Thursday, June 28, 2007

Share Day

Share day sounds like something they make you do in the psych ward. Or at least, at sleepaway camp. But here in rural-land, it means the day I pick up the goodies.

This week's ingredients:

1 bunch rainbow chard
1 bunch red scallions (really beautiful)
1 bunch of a special kind of turnips, the name of which, I cannot remember
1 head of lettuce
3 zucchini
3 summer squash
1 bag of peas in the pod
a quart of those amazing berries

I'm open to suggestions!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just Desserts

Diners, the roadside kind, abound in my little corner of rural America. Directions to my home often begin with "Turn right at the diner" and it seems that I keep discovering new ones throughout the county.

I wish I could say that their meals were transcendent counter fare experiences. Mostly, we go to these places for breakfast; the one closest to our house makes a perfect poached egg and really good pancakes, though you have to ask for real maple syrup instead of the packets of Kraft high fructose nonsense lying on the table. Lately, though, we've had several diner lunches and dinners which were competent, but trying too hard to reach some never-wished-for imitation of finer rather than diner. But perhaps the just-ok entrees and salads were intended as mere prelude. What I learned this week is that the other course where small town diners can excel is dessert.

Our neighborhood joint makes a Boston cream pie that looks and tastes homemade, with moist yellow cake, perfect pastry cream, and a thin layer of chocolate icing. Ditto the place one town south that offers a chocolate peanut butter cake, made by the owner. (She makes the pies, too, but I have yet to try any of them, not even the French silk, which apparently is so common here that you're supposed to know that "French silk" is fancy talk for "chocolate cream pie." Am I the only one who's never heard of such a thing? I'm part Southerner, which means my oddly named pie knowledge is confined to chess, and vinegar.) The cake is rich, maybe a hair too sweet, but a nice salty bite to the peanut butter center keeps it from being cloying. And the casual Italian restaurant my kids beg to go to (not a diner, but definitely a small town, family style place) has carrot cake that is as good as my homemade. At first, this was upsetting --I am, after all, incredbly vain about my cooking--but now I've embraced the fact that I can have my cake without baking it, too. As a fine cook said to me tonight at dinner, in cooking, you have to know where to take the shortcuts. True of cooking, and country navigation, too.

And what about those CSA boxes, anyway?

I started this as a way to track what I'm receiving from my local farm's Community Supported Agriculture share, but I've been so busy getting this up and running, cooking, and generally trying to keep my life together that I haven't gotten around to listing what we've been receiving, or what I've been making with it.

Week 1, we were in New York City on Thursday (our veggie day) and I forgot to go pick up until late Friday afternoon. The CSA I joined is attached to a large farm that also has a retail store, so one of the clerks took me backstage, so to speak, to find my produce. I was so late that my share had already been disassembled, but he was kind enough to piece together most of what I would have taken home. I found myself with two large bunches of dill, a bunch of turnips, a head or two of romaine lettuce, some rainbow swiss chard and probably a few other things I'm forgetting.

To use the dill, I made a delicious potato salad (ok, so I bought potatoes and red onion at the store, sue me.) The turnips joined carrots and parsnips in the chicken stew that is the basis for my chicken and biscuits. The chard went into a version of the lentils and kale with sausage (yep, made and ate it twice, it was that good) and also a pasta with sausage, raisins and pine nuts. Good salads, too, thanks to the flavorful, crisp romaine.

The second week, variety increased. More chard, a big bunch of beets, a bag of fresh peas in the pod, some garlic scapes, parsley and loads of fresh spinach. We missed our fruit share the first week, but just as well, because last week and this, the fruit was strawberries. This week's went into another batch of frozen yogurt. The scapes, chard and beet greens went into a delicious pasta with local goat cheese, the parsley was combined with basil left from my strawberry picking/farm stand excursion in a wonderful pesto, and I am planning on making spinach quiche to freeze tomorrow. Maybe some gnudi, too, if I can find good ricotta.

Recipes for all to come. Promise.

And more strawberries

I still had berries left after the yogurt experiments. Some we picked, some a donation from a dinner guest (also local, also delicious.) I have never been a fan of strawberry pie, as it usually seems to come with a gelatinous glaze and those kiwi-size berries that look vaguely unreal. But I'd been wanting to try a rhubarb recipe, and with all those berries about to start to turn, I conquered my suspicions.

I looked at a couple of different sources for a recipe, and none of them seemed exactly right, so I borrowed a bit from Mark Bittman, a bit from Gourmet, and even from La Martha. This is what I came up with.

