Weeks Eleven CSA Challenge – Phone-A-Friend

The vegetables in this week’s CSA seemed fit for a chef…so I called one. Todd Singleton is a great good friend from our early days and an awesome chef these days. I figured if anyone could suggest a meal plan, it would be he.

CSA contents: Bibb lettuce, Cubanelle peppers, onion, celery, cherry tomatoes, kale, flat beans, Armenian cucumbers, Chanterelle mushrooms, and red cabbage

The following is the meal suggestion Todd shared:

-A fresh salad of Bibb lettuce with the tomatoes, some cucumber and onion.

-Pickle the remaining cucumbers in a quick brine with some onion.

-With your protein, sautéed Chantrelles and coconut creamed kale.

-Next protein with a braised red cabbage with fennel

-How about a “hummus” with the flat beans?

-A roasted Cubanelle and onion chutney to keep in the fridge and use with lots of things – grilled meats, bagels, cream cheese dips…

The instinctive yummy pairings Todd made were fascinating. I was inspired by the blending of food science and taste that he used to determine a meal. I mean, that kind of expertise is really to be desired.

When I see ingredients, I look them up to see how they will work together. But the knowledge and creativity involved in both deciding great food pairings and that are nutritious and balanced, is formidable. This is something I want to learn.

Sure it will take time and likely many mistakes, but I do believe this is the next long-term goal of my cooking. Thank you, Todd for the motivation, and thank you for the coconut cream kale and Cubanelle pepper and onion chutney…lovely surprises and great new tastes to me.

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Todd Singleton – Food Services Technician at Southern Tier Brewing Company

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

It’s a SNAP…Fitness deal

As president of the Running Revolution, I was pleased when our local SNAP Fitness offered Revolution members free 30-day trial memberships and special training support for new runners. However, since I was unfamiliar with the services SNAP offered, I felt an obligation to investigate the process and share what I found.

So, I showed up to meet our local SNAP Fitness Store Manager Ryan Nuhfer.Image

Ryan gave me a tour of the facility and signed me up for a membership, easy peasy.Image

Then Ryan showed me a metabolic assessment tool called easyFIT. It is an accelerometer device akin to the Bodybugg featured on The Biggest Loser. EasyFIT monitors are worn on the hip and gauge caloric burn rates through user motion. By tracking calorie output, the easyFIT encourages wearers to meet daily burn goals, strive for points, and generally empower more healthful diet and exercise decisions. Though I learned that an easyFIT would not be happy if I took it in the pool for a swim, it would track the rest of my cardio work quite well. The easyFIT is an optional item that – if you chose to purchase – would cost around $49.00.   ImageImage

Ryan started to discuss results-based training, the keystone of the SNAP Fitness philosophy. Ryan’s passion for his work was clear as he talked about helping people learn what and how much to do to get the fitness results they desired. With pride, he referenced the numerous success stories featured in frames on the wall, each detailing the particulars of a local member who had improved their health.

At this point, SNAP personal trainers guide new members through a half hour fitness assessment targeting the “Basic 8” muscle groups…chest, back, quads, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, calves and abdominals. Results from this test – along with client fitness and weight loss goals – become the baseline for workout routine recommendations. SNAP trainers are available for a limited number of orientation sessions, or may be hired for ongoing training.

Then Ryan showed me something more…SNAP has partnered with Truestar Health to provide members with virtual trainers, nutritionists and health advisors. Ryan created an online Truestar account for me and proceeded to type in my personal information including medical conditions like allergies, food dislikes and my desire to train for athletic performance in multi-sport races. Then hay presto, up came 52-weeks of nutrition and exercise training regimens designed to meet my needs.

These programs were so dense that I am going to write more about them as I have a chance to explore them, but on first pass they are quite interesting. My nutrition program stipulates three meals and two snacks a day designed to help me reach my lean endurance muscle goal while providing hormonal, PH and caloric balance and eschewing my allergy-provoking foods. Menus are alterable, may be comprised of homemade or eat out options at ratios you control, recipes are scalable and may be printed, and you can print shopping lists for a day, a week or two weeks.  For someone like me who wants to eat healthfully but lacks the knowledge, the food creativity, and possibly the drive to do the investigatory work to learn how to feed myself better, this program appears to be a godsend.Image

The exercise program Truestar Health prescribed fell short of my expectations in syncing with my current exercise regimen, but it began with anatomical adaptation (improving strength and flexibility and preparing the body for upcoming training), which is a safe starting point. Still, the workouts and exercise options this program suggested were vast and impressive. I am hopeful that with some additional tinkering the program will better match its workout recommendations to my current abilities. I am excited by the concept of a personalized sport-specific training program that builds to a goal or race date.

The Truestar site also offers a medical encyclopedia where you can look up medical conditions and peruse recommended treatment options and a spiffy yoga builder program with pre-built sequences and the option to build your own. The site also has supplement, attitude and sleep programs, but I have not explored those yet.

As soon as my orientation was over, Ryan invited me to stay and workout. I could not stay right then, but it is pretty swell to think that I could take him up on the offer 24/7.

I went to my local SNAP Fitness gym for an orientation that would allow me to share the experience and encourage others to get the support they need to improve their fitness level wherever they could find it. I left realizing that I had found some support I had been missing.