Posts Tagged season

Surprise! Look what I found in my CSA box last week.

The Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.


Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish.

When I pulled these two beauties out of the box last week, I was clueless. And since I am pretty knowledgeable about foods, clueless doesn’t happen to me very often.

The situation called for immediate investigation. One root got washed and cut in half. I was blown away by that gorgeous vibrant fuchsia color. Never would I have guessed that this mundane root could reveal such a photogenic interior!

Next question is how does it taste? So the root got peeled. What a pleasant surprise. A mild crisp slightly sharp taste reminiscent of turnips.

Only then did it occur to me to figure out the name of what I just ate and that was when I started to learn about the watermelon radish. It’s a member of the Brassica (mustard) family along with arugula, broccoli and turnips according to the CSA website. An edible globular root attached to thin stems and wavy green leaves. The exterior is creamy white with pale green shoulders, a sign of the chlorophyll it received from exposure to the sun. Watermelon radish flesh is white closest to the exterior and becomes bright, circular striations of pink and magenta toward the center. Hence, the watermelon reference.

So what to do with this gorgeous root? The one reference provided by the CSA was a recipe from Whole Foods for cooked radishes. No way was I going to cook the root. Heat would just mute that crisp flavor and potentially destroy the vibrant color.

As I was musing how I would plate and present the root, I ended up eating quite a few pieces. One thing for sure. It’s a tasty root.

A Google search revealed that watermelon radishes have been available in the US for at least a couple of years and seem to be more often associated with the west coast as opposed to the east coast. I did find one outlier CSA in Idaho however proudly touting the beauty and virtues of watermelon radishes. Most recipes I found reflected my original take that the root is better presented raw in a salad than cooked as a side dish. It’s always nice to see one’s own culinary judgment supported by others.

That first root, or I should say what was left of it, went on top of a green salad. Color contrast was striking. Roots are good keepers, so I won’t use the other root until I’ve more time to think about presentation and pairings. I think combining the root with avocado might be a good way to go.

On the Healthy versus Healthy infograph, watermelon radishes are getting a phytonutrients tag. A root with that much pigment that is also a member of the brassica family has phytonutrition even if the research nutritionists have not given the pigment a name or measured the amount. Check the tag line for my other ratings.

Tags: , , , , ,

My romance with broccoli.

organic broccoli

organic broccoli

 

Pictured above is the broccoli that came in this week’s CSA box. Pristine, lovely, organic, and ready to use. And not a worm or an aberrant insect to be seen.

I love broccoli. We eat seasonal and local which here in the north east means mid-summer into late fall. Seasonal and local also means organic broccoli from a CSA or greenmarket.

My broccoli is usually braised in olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt. More than al dente but never over-cooked. I cut the flowered heads off from the stem, removing the tough fibrous skin from the stalks, and cut the stems into bite sized pieces. No need to get too fancy with broccoli because it tastes so good on its own.

We eat broccoli in season, but in the depths of a north east winter, that vibrant green California crop looks pretty good. So not being a purist, we also eat broccoli out of season. I’m okay with conventional during the winter when my local grocer has a good selection.

I used to get romantic about broccoli. Especially a broccoli that I picked myself right off the stalk. But I learned a harsh lesson during that first year I cooked in Garches. And I have looked at broccoli with a realistic eye ever since.

My friend Isabelle has a beautiful house and property in this little suburb half way between Paris and Versailles. She had an arrangement with a local gardener. He could grow whatever vegetable he wanted to and sell them in return for making the garden available to us. And we ate marvelously well from that garden!

I would just go out and pick whatever I wanted each day. Broccoli came in that fall and I was there to pick some for supper. But just once.

Being young and romantic I believed all that was natural was good. Now a farmer knows that when you grow broccoli, you have to deal with worms. Organic or conventional, worms love broccoli. However the farmer decides to farm it, worms are part of the calculation. But I grew up in the suburbs so how was I supposed to know?

