29 July 2009

The rest of the currants

Somehow these things got me to bake twice in one week, and during summer. Well, ok, it was the currants plus our ridiculous everlasting supply of peaches. I don't even like peaches that much; they have that little bitter aftertaste, they can get mealy or stringy, and the skin is so much damn work! I hate having to peel the damn things every time I want to eat them. CSA, I love you, but why can't you give us nectarines?

The blueberries, in contrast, are gone fifteen minutes after we unpack the weekly box.


So we had currants plus peaches. Clearly, we had to bake them.

Ok, yes, it's much more work than just peeling and eating a peach, but the reward is so much better.

Currant peach crumble

red currants/other berries
peaches/other summer stone fruit
rolled oats
wheat flour
butter/earth balance, I guess

Ok. Grease a casserole dish with some butter or earth balance. Preheat the oven to 350F. I know, it's summer and you're going to die of heat. Preheat it anyway.

Peel and slice about five or six peaches. I used a vegetable peeler as opposed to cutting a cross in each and blanching them; it was fine. Put your completed slices in the dish. Pull all the currants you have off their stems, and scatter them over the dish. Get things reasonably evenly distributed.

Drizzle some honey over all the fruit. You could also put a little cinnamon if you want; I wanted nothing but massive amounts of fruit, so I left mine alone.

Fruit done. Make the crumble.

In a big bowl, mix approximately equal amounts of flour and rolled oats with a big pinch of salt. Throw in a big chunk of butter (cut into pieces if you want), and rub it all together with your hands until everything sticks in big soft doughy clumps.

Spread the crumble over the fruit and put the dish in the oven.

Now bake, turning once, for maybe twenty minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is sizzling and juicy.

Done! Crumble!

Clearly, crumble wants ice cream, plain yogurt, or sour cream, but we had ours plain, and that was also good.

Also clearly, you can use practically any fruit you want to make a good crumble. Plums, cherries, nectarines, apricots, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries: whatever summer fruit you want, the result will be good.

For a third clearly, you don't have to eat something like this just for dessert. I ate the end of our pan for breakfast the next morning, after a quick warmup in the toaster oven. You know how there's no better breakfast than homemade pie? This one is first runner up.

24 July 2009

Make a pancake make make a pancake

(In ref: the best song about pancakes ever. PANCAKES.)

Pancakes are great. I encourage everyone to make pancakes.

I was teaching one of my students long division today (WHAT UP, LONG DIVISION! I love you!) when he suddenly said, "This would be a great time for pancakes." It really would have been. It was about 11:45 and we were both starting to collapse in need of serious lunch. PANCAKES.

Of course, traditional pancakes don't do much when you need actual sustenance, so it's a good thing someone invented savory pancakes.

I like to make dinner pancakes with chickpea flour, aka gram flour or besan. Chickpea flour is just finely ground chickpeas, and is obviously way healthier and more sustaining than plain wheat flour. You can find it in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, in ethnic food stores (especially Indian), or possibly in the bulk bins if you have an extremely well-stocked food co-op. It's not hard.

Here's what I normally do. I make a batter with chickpea flour, water, a pinch of salt and a little oil, then look through the refrigerator to figure out what vegetables to put in the pancakes. You could use practically anything: various peppers, summer squash, potato or other root vegetables (precooked), green beans, peas, cabbage, radishes, carrots. It's all good.

This time we were stocked with a bunch of fresh corn and zucchini, plus overflowing basil plants on the windowsills. So.

Chickpea pancakes

chickpea flour
oil, olive or flavorless
half a jalepeno
salt, pepper

I totally don't measure when making this batter. However, it's really easy to eyeball: just get things to a pancake batter consistency and you'll be fine.

Pour approximately equal amounts of flour and water, maybe 3/4 cup of each, into a bowl. Add a little glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt, then mix with a fork until smooth. If the batter looks too thick, add a little more water. If it looks too thin, add more flour. You can also add more of either later on. Totally easy.

