WEEK SIX CSA CHALLENGE – A TASTE OF THE ISLANDS, MAHN!

What is Turks and Caicos? The Turks Islands and the Caicos Islands together are Turks and Caicos or TCI, British Overseas Territory in the tropical Bahama Island Chain. The predominant theory is that Turk Islands got their name from the Turks’-cap cactus.

turks-head-cactus

While others claim it was named for the Barbary pirates.

Barbarossa

Caicos is said to be derived from the Lucayan “caya hico,” which means – small string of islands.

And here they are:

tccarib

Whyfor this spotty history and geography lesson, Chuck? Well, because this week my CSA Challenge travels with me to the Caicos Islands! I could have put my CSA on vacation and received extra produce another week, but I opted to give my week six produce to friends and try some island fare.

Going native meant preparation. I researched recipes of Turks and Caicos. Historical fare recipes were scarce and most Caribbean dishes – though authentic -were too general for my goals. I opted to find recipes currently being made on the Caicos Islands by working chefs. I was having very little luck until I found an insanely well-linked supplement to the online publication called Where When How – Turks and Caicos, and one issue just happened to feature recipes from Island chefs. I planned the meal, made shopping lists and waited excitedly to head to the grocery after our plane touched down in Providenciales.

Shopping grocery stores in foreign lands is – for me – like going on the best cultural tour ever. Last time in TCI, I found Coconut-Peanut butter, a spread I now prefer over any peanut butter. This trip, spotted dick sponge pudding and coconut cookies were new-to-me items that just happened to fall into the cart.

coconut-peanutSpotted Dick

Other than the eating, the best part of this gastronomic adventure was my outdoor kitchen. For years – trapped inside while making jam and other all-day projects – I have drempt of having a functional kitchen out of doors. A place where I could prepare food surrounded by nature and great views.

In the TCI condo, there was a huge screened porch overlooking the beach and ocean. I set up shop and pretended my outdoor kitchen dream had come true.

kitchen

This practice kitchen was incredibly instructive as I taught me that I definitely need some kind of shade in my kitchen and screens…lots of screens.

 

Week Six Challenge:

Research and reproduce fare being served by Island chefs currently in TCI.

Food for thought

  • Is an ounce a weight or a mass measurement?

RECIPES, LINKS, REVIEWS AND DISCOVERIES

IMG_1880

Recipe: Tomato & Papaya Salsa

Full disclosure: this recipe is just a small part of a Mahi Mahi recipe from the kitchen of Coco Bistro

Link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/index.php?i=184354&m=&l=&p=33&pre=

Review & Discoveries: THIS IS THE RECIPE OF THE WEEK! A definite must for canning (if possible) or freezing if not to make it through the winter with some fruit and veggie sunshine salsa. Everyone who tasted it, just kept eating it, and found inventive ways to use it in other meals. So far, it is reported to be great on fish, eggs and toast! BTW, this recipe should call for 3 mangoes rather than two, as it is impossible not to eat these ripe beauties as you slice them. BTW, the blue corn chips were an appetizing color contrast for the salad.

IMG_1886

Recipe: Frozen Piña Colada

Link: http://cocktails.about.com/od/atozcocktailrecipes/r/frzn_pna_clda.htm

Review & Discoveries: Attesting to their tastiness, I could only find empty glasses to photograph.

Turks and Caicos was a lesson in flexibility. The condos where we stayed had great access to a local grocery store, but the larger grocery store with more selection included a spin on the local highway, a task the hotel’s rickety one-speed bike was not mete to undertake. Due to this limitation, (as with other menu items) I had to scrap my plan of making “Turkinis” when the necessary ingredients were not available.

I headed down the street to the liquor store. No luck there either, I explained my predicament to the proprietress why asked me, “Have you ever tried Bambarra?”

“What is Bambarra?”

“It is the rum of Turks and Caicos!”

Can’t get much more TCI than that, I thought and grabbed Bambarra reserve.

Bambarra

A quick Google of crowd-pleasing rum drinks brought me to mojitos. But our store lacked mint, so it was on to piña coladas. Couldn’t find Crème de coconut, so I asked one of the super friendly employees for assistance. Not certain which one of several different creamed concoctions of coconut I wanted, he asked, “You mean for making piña coladas from scratch?”

“Is there any other way?”

Luckily the condo had a super heavy-duty blender and a few, very loud revolutions later a frothy white drink slid glacially into glasses. Sweet, warm, creamy…oh yeah, life is good.

IMG_1881

Recipe: Conch Salad, Man!

Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Conch-Salad-Man-51138800

Review & Discoveries: So how can you tell if the conch is fresh? This was a question for which I hadn’t prepared. Seeing as I was in a major conch-farming region in a grocery store touting the “catch of the day,” chances were good that the conch was fresh. But when I pressed on the conch, it had a more hard rubber spring back than expected. I gave it the smell test…all good. Then looked at the surrounding fish….clear, bright eyes and good flesh tension. Seemed worth the dice roll.

When I started to prepare the conch, I found that when it was sliced, it had a much softer, less rubbery texture that was perfect for this ceviche style salad.

One note: I made this salad the day before as the recipe said to chill combined for at least an hour to maximize flavor. So – I thought – if one hour is good, nine hours should be primo! But when I served the conch salad, it tasted of brine. As I hadn’t salted the dish, the only guess I could make was that osmosis over so many hours had pulled the salt out of the conch flesh and re-distributed it throughout the dish. It was so heavy, I ended up rinsing the whole salad and adding orange, lemon and lime juices to bring it closer to the desired taste.

Despite my learning curve, the conch salad was yummy and light – after the debrining. A great starter for any meal.

IMG_1887

Recipe: Cappellini Aglio e Olio

Link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/index.php?i=184354&m=&l=&p=55&pre=

Review & Discoveries: Being a girl who likes her gravy, I was a bit apprehensive about this recipe. It seemed to loose an amalgamation of sauce-like ingredients to satisfy. And where was the oregano? “This isn’t Italian fare,” I reminded myself. “This is island time!” I put my reservations on hold and was amply rewarded. I won’t say I won’t tweak this recipe when I make it again, but it was both simple and spectacular.

fish 2

Recipe: Caribbean Stuffed Red Snapper

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/caribbean-stuffed-red-snapper-recipe.html

and original recipe (Herb Crusted Grouper) link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/?l=1&m=19978

Review & Discoveries: Improvisation was key to making this main course work. Before reaching the island, I had selected an herb-crusted grouper.

I prepared the crust – a blend of herbs, bread crumbs and butter, rolled ¼” thick and placed in the freezer for cutting and placing on the fish just before a final broil. However, when I got to the grocery store to purchase the fillets, the fresh catch options did not include grouper.

Scrambling, I saw some lovely red-eyed fresh snapper. I had never prepared a whole fish before, but figured, how hard can it be? Yes, fools rush in…

Found a recipe for snapper online that included additional ingredients to turn the crust I had already made into a stuffing and to better compliment the snapper. I thawed and re-crumbled the crust and added the new ingredients.

Followed instructions to salt and lime the snapper inside and out, then wash both away before stuffing the fish. The recipe instructs leaving the salt and lime on and in the fish for at least 15 minutes. But I think I won’t let it remain for more than 30 when I make this fish again. For this effort, I left the lime and salt on for several hours. For me, it gave the fish a too aggressive salt taste.

Grilling instructions were followed, but alas, something wasn’t quite right. The fish was not fully cooked. So it was finished off under the broiler. All in all, quite yummy. Hard to go wrong with fresh ingredients.

