Garlic Scape Pesto

Posted on May 31, 2012. Filed under: easy, garden, healthy, recipe, Uncategorized, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Garlic scape pesto with garden-fresh snow peas.

One of my favorite things about my gardening hobby is that it has offered me a world of new challenges (and I love a good challenge). It’s not always a joyous introduction, as was the case of my hostile introduction to the spinach leaf miner. They are, ironically, eating my beet greens while the spinach sits, undisturbed, only three feet away. Happily, most of the learning opportunities are positive. Recent example: answering the question, “What Does One Do With Garlic Scapes?”

Last year, I grew garlic for the first time. It was a modestly successful attempt, certainly encouraging enough to try again this year. I planted the bulbs from the largest head last autumn, and (not so) patiently watched as the plants grew up this spring. I’d learned last year that you need to cut off the scape (the immature flower) when it begins to curl, so that the garlic plant could put all its energy into bulb development. I also learned that the scape was edible–it has a mild, chive-garlic flavor. What I didn’t learn last year was what to do with the edible scapes, so I just chopped them and added to whatever I was cooking. They certainly enhanced the flavor of a dish, but I wasn’t highlighting the flavor.

Last week, my friend, writer Sherrie Flick, suggested making a pesto. I’d already made ramp pesto (miss you, dear ramps) this season, and that was a success. So, why not try scape pesto?

Blend:
5 Garlic Scapes
Slightly less than 1/4 Cup Roasted Almonds
(Soak almonds in water for 10 minutes before blending, add 2 Tsp of the water)
1/8 Cup Grapeseed Oil
1/8 Cup Parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt

The pesto is terrifically versatile. I used some on grilled chicken. But the real highlight was tossing the pesto with some garden-picked snow peas and a teaspoon of bacon fat. The dish tasted like springtime bathed in rich butter; yet it was fairly low in calories and cost less than a dollar to make. Win!

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Spring Garden: Spinach, Snow Pea, and Scape Stir Fry

Posted on May 26, 2012. Filed under: easy, garden, healthy, recipe, Uncategorized, vegetable, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I feel like for the last few months I’ve been beginning nearly every post with an apology for not writing very often: “So busy with school,” “other writing projects,” “traveling,” etc. I probably need to reorganize this space in a better way, too. Point is, so sorry for not writing here for over a month, I’ve been very busy finishing school (I’m a master of studying food now), with writing projects (stories on food & the environment for The Allegheny Front, a weekly column in Pittsburgh City Paper), and traveling (mostly around Pittsburgh; it’s been beautiful here). I’ve also been spending a lot of time in my garden, and now I have some delicious treats to eat.

Ramps might be the first edible sign of spring, but spinach is one of the first garden crops to really pop from the ground. I’ve been eating from my spinach patch for three weeks now, and that’s forced me to be awfully creative; one can only eat so many spinach salads or lightly wilted spinach. Luckily for me, my garlic started to scape (see my post on harvesting garlic for more information on garlic scapes), and the snow pea plants are producing (a bucket-load) of pods. That sounded like a promising start to a new recipe, so I rode my bike down to a wonderful little market called the Lotus Food Company; they sell house-made tofu, and it’s ridiculously inexpensive. I also purchased a bottle of black vinegar enhanced with “fruit and vegetable juice.” That’s about all that was written in English on the label! It’s a wonderfully complex vinegar with apricot and spice flavors. All in all, I had the makings of a terrific stir-fry.

Add 1 Tsp. Vegetable Oil to a medium-hot pan.
Pan fry Half-Pound of Firm Tofu, cut into 2-inch squares until brown.
Set aside.

While the tofu is cooking, mix:
1/4 Cup Chicken or Veggie Stock
1 Chopped Garlic Scape
2 Tsp. Soy Sauce
2 Tsp. Mirin
2 Tsp. Black Vinegar
1 Tsp. Minced Ginger
1 Tsp. Corn Starch
1/2 Tsp. Toasted Sesame Oil
Set aside.

Wash and pat dry:
4 Cups Spinach
(Spinach should be loosely packed. Also, I didn’t measure this precisely.)

