Friday, May 31, 2013

Falafel and Tabbouleh

You may recall the massive amount of parsley from the week 2 share?  Well, there's no better cuisine for using parsley than what comes from the middle east, so tonight I challenged myself to make some food I have never cooked before.

Falafel is a mixture of chickpeas, herbs and spices that is blended together, formed into balls and deep fried.  It is a favorite of ours when getting take out, and I have always wanted to try making it at home.  After a little research, I settled on the recipe I found at, which makes use of a healthy dose of parsley.  I made a couple small changes shown in the version written out below.

To accompany rich, spicy flavor of the falafel, I went for the cooling creaminess of tzatziki sauce.  My recipe is a scaled down version of this one from a Greek food website. I put the sauce together the night before to give the flavors plenty of time to meld.

Finally, to make sure none of the parsley escaped, also provided me with this recipe for tabbouleh.  For those who have never had it, tabbouleh is a essentially a parsley salad that is very common in the middle east.

Share contents used:
All the remaining parsley from week 2
The last of the scallions from week 2
Tomatoes from week 4
Mint leaves from the week 2 plant (now growing nicely in the garden)

½ cup finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight, drained
1 tbs finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cayenne
½ tsp. ground allspice
2 jalapeños, stemmed, roughly chopped
4 scallions, roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
Canola oil, for frying

In a food processor, purée the parsley, salt, garlic, chickpeas, cilantro, coriander, cumin, baking soda, cayenne, allspice, jalapeños, scallions and onions until smooth.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and place in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm.

Pour oil into a 6-qt. Dutch oven to a depth of 2"; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 300°. Using 2 spoons, shape chickpea mixture into 3" oval balls (should get about 16). Place into the oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Serve immediately with the tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 tsp garlic, minced
1 cup English cucumber, diced
1/3 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Peel cucumbers and dice. Put them in a colander sitting atop a bowl and sprinkle with salt to draw out some of the water. Cover with a paper towel and sit something heavy on top. Let sit for 30 minutes then drain well and wipe the cucumber dry with a paper towel. You can skip this draining process, if you want, but you will have a moderately messier, runnier result.

In a food processor, add the cucumbers, garlic, lemon juice, mint, and a few grinds of black pepper. Process until well blended, then stir into the yogurt. Taste before adding any extra salt as the cucumber will retain salt from the draining process.

Place in refrigerator for at least two hours before serving so the flavors can blend.

3 tbsp. bulgur
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, cored and minced
3 ½ cups minced flat-leaf parsley
1 ¼ cups minced mint leaves
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine bulgur and 1 cup boiling water in a bowl and let soak for 1 hour. Drain bulgur, rinse thoroughly, and transfer to a large bowl along with remaining ingredients. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

We stuffed everything into pita pockets and chowed down!  This meal was a lot of work, but was by definitely one of the tastiest dinners I've made since starting this blog, and well worth the effort.  Here is a picture of the final product, seconds before the first bite.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lettuce Wrapped Fish with Herb Butter and Roasted Golden Beets

In my hunt for a non-salad use for lettuce, I came across the idea of using it as a wrap for fish. The lettuce holds in the fish's natural moisture during baking and traps the aroma of the herbs until you cut into the little packet. It is definitely a neat cooking method and the fish turns out moist and very flavorful.

As for the golden beets, a simple roasted preparation seemed the best way to enjoy their sweet, earthy flavor, and a nice compliment to the milder flavors of the fish.  For those who have never used golden beets, you don't have to worry about them staining your hands (and cutting board, clothes, counter top...) as red beets would.

Share contents used:
Red leaf lettuce
Scallion and parsley (from week 2, still good!)
Golden Beets

Roasted Golden Beets
2 cups golden beets, peeled and cut to a half inch dice
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Toss the beets, oil, salt and pepper together until coated.  Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 400°F oven until starting to brown (15-20 minutes).

Lettuce Wrapped Fish with Herb Butter
3 tablespoons salted butter, softened
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 tbs chopped fresh sage
1 tbs chopped scallion (green part only)
4 6-ounce tilapia fillets (flounder or sole will work as well)
4 large red leaf lettuce leaves, washed and dried, center rib cut out

Preheat oven to 400°F

Mash together butter, herbs, and scallions. Spread 1 Tbsp butter mixture on bottom of a 1 1/2-quart
shallow baking dish.

