Saturday, January 30, 2010

Broccoli Raab

I just picked up my CSA box for the week and we got a nice selection, so I guess a lot of crops made it through the freeze ok. We got radishes (yum), a head of red leaf lettuce, flat leaf parsley, some fat, pungent green onions, a grapefruit, a tangerine, an avocado, broccoli and broccoli raab. I have plans for everything, but the broccoli raab.

Wow, I thought. Broccoli raab. What am I going to do with it? I've had it in Italian restaurants. I love it sauteed with hot Italian sausage and melted over pasta, usually orecchiette, which I can't resist because it means little ears and who wouldn't want to munch on tiny curled ears?

We've long since established that I love any food which is pink and hate anything which is bitter and dark green. Still, I've made exceptions for broccoli raab. Sometimes it isn't bitter.

I once saw Giada de Laurentiis on her show demonstrate how to remove bitterness from broccoli raab. She says you must blanch it in boiling water first and then rinse it off really well before sauteeing it and adding to your recipe. I guess that makes sense. I've done a little research and some people also think that adding some tang in the form of lemon or vinegar disguises it. For years I've heard that sweetness helps neutralize bitterness. One can see this figuratively and metaphorically more than literally. A spoonful of sugar after all.

If you find yourself unexpectedly with a bouquet of broccoli raab, as my fellow CSA members have this weekend, consider this article from the New York Times. It has some good advice and interesting recipes.

Or, you could just go pick up a package of hot Italian sausage and a a bag of orecchiette. Ricotta is nice on top and so are tomatoes softened in hot olive oil and garlic.

You could also sautee your broccoli raab with golden raisins and pine nuts. Caramelized onions would work with that and at the last minute, because I like everything spicy, I'd fling in some hot red pepper flakes. Maybe the lemon juice if it needed it too.

And so it seems, the reason I can't decide what to do is not because I have no ideas, but because I have too many.

What do you like to do with it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Salsa Attack! Step 1

By some miracle of local agriculture, I found that I had all of the ingredients necessary to make fresh salsa. It had to be done. I love making salsa. It's fast and easy and you can put salsa on anything. It makes everything better. All you need are some fresh tomatoes, a green onion (you can use red onion too, but I'm an onion wuss and like the milder flavor of scallions), a handful of cilantro (unless you are one of those people with that tragic genetic disorder that makes people think it tastes like soap), a hot pepper of any kind, juice of 1 lime, some honey and some salt (not shown). Some people like garlic in their salsa. I don't. If you do, then put it in there. If you like your salsa really hot, then add more peppers. Any fresh, hot peppers work, but I prefer jalapenos. One thing you need to know about peppers though, is that they are the most inconsistent things imaginable. One day you can have a jalapeno that is so hot you can feel the skin peeling off your tongue. The next, you can try another jalapeno and swear you're eating a green pepper. Before you add jalapeno or any hot pepper to your dish, taste it so you know how hot it is. That way you can control the spiciness of the finished product. In this case, my jalapeno was really mild, so I tossed the entire thing into the mix and didn't even bother to remove the seeds and pith. The most intense heat is located in the seeds and white, inner membranes. If you find that you have a really hot pepper, throw out the seeds, cut away the pith and then rinse the remaining pepper under cold water. This helps tone it down a little too.

Once you have washed all of your ingredients, you may either chop them by hand for salsa, or you can be lazy like me and just chunk them and throw then in the Cuisinart. Make sure you cut the stem end out of your tomatoes and peppers and cut the little root thing off the end of your green onion. Once you've chunked everything, and by that I mean just cut them into rough, large pieces, you can put everything into the food processor, add some salt and give it a brief spin.
The key word here is BRIEF, as you will see in Step 2.

Salsa Step Two - ADD Style

Take all of your ingredients and throw them in the food processor. Of course, this is the lazy salsa method. The more laborious, and probably better, way to make salsa is to chop everything by hand, put it into some beautiful earthenware bowl, stir gently with a wooden spoon and let it sit for a few hours so the flavors can meld. This method doesn't work when you must have salsa right this second, as I did. I threw everything into the food processor and turned it on. Right at that instant I heard a phone ringing and swore it was my phone and then I couldn't find my phone and by the time I did, I realized that the ringing phone was actually on TV and not in real life. By the time I got back to the salsa, it had passed the salsa stage and turned into something more akin to gazpacho. I swear I have ADD. More than salsa, I think I actually need Concerta. Every time I see those commercials for Adult ADD I swear they are talking about me and then I see a bird out the window and forget all about the commercial. But hey, gazpacho is good too. Now, let's say you were not like me and you actually paid attention to your salsa. Once you give it a very brief chop, just to get all the ingredients blended, you want to taste it for seasoning and make sure the flavors are balanced. Add more salt, make it spicier, throw in some more lime juice or more honey. You don't want any one of these flavors to overpower the others. You don't want to take a bite of the finished salsa and think - salty, sweet, tart or spicy. You want to taste ALL of these flavors at once and because tomatoes and limes and peppers are always different, each batch of salsa is going to be different. You have to tinker with the seasonings until you get it right.

