Bottom Shelf & Crisper Drawers

The fridge project saga reaches its epic conclusion! It was a long, hard struggle to get here, one requiring culinary ingenuity and a superhuman tolerance for sniffing the mysterious contents of plastic containters, but 2009 can begin now in earnest with acres of shelf space and systems in place that should keep things tidy for at least, oh, one or two weeks.

Suit up team, we're going in! If I'm not back in one hour...

Suit up team, I'm going in! If I'm not back in one hour...

The bottom shelf was without doubt the scariest part of this whole ordeal. Cut off from light by the shelves above, the bottom shelf was a dark and crowded place crammed end-to-end with leftovers and whatever is left after leftovers move on to the next world. Almost the entire bottom shelf went straight into the compost. It was a much-needed mercy-composting for these containers, a good half of which were Thanksgiving leftovers. (I know, right? YUCK! I swear there’s a black hole back there that things disappear into, only to reemerge weeks later.)

Won't you put us out of our misery?

Won't you put us out of our misery?

The crisper drawers were more fruitful, offering up a Ziploc full of spiced wine syrup to freeze for some future ice-cream-topping extravaganza as well as non-rotten produce in the form of oranges, apples, carrots, fennel, parsley, and a daikon radish. The bounty from the drawers kept us in side dishes all week with Balsamic Roasted Fennel, Roasted Carrots with Parsley, Homemade Applesauce, and Carrot-Daikon Salad with Sesame Seeds (recipe follows). Still more carrots, parsley, and the orange zest and juice went into an unfortunately hideous crock pot carrot soup that I will write more about later.

Roasted carrots, balsamic roasted fennel, carrot and daikon salad, baked beets and onion with horseradish sauce, lentil-spinach crock pot curry, and quinoa

Roasted carrots, balsamic roasted fennel, carrot and daikon salad, baked beets and onion with horseradish sauce, lentil-spinach crock pot curry, and quinoa

And with that, the fridge was complete. Emptied, reshuffled, reorganized, and ready to go. Let’s make 2009 the Best Fridge Year Ever! YAY!

New Year's Project complete!

New Year's Project complete!

Top Shelf
Middle Shelf & Door

Carrot and Daikon Salad with Sesame Seeds

1 large daikon radish (about 4-5 inches), peeled and grated
2-3 large carrots, peeled and grated
4 T. rice vinegar
1 t. salt
2-3 t. sugar or to taste
1 t. dark toasted sesame oil
Black and white toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Place the grated vegetables in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, mix well, and let sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze veggie mixture to drain it well. Dissolve the sugar into the rice vinegar and stir in the sesame oil. Top veggie mixture with the dressing, toss well to coat. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, sprinkle each serving with a mixture of black and white toasted sesame seeds.

Summer soup

Ah, summer in San Francisco.

I arrived home last week after a long visit to New York. (My trip is one reason this blog has gotten hopelessly out of date!) After a couple of weeks of skirts and sandals and other wispy pieces of actual summer clothing, it was a shock to return to a Bay Area August, full of fog and the kind of grim cold that lingers in the corners of the apartment, even when I have the heater going full blast. It was such a nice surprise that my new flannel pajamas had arrived while I away. Flannel pajamas in August. Only in San Francisco.

But this interesting intersection of season and weather does have one terrific silver lining, and that’s Summer Soup. A nice warm bowl containing all the produce bounty of summer, and a nice chilly day to enjoy it on!

Summer Soup with Vegan Pesto

When I saw how full of produce the fridge and counter were when I got home, I defrosted my most delicious scrap stock as a base (the delicious batch IV stock that Duck couldn’t stop sipping straight), and put together some summer soup. I tend to have trouble making soup without a recipe, trouble that takes the form of lackluster flavor, but I wanted to make a soup that would use up all the veggies I had already, not the veggies a recipe wanted me to use.