Season fish with salt and pepper. Divide remaining butter mixture and spread on each fillet. Fold or roll the fillet so it roughly fits a 3x3x1 inch box.  Thick fillets that won't fold can be cut and stacked.  Place 1 fillet on a lettuce leaf, then tuck leaf around fish to enclose fish and place in baking dish.

Cover dish tightly with foil and bake until fish is cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Serve immediately with the roasted golden beets and a side of jasmine rice.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Week 4 Share

Asparagus 1 lb ($2.49)
Strawberries 1.75 lb ($3.48)
Spinach 7 oz ($0.65)
Arugula 8 oz ($2.99)
Golden Beets 1 lb ($2.50)
Romaine Lettuce 1 lb ($0.99)
Tomatoes 1.5 lb ($4.49)
Red Leaf Lettuce 1 lb ($1.49)
Fresh Parsley Plant ($2.49)

Total share value = $21.57

Now we're starting to get into some interesting stuff!  Golden beets. Yum!

It's nice to see the leafy greens continuing to fill the box, and while I never get tired of using them for fresh salads, I am going to have to come up with some other uses for them.  Otherwise it wouldn't be a challenge, right?

I'm also happy to see the first fruit of the season.  Fresh strawberries, and lots of them!  While I have no doubt that my daughter will happily devour them all, I think I'll have to see if my wife (and her pastry degree) is willing to make a guest appearance on the blog.  I know my taste buds will not mind.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spinach with Garlic

The name says it all!  Fresh spinach lightly sauteed in olive oil that has been infused with garlic. By first cooking the garlic in the olive oil, you add a light garlic flavor to the oil and also end up with crisp little chips of garlic that add a bit of crunch to the final dish.

This is a great and simple side dish that you can use to accompany just about any main course.  We enjoyed it with some baked salmon and Israeli couscous.

Share contents used:
5 oz Spinach

Other Ingredients:
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Clean and dry the spinach.  Tear large leaves into bite size pieces and remove any long stems. Set aside.

Thinly slice the garlic into little chips.  Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic.  Saute until the garlic is brown and crisp, then remove the garlic from the pan and set aside, leaving the olive oil (now infused with garlic flavor) in the pan.

Add the spinach to the skillet and saute until just wilted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve sprinkled with the toasted garlic chips.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Back from Vacation!

Eight days was a long time away from home and it's good to be back.  I'm happy to say that the week 2 share items held up very well while we were gone.  The leafy greens and asparagus, which can go bad pretty quickly after coming from the grocery store were still bright and crisp, a testament to the advantage of getting your produce the same day it was picked.  Also shows how proper packing storage can extend the life of vegetables in your refrigerator.

My wife came home a few days before me and started in on the veggies, so we've used up the red leaf lettuce, arugula, asparagus and some of the radishes.  Still more to go, including all that parsley, and another share coming in just a couple days.  I better get to work!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leek and Potato Soup

I was inspired to try this recipe after my Dad told me that's what he'd make if he had some leeks.  Also called vichyssoise (vish-e-swaz), this creamy soup can be served cold or hot. There are dozens of recipes out there, and they all revolve around some combination of leeks, potatoes, cream and stock. I eventually settled on this recipe by Alton Brown because of the interesting addition of buttermilk and because I am rarely disappointed by his recipes (this one was no exception).

Share contents used:
All remaining leeks (~1 lb)

Other Ingredients:
3 tbs butter
14 oz diced potatoes
1 qt vegetable broth
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 cup Buttermilk
White Pepper

With the soup complete, the week 1 share is just about used up.  All that remains are the mint plant (currently taking root out in the garden) and the honey which is slowly being enjoyed on yogurt, toast and in tea.  The cilantro and half of the scallions went to friends.

You won't hear much from me for a little while as the family and I are off for a vacation.  The week 2 share has been carefully wrapped and tucked into the fridge for when we return.  I am hoping that the fact this produce is much fresher than what would come from the grocery store will allow it to sit longer without spoilage.  We shall see.  Since I'll still be away next week, I have designated a friend to pick up the week 3 share for his family to enjoy.