Finished Salsa (or Gazpacho)

This is my finished dish of salsa. Yes, I whirred it a little long in the Cuisinart, but hey, it still tastes great whether you dip chips into it or eat it with a spoon. Salsa is versatile. And of course, if you want to avoid my mistake, all you have to do it chop the ingredients by hand. Sometimes I prefer to do it that way and end up with a chunkier end product, but this time I was lazy and wanted more instant gratification. In this picture, the salsa is right out of the processor, so it looks pink and frothy. After a couple hours in the fridge it settles down. At that point, you could also choose to pour it through a very fine sieve to get rid of some of the excess water. The great thing about it is that there are so many uses for salsa, no matter the texture. Serious Eats is one of my favorite food sites and I found this article about 30 uses for salsa. I love it on scrambled eggs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Peppers and Eggplant

Here is an example of how By Their Fruits displays their produce with signs that say where everything comes from around here. Notice the sweet potatoes don't say Florida and the Sicilian Eggplant clearly states that it's from Boca Raton. This helped me to avoid confusion about my purchases and aided me in choosing what I was going to buy and what I wanted to stay away from.

Purchases

Here's what I bought - tomatoes, kirby cukes (they had the other kind too but I wanted to try a different variety), grapefruit and green onions. I'm happy with the quality and origins. I'm not sure what I want to make yet.

Las Olas Farmer's Market

After the unusually cold weather a few weeks ago, many crops have died and CSA boxes are a little lighter than usual. I don't mind but my box this week didn't have quite enough produce to get me through the entire week. Luckily this wasn't a problem for me and it gave me the excuse to go check out the Las Olas Farmers Market on Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The market is located in the parking lot of the Las Olas Chemist on the North side of the road and is held each Sunday between 9am and 1pm. Be forewarned, it's very small. You're pretty much looking at the whole thing.

That said, there's some good stuff and it's worth a visit. I expected to be disappointed and was pleasantly surprised, once I got over the parking issue. Las Olas has a lot of parking, but much of it is parallel and there are some very confusing new meter machines. Once I got over that though, everything was fine.

There are only a couple of tents. One vendor sells artisan breads. Another sells tropical plants, including fruit trees and herbs. There is a booth for homemade bath products and another having something to do with solar power. Two of the tents sells fruits and vegetables, not all of which are local. One is significantly larger than the other one and is run by "By Their Fruits" who have a lovely produce market on McNab. You might remember that that's where you can buy Wagon Wheel Coffee. I like "By Their Fruits" but have criticized them in the past for not supporting enough local farmers. They explained to me a few months ago that their clientele doesn't care about local or organic and is more interested in getting produce at good prices, but that during the growing season they would have a lot more locally grown, Florida produce. Judging from what they brought to the Las Olas farmer's market, they were telling the truth.

While they did have non-local items, some from South America, they had a lot of local goods and I really appreciated that each item was labeled with a paper sign that said where it came from. Because of this, they got my business. And they had some gorgeous tomatoes. That helped.

I bought some Indian River grapefruit, Florida tomatoes (a lot of them), Kirby cucumbers from Delray, along with some green onions also from Delray. They also had local eggplant (two varieties!), green beans, herbs and avocados grown around here and a bunch of peppers. I've been getting peppers from my CSA weekly and I'm a little peppered out right now, so I passed on those. I contemplated an eggplant, but decided against it out of nothing but laziness. While I want babaghanoush, I don't want to to make it. I'd just like it to magically appear in front of me. You know how that is.

I paid exactly $8.00 for all of that, which I felt was a good deal. I got a lot of tomatoes to go with the cilantro in my box. I'm feeling a salsa attack coming on.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the Las Olas Farmers Market. It's tiny, but it's trying and it had a nice atmosphere. I'd like to see it expand. I live in walking distance, so it's very convenient. If you live close, support the market and pay it a visit. If you live far away, I wouldn't make a special trip. I also wouldn't wait until Sunday if you want produce now. Just stop in at "By Their Fruits" on the corner of McNab and Cypress for the same produce any time during the week.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Giving Away

The downside of CSA is that sometimes you get stuff you don't like or sometimes, you find yourself with too much fresh produce that you don't have time to cook. Both happened to me last week and this week.

For the past two weeks, I've had an unusual amount of social engagements to attend - friends wanting lunch, friends in from out of town, family in from out of town, a family event, a dinner with colleagues. All of these things involved eating food that I didn't cook at somewhere other than my home and all of the events were wonderful. But I ended up with too much food and it's going to spoil.

Unfortunately in the chaos, the sapote went way past its prime and thus, was not given its second chance. I had to throw it outside for the raccoons. They loved it.