Conventional farmers use conventional pesticides; organic farmers use USDA organically approved pesticides. I don’t think this guy used anything. The broccoli was completely natural and completely full of worms.

I put up a valiant battle. But the worms outnumbered and out gunned me. There were so many I gave up trying and ended up dumping everything back out somewhere behind a bush. I could not look at broccoli again for a long time.

My love of broccoli did return but I lost my romanticism, but I still find myself checking for little nasty critters. So God Bless whatever my organic farmer / conventional farmer needs to so I don’t have to deal with worms.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What to do with too many vegetables soup.

vegetable soup

zucchini, collard, potato soup

I love soups. Especially as we move into fall and the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Warm, appetizing, aromatic, easy to make, and one of the best ways to use up vegetables when you have too many. Like when my CSA keeps sending me more vegetables than we can eat.

That’s my soup pictured above. Those very dark green pieces are collards. The softer light green pieces are zucchini. Potatoes blend in to add consistency and softness. And the orange pieces are carrots from the soffritto.

Because the CSA keeps sending me vegetables we don’t usually eat, like zucchini or collards or potatoes, my creative cooking skills have been getting challenged on a weekly basis. But nothing can go to waste, so here’s how I handled the overload from the last couple of weeks.

Every soup gets started the same way. I pull out my AllClad 4 liter soup pot and start the soffritto. Put some olive oil, a chopped onion, some chopped carrot and celery in the pot and let it all slowly sauté until the onion starts to turn color.Soggriggere is the Italian word for sauté and my soups always start with a soffritto.

Now comes the fun part. Open the frig.

First I found those two remaining zucchini from I think two weeks ago. One was big enough to have seeds inside so I had to scrape them out. The other one was smaller and was good to go. Washed, trimmed, and chopped the zucchini goes into the pot. I let the zucchini pieces start to brown in the olive oil. Thank goodness it’s the end of the season because I am running out of zucchini ideas. Could anyone imagine a vegetable more devoid of character or taste than a zucchini?

Then I found the bag of the collard leaves. Collards are an incredibly healthy phytonutrient rich vegetable, but my preference is kale or rapini or chard. Collards are, however, good in soups because they hold both shape and color during cooking. So I washed the leaves, removed the thick spine, chopped then up in small pieces, and put them in the pot.

Can’t forget potatoes! I have eaten more potatoes this fall than I’ve eaten over the last couple of years combined. The potato skin needs good scrubbing but no need to remove it. Just cut them up in pieces and into the pot they go.

Then I add a liter box of chicken stock (low sodium) to the pot along with some dry herbes de province. Fresh herbs work better, but I didn’t have any on hand. And finally 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Everything gets to slowly simmer together for about 40 minutes.

Once all the vegetables soften and start to blend, I run the pieces through my food mill and soup comes out the other end. I prefer the rough cut version you see in the picture so I use the largest grate of the food mill. It’s just that easy to make 2 liters of vegetable soup. Any greens you have on hand should work just fine.

To see how the soup scores on my Healthy versus Healthy infograph, check the tags.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

When healthy makes you gag!

image

Fall is the season for so many good healthy vegetables. Brassica like kale, rapini, cauliflower, sprouts. Celeriac. Onions. Late season storage carrots. And squashes like butternut, spaghetti, pumpkin, and acorn.

My CSA Keeps sending me squashes and I have a problem. Acorn squash and speghetti squash make me gag.

All vegetables are healthy but some vegetables are more healthy. Pigment color is the marker for certain phytonutrients. Red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetable are rich in carotinoids. And winter squash is nothing if not deep orange. That deep vibrant color marks heavy concentrations. So I have tried on many occasions and failed. Acorn squash just makes me gag.

Besides there is no point in signing up for a CSA and then not eating what arrives each week. Or at the very least giving it away.

Pictured above are two acorn and one sweet dumpling. And I anticipate more squash next week. It’s squash season.

