Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Empty Your Veggie Drawer

We have a bountiful supply of vegetables from our CSA this time of year, and so it was very cool to get wind of this recipe for Quinoa Risotto that Project Fresh gave out this season. (Project Fresh is an income-based program that provides participants with vouchers for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmer's markets. They also educate families on how to store and prepare fresh vegetables in order to encourage increased consumption.)

This is a two pot/pan dish, helps you get rid of a LOT of veggies in one fell swoop, and encourages improvisation.

(NOTE: Quinoa is a powerhouse of a food. Though not technically a grain, it’s cooked the same as you would rice, but it provides much more fiber. It contains the right combination of essential amino acids that makes it a complete protein, and also contains a substantial amount of calcium.)

Quinoa Risotto (makes 2 giant meals or 4 large side-dish portions)

1 cup dry quinoa
1 ½ cups water

4-5 cups chicken broth (give or take, because that’s how risotto works)
2 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced sweet onion (about 1 medium sized)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 lb. veggies of your choice (pictured here, I used 8 oz. halved and seeded grape tomatoes, and about a pound of chopped mustard greens and Swiss chard)
1-2 T fresh herbs of your choice (Basil used here)
Salt and pepper to taste
Two palmfuls grated Parmesan cheese

For the Quinoa:
1. Rinse off the quinoa and drain in a fine-meshed strainer. Combine quinoa and water in a medium to large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Bring heat back up to medium-high. Add chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring. All broth must be fully absorbed before the next cup is added. Continue in this pattern until the quinoa is fully cooked, tender, but still springy, and has a nice, thickened “sauce” about it. Add more broth if necessary.
3. Cover, keep warm.

For the Vegetables:
1. In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until onions are soft, translucent, and just beginning to brown.
2. Add remaining vegetables and sauté until cooked. (NOTE: if you cooking greens, add them last. Turn your heat up to high before adding them—the trick here is to cook them fast so that their liquids evaporate. You don’t want a juicy mess with your veggies.
3. Add the quinoa to the veggies, throw in the Parmesan cheese, stir, and season with salt and pepper.

Other combinations to try:
- thinly sliced cabbage, chopped red bell pepper, greens
- zucchini, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, basil
- roasted butternut squash, fresh thyme, lots of sweet onion
- toss in other cheeses like cubed mozzarella or goat cheese
- add ½ cup red or white wine into the quinoa/broth process

Monday, July 28, 2008

Homecoming, Part Deux

It’s been a month since the trip back home to SC, but since I posted a “Part One,” I thought it best to make good on the implication of more Carolina goodness. Well, y’all, here it is.

Tasting the "New" South

(Cornmeal Fried Green Tomatoes)

The first outing of the vacation was an excellent dinner at a well-known Columbia spot, Mr.Friendly’s New Southern Café. Located in the Five Points neighborhood near the University of South Carolina, Mr. Friendly’s was the place to go on a nice date when I was in college—as opposed to the Pita Pit across the street.

(Needless to say, none of my romantic interests ever took me to Mr. Friendly’s.)

What does New Southern cuisine mean? Well, as far as I can tell, it means tasty Southern staples, prettied up on your plate with a garnish of micro-greens…the general idea being for you to enjoy the fried, fatty goodness without thinking about the sweaty people back in the kitchen who man the fryers all night long. I’m only half kidding.

We shared an appetizer of the Cornmeal Fried Green Tomatoes, which were served stacked—crispy, tangy bricks held together with a generous mortar of applewood bacon-cheddar pimento cheese. Heaven.

My entrée, Peach Mustard BBQ Glazed Atlantic Salmon, was also delectable, and definitely exemplary of what “New Southern” cuisine is all about—an homage to South Carolina’s undying obsession with mustard-based barbeque sauce (I could take a bath in it!), served with restraint on salmon instead of the standard (beloved) pork. The peach element in the dish was a candied pecan-peach salsa spooned over the top, which needed a more acid and spice. But the creamed grits served on the side made me forget any other possible criticism of the dish. Full of cream, butter, and garlic, the grits were like bites of pure nostalgia for me.

My Greasy Lover

My other meal of note was at Bojangle’s Famous Chicken and Biscuits. It’s a chain that’s been around the southern states since 1977, and I love it without shame. What makes it famous?

For one, their Cajun fried chicken is awesome, with spicy seasoning rubbed underneath the skin so it has direct contact with the meat. Then the chicken is hand battered and fried to perfection. They make buttermilk biscuits from scratch all day long, and their side dishes, called “fixins” are also quite tasty—especially the dirty rice, Cajun pintos, and spicy Cajun seasoned fries. A diehard will enjoy her chicken dinner with a nice diabetic coma-inducing sweet tea, which is like a whole separate food group in South Carolina.

Don’t cringe—Bojangle’s is worlds away from KFC, and if you’re ever in the South I highly recommend it. (There’s even one in the Charlotte International Airport, for those just passing through.)

(The Real Deal)

(Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, relation)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Heart Tarts

Currants are still at the Ann Arbor farmers market, and the jewel-like translucence of the red currants is just too seductive for me to pass up. While red currants are quite tart and are typically cooked with plenty of sugar, the black currants are just sweet enough to eat fresh. The addition of sugar (not too much, but not too little) cuts past the assertive tartness to allow the fruits’ real flavor to shine through—unique, refreshing and a bit wild and hard to place.

