Friday, May 29, 2009

Container Garden Update: Mint Coup d'etat Imminent

My fire escape container garden is doing fabulous. The basil plants are hanging in, but the spearmint is growing like gangbusters. The herb must really like the weather we've been having -- a series of sunny and dry days followed by a series of gloomy and damp days. To avoid a mint coup, which I know is literally part of its plant profile, I've tried to be more diligent in "pruning" the bigger leaves and cutting some of the straggly bits. The good thing is that the leaves, when wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in the crisper, last a long time -- up to two weeks. I recently used a "crop" harvested about two weeks ago in another salad variation -- this time a slaw inspired by one published on Simply Recipes. I've never been a fan of raw green or red cabbage, but really like the mild taste of napa cabbage. And I'm not really a fan of mayo-based coleslaw, but do like this slaw, which is lightly dressed with a combination of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, fresh lime juice and soy. In fact, the dressing also makes a great marinade if you have any chicken or steak or even shrimp to grill and serve alongside. Cool, refreshing and a good way to use some of those summer herbs and leftover vegetables lingering in your fridge.
Asian-Style Slaw
I had some wasabi oil from Trader Joes in the cupboard, so I substituted half of the wasabi oil for half of the sesame oil. If you don't have wasabi oil and still want an extra kick, add chili garlic sauce or red pepper flakes or Sriracha (basically, whatever you have around) to taste.
For the dressing:
1/2 c. sesame oil
2 limes, juiced
2 T. rice wine vinegar
1-2 T. low sodium soy sauce
1 t. brown sugar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T. fresh ginger, grated
Red pepper flakes, hot sauce, etc. to taste
For the salad:
3 lb. napa cabbage, "knife shredded"
3 scallions, chopped
1 1/2 c. snow peas, strings removed and julienned
1/4 c. shredded carrot (or 1-2 carrots, shredded)
2 T. slivered almonds, toasted
2 T. basil, chiffonade
2 T. cilantro, chiffonade
2 T. spearmint, chiffonade
Extras: diced red pepper, radish, cucumber etc.
In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients. The goal is to strike the right balance of sweet, sour, spicy and salty that suits your taste, so adjust amounts accordingly.
Toss dressing with vegetables and almonds and serve.
To prepare ahead, keep dressing, vegetables and nuts separate and toss right up to an hour before serving. This salad keeps for a few hours but does get a bit soggy as time passes (particularly if you use cucumber or another watery veg!).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day trip to Ithaca and Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins

I was upstate for Memorial Day weekend. Lucky for me, the stars (and dates) aligned: I got to meet my newborn niece, I got to hit the last weekend of the Friends of the Library book sale in Ithaca and I got to visit the Ithaca Farmers Market.
The Friends of the Library book sale in Ithaca, New York is really one of the best organized book sales in the country. And, as you can see by the line, it's pretty popular. I "restrained" myself and walked out with only six trade paperbacks, including a virtually new copy of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (and some romance novels and chick lit - hey, I admit it. I like escapism).
After an hour browsing the shelves, it was down Rt. 13 to the farmers market and Macro Mamas. For $13, I got a huge sampler platter to share. Filled with polenta, braised asparagus and red peppers, steamed broccoli, a cabbage slaw, greens with a lemon poppy dressing, some sweet potatoes and a black bean and corn mixture (plus a scoop of the peanut noodles) it was more than enough for two. I also got to try their lemonade and peach-apple ice tea.
The market was really alive on Saturday with tons of people browsing the stalls, or just enjoying the live music and nice weather along the banks of the Cayuga inlet. Surprisingly, there was a good selection of produce in the stalls (even two hours before close). I saw green garlic, watercress, potted plants, wine, baked goods and a seasonal favorite: rhubarb.
One of my newest blog finds is "Eggs on Sunday," written by Amy who just happens to live in Ithaca. Last week, I read about her rhubarb muffins and was hooked. So when I saw a bunch at her local market, I knew just what to do with it.
While I basically followed Amy's recipe, I did make a few modifications:
-Out of necessity (e.g., what was in the cupboard) I skipped the flax and subbed 0% Greek yogurt for the sour cream, a 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat all-purpose flour for white all-purpose flour and the pastry flour and baking powder for the baking soda. Apparently, you can sub powder for soda but not the reverse. It worked, but the end result was rather dense as it did not really rise much in the oven.
-Since I wanted to use extra large muffin tins, I doubled the flour and leavener, and used one and a half times the oil and rhubarb. But I ended up using the amounts of the other ingredients as written (sugar, eggs, yogurt). I know baking is a science. I know it was a risk. I did get worried when the dough turned out really stiff, but it worked fine.
-Perhaps because I added one cup of strawberries to the rhubarb mixture (love the combination).
-For extra spice, I included a few tablespoons of finely diced candied ginger to the topping.
Even with all of the modifications, the muffins came together really well. The combination of the whole wheat flour, extra fruit and nuts made it very satisfying (as in, I could have stopped after one muffin but of course had two any way!). Try them yourself and see if you can resist.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Learning to Love Lentils: French-style Lentil Salad

