Monday, June 29, 2009

New House Love

Turns out, my new place looks lovely at the 6-7 am hour.  How do I know?  It's the coolest time to move in the dead nasty middle of summer.

But when the moving is over, I get to wake up and come home to all this every day:

(walk-in pantry, with pie safe-esque screen door)

notice the pancake griddle built into the stove.  crepes for all!

It's midtown funk meets 100 years of sass (the house was built in 1907!), and I am totally, unapologetically smitten with it.

Food will resume soon, once all of my kitchen apparati are in one place.  I'm craving, in no particular order:  my great-grandma's chocolate cake, fresh tomato-nectarine-jalepeno salsa, zucchini bread.  All that good stuff, and more, to come!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Use it Or Lose It Challenge: Sweet Potato and Herb Dumplings

Alien tentacles greeting me as I reached past the bag of sweet potatoes hanging in my pantry:

The plan switched to reaching into the bag to make a quick rescue.  But, broken off, the shoots are very pretty:

This recipe uses sweets from the nice folks at Dodson Farms and Van Cheeseman's hen and duck eggs.  Check it out:

Bet you can't guess which one came from a duck.

Sweet Potato and Herb Dumplings
Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

About 1/2 lb (two large?) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
sea salt and ground pepper
2 medium or large eggs, beaten
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped parsley (use half this amount if using dried)
1/4 cup chopped tarragon, marjoram, or rosemary (ditto)
1 cup AP flour, plus more as needed

Cover the potato with cold water, add 1 tsp salt, and bring to a boil.  Cook until tender, then drain.  This took me about 20 minutes.  Gently mash or pass through a potato ricer.

Stir in the eggs, then add the herbs, 1 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Gently stir in the flour, taking care not to overwork the dough, which should end up fairly stiff but still somewhat tacky.  (Once it becomes too still to work, you can turn it out on a counter and gently knead in the rest.)  Dust with flour, cover loosely in plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Dust a counter lightly with flour and gently roll or pat the dough into a rectangle, approx. 10 x 4 inches.  Cut the rectangle lengthwise into thirds, and then cut each third into 10 to 12 pieces.  Gently roll them between your palms or leave them in little squares.

I froze mine at this point, but you could go ahead and cook them in water that's been brought to a boil, and lowered to a simmer.  Cook til they float to the top (7 or 8 minutes).  These would be a good, starchy addition to a soup, ragout, or even as an accompaniment to other lightly cooked green veggies (I'm thinking green beans or broccoli).

Still insanely hot here.  Moving soon!  (Cannot think in full sentences)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mid-Summer Update

Oh, hello.  Everyone keeping cool out there?  Staying hydrated?  We're not even in high summer, folks, though it feels like it every time I have to slide out of my car.  Thank you to those to wished me well during the tree-induced migration.  I was able to stay with my friend, Leslie, who generously gave me a key and a place to call home last week.  As of Saturday, I am back in my place, but life is shifting yet again and I will be on the move next Monday.  I've loved living where I am now, but maybe the tree falling on the house confirmed what I already knew---it's time to move on.

Pictures of the aftermath:

Sad... the backyard was one of the things I loved most about this place.  Two huge sweetgum trees are gone now, and while I suppose there's no more dealing with gumballs, there's also no more shade...

On the upside, there was this delicious dinner chez Leslie, which we dubbed, simply, "Summer":

Grilled chicken marinated with olive oil and smoked paprika, Italian-seasoned grilled zephyr squash from the Gracious Gardener, brown rice.

Salad of red-tipped Vulcan lettuce from Delta Sol Farms, grilled peach from Jones Orchard, feta, good olive oil+white wine vinegar+mustard+S&P vinaigrette.  Peaches in salads are a great sweet counterpoint to vinaigrette!  And grilling really roughs up the sugar, in a good way.
In the meantime:  guys.  tomatoes.  it's tomato season.  I have serious tomato envy, as I am still learning the ropes of growing them.  My neighbors, the people down the street, the community gardeners---they all have beautiful tomatoes.  And the market?  Well, pretty soon you won't have to get there before 8:30 to get some of the Whitton Farms' SunGolds.  Ripleys are in, too.  I'll be out of town (kayaking in Arkansas!) this weekend, so I went to the Botanic Gardens market after work today and picked up these cherry Ripley toms from Tim's Family Farm:

Slice in half, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried basil.  Bake for 5 1/2 hours -- or however long it takes -- in a 200 degree oven (that part is non-negotiable... you want them to be flexible and leathery, not crispy).

And ta-da, dried tomatoes without the high prices.  Mmm, hello winter antipasti platter.  Or onion and dried tomato tarts.  Or winter pizzas.  Or stews...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why There Might Not Be Posts for a While

Am currently a nomad, armed with: laptop, camera, phone, toothbrush, and a ream of law review cases.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Choi Sum Two Ways

Okay, barring any acts of God/unforeseen disasters/insert your own force majeure clause joke here (can I say that Contracts was my favorite 1L class?  Don't believe The Paper Chase, ya'll), the Great Housing Hunt of Aught Nine is OVER.  