IMG_1892

coconut moose

Recipe: Coconut Sphere with Caramelized Banana

Link: http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/index.php?i=184354&m=&l=&p=55&pre=

Review & Discoveries: Yes, I had high hopes. But with island humidity and lack of kitchen implements, I decided to take some meringues with me and just make the coconut moose and caramelized bananas.

While in NYC before the trip, I searched for a butane kitchen torch that had a removable fuel tank so it could travel and I would just need to purchase fuel on the islands. My search failed and the caramelized bananas were the next casualty.

It didn’t matter, coconut moose would be awesome. However, the local market didn’t have vanilla bean or gelatin, so it was time to scrap the entire dessert.

A Tortuga rum cake would be apropos. Atop my beloved, rusty one-speed bike, I hit the road. No Tortuga either. Walked to the bakery counter…everything was German sweet chocolate this and red velvet that. Decided to grab some mango and coconut gelato and pair it with the meringues.

I will admit, I was shocked not to find fruit gelato at the store. Barred at every turn, but refusing to ditch dessert entirely, I parted with my original intentions, and decided just to try a new flavor of ice cream instead. Pistachio, á la Ben and Jerry was the chosen iced dairy confection. It may not be island, but mahn was it good! There is a reason you find Ben and Jerry’s ice cream around the globe.

 

WEEK FIVE CSA CHALLENGE – BUTTER ME UP!

When I lifted this week’s CSA produce bag, something was different. It was the same dimension as past weeks, but now it had density. I investigated to find cabbage, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, onions and beets among the kale and Napa cabbage. We had turned the seasonal corner from butter lettuces and herbs to much heartier, heftier fare.

I grew up in touch with the seasons, knowing what vegetables and fruits would be ready for eating when. But I had allowed distance from farming and the supermarkets’ utopian practice of stocking nearly every fruit and vegetable in every season to induce unmindfulness of when foods ripen and even from where they come. The only clue to connection was the dearness of price. A pint of strawberries cost $7.50 in January? Hmm, they must not be in season locally.

Growing up, my parents had two acres where we raised corn, strawberries, asparagus and potatoes. My two brothers and I worked many hours pulling weeds, hoeing and thinning corn mounds, gorging on strawberries still warm from the sun, digging and slicing seed potatoes, and shooting at Red-winged blackbirds with BB guns to steward our produce from seed to sauté.

It was shocking to me that these most primary memories of the seasons had been obliterated in a glut of convenience and abundance. I am so grateful to Edible Earth Farms and my new raised bed gardens for putting me back in touch with this lost knowledge. It makes me feel more integrated, more aware, more rhythmic, more in touch with the cycles of life.

While cleaning my produce, I made related discovery. No two beets were near alike in size, the Napa Cabbage had a small worm trail and a cucumber had a brownish area where it had thickened due to contact with the ground. These imperfections made me laugh, pointing up how far I had strayed from organic, real and non-hybrid. The produce I was cleaning was grown for taste and nutrients not transport. They might be a little smaller than grocery issue, but they also haven’t absorbed chemicals to pump them up or assassinate their predators.

I had been homogenized, taken in by uniformity, shine, and lack of blemish. I had begun to believe that these with important attributes. Enthrall to the culture of produce perfection, I realized I had become hyper-vigilant in my cleaning of fruits and vegetables, cutting deeply away anything that hinted of insect or earth or over ripeness. I had forgotten what real, non-modified, organic produce looked like. I had left behind the beloved carrots with two taproots looking like a pair of legs, the taste of my aunt’s tomatoes (grown each year from seeds saved for generations), and the wisdom to know what was harmful to eat and what was safe. I finished cleaning each leaf of the Napa cabbage bored through by the worm. He was no longer in residence and – after all – it was just a little hole. No reason to waste precious cabbage leaves. There was enough for both of us, and in fact we were connected by this miraculous food.

The inspiration for this week’s recipes came from buying a brick of yeast that seems to be the same size and consistency as movie brick of C-4. I had gone to the grocery store to buy a few little packets of yeast like I remembered doing with my mother. But the packets had disappeared. I dropped by the bakery counter hoping for some advice. The woman there told me that she didn’t think they stocked it anymore…apparently the majority of the population purchased their bread pre-made. She kindly offered to sell me a block of commercial yeast. I took her up on the offer and got the buy of a lifetime…$2.49 for enough yeast to last a lifetime.

So I added surplus of yeast to diverse produce and came up with this week’s theme of breads.

yeast

This week’s food-stuffs: Acorn Squast, Zucchini, Cabbage, Napa Cabbage, Onions, Yellow Squash, Cucumber, Kale, Beets

Week Five Challenge:

Bake a bread for every item of produce and cook a recipe submitted by a beloved a framily member that includes Napa Cabbage and promises to do it justice.

Food for thought:

-      mace is a spice similar to nutmeg

-      spice cabinet is filling up with things I believe I will use

-      Spelt Flour is a whole grain, non-wheat flour. Spelt is a cereal grain in the wheat family that is higher in protein and easier to digest than wheat.

-      And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

NapaCabbageEggs

The recipe: Andrew’s Napa Cabbage Recipe – Contributed to Chuck’s culinary education

- from the Poulet de Palais de Pollard

The instructions:~ two eggs ~ 1 chopped Green Onion ~ some roughly chopped Napa Cabbage ~ teaspoon of Oyster Sauce ~ tablespoon of Soy Sauce ~ a few thin slices of Cucumber, cut lengthwise. ~ a few dashes of Rice Wine Vinegar ~ Fresh, crusty roll 1) preheat a skillet on medium high heat 2) a bit of butter in a nonstick pan, melt 3) Cabbage and Onion in pan to soften 4) stir in the Oyster Sauce 5) beat eggs in a cup then add to skillet 6) cook until firm 7) spindle with soy sauce to taste 8) put egg on a crust roll 9) add slices of cucumber and some dashed of vinegar 10) enjoy a packet of goodness.

The review: This made a great dinner, but I would happily eat it any hour of the day. I need to get a shallower frying pan so I can flip the mass or become less a Nancy-pants about the watery goo that always accumulates in the top of an omelette. But beyond my own runny egg peculiarities, I loved this meal. The cabbage took center stage…which isn’t so easy with its subtle taste. The texture it brought to the eggs was simply inspired. Thank you for the suggestion, Andrew!

 –

 Zucchini Bread

The recipe: When life hands you zucchini, bake this bread

The instructions: I inherited, tweaked and named this recipe. It is my favorite sweet bread…ever.

3 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup loosely packed brown sugar

1 cup cooking oil

3 tsp maple syrup

3 cups shredded zucchini

2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

2 tsp salt

½ cup wheat germ

2 ½ cup unsifted unbleached flour

1 cup chopped walnuts (if feeling decadent) 

  1. Turn up the music, sing along and/or boogie down
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F – grease and flour two 9” x 5” baking pans – Set aside
  3. In a medium bowl:

Mix baking soda, baking powder, salt, wheat germ, flour, and walnuts (if using) – Set aside

  1. In a second, larger bowl:

Break the three eggs and whip ‘em good. Add granulated sugar and whip again. Add the brown sugar and whip yet again. (If you want a taste of heaven and promise not to sue if tummy issues arise from consuming raw eggs, grab a spoon and try some of this heavenly froth.) When the vegetable oil comes along, you must whip it. When the syrups goin’ strong, you must whip it. Clean that whip! And grab a wooden spoon. Stir in zucchini just until fully integrated. Pour dry ingredients into wet and fold in until well mixed. (This is another perfect moment to sample a spoonful for those who believe that salmonella avoidance is for someone else.)

