Ramping Up

Every week we get a bag of food from Kam’s Kookery & Guilford Garden. It’s called a CSA, for “community-supported agriculture,” but it’s easier to refer to it as our “veggie bag.” CSA customers commit to the veggies in advance, and given the nature of farming, receive a fluctuating variety and amount of produce every week (or every other week, as the case may be).

I had a couple of things in mind to try with this week’s bounty. My friend Hailey shared her experience of making pastrami-cured beets, which I was excited to make as soon as I learned we’d receive beets. We got turnips too, so to make it worth the effort I combined them. They’re delicious! Here’s the recipe Hailey and I used. I didn’t have any powdered garlic, and they still turned out delicious. At last! I didn’t wait until the turnips were sad and wrinkly before finally putting them to use!

A head of cabbage also came in the bag, so I started a batch of sauerkraut, adding bits of leftover turnips and beets for color and crunch. If you’ve never made sauerkraut before, there’s ample guidance online and in books you can get at the library. I decided to check with one of my favorite bloggers, the Zero Waste Chef, to see how she does it. I took her advice to let the salted veggies sit for an hour or so after I mixed and massaged them with salt. This ensured the cabbage released enough water so that I could easily submerge the veggies in the resulting brine, something that has taken a lot of pounding and squeezing in the past. After I filled the large jar, I decided to add some minced serrano peppers that we had in the freezer, so a small batch will have a bit of heat.

The veggie bag also had onions, zucchini, crookneck squash, sungold tomatoes, new potatoes, cucumbers, and Swiss chard. I love this time of year! This morning I flipped through How to Cook Everything Fast (thanks, Anne!) to see what I could make with some chicken thighs and squash: Provencal chicken for supper!

Given the Opportunity

Last night I made some Indian food and thought that merited some activity here other than the occasional spambot comment.

My friend John gave me a quart of raw milk on Saturday, and rather than say, drink it, I decided to make paneer, a fresh Indian cheese. I’ve made fresh cheese a couple of times; the process is very easy and adaptable with spices and herbs. (This lovely towel, which I used to wrap and press the paneer, was a thoughtful gift from my talented friend, Dawn.)
homemade paneer
The decision to make paneer proved wise, given the presence of other ingredients in my kitchen that, when combined,  make aloo matar paneer: red potatoes that were starting to show their age, a bag of frozen peas that were long overdue their use, and well-stocked spice shelves. I used this recipe as a guide.
aloo matar paneeraloo matar paneer
So, to recap — Saturday: received milk. Monday: made paneer. Wednesday: made Indian dish. Not even a trip to the grocery store was required! This is the way I like to do things, when given the opportunity.
aloo matar paneer

A Fixture

Creamed greens, vinegar and greens, leftover bacon and greens, greens and caramelized onions. Any which way, and topped with an egg, this is my go-to dish for a quick meal, since I always have eggs, thanks to Rose Ranch‘s egg CSA, and I almost always have greens, be it spinach, kale, chard, or henbit in the yard.

soft-boiledsoft-boiled

Incidentally, Rose Ranch’s happy hens have been laying like crazy. If you want to try a carton ($4/dozen), get in touch with Vicki at vicrose (at) roseranchjones (dot) com.

Purple Polenta

IMG_3383
Polenta is one of my favorite comfort foods. And I’m sick. And tonight was supposed to be Snowmageddon 2013 (although that remains to be seen). So, it seemed only natural… It’s just that, well, purple polenta doesn’t look natural. But that’s what you get when you make polenta with blue cornmeal, which is all I had tonight when I got my craving. I’m not sure it was any good. My taste buds can’t be trusted right now.

Losing My Noodle

It tastes way better than it looks.

Well, it sure isn't pretty, but it's delicious. Massaman curry with sweet potato, onion, and spaghetti squash. #oklavore
What I had for supper: massaman curry with sweet potatoes (from Urban Agrarian), spaghetti squash (from Guilford Gardens CSA), and onion.