So last week I put on my creative cooking cap and came up with the following solution. Every Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a squash in the same family as acorn so what would happen is if I just substituted the same amount of steamed acorn for canned pumpkin?

And my good idea worked beautifully. Acorn squash makes an excellent pumpkin pie. We can’t say my pie is as healthy as a serving of the vegetable because the squash comes along with added sugar and more refined carbohydrate which dilute the phytonutrition. However it’s fresh, local, and delicious. I can eat it without gagging and not a single squash will go to waste. Each of my acorn squash pies makes 6 servings so at 340 calories per piece, we are going to need to keep our eye on portion size and frequency.

Here are the proportions I used:

1 2/3 cup purée (pumpkin, acorn squash)/ 400 grams
2 eggs
3/4 cup turbinado sugar / 150 grams
2/3 cup milk / 150 ml
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 tablespoons butter / 30 grams
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 prepared 9 inch graham cracker crust

Steam acorn squash or open the canned pumpkin. Melt butter. Assemble ingredients. Combine squash or pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, flour, butter, vanilla, spices, salt in mixing bowl. Whisk just enough to blend thoroughly. Pour into 9 inch graham cracker crust. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F and bake addition 40 minutes. Remove and cool at least 2 hours before serving.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

OMG Just picked up 8 pounds of tomatoes!

8 pounds do tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

10 enormous tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

I had planned to start putting down some preliminary thoughts on a controversial issue GMO and then my CSA box arrived with 8 pounds of tomatoes. OMG!

One weighty issue immediately replaced by another weighty issue. They were big ones 13 – 14 ounces / 370 grams each. We can’t eat that many tomatoes in one week so now what to do?

I’ve done canning in the past but it’s a hassle and I can’t even remember who my canning equipment got donated to. So I pulled out the iPad and went to work. Pulled up a Household USDA Food Facts Sheet on fresh tomatoes.

• Tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not store in a plastic bag. Store in a single layer, as stacking tomatoes may cause them to become mushy.

• Fresh tomatoes may be frozen whole, chopped, or sliced. Wash tomatoes and remove the stem, store in a tightly closed plastic bag, then freeze up to 8 month

That’s it. I’ll freeze them. Minimal labor, easy, quick, and I have some extra freezer space. All I need is some fresh basil, my trusty tomato knife, a good scrubbing brush, ziplock bags, and some discretionary time.

First step was to wash and scrub well. Remove the core and outside blemishes. Need to work quickly to preserve freshness. Each day they sit on the counter increases risk of further deterioration.

The whole process took me about 40 minutes. Two chopped tomatoes plus a handful of basil per bag. Push out the extra air, zip it up, weight it, and put it in freezer. I ended up with five bags 700 grams / 1.5 pounds each. Cheaper and better than a brick pack and did it myself.

Tomatoes come in with a vengeance this time of year, but those bags are going to look pretty good over the next couple of months. Do I need to count them as processed food? Yes, technically that’s exactly what they are. I’ll settle on minimally processed.

Now for that other weighty matter. Tomatoes got me to thinking about availability. With a seasonal crop that only comes in once per year, cooks need to make adjustments. During the winter when tomatoes are out of season here in the North East I fall back on hydroponic tomatoes usually from Canada. Then I got to wondering. Do you suppose anyone has ever tried to genetically modify a hydroponic tomato for increased flavor?

Tags: , , , , , ,

End of August means ratatouille.

image

My end of August tradition is a ratatouille. The vegetables are ripe and ready to go in incredible abundance and we love the way it tastes. But trying to write out “my” recipe is really hopeless because I just can’t seem to make the dish the same way each time.

My proportions are usually roughly the same. One big beautiful eggplant will weight about 1 pound / 500 grams. Then I look for an equivalent weight of zucchini and peppers. Green or yellow are both good. As for the peppers, different colors contribute rich beautiful colors. Olive oil, some onion, garlic, basil, or other herb de province and that’s that. And salt. Don’t forget about the salt.