Week 2 Share

Red Leaf Lettuce, 1 lb ($1.29)
Organic Spinach, 5 oz ($0.60/oz = $3.00)
Arugula, 4 oz ($0.60/oz = $2.40)
Italian Parsley, 1 bunch ($0.99)
Curly Parsley, 1 bunch ($0.99)
Radish, 1 bunch ($1.29)
Asparagus, 1 lb ($2.99)
Organic Scallions, 2 bunch ($0.99 ea)
Fresh Basil Plant ($3.29)
Free Range Eggs, 1 doz ($3.69)

Total share value = $21.91

Another live herb!  I asked about this when I picked up the share and was told that we will be getting different herbs for the first 4-5 weeks with the idea that we will plant them and be able to pick herbs as needed throughout the year.  Very nice!

A couple organic items were in the share this week. The farm practices sustainable agriculture for everything and strives to grow organic where possible. I will start marking the organic items in green on the share list to make it easier to see how often they show up.

Lots of parsley this week, using that all up without putting a huge amount of garnish on everything will take some creativity.  Ideas are welcome!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Linguine with Shrimp and Leeks

Five days into the first share, and there isn't much left.  Today I finally get into the leeks with a delicious recipe from Bon Appetit. The acid from lemon and spice from peperoncini compliment the buttery shrimp, and an abundance of thin sliced leeks adds a mild sweet onion flavor to every bite.  I highly recommend that you buy unpeeled shrimp and take the time to make the broth from the shells, as this adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the dish.  If you can't get unpeeled shrimp (or don't want to bother), regular seafood stock or clam juice will work as well, or even chicken stock.  Just don't use plain water, that will make the dish very bland.

Here is the link to the recipe: Bon Appetit

In addition to the leeks in the pasta, I used the last of the red leaf lettuce, the tomato and radish in a side salad.

Share Contents Used:
2 Leeks
Red leaf lettuce
Greenhouse tomato

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rakkyo (Japanese Pickled Scallions)

In the past when I cooked with scallions, I focused only on the green leaves and the white tips would end up in the trash.  Not acceptable for this challenge!  My wife, Heidi (who is originally from Japan), has introduced me to some wonderful Japanese foods, including Rakkyo, which are sweet pickled scallions that she typically serves alongside Japanese curry.  These tender pickles are a sweet, crunchy addition to what can be a very spicy dish.

If you want to learn more about Rakkyo and the wide variety of other Japanese pickles, check out this website.

Share contents used:
The white tips from all the scallions

Pickled Scallion Tips (Rakkyo)
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp dried chili flakes
3 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
15-20 scallions, white tips only with the roots removed

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small pan and simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Add the scallion tips and simmer for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool before placing the scallions and liquid into a clean screw-top jar. 

The Rakkyo recipes I found are all over the place with how long to pickle before starting to eat them.  Anywhere from 24 hours to 6 months!  I imagine it’s all in personal taste preferences as the pickling brine works its magic and flavors develop.  My plan is to leave it in the refrigerator for 1 month before taking a first taste, so check back in June to hear about the results.

If Japanese curry is not common in your house, pickled vegetables such as these go great with cheese toasts as an appetizer. Simply cut a baguette into slices and sprinkle with grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese and then broil until cheese is melted. Top the cheese toasts with thin slices of the pickles.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Asparagus and Quinoa Salad

Straight from the pages of Bon Appetit.  How could I not try this recipe where quinoa is combined with two of the items in my week 1 share. Because we did not have any handy, I omitted the walnuts in the recipe.  Also, I used yellow quinoa as that was what I had.

Share Contents Used:
Asparagus, 5 spears
2 Radishes

Other Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tbs Lemon juice
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Cook the quinoa per package directions.
Chop the asparagus into 2 inch pieces and split down the middle if necessary.  This is a raw preparation for the asparagus, so you don't want them too thick.
Thinly slice the radishes
Toss the cooked quinoa (while still hot), asparagus, radishes in a bowl along with lemon juice, olive oil and the salt & pepper to taste.

I served this as a side to some fantastic fresh sea scallops that I picked up on the way home from work.  What a treat!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

Most of the time, I hope to cook dishes that highlight the item(s) from the weekly share, and not bury them amid other flavors like I'm doing here. However, we were already planning lasagna this week, and I had no intention of  skipping one of my favorite dishes.  Normally, the recipe uses frozen spinach that has been thawed and dried, so it was not a big stretch to substitute the fresh leaves from the share.

This recipe is based on one that I learned from my lovely wife, which she originally got from the Food Network.  I have made a few changes to the ingredients and assembly procedure.  You start with a bechamel sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan and then build the lasagna from there.