5. Pour mix into pans equally and pop into oven on middle rack for about an hour. I set mine to 50 minutes, then check every 5 minutes until a wooden tooth pick comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then remove and cool the rest of the way on cooling racks. Wait, strike that. When cooled just enough to touch, cut off a gorgeous piece, smear it with some butter and enjoy. Bread freezes well. I actually freeze shredded zucchini so I can make this bread fresh throughout the winter.

The review: As this is my recipe, it is obvious I love it. So it seems that the review for this recipe is up to those who try it.

 Unknown

The recipe: Cabbage Bread

The link: http://curiouskai.blogspot.com/2011/07/cabbage-bread.html

The review: This is more a baking technique than a recipe. Prior to baking the dough, you wrap it in cabbage leaves. The leaf leaves behind a really cool pattern on the bread. I have to admit, I had a great deal of bread success going into this attempt, and I got a little cocky. Why not – instead of making my first attempt with a simple white bread – make cinnamon rolls instead? Why reference how large a portion of dough should be used in the size leaf I had? Why buy cooking twine? I am a baker, why couldn’t I just wing it? The results weren’t heinous, but it will take some practice to make my cabbage bread look as good as the one in the photo above. I over packed the cabbage leaf, I didn’t seal the edges so the filling seeped out, the dental floss I ended up using left taste and color on the bread. But hey, experimentation is fun and the results were highly edible…just not as successful as they could have been. Photos below show my wraps before cooking and after. Still the cabbage pattern effect is organic and cool.

Cabbage wraps

cabbage sweet rolls

 –

Cabbage bread

The recipe: High-Calcium Cabbage Bread Recipe

The link: http://homecooking.about.com/od/breadrecipes/r/blbread75.htm

The review: I am the first to admit that the failure of this recipe could be completely mine. But I regret the cup of toasted sesame seeds that were sacrificed to make this bread. I weaned myself off white breads years back and have developed an affinity for hearty, whole grain breads with less-than-sweet taste. However, I could locate no pleasure center in the taste of this bread. Each bite seemed a chore. Since it did have some herb flavoring, I decided to re-purpose the bread. I cut it and double cooked it like biscotti and turned it into croutons.

 Beet swirl cut

The recipe: Psychedelic Dill, Beet Bread

The link: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_JyrjHwiLeU8/SbEwEH0siKI/AAAAAAAABYo/vpGZR0ZFEEw/s1600-h/red+bread4.jpg

The review: This bread was a ton of fun to make and flavorful to eat with a great texture. Don’t allow yourself to be turned off by either the inclusion of the dill or the beet. Both deliver a great flavor and they work well together in this marbleized bread. Besides, making and baking the dough softens each flavor. This recipe will stay at the top of my list. Perfect for replacing store-bought hearty breads. I did struggle with the proportions. Both dough mixes were too wet when mixed as the recipe instructed. I had to add a great deal more flour to be able to get them to the right consistency.

 Beet swirl

feta cut

The recipe: Kale and Feta Bread

The linkhttp://souvlakiforthesoul.com/2013/11/kale-and-fetta-bread-recipe

The review: This is wonderful savory bread! My streak continued with recipe proportions making the dough either too wet or too dry. This one was too dry to hang together. I was out of Greek yogurt after making the recipe, so I ended up adding a bit more olive oil and some leftover tzatziki to make it work. Happily, it didn’t destroy the taste. This bread packs a great deal of taste and interesting texture and umm-umm-umm those yummy bits of feta!

feta pan 

 Acorn Squash Bread

The recipe: Acorn Squash Bread

The link: http://evabakes.blogspot.com/2012/11/acorn-squash-bread.html

The review: Sweet, moist, spicy, dense and awesome. I had to freeze this bread for later to avoid eating it all fresh out of the oven. This bread is well worth the bake!

LemonSquashCut

The recipe: Lemon Summer Squash Bread

The link: http://heatherchristo.com/cooks/2011/08/01/lemon-summer-squash-bread/

The review: OMG! The zest, the lemon, the frosting…like sunshine and lemonade turned into a cake. Definitely dessert bread, but friends will ask for seconds…and thirds if they aren’t shy.

onion flatbread

The recipe: Grilled Green Onion Flatbread

The link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/grilled-green-onion-flatbread-recipe.html

The review: I don’t think Emeril and I are kitchen compatible. This is the second of his recipes I have started with high hopes and ended up disappointed. I didn’t buy his seasoning mix…opting to make it from scratch as directed in the recipe. The flatbread was okay, but nothing special. The seasoning was way over the top. Perhaps I used too much, but the mix seemed to overpower the flatbread. It may be time to tighten up my Creole and Cajun cooking skills. I know Emeril is a regional James Beard Award winner. Love to hear that others have had better success.

 Next week’s challenge: A taste of the islands, mahn.

 

 

WEEK FOUR CSA CHALLENGE – TIN FOIL TÊTÊ-À-TÊTE

 

Ivy

Welcome, July 4th weekend! Family parties, visits, fireworks, tons of running around and no real time to cook or clean-up. Tin foil to the rescue! It works in ovens, on pans, grills, steaming, frying, to store leftovers. It works everywhere but the microwave.

 

This week’s food-stuffs: Kohlrabi, Fennel, Three Butter Lettuces, Cucumbers, Kale 

Week Four Challenge:

Spend as little time as possible in the kitchen or at my computer and select recipes that involve tin foil.

 

Food for thought

-      I tested two recipes using kohlrabi and I still don’t really know how it tastes. Next time it shows up in my CSA bag, I will need to make something simpler to get a real taste…perhaps bite into it raw.

-      I must admit, two of the butter lettuces never made it to tin foil. I happened on a family dinner with the CSA goodies in tow and broke out two heads to make a gorgeous family salad with avocado, caramelized pecans, blue cheese and pears. So worth it.

 

And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

kohlrabi fritters

The recipe: Kohlrabi Fritters with Cilantro Mint Chutney

The link: http://localfoods.about.com/od/chipsfriedsomebaked/r/Kohlrabi-Fritters.htm   and http://localfoods.about.com/od/condiments/r/cilantromintchutney.htm

The review: I don’t usually make fried foods at home, but when I read cilantro mint chutney, I decision was made. It was a good call. This chutney was superb! The fritters were very good, but good in the way that freshly fried anything is good. Much like a potato chip is often just a vehicle for salt and dip…the potato isn’t the star, it just adds the crunch. In this dish, the kohlrabi isn’t the featured player. Very yummy, but the search for the real kohlrabi continues. Oh, and the tin foil in this recipe was a godsend. I lined the frying pan with it and clean up was a snap. After the pan had cooled, I folded a corner of the tin foil into a spout and was able to drain the pan without a drip.The pan didn’t even need to be washed!

pan tinfoilpour off tinfoil

 

 

cucumber salad

The recipe: Roasted Cucumber Sandwiches

The link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Roasted-Cucumber-Sandwiches-366725

The review: Rule Brittania! Brittania rules the lunch! I have lost count of the number of cucumber sandwiches I have seen served in British films and television shows. However, I have never worked up enough curiosity to consider trying one for myself. In my book, cucumbers were good enough for infusing my water, but nothing else. This recipe made me realize what I have been missing. Scrumptious! This recipe goes straight to my “Can’t wait to make again” file. Despite the photo, I ate my cucumber sandwich open face. I didn’t want all the bread covering up the flavor of the filling. Also, rather than the roll the recipe calls for, I used sweet potato bread I had on hand.

cucumbers before roasting

 

 

fennel baked

The recipe: Fennel Gratin

The link: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/fennel_gratin/print/

The review: I had to get a little creative with this one. I needed to feed five adults and only had one fennel bulb. But I did have extra kohlrabi, so I chopped it as closely as I could in style to the fennel and used it. The result was good and I must say, I liked the way roasting fennel with cheese mellowed its anise taste. Perhaps it was my fault, but the cooking duration to brown the cheese seemed excessive and dried out the dish. If you try it, I would suggest keeping a close eye on the gratin while it cooks to avoid a similar plight.

