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.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Think about Winter for a second.

OK, stop. That was long enough, right?

Mercifully, that’s about how long there is left of this season. A second or two. In my haste to get to spring, I’ve been eating a lot of things that aren’t the usual cold weather comfort foods. Even though I’m still pretty much stuck with all the same winter ingredients.

Like kale.

And cabbage.

And apples.

But you know what? Even though I’m probably not the only one who is more than ready for the first sweet snap peas and their best buddy spring onions, I found that I can make do if I come up with a new recipe for those tired ingredients every now and then. Sometimes it takes a trip to the P-patch for a little inspiration (especially when you wake up to snow…in March), but after that I’m home free.

Heres a salad that’s got a lot of good things going for it, considering it’s full of foods that need a tropical vacation. It’s verdant, tangy crunch almost makes it OK that it isn’t a salad of tender greens and spicy-sweet young alliums.

Wait a minute…it is a salad of tender greens. And maybe those alliums are’t the youngest things on the block, but they still have a bit of kick left in them. And once they pick up cabbage off the curb and take her out on her blind date with apples, they’re pretty much a multiple marriage of the best kind. It’s sorta like a gussied up spring version of this salad, without the comforting starch of sweet potatoes and grains.

For this slaw, avoid the sometimes tough larger leaves of kale you get in the bunch and go for the littlest, tenderest ones. The ones that are so tender, even the stems almost don’t seem worth the trouble to remove them. And mince the onion pretty small–it lets the zing of raw onion shine without being overpowering.

Kale and Cabbage Slaw
makes 4 good sized side servings

2 heaping cups of the tenderest kale you can find
2 heaping cups shredded cabbage, about 1/4 of a small head
1 apple such as pink lady or braeburn
1 small red onion (think golf ball) or 1/2 a larger one
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Whisk together the last 4 ingredients in a good sized bowl and set aside.

Finely dice the onion. You could also leave them in thin slices if you want to save time, but I like the contrast of the smaller size. Whisk them into the vinaigrette.

Slice the 4 sides of the apple. I left the skin on, but you could peel it if you felt like it. You’ll have 2 largeish “halves” and two little end pieces. Cut each piece into thin slices and then do it again in the opposite direction. They’ll essentially be julienned. Toss them in the vinaigrette to keep them from browning.

Thinly slice the cabbage and add that in on top of the apples, but don’t toss yet. Next, chiffonade the kale leaves. Add those on top of the whole thing and then toss well to coat. Serve chilled. The salad will keep well for about a day, but like most salads, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance.

Inkling of Spring

This morning I woke up to several glorious things.

Light streaming in the window, which indicated that it actually was morning.

And a small sound from the room one door down, a little voice chirping “Mama, mama.”

An amazing sound when you’ve spent the last 1.5 years week being awoken at all sorts of ungodly hours to crying, whining or just plain screaming. Gonna be honest here friends, night weaning is a bitch.

Even when your kid is the most adorable thing ever.

And then I started dreaming of it being warm enough to picnic. A semi-decent nights rest after weeks and weeks of nights where you only get, on average, 5 hours of sleep a night can make you think crazy thoughts.

I really love a good spring picnic, and pretty much can’t wait for spring days that are sunny enough to enjoy from outside the windows and doors of my house. Maybe bundled up enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

Until then I’ve been making loaves and loaves of bread to be eaten with too much butter (which is a misnomer because there is no such thing as too much butter) and also salad.

Salads help me pretend that Spring is already here, especially ones like this one.

Take some veggies just barely painted with color, like fennel and endive:

Add several fruits that signal how near the end of winter is:

Next, a modest splash of color:

And pretty soon you have a salad that will, if need be, feed 8 adults and 2 kids and still leave leftovers. Leftovers that hold up admirably well for a salad, slightly dressed even. Or you could just make 1/2. Or eat more. It’s salad after all–no limits.

You could serve it next to little fried beet chips, like I did, if it seems too healthy. Fried food is a good antidote for “too healthy.”

But, no matter what you serve it alongside (We also ate this, for a big family dinner on Friday.) it will be delicious and give you a little taste of spring.

Shaved Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad with Meyer Lemons
makes about 10 side servings, or 4 larger lunch servings

1 bulb fennel, fronds removed and reserved
3 meyer lemons
4-5 large watermelon radishes
2 small heads endive
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line up all the endive leaves and chop into 3/4″ bite-sized pieces. Spread out on a large platter and cover with a damp paper towel while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Supreme the lemons, and chop the supremes into little bitty bite sized pieces, about the size of your pinky nail. Set these pieces aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe off your cutting surface, you want the fennel to sit in the lemon juice that’s left on the cutting board.