Wasem Fruit Farm sells them, and the gal at their table at the market today said that they have large groups of Russians out to their farm lately, picking masses of currants and gooseberries. (What do the Russians know that we don’t?!)

The web is full of all sorts of recipes using currants. I based the red currant tart recipe below on a European site, making the metric conversions and finding a simpler version of the classic paté sucrée. (Why fuss around rolling out a crust if you can just press it into your tart pan?) This recipe is dead simple, and in about an hour you can have a gorgeous tart that will taste as good (and French) as it looks.

Red Currant Tart

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
8 Tbsp chilled butter, cut into small cubes
4 Tbsp heavy cream

14 oz red currants- stemmed, washed, and dried gently on a paper towel
2 eggs
5 Tbsp brown sugar
3.5 oz heavy cream
½ of a vanilla bean, scraped (if you want to get fancy with it—and make sure to save the pods to make vanilla sugar! Never let a perfectly good vanilla bean pod go to waste.)

1. Preheat oven to 350°
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Using a hand-held pastry blender (you could probably just as well use a food processor), completely combine butter into flour mixture until the texture is fine grained and is like barely damp sand. There should be no gobs of butter visible.
3. Drizzle in vanilla extract and cream, then use a spoon and then clean hands to fully combine, forming a crumbly pastry dough.
4. Press dough evenly into a 10-inch tart pan. You can also use a pie pan of any size, but you’ll probably find yourself with more pastry than you need—or a thicker crust. Using a fork, pierce the dough all over to prevent puffing up in the oven.
5. Bake in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Keep watch over your crust, as baking time will vary depending on the pan you chose.
6. Remove crust from the oven to cool a bit.
7. While crust is baking, in a medium sized bowl whisk to combine eggs, cream, brown sugar and vanilla to combine.
8. Once crust has cooled a bit, lay currants in the bottom of the crust in a single layer. Gently pour egg mixture over currants—the liquid should be about three quarters up the pan, and not completely covering your currants. The custard will rise a bit as it cooks.
9. Bake tart at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set in the center and the crust becomes a nice golden brown. If crust is brown but the center is not fully set, cover the tart very loosely with a piece of foil. Remove from the oven to cool. Serve warm or chilled.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Luke...I am your fava.

Today I hit the market nice and early to meet fellow blogger and friend Kim (aka: The Farmers Marketer) for shopping and coffee. She pointed me toward the baskets of fava beans that Tantré Farms was offering, and after discussing the probability that these could be more trouble than they’re worth, we each bought two boxes.

With my market bag filled with local edibles, I headed home to figure out lunch, committed to making something easy but fabulous with the favas.

A Note: Fava beans may be the ultimate “slow food” vegetable, considering that a pound or so of whole fava beans, once shelled, only yields about a cup and a half of beans. Once shelled, the beans need to be blanched and then popped from their skins, yielding about a cup of edible food.

Once prepped, fava beans are quick cooking and easy to use in all sorts of tasty recipes from soups to dips to sautés, as I did below.

Sauté of Fava Beans, Artichokes, and Pancetta (Yields one generous serving)

1-2 pound of unshelled fresh fava beans
8-10 ounces of artichoke hearts, quartered (I used frozen ones, defrosted)
3 Tablespoons diced onion
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 jarred Pepperoncini peppers, drained, left whole
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
Parmesan Cheese, for sprinkling

1. Prep the fava beans: Remove beans from their pods. Drop beans into a pot of salted, boiling water for 3 minutes; drain, then transfer to an ice water bath for 5 minutes. Remove skins from each bean. Discard pods and skins.
2. In a large frying pan, fry pancetta over medium heat for 3 minutes or so, until it starts to crisp a bit and a good bit of the fat is rendered to liquid. Pour off some of the fat if desired.
3. Add onions and Pepperoncini, sauté until onion is soft and translucent.

(Onion, pancetta, and pepperoncini- what wouldn't taste good after mingling with these ingredients?)

4. Add artichoke hearts, sautéing over medium-high heat until heated through and lightly browned.
5. Add fava beans, stirring lightly for 1-2 minutes. Add lemon juice, toss lightly.
6. Transfer vegetables to plates, topping with black pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Homecoming Part One

They say that everything moves slower down South. Whoever ‘they’ are, they’re right. The thick summer heat sucks the energy right out of your body as soon as you step out the door. There’s no use putting a spring in your step, lest you be drenched in sweat within minutes.

The service down South is noticeably slower, as are speed limits on the interstate. Even the southern drawl is lazy, turning a one syllable word like, “Hi” into the extended two syllable greeting, “Hey.”

On my recent vacation back home to South Carolina, I decided to surrender to the lackadaisical ways of the American South and just enjoy- stifling humidity and all.

A few early culinary highlights of my SC vacation:

Fruit and Cheese- A Perfect Beginning or End.

Dad’s fig tree was heavy with ripe fruit. We improvised an appetizer by stuffing the figs with fresh ricotta cheese, and drizzled on some local honey and cracked black pepper.

It was also blackberry season during my vacation—but with a heat index of 102 degrees, firing up the oven for a cobbler or pie lost all appeal. Instead, we folded tangy lemon curd into mascarpone cheese and spooned the mixture over fresh blackberries. Cool and lazy, it was the perfect dessert to follow pimento cheeseburgers on the grill.

More to come, but in the meantime:

South Carolina Fact-O-the-Blog: SC's official state beverage is...milk.