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Archive for the ‘Organic’ Category

Many people loathe brussels sprouts because they were force-fed them as a child or because they only know them as a gross, overcooked mess on their cafeteria lunch tray. And sadly, that is probably how most people will continue to encounter them since the vast majority of U.S. production winds up in the frozen section, where larger specimens are de rigeur.

But brussels sprouts really are delicious, and it is the sprouts that are too small to meet processed food standards that are the tastiest. Although all vegetables are better fresh, this is especially true of brussels sprouts. Fresh, they’re nutty, sweet and meltingly tender. Once they’ve been sitting around for too long, they become flatulent and flabby-tasting. I cannot warn you away from most supermarket sprouts strenuously enough. They’re usually too big, which means they’ll have leathery, slightly bitter outer leaves; and packed into a plastic-covered tub that’s been shipped however many miles it is to you from Monterey County, Ca, where most of the U.S. supply is grown.

So if you see them at the farmer’s market, snap them up. They’re quick and super-easy to cook. Here’s how I cooked a batch I got from Phan’s Farm at the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market:

Simple Brussels Sprouts:

1/2 – 3/4 lb smallish brussels sprouts
1 pat butter
1 tsp salt

Cut the bases off the sprouts, then slice them in half. Set them face-down in a shallow frying pan and put enough water in the pan to cover them just over half way. Cover the pan and put over high flame. Once the water is boiling, add salt and lower heat to medium. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Add 1 pat butter and swirl sprouts around in pan to coat. Done!

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I was never much of a playing-with-my-food type when I was little. That was before the age of purple ketchup (alas, that is not me in the picture), Go-Gurt and Lunchables, so maybe I was just lacking in intiative and creativity in the absence of corporate-formulated “kid food”. Either way, I now seem to be going through an extended phase of buying stuff basically just because it looks fun and I want to play with it.

So I picked these mushrooms up yesterday from Far West Fungi, which I’d had in mind because I was going to make steak sandwiches for dinner. Of course, they do have a nice-sized basket of your standard white button mushrooms for $2, but these caught my eye instead. Why buy something that you see every day when instead, you can have a strange fungal mass that looks like a hedgehog crossed with a coral growing on top of a cauliflower?

It turns out that this mushroom goes by several different appellations including: bear’s head, monkey’s head, Pompom Blanc and satyr’s beard, among others. It also has a pretty wide range of different physical manifestations. Of course, if you buy the cultivated kind, you probably don’t have to worry overmuch about that.

The clerk at the store told me that this variety of mushroom tastes kind of like crab, which sounded too good to be true – and it was. It does definitely have a shellfish undertone to it and is not as aggressively mushroomy-tasting as your average button mushroom or portobello. The texture is also softer and juicier; these mushrooms give off quite a bit of liquid when they cook, which could make them a good candidate for mushroom stock or risotto.

Nothing quite as involved and grandiose as stock or risotto was in store yesterday, though. Instead, I just sliced and sauteed them with a little butter and tossed them into what was probably the most pretentious steak sandwich you could imagine: leftover roast beef slices w/ caramelized onions and Braeburn apples, Colston-Basset stilton, the aforementioned mushrooms and some German-style cole slaw on the side.

What can I say? That’s just what we had in the fridge. Not sure if I should be embarrassed by that, or just grateful that that’s the kind of food you can get this time of year in California.

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I first came across this extraordinary-looking vegetable a couple of years ago at New York’s Union Square farmers market, attracted by its chartreuse hue and mesmerizing fractal pattern. A sign at the stand proclaimed it to be “romanesco cauliflower”. When I bought it this past week from the Capay Organic store at the Ferry Building, I was told it was a kind of broccoli. I’ve also seen it sold as Broccoli Romanesco, Roman broccoli and Broccoflower. According to Elizabeth Schneider’s exhaustive reference, “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini”, the consensus among plant breeders is that it’s a kind of cauliflower.

Regardless of what branch of brassica oleracea it most closely hews to, it’s delicious. It tastes like cauliflower, but with a distinct, pleasing nutty quality and a nubbly texture that sets it apart from both broccoli and cauliflower.

I cooked mine two ways – I blanched a batch of it just to see what the unadulterated taste of it was like; and I slow-cooked it in a variation of a recipe from Alice Waters’ new book. While it is very pleasant lightly cooked on its own, slow-cooking it turned it soft and meltingly velvety, which was a nice surprise.