For vegetables, husk a couple ears of fresh corn. You could use defrosted frozen corn, but it's July and the corn is out. Use it.

Getting corn off the cob is a little fiddly but not hard. After you've removed as much cornsilk as possible, snap off the stem of your corncob. Stand the corn on a cutting board, wide end down, holding it at the tip. Then use a slow sawing motion, working top to bottom, to cut a few rows of corn off the cob. Rotate and repeat until you've removed as much corn as possible from the cob.

Gather up any little bits of corn that have scattered themselves all over the counter. Use them all.

Trim a zucchini and dice it into small cubes. Strip some basil leaves off their stems and slice them into fine strips for a chiffonade. Finely mince as much jalapeno as you want.

Add all your vegetables to the batter and stir it up. You want a lot of vegetables in here, with batter clinging to them all over. If you aren't satisfied with the proportions, correct as needed with more flour and water, stirring thoroughly after each addition. You can also add some pepper if you want some.

Now it's time to fry. Get a nonstick or cast iron pan good and hot, so a flick of water sizzles and evaporates instantly. Then pour in as many ladlefuls of batter as your pan fits comfortably. Cook about 2-3 minutes on the first side, or until bubbles start to form on the surface. Hey, just like ordinary pancakes! These will have fewer bubbles, since they have a bunch of vegetables in them, but you'll be able to spot a few.

Flip and cook another minute or so. Both sides of your pancakes should turn golden brown and clearly delicious.

Repeat until all your batter is used up. I got ten pancakes out of mine, which was plenty.

You can keep pancakes warm in a very low oven until you're finished with the whole batch. You could also just eat them straight out of the pan. Who am I to judge?

Eat your pancakes hot or lukewarm, plain or with garnish. I tried one with some spicy chili jam, which was good, but they stood alone just fine as well. You could try sour cream or plain yogurt, white bean and garlic puree, thick lentil soup, chopped fresh tomato, guacamole: whatever. Just don't put syrup on them.

23 July 2009

Salad salad

Sometimes you just have to bow to the massive vegetable supremacy of the CSA box and make a damn salad.

A Salad.

green beans
salt, pepper
(anything else you want)

First, do the cooking part of the salad.

Hard boil an egg per person. To do this, put your eggs in a pot of cold water. Make sure the water is high enough to cover your eggs. Put the pan on the heat, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for about 9 minutes. When the time is up, whip the eggs immediately out of the hot water and into an ice water bath, i.e. a bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let them sit and cool while you prep the rest of the salad.

Wash a big handful of green beans and cut them into pieces. Blanch or steam in boiling water for about two or three minutes. I just threw mine in the pot with the eggs at the end of cooking; it's fine. When your beans are done, immediately run them under cold water as well; this stops the cooking and sets their bright green color.

Ok, cooking part over.

Wash, dry, and chop up the lettuce; mine was redleaf. I think there might be some frisee in there too, but I can't see any under the piles of green beans. Any reasonable salady lettuce is clearly fine. Distribute your lettuce into bowls and dress with a little bit of vinaigrette.

Wash, trim, and slice a radish or two; add the slices to your salads. Throw a handful of green beans on top. Peel your eggs by whacking them soundly all over with the back of a spoon, then starting at the wide end and getting under the membrane. If you have issues, try running them under cold water to get off any little bits of peel. Quarter them and add them to each salad. Chop up some fresh parsley and scatter it over the top.

Vinaigrette, salt, pepper.

Eat it all.

20 July 2009

Leftovers are awesome

For one thing, they mean I get lunch that looks like this and is awesome in kind.

Penne with summer squash and basil

penne/other pasta
olive oil
summer squash, any kind
fresh basil
optional mozzarella/other cheese
salt, pepper

Totally simple; totally fast. Make sure your vegetables are good.

Cook penne while your vegetables are going; drain at an appropriate time.

Warm some olive oil in a saute pan while you smash, peel, and chop several cloves of garlic. Throw the garlic into the olive oil and let soften.

