Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Scallion Pancakes

Scallion season is here! We cook scallions in just about everything, but I'm also trying to be in squirrel mode all summer long instead of just in the fall this year.

Here's my favorite way to save fresh scallions for later: frozen scallion pancakes.
The dough is easy to make, I'll get plenty of scallion goodness when I use them later, and our household's resident picky eater loves them.

Plus, once they're in the freezer it's very easy to pull out one or two and fry them up, making it possible to make a simple Chinese-style meal at home *and* a favorite appetizer. Meanwhile we're cooking our own healthy vegetables instead of paying someone else to deliver theirs.

I borrowed the recipe from Ming Tsai, but I've included it here with my way of creating the pancakes and freezing them.

* 2 cups all purpose flour
* 1 cup hot water (I boil it in the microwave)
* 1/2 cup sliced scallions
* 1 tablespoon sesame oil
* 1/2 cup canola oil
* Salt and black pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup ginger dipping sauce, recipe to follow


Measure flour into a bowl, then make a dough by adding the hot water while mixing with a wooden spoon. Mix/knead (be careful, the dough will be hot!) until dough forms a ball.

On a floured surface, roll out dough into a 1/2" thick rectangle. Brush on oil mixture, cover with scallion and season with salt and pepper. Carefully roll dough into a log, rolling the scallion inside. Cut into 4 pieces.

Flatten each piece, fold over again once or twice, then shape into a ball and form a pancake about 1/4" to 1/2" thick. Place pancake on wax paper and continue stacking pancakes with wax paper between. Freeze pancakes. (I made a double batch and cooked about 1/2 the first batch the same day, and froze the rest.)

To cook pancakes, in a hot non-stick pan, coat with canola oil and pan sear both sides until golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve immediately with dipping sauce of your choice.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sharing a Share!

Has all this talk about community supported agriculture and farmshare boxes got you thinking about trying it out?

I'm an enthusiastic CSA customer - of meat, vegetables, fish, and fruit so far (though we're skipping the fish this season) but lest you think that I'm some kind of crazy person I should mention that I've tried out all of these CSAs by sharing them with someone else at first. And added each one in gradually.

My very first season with Brookfield Farm, I think we signed up to take home a third of someone else's box - giving us a chance to choose those vegetables we thought would get eaten in our household, and to take home an amount small enough to feel managable and to adjust to how to plan my meals around which vegetables are arriving in the box that week. Hate brussels sprouts? (What's wrong with you?) Your share may be happy to take extra. Love rutabagas? You can probably bargain with you share partner to take them all home. You might want to find a partner who doesn't love and hate all the exact same things as you so that the splitting has two winners instead of a winner and a loser.

With our CSA, we moved up to half a share for a year or two, and then a full share's worth because eventually I felt confident that I wanted to cook and eat it all, and I couldn't stand seeing all that good stuff in the box and only taking half of it home. We still share our meat CSA - though in the end I take home a quantity that's about as much as having one small share, we save a bit more money per pound and get a bit more selection by having one extra-large share to divide up. I signed up for the fish share myself because it seemed like a lot of time-sensitive work to divide up a whole fish each week, and my eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach - though I did adapt eventually and we didn't waste much fish. Next time we do it, though, I've realized the best way to share it would be just to alternate weeks - one week I'd get a whole fish, the next week the next person would.

Even though the season has started by now, it may not be too late to find a friend who has a share and has decided that it's a bit more than they want to cook and eat each week. Keep your ears open and join us in cooking fabulous sustainably raised local food!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Keep it Simple

One thing I've learned as farm season starts to ramp up is that it's easier to keep up if I keep my meals simple. The vegetables don't need elaborate preparations to taste good when they're this good to begin with (and that's a relief when it's over 80 degrees in the kitchen, too!)

So with the many cooking greens we've gotten in the past 2 weeks - mixed baby braising greens, tat soi, komatsuna, swiss chard, collards, turnip and radish greens - the first step I've taken is generally to sautee, boil, steam, or blanch.

