Wrap it Up

Posted: June 28, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Last week, I sent out a missive to the internets, wondering what on earth I should do with a massive head of napa cabbage I’d received from my CSA share. This week was a bit crazy, and I didn’t have a chance to actually sort out how to cook it or use it until yesterday. And what I came up with was a riff on lettuce wraps. If you’re not feeling up to eating the monster raw, take heart. I will be trying a whole bunch of other recipes soon to get this cabbage cooked before it goes bad. Kimchi anyone?
Cabbage Wraps

I used a mishmash of items from the fridge, and came up with something lovely and delicious. I would definitely recommend using the tender, inner leaves of your Napa cabbage, since the outer leaves can be somewhat tough. I would also recommend cutting out the central rib from the leaves, as this makes it easier both to roll AND to eat without spraying the filling all over your face.

Napa Cabbage Lettuce Wraps

1. Begin by breaking 1-2 handfuls of rice stick noodles in half, and putting them to soak in hot tap water.
2. Julienne 2 golfball-sized Japanese turnips, chop a few bundles of baby bok choy, and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over moderately high heat, and throw in the veggies. Season with salt, and saute until they’re starting to pick up some color.
Steps pt. 1

3. Throw in some diced cooked chicken (or shredded, or whatever) and stir around until the chicken is heated through. At that point, add the rice noodles into the pan, with some of the soaking water to make sure everything gets cooked. Add more salt if you need to at this point.
4. Make the sauce. Scoop 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (I used honey roasted, but any kind will work), and 1 teaspoon of red curry paste into a bowl. Whisk together as best you can, and then add a small drizzle of sesame oil. You just want it to thin out the sauce, and add a little depth. When the noodles are softened, add the whole mess in the skillet to the sauce and toss. The heat from the items formerly in the skillet will melt the sauce and help it coat everything. Now is the time to add an additional drizzle of sesame oil, more curry paste, or maybe some soy sauce, if you feel like it needs something.
5. Prepare the cabbage. Peel the leaves off, rinse them under cold water, dry them, and cut out the central ribs. Then, assemble your friends and loved ones, and start rolling!
Steps pt. 2

Cabbage wraps are tasty. There’s lots of green in this dish (as well as protein from the peanut butter and the chicken) and plenty of crunch. The warm filling plus the cool cabbage made a nice contrast, and tasted pretty fantastic.
The stove was on for a grand total of 15 minutes to make this dish, which feels like an instant AND a lifetime as the weather heats up and my kitchen remains windowless. But from those 15 minutes at the stove comes a lovely, crisp, cool-warm-crashing meal that you can cook for 2 or 10 with basically the same items.

And honestly, if I’d thought about it, I probably should have made it for 12 — much less cabbage left to work with that way!

Sick of Dinner

Posted: June 16, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

My recent gap in posting was unfortunately due to being sick, so I wasn’t all there enough to write down any coherent thoughts last week. I’m doing ok now — 24 hours of sleep helps! But the real casualty is that I was supposed to host a dinner party for four the day I could barely keep my eyes open at work. It was a real shame because I had a totally bomb menu planned taking advantage of my CSA greens and was looking forward to catching up with old friends. Sigh.

After coming home just a couple of hours at work and sleeping for 7 hours I realized though I wasn’t hungry all the food and supplies I bought were going to rot if I didn’t cook something so I thought ‘To hell with it’ and just made most of what I had planned in the first place and figured I’d eat the rest later. This turned out to be a damned good idea because it was probably one of the best dinners I’ve ever made. Too bad no one else was there to have any!

First off, since it was to be a sort of special occasion after not seeing friends for so long, I had bought four fillets of salmon. Right there that made dinner fancier than usual. Sure it was a little more expensive than groceries normally are but I figured I was saving money with all the produce I had acquired. And besides, pesto was involved and pesto with tilapia doesn’t jibe as nicely, at least in my mind.

