what we did with the broken mayonnaise ...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Zucchini and Corn Fritters


Friends, I usually like to mess with a recipe, but this one (Zucchini and Corn Fritters Rule the World. For Reals) from Serious Eats was too perfect, from its using up of a giant zucchini (after salting and squeezing, I'm pretty sure I poured 70% of its volume down the drain) to its showcasing of just-picked not-really-cooked CSA corn to its just-enough-flour-and-egg to barely hold the thing together. Also: the combination of fresh and fried.

Not to mention! The feature's assonant name ("The Crisper Whisperer") or its brilliantly overwrought prose:
Zucchini is the Brangelina of seasonal produce. It reproduces like mad and is inherently and unabashedly plural.

When they borrowed the word from the Italian, English speakers wisely dispensed with the singular "zucchino," realizing they would never use it. There's no such thing as just one zucchini, see? Not anywhere. Not ever.
 Maybe that's only funny if you've been in our refrigerator recently.

(We've frittered before; some background on fritter types there.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lazy Tomato

As you may have noticed, we sometimes love cooking complicated and well-Internet-researched recipes for whoever shows up to the house.

Know what else I love? When no one else is home at dinnertime and a sliced tomato and a handful of mixed greens or basil on toast can be my meal. (This one with mozarella and fried egg for added oomph.) I don't think there's much to say about making a tomato sandwich, but here's the New York Times's appreciation of the form.

Not much cooking (and even less blogging) recently because of too much work and too much summer fun. A small gem from the cookbook copyediting work keeping me busy recently: "Portion the pasta using tongues, twirling it onto the plate to create height."

(Incidentally, if you like that sort of thing, you might enjoy Love, Your Copyeditor.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Radicchio Face

 It wasn't enough to blog about it. Starting a joke Twitter account only scratched the surface of our dislike.

 Friends, we hate radicchio enough to make a film about it.



Further to the argument that strong flavors showcase it best, we tried eating it as a deconstructed version of this Endive and Radicchio Cheese Plate Salad, with lots of cheese and nuts and dried apricots and yeast dressing.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Alex and Alex actually seem to like radicchio, and later snacked through a whole bag of the stuff while quizzing us on math and logic puzzles.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Easy Lazy Zucchini-Avocado Soup

The cucurbitas are here! We've been getting fistfuls of yellow squash and crooknecks and stripey green-gray squash and zucchini from both our CSAs.

Picadilly Farm was kind enough to send, with another two pounds of squash yesterday, a recipe for this no-cook, barely-any-prep, super-easy cold zucchini-avocado soup. Just dump everything in the food processor, whizz, chill, and done.

Another serving for lunch today made me think of a savory zucchini smoothie -- and wonder just a little whether we could add it to our vegetable breakfast repertoire. (The leftovers, like guacamole, do turn a little brown on the exposed surface.)

Chilled Zucchini and Avocado Soup
Farmer John's Cookbook

4 small or 2 medium zucchini or summer squash
2 avocados, coarsely chopped
3 medium scallions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, halved
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Put zucchini, avocados, scallions, garlic, chili powder, and coriander seeds in a food processor; process until smoothly combined. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl; stir in the yogurt. Refrigerate at least one hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste; garnish with cilantro.
P.S. Fifteen more recipes for squash.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Veggietrivia


Alex (party to our griping about radicchio) sends a New York Times article about other unpopular vegetables, namely colonial-era vegetables that have fallen out of favor (for example, burnet, smallage, and skirrets). Vagaries of fashion aside, difficulty in cultivation or preparation along with just plain tasting bad seem to be the top reasons.

We make pesto from just about anything green around here (parsley, garlic scapes, kale, mixed herbs; instruction zine), and we have a bunch of fennel fronds waiting (not a new idea among thrifty eaters and CSA recipients). So I was pretty excited to see this Ask MetaFilter thread about what causes pesto sometimes to come out a beautiful green and sometimes an unappetizing brown, including a long summary of Harold McGee's research on the issue. (Short answer: it's complicated.)