Two-thirds of the komatsuna got put away after sauteeing and eaten just like that.
The other third went into a quick grain salad - brown rice, komatsuna, raw scallions, and frozen corn from last year with a dressing of oil rice vinegar and a splash of soy. Grain salads are one of my go-to sides in summer - just mix some likely suspects including cooked greens up with something crunchy or chewy and sweet and some grains cooked in the rice cooker.

The swiss chard went into our favorite simple dish from the Croatian coast - chard and potatoes. ( Cook peeled potato slices in salted water, when they're close to done add the chard, then drain when the potatoes are cooked, mix, and season with olive oil and more salt.)

The braising greens got steamed in the microwave and sent to be part of a school lunch, and the remainder went into some scrambled eggs with greens.

The tat soi, which I love, but was looking like I might not get to while it was still in good shape, got blanched and frozen so I can love it when the season's ending too. I pulled a little bit out before I was steaming to go in some fried rice while it was cool enough to cook last night.

One place I violated "keep it simple" was the turnip greens - which I steamed, then incorporated into a pasta dough. It was healthy and fresh, but such a pain to work with - the greens made the dough wet and sticky and I didn't get them dry enough first. I actually stopped when I'd made what looked like enough for dinner and still had some dough left over, which we experimentally made into some firm gnocchi a few days later. I won't rule this idea out entirely, but next time I won't try to pretend pasta making is simple just because sometimes I can pull it off without seeming like a Project.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Market Analysis week 2

It's already starting to look like a lovely bounty in there! I only went to one farmers market this week (and only bought garlic scapes so I'd be sure to have enough to make scape pesto even though I knew there'd be some in our share, and fresh shallots because I couldn't resist... er, and some fruit too.) I noted the prices of radishes, turnips, scapes, and bunches of pretty much any green thing that could come in bunches (all $2 a bunch). A few things in our box weren't actually available at the market this week though so I followed these observations and made a few guesses.

1 bunch radishes ($2)
1 bunch Hakurei turnips ($2)
1 small bag of garlic scapes ($3)
1 large bunch baby bok choy ($2)
1 bunch arugula ($2)
2 tiny zucchini - I saw none at the farmers market, but they're tiny, call it 50c worth.
1 bag washed cutting lettuce ($3)
1 bag washed tatsoi ($3 pending more any more specific tat soi info)
1 head romaine ($2)
1 bunch collard greens ($2)

total market value of my box this week: $21.50, officially ahead of the farmer's market prices on week #2!


Friday, June 11, 2010

Turnip, turnip...

The Hakurei turnip seems to be a favorite vegetable of CSAs and farmers' markets in Massachusetts. It's a small, mild variety that can be planted early and is ready to harvest in the very beginnings of the season. I first heard of it and saw one when I got our first farmshare box from Brookfield back in 2002 or 2003 - since then I've started noticing them at farmers markets and hearing about them in other folks' CSA boxes as well. Eat them raw, like radishes, they say. Well, okay - you can. They're good, and so are radishes, a little spicy, crunchy, and definitely spring-y. And this time of year, I have plenty of both for our raw crunchy sharp eating needs!

Thanks to Brookfield, I also discovered that I love fall turnips. Sliced thin, sauteed in butter, maybe with some parsley or a little black papper - totally simple and delicious. The bite goes away, the butter makes them tender and delicious, and they're even a great side to cook a bunch of and serve with a few different meals as the week goes on.

Last year's brainstorm : spring turnips are still, well, turnips. If I don't want to eat them crunchy and raw, I can sautee them in butter too! They taste at least as good as the fall ones (possibly even better), and they give me something substantial to cook when the majority of what I'm getting is greens. So if you've got turnips too, I encourage you to give sauteeing a try.