Some recommend cooking it all in the same pot. Others strictly detail the step by step procedure for cooking each vegetable separately before combining them into the final presentation. Most recipes specify stovetop braising, but I though to myself today while I was washing and trimming “I wonder if anyone has ever slow braised a ratatouille in the oven?” And sure enough you can do it that way too. There are celebrity chef versions and regular folk versions. Just in my own collection of books I have several English versions plus at least two French versions.

I have experimented at one time or another with them all and my google search brought up a momentous amount of data which suggests that ratatouille is still trending.

Each year I seem to end up doing something new. So we’ll call this my 2014 version.

I used the two step method of browning in one pot then transferring to bigger pot. Eggplant is a thirsty vegetable so I added extra oil and cut back a little from the zucchini and peppers. After each browsing, I deglazed my pan with white vermouth so as to have a clean start for the next in line. Never tried that one before but it’s a keeper.

To save some chopping time, I tried chopping the onions in the Cuisinart. Ended up with onion mush. I salvaged some of the mush and hand chopped my last yellow onion. Will never make that mistake again.

And instead on braising on top on the stove, I baked my ratatouille uncovered in a slow oven 275 degrees Fahrenheit / 135 degrees Celsius. The ratatouille slowly released its moisture over about 2 1/2 hours. This is easier that watching a pan in the stove so this one is a keeper too.

Since my preference is not too much excess liquid, I usually do a final reduction after the vegetables have are cooked. Just remove the vegetables and boil the remaining juice down to a thick sauce. Makes for a better presentation.

Tonight I will have vegetables for dinner garnished with some grated parmigianno. The ratatouille always tastes better the day after and we will indulge tomorrow with an appropriate protein accompaniment.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Can we eat healthy and high fat?

summer flounder | gourmet metrics

summer flounder | gourmet metrics

 

Wednesday is fish night and summer flounder is what I served for supper a couple weeks ago. The piece I picked out weighing about 2/3 pound (300 grams) so at $15 a pound, I paid about $10.

At my table small is beautiful, so a little bit of protein goes a long way. Just the two of us that night and we split the flounder. That piece pictured above was my half. Cooked and ready to serve let’s say about 4 ounces (120 grams) which by American standards is on the skimpy side. But taste wise and protein wise (15 grams) it’s enough for me.

Some of my more zealous colleagues look at flounder as a low calorie / low fat option because the fish is so lean. Not me. Now I love flounder or fluke as some call it because the flesh is so delicate and the taste so subtle, but even this eater has to admit that all by itself flounder tends to be on the bland side.

My way to cook flounder is to pan-fry in olive oil, season with salt, kiss with pepper, finish with whisper of unsalted butter, and serve with a twist of lemon. Delicious but not low fat.

For the rest of the plate, steamed local spinach and farro. Local fresh spinach has plenty of flavor and to my taste at least needs nothing else, not even salt. I added some farro for whole grain carbohydrate but I took the picture before putting it on the plate. We finished off with a salad of finely diced kohlrabi, red Boston lettuce, Napa cabbage, and a couple of hydro-tomatoes dressed with my vinaigrette. And local blueberries for dessert.

The calorie count ran around 650 per person. Not a big meal by American standards but more than enough for us. It was a work night and we prefer not to have a heavy meal before going to bed.

Sounds pretty healthy doesn’t it? Let’s take a look.

Protein. A modest portion. Bonus points for seafood.

Vegetables. 6 different kinds of vegetables, total of 2 cups. Bonus points for dark green.

Fruit. Blueberries, rich in Anthocyanins, 1/2 cup. Bonus points for whole fruit.

Whole Grain. Farro is a wheat (not gluten free) and one of my favorite ancient grains. Bonus points for whole grain.

Fatty Acid Ratio: excellent which means more olive oil and less butter.

Sodium. 780 mg for the meal and 33% DV.