Wash a summer squash or two. I used one yellow squash and one zucchini, because I think squash is awesome and we have a predictable summer overstock. Seriously, squash and pasta: do it.

Chop your squash into whatever shape you want. I made half-moons.

Add the squash to the pan, along with a big pinch of salt and some ground pepper. Stir it up, getting the garlicky olive oil everywhere, and let cook for about five minutes.

While all that is happening, pick a handful of basil off your plants (or a bunch of basil, whatever). Destem them and chop them into fine slices for a chiffonade. Or you can tear them into big rough pieces if you want. Do whatever floats your boat. You can also cube some mozzarella or grate some parmesan, if you like that kind of thing.

When the squash are cooked through and everything tastes good, turn off the heat. Add your drained pasta and most of your shredded basil to the veg; stir to distribute things evenly and wilt the basil.

Put it on a plate, add some cheese and some more basil, and eat it.

You can also make garlic green beans.

Garlic green beans: ridiculously easy

olive oil
green beans
salt, pepper

Soften garlic in oil; add trimmed beans, salt, and pepper. Cook, with a dribble of water and a closed lid for good steam, until done. Three to five minutes should do it.

Now you can go to bed, ok?

15 July 2009

Fruit party

We have been all about fruit, which is no surprise, considering summer. In the CSA box today we got peaches and blueberries; sometimes we go up the street about eight at night to buy cherries and figs from the tiny awesome grocery; last weekend at the farmer's market we bought two pints of raspberries and one of red currants. All fruit!

Most of the fruit gets eaten straight and plain, so when we cook it (or, you know, cut it up and use it in something as opposed to eating it straight out of the box) it's kind of an occasion.

For instance, although I ate the great majority of my pint of figs (all mine; John refused to eat any and instead watched me eat them with a look of glee on his face), I saved the last few for Clotilde's now-traditional fig sandwich.

Holy crap, that thing is so good. My very slightly altered version: barely toasted sourdough bread, sliced store mozzarella, sliced black figs, chiffonaded basil and torn parsley from the windowsill plants, and black pepper. SO GOOD. I had one for dinner and another for breakfast the next morning. Thus concludes my pint of figs.

Then there were the currants. We bought these as kind of a one-off farmer's market novelty; when else were we going to even see, let alone get, fresh currants? Pretty much never. Yeah. So they came home with us.

The problem: currants are a really tart, citrusy berry. It's difficult to eat more than a few at a time, although we tried. So instead, I broke out The Internet and came up with a recipe for currant scones.

Yeah, those scones want dried currants and we had fresh. Yeah, we also didn't have quite enough flour. We did have almonds, though, and I totally wanted almonds with the currants. I switched some business up and came up with these.

Currant almond scones

1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1/2 cup chopped or ground almonds, or almond meal
2 tbsp turbinado sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup red currants
1 egg/replacer
1/2 cup milk/almond milk

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Bust out a mixing bowl and combine all your dry ingredients, including almonds. I had plain raw almonds to start with, but turned them into rough almond meal by chopping them up thoroughly. You could blanch them and slip off the skins if you want perfectly white almond bits, but I didn't bother, because I don't care about that kind of thing.

Cut your butter into small cubes, then cut it into the flour mix with a pastry cutter. Try to get it to the texture of coarse cornmeal (as every flaky dough recipe always says). My butter was a little too warm; oh well. The scones were still good. I bet an experiment with flavorless oil would work here too.

Pull the stems off what seems like a billion tiny currants and drop them in the bowl. Beat your egg separately, add it and your milk to the dough, and stir to combine. Don't overmix at this point; you want to preserve as many tiny butter chunks as possible.

Give the dough a few kneads in the bowl, turning to get any dry mix worked in. Probably some currants will start to pop at this point, which will be fine but bright red. Now start tearing off small handfuls of dough, gently pressing them into biscuit shapes, and putting them on a lightly floured cookie sheet. I got ten scones out of my dough.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops of your scones are starting to turn golden brown. This can be hard to tell with wheat flour, but not impossible.