You'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) how hard it is to find a non-crappy 2-bedroom with outdoor living space, a good kitchen and a driveway gate in a safe-ish part of midtown (it is obvious that I live in midtown, right?  And that I'm not leaving?).  That's all.  No hardwood floor/carpet requirements.  Was willing to live without closet space.  Heck, I even considered what my life would be like without a washer and dryer.  For about a nanosecond.

But I think my roommate and I have found a house that has it all---even a washer/dryer.  I have no closets in my bedroom, but that's alright.  I'm thinking of turning it into an open-air closet-type deal.  Hmm.  Domestic wheels are turning.  Am foreseeing dropping some cash on fluffy decorating magazines very soon.

But mostly, the kitchen is amazing.  I'll post pics as soon as I can, and I cannot wait to start cooking there.

Anyway!  These are two dishes featuring a vegetable from the Ly Vu family's stand.  A fellow market volunteer, Linda, gave me an edible tour of the stand last Saturday.  The world of Asian vegetables truly is amazing, and biting into things nearly always yields a surprise---as in where did these flavors come from? I didn't know they'd be here.  Linda pointed out this vegetable, which she said her mother cooked when she was young and called in Thai what translates to "tender young vegetable," but she didn't know the actual name for it.  Typing "mustardy Asian green with yellow flowers" into La Google turns up the answer---it's choi sum.  And it's not mustardy like mustard greens, which usually make me tear up.  This is an addictive, short, quick, clean bite of sharp flavor that I couldn't stop eating raw as I was making this dish.

The sausage is not technically Memphis-local... the pig began its life in our backyard in Florida, went off to the county fair, and came home again... to live in the freezer.  I brought back a couple pounds of frozen sausage and brats when I visited a few weeks ago.  Aside from tripping up security at the airport ("Ma'am, do you know what that is in your carry-on?"  "Yes, sir, it's frozen meat.") it survived the trip nicely.

Rotini with Choi Sum and Sausage
From the Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (who recommends, alternatively, kale, broccoli rabe, or chard)

1 large bunch of greens
1/2 pound fennel or Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
salt and pepper
large pinch of red pepper flakes
3/4 pound rotini, fusilli, orecchiette, penne rigate...
more olive oil
Parmesan cheese (I used feta because, um, I had some.  And I like it)

Trim and wash the greens.  Chop coarse and cook until tender in salted boiling water.  

Drain well, saving the cooking water to cook the pasta in (do this!  It makes the pasta taste mustardy, too)

Form the sausage into small balls.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Add the sausage and cook over medium heat until browned and cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes.  

Remove the sausage and drain on a paper towel.

Add the onion to the pan.  Saute, tossing now and then, over medium-high heat until the onions soften and caramelize a bit.  

Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper.

Add the cooked greens and sausage, and cook for a few minutes, tossing and stirring.  Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain and return to the pan, whereupon you shall drizzle it immediately with some salt and extra-virgin olive oil.  The yummy, fruity kind.  

Plate and top with the sauce and cheese.  Serve immediately

This was pretty good.  Spicy and fruity all at once.  I made my "sauce" kind of chunky, but the next go-round, I think I'd try for smaller balls of sausage and chop the greens up a tad finer, to make it a little easier to eat.

So, that's a super-hot option for choi sum that is not really altogether practical in the summer.  Except that summer is when I have choi sum.  Anyway.  Today after a bike ride I craved something light so I threw together this salad:

What it has in it:

Olive oil/Florida orange, juiced/garlic/s&p vinaigrette
roughly chopped raw choi sum+flowers
Van Cheeseman's shiitake mushrooms+Whitton's red carrots, sauteed over low heat in a pat of butter
topped with goat cheese

Perfect, perfect, perfect.  The ever-elusive contrast:  bright citrus, warm mushrooms, tangy leaves, sweet carrots, creamy cheese.  Call it random, but it was delicious.  It's the thrown-together that keeps me excited about this business of feeding myself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Carrot Top Soup

The difference between going to the market early and going late is coming home with these beauties:

Versus resigning yourself to these suspiciously cheezy-poof-looking fakers:

I think they are dragon carrots.  Whatever they are, if you find them, don't peel them!  Just wash them well and cut them up.  Their taste is pure sweetness, with no woody aftertaste.

This is what they look like on the inside:

It's a glorious time for eating.

Anyway, while I was at the market volunteering last Saturday I got to chat with carrot purveyor Keith Forrester of Whitton Farms during his (very very few) slow moments.  Having already squirreled away my two bunches of carrots, I asked him if the tops were edible.  He shrugged, and in the dry way he has he replied that he was sure some people did, but his tone of voice indicated that those people were probably maybe embracing the local-food thing a little too zealously.  Had drunk the wheat grass, if you will.

Enter Deborah Madison.  See Deborah corroborate Keith's implication.  See Diana's curiosity get the better of her anyway.