Here are 2 ideas for what to do with this broccoli/cauliflower/whatever next time you can’t resist buying it:

Blanched Romanesco Cauliflower:

Bring 4 c of water to a rolling boil. Snap all the stems off from the central stalk and set aside. Then, quarter the stem crosswise. Salt the water; toss in the cauliflower and cover. Cook 3 minutes, or up to 5 if you prefer the end result to be a bit more tender.

Slow-cooked Romanesco Cauliflower:

1 head romanesco cauliflower (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3 medium cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp bacon fat (optional)
1/2 c vegetable or chicken stock

Cut the cauliflower into 1/4 inch slices crosswise, then mince. Mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil and bacon fat (if you’re using it) in a heavy-bottomed pan and sautee the garlic lightly. Add the cauliflower, stir to coat in oil, add stock, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid as necessary. Salt to taste.

This makes a really nice omelette stuffing, and is also great over angel hair pasta with bits of bacon or prosciutto.

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From top, clockwise: miso-pickled turnip greens, broiled salmon skin, stewed pumpkin, kinpira, Hakurei turnip pickles

As my last few posts attest, I’ve been on a bit of a Japanese food bender these days. Around New Year’s, I start to feel a little homesick for my parents’ cooking and start making things that I used to wish would disappear or turn into pizza when I was a kid. I started to have a hankering for the kind of foods my mom will often cook in big batches on Sunday to have for breakfast through the week, and the results were quite satisfactory.
Here are a couple of recipes:

Kinpira:
This dish is usually made either with burdock root or carrots (not both), but I like the combination of the two together plus a handful of hijiki seaweed.

1/2 lb burdock root
1/2 lb carrots
1/2 cup dried hijiki seaweed
sesame oil
soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup

Peel and slice burdock into matchsticks (about 3 inches long and 1/2 cm wide) and set in a bowl of cold water + 1 tblsp vinegar. This is to keep the burdock from discoloring. Peel and slice carrots in the same way. Submerge hijiki in cold water; drain when softened and about quadrupled in size.

Heat one tbsp of sesame oil in a frying pan. Add chopped burdock root and carrots, plus about 2 tbsp of soy sauce (or less, if you like your food less salty). Stir-fry about 3 minutes, then sprinkle brown sugar/molasses/maple syrup over the vegetables and add the drained hijiki. Stir-fry another 10 minutes. Done!

Stewed pumpkin:
For this batch, I used a small Jarrahdale pumpkin I got from Paradise Valley Produce the last time I visited. The standard squash to use is some sort of kabocha, which is sweeter and starchier than the Jarrahdale, which is somewhat bland but has a moister, more yam-like texture.

1 3lb winter squash or pumpkin (not a Sugar Pie or Cinderella, as these will not hold up in the stewing pot)
2 cups dashi or fish stock
1/4 c soy sauce
1 inch-long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly crosswise
brown sugar/molasses/maple syrup to taste
3 tbsp sake

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and veins, then slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch crescents lengthwise. Heat dashi together with the ginger slices until it reaches a slow boil. Mix in the soy sauce, sweetener (I say “to taste” b/c the sweetness of this dish can vary very widely) and the sake. Then, add the squash slices and turn heat down to a simmer. Simmer about 40 minutes, or until the squash is soft all the way through.

Note: I’m a little alarmed to find that health warnings have been issued in a number of countries (the U.K., New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong) advising people to avoid consumption of hijiki due to high arsenic levels. Not quite sure what to make of it – I’ve been eating it all my life and I’m not dead yet; on the other hand, the same could be said of a lot of things that aren’t healthy. Decide for yourself. Kinpira is just as good without it and I certainly don’t want to be accused to poisoning anyone with Japanese food!

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I love finding unusual vegetables and thinking of ways to cook them.

A jaunt up to the farm just before Christmas yielded a huge bounty of wild radish greens, which is both of one my favorite vegetables and also something I’ve never seen in a store or a farmers market, most likely because it’s a weed. It sprouts like crazy throughout the year, especially as it gets colder. If you have a garden, or have strolled through an area farm, you’ve probably seen it – it grows to about 3 feet and has little pinwheel flowers that are generally either yellow, white or lavender.