When done, let the scones cool for a minute or two on the sheet before you pry them gently off. Some currants will probably have crept through to caramelize on the bottom of each scone.

Eat them! You want honey or butter. Or take them to work and eat them plain. I totally took them to work and ate them every day until they were gone. Scones are awesome! Sometime in the future there will have to be some savory scones filled with chopped pine nuts and basil and olive oil, or steamed corn and roasted red pepper. Scones!

13 July 2009



olive oil
maybe four potatoes
three big summer squash/zucchini
a big onion
a bunch of spinach
half a bunch of chard
a lot of fresh basil and parsley
mozzarella and romano
salt and pepper
some more fresh basil and parsley for garnish

Cut it all up!

- Slice: potatoes, squash.
- Roughly dice: onion.
- Wash, destem and chop: spinach, chard, basil, parsley.
- Cube: mozzarella (or you can chop up some pecans or other tasty nuts, or vegan cheeses).
- Shred: romano or other grating cheese.

Get out a huge casserole dish. Pour a little olive oil into the bottom and spread it around with your hands.

Now it is time to layer!

Make layers of potatoes, squash, onion, all the greens, and mozzarella or nuts. After one runthrough, salt and pepper the top of your last layer. Sprinkle with a little olive oil too. Then make a second layer of all the business.

This should be enough to fill your dish to TOTALLY BURSTING. Really cram it in there! The greens will reduce!

Spread your romano over the top of the dish. More nuts work here too.

(Since we have some fairly wet squash as a major ingredient, I didn't add any liquid at all: the squash will express out all you need. Normally you'd use some milk or broth in something like this, though.)

Bake at 350F or so, rotating halfway through cooking, until the whole business is cooked and bubbling and browning on top. This should take a half hour or so.

Eat it! Make sure you get a lot of the crispy greens, because they are awesome. Rip up some more basil or parsley to scatter over the top.

Eat it with pieces of good sourdough toast, or with pita or flatbread. You will want some bread or something to soak up the tasty juices in the bottom of the pan, even though there's also a bunch of potato in here. Do it!

11 July 2009

What happened to the chard:

It got melted into white bean and chard business. Then we ate it with chili paste and toasty pieces of wheat flatbread. Then, when Ryan and the co-op kids showed up, they ate it with chili paste and toasty flatbread too. Voila! Cheap, awesome vegan dinner!

This business is thoroughly and perfectly flavored by the taste of fresh red chard. It's hard to believe there are so few ingredients to assemble. AND YET.

("Business" = "a food I make that can't necessarily be put into a specific type-of-dish category". I thoroughly overuse the word "business", as you have probably noticed.)

White bean and chard business

olive oil
cooked white beans
a lot of chard
salt, pepper
did we put dry vermouth in it?
fresh basil
(chili paste and flatbread)

First, warm some olive oil in a big sauté pan. Smash garlic with the flat of a knife, remove the skin, and chop it roughly. I like garlic, and I wasn't using a whole lot of other ingredients, so I used maybe six cloves.

Soften your garlic in the olive oil. When it's all nice and happy, add some cooked white beans. I had a brick of preboiled white beans in the freezer, complete with bay leaf, so I stuck the whole thing into the pan to defrost and cook. You can also use a can of white beans, or a pot you've just boiled from dry. Obviously, using frozen beans takes the longest, and it's probably not what anyone but me would do anyway, so. Put some bean broth or water in the pan to cook with the beans (or let it melt off your frozen brick).

While the beans are cooking, wash the hell out of a big bunch of chard. I used a LOT of chard, so the finished business was way more "chard with white beans" than "white beans with chard". Serious washing is required. Fill the sink halfway with cold water and totally submerge your greens. Shake them all up in the water and get that sand and dirt really off! Do it!