I looked in the refrigerator just now and found not a single head of lettuce (!!), so today's salad is CSA arugula, yellow beans, and wheatberries, with fried egg, dried cranberries, walnuts, and nutritional yeast dressing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Resenting Radicchio

How can food that looks this good taste so bad?

Relatedly, have you ever thrown a dinner party where the major topic of conversation was how bad the vegetables tasted? Where, a week later, the guests still wanted to talk about the absurd inedibility of what you'd served them?

I know, I know, fool me once, shame on the chicories. Fool me twice ... well, I'm not sure why I thought roasting our two heads of radicchio and one of endive would come out less bitter than the last time we tried.

Epicurious's blogger had a similar experience with her CSA radicchio:
I assumed that this new radicchio would taste like its more familiar counterparts (a little crunchy with a gentle, palatable bitterness), but what I got when I bit into a leaf was pure bitterness. I had to spit it out. ... With a lot of parmesan cheese and some pasta, the radicchio was rendered somewhat edible. There was still a lingering bitterness that made it difficult to eat a lot of it but at least it didn't all go to waste.
Help? How are you guys eating this stuff?

P.S. At some point in the meal it began to seem like a good idea to start a Twitter account by what one friend called "very angry lettuce."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spring Vegetable Sous-Vide

Picadilly Farm wins the food porn award this week, with these beautiful bunches of spring carrots ("Napoli"), leeks ("Varna"), and radishes ("French Breakfast"). A special preparation was obviously called for.

Jack suggested sous-vide. After the time Jack cooked a turkey in his parents' bathtub, they gifted him with the hardware for a rice cooker sous-vide hack (sort of like this one). We've recently been experimenting with sous-vide steak (pretty darn good) and salmon (amazing), and we'd heard that the technique works well with root vegetables.

I used the Serious Eats recipe for sous-vide carrots, vacuum-sealing them in bags (with salt, sugar, and butter) and submerging them in 183-degree water for an hour. (Unsurprisingly, I elected not to do the recommended faux-tourne cut. In fact, I might have left a couple inches of the tops and roots on.)

And ... well, they tasted like fresh vegetables cooked with lots of salt, sugar, and butter. A nice thing, but maybe not the highest calling of a thirty-eight-cup rice cooker. They did have a nice crisp-tender even-throughout fancy-restaurant thing happening (restaurants sous-vide vegetables because they'll hold forever without overcooking, which is a good thing when you're serving dinner over several hours), but our guests were more awed by the supreme inedibility of the escarole and radicchio I cooked alongside (more on that to come).

P.S. Sous-vide makes this list of 2011's ten worst food trends.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wheatberry Resources

When Enterprise farm share members got a pound of wheatberries (via Four Star Farms) this week, we had to laugh. Because, um, about a month ago, I talked my housemates into letting me bulk order a twenty-five pound bag of wheatberries.

That is a large amount of wheatberries.

Wheat berries are the whole grain of the wheat plant (the bran, germ, and endosperm). If you grind wheatberries, you get whole wheat flour. If you refine it down to the endosperm and grind that, you get white flour. For serious, I did not know where flour came from until recently.

Other things you can do with the champagne of whole grains* include sprouting them, growing wheatgrass from them (popular with hippies and cats), or fermenting them in possibly the strangest recipe I've ever seen on Epicurious (and the reader reviews are priceless).

If you're so unlucky as to have only a pound, well, 1) I can help you out, and 2) I suggest boiling them and eating them. We've talked about making wheatberry salads (a consistent potluck favorite) and wheatberries for breakfast here before.

I've been evangelizing wheatberries recently with a little hand-drawn zine (PDF), and curating a bit.ly bundle of wheatberry recipes (comment with your suggestions, and I'll add 'em).

* Because they sort of pop on your tongue when you eat them.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Make-Up Soup: Broccoli-Cheddar-Bread

Sometimes -- and please pretend to be shocked to hear this -- Jack and I disagree a little bit about cooking.

A few weeks ago, we had some broccoli and we had some rapidly staling baguettes. (How much bread did we have? A friend came by and blurted, "Did you guys get that from a dumpster?")