And for added value the meal qualifies as sustainable and affordable. In New York, flounder is local and not currently overfished. And despite the high price per pound, a modest serving size makes the cost manageable.

But there is always that question from the back of the room. How about fat? No problem. I’m a nutrition nerd and I always have the numbers. The percentage is above the recommended cut off which puts my meal into the high fat range. Not a meal for someone who needs to adhere to a low fat regime or who believes only low fat meals are healthy.

And because regulatory compliance is cast in concrete leaving little flexibility for humans to exercise judgment, labeling my meal healthy would be illegal.

It’s what I call healthy versus healthy.

And that’s why, when it comes to my own table, I exercise culinary judgment.

“Judgment is to law as water is to crops. It should not be surprising that law has become brittle, and society along with it.” The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard, 1994

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Healthy can be seen, touched, and tasted … sometimes.

photo | gourmet metrics

photo | gourmet metrics

 

These are red, fragile, stem ripened local, end of season strawberries. The picture of healthy. Ephemeral, perfect, delicious.

So how do I know they are healthy? The farmer I bought them from told me they were picked the day before I bought them. They looked good, felt good, and tasted good. But I will be honest, there was no label or organic certification or other guideline for confirmation. And even if there had been, these picture perfect strawberries might have carried some pesky microorganism so you better believe that I washed them before eating.

Strawberry season has come and gone here into Northeast, but looking at those berries in all their pristine beauty helped me put the final piece in place on an observation that has been troubling me since last summer about the same time of the year.

I was picking out vegetables from a farmer I like when an attractive, articulate, well educated young woman came up from behind and starting asking all kinds of questions about the vegetables and the strawberries

Now I am the last one to say don’t ask questions. I ask so many questions that some people don’t want to be bothered with me. A royal pain in the ass some would say.

No, her questions didn’t bother me.

What troubled me was her unwillingness to accept answers.

Now I liked this particular farmer for a couple of reasons. Besides strawberries, she always had excellent local peaches, seasonal tomatoes, and a consistently good spread of local greens. It was also a family affair. The lady in charge looked and talked like she had spend her whole life growing vegetables. She came across to me as credible, authentic, and wise. She knew how to store onions and could tell me that the reason some onions rotted from the inside out while other onions were really good keepers. “You have to pull them out and let them really dry out before moving to storage …” The onions I bought from her never rotted out before I used them either.

She sat in the back of her stand and left most of the customer dealings to her niece. So the articulate woman began her questioning with the niece.

The articulate woman wanted to know if the produce was certified organic. Her questions were pointed and intense and anxious. She knew just how to drill down. The niece answered as best she could but since the farm has not bothered to get certified the answers were not what the articulate woman was looking for.

Now I already knew this farm was not certified organic because I had asked the same questions myself. “We just don’t want to bother with the extra paperwork. Too much hassle. You’re going to have to trust us …”

That was good enough for me.

It was not however what the articulate woman wanted to hear. I could tell she might have been tempted by the way she looked at my selections laid out and waiting to be packed into my bags. “I am just really afraid of all that poison … ”

So she left to look elsewhere.

I looked at the niece and the niece looked back at me and that was that.

This exchange has been haunting me ever since. And what it really comes down to is trust. People can lie. Our senses can deceive. Labels can mislead. Certifications can be fictitious. But we still have to eat and we still have to make decisions.

So the exchange has played over and over again in my head for a year. I keep wanting to reassure that articulate young woman that yes it’s a food jungle out here and yes being skeptical is important, but sometimes it’s okay to go with your gut.

But she went away as quickly and she appeared and I never saw her again.

Tags: , , , , ,

Look what I found in the farmer’s market!

snap peas, French breakfast radishes, carrots

snap peas, French breakfast radishes, carrots

Just in the Catskills for the weekend so not much time to cook. We usually go out for dinner before going back to the city, but there is always lunch. And I was in the mood for a surprise.

It’s early summer in the Hudson Valley and the growing season has begun. We picked up some cheddar cheese, crusty bread, and these radishes, carrots, and snap peas so small and tender you can eat them in the shell.