 

kale on grill

The recipe: Crispy Tuscan Kale on the Grill

The link: http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=4476

The review: Apologies, this dish was scarfed up so fast, I wasn’t able to get a photo of my attempt. This is a photo from Rachel Ray’s website. I cooked it on tin foil on the grill and it was super good. Like the kale chips I have made in the past, but the punch of balsamic vinegar in this recipe and cooking them on the grill made them even more yummy.

 

roasted salad before

The recipe: Roasted Romaine Lettuce

The link: http://simplynutricising.com/nutritionpage/recipes/salads/roasted-romaine-lettuce/

The review: Okay, this wasn’t romaine lettuce. I had to improvise. Either way, this dish was fast, delicious and beautiful to behold. And unlike the grilled lettuce I made for the dinner party, this “salad” retained its heat through serving that brought great nuance to the taste. The dressing is quite good, but a bit sharp. I would suggest using it sparingly until able to judge for yourself. (Photo above: before baking – Photo below: after baking)

roasted salad after

 

 

MUDBLOODS ALL!

map-119

I feel like Dr. Who traveling to distant times!

 

A few PayPal clicks and encrypted electronic funds transferred the $222.49 (with taxes and shipping) necessary to learn what my ancestors were doing up to 200,000 years ago! I think this might be what Neil Armstrong felt like as he climbed down that Apollo 11 ladder, toes scanning for the surface of the moon.

 

I have dabbled in my family genealogy, mostly reading through family trees compiled by aunts and cousins listing the names, occupations and other details about family members who lived their days on U.S. shores. I have only dabbled because I know the risk. Fall down a rabbit hole of family history research and you never know when you will next sleep, eat or shower as you obsessively search your past.

 

But when I read about National Geographic’s Genographic Project (https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com), I had to take the risk.

 

In a few days, my Geno 2.0 kit will arrive. A simple cheek swab mailed to the lab and in 10 weeks or less, I will receive:

  1. A percentage breakdown of my genomic ancestry by regional genetic affiliation. This breakdown helps to uncover the migration paths of ancient ancestors and how they mixed genetically with others.
  2. What percentage of Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA my bloodlines carry, if any.

 

Why am I so excited about learning this information?

  1. Because I have a suspicion there is some Neanderthal in the mix and would take pride in that fact!
  2. It will allow me to envision the movement of my forebears around continents and across oceans. Knowing where their lives were spent will make me feel more a citizen of the world than a localized phenomenon.
  3. This is like looking beyond our solar system and starting to understand the universe. I mean, I am miniscule…a drop in a bucket…more probably a drop in the ocean proportionally. But each drop adds more information to the whole picture. And when enough drops come together in one space, our distance past…and perhaps the origins of humankind will be visible like the bright contrasting dots in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte creating a summer’s afternoon from a jumble of color when viewed at the right distance.
  4. The communal premise of this undertaking really inspires me…as does the fact that proceeds from sales of the test kits will be used to further research, which – in turn – supports community-led indigenous conservation and revitalization projects.
  5. I am a geek. So the science of this whole study makes me hot. But even beyond the science, is the story. Stories are the reason we have gathered around fires and hearths and stages and video monitors throughout time. This is a glimpse at the human story provided to us by science…and that is an awesome twofer.

 

But the number one reason I am so excited to participate is that I believe this research will not only demonstrate – but celebrate – that we are mudbloods all!

 

Our fear of the other has brought so much violence and cruelty into the world. What will happen when we find out we ARE the other? How can we hate or hurt ourselves? By defining ourselves in the macro rather than the micro, we can’t be separate. We can’t be hateful. To love who we are, we must love everything that went into us. DNA echoes from every possible point on the planet sound through our circulatory system with every heartbeat and every rush of blood through our bodies. That isn’t just blood of an ethnic clan or religious affiliation. It is the blood of the world since the beginning of our time. 

 

The folks from National Geographic are giving us a chance to turn xeno into geno, and that – in my book – is a gift epochs overdue.

 

 

WEEK THREE CSA CHALLENGE – EDIBLE EXOTICA

Week Three CSA Challenge – Edible Exotica

As a parent, my best friend had to bring a culturally-significant dish to her children’s elementary school. I should mention it was a Chinese language immersion school in San Francisco and my adopted friend from Ohio was at a bit of a loss. She settled on a Jello mold with floating vegetables with a dab of mayonaise on the top. It was a food of her formative years. Rather than the ostracization she expected, her dish was a hit…with other parents inquiring about the whys and wherefores of the jiggly dessert and the cultural implications of mayonaise.

I tell you this because I too dread ostracization upon reveling the lack of “cool” exotic in my cooking.

I know exotic is a relative term. Perhaps the meat and potato upbringing of my youth in Western Pennsylvania would seem mystical to a Sherpa. But salt, pepper and some occasional crazy experimentation with garlic lacks the intrigue and seduction of saffron, wasabi and fenugreek.

In my defense, I must tell you that my eating passport is full up with stamps of exotic locales, tastes and treasures. It is my cooking passport that lacks the adventure and satisfaction of my digestive system. I have tried, but nothing I make at home seems quite to measure up. So – to my shame – I have settled for avoiding gastronomic snobbery by becoming a very good cook of less exotic, sure-fire foods like edamame hummus, pork tamales, and jambalaya. You know the “just enough to get by” school of exotic cooking.

Justifications aside, my daily menus don’t pack much exotic punch beyond what can be found in my herb garden.

So, for week three of my CSA challenge I am choosing to release my fear of personal cooking failure and dish dissatisfaction. To investigate the spices that are harder to find. To prepare dishes that I can’t be certain I will like. To go where so many others have gone before me…to expand the horizon of possible and the palatable.

This week’s CSA food-stuffs: Napa Cabbage, Snow Peas, Cilantro, Turnips, Baby turnips, Garlic Scapes

Week Three Challenge: Select, prepare and consume dishes made with at least one ingredient not currently found in my pantry.

Food for thought

- My freezer inventory continues to grow! I already have 18 servings of soups, 12 servings of sauces and 14 servings of pesto squirreled away for winter feasting.
You meet great folks and learn amazing things at the farmers’ market. And – on the whole – folks who work with vegetables and fruits understand the joys of just swapping stories and enjoying time spent together.
- Some herbs are difficult to procure and low quality or older herbs don’t deliver. If deciding to go exotic, it makes sense to find a good purveyor of fresh, top shelf spices and place an order. Most of the thrill in an exotic dish is the spice combinations. The best experience will come from the best ingredients, and if you don’t have the best spices, you really won’t be able to judge any dish fairly.
- My first herb garden harvest and final spinach harvest are complete. It feels so cool to walk out in your yard and simply pick what you need…as if that is the way you have always lived. (Apologies to farmers, but it really is a compliment. You had that one right all along.)
- I really need to learn cuts of meat and their uses…or perhaps date a butcher.