When your chard is all clean, cut all the greens off the stems and separate them. Trim the edges of the stems, then cut them into inch-long pieces. Chop the greens roughly.

When your beans are hot and bubbling, add the chard stems to the pan. Salt and pepper, stir them up, and let them cook together for three or four minutes. You can also add a splash of dry vermouth here, if you want your beans and greens to have that vermouth edge. FYI: red chard stems will totally turn your beans bright pink. I'm just saying.

When the stems are almost done, add your greens to the pan. There should be a lot of greens! Lots! Stir things up, add a little splash of water, clap on the lid, and let the greens steam for a couple minutes. You may need to stir the business up a few times if your pan is too crowded for the steam to get around. It's all good.

When the greens are all wilted, turn off the heat. Chop up a bunch of fresh basil to put on top of each bowl; you're done.

Eat with toasty flatbread pieces and hot chili paste.

Toasty flatbread pieces

Cut some good flatbread into triangles or squares. Put them in the toaster oven (or actual oven) and toast until toasty and crisp.

Hot chili paste

Open a jar of hot chili paste.

09 July 2009

What happened to the escarole:

I made it into a big salad with shrimp seared in garlic and olive oil, and let me just tell you what a great idea that was. SO GREAT.

Escarole is bitter and crisp and crunchy; shrimp is sweet and rich and protein-whackety. This was clearly perfect.

Something like a barbecue-sauce-marinated seared tempeh would also work with escarole salad, for those of you. A bunch of chopped fruit (cherries!) and toasted nuts would clearly be great too. Just make sure to use something that will provide reasonable sugars, either through its own content or by caramelization. Otherwise, the escarole will eat you.

08 July 2009

My CSA brings all the various people to the yard

This was last week:

- 6 or 8 apples
- a bunch of chard
- a head of escarole
- a bunch of spinach
- 6 turnips (buried)
- a bunch of finger-sized carrots
- a huge head of napa cabbage
- a head of leaf lettuce
- a pint of blueberries
- a bunch of basil
- a bunch of parsley

Tonight we are using up most of the last of it in a massive gratin which will clearly be awesome AS SOON AS WE CAN EAT IT, i.e. not yet. Boo!

During the week, though, I made lots of other delicious business. Probably the best business was my massive pan of pasta with garlic, various squashes, herbs, and chard, which I then ate three times consecutively, i.e. until gone.

Serious garden pasta

olive oil
zucchini/summer squash
chard leaves
fresh basil
fresh parsley
salt, pepper
cavatappi/other chunky pasta
grating cheese if you want it/toasted pine nuts if you don't

This is totally simple and really good.

First, put pasta water on to boil. Cook pasta at an appropriate moment in your cooking process; drain.

Warm some olive oil in a big saute pan. Crush and chop several cloves of garlic, then soften them in the oil.

While the garlic is cooking, wash some zucchini or summer squash. I had both, so I used one zucchini and two squash. Trim them and chop them into fairly thin half circles. When your garlic has softened and is beginning to turn golden, add your squash, plus some salt and pepper. Stir it up and let it cook on medium for maybe five minutes, or until just cooked through.

While you're waiting, wash and destem a big handful of chard leaves. Really pile it on: greens are great! Then get a big handful of basil and another of parsley, pull the leaves off their stems, and throw them in your pile of chard. Use a lot of those too, for maximum awesome. Chop all the greens finely.

When the squash is cooked, throw all your greens into the pan, add your drained pasta, and stir it up. Turn off the heat, but let the pan sit for a minute while you wash cutting boards and knives. This will let the greens wilt just a little bit.

Now put some pasta on a plate, strew some grated cheese or pine nuts over it, and eat it!


05 July 2009

Terrible yet still somehow awesome

So at night when we have bed party (i.e. "go to bed") we usually watch some things on The Internet before actually going to sleep. Lately it's been Jacques Pépin. "How can you watch a food show right before going to sleep?" says our friend Ryan. Well, it probably has something to do with being too lazy to get out of bed and make food at eleven or twelve.