I wanted to make this broccoli, red pepper, and cheddar chowder. Sounds delicious, amirite? 3 1/2 forks on Epicurious. Like an early summer version of my favorite lots-of-vegetables corn chowder.

Jack wanted to make bread soup. Something like this, or maybe this, the world's most insufferable bread soup recipe. (Objectively! Not just saying that because I was mad!)

In uncompromising spirit, we both went ahead making our own soups, completely disregarding what the other was up to. Jack started sauteeing bread cubes and adding broth. I started chopping broccoli and onions.

We made concessions: In deference to his entire cubed stale baguette, I omitted the potato from my recipe. He pretended not to notice when I dumped a bowlful of vegetables into his pot. And we agreed about adding cream and cheddar and immersion blending the results.

The numerous things we disagreed about putting directly in the soup -- chopped tomato, red pepper, chives, basil, sour cream, and Jack's rocking croutons -- all made fine toppings.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Breakfast Salad

Salad for lunch and dinner just wasn't sufficient to get through all this lettuce. (Are you drowning in lettuce, too? A paean to lettuce for some perspective.)

The Kitchn suggested the addition of a poached egg to make it more breakfasty. The particular salad here was a co-op team effort, with poached eggs (in onion-infused milk) by Anna and house-favorite yeast dressing by Erica (via Jack's mom).

I love what the Paupered Chef has to say about breakfast salad, starting with the appeal of vegetables over most breakfasts:
I'm eating salads because I dislike most breakfast foods. Sure, I have a soft spot for perfect pancakes and Eggs Benedict, but I'm talking about what most people eat on a daily basis: boxed cereal and pop tarts, the kind of food I'd never dream of eating for dinner, but somehow seems necessary in the morning when I need to hurry up and get to work. 
as well as the practical considerations:
I'm blurry-eyed and nearly incoherent in the morning until I drink coffee, and the idea of washing and chopping vegetables would probably leave me with a missing finger. So I do most of the work the night before. My wife and I wash whatever lettuce we are going to use (sometimes romaine, mostly a mix), spin it dry, and then tear it up into 1-inch pieces. The lettuce is placed in a plastic bag with a paper towel, and then stashed in the fridge. Then we'll peel and chop whatever other vegetables we have around and place them in containers.
I, too, have been prewashing large batches (think three or four heads at a time) of our extraordinarily sandy lettuce to make sure it's ready to eat when the mood strikes.

I don't entirely follow the connection to running ultramarathons on breakfast salad, but I added Born to Run to my library request queue.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How Not to Make a Rhubarb Pie


1. Abdicate making pie crust. I have this idea that pie crust is hard to make. (Could it be the Internet foodnoscenti proclaiming "freeze and grate your butter," "use ice water," "don't look at the dough too hard, or it will turn out tough"?) Despite knowing that a seven year old can make pie crust (the Brownie cooking Try-It requires making an apple pie, and my mom scoffed at the handbook's instruction to use a premade pie crust), I still avoid it.

2. Substitute cream cheese for butter. So, I have this recipe for a easy cookie/tartlet crust that I use when I have to fake a (small) pie crust. It calls for 8 ounces of butter and 3 ounces of cream cheese. I had 3 ounces of butter and 8 ounces of cream cheese. I think you can see where this is going.

3. Substitute cake flour for all-purpose (or pastry) for no earthly reason. I can't explain this one. I looked at the baking shelf, saw a few different kinds of flour, and made a dumb choice. To compound the error, I added lots of extra flour, because the dough came out really sticky (see #2). According to this site, the problem is that cake flour doesn't have enough protein to form a workable dough.

4. Switch horses midstream. My original plan was to make individual-size pies in ramekins (for which my faked unrollable cookie/tartlet crust might have worked), but when I saw how much filling I was going to have, I decided to make a full-size pie. The dough was sticky and completely unrollable, which I attribute to a combination of #1, #2, and #3.