Wash, and halve:
Two Cups Snow Peas

Chop:
Two Garlic Scapes

Saute the spinach, snow peas, and scapes for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat.
Return tofu to pan.
Add sauce mixture.
Cook for 1.5 minutes, remove from heat, and allow dish to rest for 1 minute before serving.
Top with Toasted Sesame Seeds

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More Thoughts on Ramps

Posted on April 16, 2012. Filed under: foraging, hodgepodge, local, recipe, Uncategorized, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , |

My story about foraging for ramps aired Saturday on The Allegheny Front. They’re a marvelous little plant, and the experience of waking up (VERY) early to wander through the woods and harvest my own food was pretty incredible. I’d never foraged for anything before, and memories of that morning keep popping up. Now, when I pass a forested hillside, I wonder if ramps are growing on its slope. (I’ve cursed at several “No Trespassing” signs preventing me from scrambling up the hill and checking it out for myself!) I’ve considered foraging in my urban environment–but, I don’t know enough about urban foraging to decide what to harvest (though I did enjoy a nice snack of dandelion greens from my backyard the other day). This exercise was much easier to accomplish when I lived in Los Angeles; street-side rosemary grows everywhere and fruit trees overhang many sidewalks (protip: they are fair game if they are on the public side of a fence).

Back to the ramps. I touch on this in the story, but it’s worth repeating: if you forage for ramps, don’t over-harvest; experts say you should only take 5% to 10% of what you see (if you leave the bulbs in the ground you can harvest a bit more, however). If you see ramps at a restaurant, farmers’ market, or festival, don’t be afraid to ask about where they came from. This is especially pertinent if you see ramps on the West Coast–ramps don’t grow in California, so you might want to inquire about how they got there. I’m not discouraging the popularity of ramps (they truly are terrific), but we all need to be sure to consume them in a sustainable way, or we’ll be out of luck in a few years. Ramp population recuperation time is tremendously slow, and if they’re over-harvested the land where they grow can easily be overrun with invasive species.

If you do get your hands on ramps, what should you do with them? Here are a few ideas:

Quick and Easy Grilled Ramps:

Wash and dry ramps.
Rub with olive oil and salt.
Grill until ramps are just slightly charred.
Season with pinch of salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Pickled Ramps:

The basic ratio is 1-1-1 rice wine vinegar, water, and sugar–plus a pinch of salt.
Boil those ingredients and pour over (washed) ramp stems.
I also added a few black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, and pinch of dried ginger.

You’ll just be using the stems for this one. Better make use of the greens, too, right? Render a few slices of bacon, and add chopped ramp greens to the bacon fat. Add three eggs (beaten), the cooked bacon, and handful of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
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Roasted Bacon-Coated Brussels Sprouts (with Assorted Bacon-Coated Roots)

Posted on February 10, 2012. Filed under: bacon, recipe, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , |

Sick of the bacon-on-everything trend yet? It’s gotten a bit silly, hasn’t it? It can certainly be argued that this trend directly corresponds to the recent general improvement of bacon quality (so many hardwood smoked bacons…take that Oscar Meyer!) in America. However, this trend has also resulted in people thinking it’s a good idea to give bacon lovers remarkably silly bacon-related gifts, and enthusiasts producing improperly made bacon ice creams (protip: a bit of rendered bacon fat in the mix is a good idea, but don’t mix the bacon bits into the ice cream until right before serving). This has cast a shadow of the wonderful world of bacon. Well, overexposure will do that.

But there is hope, my friends. That hope lies in another trendy tidbit of food: the once hated Brussels sprout. Everyone loves a Brussels now (almost). Properly cooked, they’re quite terrific. So why not combine the two, add some complimentary root vegetables, and toss in a maple syrup vinaigrette? I’ve conducted an experiment. Result? Success. Grand success.

Render 1/2 lb. Diced Bacon.
Separate cooked bacon from rendered fat. Save both.

Add to a large bowl:
1lb. Brussels Sprouts, quartered
1/2 lb. Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed
1/4 lb. Carrots, cubed
1/4 lb. Parsnips, cubed

1-2 Large Shallots, quartered
Add ALL (!!!!) the reserved bacon fat to the bowl, plus salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Transfer to a baking sheet, and roast in a 425F oven for 35-45 minutes. Everything should be nicely browned. Sprouts should be crunchy–not soggy.

For the Maple-Bacon Vinaigrette:
2.5 Tbs. Maple Syrup
2 Tbs. Red Wine Vinegar
1.5 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
Pinch Salt and Two Pinches Pepper

Toss roasted vegetables with the vinaigrette and reserved bacon bits. Add salt if necessary.