And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

Double Garlic Soup

The recipe: Double Garlic Soup

The link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/dining/185arex.html?ref=dining&_r=0

The exotic: Green garlic

The review: I was surprised when I got my hands on green garlic to find it sticky…almost like pine resin. But the smell was indeed sweet and young. I must say that I was pleased with this soup, but not knocked on my butt like I expected to be. The caramelized onion stood out in equal proportion to the taste of the garlic. I honestly thought that – despite ceaseless brushings and flossings – I would be fighting a well-earned garlic breath for days. You have to be a true garlic lover to know I mean that as a good thing. Anyway, a solid attempt, but I the quest continues for a good strong garlic soup and for recipes that really feature (or at least make a bigger deal) out of garlic scapes and spring garlic.

spicy sweet peanut

The recipe: Spicy Sweet Peanut Sauce

The link: http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/recipes/article/sweet-sour-peanut-sauce

The exotic: Powdered organic peanut butter

The review: I changed this recipe to include my exotic, but I have been dying to try powdered peanut butter in something other than a smoothie since I got it. The result was incredibly yummy. In fact, I made a second batch for freezing. I think my substitution of powdered peanut butter for regular peanut butter may have made the mixture less emollient and more water-like in consistency, but the incredible taste made that slight loss easily borne. I heartily suggest this recipe to noodle lovers, with powered or regular PB.

snow peas 2

The recipe: Snow Peas and Napa Cabbage Slaw

The link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/snow-pea-and-napa-cabbage-slaw/

The exotic: Napa Cabbage

The review: I think any other week I would have been well pleased with this recipe. It could hold its own as a salad course. But it was a let down on a week of exotics. I would suggest it if you are looking for something light and tasty to make with Napa Cabbage, but next time I think I will opt for trying homemade spring rolls.

curried red

The recipe: Creamy curried Pear Slaw

The link: http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/roger-mooking/creamy-curried-pear-slaw.html

The exotic: curry on a raw vegetable

The review: Recipe Dyslexia strikes again. I managed to pick two recipes with Napa cabbage and only had enough to make one. Since there were hungry families visitors in town, I decided to make both, but substituted red cabbage for the Napa cabbage. Like any slaw, it got better every hour it sat in the fridge, but with the blast of curry it packed, it got your attention and appreciation from the first, fresh bite. And the sweetness of the pear contrasting with the curry was delightful.

cauli

The recipe: Vegan Quinoa, Broccoli and Kale Curry

The link: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/04/vegan-curried-quinoa-with-broccoli-and-kale.html

The exotic: curry and cumin

The review: When I read this recipe, I thought, “Geesh, there is a great deal going on here.” It seemed to be a recipe that was more concerned with packing on ingredients than considering their taste profile when mixed. Perhaps it was cook error, but the result fulfilled my worst expectations. It was a taste hodge podge that had an overall blandness. A real shame too, as I had so looked forward to finding a new love in the toasted quinoa (as I had never toasted it before). But if there was a unique flavor created by toasting, it was drown by an onslaught of other ingredients. As always, your results may vary and the dish wasn’t bad, it just won’t make my favorite recipe folder.

carrot turnip

The recipe: Maple-glazed baby turnips and carrot coins

The link: http://www.culinate.com/recipes/collections/Contributors/Ivy+Manning/maple-glazed_baby_turnips_and_carrot_coins

The exotic: Bacon salt

The review: I have always feared turnips. For no reason other than that they be turnips. Weird name, bland color, never the star in any dish, never in any dishes I ate. So I was really excited when baby turnips showed up for an audition. And my tuna-noodle-casserole-loving side was all excited to try this unrepentantly over-processed incarnation of bacon called bacon salt. I was not surprised to find that bacon salt was devoid of any nutritional value and that one teaspoonful of the stuff would supply 24% of your daily requirement of sodium. Still, this side dish was being cooked in the name of discovery…Sodium be damned! The dish cooked up beautifully. I was excited for my first bite. But double the speed it went into my mouth, it came right back out…while I danced around the kitchen repeatedly wiping a paper towel over my tongue and teeth to rub out the oversaturated foulness of bacon salt. Bacon salt might be a terrific idea for someone who has burned away nearly every taste bud on scalding coffee, hot sauce and Altoids. But for someone who has some taste sensitivity left, bacon salt is the devil. I poured the innocent turnips and carrots into a strainer and washed away as much of the offensive BS as possible, then returned the veggies to the pan and re-caramelized them with all ingredients except bacon salt. Let me tell you, YUMMY! Turnips are now a most desired vegetable for my crisper! And I have a fresh container of bacon salt looking for a new home if you are interested. Maybe it will bring you better luck.

bacon salt

 

 

Ethiopian

The recipe: Chickpea and Turnip Stew with Ethopian Spices

The link: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2007/02/chickpea-and-turnip-stew-with-ethiopian.html

The exotic: cardamom, fenugreek, and turmeric

The review: This recipe served up a spice riot! The turnips and carrots and chickpeas were more a vehicle for spice than featured vegetables. Part of this I blame on my choice of an incredibly potent Vietnamese cinnamon. Normally, I can’t get enough of the stuff. But in this case the hot sharpness of the cinnamon took over the dish. Due to this, I feel I cannot judge this recipe fairly. It was good, but the burning yum of the spices was nearly all you tasted…and tasted for about an hour afterward. I added some tzatziki and was able to cool down the dish enough for my soft palate. If you are less sensitive to spice, you might like this full strength…even with extra-strong cinnamon.

cuban-lettuce-wraps3-610x300

The recipe: Crockpot Cuban Pork Lettuce Wraps

The link: http://paleomg.com/crockpotcuban-pork-lettuce-wraps/

The exotic: cumin

The review: As with any rubbed, slow-cooked meat and slaw recipe, the second and third days’ eating are even better than the first. But the first wasn’t too shabby. Though the lime didn’t jump forward the way I expected, this was great dinner for a large crowd. And since you don’t fill up on silly old bread, you can eat more pork! Only thing I would change would be to marinade the meat longer before cooking. The recipe suggested combining ingredients and cooking right away, or allowing them to marinade a bit. But starting the crockpot minutes after the shoulder was drenched with seasonings was a mistake. My mouth had watered thinking of all the tastes that the pork would be drenched in…but most of those succulent flavors were lost because I didn’t give them time to penetrate the meat. Still, even with user error, this was a sincere good eat!

NEXT WEEK’S CHALLENGE: Tinfoil: Not just to keep “them” out of your head!

WEEK TWO CSA CHALLENGE – THE DINNER PARTY

WEEK TWO CSA CHALLENGE – THE DINNER PARTY

This week’s CSA challenge is four-fold.

First, I must make a full meal from my CSA stash that will feed myself and five guests.

Second, the meal needs to be gluten-free, but not so that anyone would notice.

Third, The dishes must be prepared on time, at the right temperatures, by one cook…me. (This is usually where my dinner parties skip the tracks).

Lastly, I must compose a meal that allows me to spend time with my guests. If you are lucky enough to get time with friends in this hectic life, you shouldn’t be miss out because you are too absorbed in cooking.