I decided to wing it, using red onions, fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, pink potatoes, green cabbage, carrots, and some roasted garlic, and the results were very good. I’m not going to post the recipe here because it was so basic and pretty much all the flavor came from the stock, so this would have been a pretty dull pot of soup if I’d been using canned broth, or even one of my milder scrap stocks. Duck also used some CSA basil and some basil he’s been growing on our front porch to make a puree of basil, garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts (basically, vegan pesto) which we swirled into the bowls of soup individually. As a final touch we served the soup over heaps of steamed quinoa, and had our protein for the day as well.

And though we sat in our chilly kitchen, wrapping our frostbitten fingers around our steaming bowls, at least we could taste the warmth of summer’s goodness on our spoons.

Sweet potato and kale

When I think of sweet potato and kale soup, I think of winter, no question. It sounds like a healthy but still sturdy and comforting dish to make when the temperatures drop and just going outside seems to take more energy than usual. But one of the nice things about my box is that it keeps me truly seasonal. And this doesn’t just mean swearing off tomatoes for eight months of the year. It also means discovering that sweet potatoes and kale can be spring/summer seasonal vegetables. How do I know this? Well, there’s no hothouse at Eatwell, and it’s currently June, and there are the tenderest, most adorable sweet potatoes and a beautiful bunch of kale in my box.

Considering that I’m in San Francisco, summer is sadly often the time when you need a hearty, warming meal. Haven’t you heard the quote, widely attributed to Mark Twain? “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Sweet Potato and Kale Soup with Fennel Seed and Ginger

In addition to the sweet potatoes and kale, my box this week also included a newsletter featuring a recipe for sweet potato and kale soup. Duck and I decided this wasn’t the best use of our gorgeous bunch of purple-tinged kale (we love it so much plain – no, we crave it plain – that the box can’t even keep up with our appetite for plain kale, much less have anything leftover to be sticking in soups) but then Duck went out of town before we could eat the kale and I just couldn’t stop thinking about this soup.

I decided to make a batch of it, and I am really, really glad I did. The recipe brings out perfectly the sweetness of both the kale and the sweet potatoes, and the fennel seed manages to be interesting without being overpowering. I slightly tweaked the original recipe, which seems to be a home-invented one from another Eatweller. I changed the proportions and only blended part of the soup, so the texture I ended up with may be rather different from the original intent, but I thought it was perfect. I also worked a little FASS magic and added a touch of lemon juice – the dish is already perfect on the sweet and salty, and the cheese or yogurt or cream at the end takes care of fat, but it needed just a hint of acid for my tastes.

The recipe follows… Continue reading

Scrap Stock IV – Mega-edition

Another consequence of being too tired to cook or blog or generally do anything was that my veggie scraps really started piling up. By early this week most of my fridge’s top shelf seemed to be devoted to scraps, waiting like pining lovers for the transformative kiss of the stock pot. So when I finally started to have a bit more energy, it was time to brew up some stock and get that shelf cleared.

I ended up having enough material to make two pots of stock, ending up with 13 cups of rich, savory broth, tinged a beautiful pink from the beet scraps. My freezer is truly well stocked now, which saves me from treating the stock like it is a scarce commodity.

Two pots of scrap stock

In this mega-edition of scrap stock:

Spinach crowns
Garlic peels and trim
Carrot trim and tops
Chard stem
Kale stem
Asparagus trim
Red cabbage trim
Fennel stalks
Apple cores
Radish trim
Leek trim
Green garlic trim
Arugula trim
Sugar snap pea trim
Thyme stalks
Red onion peels and trim
Shallot peels and trim
Mustard green trim
Beet trim
Bay leaves

Scrap stock, III

Getting bored of my surely less-than-engrossing detailed account of what I put in my stock each week? Well, I’d like to keep track of it for my own purposes and something tells me there’s a short life-expectancy for the soggy little scraps of scratch paper I use to record all the components as I toss them in the pot.