Q: How awesome is Jacques Pépin? A: SO AWESOME. He is clearly a complete expert, and continually teaches as he goes. It's pretty gratifying to see him doing a bunch of the same things I automatically do: smashing garlic with the flat of the knife, for instance, and reaching into a hot pan with bare hands. Even though I wouldn't make a lot of his richer recipes, like heavy mayonnaise sauces, and don't generally bother with fancy presentation, the food and technique is always super interesting.

One of the episodes had a dessert that was ridiculously easy: jam tartine, aka pound cake slices with jam. This type of thing is totally heritagenous for me. In high school, at about ten at night, my brother Brian and I would get hungry and make a sheet cake or pan of brownies from whatever mix was in the pantry. My favorite was to take a piece of yellow cake, split it in half, and fill it with apricot jam. So seeing Jacques Pépin spread jam on a piece of pound cake gave me some complete food nostalgia.

I can't remember the last time we bought pound cake from the freezer case, but this time we did.

Jam tartine à la Jacques Pépin

pound cake/other cake
fruit and mint for garnish

Cut some slices of pound cake. Don't make them too thin, or they'll bend and break when you try to eat this with your hands: maybe 1/2 inch thick is good. You can trim off the edges if you want to be fancy, but you're just going to eat the scraps anyway, so why bother?

If you don't want to use pound cake (which, flatly, would be a much better idea: frozen pound cake is AWFUL for you, and not as good as fresh cake), you can make and use whatever mild-flavored cake you like. Shortbread or sugar cookies would work well too. We could clearly go in all directions here: even scones or split buttermilk biscuits would be good, although they start to get away from dessert and make a run for breakfast.

Anyway. Spread some jam on each slice of cake. I used apricot, for maximum nostalgia. Apricot is still my favorite kind of jam anyway.

Garnish with whatever fruit you have lying around. We had a bunch of blueberries and a big bag of mint from the CSA box, so we clearly had to use those. The mint was clearly the winner of garnish competition. In the future, I would totally rip up a bunch of mint and strew it liberally over the jam. Other fruit to use: strawberry slices, halved cherries, whatever berry you find at the farmer's market, fig slices and honey in the fall. Strawberry with chiffonaded basil instead of mint would probably be really good. If it weren't so hard to forage more than one mulberry at a time, I would go for some of those, too.

Eat it! You could have this with sorbet, but I think there's enough going on with the fruit and mint already. Plain is fine.

04 July 2009

Best snack ever

Get some almonds and cashews (or whatever nut you like and have lying around) and toast them in a frying pan. Cut up some apples and sprinkle them with fresh cracked pepper. You could also use pears or figs or whatever other fruit sounds good with both nuts and pepper. Get some of your dried fruit out of the freezer, too: we had cranberries. Put it all on a plate and eat it in bed late at night.

01 July 2009

Salad salad salad gonna turn into fall

you and your baby doll/better go to the beach

and, uh, eat salad there?

Not tzatziki cucumber salad

fresh dill
plain yogurt/vegan sub
salt, pepper
(red onion if you have any)

Cut a cucumber, or however much cucumber you want to eat, into half-moons. Rip the fronds off a handful of dill and chop them roughly. Mince and chop some red onion if you have it; red onion makes everything better. Deposit everything into a reasonably sized bowl.

Add salt, pepper, and a big spoonful of plain yogurt. Stir the business together, adding more yogurt or veg if your balance is off.

Eat it!

This business is excellent with various bread. Make biscuits, rip them open, and fill them with salad. Cut flatbread or decent pita into pieces, toast them in the toaster oven (or I guess real oven), and dip them in salad. Make a whole sandwich and fill it with the salad, plus maybe some slivered red pepper and decent tomato and I don't know, what kind of cheese would work here? Something spreadable and goaty? Havarti or emmenthaler? Just a boatload of cottage cheese, mixed into the salad to make it an actual sandwich filler? I think that last one is the way to go.