Remove any tough or bruised parts from the outside of the fennel and slice very thin using a mandoline. Pour any extra juice that has collected in the bottom of the lemon bowl over the fennel and toss just lightly. Add the shavings in one big heaping layer on top of the endive. From the reserved fronds, take the just best looking two or three and chop them finely, saving to use as a garnish. Cover again with the damp paper towels.

Peel any tough spots from the outside of the radishes. If you can’t find watermelon that’s ok. You can use any radish here. Slice them as thin as you like using the mandoline. I didn’t slice mine as thin as they could go because I wanted them to stay pretty crunchy. Add them as the next layer in the salad.

For the last layer, add the lemon bites over the top. Follow with the chopped fennel fronds. Next pour the olive oil over the whole thing slowly working over the whole salad. If you feel like you need more, by all means add it. I deliberately left this a very lightly dressed salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and call it done!

If you, like me, are preparing this salad ahead of time for an evening dinner, leave it in the fridge without the oil, salt, and pepper, covered with the same damp paper towels you used throughout.

Fancy

My mom is a photographer, so I grew up with cameras being around pretty much all the time. In high school she gave me an old Minolta that had belonged to my grandfather, and I used it in the high school photography class that all the “bad” kids take to get easy art credits. Maybe I was a “bad” kid?

Anyway…

I took a lot of pictures with that camera, mostly just wasting film because I never really got the hang of all the technical jargon. I don’t remember much from the class, but now that I take pictures digitally for the most part, I can take hundreds of pictures and the worst part about it is having to go through them all.

After making the decision to put more energy into blogging and less into feeling bad that I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur, I decided that I should experiment a little bit with taking better photos. I have quite a bit to learn about my camera, and photography in general, but I love taking photos and I know that they only way to get better is to do something. A lot.

So I’ve pretty much turned the camera into an extension of myself. I see things through the viewfinder even when I’m not physically looking through it. I think I’ve improved quite a bit even since picking it back up last December, but I can’t be the best judge.

One thing I have been doing is experimenting with “fancy” food photography style photos. I’m not sure it’s really my style. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Another thing I’m working to improve on is putting in the effort to perfect recipes before I share them. I am a very casual cook. I don’t often use recipes and when I do I usually change things right off the bat. Sometimes it’s because I’m missing an ingredient, sometimes because I look at the recipe and know that it won’t work the way it’s printed so I adjust things as I go along. The problem is, I rarely take notes.

I didn’t take notes for this recipe either, but I did make it like 4 times before I decided it was ready to share here. I’m pretty confident it can’t be improved upon.

I got the inspiration for this salad from a friend of ours whose family we spent Christmas Day with. She served it for dinner that day alongside an amazing roast leg of lamb with like 1 million cloves of garlic stuffed into it. Since then I’ve made it about once a week, eating it until I get tired of it (usually with only a serving or so to go, which I then send with Joe for lunch) and then craving it again just a couple of days later. Since it was originally part of a special meal it’s got a special place in my brain, listed under the heading “impress your guests with fancy food” even though it’s just as easily eaten with your fingers straight from the bowl, all by yourself.

I never asked her for the recipe so I don’t know if she made it up or if someone else deserves the credit but I haven’t come across a recipe quite like what I have here, so I’ll just call it unique and pass the fame on to her. This salad pretty much makes a meal. I’ve been eating it with a hard boiled egg alongside, or a heated up samosa. It’s very filling and even more delicious.

Kale and Yam Salad with Farro and Pomegranate
Makes about 6-8 decent sized servings

One bunch kale, washed, thick stems removed. Any kind of kale is good.
4-5 medium sized yams
1 cup farro
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 pomegranate’s worth of seeds
1 large handful raisins or dried cranberries, optional
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the yams in a 400ºF oven for about 45 minutes, more or less depending on size, until a fork sticks in easily. Allow to cool.

While the yams are roasting, bring the water and stock to a boil. Add the farro, cover, and reduce the heat. Cook for about 50 minutes until the grains have mostly split and are soft but still have a little bit of bite. Turn off the heat and let sit until about room temp. Don’t worry if there is liquid left when you do this, the grains will absorb quite a bit more as they cool. If there’s stock leftover in the end, save it to add to soup.