The secrets: I used massaman curry paste that I picked from the huge selection at Super Cao Nguyen. The paste lasts forever in the refrigerator and its label provides guidance for making delicious curries.
To save on cooking time, I roasted the spaghetti squash last night. Spaghetti squash has a nutty flavor and loads of fiber. I stab it about 10 times and cook it at 400° for about an hour; cut in half, scrape out seeds and “noodles.”

I can’t eat massaman curry without thinking of Sukho Thai II in Denton, Texas. It is (was?) right off the north side of University of North Texas campus and you could get a mountain of massaman curry and rice for $3 or so. That was my first exposure to the deliciousness that is massaman curry, although tonight’s version was just as good and probably a lot healthier. I’m not sure if that tiny cafeteria-style Thai place is still on Hickory Avenue, but last I heard, they got all “fancy” and raised their prices.

Manic Monday

It’s been quiet around here, so I thought I’d tell you about my evening. For the last two-and-a-half hours I’ve been a whirlwind in the kitchen: I started batches of fermented okra (more on this later in the week) and pickled eggs, concocted an apple-pecan-raisin bake, and assembled a three-bean salad (an adapted version of this recipe).

I was in a bit of a funk when I got home — but no more, thanks to this mishmash of food, an equally eclectic music selection (Janis Joplin, GreenMan, Jack Johnson, and Tori Amos), and the breezy, overcast evening.

Now that I feel quite accomplished, I think I’ll go snuggle up with a book.

Tonight’s evolving countertops:
fermented okra, pickled eggs, purple hull peasfermented okra, pickled eggsapple bake, pickled eggs, purple hull peas, fermented okra
bean salad

P.S. I’d like to talk to the person that thought 2-inch tile and grout would make a suitable kitchen counter.

Fermented Beets

fermented beets

I could not resist this lacto-fermenting project, since it contains the words “fermented,” “beets,” and “ginger.”*

As the article accompanying the recipe notes, fermentation is the original way to make pickles. It creates that sour taste that industrial pickle-packers have attempted to mimic with vinegar-based brines. In the process, they’ve lost the depth of flavor (so I’ve heard) and the nutritional benefits. So why did processors abandon fermentation? Apparently it doesn’t offer the uniformity necessary for a large-scale operation.

When I first heard “lacto-fermentation,” I found it off-putting; I imagined milk and fermented vegetables. But that’s not quite right: The “lacto” comes from “lactobacillus,” a ubiquitous and “good” bacteria. According to Nourishing Traditions, the proliferation of lactobacilli enhances vegetable digestibility. It also converts starch and sugar into lactic acid, which keeps  vegetables and fruits “in a state of perfect preservation” and “promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”

You might know that salt is a common ingredient in vegetable fermentation. In Nourishing Traditions, author Sally Fallon explains that salt inhibits putrefying bacteria while the naturally occurring lactobacilli produces enough lactic acid to preserve the vegetables. But you can reduce or eliminate the salt if you inoculate your pickling solution with whey. I happened to have some frozen whey, left over from making cheese from my friend Matt’s goat milk, and was happy to find a use for it. (That last sentence makes me sound more industrious than I am. Making soft cheese is really easy.) But if you don’t have whey or are vegan, don’t be discouraged. You can certainly ferment without it.

beautiful beets
Beautiful beets from Guilford Gardens
fermenting beets
fermenting beetsfermenting beets
left Packed jar right Evidence of fermentation after Day 1

So, perhaps you’re saying, Well, that’s lovely, Tricia. But how does it taste? Like a mellow version of my grandma’s pickled beets, which she makes with vinegar and sugar. That is to say: good. However, I didn’t cook the beets long enough, so they were firmer than I would have liked.

*Random side note about punctuation: For the past three years I’ve had turmoil about the serial comma. Perhaps you’ve noticed its sporadic appearance? Sometimes it slipped through, despite my attempts to stick to AP Style, which generally goes with a “less is more” approach to punctuation. As copy editor at the Oklahoma Gazette, I was obligated to omit serial commas, and I attempted to do the same with this blog as a matter of consistency. I was not properly assimilated into the AP fold, and the absent comma constantly vexed me. I have a somewhat sick affinity for it, and with a recent job change, I can embrace the comma, and hopefully leave behind my acute awareness of the issue. Whew.