What arrived this week:

Garlic Scapes, Collard Greens, Radishes, Red and Green Spring Lettuce, Cilantro, Argula, Kale, Broccoli and Bib Lettuce

Here is what I made of it:


Food for thought:

(this is what I learned)

  • It is not difficult to plan, prepare and enjoy a gluten-free meal.
  • Garbanzo bean flour savory pancakes are DA BOMB!
  • No matter how casual the occasion, people feel freer to nosh on appetizers when plates are provided.
  • Always check that the grill is working order before the party.
  • I can’t get enough of spring onion and pea soup.
  • Lemon zest isn’t just for decoration.
  • Last week: “What is a garlic scape?”  —-   This week: “I love garlic scapes! Are there more?”
  • My new love of fresh herbs has compelled me to rip out a weedy flower bed and replant it with herbs (and flowers)!
  • -I so enjoyed cooking with chive flowers last week that I picked a bunch and made chive flower vinegar.

CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR RECIPE  http://leitesculinaria.com/80938/recipes-chive-blossom-vinegar.html

 

THE PARTY

My friends arrived with some incredible wine and we proceeded to drink and talk and enjoy the miracle of having time together! And yes, I did achieve part four of this week’s challenge. I wasn’t buried in my cooking because I had planned and prepared the menu scrupulously. I balanced a few items that needed to be served hot with many that could be served cold or at room temperature. I also chose recipes whose flavors would be enhanced by being prepared in advance. Appetizers were on plate before anyone arrived and I filled one sink with wine bottles and ice and made it the drink station to share drink host duties. Everything that could be pre-prepared was waiting in its serving dish along with its serving utensil. Glassware, serving dishes, napkins and utensils were all queued up and ready to go. Pandora was on the “Coltrane” station. I was ready.

I had originally conceived a spring picnic theme for the dinner. But a couple days of torrential rain and flooding drove the festivities indoors…or more suitably into an ark.

Course after course, the dinner went well. People were telling stories, eating, and enjoying themselves. At one point, I sat back and tried to etch the scene into my brain. It was pure bliss. I realized that food had gathered us together and that our being together had lifted us all to a wonderful place of enjoyment, laughter, sharing, and a contended feeling abundance. This made me realize the power of food. I also realized I had achieved a goal I had not previously allowed myself to dream.

I have this awesome friend, Lisa. She is the person who feeds people, she takes care of their souls, she even teaches them to sing (figuratively and literally). At Lisa’s house you always feel welcome and wanted and really, really well-fed. I had always wanted to be a person like Lisa who could make a house feel like home for anyone who entered it. Tonight I did just that.

What a gift this week’s challenge has been. It made me live in the present rather than in a timetable…and that made all the difference. Food isn’t meant to cause a struggle or instill a compulsion to make everything perfectly. Food is pure pleasure with the benefit of sustenance. It is meant to bring us together, not stress us out. This week’s dinner party has taught me to give up on ideal and enjoy a greater pleasure…the present.

And now, the recipes:

The recipe: SPRING GREENS PESTO ON ASIAGO IN BUTTER LETTUCE LEAVES

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-spring-greens-pesto-1-48795

The review: Perhaps mixing collards, kale, as well as red and green spring lettuces wasn’t the best aesthetic decision…making the pesto an unfortunate shade of brown. But the taste was out of this world. Placing the pesto on the Asiago slice was a great contrast of flavor and texture. A leaf replacing a cracker is inspired. The lettuce doesn’t just make the nosh healthier. It also complimented the pesto without dulling or competing with the taste the way a bread product often does. And – to my way of thinking – since the lettuce is basically water, I could eat more of these because I wasn’t filling up on bread. This recipe will be oft repeated on summer afternoons and any day I want to have feel like a summer afternoon. Note about recipe variation: I substituted garlic scapes for garlic…yum. 

The recipe: PUDLA (INDIAN CHICKPEA CREPES)

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-pudla-indian-chickpea-crepes-recipes-from-the-kitchn-199998

The review: When I mentioned to friends that I was looking for gluten-free options for a dinner party, they told me about crepes made with Garbanzo bean flour. They really sold the savory pancake, so I gave it a go. Packed with green chili, cilantro, fresh ginger and chili powder, I couldn’t stop myself from eating them hot from the pan. They were just so darn tasty all by themselves. Next time I make them, I will definitely serve them hot from the griddle. Because as they cooled, they lost some of their magic spicy punch and became a more ho-hum dough round. Since I was using the crepes as a scoop for people to enjoy Indian-style mustard greens and lemon-cilantro hummus, I made them a bit thicker and much smaller than the instructions directed. Next time, I will buy a crepe pan and then experiment with thinning the batter to try to achieve the intended crepe delicacy and sheerness. But any way they turn out, I am certain that up I will gobble them.

The recipe: GRILLED BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD WITH BUTTERMILK-CHIVE DRESSING

The link: http://scrumpdillyicious.blogspot.com/2012/08/grilled-lettuce-salad-with-buttermilk.html

The review: Who knew you could grill a butter lettuce? Not this chick. I was so intrigued, I had to try it. I won’t say it made a night and day difference in the taste of the lettuce. But there were definite nuances of heat, texture, flavor enhancement and searing that made the salad novel and interesting. The buttermilk dressing was very good but not a standout. Then a happy accident occurred. By some miracle of divine mix-up, I crossed recipes and thought I was supposed to add the zest of two lemons to the buttermilk-chive dressing. I was tempted to leave it out, believing that  lemon zest merely adds texture and visual interest. I included the zest and learned that my opinion of lemon zest (and likely all zest) could not have been further removed from fact! My mistaken inclusion of lemon zest pushed this buttermilk salad dressing from pretty darn good to transcendent. It was a wrong turn I advise taking!

The recipe: FARRO SALAD WITH ROASTED KALE AND BEETS

The link: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/11/dinner-tonight-farro-salad-with-roasted-kale-and-beets-recipe.html

The review: This recipe brought me my first taste of farro – and for that – I will be forever grateful. Farro is a truly filling grain that is very low in gluten, is high in fiber, iron and even higher in protein than quinoa. It also was a chewy, meaty sort of a grain that started me dreaming of hot morning breakfasts of farro…since kicking oatmeal out of my bowls. BTW, a non-gluten version of this recipe may be easily achieved by leaving out the farrow. But I digress. Being a huge fan of roasted beets and goat cheese, I knew I would enjoy this dish. Still, as I read the recipe, I decided to make a tiny change. The recipe says to roast the beets and kale together, which would be perfectly delish. However, my experience making and decimating kale chips inspired me to do something different. If the kale were cooked with the beets at the recommended temp and time, they would end up kind of moist and limp. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But for my eating pleasure, I imagined something different. I roasted the beets sure, but roasted the kale separately until it dried into crispy, crunchy kale chips. Then – only at the last minute before serving – did I mix the kale with the rest of the ingredients. The result was that at serving time you had the chew of farro, the slightly al dente squish of beets, the mushy crumble of goat cheese AND the crunch of kale. A very nice recipe detour. 

