Thinking Inside the Box

Usually by this time of year, I’m rolling in lettuce and other greens, bringing in snap peas by the bushel, and harvesting radishes left and right.

But right now, my garden is almost 100% bolted greens and sad tomatoes, planted a little too late and still straggly.

The slugs ate all my beans, most of the basil, and the nasturtiums never took off like most years. The chickens killed most of the strawberry starts. The only thing I’m really getting a decent crop of is the peas, which are still less than other years.

I blame it all on starting a business and having a toddler who can’t actually come out into the garden with me unless I want more things to get un-done than done.

Thank goodness for farmer’s markets…when I can actually get there, which this year has only been about 3 or 4 times.

So, when I got asked if I would like a CSA box courtesy of Oxbow Farms in exchange for a little shameless promotion for the farm, I jumped on it. I have been a CSA member with that farm before, in fact, and I buy their produce at the market all the time. It was a perfect fit with my schedule too, since I was able to pick the box up the day before I hosted the first “public” dinner in our summer backyard dinner series.

I had Joe pick up the box, since he works close to where the pick-up location was, at Melrose Market. He strapped the whole thing to the back of the scooter and speedily brought it home for me to inspect.

What a bounty waited in that small box for me. There are 2 different sizes of shares you can purchase, and this one I believe was one of the small shares. Some things didn’t last past the next morning, but we are still eating the lettuce, and I still have some broccoli and a bunch of chard left, with plans to finish them up this weekend.

As for the other items in the box, I knew right away to what use they would be put. A simple salad to showcase the greens and baby root vegetables that Oxbox farms excels at. When we were getting a CSA box regularly, it was so awesome to always have fresh things to cook and eat that I didn’t have to work hard to provide. It always came with recipes from the farm to help us get creative with ingredients we might not have used before. Not to mention how outstandingly fresh everything was. Then our garden became much more productive and we decided that we could do without the box for a while. With me going back to work full time, getting a box on a regular basis is looking better and better…

I’ve been dreaming of this magical pistachio dust ever since I saw it. I wanted to try making it with sunflower seeds, mostly because I really can’t ever make a recipe the way I see it written. I first made it with the pistachios as called for, then I made a batch using the sunflower seeds. It was excellent. And then I mixed the two batches to go over a huge salad. EVEN BETTER.

Spread lustily and shamelessly over a deep bed of red tinted lettuce, sweet roasted baby beets and turnips, and a few handfuls of snappy green cucumbers, it was a salad that couldn’t call for much more. A little drizzle of good olive oil and a shake or two of champagne vinegar was all it needed to become a delicate tumble of sweet and savory, crunch and silk.

This recipe is incredibly free form, which goes along with how it is to work in a garden. You just have to go with the flow sometimes and take what you can get–much like when you sign up for a CSA box, and you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and how she has treated the farm that week. And it fits in with my “French” theme from the past couple of weeks too, as it’s a salad I’m sure any frenchman would be glad to have on a warm summer evening as part of a larger meal.

Green Salad with Roasted Root Veggies
serves 8-10 as a salad course, 4-6 larger servings

1 medium-large head of good romaine type lettuce, washed well and dried
1 bunch very tiny beets
1 bunch baby turnips, or more beets if you prefer
3-4 small persian cucumbers
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
champagne vinegar

Heat your oven to 400ºF. Remove the tops from the root veggies (keep them to sauté another time, if they are very tender) leaving about 1/2″ or so of stem attached to the bulb. Scrub them all well and trim off most of the long root part of the beets. In a glass baking dish, drizzle with just a touch of olive oil and roast until tender. This could take anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour depending on the size of the veggies. You want them to be soft enough for a knife to slice into with no resistance.

While the root veggies roast, wash and dry the lettuce well. Slice each leaf down the middle, stack, then chop into bite sized pieces. Toss into a bowl and cover with a damp towel until you are ready to serve the salad.

Cut the cucumbers in half and then into slices, and keep covered in the fridge until just before tossing the salad.

Once the root veggies are done, let them cool just a bit, then cut any larger roots into small bite sized pieces. Add these pieces, along with the cucumber, to the lettuce and drizzle a couple of tsp each of olive oil and vinegar over it all, starting with just a little, tossing, and tasting before adding more. There should be no liquid in the bottom of the bowl, just enough to barely cover the leaves and vegetables. Add some salt and pepper and toss again. Cover the whole thing in a light blanket of pistachio dust and serve, passing more dust if need be.

Optionally, you can leave the salad undressed and unadorned and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days to be dressed and eaten as needed.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary box from Oxbow Farms in exchange for this post, but all the words, photographs and opinions are my own.

Advertisements

Welcoming Spring

Let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of Jews in Ireland. Apparently only about 1,700, to be more precise.