Although I have limited food storage, I somehow find lots of places to stockpile groceries (what can I say? I have a weakness for the latest and greatest from Whole Foods and Trader Joes.). But I’ve been making a conscious effort to try to use up what I have before I buy something new. And that includes the three varieties of lentils stacked on top of my microwave (hey – space is at a premium). I bought the red ones for soup, I bough the brown ones because the red ones get too mushy in this stew and I bought the green ones because of all of the lentil salad recipes I’ve been reading lately. The weather is warming up, so eating lentil salad is sounding more and more appealing. And based on what I've read, the dish can take a little improvisation, which makes it my kind of meal. Earlier this week, I tossed a cup of green French lentils (product of Canada, per the label. Perhaps they are Québécois?!) in a pot with some chopped celery and carrot (leftover from an aborted soup making endeavor), a piece of red bell pepper (roughly chopped) that was going slimy, a small white onion (halved), a clove of garlic and a bay leaf. I dumped in about two cups of chicken broth (leftover from takeout Won Ton soup) and simmered for about 45 minutes. While the lentils bubbled away, I minced a shallot, and threw it in a bowl with some red wine vinegar, a spoonful of Dijon mustard and olive oil. Once the lentil mixture was tender, I drained it briefly and tossed the lentil mixture in the vinaigrette. A few grinds of black pepper and it was done. There was enough to bring to work for three consecutive days -- served over baby spinach with some chopped cucumber, grape tomatoes and a sprinkle of goat cheese crumbles for added interest. Not too bad as a way to clean the cupboard and the crisper.
“Leftovers” Lentil Salad Feel free to improvise with this recipe. Throw in whatever vegetables you have, fresh herbs, etc. Some people suggest sautéing the vegetables first/separately, but I was lazy and just cooked them with the lentils. Ingredients 1 cup French lentils (ideally du Puy) 2 cup water or broth 1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved 1 small onion, peeled and halved ½ cup carrot, chopped 2 ribs celery, chopped ¼ cup red bell pepper, chopped 1 Bay leaf 1 small shallot, finely minced 1 t. of Dijon mustard 1 T. red wine vinegar 3 T. olive oil Ground black pepper Method Rinse and pick over the lentils (there sometimes can be small stones). Add lentils, water or broth, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, red pepper and Bay leaf, to pot. Simmer on low for approximately 45 minutes. In a separate bowl whisk together shallot, mustard and vinegar; stream in olive oil while continuing to whisk. When lentils are tender, drain and discard Bay leaf (and onion and garlic, if you wish); combined drained lentils and vegetables with vinaigrette. Serve warm or chill.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Everybody Loves Hashbrowns