Carrot Top Soup
From Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

1 bunch (6 small to medium) carrots, the tops and the roots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons rice
2 large leeks, white parts only (I used an onion)
2 thyme or lemon thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped dill, parsley, celery leaves, or lovage
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock, light chicken stock, or water (I used 4 cups chicken stock cut with 2 cups water)

Pull or pluck the leaves of the carrot greens off their stems.  You should have between 2 and 3 loosely-packed cups.  Wash, them chop finely.  

Grate or finely chop the carrots as well.

Melt the butter in a soup pot.  Add the carrot tops and carrots, rice, leeks, thyme, and dill.  Cook for several minutes, turning everything a few times, then season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and add the stock.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the rice is cooked, 16 to 18 minutes.

Taste for salt, season with pepper and serve---definitely with crusty bread!  Here's mine with fresh baguette from Cafe Eclectic.

This isn't the most mindblowing thing I've ever made, but it was simple and hearty, and I surprised myself when I found myself craving a bowl when I got home from work yesterday.  Luckily, like with all soups, it tasted even better the next day.

Other easy things to do with carrots:

Pretty, quick stir-fry.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Market Cooking for a Crowd: Early Summer

Hello!  After hauling my tired body out of bed at 5:15 am (!) last Saturday to volunteer at the MFM, I have a fresh new perspective on this Kitchn post on strategically planning your market visit.  Not that a little wandering, poking, tasting and general meandering aren't excellent ways to spend a Saturday morning.  But having seen the astounding array of produce available at 7 am that was long gone by 10 (purple cauliflower!  red carrots!  squash blossoms!  chiogga beets!), tip #1 (Go Early) is even more sage.  And tip #2 (Visit the Same Vendors) is smart in more ways than one--aside from the touchy-feely aspect of bonding with your farmers (I sound cynical, but I am really such a softy on this one; I look forward to chatting with Van Cheeseman every weekend), the farmers who know you are loyal to their produce will often give you a small discount.  It's nice to have the appreciation go around.

And a note on tip #5 (essentially, don't buy resale):  the MFM is all actual farmers and craftspeople.  There are no resale vendors.  Everyone you meet was involved in caring for your food!

Saturday night was my turn to cook for a crowd.  Some friends and I have an informal supper club (more like a "Hey!  we're all in grad school/have jobs/don't get to see each other much, so let's eat and play games!" club) once a week, and my number came up.  Admittedly, this is a food-related area of my life where ethics sometimes cede to practicality:  attendance at weekend dinners can range anywhere from 3-8, and though I would love to serve my friends grass-fed, free-range, organic chicken, the student budget doesn't really permit it.  So I compromise; I do what I can.  I try to plan meals that showcase local vegetables instead of meat, because, although I am not a vegetarian, I wholeheartedly think meat on the table should be a treat, not a given.  

This weekend, I was pretty pleased with the menu I came up with:  a thyme, goat cheese, onion and shiitake mushroom frittata (which Je Mange La Ville does better than I ever could here) over a green salad with a light vinaigrette, sausage and sweet potato salad and some fluffy cream biscuits.  Oh yeah, and somebody else brought the dessert :)

No pictures of the whole thing.  Well, what would YOU do if, right before a dinner party, someone shrieked "Nobody eats til I take a picture!"

Sausage and Sweet Potato Salad
Very loosely adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow (both fabulous, hunger-inducing reads)

As many sweet potatoes as necessary (3 large ones fed 3 hungry people) (Dodson Farms seems to have sweets year-round; check them out!)
As much sausage as necessary (I had 1 link of West Wind Farm's delicious pork sage sausage)
olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, and dried basil

Peel and cut up the sweet potatoes into uniform chunks.  

Place on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Roast in a 400 degree oven until they brown (about 20 minutes).

In the meantime, cook your sausage and cut it up into small pieces

Combine the roasted sweet potatoes with a little more olive oil and red wine vinegar (a 3-1 ratio is usually safe).  Salt, pepper and basil 'em to taste, then mix in the sausage.  I made this beforehand and reheated it before dinner, which worked well.

Cream Biscuits
From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

No pictures of the process, but I wanted to share the recipe because it's super easy and the biscuits are incredibly light and fluffy.  I ate the leftover ones split and toasted, with butter and Jones Orchard jam, for breakfast.  They would also be good as biscuits-and-gravy or topped with soft, juicy, cut-up fruit.

1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar (optional)
2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Stir together the first four ingredients, then cut in the butter.  Work the butter and dry ingredients together with your fingers until they are the size of small peas.  Lightly stir in the cream with a fork until the mixture just comes together.  Without overworking it, lightly knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board, and roll out about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut into circles with a drinking glass.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I didn't have any and mine were a little, um, crispy on the bottom) and lightly brush the tops with a little more cream.  Bake for 17 minutes or until cooked through and golden.

Finally, I want to plug my friend Jessica's blog.  Aside from being one of the coolest, most with-it, and generally smarty-pantsiest gals I know, Jessica is a hugely engaging writer who is currently blogging (among other things) about her internship this summer working with the federal government on irradiated food studies.  It's pretty interesting stuff, and probably an area of mystery to many (including myself), so check her out!