The plant looks very much like a taller, spindlier version of broccoli raab, which it also closely resembles in taste. It quickly grows tough and fibrous, so it has to be harvested when the tips are still young and tender, ideally before the flower opens and the inflorescence is just emerging from the stalk. I felt very lucky indeed to coincidentally be on the farm when this prolific weed was just entering the phase when it’s ideal for picking.

There are a couple of ways to cook it. It’s got a one-two punch of brazen mustardy bite plus an undertone of bitterness, which I think gives it character, but which could be off-putting to people who prefer their vegetables to be more demure. So a good way to temper it is to make tempura with it – this brings out the tender snap of the stalk, crisps the leaves and mellows the bitterness.

Another method is to stir-fry at high heat with a prodigious amount of toasted sesame oil, a dash of maple syrup or brown sugar, and about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce per pound.

A more traditional way to cook it is to use it in oshitashi – some recipes call for things like mirin, sake or sesame of some sort, but I like to just splash some soy sauce on it with a handful of katsuo flakes and call it ready. This is the plainest preparation of the green, one which doesn’t mask the bitter spiciness of the vegetable, and one that goes especially well with a nice rich fish accompaniment like the one below.

I was also delighted to come across some Scarlet Queen turnips at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the Eatwell Farms stand. I think it’s a shame that turnips are generally either neglected or reviled in American food because they require so little preparation to bring out their juicy sweetness. They’re best when they’re on the smaller side (i.e., not too much larger than golf-ball sized), as fresh as possible and not too mature. Sometimes you get turnips that have been sitting around in the ground for too long, and the mellow tenderness that make them so delicious has dissipated into a searing, nose-clearing mustardy taste.

My father used to have a batch of turnip pickles going whenever they were in season, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to replicate that out here. These turnips were especially nice because their festive reddish-pink blush added a bit of cheer to what’s otherwise a relatively drab-looking vegetable. I cut them into thin, half-moon slivers and layered them in a glass dish with a bit of yuzu peel, salt and kombu. Then I put some plastic wrap over them, weighted them down with a jug of water and waited an hour. I also pickled the greens in a similar fashion, but replaced the salt with light miso and added a tsp each of sake and mirin. Add some rice, miso soup and a protein of some sort and you’ve got a meal!


Clockwise, from top: hijiki brown rice, wild radish green oshitashi, pickled turnips w/ sesame oil, miso-pickled turnip greens, miso soup, sauteed wild radish greens, fried sand

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Delicatas are probably my favorite kind of winter squash. They have the perfect texture, aren’t too moist or too dry and have a deliriously sweet taste that goes well with all things winter. The standard way of cooking them is to simply cut them in half, brush them with olive oil and then bake them until soft – at which point you can gobble the whole thing down, skin and all.

But that would be so easy. It wouldn’t require hours of baking, boiling, pureeing, fussing and mess-making in the kitchen. So I decided to try making delicata gnocchi. Now, I love gnocchi, but I absolutely hate it when they’re too heavy and you feel like you have a leaden torpedo of dough in your stomach from eating them. Here’s what went into the dough:

The meat from 4 roasted, seeded delicata squash and 3 baked russet potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Instead of adding flour to the dough until it became manageable enough to roll out and cut into pieces, I just left it as it was and used a spoon and a pastry spatula to spoon the dough up, divide it and drop it straight into boiling water. This I served with fennel sauce:

3 fennel bulbs, browned in a covered pan with 2 tbsp olive oil
blended with
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

I reserved some fronds off the fennel to mince and toss on top for an extra anise-y kick. As you can see, it wasn’t the most elegant meal, but it was damn tasty.

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The most delicious yogurt in the world.

OK, so perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it really is sensational. I picked it up on a whim from Avedano’s, and it was well worth the price ($3!!!). Light years beyond even better yogurts like Nancy’s. AND for people who have trouble digesting bovine dairy (not me, thank god!), made from sheep’s milk. It has a velvety mouthfeel with a hint of pleasant graininess from the vanilla and isn’t at all mutton-y.

Not sure if it’s better than St. Benoit, another local Bay Area producer, but it is just as creamy without the slightly heavy, fatty taste of St. Benoit. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – yogurt is meant to be delicious, not a diet food.

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