This week was not as successful, I think because of technical difficulties. I left the pot alone for its simmering time (I’m usually in the kitchen with it doing kitchen things, but I was in another room this time) and I think the fire may have actually gone out. So this round of stock is very mild. However it will serve to add a bit of flavor and nutrition to something that wants a mild broth, like risotto, so perhaps it is actually a blessing to have one batch with a decidedly non-aggressive character. I was a bit let down, though, since I felt like I was being wild and throwing caution to the winds, what with all the ginger peels and lemon balm stalks.

More scrap stock fixin\'s

I googled “scrap stock” and found an interesting recipe from the civil war. Inspired by this, I added an apple core to my pot (although I forgot to save most of them this week – I need to get in the habit of putting them in the stock box and not the compost). I quite flagrantly ignored the admonition to never use cabbage scraps, however. Take what you like and leave the rest, right?

Into this week’s pot:

Leek tops
Green garlic tops
Onion skin
Garlic skin
Asparagus trim
Red cabbage trim
Apple core
Lemon balm stalks
Ginger peel
Potato peel
Portobella stems
Chard stalks
Beet green stalks
Kale stalks
Sugar snap pea trim
Carrot trim
Bok choy trim
Fennel trim
Thyme stalks

Snap Pea and Asparagus Into Battle!

Bhutanese Red Rice Salad with Asparagus, Cabbage, Peas, and Cashews

The lovely blog Mele Cotte is hosting a blog event called Cooking to Combat Cancer, asking food bloggers to “utilize recipes that include ingredients that help the body fight cancer.” Cancer is something I had never really given much of a thought to until my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago. Then everything shifted into high gear in terms of education and research as we sought to put together the best resources for her, both allopathic and “complementary.” A lot of my knowledge and interest in alternative medicine and health in general stems from this time.

The year my mom was undergoing treatment was probably the single most formative year of my cooking life, as well. Her integrative (as in integrating “traditional” and “alternative” cancer treatments) oncologist had a whole program that was heavily based in diet and supplementation, so when we were presented with the huge twin lists of “food to eat more of” (mountains of cruciferous vegetables, seaweed, miso, some weird thing called quinoa) and “food to avoid” (all meat, all dairy, all sugar, wheat, refined grains, tofu, basically anything easy to make, it seemed) it was clear the learning curve was going to be steep. My mom was so exhausted from her treatment, and the new diet was so labor-intensive, and I already loved to cook, so I basically became a macrobiotic chef for a year for the two of us. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, so my mom would drive us to the health food store and then sleep with her head on the steering wheel while I combed the aisles for kombu and buckwheat and some kind of treats that wouldn’t be harmful but would make life still feel worth eating.

So when I saw the Cooking to Combat Cancer event, I was immediately flooded with all these memories of the time when cooking to combat cancer – and to boost the immune system – was nearly my full-time job. Many of the bright points in my memories of that time are the dear friends who really came through for my family when my mom was sick, and one of the dearest new friends we made during that year was the amazing Rebecca Katz. Rebecca is a professional chef for whom cooking delicious, nourishing food for people with cancer actually is a full time job! She has such tenderness, such creativity, such sensitivity to the balance of nutrition and taste – she takes the twin lists of terror I wrote about above and turns them into yummy, yummy recipes. All her recipes are based on her genius principles of FASS (balancing the fat, acid, salty, and sweet).

Since we can’t all have Rebecca cooking for us all the time, luckily she’s written a wonderful book called One Bite at a Time. More than a cookbook, the book includes alongside its delicious cancer-treatment-accomodating, immune boosting recipes chapters on how friends and family can help and how to sustain the effort of cooking nourishing meals over the long haul. It’s a real resource for the whole food-related world of living with cancer, one which is sorely needed since food is one of the largest parts of our physical and emotional lives but it’s often one of the lowest priorities for the doctors who are trying to keep us alive.