I come from a potato lovin' family (must be those Eastern European roots). In fact, my parents literally cannot make less than 5 lbs. of potatoes at a time -- be it mashed, scalloped, in salad or baked. Growing up, the one way we did not prepare potatoes was fried. Oh, sure, we had home fries (what do you think we did with all of the leftover baked potatoes?) but never crispy fried potatoes in oil. "Deep" fried potatoes were left to the experts (a.k.a. McDonald's). But I've learned it's very easy to whip up hash browns at home that are so much better than the "puck" served at the golden arches (and that's saying something because fast food hash browns are still pretty darn good). All of the main elements can be found at your local farmer's market, and you probably already have the rest in your kitchen.
Zucchini and Potato Hash Browns
I don't like using a lot of oil, so I fried these in a small, non-stick stir fry pan. The sloped slides also make for easy scooping/flipping. Since these are best hot from the pan, it's a perfect treat when cooking breakfast for one (half recipe) or two.
1 medium zucchini, coarsely shredded
8 oz. potato, peeled and coarsely shredded (I used the last of what I bought from Paffenroth Gardens at the greenmarket a few weeks ago)
1 shallot, minced
1 egg white or 2 T. liquid egg white
1-2 T. Bisquick or flour (to bind)
Black pepper
Canola oil
Mix shredded zucchini with a few dashes of salt; place in colander and drain for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix salted zucchini and shredded potato.
Add egg, Bisquick/flour and black pepper, mix well.
Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of canola oil in a small pan over medium heat.
When oil is hot, add hash brown batter in heaping tablespoons, taking care not to crowd the pan. Flip when edges begin to brown, adding more oil as needed.
Drain briefly on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with extra salt as desired.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Ideas for Using Ramps

Fun video on The Feedbag this week. Chef Marco Canora - where were you last week when I was ramped out? Now I have a bunch of new ideas for using ramps (and asparagus). In fact, grilled tenderloin wrapped in ramp leaves sounds really good right now. Now all I need to do is pick up a couple of bunches of ramps -- and get a grill. Or maybe just dine at Insieme (which, ironically, is steps away from my office).

The Feedbag goes to the Greenmarket with Marco Canora from The-Feedbag on Vimeo.

I was glad to see that they visited two of my favorite Union Square stands -- Cherry Lane and Mountain Sweet Berry (which should look familiar). I was also glad to see that they touched on the issue of price. Farmers market produce is not always cheaper, but you are paying for quality.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Seasonal Spotlight: Ramps and Asparaus Scramble

Getting up and out to the farmers market around 8:00 a.m. has its perks: namely fewer shoppers and the first pick of produce. But last Saturday, the greenmarket was teeming with good stuff, including piles upon piles of ramps. Taking my cue from the area chef making a produce run, I chose the $2.50-a-bunch stand. As I was picking over the pile, two different women stopped me asking what they were. "Oh, ramps? They're like wild leeks. You can saute them, you can grill them," I said authoritatively. Bet neither guessed I had never cooked them before! I also picked up some green and purple asparagus. This time, it was the guy at the stand (I'm guessing NOT the farmer), who asked me if the purple tasted any different from the green. I admitted I had no idea but that the purple sure looked pretty. However, after doing a little research at home, I learned that purple are supposed to be more tender and sweeter. My final haul consisted of two bunches of ramps ($5), a bag of red onions ($1.50), a seedless cucumber ($2), some fingerling potatoes ($.85), and 3/4 lb. of mixed green and purple asparagus ($3).

Back home, I Googled "Bitten + ramp + egg" trying to find The New York Times Bitten food blog

posts about ramps last week. However, I stumbled across a recipe for scrambled eggs with morels, asparagus and ramps at The Bitten Word. The recipe originally from Bon Appetit, was really simple. With some slight tweaking based on the contents of my fridge, I was enjoying breakfast in less than 10 minutes. Now to decide what to do with the rest of my haul...

Spring Scramble Inspired by The Bitten Word and Bon Appetit I steamed the asparagus to speed up the cooking time and learned the hard way that the purple stalks discolor easily (which is why most recommend using them raw in salads). Ingredients 3 Ramps, bulbs and greens 2 Asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces 5 Button mushrooms, sliced 2 Egg whites 1 T. Grated Parmesan Butter Salt Pepper Method In a small skillet over medium-low heat, melt a blob of butter and start the mushrooms; do not season until they start to brown. In the meantime, steam asparagus on the stove top or in the microwave. Wash ramps very well (as you would leeks); chop and separate whites and greens. Once the mushrooms have some color, add ramp whites and sauté until softened. Add steamed asparagus and greens to skillet, season with salt and pepper; sauté until greens are wilted. Add egg whites and cook until just set. Season with extra pepper; finish with a grating of Parmesan.