Savoy Cabbage and Bartlett Pears ~ Week of December 9th

It has been really cold here. Really cold. And it’s not just me being a thin-blooded California wimp, either. It snowed in the Berkeley Hills a couple of days ago. Snow!

I know, I know. “Boo hoo, cry me a river,” you’re probably shivering at me from the middle of a Minnesota winter. We are spoiled here – even when it’s winter, it’s summer. Or something like that.

Nothing exemplifies a Bay Area winter meal more than what we had for dinner tonight: California Minestrone and Salade Nicoise. Lots of tummy warming goodness from the soup and stick-to-your-ribs heartiness from the potatoes in the salad, but the crazy thing is that it’s December and every single element of these two veggie-intensive meals came straight out of our CSA box. (Except for a couple things in the salad: olives – left over from Thanksgiving – and tomatoes – doubtlessly hothouse.)

I’ve been wanting to make California Minestrone ever since the weather started getting nippy. The recipe is from the fantastic cookbook Spa Food by Edward J. Safdie, chef of the venerable Sonoma Mission Inn. The plating and food design are entirely 80s (the cookbook was published in 1985) but the recipes for healthy, satisfying, sophisticated food featuring California flavors are timeless. I grew up eating from this cookbook (my mom and I have made nearly every recipe in it) and this soup in particular invokes for me both the chill and the bounty of a Bay Area winter.

I was lacking only a leek and some cabbage to make the soup (I often skip the green beans and spinach for my winter version), and when I opened our box today, there they were. Here’s the complete record of what came in today’s size “small” box:

Satsuma Mandarins (2 lb)
Bartlett Pears (1.5 lb)
Savoy Cabbage (2 lb)
Collard Greens (1 bunch)
Baby Bok Choy (1.5 lb)
Broccoli (1 lb)
Red Onions (0.5 lb)
Leeks (1 lb)
Yellow Onion (0.5 lb)

California Minestrone (from Spa Food by Edward J. Safdie)
This is a light but filling soup that can be made with a variety of vegetables, but I think the leek, carrot, cabbage, and tomatoes (I used canned whole tomatoes) are essential for giving it sweetness, acid, and depth. Serve it with a crusty loaf of rustic bread if you eat bread and with a hearty sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top if you eat dairy.

1 T. unsalted butter or Earth Balance
1/2 an onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 leek (white part only), washed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 carrot, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 garlic clove, minced
3-4 canned plum tomatoes, drained or 2 unpeeled tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6 cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped
6 oz. fresh green beans, ends trimmed and cut on a slant into 1/2 inch pieces
2 quarts stock (I used our latest batch of scrap stock)
10 spinach leaves, washed, drained, and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Salt or vegetable seasoning to taste
1 t. pesto (I usually use more like 1-3 T. vegan pesto, which is often pretty mild)
1/4 C. grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese

In a 4-quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, and green beans, and saute over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

Add the spinach and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the pesto. Taste the finished soup and adjust the seasonings.

Serve in large heated soup bowls and sprinkle with 1 T. grated cheese over each portion.

If you follow the recipe exactly, this will make 4 servings, at 150 calories per serving.

Stocking up, part I

Making ingredients is a funny thing. You put a lot of energy into preparing something, but you can’t eat it on its own. All that energy gets expended in the service of expending less energy in the future. (Or, sometimes, in order to have a version of some particular ingredient that you can actually eat, because dietary restrictions mean it’s not possible to buy it already prepared.)

The past few weeks I’ve prepped a lot of ingredients. Not because I’ve had extra energy (I almost never have extra energy) but because I’ve had a ton of produce that was just not getting eaten in time. And this is the other function of making ingredients, also known as “preserving,” because it gets your food into forms that don’t rot, or freeze easily, or will actually get eaten.

My stockpile has included:

* Scrap Stock, batch V, my first successful batch since May (I had a failed attempt in late June). Because I canceled several box deliveries this summer, and have been away a lot, my scrap stock production has really slowed down. Additionally, tomato and zucchini trimmings don’t work for scrap stock because they rot before I can collect a large enough batch of scraps, so the scrap box I keep in the fridge hasn’t been getting full as fast as it did in the winter and spring. But at last I produced 4 cups of lovely pink stock (due to the beet trimmings from the turnip pickles, see below). And just in the nick of time! I am now cooking with my stock faster than I am making it.

* Turnip pickles, which employed beets and vinegar solution to turn my four large bunches of uneaten turnips into yummy pink, Middle Eastern pickles. Now, of course, I have 5 jars of pickles. They’re refrigerator pickles, which means they’ll get too strong if I don’t eat them soon. What am I going to do with five jars of turnip pickles? Have a pickle party? If you live in SF, let me know if you want a jar of really tasty turnip pickles. The texture of these little guys is incredible! They go amazingly well with falafel, but are also a yummy snack all on their own.