The tomato sauce is my own recipe for a basic marinara that I prefer to use, but you can substitute your favorite if you like.

We also put together small tossed salad as a side using some of the other items in the share.

Share Contents Used:
All 6 oz of the spinach in the lasagna
A few leaves of the red leaf lettuce plus a couple radishes for the side salad.

Recipe for Spinach Mushroom Lasagna is as follows:

Bechamel Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.

Tomato Sauce:
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tbs olive oil
1 32 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 tsp dry basil
1/4 tsp dry oregano
Dash of cinnamon
Salt & Pepper to taste

Saute the onion with the olive oil in a medium saucepan until soft.  Do not let them brown.  Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and cinnamon.  Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste.

Optional Step - Remove from heat and blend until smooth using a stick blender.  (I do this because I prefer the smooth texture that I get by doing this, but you can skip it if you don't mind a slightly chunky sauce.)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, fine dice
1 16 oz container baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
6 ounces fresh spinach, washed and chopped
1 15 oz container whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 cooked lasagna noodles
Bechamel Sauce
Tomato sauce
Shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the onions and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until the onions are slightly browned and all the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms.  Add the spinach and cook until it has wilted.  Add the ricotta, parmesan and pepper and stir until the cheese is warm and everything is completely mixed.  Remove from the heat and keep warm until ready to use.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the lasagna noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.

Pour all the bechamel sauce over the bottom of a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Lay 3 lasagna noodles on top of the bechamel, top each noodle with some of the ricotta mixture. Spread around 1/2 a cup of the tomato sauce over the ricotta and then sprinkle with a little mozzarella.  Repeat the layering procedure until all the ricotta filling is used, ending with lasagna noodles on the top.  Spread around 1 cup of tomato sauce over the top of the last noodles and sprinkle generously with mozzarella . Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Serve with additional tomato sauce if desired.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Asparagus and Mushroom Saute

Fresh spring asparagus is one of my favorites, so I kept it simple with my first recipe. A side dish of asparagus and shiitake mushroom caps lightly sauteed in a little olive oil with garlic, scallions and crushed red pepper.

Share contents used:
1/2 lb Asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 scallions, chopped

Other ingredients:
6 large shiitake caps, quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil
Pinch crushed red pepper
Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté all ingredients together in a large skillet until the asparagus is just cooked, about 5-6 minutes.
Season to taste and serve immediately.

Week 1 Share

Here's a picture of the contents of the week 1 share with details listed below along with the how much they would have cost at my local supermarket in parenthesis.

Cilantro, 2 bunches ($0.99 ea)
Red Leaf Lettuce, 1 bunch ($1.79)
1/2 lb Greenhouse Tomato ($1.50)
Scallions, 2 bunches ($0.50 ea)
1 lb Asparagus ($2.49)
6 oz Spinach ($1.50)
Radishes, 1 bunch ($0.99)
4 lb Leeks ($2.99)
1 Fresh Mint Plant ($2.49)
1 lb local honey ($5.49)

Total share value = $22.22

I was pleasantly surprised by the honey, having expected only produce.  The live mint plant is a nice touch as well.

After I unpacked the box, my first thought was "uh oh, cilantro".  We are not cilantro fans in this house and here I have two bunches!  So now I will add one loophole to my rule about using everything and give myself the out of giving items away to friends who can make better use of them.  The cilantro will be the first through my new loophole!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It begins!

We live in northern New Jersey, not too far from New York City.  This isn't exactly farm country, so I had to spend some time researching the options for joining a CSA.  There were several with chapters in nearby towns, where the farm delivers the weekly shares to a central pickup location, but they were not appealing to me for one reason or another.  The most common issues were inconvenient pickup times, share size too large /small or membership was too expensive.

After striking out with the local chapter options, I turned my search to CSA programs near my office.  My work is about an hour west of home, right in the area of NJ where many of these farms are located.  Eventually I settled on Alstede Farms, who's CSA offered just what I was looking for.

Alstede Farms CSA program runs for 30 weeks, from May 5 through November 24.  I purchased a half share for $720, or $24 per week.  Every week, I will post the details of that week's share along with a value comparison of what the same items would have cost at my local supermarket.  I will also talk about how I plan to utilize all the produce I got that week and share the recipes I use.

Going to be fun!