When my mom was first diagnosed, we picked up a little brochure at the hospital called something like “What to eat during cancer treatment.” I guess the focus of the pamphlet was to replace protein lost during chemotheraphy – all the recipes were for things like eggs benedict with canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce. It was insane! Not only do I find it highly unlikely that someone on chemo could tolerate a mountain of creamy fat on a plate, this is the opposite of the veggies and fruits and whole grains and sea vegetables we now know fight cancer and support immune strength. It is really important to make sure you get enough protein during chemotherapy, though, as we discovered to my mom’s detriment (you may notice that nearly every heavy-hitting source of protein is on the “avoid” list up there…), so don’t just eat veggies and fruits and grains.

For this event I decided to make a recipe from One Bite at a Time that I’d been eying – a kind of warm-weather variation on my adored rice bowl. The recipe in the book is Asian Japonica Salad with Edamame, but I made my own variation (using Rebecca’s delicious and perfectly FASS-balanced dressing) with what I had left in my box. Continue reading

Scrap stock, round two

I was so nervous making this week’s scrap stock! I think I was worried that last week’s good results were sheer random luck and that it was statistically unlikely I would succeed again if I just did a repeat of last week’s method of simply cooking up all my veggie scraps from the past week, without regard to composition. But I gave it another shot. This week’s stock came out quite rich and quite assertive, which is unsurprising given that there were many asparagus stalks, fennel tops, and even two heads of roasted garlic that had been emptied of their yummy gooey cloves. I think it would make a delicious soup base, but I wouldn’t use it for something like risotto, because it would just take over the dish.

Scrap Stock!

In this week’s scrap stock:
Leek tops
Green onion tops
Carrot tops
Roast garlic bulbs (no cloves)
Red cabbage trim
Red kale trim
Fennel stalks and leaves
Asparagus bottoms
Carrot trim
Shallot peels and trim
Spinach crowns
Thyme stalks
Sugar snap pea trim
Garlic peels and trim
Mushroom stems

Spinach for breakfast, the sequel

I’m totally enjoying the feature on wordpress that lets me see what google search phrases have led people here, to my box. I get a lot of visitors on “aphid” related searches, and surprisingly few on “community supported agriculture” related ones. (Although I get a lot of CSA-specific visitors clicking over from the Eatwell list of member blogs and from the post on Chowhound about choosing a CSA.)

Frittata with spinach and Humboldt Fog cheese with salad

Super Easy Pan-Cooked Spinach Fritatta with Humboldt Fog cheese, green garlic, spring onion, and thyme (medium-pan sized, cut in half) with a salad of lettuce, red cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, and sugar snap peas

One surprising search phrase that shows up almost every day, sometimes in multiple versions, is some variation of “spinach for breakfast.” Which is, of course, the title of a post I made back in February extolling the pleasures of spinach as a breakfast food. My first thought of course is, “Wow, there sure are a lot of people who want to know about eating spinach for breakfast. Huh.” My next thought every time I see that someone’s search for breakfast-spinach information led them here is a bit of guilt. Because my first Spinach for Breakfast post is more about my personal, heartwarming journey to spinach acceptance than it is a helpful guide on how to use spinach in one’s morning meal. Which I assume is what all these googlers are googling for.

So I decided to revisit the topic of spinach for breakfast. It gives me an excuse to share a recipe I’ve been wanting to share. The other morning I was cooking breakfast (it involved spinach, of course) and thinking about how much this one recipe, which isn’t even a recipe but more of a technique, completely changed my breakfast life. I used to think I was “not a breakfast person” and “not an egg cooker” because fried eggs bored me, scrambled eggs eluded me, and frittatas were special occasion food involving all kinds of fancy cooking and flipping using plates or pans with heat-proof handles so you could finish them in the oven.

Frittata with thyme and Carmody cheese, tempeh bacon, pomelo fruit salad

Super Easy Pan-Cooked Frittata with Carmody cheese and thyme (small-pan sized, whole), tempeh bacon, and fruit salad with pomelo, kiwi, apple, and mint

This technique is usually how spinach ends up in my breakfast, but it’s also a great, simple way to incorporate most any kind of leftover into a hot, pleasing morning meal. It’s so obvious that I feel a little silly even writing it down, but I so distinctly remember the change in breakfast, from before I practiced this to after, that it seems worth taking the time to share it.