Turnip pickles with grilled eggplant and quinoa pilaf

Turnip pickles with grilled eggplant and quinoa pilaf

* Mushroom gravy, following a vegan recipe from Veganomicon. I bought a big bag of mushrooms at the farmer’s market a while back, intending to make mushroom-walnut pate with them. (YUM!) But then our Cuisinart died, and I had to quickly figure out a new use for them before they turned to sludge in the fridge. Mushroom gravy is the kind of thing that always balks me. If I see a recipe, like the delicious Another Sheperd’s Pie from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites, that has a whole separate gravy-making component on top of the actual making of the dish, I will always skip it. (In previous, more energetic times I did occasionally take on these all-day projects, which is why I know how good that recipe tastes!) But now with several cups of delicious vegan, gluten-free mushroom gravy tucked away in my freezer, I have a leg up on all those hearty but time-consuming vegetarian classics.

There’s plenty more stocking up in this pile (including our new downstairs freezer finally getting put to use with all kind of grains and seeds and GF flours, courtesy of Rainbow Grocery and their 20% off coupons from the Yellow Pages). It does give me a secure feeling to have a little backstock of ingredients, and it gives me a happy feeling to know that they came from my own hands!

Let’s use more tomatoes

My boxes this month have contained many, many tomatoes. And I have finally used them all! It helped that the last two boxes’ worth of tomatoes didn’t start to mold the day after arrival, but I also consider it a great personal triumph that for the first time this summer I didn’t have to compost a single rotten tomato. The secret to my tomato salvation? A chance email from Cook’s Illustrated.

Cook’s Illustrated is a luscious magazine full of little hand-drawn illustrations of how to chop an onion and how to form gnocchi, and beautiful color charts of peppers and mushrooms. The magazine is made by the same people who do a show on PBS called America’s Test Kitchen (or so I’ve read in the magazine – I don’t have a TV so I’ve never seen the show), and both are based on the same principle. They take a dish, French onion soup, maybe, or vanilla sheet cake, and they make it over and over again, testing different ingredients and techniques and equipment, tweaking every variable, until they come up with what they feel is the “master recipe” – the very best way to make that particular dish. Most of their recipes involve either meat or wheat, so I can’t actually make them, but the magazine is, for me, food porn at its very best. I subscribe to their website so I can have access to their very thorough archive of kitchen equipment testing results, and consequently I get emails from them. Called “Notes from the Test Kitchen,” these recipes and tips and menus are also usually centered on meat and wheat, but occasionally I’ll read one that is just exactly right.

Like last week’s “All About Tomatoes” feature, containing a whole passel of recipes designed to help me take care of the pile of heirlooms, Shady Ladies, Romas, and cherry tomatoes crowding my kitchen table. I decided to try the Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil, a soup with a base of pureed roasted tomatoes that then has fresh tomatoes and basil added to it. Interestingly, when I followed the directions exactly (this was a many-times tested “master recipe,” of course) the roasting tomatoes started burning with half an hour of cooking time still to go. But I once I rescued them and scraped them off the (fortunately lined with foil) roasting pan, the rest of the recipe came together with ease, and the end result made for a truly delicious summer meal.

The combination of sweet, concentrated tomato flavor from the roasted tomatoes and bright, clean tomato flavor from the fresh tomatoes was fantastic, and many notches above your average can of Campbell’s. I used heirlooms and Shady Ladies for roasting, and a multicolored assortment of cherry tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes. It was such a relief to use up what was probably my last batch of endless tomatoes for the season (I’m putting my box on hold for a few weeks while I figure things out) that I am celebrating by contributing this post to Croatian food blogger Maninas’ blog event Eating with the Seasons. Soup recipe follows… Continue reading

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.

Zucchini and Baby Red Onions: Week of June 25th

AT LAST!

At last a new box!

This one really deserved to be photographed, by sheer virtue of being the first box in a month, but I was too tired and all the little veggies were lucky they even made it into the fridge.

It was a handsome box, though, and really well-balanced. A person could truly get all their needs met by such a box, and a have a bag of lettuce for the lettuce graveyard, besides!

In this week’s box:

Small red potatoes
Strawberries
Turnips, with greens
Stir-fry mix
Arugula
Zucchini (3 medium-sized ones)
Baby red onions (it says “Green onions” on my newsletter, so I am confused. These were very small, red, with long, floppy tops on them)
Lettuce
Apricots (a whole strawberry-basket of tiny ones)
Cherries (the yellow and red Ranier kind)

On another note, I made my first failed scrap stock. It smelled SO good when it was cooking, mostly due to the great smell of the sauteed yam peels. But when I strained and tasted it, it was impossibly bitter. I am not quite sure why. There was a tiny amount of radicchio trim, but too little to be the culprit, I think. There were also a few lemon peels. Partway through making the stock I remembered that you generally simmer fruit peels several times in water you discard in order to make them less bitter, and that by boiling them in my stock I was making my stock that discard-water. Perhaps I pulled them out too late?

At any rate, I have tried to be fearless with my stock experiments and always open to a negative outcome. It still comes as a shock and a disappointment, however, to have to throw all that beautiful (but inedible) stock away.

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