5. Omit adding any thickeners. Apparently rhubarb pie often includes flour, cornstarch, or tapioca to thicken the filling. I did not know this when I made my filling. I probably poured a quarter cup of liquid off my pie before putting it in the oven (it sat around macerating for a while before I baked it) and another quarter cup before serving. It was still ... not of a pielike consistency. (Chowhound addresses the issue, and suggests that fresh spring farmer's market rhubarb is more watery than summer rhubarb.)
 
6. Make a closed-top pie. This wasn't the original plan, but I had a lot of pie dough (see: adding lots of extra flour in #3), so I made a top crust. Michael Ruhlman says you make rhubarb pie either with no top crust or with a lattice so that extra liquid can bubble off. Huh.
 
7. Don't use a recipe. Many nice rhubarb pie recipes exist in the world. Here's one from Smitten Kitchen. Looking at a picture of a rhubarb pie that your brother's girlfriend posted on Facebook turns out not to be a completely adequate substitute. See #1-6.
 
8. Turn off the oven midway through pie baking. Not that you would, but our (new, fancy, digital) oven is a little complicated to use. I was sort of distracted when I got up to check the pie and reset the timer halfway through cooking. What can I say?

One thing I did do right? Throw in a big handful of frozen peaches we picked at Smolak Farms last summer. Yum.

I'm too embarrassed to show you what the pie looked like ("crumble" would be charitable), but it was still scarfed up. Vanilla ice cream helped. (I ate the last piece for breakfast the next day, another thing my mom taught me.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sunflower Sprouts

The lettuces and arugula and mixed greens are rolling in with our first CSA boxes, so it must be salad season. It would be easy to smother in a surfeit of salad greens (and slowly perish of monotony), so we're soliciting suggestions for making salads more special. Any ideas?

For last week's potluck, I grew a tray of sunflower microgreens. I've mentioned sprouting (or instant-gratification gardening, as I think of it) before; the only difference with microgreens is that you grow them a bit longer in a tiny bit of soil and don't eat the root part. Sprout People has instructions and enthusiasm for sunflowers (among many, many other things). I was advised not to buy seeds designated for sprouting (like theirs), though -- sunflower seeds sold for bird feeders (which you can find at the grocery store) work fine and are much cheaper.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fiddlehead Pasta

What did we end up doing with the fiddleheads? We ate them with two sticks of butter!

Our dinner was fiddlehead pasta with beurre blanc, inspired by Kel at More Cupcakes. (Kel is another Somervillan, and she also blogs the Enterprise Farm CSA.) Our additions to the recipe were orange juice and zest (we didn't have a lemon) and fresh sage from our window box.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Picadilly CSA Box

It's Tuesday, so that means ... our second CSA is here! We are getting the Picadilly Farm share this year (yes, in addition to the Enterprise large share), so our refrigerator is ALL ABOUT vegetables right now.

This box contained red lettuce, green lettuce, arugula, salad mix, bok choy, radishes, and cilantro. Why, yes, we did have a big salad at potluck.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

First Enterprise CSA Box



We got our first CSA box from Enterprise Farm yesterday, and I think we can say ... WORTH THE WAIT. This is Enterprise's large share, containing onions, sweet potatoes, lettuce, kale, bok choy, cucumbers, asparagus, fiddleheads, tomatoes, and strawberries.

(Has it really only been two months since our winter CSA ended? We've been through some dark culinary times since, so we've been literally counting the days for this.)

Our whole house gathered to eat the (amazing, delicious, incredible) strawberries and tomatoes with our breakfast of bacon and eggs and Italian grocery leftovers (bread, olives, burrata) this morning, and to collegially argue about what to do with the asparagus (rolled into crepes? with Hollandaise sauce?) and fiddleheads (with pasta? with Hollandaise sauce?). Delicious days ahead!

(Through a minor snafu, we didn't get our box until Friday and missed this week's newsletter. Any Enterprise subscribers know where the amazing strawberries come from?)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yogurt Co-op Potluck

This week, Anna and I made the yogurt for our yogurt co-op. It turns out that yogurt making is incredibly easy: heat your milk to 180 degrees, let it cool to 120, stir in your starter (last week's yogurt), let it incubate for a while. (Here's Jeff Potter, of Cooking for Geeks, on experimenting with making your own yogurt.)