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Borscht (Hot)

Posted on January 31, 2012. Filed under: beet, favorite, one pot, recipe, soup, vegetable, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

More beets.

Beet obsession + cold weather + potluck = Borscht. It’s a logical conclusion. But what is this thing they (Eastern Europeans) call borscht? I remember a time in my youth when I met my Grandpa Benji and Uncle Kenny at Yonah Schimmel’s (Lower East Side, Manhattan) for knishes, and was taken aback when I saw them both slurping on a cold, thick, magenta brew topped with sour cream. Gross?

It took some time to come around the idea that this could be something edible. It just looked so strange and horrible. I was wrong. It’s not just edible, it’s delicious. They were sipping on cold borscht. But it’s winter, so I was going to go in the other direction—hot borscht.

Basically, borscht is a hodgepodge soup dish that contains beets and whatever else you have leftover. It’s believed that borscht originated in the Ukraine, but the exact history is undocumented. The wonderful thing about undocumented recipes is that it leaves you a lot of room to play. Just about every cold-weather, beet-eating culture has its own version of borscht, and even those recipes vary from person to person. So embrace the spirt, and make your borscht with whatever you have in your kitchen (plus beets).

Peel and halve 1.5 Pounds Beets
Boil in 8 cups water for 20 minutes.
Remove beets, SAVE the water.

While beets are cooking, add to the beet water:
3 Carrots, cubed
2 Stalks Celery, cubed
2 Apples, cubed
3-4 Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed
1 Parsnip, cubed
1 Onion, sliced
1 Small Head Cabbage, shredded

Add additional water* to cover.
Add salt, pepper and 1/3 cup Red Wine Vinegar

Once beets are cool enough to touch, slice them into matchsticks and add them back to the pot.

Simmer for one hour.

Finish with 1/4 Cup Chopped Dill.

Top with Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt.

*As written, this recipe is vegan. You can add chicken stock instead of water if you’d like to. You can also make a beefy version of borscht. So much variety. 

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Beets and Their Greens

Posted on January 17, 2012. Filed under: beet, easy, vegetable, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , |

I love beets because they taste of Earth and sugar. They are also ridiculously good for you; beets are loaded with antioxidants, they’re anti-inflammatory, they’re high in fiber, and full of minerals.

Beets are easy to prepare: the roots can be roasted, boiled, or steamed. I’ve been working on a steaming/roasting method that produces a tender beet with a concentrated flavor–this is my favorite way to cook a beet. I sometimes serve them with the attached greens, but you can also use the greens separately (roots keep for a few weeks in the fridge, the greens just a few days). You were going to throw the greens away? No no no. Beet greens are versatile, and, just like the beet root, very nutritious.

So look for beets with the greens attached, because you’re getting extra food for (often) the same price per pound. If you have to buy them from a bulk bin, make sure the beet feels firm and doesn’t have any deep blemishes (they don’t have to be beautiful, but if you’re going to store them, you don’t want them to deteriorate).

For the Beets:
Remove greens from the beets. Set aside for later use.
Rinse and peel beets.*
Cut beets into 2-inch chunks (no need for perfectly sized chunks).
Place chunks on foil (helpful to have foil supported by a baking sheet), and add one tablespoon water.
Crinkle foil over beets, and place in a 400F oven.
Check beets after 15-20 minutes. Add another teaspoon or two of water if necessary.
Beets should be done in about 30 minutes.
Add a pinch of salt before serving.
For the Greens
Wash beet greens thoroughly, dry them, and separate greens from stem.
Chop stem into 1/2 inch pieces, and tear greens into 2 inch pieces (again, no need for perfection).
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a pan over medium heat.
Add 2 cloves garlic, minced.
Cook 30 seconds, then chopped stems.
Cook 2 minutes, then add the greens.
Cook 1 minute.
Add 2 teaspoons water, cover pan, and let cook for 2 more minutes.
Finish with a pinch of salt and sugar*, a drizzle of olive oil, and the juice of one lemon.
Toss with beet roots.

* Beets are usually peeled after cooking, but with this method it’s easier to do so before. Unless you like your hands stained with beet juice you should wear latex gloves. Also don’t wear any fancy clothes while preparing beets.
* If you can find Meyer lemons, skip the extra sugar and celebrate. They are most wonderful, and I’m jealous my parents have a tree that’s full of them in their back yard. Lucky parents!
*Don’t fear the beeturia: you might experience a…colorful…urination after eating beets. It’s not uncommon. And it’s not blood. Don’t call your doctor friend in the middle of the night and try to figure out what just happened–trust me.