The little carrots needed a good scrubbing, but the radishes and peas were much easier to wash. I arranged them on a little plate with the red on the top, the orange on the bottom and the green in the middle. Really nice presentation.

Living in France introduced me to eating little radishes with butter and salt as an appetizer. My radishes from market were not that small and delicate, but tasted pretty good all the same. The carrots are actually mature despite their small size. The softest and most delicate of the lot were the little green snap peas.

You just never know what you are going to find at the farmers market.

A lot of folks would rather shop familiar settings. You know the predictable kind of layout where the choices are available all year round. Shopping these stores actually permits list making. People can decide what mood they are in, decide what they want to eat, write out the list, and now with technology punch it and have it all delivered to their door. As for me I love to be surprised.

The modern supermarket is truly a miraculous phenomenon. But surprises are something you will not find at a super market. What I really love about shopping these farmer’s markets is I can almost always find something I have never seen before. Like those dwarf carrots.

My idea of fun is arriving at the market with an open mind, wandering around and picking up what looks interesting, bringing it home, and then deciding how to put it all together.

Just like I did with my early summer medley of radish, carrot, and green snap pea. I love surprises.

Tags: , , , ,

Why don’t more people use fruit ripeners?

photo | gourmet metrics

photo | gourmet metrics

This is my fruit ripener. See that band of plastic there on the right side of the picture? That is the edge of the plastic bowl. After taking out what I need, I put the plastic cover back on.

Plenty of strategically placed ventilation holes for good circulation on both bowl and cover. My fruits are protected from outside contamination like dust. The cover also holds in beneficial gases for enhanced ripening. And I always put a paper towel in the bottom to absorb any excess moisture and to keep fruits from directly touching the plastic.

What you see in the bowl is a random selection for late June. Avocado and hydroponic tomatoes are available all year. But those nectarines are one of the first of the summer fruits. The ones in the bowl are from California.

After nectarines, I start buying local New York State for summer fruit. Apricots, peaches, all kinds of plums, and seasonal tomatoes. Moving into fall, there are numerous varieties of pears and kiwis. Winter is citrus, but those fruits are best kept in the refrigerator. Moving into spring of course the first tree fruits are cherries, but they too are keep better in the frig. Then we start again with nectarines. The fruit ripener gets year round use in my kitchen thought for non seasonal tomatoes and avocados.

The fruit ripener sits in a corner of my crowded workspace because of the important service it provides. I don’t forget about my fruits because I look at them everyday. Fruit ripens at its speed. The avocado is not ripe because I want to make a guacamole. It’s ripe when it is ready. But I can check things out every day. If one of my fruits starts to go bad, I pull it out, salvage what I can, and keep contamination from spreading.

So I say to myself, why don’t more people use fruit ripeners?

Maybe limited counter space?

Most kitchens nowadays are gigantic and full of all kinds of gadgets and tools. No something else must be going on. It’s my cramped New York City kitchen that has no counter space, but I can still find room.

Maybe folks don’t know how to prepare fruit? Or maybe they just don’t know fruit is a no work eating experience. That is a possibility.

But my gut says the real reason is that people don’t eat a lot of fruit.

And people who don’t eat a lot of fruit do not need a fruit ripener.

Fruit can be expensive. Actually very expensive. And if you don’t eat the fruit when it’s ready, one more chemistry experiment goes in the garbage can.

Habit may also be a contributing factor. I’m in the habit of having a piece after dinner every night. Not because I’m a dietitian, but because I like fruit. Most people I know given a choice of ice cream or a fresh ripe nectarine will opt for the ice cream. Not me, but I’m just weird that way.

Now being a dietitian, I wish more people would eat more fruit.

But also being an incorrigible optimist who likes to keep my focus on the positive side of the spectrum, I do see the bright side. The more good fruit out there, the more there is for me.

Tags: , , , , ,