Potato and leek gratin

So. Many. Potatoes. Normally this would be a good thing, but because I can’t seem to find a place in my house to store the darn things without them going bad asap, I need to keep them (along with my onions and garlic) in my fridge. And those babies take up a lot of room. So I’ve been struggling to keep up with the constant summer influx of potatoes. As much as I like potatoes, they differ from other overabundant CSA veggies in one critical way. I can eat an entire bunch of kale or two pounds of zucchini or head of lettuce on my own in a single sitting and feel quite smug about how many servings of my daily vegetable requirement I’ve just downed.

But eating a couple of pounds of potatoes on my own feels over the top. I’m not a huge subscriber to the empty-carbs-evil-carbs perspective, but that many potatoes feels like a giant wallop of glycemic-spiking starchy calories. Much as I learned during my cauliflower revelations, potatoes are probably actually incredibly healthy, especially with the skins still on, but I still prefer to eat them in moderation.

Another thing taking up an absurd amount of room in my fridge was a leek from a few weeks back. This single leek was so long it fit across almost the entire width of my refrigerator! I’m doing a slow-cooker cookbook exploration this week and came across a recipe for a vegan gratin of potatoes. That sounded interesting because it’s a way to use up a ton of potatoes at once but then dole them out slowly as a small side dish, but doing it in a slow cooker seemed unnecessary when I could just make them in the oven. (Making them in the slow cooker does eliminate the need to precook the potatoes, but this recipe is so delicious I think it’s worth the extra step, though I can’t say for sure having never tried the crock pot version.)

So, using the “cheese” sauce from The Vegan Slow Cooker and a Gruyere-filled potato and leek gratin recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for inspiration, I whipped up something pretty delicious. It’s a bit bland and quite rich, but I think that’s just what a gratin is intended to be. There are some lovely garlicky notes and thyme is the standout seasoning, which is something I really enjoy.

Vegan Potato and Leek Gratin
With inspiration from The Vegan Slow Cooker and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Cheese sauce:
1 C. cashews, soaked
1 C. nutritional yeast
5 cloves garlic
1 t. sea salt
1.5 C. almond milk

3 lb red potatoes, unpeeled, thinly sliced
1 giant leek or 2 regular leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced into half moons
1 quart almond milk (or more if needed)
2 t. dried thyme or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 t. salt
Fresh grated nutmeg
Fresh ground black pepper
Garlic and vegan butter for the dish

Heat oven to 375. Run a cut clove of garlic thoroughly over the inside of a large gratin dish (this usually refers to an oval casserole dish – you’ll need either a deep one like I used in the photos above or a very large one, 9×12-ish, or you can just use a regular casserole pan – but if you do, beware of spillage in the oven!). Butter generously.

In a large pot combine potatoes, leeks, milk, thyme, garlic, and salt. Make sure potatoes are at least barely covered by the milk. Bring slowly to a boil, then simmer gently until potatoes are barely tender but not falling apart.

While potatoes are simmering, blend sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Drain potatoes RESERVING THE MILK or you can use a slotted spoon to lift out as many as you need at a time.

Put a single layer (roughly, doesn’t have to be perfect) of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg and pepper. Top with some of the cheese sauce. The way I did this was to pour a thick line of cheese sauce from the blender down the middle of the dish and then use a fork to gently push it across all the potatoes. It’s a very thick sauce and easy to spread. Continue layering potatoes, nutmeg & pepper, and cheese sauce until there are no more potatoes. Top with cheese sauce. Take the reserved milk and, carefully pushing the potato mixture away from the wall of the dish, pour in a little bit so it runs down through all the layers. Repeat this on all four sides of the dish. You want the milk to come up to the level of the potatoes, but they will probably be quite wet and saturated already so add in your milk carefully.

(Any leftover milk can be saved as a base for soup. Or you can do what I did – I poured my leftover milk, with potato and leek bits, into the blender that still had residue of my cheese sauce and blended it all together. It turned into a pretty amazing cream of potato soup.)

Bake the gratin in the oven, an hour or more, until a bubbly brown crust forms on top. Let sit for ten minutes and serve warm.

Radicchio

Sauteed radicchio with thyme fritatta

I posted my first ode to bitter greens back in November of last year. I haven’t had the chance to write any more, as that one glorious bunch of escarole in my box was followed by a winter and spring of wonderful but not at all bitter spinach, kale, chard, and turnip greens.

This week I returned from my travels to an empty fridge, so, for the first time in a very long time, Duck and I hit the farmer’s market. We checked out one we’ve never been to before, the Wednesday Kaiser farmer’s market. This was a tiny market – one stand with stone fruits, one with strawberries (they had just run out of organic, and strawberries are super high on my “No buy” list for conventionally grown fruit, too bad!), one with organic veggies, and then a juice stand, a Sukhi’s Indian food stand, and a bread stand (maybe? I never made it over to that one).

The small size suited me just fine, since, after nine months of CSA box delivery, choosing produce can actually be a little overwhelming. (My produce-selection muscles have atrophied!) Everything at the stands was beautiful and perfectly ripe. At the veggie stand we got our several bunches of kale, and Duck got to give another customer a run-down of the taste and tenderness of each of the three kale varieties on offer. We stocked up on cauliflower to make impressionist cauliflower, and picked out some potatoes to roast.

Then I spotted them. The little pile of burgundy spheres, their tightly curled red leaves shot with white. My mouth started to water.

“How much is the radicchio?,” I asked the woman behind the cashbox.

“A dollar-fifty a head,” she answered. I almost fainted.

I grabbed Duck’s arm and pulled him over to the pile. “Duck, they have radicchio for $1.50 a head,” I muttered. I had to keep myself from whispering, half-afraid the stand would be mobbed if I spoke too loud.

Duck looked blank. “Is that good?”

Before I could answer, the woman behind the counter explained, “It typically costs around $3 a pound.” She put one on a scale. “This would be $2!”

I could only stare at her. I happen to know that radicchio is currently selling at Andronico’s for $7.99/lb. Now that’s Andronico’s, mind you, where you walk in to just get change for the meter and somehow still walk out twenty dollars lighter, but still… Except for when I was in Italy, radicchio has been for my whole life a very carefully doled out treat, bought on only the most special of occasions.

As much as I wanted to buy the whole pile and make a bed of the leaves to roll around on, Uncle Scrooge-style, I restrained myself to two heads. Two lovely, bitter, luxurious, DOLLAR FIFTY heads.

And for all you San Franciscans reading this, if you have to make a run on Kaiser next week, at least save me a head!

Seared Radicchio with Balsamic Vinegar
Shown above with a pan-cooked fritatta of eggs, thyme, teleme, and brown rice

2 heads radicchio
Olive oil
Salt, fresh ground pepper, balsamic vinegar

Cut each head of radicchio in half lengthwise, keeping the core intact to hold the leaves together. Cut each half into four wedges. Brush both sides of each wedge generously with olive oil.

Heat a cast iron pan (or another pan that can handle high heat) to medium-high, letting it get good and hot. Add the radicchio wedges in a single layer and cook until a bit brown and wilted. Turn wedges over and continue to cook. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Some people like their radicchio still somewhat crisp, some like it absolutely limp. Taste a leaf every now and then until you reach your desired texture, being careful not to burn them! (If they start to get too dark before they are tender enough, turn the heat down some and add a bit more oil.)

Once the wedges have reached your preferred tenderness, turn off heat and sprinkle a few spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar over the wedges.

Serve for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for dessert! Radicchio is the appropriate food for any and every occasion!

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

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

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!