Next, last week’s CSA share consisted of some veggies outside of my usual repertoire, like escarole. I have nothing against it but I didn’t know what to do with it and I figured I’d use it all up first. This is how I came up with a Braised Escarole with Cannellini Beans appetizer. Ok, I didn’t “come up” with it but I did read that escarole and white beans go together superbly and I found a fantastic recipe along with much commentary at this website. so no, I did not create it.

Discovery: escarole needs to be braised or sauteed for quite a while since it’s pretty bitter raw! The recipe I just linked to was absolutely delicious. Had I served it to friends It would have been spooned atop whole wheat flatbreads as an appetizer but I ate it as a side. The recipe can also be more like a soup, if that catches your fancy.

As the main, my CSA provided us with a simple but delicious recipe for Pan-Seared Salmon on a Bed of Baby Greens with Dried Cherries along with a recipe for an orange zest dressing. (Thus the salmon purchase!) Uh, yes, this was truly amazing. Lucky for me, one of the farmers is a trained chef and sends us weekly recipes and ideas!

The only real “recipe” part to this was the dressing, since it’s: plate some baby greens. Make the dressing. Pan-sear the salmon (skinned) on both sides for a few minutes until each side is golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Dress the greens using half of the dressing. Place the salmon on top of the greens. Drizzle the rest of the dressing along with the dried cherries that have been marinating in the dressing. Voila! I used golden raisins instead which worked just as well! So here is that dressing:

Orange-Zest Salad Dressing
- 2 1/2 tbsp champagne or white wine vinegar [I used red wine vinegar]
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 1 tsp orange zest
- salt, pepper
- 1/4 cup dried cherries [I used golden raisins]
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine except olive oil and set aside. Pan-sear the salmon in the meantime, instructions above. Remove cherries/raisins from dressing. Whisk the olive oil in until blended. Dress half of it onto the greens. Plate the salmon. Drizzle remaining dressing on fish with cherries/raisins to garnish. Serve.

Simple but seems so fancy. Also, way, way tasty. Since I received so much spinach last week I had made some spinach with walnut pesto to use some of it up and scooped some atop the fish too. It was a very thick pesto, more like a tapenade. Either way it was good too. With all of these lettuces and greens I will need more salad dressing ideas so if anyone has any please let me know! I really don’t make them myself too often.

I would have made a grain as a side but just for myself, this was all much more than enough. Dessert was some blueberries and strawberries. Hopefully next time people are over for dinner I’ll be able to cook something just as special.

Fresh From the Farm

Posted: June 2, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

As a pretty-much vegetarian most of my grocery bill goes to fresh produce. Gush over Trader Joe’s as much as you want but I’ll never be much of a fan as long as they offer scant veggies and fruit — almost none of it organic at that! Previously I mentioned that I am joining a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where us city (and suburban) folk buy shares of wares fresh from the farm. There are lots of advantages to this for both sides but I’m mainly excited for the guaranteed weekly vegetables. Now I can splurge on fancy stuff at the grocery store since the CSA is paid for in advance! Yeah, I’m looking at you, skyr.

Yesterday was the very first day of my CSA‘s pickup and my fellow foodies and I were quite impressed by the haul:

Now, I have a half-share, so everything listed on the sign is halved and split with my partner, some guy the coordinators paired me randomly with. While this is a cool way to meet new people in the CSA community, the guy never answered my email when I asked a logistical question and he hadn’t shown by the time I arrived. Not sure what’s up with that. A generous afterthought is that any leftover shares goes to the synagogue that hosts this CSA’s homeless shelter kitchen, so they will have fresh veggies themselves. Maybe that’s where this guy’s stuff will end up.

I eagerly carried my swag back home and cleaned them all now so I won’t have to waste time doing so later this week. Vegetables have to be koshered too: rinse or swish them in water three times, no more, no less. This is to assure that there are no insects hiding underneath leaves and one of the most forbidden things Jews can eat are insects. This took a long time!