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Ropa Vieja

Posted on January 9, 2012. Filed under: beef, leftover, meat, recipe | Tags: , , , , , |

Winter break is a wonderful concept. After weeks of research, writing, research, writing, heavy drinking/regretful hangovers, more research, more–much more–writing, I suddenly had limited responsibilities and and a good excuse to travel. It’s one of the wonders of academia, perhaps designed to force us outdoors so that a wee ray of sunshine will touch our library-pale skin. (Maybe that’s a tad dramatic–one of the other wonders of academia is occasionally having the freedom to take the dog for a walk on an unexpectedly bright late-autumn day.)

  This break was lovely: I packed (most) of my smarty-pants books away for two weeks, spent time ten days in California, and was Best Man at my brother’s wedding. One of my favorite parts of the break was the time I spent cooking dishes I’ve been interested in preparing, but because the previous two months were so hectic, I hadn’t made.  Finally, at long last…ropa vieja.

Ropa vieja (unfortunate translation: old clothes) is made from leftovers. Since I was deliberately making it rather than using what was left in the refrigerator, I cooked a beef soup two days prior as an excuse to have the necessary leftovers. Double bonus…the soup was excellent. I also had leftover salsa from the amazing salsa dude who sells on Saturdays at the Pittsburgh Public Market, a fantastic addition to the dish.

Assembling ropa vieja is simple. Here’s how I made it:

Add, to a medium-hot pan:
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Tomato Paste

1 Clove Garlic, minced

1 Small Onion, diced*
2 Tsp. Dried Oregano  

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add:
2 Cups Shredded Beef
2 Cups Salsa*
1 Cup Pureed Leftover Vegetables*

Cook for 3-5 minutes, add:
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro

*You’ll need to use your judgment with this recipe. TASTE the beef first, TASTE the salsa first. Do you need more salt/onion/tomato? Do you want to add any heat to the dish? What do the pureed vegetables add?

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Perfect Pork Chop

Posted on December 29, 2011. Filed under: meat, pork, recipe, technique | Tags: , , , , , |

I’m not very good at following rules. A combination of creativity, curiosity, and stubbornness (and upper middle class white privilege–there, happy grad school?) leaves me with a tendency to learn some basic rules and then follow my own path. In general, I think this is a very good thing–you’ll never find me following a less-efficient route because I’m a slave to the (literal or proverbial) GPS. More specifically for a cook this is (aside from baking) nearly always a good thing. Experimenting is the key to understanding ingredients and developing your own style as a cook. Published recipes are generally “safe,” and often lack complete flavor potential.* When I use them, if I use them, they are used as a guide or starting-point. So imagine my surprise when I stuck to an America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Oven-Roasted Thick-Cut Pork Chops, and it turned out to be brilliant.

A perfectly roasted pork chop: a dragon, albeit a small one, I’ve been chasing for ages. Simple and wonderful. I’ve never been able to get it right. So I followed the directions precisely. The people at America’s Test Kitchen are so meticulous in the way they develop recipes I had a feeling they’d get it right, and they totally did. The chop was phenomenal: a richly flavored mahogany crust protecting the tender inside of the chop. I topped it was a garlic/thyme sauce, and cried “PERFECTION!”

I’m not going to publish the recipe. America’s Test Kitchen’s policy is to charge for access to their content, and I can respect that. They might be a step behind the times regarding online sharing, but, hey, they work hard and deserve to make a buck or two. So here is the basic idea

Salt chops and allow them to rest a room temperature.

Cook slowly in a low oven.
Sear over very high heat.

*Clearly I don’t mean posted recipes on this site; they are all full of flavor and joy

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Food, Community, and $35 For The Week: Day Three. Ham Rescue.

Posted on November 8, 2011. Filed under: challenge, community, favorite, hodgepodge, recipe | Tags: , , , , |

On Day Three I ate ham.

My task for the day was to use my cooking skills to teach someone how to make a dish they had always wanted to learn how to cook. In exchange, they would provide the ingredients. Part of my skill-set is helping new cooks learn how to make cooking enjoyable, so I thought this would be a perfect way to earn some food. My ladyfriend is southern, but she didn’t know how to make one of the most iconic southern dishes: baked ham. Also, I’m pretty sure she was taking pity on me for my restricted diet. Regardless, I thought it was a good deal.