A note about pies:

I grew up with a pie baker. My mother makes the best pie I've ever eaten, anywhere, any time. As a result, I make my own crust, which is not as good as hers, but is getting better, every year. This is not to say you should feel badly if you can't handle the concept of crust-- you're in good company, and let's be honest, we all have our personal food-prep phobias. For years, the only meat I could prepare competently was a roast chicken; I can't handle deep frying. If the thought of making your own crust makes you shiver, ok. But trust me when I say, you can handle it. Let me amend that-if you have a food processor, you can absolutely handle it. But the choice is yours.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

1-1/2 - 2 c. rhubarb, strings more or less removed, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
3-3-1/2 c. strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 t. freshly ground (in a mortar and pestle) cardamom seed (tough pods removed)
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg

Combine all of the above in a non-reactive bowl, toss together, and macerate at room temperature for an hour or so while you get your crust together.

For the crust:

1 stick cold (refrigerated) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 stick cold (refrigerated) no-trans fat vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 - 1/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 t. kosher salt
2/3-3/4 c. ice water
1 egg, separated, and the yolk lightly beaten

Put the flour, salt, butter and shortening into a food processor and pulse together until it resembles coarse meal.

Pour the water in slowly with the motor running and process just until the dough comes together.

Turn it out onto a floured counter and shape into a soft ball. If the dough is sticky, you can knead in just enough flour to make it easier to handle, but no more. Too much more flour and too much handling will make the crust tough.

Divide the dough into two pieces, place on and wrap with plastic wrap, and shape into 1 inch think discs. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When the dough is chilled, roll the first piece out on a floured piece of wax paper until it's1/4 inch thick and large enough to fit the bottom of your pie pan. (I like to spray my pan first with canola oil spray to avoid sticking. It's not traditional, but it saves your pie.)

Fit the dough in, and trim the edges so there's a neat disc that reaches the bottom of the pan (I use a deep dish) and to the edge of the rim.

Paint the bottom of the crust with the egg white, and then pierce eight or ten times with the tines of a fork, across the bottom and around the sides.

If the fruit has exuded a great deal of liquid, you can drain some off. Usually, this is not necessary because the liquid is absorbed by the flour.

Turn the fruit into the pie plate and prepare your top crust. Roll it out to 1/4 inch as with the bottom crust. You can either place the whole crust on top, and cut some decorative vents in it, crimp the edges and bake, or you can cut strips and weave a lattice on top. Brush the top crust and rim with the beaten egg yolk, and bake for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling beneath.

Good warm, cold, with or without whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Strawberries, ad delirium

As mentioned in my last post, a fellow foodie invited me strawberry picking last weekend at the beautiful, all-organic Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancram, NY. The kids came, too, and in spite of heat and humidity, we all had a blast. We only lasted about an hour, but that was enough time to fill our baskets and mouths with terrific berries. (As a side note, for someone used to the giant berries that dominate commercial growth in California, the super sweet, smaller berries at Thompson Finch were a welcome change.)

We came home with quarts of berries. We brought some to friends, but still had more left that we could reasonably eat just as-is. I remembered reading a post over at 101 Cookbooks about homemade frozen yogurt, which she described as rivaling Pinkberry's. (Pinkberry, for the uninitiated, is a frozen yogurt chain that's taken Los Angeles, and now NYC, by storm, but is currently embroiled in Seinfeld-ian scandal, accused of actually not selling a yogurt-based product, but instead a milk-powder based froyo--or is that faux-yo? Sorry-- I couldn't resist.) Anyway, I decided to clean out my fridge, already full of delicous sheep's milk yogurt from the local Old Chatham Sheepherdering Company, as well as Fage TOTAL Greek-style) and use up the berries at the same time. The combination of tangy yogurt and macerated berries worked well--my only tip is to not be overly afraid of sugar, or long-term (even overnight) soaking for the berries in their sugary juice. The yogurt is very tangy, and the added sweetness keeps the final product from being sour. If you want to cut back on sugar but still up the sweetness, you can substitute agave nectar for all or some of the sugar, using some when macerating the berries, maybe 1/4 cup, and then adding more to taste before freezing the yogurt.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt ala Heidi & The Perfect Scoop

1 qt. fresh, sweet strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
1/2-3/4 c. sugar (I used organic, evaporated cane juice, because that's what I had)
1-2 t. vanilla extract (optional)
500 grams (one large size package) Fage TOTAL yogurt (I've used both full fat and non fat, and both were delicious, though the full fat version has a slightly creamier mouth feel, as you'd expect)
4 cups Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Plain Sheep's Milk Yogurt (now, obviously you can use any combination of yogurts here, though if I didn't follow this exact recipe, I'd probably do what Heidi suggests in her version, and drain all the yogurt before using it. With this combo, I didn't drain anything.)

Combine the strawberries and sugar and toss gently to combine. Add the vanilla if you're using it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours to overnight.
If the berries have exuded a lot of liquid you may want to drain some before combining them with both yogurts. A lot of juice in the mix can make your yogurt a bit icier in texture, but will by no means ruin the result.
Combine the macerated berries with the yogurts and stir to combine. Chill the whole mixture one hour.
Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.