Sauteed Spring Turnips

1 bunch Hakurei turnips
2 Tb butter
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Wash and slice the turnips. They don't need peeling.
Heat the butter in a skillet, add the turnips, and sautee over medium-high heat until they are tender. (I didn't time this, but it's probably 5-10 minutes.)
Add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle on parsley if you want. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 1

My first CSA box contains:

1 bunch radishes
1 bunch Hakurei Turnips
1 bag Cutting Lettuce
1 bag Braising Mix
1 bunch Swiss Chard
1 bunch Arugula
1 bunch Komatsuna

Yesterday at the farmers' markets I took notes on what was for sale. Prices vary a bit, and the cheaper farms tend to use IPM (integrated pest management, a low-pesticide farming approach) and the more expensive ones are USDA certified organic. Our CSA uses organic methods but isn't certified, so I've picked the middle price range when there were a number of farms offering the same item.

so for our small early season box, that's:
radishes, $2
turnips, $3
bagged lettuce mix, $4
bagged braising mix, $4
swiss chard, $2.50
arugula, $2.50
komatsuna, $2.50
total: $20.50

We get 24 distribution weeks at Brookfield farm for $510, $21.25 a week. (That's being slightly conservative, the last box is supposed to count as 2 distributions and be twice as big. But I'll stick to $21.25 a week rather than $20.40.) And the first week is usually the smallest distribution. It still comes pretty close to buying all that at the farmers market!

(Nobody was selling komatsuna yesterday, but I'll assume it'd be priced similarly to any of the other bunches of cookable greens that were for sale.)

(As an aside: strawberries were a dollar cheaper in Arlington than in Somerville! From the same farm who has a stand at both, even! (Because the competition at the Arlington market was a different farm, and they were selling theirs cheaper, I presume.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

pretty in pink

Before rhubarb season in Massachusetts completely passes us by, I though I'd better do *something* with the bunch I picked up at the farmers market. It was in my fridge for almost 2 weeks in the crisper drawer and still just fine!

Browsing for a recipe for something other than pie, I came up with a simple jam recipe that sounded like it would work for a few small jars. The recipe called for 1 lb of rhubarb and the picture showed a lovely pink jam - but as I saw when I cut up my rhubarb, I got some stalks that were rosy on the outside and quite green on the inside. Problem solved: I still have a bag of frozen, locally grown cranberries in the freezer, which would add some tart fruit and perk up the color of the jam. The recipe also called for candied ginger, and I had frozen ginger - another locally grown find last fall.

Rhubarb-Cranberry-Ginger Jam

1 bunch rhubarb, about 3/4lb, chopped into 1/2" pieces
fresh or frozen raw cranberries, about 1/4 lb
1/2 c sugar
1-2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp water (I just let a little the ice that had accumulated on the cranberries melt.)

The other project in the picture is one of our two loaves of molasses-wheat bread. There was one local ingredient there - the whole wheat flour was grown and milled at Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA. Nothing new there, except that my daughter, reading Little House in the Big Woods expressed amazement that they had made bread without bread machines. I pointed out that that didn't have to be so different even though we live in modern times, and chose this loaf to knead by hand and bake. We kneaded it before dinner, it rose during dinner, we shaped it after dinner and it went into the pans for its 2nd rising, and it was just coming out of the oven at her bedtime.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

single-jar pickling

Canning and pickling can be a great idea when you're faced with a bounty of some particular crop from your CSA, or find a great deal on a large quantity of something, or just want to make sure you're supplied with pickles you made yourself all year round.

But if you like the taste of pickled vegetables or homemade jam, there's no reason to limit yourself to doing it as a big project.

We've used up all of our homemade cucumber pickles (note to self: buy a few more jars worth of pickles this summer!) and the smaller batch of pickled beets I made last fall too. But we still had a few beets in the refrigerator drawer from our last winter CSA pickup. So before we get our first CSA box this week, I mixed up a quick jar of pickled beets to empty out the drawer a bit and to have more cold vegetable options as we head into the warmer season.

The recipe is simple, and no do for a quart of liquid and 4 beets than it would be for several gallons of liquid and a lot more beets. Honestly, with beets I think it's easier to make one jar than more since each jar you fill requires peeling and slicing enough beets to go inside!

easy pickled beets

(makes 1 quart size canning jar)

4-6 medium beets, cooked until tender, peeled, and sliced
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp caraway seeds

Sterilize the jar in boiling water (I actually skip this step when I'm making a small batch that will not be stored in the pantry forever... but please don't use me as your food safety authority!) Put the sliced beets directly into the jar as you slice them. Add the garlic and caraway seeds directly into the jar.