Baking ham can be a totally simple proposition: purchase ham (already cured, smoked, and cooked), gently heat it in the oven, and then serve. Ham can also be a very complex proposition: purchase a fresh ham and do all the curing, smoking, and cooking yourself. As much as I’d love to cure and smoke my own ham, that was impractical for this task. OK, it’s generally impractical (though fantastic!), so it made much more sense to use a pre-cured ham. Since it wasn’t possible to teach her how to cure a ham from scratch, my best bet was show her how to enhance the flavor of a pre-cured one. Hello Whiskey-and-Spice Ham!

Baked Whiskey and Spice Ham
Start with a pre-cooked, bone-in ham.
Pat ham dry with paper towels.
Brush ham with a layer of Dijon Mustard.
Pat on a layer of Brown Sugar over the mustard.
Spray ham with Whiskey (bourbon is best).
Pat on a layer of Crushed Ginger Snaps.

Tent with foil and bake at 275 for 15 minutes per pound.
Raise heat to 325 and bake uncovered for last 15-20 minutes of cooking.

I’ve taken some slack for this one because in the middle of this project I got to eat one of my favorite foods, which happens to be a giant and fairly expensive hunk of meat. So I’ll say this: I didn’t eat an entire ham, nor do I have plans to eat the rest of it (this week). I had a meal-sized portion, and reserved an extra slice for a breakfast sandwich the next day. The rest of the ham, except for the bone, will be frozen for later enjoyment (the bone will be used to flavor another round of beans). Also, although ham would certainly be high on my list of requested dishes, it wasn’t my idea (though it was very much appreciated).

Additional money spent: $0.25 (that’s about how much whiskey I used)
Money left for the week: $12.63

*If you’re wondering about my other meals: Oatmeal w/ maple apple butter for breakfast, leftover veggie soup for lunch, green beans with dinner, tiny bit of cheese and some pretzels (given to me on Sat.) as a snack, and an apple as another snack.

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Market Demo: Bean and Bacon Stew

Posted on September 12, 2011. Filed under: bacon, local, recipe, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , |

Back from an extended vacation. I’m sure y’all had a hard time sleeping while you were waiting for the next post. Well, sleep now, friends, sleep now. The new post is here.

I spent Saturday morning cooking in the Chef’s Demo Tent at a local farmers’ market (Farmers@Firehouse, sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh). I decided to challenge myself by not planning anything in advance; I was going to let the market dictate what I should make. This could sound daunting to some people, but I thought it would be a good test of my creativity. And it was.

It was exciting for me to walk around the market, choose delicious-looking food, and then immediately start preparing it. What a wonderful way to cook! We’re in a bit of transition in Pittsburgh–summer fruit and veg are on their way out, but the autumn harvest is yet to be bountiful. No matter. I was able to find a great combination of ingredients: green & yellow beans, heirloom eggplant, tender kale, onions, ripe tomatoes, and locally produced bacon.

I promised quite a few people the recipe. Here it is, more or less*:

Begin by sauteing:
3/4 lb. Bacon, diced
When bacon is crisp, remove from pan.
Save delicious bacon fat.
Leave 2-3 Tbs. bacon fat in pan.

While the bacon is cooking, boil:
2 lbs. Green Beans,  cut into 1.5 inch pieces*
Boil for 10-15 minutes, or until tender.
Plunge cooked beans into ice water until ready to use.
Boil one bunch Kale (cut into strips) the same water.
Plunge kale into ice water too.
Reserve One Cup Cooking Liquid

Cook, in the bacon fat:
3 Cups Diced Eggplant
1 Medium Onion, diced

Once eggplant is cooked, it’s time to assemble.

Add, to a pot:
Beans
Eggplant & Onions
Kale
Reserved Cooking Liquid
1 Cup Chicken Stock

Simmer for 5-10 minutes, and thicken if desired.

Before serving, top with:
Cooked Bacon
1 Cup Diced Tomato*


*I was cooking on the fly, so I wasn’t measuring anything at all, so you’re going to have to challenge yourself to create balance!
* You can use any combination of fresh beans: green/yellow/purple/wax.
* The time for ripe heirloom tomatoes is fading, my friends. I think this will work with a quality canned tomato, but it won’t be quite so sweet.

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