But, I do have some Irish ancestry. That’s one of the benefits of being a Jew-by-choice. Your bloodlines can be a little more far-reaching.

My dad claims that somehow we’re related to the Irish family of William Wallace, but I’m not too sure about all of that. I do know that somewhere it is documented that we can in fact trace our roots back to a specific clan, and that we do in fact have a tartan.

Not that I’m into guys in kilts. But, I do wonder how the Irish spring compares to our Spring. I bet it’s quite a sight to see the season sneak up on that fair isle.

I am glad to be a smidge Irish. It gives me lee-way to go around doing things like corning my own beef for St. Patty’s Day. It doesn’t hurt that I still have a large–though dwindling–portion of a cow in my freezer. And, since there is a connection between Jews and corned beef (all things brisket, really) I figured why the heck not.

And in case you were wondering, the “corned” part of corned beef refers to the rock salt traditionally used to cure the meat–it was called “corns” of salt. I looked this up because my step-sons wanted to know where the corn was when I served them dinner Saturday and I didn’t know how to explain why it was called that.

I used a recipe I found via Punk Domestics, which I chose because it was nitrate and nitrite free. I know there is controversy over whether or not added nitrates/nitrites are actually bad for you, but around here we try to eliminate any ingredient that would not be used in normal every day cooking, so I was happy to let it go. I also wasn’t sure just exactly where to buy it without having it shipped, for one, and I didn’t really care about having that glorified red color that is a characteristic of meats cured with the pink salt. I omitted the whey, which the recipe said was optional, and that kept it kosher. And I opted to leave the brisket out overnight after setting it up. I didn’t cut it into pieces like they did, but I did stab it all over with a knife to let the brine really soak in there.

It brined for about 9 days total, and it turned out amazing. It was a little on the salty side, even for my tastes. It could be that my brisket was a touch under 3 lbs, or that the recipe was overcompensating for the fact that it left out the pink salt most other corned beef recipes call for. If I make it again (I’m totally making this again) I would probably cut the salt just a bit and see what happens. And maybe go easier on the stabbing part of the process.

When it came time to actually cook the thing, I followed the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It was very straight forward, which I liked. The whole thing from start to finish was very straight forward, actually. Once you put it in the brine you forget about it for a few days, then you put it in a big pot of water and forget about it for a few more hours. It practically cooks itself.

The leftovers, on the other hand, are another story. Leftovers do not cook themselves, at least not fresh ones.

Since I had never made corned beef, I had never made corned beef hash either. According to some, this is the only reason to actually cook corned beef in the first place, and now I am one of these people.

I wanted to make something a little more vegetable heavy than most other hash recipes, so I started fresh. I know how to make a basic hash, after all, so the concept was nothing new. But figuring out how to ease some of the salt out of the beef was a little tricky.

Just kidding, it was easy. I added non-salty stuff.

Potatoes, of course. Because a dense, waxy potato really is the perfect accompaniment to a salty piece of meat. And kale, since I can’t really get enough of the stuff. And also golden beets, mostly because I had them sitting around and they were starting to get a little wrinkly around the edges. The beets were one of those snap decisions that ends up paying dividends–they were what made the dish. Their earthy, sweet qualities were the perfect balance for the other ingredients, kicked into high gear by the almost caramelized onions hiding throughout. And I served it with coleslaw instead of boiled cabbage, because I tend to like my cruciferous vegetables on the crunchier side of things. I topped it all with some very fresh young flat-leaf parsley and decided that corned beef hash might just be the golden child of the leftovers world.

So if you’ve still got a bit of corned beef sitting in your fridge making you salivate, I suggest you take a look in the crisper and green it up. With the arrival of Spring today in all her glory, it’s all about the green.

Pot O’ Gold Corned Beef Hash with Kale and Golden Beets
serves 2

1 medium yellow or sweet onion, sliced thin
2 cups cubed boiled potatoes, peeled or not
1 1/2 cups shredded or cubed corned beef
3 small or 2 larger golden beets, about 2 cups shredded
1/2 bunch kale, stems and tough veins removed, roughly chopped
1 1/2 to 2 cups beef stock, leftover from cooking your beef if you have it
Olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (also called Italian)
1-2 eggs per person, optional

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil until it shimmers, then toss in the onions. Stir to coat in oil, then let cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Add a splash of broth every now and then in necessary to deglaze the pan and help soften the onions.

Next, add the potatoes, beef and shredded beets. Stir everything together and add about 1 cup of broth. Turn down the heat to medium and let cook until the broth has evaporated. Now add the kale, and add a splash more broth. Cook just until the kale is tender, but still bright green.

At this point you can add eggs if you like. Make a well for each egg you will cook, right in the hash. Crack one egg into each well and let cook until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft, 4-5 minutes. Cook the yolks longer if you choose.

Split between 2 plates and top with plenty of fresh ground pepper and chopped parsley.