My next project is figuring out how to make our yogurt into strained (Greek-style) yogurt. (Hint: Probably with patience and cheesecloth rather than your boyfriend's AeroPress.) I love Greek yogurt by itself, but the yogurt needs to be strained for frozen yogurt making, too.

Our yogurt co-op is having an open house this week -- come check it out:
You are invited to the Somerville Yogurt Making Coop open house and potluck. Come to the Clarendon Hill Church at 155 Powderhouse Blvd. in Somerville on Thursday, June 2 to learn how to make yogurt and share food with other yogurt makers. The potluck will begin at 6:30pm and yogurt making will begin around 7:30pm. The Church is located a few blocks from Teele Sq. on the #87, #88, and #89 bus lines. For more information contact sam (at) machinescience (dot) org.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Waiting for Vegetables: Grain and Bean Salads

We stopped by the Davis Square farmers market (first day of the season) today but were disappointed not to see many vegetables yet (blame the rainy/cold weather). Lots and lots of happy vegetable plants, though -- the tomato starts looked especially vigorous, and I would have bought some if I weren't on my bike.

Our weekly potluck (everyone's invited! bring your friends!) is predicated on the idea that we'll have a surplus of CSA vegetables to share, so I've been reworking the model for these less-vegetably months. Mark Bittman's Easiest Bean or Grain Salad on the Planet turns out to be a pretty good empty-refrigerator meal for a crowd.

I've done it with quinoa (cooks in 15 minutes) and canned beans when I was in a hurry, and I've done it with wheatberries and dried beans when I had the presence of mind to start the night before. (It's possible that the wheatberries came in our Enterprise CSA last, um, fall or so.) I've been using red wine vinegar instead of the lemon the recipe suggests (more bare-cupboard friendly), and I think adding it while the grains or beans are hot makes a difference. I've made the salad with as few vegetables as half a red onion and a handful of parsley, but it's nice with cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, or anything else you have.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Local Food Time: CSAs, Markets, Yogurt

Who else can't wait for local food?

We're happy to announce that our house will be partaking of (and blogging, of course) two CSAs this summer ... Picadilly Farm (new to us) and Enterprise Farm (which we've done for a year and a half previously). Picadilly starts around June 6 and Enterprise starts around May 31, so not much longer to wait! (I believe both still have shares available, if you haven't signed up for your CSA yet.)

If you're jonesin' for a farmers market right now, can I recommend tomorrow's SoWa Open Market? As they put it, "BIG day at SoWa this Sunday, May 15th! Open Market + Vintage Market + SoWa Art Walk + Farmers Market + Food Trucks = FUN!"

(As well, Somerville's Spring Fever Market at the Armory will be back on May 22 and 29.)

Other Boston-area farmers markets will be starting to open in earnest this week and next (see schedules on the Mass Farmers Markets site). Some favorites opening soon: Copley Square 5/17; Kendall Square 5/18; Prudential Center 5/20; Central Square 5/23; Davis Square 5/25; South Station 5/26.

In other local food news ... We've been enjoying homemade yogurt from the Davis Square Yogurt Co-op (recently seen in the Globe Green blog) for the last month or so, and our housemate Anna got trained in yogurt making last week, so look forward to stories of yogurt production and consumption soon. (My previous housemates used to make yogurt in a cardboard box with a lightbulb; here's how they're currently doing it in Malawi.)

P.S. As far as I can tell, this is an underpublicized very good deal -- stop by Cambridgeside Galleria (until June 5) to get an NSTAR-subsidized "Mass Saver Mall Combo" box of twelve compact fluorescent bulbs, two desk lamps, and two LED nightlights for $10.

Local food connection? I intend to keep one of the little gooseneck lamps (probably worth $10 by itself) near the kitchen as part of my quest for better food photography this summer.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Urban Foraging


Another workshop I really enjoyed at the Boston Skillshare was "foraging for edible wild plants," led by Nick Patch. (For more foraging info: Nick's website, local forager David Craft, Wildman Steve Brill.)