For the pickling liquid:

6 dl (or 2.5 cups) red wine vinegar
1.5 dl (or 5/8 cup) water
60 grams sugar (a quarter cup plus a teaspoon will do, if you don't have a kitchen scale)
22 grams salt (about 3.5 teaspoons)

Heat the liquid with the sugar and salt until the are dissolved and the water comes to a boil. Then pour the water directly into the jar, cover, and let cool. The beets should be ready to eat after pickling at room temperature for a few weeks.
Store in the refrigerator after you open the jar.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Market Analysis

I haven't picked up my first CSA share yet - Brookfield farm starts deliveries next week. So for the 3rd week in a row that some market in the area was open I got to go to the farmers' market and buy as many vegetables as I thought we would eat, without worrying about duplicating what was waiting to come my way in the CSA share.

For me, what I buy even at a farmers' market where everything look tempting is still less than I'm ever likely to get in a CSA box. That's one of the things I appreciate about having a weekly box I'm committed to in advance - if it comes into the house, I will find a way to cook it and eat it. If I have to decide what I want, even if my choices are gorgeous and fresh and locally grown, I will bring home a smaller bundle.

A recent conversation got me thinking about food costs - how much do I spend at the farmers' market compared to how much those items might have cost elsewhere, how much do I take home, and how much do I get in a weeks' CSA box compared to what that costs. (Nevermind that even when I'm getting a box, I *still* go to the farmers' markets to supplement with fruit, dairy, bread, meat, and crops that my CSA doesn't grow or that I'm not going to drive 2 hours away to pick...)

I'm hoping to do a weekly report, once my CSA starts up, of the farmers' market prices that week on all of the items in my box. (Bear with me if this doesn't work out - the main challenge is that our neighborhood farmers' market runs the day *before* my CSA pickup for the week.) In the meanwhile, I'll just tally up the cost of my week's outing to Davis Square:

Blue Heron Farm, Lincoln:
1 bunch spinach, $2
1 bunch lettuce, $3

Hanson's Farm:
1 quart strawberries, $7

Enterprise Farm, Whately:
1 lb broccoli, $3.50
(in June! Brookfield's is usually ripe in August or September, I'm boggling.)

And that's it for the produce. Under $10 worth of vegetables plus the expensive fruit. (Maybe the price will come down later in the season? I don't like this trend of berries costing a dollar or two more every year.)

Then, of course, I also had to get :
a small package of smoked haddock, $5
a small package of RI-made feta from Naragansett Creamery, $7
a loaf of locally baked potato-pepper bread from Breadsong, $4.50
and a sage plant to stick on the back porch, $4

I won't claim that my CSA will save me all of those slightly impulsive add-on purchases, since I still go to the farmer's market even when it's running.

Next week, stay tuned for the first installment of actually analyzing what comes in the CSA vs. the cost of those items at the market.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Salad days

The leafy greens are leafing and greening all over Massachusetts. June seems to me to be both a blessing and a curse - I'm thrilled to finally have fresh tasty greens that didn't have to come out of my freezer or be shipped to me, and salads are gloriously easy to prepare, but eventually I'm going to tire of eating my greens the same way all the time.

I can't exactly explain why "more, different, salad" makes me so excited when I'm facing the prospect of a month of salad with dinner every day. Maybe it's just that the greens I've eaten all winter have tended to be what I've frozen last summer and fall. Or maybe I should have been buying more hardy greens in winter and doing this then - but better late than never, I suppose.

Joining my lettuce based salad lineup this year is :

Shredded kale salad

  • 1 bunch kale, sliced into thin shreds or ribbons (you can even leave the center rib in where it's not 1/2" thick)

  • 2-3 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1-2 cloves crushed garlic

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Put the kale in a bowl, add the salt, garlic, and vinegar/lemon juice, toss thoroughly, and let sit for at least 30 minutes. This step will tenderize the kale.
Then add the olive oil and toss together, adjust seasoning to taste.