Meanwhile, mix together the very basic vinaigrette. Feel free to add other things if you want, but it really doesn’t need it. Adjust to your own tastes if you like more or less vinegar. Roughly chop or tear the kale and toss it in the dressing. Allow this to sit at room temp while the farro cooks and cools. Slice up the onions and get your pomegranate seeds ready. Once the yams and farro have cooled to about room temperature you can add them in. Peel and cube the yams, and drain the farro well before adding these things to the kale. Next add the onions and pomegranates, and the raisins if using them. Give it all a good stir (I used my clean hands as it seemed to work the best. Don’t be afraid to touch your food!) and serve it up. It’s good at room temp or cold, and will keep for 4 or 5 days in the fridge.

Wild Beasts

I recently took on a project that I’ve been meaning to do for a while and I’ve been putting off and putting off, mostly because it’s kind of high maintenance and I’m kind of a low maintenance type of girl. The project was to grow a wild yeast culture using the organic grapes that grow in our P-patch. 



This year the grapes were ripe right before we were due to go out of town for a week, so I picked them and then froze them, hoping that it would still work but setting my expectations fairly low in case it didn’t. I figured with that handicap and the fact that our house is almost as cold as it is outside, I wasn’t sure any yeast could survive, let alone thrive.

The starter in it’s early home, by the oven.

I’m using the method from Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery. I was given a copy of this book as a wedding gift (I think?) and haven’t had a chance to use it at all since every recipe in the book calls for a starter of some sort that I just didn’t have the time to set up until now. The recipes in the book are fairly technical, so it’s not the best book for beginning bakers, but since I’ve baked a bit before I feel comfortable with the way she talks about the bread. I take it all with a gain of salt because she’s way way more into bread baking than me, but even us amateurs like a good loaf now and then. She does a very good job explaining all the steps and giving tips for how to do each part of the bread making process. 




So I went ahead with all the steps. It wasn’t too complicated, just sort of messy and delicate, also requiring a heaping helping of patience. The process takes about 2 weeks, from the day you crush your grapes to the day you bake you first loaf.

The first 9 days were simple. You make a mixture of flour and water, crush the grapes and add them, all secured in a clean airtight container. You check it every day, but you don’t have to do anything else very often. 


After those first 9 days is when it gets a little more time consuming. You have to feed the mixture 3 times a day–breakfast, lunch and dinner–with a rigid schedule of how long the bread can go without being fed. And you have to dump out a ton of mixture and start over with just a little over a pound every morning. This was the part I had the hardest time with. It’s not in my nature to throw away pounds and pounds of perfectly good flour. One, we’re pretty frugal around here, and two, I’m a pastry chef. Food waste is a huge sin in professional kitchens. 


So I set out on a mission to use up as much of that dang starter as I could. I also tried to give a lot of it away, by offering starter batches to friends and people in our farm co-op. I think I ended up giving away 4 batches, and using the starter in an equal number of unexpected projects in the kitchen. 

I made lots of cracker dough to freeze for entertaining over the holidays, with cayenne and olive oil. I used some to make sourdough waffles with apple cider. Eating those was like a little preview of heaven for foodies. And I made crumpets. Dozens of crumpets, two days in a row. Some of which we ate and the rest of which maxed out what was left of our freezer space. 

I can’t share the recipe for any of these things, since I made them all up on the fly. I guess my baking and cooking knowhow came in handy here, because I was able to just add enough of ingredients X, Y, and Z to make stuff work. 


What I can share is a very simple recipe for a salad. On Friday after making crumpets for what seemed like hours, we used them as our “challah” for a Shabbat dinner with our friend Aviva. Dinner ended up being sort of rushed, as she needed to be at the airport at 6:30, but it was still good to see a friend and share a meal, and to be able to enjoy some of the fruits of my hard work in the days leading up our meal. 



















The salad had endive, warm roasted beets and goat cheese and a dijon vinaigrette. That’s it, the entire recipe. Really. I think it would be equally good with some butter lettuce or blue cheese. And I suppose you could really use any vinaigrette that you like. Whatever you have lying around really. The secret is that the beets should still be warm, so the cheese and the dressing really meld all together. That’s what made it so fantastic.


I did finally get around to actually baking some real bread on Saturday–a rustic white bread, which I shaped into rolls for dipping in the minestrone I made that night. (More crust is totally better, right?) The bread was great. It rose slowly but had great oven spring, so I know my yeast is happy and healthy. Onto real challah this Friday!



Easy Dijon Vinaigrette
makes about 1 cup


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar (or all balsamic)
1 Tbsp or so sugar, honey or my favorite, pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp good dijon mustard
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste


Shake all the ingredients in a jar, adding more mustard if necessary to achieve a very smooth, emulsified texture. Taste for acidity and add more sweet if you like. I tend to like my pretty acidic and low on the oil. Keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks or so.