I don't think I'll be replacing a measurable share of my vegetables with foraged ones any time soon (we're making do with Russo's, and fortunately, less than a month until our new CSA starts!), but the workshop really gave me new eyes for a lot of little city plants that I used to overlook or dismiss as weeds.

Above is some delicious wood sorrel (looks like clover but with heart-shaped leaves, tastes like strawberries) foraged from near the Alewife T station, and below are some unidentified wild-onion-like things from along the Minuteman Bike Path. (Not pictured: An experiment in dandelion petals baked into bread. Didn't add nearly enough for anyone to notice.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Chicken Stock


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a nominally vegetarian household in unexpected possession of three chicken carcasses, must be in want of quarts and quarts of homemade stock.

Sara brought three partial rotisserie chickens home from a Passover seder yesterday, and I'd just been reading Michael Ruhlman's assertion that chicken stock is too easy not to make every week. And it was the kind of Sunday afternoon where you haven't even made a dent in the list of things you need to do before Monday, so, in short,  a four- to six-hour cooking project was exactly what we were looking for.

Though cooking an onion has always been my easy shortcut to making the house smell like food is happening, simmering a chicken carcass does it one better: housemates were begging for soup that I had to tell them wasn't even broth yet. And though I'm still patiently simmering, I admit that Ruhlman's recipe is very, very easy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Recipe-Free Cooking: Pesto Zine

The second thing I taught in my recipe-free cooking class at the Boston Skillshare last weekend was making pesto.

Later in the day, I went to a skillshare on zine making, where we were encouraged to start making our own little eight-page zines. Mine is about making pesto!

If you'd like your own copy, download the PDF (technical props to Jack). You'll have to do a little folding and cut on the dotted line to make it into a booklet (instructions and diagrams).

If you want to learn more about zines, Somerville's own Papercut Zine Library would be a good place to start. Read local!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recipe-Free Cooking: Soup


Today's modest agenda is to talk about how to make every soup in the world, without a recipe.

(These are the notes for the class I taught at the Boston Skillshare on Sunday. Here's my PDF class handout.)

I submit to you that just about every soup is made on the same basic formula:

soup = aromatics + hard things + liquid + soft things + seasoning/garnishes

 

aromatics

Peel your aromatics and cut them into small pieces. Cook them in a little bit of oil or butter in the bottom of a pot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they smell nice.

Aromatics are “things that smell good while cooking.” Seriously.

The most simple aromatic is an onion. If you cut an onion into small pieces and start cooking it in a little bit of oil, people will sense that you’re making food. They will wander into the kitchen and ask, “What’s cooking?” Many, many kinds of food (beyond soup) start with cooking an onion.

There are a lot of kinds of onions and things that are like onions: red onions, yellow onions, shallots, green onions, leeks. You can use any of these.

The aromatics are also the flavor base for your soup. If you want to get more complex than just the onion, add other things to suggest a particular cuisine or recipe:

Onion + garlic + chile paste = Thai
Onion + carrot + celery = French mirepoix / American (chicken noodle soup)
Green onion + cilantro stems + ginger = East Asian
Onion + garlic + ginger + Indian spices = Indian

The chief concern when cooking aromatics is that they will burn. Keep your heat at medium, stir frequently, and cook things other than the onion and vegetables for just a moment. (Dry spices like chili powder and garam masala, for example, smell amazing when cooked with your aromatics for 30 seconds or so, but they'll burn after that.)

If your aromatics seem to be in danger of burning, skip ahead in the formula and add the liquid. Phew.

 

hard things

Wash and peel (if you want) your hard things and cut them into small pieces. The hard things can either go in the pot a couple minutes before the liquid (pro: they brown a little with the oil and aromatics; con: they might burn) or right after the liquid.

Butternut squash is hard, potatoes are hard, multivariable calculus is hard, and all those unidentified rooty things in the bottom of your winter CSA box (parsnips, turnips, celeriac, rutabagas) are hard. Things that take a long time to cook are hard; your hard things are what determine how long your soup will have to cook.