Helpfully, the CSA sent out a newsletter the day before indicating what we’d be receiving along with a recipe, because I sure don’t know what do to with all of these greens. This week it was for a mango salsa and it contains cilantro:

Mango-Cilantro Salsa
Serves 3
Recipe by Maryellen Driscoll

1 heaping cup chopped mango (thawed, frozen mango works fine)
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons mild-flavored oil, such as peanut, walnut or grapeseed
Large pinch of red pepper flakes (or minced fresh jalapeƱo, amount to your liking)

Combine all of the above ingredients in a small bowl. Season with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let sit, refrigerated, for up to 4 hours before serving.

Luckily I happened to have mango and limes on hand, but not peanut oil, so I just used olive oil. I also spiced it up with pepper and chilli powder but it remained pretty mild. I was considering eating it for dessert but I think I will let it set in the fridge and marinate it on some fish tomorrow.

Mostly I was dreaming about eating bok choy but now that I think about it I have no idea how to prepare it! Instead I made a giant-ass salad and used maybe 1/8 of this week’s veggie haul. Bok choy will require some research.

In this salad is romaine, mixed greens, arugula, sliced radishes, a couple of stalks of green onions, half of a plum tomato, a handful of pumpkin seeds (raw), chickpeas, one beet, broccoli florets, 3 cloves garlic and dried raisins, cranberries and a couple of pecans. The dressing is a spiced olive oil/red wine vinegar/honey mix.

From the first bite you could tell these greens were fresh from the farm. The leaves are bigger, the texture silkier — especially the mixed greens, and all in all they were more flavorful too. This was picked THIS morning! Isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it furthermore amazing that people have so lost touch with the land and what they choose to consume that it’s novel, almost revolutionary, to buy food from farmers? Wow. I wish more people were able to experience this, especially for those that vegetables at all are considered a luxury.

On the other hand, this is a ton of food. Not sure how I’m going to use it all up every week, especially if earlier in the season means less items. Does this mean this is the least amount of stuff I’m going to receive for the next 21 weeks?? Eek. Weekly dinner parties at Rita’s?

Close Wallet, Open Mouth

Posted: April 14, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Like many people, I’m concerned about how to get more bang for my buck while maintaining my fabulous (read: not that fabulous) lifestyle. But that’s a little tricky to do when it comes to food since I cook often and bring lunch to work already, and I’m not about to buy wilted lettuce or old cans of beans just because they’re on sale. As someone whose groceries are mainly produce and demands at least decent-quality stuff, how am I supposed to cut back without sacrificing my health?

A good answer: join a CSA. What the heck is a CSA, you ask? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a way for consumers to buy fresh produce directly from farmers. As described by Local Harvest: “A farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’ or a ‘subscription’) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.” This can include things like fresh eggs or other products a particular farm offers.

Something like this:

“Whoa there,” you’re saying. “That’s a lot of veggies in the box! I am but one person, surely I can’t eat all this every week!” Neither can I. That’s why a lot of CSAs offer half-shares that you can split with another person. Some CSAs will pair you up with someone if you don’t have a share buddy. Also, it’s half the cost!

Right now many CSAs are gearing up for the harvest season and have already begun to sell shares. You don’t go to the farm to pick up your box, they have drop off points in the community or neighborhood they’re serving. You can check out Local Harvest (linked to earlier) to see what’s available near you. A good alternative would be to check out a local farmers market, especially if you only want particular items.

I’m fortunate to live in New York City where there are tons and tons of CSAs all over the place, but what’s super cool is that one of my favorite organizations, Hazon, is now the largest faith-based CSA network in the United States. The farms aren’t necessarily run by Jews, but Hazon CSAs can be based out of synagogues or JCCs and offer Jewish education programs and enhances a local Jewish community. Though Jewish CSAs are far more prevalent due to Hazon, non-Jewish faith-based CSAs can be found too!

The CSA I am considering joining will end up costing $12 per week over 22 weeks for a half share. Though it has to be paid upfront, that’s not a bad deal for someone like me! I’ll get to experiment with new, locally grown veggies and try out new recipes. Can’t wait!

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.