Recipe below… Continue reading

Spring! Spring! Spring!

Part of why I have struggled so much with a constant excess of lettuce since I started getting my box is that, well, I just don’t like lettuce that much. I’m still not very good at making salad dressing (it’s always too oily or too vinegary or too flowery or too something), and, without some kind of interesting accessories, plain lettuce just doesn’t get me all that excited. But there haven’t been very many things in my box this winter that lend themselves to salad fixin’ – radishes occasionally, and carrots, of course, and apples and oranges if I want to get creative, but that’s been about it, besides the lettuce that arrives relentlessly each week, whether I have something to toss it with or not.

Which is why I am just so indescribably excited about spring. Spring means asparagus and sugar snap peas and fennel, just to name a few things with the power to turn a bowl of lettuce into a tasty meal. So many colors and textures and so much sweetness and crunch. Today’s salad looked like an Easter basket with asparagus, sugar snap peas, red cabbage, carrots, purple spring onions, and radishes marinated in rice vinegar, sesame oil, and black sesame seeds, with a light, sweet, rice vinegar and sesame oil dressing. I think that weekly bag of lettuce just got a whole lot more exciting…

Scrap Stock

Some kind of revolution took place before I was born, or at least before the chef side of me was born into consciousness. By the time I made my first forays into vegetarian cooking, there was a kind of stock backlash happening in the pages of all the cookbooks I read. According to all these veg-empowerment cookbooks, people used to make their stock from scraps and trimmings, but now, especially for a vegetarian cook without simmering bones and flavorful marrow to add to the pot, this was highly discouraged. We are worth it!, these books proclaimed. Worth a delicious, savory stock made from whole vegetables and bundles of aromatic herbs. I made vegetable stock from one of these recipes once. I almost cried to see pounds and pounds of beautiful vegetables reduced to a heap of mush and a pot of broth.

All the scraps, ready to go into the stock

And so the scrap stock experiment was born. For a bit more than a week I saved all the trimmings from every vegetable I ate. Brown or yellow bits went straight into the compost, but everything else was washed and put into a tightly sealed plastic tub in the fridge. At the end of the week, I made an experimental stock. I had no idea how it might turn out. Really bitter, I suspected, because the majority of the heap consisted of the green, almost leathery tops of leeks, green garlic, and spring onions. But I figured, what do I have to lose? All I’m really wasting is the water I’m adding – everything else was compost-bound. At the last minute I almost chickened out and added a whole onion, a whole carrot, just a few things to boost the flavor, but I decided to really go for it this first time and just see what happened.

Here’s what ended up going into my scrap stock pot:

Leek greens and ends
Green garlic greens and ends
Spring onion greens and ends
Swiss chard stalks
Onion ends and peels from red and white onions
Red cabbage leaves from the outside of the cabbage
Spinach crowns
Garlic ends and peels
Thyme stalks
Carrot leaves and trimmings
Cauliflower leaves
Kale stalks
Radish trimmings
Sugar snap pea tops and strings

All the scraps in a pot, turning into stock

I cut everything into pieces and then first sauteed the allium trimmings (leeks, garlic, onions) for a bit in 2 teaspoons olive oil, then threw everything into the pot and stirred it over pretty high heat for about ten minutes. Then I added 3 quarts of water, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 3 bay leaves and a few peppercorns, brought it to a boil, turned it down to a simmer, and simmered it, uncovered, for about half an hour. I let it settle for a few minutes and then strained it right way (I’ve heard stock can get bitter if you let the bits sit in the broth too long after cooking). And I have to say, it is quite, quite tasty. Certainly head and shoulders above the bitter brews that pass for vegetable broth in those vacuum-boxes. I can’t wait to freeze it and have it on hand the next time I need veggie broth for something. Best of all I am so tickled to have created something really valuable from something I’ve been throwing away. There may have been a broth revolution, but I guess I’m just an old-fashioned girl.

The stock, rich and flavorful, made totally from scraps!