The recipe: GARLIC SCAPE SATAY AND SATAY SAUCE

The link: http://food52.com/recipes/17117-garlic-scape-beef-satay-with-garlic-scape-satay-dip

The review: The siren song of satay sauce lured me to select this recipe, blithely overlooking my potential crack up on the rocks of failure. My mouth watered at the thought of peanut butter, lime, fish sauce, coconut milk, soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic scapes and cilantro coming together to make the perfect sauce. This recipe did not let down my expectations. I almost could not believe I made this dish when it turned out so articulated in taste, so perfect in texture, and so darn yummy. Dinner guest Verlynn confided that she was considering eating spoonfuls of the sauce straight after her first taste. It was hard to believe that my preparation of this dish started with misgivings. In the last year, I have developed an aversion to beef. The thought of it is always yummy. But whenever I put it in my mouth, there’s dissatisfaction, and sometimes even some gagging involved. None of my guests dislike meat, so that was not a concern. But as I came home from the butcher, I wondered how I personally would like this entrée. Slight concern flared to slight panic as the grill sputtered out minutes before well-done kebabs were achieved. Guests seemed excited about medium-well beef, so we forked ahead. I have to say, it was the best beef I have EVER prepared and the only beef I have really enjoyed within reckoning. It was incredible. Perhaps it was the butcher’s care in selecting the best cut for kebabs. Maybe it was my four day marinade protocol. Either way, this recipe was a home run. This beef satay – made with fresh everything and given days in the refrigerator to ripen – was so good it made me smile thinking about leftovers! 

The recipe: CORN AND RADISH SALAD

The link: http://www.marthastewart.com/319260/corn-and-radish-salad

The review: This was a delightful dish, but somehow it missed the mark. Perhaps it was my cooking. Neither the punch I expected from the lime nor its interplay with salt and sweet really never emerged. However, the contrast of the corn and radish was new and exciting. Guests liked this dish, but it wasn’t the best thing on the table. Perhaps it just suffered from relativism. Relatively, the rest of meal was so above par, that this dish was not a standout. Think I might better enjoy a bite of lime-drenched corn on the cob with a nibble of radish mixed in the mouth. But again, perhaps I failed this recipe. Hard to tell.

The recipe: THE BEST BROCCOLI OF YOUR LIFE

The link: http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2008/11/the_best_brocco.html

The review: This broccoli was very good, but the name really had guests expecting the moon. I agree completely that roasting is a far more tasty way of cooking up quite a few hardier veggies. But beyond roasting adding to the favor signature of a dish, this broccoli recipe (at least not in my amateur hands) failed to rise to the level of best. I won’t throw out the recipe. I will just relabel it: Pretty Darn Good Broccoli. 

The recipe: STRAWBERRY-ARGULA SALAD WITH RICOTTA TOPPING

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-strawberryarugula-salad-86114

The review: I was in the kitchen for a quick second packing some take-home bags, when I heard the unmistakable sound of pleasure when guest David took his first bite of this dessert. It was a primitive sound universally understood. His “Ooh!” spoke of a summer day when you bit into a perfectly ripe strawberry that at that particular moment hit all the pleasure centers just right and made your brain say, “Damn, this is good!” I smiled knowing the dessert was a home run! I set the bags down and sat down to serve myself. “Ohh, Indeed!” The argula and the almonds are wildcards of taste and texture, but great wild cards to balance what could be the overpowering sweetness and softness of this dish. And the sweetened ricotta was an amazing accompaniment of cream, lemon and vanilla (oh yeah, I added a touch of vanilla not in the recipe) to the sweetness of the strawberries and raspberries. Again, tempted to eat a sauce by itself with a spoon. But that is just who I am. 

WEEK 3 CHALLENGE – EDIBLE EXOTICA

WEEK ONE CSA CHALLENGE – EXPANDING THE PALATE

I have been dreaming of this day.

 

Today, I picked up my first ever Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce delivery compliments of the fine folks at Edible Earth Farm. Edible Earth is a small, certified organic produce farm north of Tionesta, Pennsylvania. http://edibleearthfarm.com

 

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a CSA, it is an agricultural investment model that allows people to become shareholders in a farmer or farmers’ upcoming crop by buying in before the season begins. Investors share the risks and rewards of food production with the grower/s and hopefully reap substantial profits of produce and/or other consumables throughout the growing season. Pre-paid subscription fees allow growers to invest in equipment and supplies and offer a base return for the incredible work the farmers undertake. A CSA is an awesome way to put your money where your mouth is to live your food ethics and eat well.

 

I picked Edible Earth because it is a certified organic farm that offers weekly deliveries in my area from June to October (about 20 weeks depending on weather). I was impressed with Edible Earth’s website, stories, communication practices and ethic, so I decided to invest…oh yeah, and to get oodles of yummy, nutrient-rich produce for nearly half a year. My personal mission for this – my first – participation in any CSA anywhere is to waste nothing, try everything, cook well, eat happy and share the journey.

 

I found my crate in the stacks and removed a large plastic bag of early spring produce. Happily, the CSA’s kind inclusion of this bag removed my shame of having overlooked bringing my own. I opened the top and took it all in…green, purple, red and fragrant. I searched the bag with my hand and found the enclosed list of produce included and set about trying to match names with vegetables. Being a farm girl, most were easy, but some did prove challenging. Is that mustard greens or broccoli rabe? 

 

So that is what I will be doing. Each week of this growing season, I will share what produce arrives, how I prepare it, how each recipe turns out, third party reviews from some adventurous special guests, links to or the full recipes used, and new discoveries made along the way. Oh, and each week, I will have a unique food challenge to guide my cooking! Enough exposition…let’s get to it!

 

A few of us gathered early at the pick-up site (Allegheny Outfitters), excitedly awaiting the Edible Earth delivery truck. Most subscribers had reusable shopping bags…I apparently missed that advice in the email announcement regarding the arrival of good eats. We chatted expectantly and shopped a bit.

 

Then the folks from Edible Earth arrived and unloaded about 20 lovely wooden crates, each labeled with the last name of the its shareholder and the Edible Earth logo. In the bag was: Siberian Kale, New Red Fire Lettuce, Broccoli Rabe, Bibb Lettuce, Green Onions, Mustard Greens, Oregano, Chive Blossoms, and Spinach.

 

I chatted with the very cool April of Edible Earth and ate raw radishes from scrubbed root to feathery green tip with my friend Piper (Allegheny Outfitters store-owner, fellow shareholder and mega-awesome chick). Then I headed home to prepare for my first week’s challenge with an Internet recipe search session.

 

Week One Challenge: Find and make a brand new recipe for each item of produce and make certain that the recipe included at least one ingredient that I do not like or had been previously reluctant to eat.

 

My theory was that having good food paired with tested recipes would expand my palate and perhaps remove items from my No-Eat List.

 

I will share the recipes and results, but before I do, I will first share what I learned this week.

 

Food for thought

-There are 16 ounces in a pound

-Be adventurous in your eating and your life.

-I am going to grow and eat (the once detested – but now prized) herb, oregano.

-I must bow homage to any culture that made the inclusion of flowers in cooking an art form. However, Mario’s Batali, please consider explaining how to drain ricotta in your Chive Flower Gnocchi recipe. It took me two recipe failures and loads of research to learn that it involves cheesecloth and 24 hours.