(Dried beans and grains, like rice, are more advanced hard things, because they take more precise cooking times, and they make your soup unpalatable if they're not fully cooked.)

If you're in a hurry: Hard things cook faster if they're cut into smaller pieces. It's not cheating to zap hard things in the microwave for a few minutes to make them softer.

liquid

Dump your liquids into the pot. Raise the heat until they come to a boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer.

The traditional liquid for soup is broth, which you can buy in cans or cartons or as cubes or powder you mix with water (I like these ones). You can also make broth yourself, but, really, I don't know why you're reading this if you're already making your own broth.

Water is also a liquid. I often add water to my soups because I find broth excessively salty. Or because I don't have enough broth.

Other soup liquids: Canned tomatoes usually have enough liquid with them to count as liquid. Liquid from canned beans or any other canned foods you're putting in your soup (yes, essentially salty water with some flavor in it is what we're going for here). Coconut milk. (But note that regular milk and dairy products should be added later, because they don't like to cook at high temperatures.)

How much liquid? Enough to completely cover all your hard things (with room to add your soft things). After that -- as much as looks right to you. It is not cheating to add more liquid later.

soft things

Wash your soft things and cut them into small pieces. Once your hard things are mostly cooked (taste one), put the soft things in the pot.

Soft things are the things in your soup that are not hard. The things that do not take very long to cook. Hard things would survive being dropped out a third-floor window. Soft things would not.

Vegetables that are better undercooked than overcooked (green beans, asparagus) are soft. Delicate greens (baby spinach) and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro) are soft. Anything that is already cooked (canned beans, prepared rice, frozen vegetables or vegetables in a can) and just needs to be warmed up is a soft thing.

Soft things generally need just a few minutes to cook, so put them in the pot when your hard things are nearly ready to eat to prevent them from being overcooked.

seasoning/garnishes

You can actually add seasonings at any step (and you might have already, with your aromatics or in your liquids), but now you should taste, experiment, and add more as desired.

Copious garnishes are a good way to help (or save) a boring soup. A pretty dull carrot soup I made for practice this week became a pretty good soup with rice, frozen edamame, and cooked shredded chicken sprinkled on top.

This is an area where, if I'm trying for a certain effect or to make something fancy-looking, I do consult recipes. Many, many Epicurious soup recipes, for example, follow this basic formula and then add a fussy coulis/relish/drizzle on top.

A note on one particular seasoning: Be conscious that some soup ingredients (notably broth and anything from a can) are already quite salty, but as Tony Bourdain tells us, the difference between your food and restaurant food (not to mention canned soup) is that restaurant food has a lot more salt.

variations

A couple ways to make your soup a little different.

Puree it. Soup is somehow more elegant if you can't see what's in it. This is also usually a good save for an unattractive soup or one that has a funny color. I love our immersion blender for pureeing right in the pot, but you can use a food processor or traditional blender or food mill.

Add dairy. Make a creamy soup or chowder by adding cream, butter, half and half, or milk. (This is often done in combination with pureeing.) Dairy ingredients can get weird if you let them boil, so add them at the very end of cooking.

last thoughts

Don't spend too much time worrying about which group an ingredient is in -- think more of a spectrum than of discrete choices. Carrots can be an aromatic, but they can also be hard things. The scale is also relative: zucchini is a soft thing when you cook it with potatoes, but it's a hard thing when you cook it with frozen peas.

If you have trouble getting the sequence in which you add things to your pot exactly right, congratulations -- getting everything cooked at the same time is one of the major challenges of cooking. Most soup ingredients, however, are pretty forgiving about being undercooked or overcooked. Pretend you intended it that way.

Any ingredient that you're uncertain about cooking can be cooked separately and added at the end. Cooking chicken in a soup requires some timing and skill. Dropping cooked chicken pieces into a finished soup requires neither. Cooking pasta in your soup? Tricky. Stirring cooked pasta into a bowl of soup? Yes!