I did however, manage to devour my steamed green beans because I like them as a cold snack. I also used all of last week's peppers and tomatoes, combining them in my mother's recipe for stuffed peppers in tomato sauce. It really isn't a recipe at all though. All you do is make your favorite meatball recipe and instead of making into meatballs, you stuff the raw meat into hollowed out peppers, place them in a crock pot, cover with your favorite tomato sauce recipe and cook on high for about four hours. Then when they're done you can either take them out and melt some cheese over them or you can boil some spaghetti and serve the peppers and sauce over the pasta. I ate that for lunch for an entire week.

The rest, well, I didn't eat and I agonized and felt guilty and like a bad person. Then it was time to rush, in between events, to pick up this week's share. Luckily, due to last week's freeze, we didn't get a lot, but now I find myself with two large heads of cabbage, some kale, some unripe tomatoes and the world's teeniest clementine (it's so cute).

I hate kale. I know some people love it and that it's really good for you, but I hate it. I've tried it a number of ways but I still hate it. Everyone in my family loves it. I make it for my mother, boiled in chicken stock and olive oil with hot peppers and sauteed onions and garlic stirred in. She begs me to make it, yet I won't touch it. My sister makes her famous pasta with kale, white beans and turkey sausage. Ewww.

So here's the good thing about having too much. You get to give stuff away and that makes people happy. I'm taking my sister the kale this afternoon and I know she'll be thrilled. She'll love the tomatoes and an extra head of cabbage too. I'm keeping the world's teeniest clementine.

For lunch on my day off, I'm making Molly Wizenberg's Cabbage in Hot Sauce with my remaining head. I considered her cream braised cabbage, but I'm just not feeling heavy cream right now. Hot sauce, I'm always feeling. This recipe also sounds like it would be good with some toasted sesame oil and perhaps some ginger. I'll let you know how it turns out. Her recipes are usually pretty good, although some disappoint in the direction of bland. That's easily remedied though with some doctoring up. She lives in Seattle after all. Maybe we tropical dwellers just like spicier food.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Help! I Have a Ripe Black Sapote!

Help me please. My black sapote, which I'm giving a second chance, is now ripe. What should I do with it? I have only one. Last time I ate it plain and didn't like it. This time I was hoping for a simple preparation to dress it up. Suggestions?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Strawberries!!!

I went to Whole Foods for the first time in a while this afternoon. I needed more Cara Caras since I'd eaten up all of my supply. I like to browse the produce section to see how many local items they have and I was surprised to see the first batch of Florida strawberries was in! I confess, I had actually forgotten that strawberry season here is in winter. The strawberries, which were conventionally grown were going for $4.99 a box. This is expensive for me, so I passed, content to wait until later in the season when the price goes down. Then, later I had to run into Publix for a few things and lo and behold I found local strawberries there ON SALE for, I kid you not, $1.97 for the same sized box they were selling for almost five dollars at Whole Foods. There was a large supply at my Publix and they were definitely local, from Plant City. The berries are small and deep, blood red, which is just how I like them. I find that smaller strawberries are much more flavorful than the big ones, which are all show. Naturally I bought a box and I will be enjoying them sliced with a sticky pirouette of Keys honey on top. Yay Publix!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Breakfast

Today was one of the laziest days I can remember and I loved every second of it. I go back to work on Wednesday, so I'm trying to make the most (by doing the least) of my last couple of free days. The one thing I managed to accomplish today was this magnificent breakfast, though I should really call it a brunch being that I made it at around 1 in the afternoon. I sauteed the oyster mushrooms from Paradise Farms with some leftover ham from my parents' New Years Day dinner and a local jalapeno from Whole Foods. The farm was not named. I added this to scrambled eggs, with some cheese I had lying around and served it with halved grape tomatoes from Lady Moon Farms in Punta Gorda and some of those heavenly pink Cara Cara oranges (Florida grown of course), which I am now officially addicted to. They look like grapefruit, but they are so low in acid and have such a delicate flavor that I honestly think they are the best orange I have ever had. I washed the whole thing down with some Wagon Wheel coffee from Davie. I must say, I haven't had such a perfect breakfast in ages and almost everything was local. It was so good that afterward, I had to crawl back in bed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

First CSA of the New Year!

I just picked up my first CSA box of 2010. I really missed it last week, but I didn't need it because I was out of town anyway, so it worked out perfectly. This week we got a massive ruffle of a green leaf lettuce, lots of nearly ripe plum tomatoes, a cabbage, dill, oyster mushrooms(how exciting!), beets (my favorite thing on earth) and the notorious black sapote. I decided to give the black sapote a second chance and did not put it in the extras box. At the same time, I spied a little green pepper in the extras and snagged it. I liked that it was little and I enjoy peppers in stir-fries. I am thrilled about the oyster mushrooms, which I will use tomorrow morning in omelettes and of course the beets. I like to roast beets and then chill them and use them in salads with lots of nuts, citrus and cheese. Not a lot of people like them, but I can't get enough of them. I'm beginning to see a pattern. I think I like brightly colored foods. Then, probably tomorrow, I'll also employ the lettuce, dill and tomatoes in a favorite salad recipe I learned from my mom, which I will share when I make it.