-Green onions (also known as spring onions) are just regular onions that are harvested early in the season. Owing to this knowledge, next year, I will not follow suggested onion seed spacing guidelines in my home garden. Instead, I will overplant and enjoy pulling and eating my green onions while leaving the rest of the crop to bulk up in the space absented by their bulb brothers and sisters. And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

 

The recipe: Fish Fillets with Olives and Oregano

The link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Fish-Fillets-with-Olives-and-Oregano-234651

The despised: Brine-cured olives and oregano

The review: FAVORITE ENTRÉE OF THE WEEK! When I finished this dish, the first thing I thought was that I wanted to eat it again the next day. It was amazing how the individual tastes came together to form something wonderful and complementary to the fish…and yet left flavor space for such a (let’s face it) usually bland white fish. This entrée was so good that I have committed to purchasing more fresh oregano and olives to pre-mix, portion and freeze for encores of this elixir. The recipe itself was quite simple and it made me start fantasizing about what else would taste good with oregano or olives or both. Unfortunately, after smelling it, I was too excited to remember to take a photo, so you’ll have to settle for the one featured on Epicurious…which looks almost as good as mine. ; )

 

The recipe: Spring Onion and Pea Soup

The link: http://www.marthastewart.com/341221/spring-onion-and-pea-soup-with-ramp-cros

The despised: Mint

The review: In a week of superlative nosh and despite my Initial dread of the mint garnish on this soup, it was my best discovery of the week. You can bet that more spring onions and peas will be located quickly and batches of soup will be squirreled away in the freezer for winter eating….believe it or not with loads of mint.

 

The recipe: Linguine with Broccoli Rabe and Walnut Pesto

The link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/linguine-with-broccoli-ra_n_1058527.html

The despised: Broccoli Rabe

The review: I will admit, broccoli rabe is actually what gave me pause about this recipe. Owing to their weed-like appearance, broccoli rabe was on my not-in-this-lifetime list. However, this unique pesto was super yummy! So much food, so little time. So I tasted and packaged, labeled and froze for a quick meal during a week when I do no have such an embarrassment of food riches.

 

The recipe: Quinoa and Kale Salad with Apricots

The link: http://www.runnersworld.com/recipes/quinoa-kale-salad-with-fresh-apricots

The despised: Apricots and Kefir

For the record, I object to this kefir ,not this Kiefer 

The review: Though I have never been able to get kefer past my lips and apricots have never seen the inside of my shopping cart, this recipe’s considerable healthful punch intrigued me into trying it. This salad was easy to make, delicious and it fueled me through an awesome run later that afternoon. If I added a bit more quinoa and threw in a little Chia, this salad would also satisfy me as a meal. The apricots balanced wonderfully against the slightly bitter bite of the kale and the lemon tang of the kefer. This one will stay in the front of the recipe file! BTW, I file recipes by my desire to eat them again. Thanks to this recipe, kefer saved my pancakes! I was just about to stop eating pancakes. The thrill was gone. I had run out of milk and there it was…the half full kefer bottle. So I used it and a little water instead. It added an incredible taste (and some higher class vitamins, minerals and micro-organisms to my griddle cakes) and gave it an exciting texture contrast. Still crispy and golden on the outside, but airier and more batter-like – though fully cooked – on the inside.

 

The recipe: Butter Lettuce Soup

The link: http://www.weareneverfull.com/lettuce-convince-you-butter-lettuce-soup-is-good/#sthash.c7hfwSQ6.dpbs

The despised: Buttermilk, Sherry and Lettuce Soup just sounds creepy

The review: Another great soup! I think my eating issues have come from trying things singularly. I might not like drinking buttermilk and the smell of sherry in the bottle might put me off my kibble, but blended together in the proper proportions and mixed with other complimentary tastes, I might come to like any foodstuff. And with so many incredible cooks and chefs out there creating such fantastic recipes, there is no reason not to enjoy. Even if I personally have a tin palate for combining much past peanut butter and jelly.

 

The recipe: Indian Style Mustard Greens

The link: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/indian-style-mustard-greens

The despised: Jalapeños

The review: Mustard greens have never been my idea of a scrumptious leaf and jalapeños – though tasty – often deliver more pain than pleasure to my mouth and digestive system. That said, I was apprehensive about tasting this concoction when completed. I won’t say it was my personal favorite of the week, but it was yummy enough to make me search searching for naan recipes and endive upon which to enjoy it. And it all fairness to this recipe, family members who tasted the greens said things like, “Damn, that is tastes like more.” In fact, they went over so well, that they were gone before I remembered to take a photo. Included is the “Food & Wine” photo of this dish.

 

The recipe: Large Gnocchi with Chive Flowers

The link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/large-gnocchi-with-chive-flowers-gnocchi-con-la-erba-cipollina-fiorisce-recipe.html

The despised: Chive Flowers (okay, not exactly despised…more like unknown and suspect)

The review: Although the chive flower is something I have put in arrangements, I have never considered putting them in my belly. It has always seemed more livestock fodder than cuisine. To make things more challenging, I didn’t see how the recipe could work. There just seemed to be too little binder to hold together the dumpling when it hit the boiling water.

 

My instincts proved prophetic as my first attempt quickly exploded in the pot…half disintegrating, half becoming a ring of boiled-on pan residue while sad, drown, wilted chive blossoms bobbing in grief of their passing. I salvaged the still unused gnocchi dough and blended it into an asiago-ricotta-chive flower purée that I would repurpose into stuffed shells.

 

 

I read the recipe over and over. I searched for tutorial videos to no avail. Then I thought it had to be the cheese. I live in a spectacularly beautiful rural setting. However, owing to our small population, specialty food shops have not chosen to locate here. Hence, no Montasio cheese to be had. Reading online that Mantasio was somewhat like an Asiago but more with the taste of a Swiss, I put on my Alton Brown substitution spectacles and used aged Asiago. Had I spoken with Alton before I trying this hunch, he would have given it the thumbs down. The Asiago I purchased was an aged, crumbly cheese. Montasio is a raw, softer cheese that actually serves as a binder in the recipe.

 

Determined to prevail, I journeyed 60 miles to a larger community where – unfortunately – they were fresh out of Montasio cheese. But the store’s cheesemonger advised me on substitutes. She suggested raw Asiago that has much more binding capability.

 

Again, I prepared the dough and tucked the fragrant scallions and a beautiful purple blossom into a gnocchi and hesitantly dropped it into the boiling pot. It took longer than the first trial, but again the gnocchi cocoon exploded.

 

I scoured the net, reading everything written on chive flower gnocchi. Nothing, nothing, nothing…wait, this recipe is different. Where Mario instructs users to simply drain the ricotta, this recipe tells you to drain the ricotta in cheesecloth over a 24-hour period. And to apply pressure to the cheese/cheesecloth bundle to eek out every possible molecule of moisture. Perhaps this is the answer. But should I repurpose this second batch and start again…and then drive again for new cheese supplies? 

 

Wait, this new recipe also says that if your gnocchi explodes, it is likely that the ricotta is too wet and to try adding an egg white to the mixture. Got it. Freshly boiling pot…whipped egg white blended…spoon to hold under the gnocchi to protect it from the fiercest buffeting of the boiling water. Drop…okay…no burst. Can I take away the spoon and allow the bubbles to collide with the pasta? Nope, a chunk broke away. Can I stand holding a spoon under each gnocchi as it cooks 8 to 12 minutes in boiling water? No way. Looks like another batch of stuffed shells. But I did finish this one gnocchi. I plated it and tasted it without the butter sage sauce to really examine the flavor. It was gorgeous to cut into the dough and see the surprise of the chive flower. And the taste was out of this world.

Determined to get it right, I started over with a very small batch. Ricotta drained correctly, it was basically a cinch. Though tasters were in love with the butter-sage sauce and indeed the taste of the gnocchi itself, they were a bit skeptical of the pasta’s white, gooey appearance. I think next time, I will try to brown the gnocchi in the butter sauce just a bit before serving.

 

NEXT WEEK’S CHALLENGE: THE DINNER PARTY