Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2014 Farm Share - Week 1

Hello again Honest Chef readers - it's that time of year again. Farm share time! The time when New England actually produces fruits and vegetables - that is, summer summer summer time. And I am here to help you with summer recipes for all that delicious produce you get in your Farm Share, Farmer's Market, garden, or neighbor's surplus. In other words, how to Flip your Farm Share!

Over the winter I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to do another farm share. Looking back on last year's experience I realized that I learned so much about cooking vegetables, incorporating more of them into my diet, and most of all, being creative with whatever I was given. So it wasn't too hard to say yes to another farm share, but since Siena Farms was the only one I had ever tried. Granted, it was great, but it was pricey. So I did a little comparison between Siena farms and the Ward's Berry Farm share offered through my work. The box had a bigger volume, it was cheaper, it had vegetables AND fruit, and part of your purchase goes toward purchasing farm boxes for families who don't have enough food. So again, seemed like a no-brainer. Would the quality be as good? Well, that remains to be seen.

So, for this season, what did I get in week one?

2 bunches of carrots (one orange, one purple), 3 mini summer squash, 1 head of red lettuce, 1 quart of strawberries, 1 bunch purple russian kale, one (teeny) bunch of rainbow chard, a bag of peas, and a jar of strawberry jam [not produce, but i'll let it slide this week.]

Those of you who know me can already guess that I just ate the strawberries straight up. No recipes needed. The strawberry season is so fleeting here that I don't ever really want to cook these or hide them in something. If  you want to dress the berries up though, I highly suggest two simple methods: one, drizzle on some maple syrup onto cut strawberries, and two, put two dollops of sour cream and 4 TBSPs of brown sugar on top of a big bowl of them. MMMMMMmmmm. So delicious.

However, I did want to give you a tip about storing fresh strawberries - field strawberries like this go bad pretty quickly. The way to keep them fresh as long as possible is to get a cookie sheet, cover it in a paper towel, and gently transfer the UNWASHED strawberries to the sheet (see left). Put this in your fridge and they should last at least a few days. Washing them ahead of time will hasten their demise, trust me. Even if you don't have space for a cookie sheet in your fridge, don't wash them until you're ready to eat!

Moving on.

This week was crazy busy, so to get ahead, and to use a lot of veggies in one shot, I decided to make a vegetable lasagna. I highly recommend this as a dish to prepare ahead and then just pop in the oven for dinner the following night. It's so easy, and can be scaled up to feed a crowd. Not to mention it's delicious and much healthier than the traditional meat and cheese.

Vegetable Lasagna

1 package of no-cook lasagna noodles
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled, that you can crush yourself)
2 clove of garlic, minced
1 yellow or vidalia onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups of ricotta cheese
11 small bunch swiss chard
1 large bunch of kale (cut the leaves off the stems, which you can discard)
10 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
3 small zucchini, cut into rings 1/2 in thick
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese/parmesean cheese or a combination
Olive oil, salt, and pepper

The key to making this veggie lasagna hold together is cooking all the vegetables first, to release their liquid. If you tried to assemble and cook this with all raw veggies, you'd get a soupy mess and you will be sad. I used these veggies, because that's what I had, but you can put any combination of cooked vegetables together that you like into this lasagna.

First, put on a large pot of water to boil. Then, get a large bowl, and mix your tomatoes with the minced garlic, 2 tsp of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Set this aside.

Rainbow chard, cooking.
Once the water has boiled, throw in your swiss chard, and let it cook for 2-3 minutes until it is wilted and cooked through. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon or strainer, and put it in the middle of a dish towel. When this is cool, wrap the chard in the dish towel, and squeeze any liquid out of it that you can (over the sink). Take out the squeezed chard, and chop it up so that the pieces are small. Repeat this exact same process with the kale, only chop it in a bit bigger pieces.

While you're waiting for these things to cool, put a skillet over medium heat, and add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Then add your onions and a sprinkle of salt and let these cook down while you are squeezing everything and preparing the ricotta mixture. Make sure to check them now and then so they won't burn! They are done when they are soft - set them aside.

Set the kale aside, but mix the swiss chard into your ricotta cheese, along with a 1/2 tsp of salt, some pepper, and your basil. Set this aside.

Finally, use the onion skillet (or a different one if you multitask well), and add 1 tbsp of olive oil, and then the rings of zucchini, in one layer (if there is too much zucchini to fit in one layer, do it in batches). While these are cooking, sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

At this point you might be noticing a S&P trend. That's because if you season each component of a dish and your final dish will come out great! I promise. Just taste each one and make sure you like it on its own. 

When the zucchini are done, set them aside. Now everything will be set aside, because you are ready to assemble. Get a station ready, like the one here (not all ingredients in view).

Add a little tomato sauce to the bottom of your lasagna pan (no chunks here - make sure the bottom sauce is as smooth as possible), and then open up your lasagna noodles and put them right in. Some people say these no-cook noodles are cheating. Let me tell you, they are not. You won't sacrifice taste and if you boil lasagna noodles and then assemble you will sacrifice several fingers and other body parts trying to get those long slippery noodles out of a huge pot of boiling water. So take my advice and don't.

Next, layer on the ricotta mixture by spreading onto the noodles. Then add your vegetables in layers, and plan for at least two, maybe three layers depending on your pan (so divide contents of bowls in 2 or 3). I did zucchini in a single layer, then onions, then kale. Top this with your shredded cheese, then more tomato sauce, and repeat (noodles, ricotta, veggies, etc etc. See below for instructions. Finally, make sure you top layer is just noodles with plenty of sauce on it. Since these noodles are exposed they need a lot of sauce to soak up. See visuals below. 

Top the lasagna with mozzarella cheese. If you're saving for later, wrap with tin foil that has been sprayed underneath with a bit of cooking spray so that when you try to take it off later all the cheese doesn't stick to it, and put it in the fridge. When you're ready to cook, set the oven to 400, and let it cook, covered in tin foil for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling. Then take the foil off and let and cheese brown (about 10 minutes more). 

Cool a bit before diving in so you don't scorch your mouth, and serve with a side salad (yes, that's 4 farm share veggies used in one meal!). We'll talk a bit more in other entries about what I decided to do with some of the other goodies -- carrots in a peanut noodle dish, and peas in a risotto, which you can check out from last year here, with some lemon and mushrooms.

Welcome to Summer everyone. Time to seize the season!  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An Ode to the Neighborhood Brunch Place - Sweet Potato Hash

Sometimes I miss living in Philadelphia. Don't get me wrong. I love Massachusetts. I was born and raised here, and if you were too you probably know that most people never can leave it, at least not for long. It is home, and even with all its annoyances (skyhigh rents, confusing roads, aggressive drivers) it really is the best. But this time of March really makes me want to be back in Philadelphia. Because spring does come earlier there - several weeks earlier. I can pretty much guarantee that my old running path has crocuses and daffodils about to bloom, and that Day by Day, my most favorite of brunch places, is dusting off their patio furniture for those 65 degree days that will almost surely occur in the next week.

And I've been thinking about brunching at Day by Day on a Sunday afternoon a lot lately... partially because I just want to be outside enjoying the sun without a parka and moon boots on... but more importantly I've been thinking about their Sweet Potato and Chorizo Hash. Man, is it good and man, do I miss it. It's delicious for brunch, but also for dinner (particularly a dinner for 1 so you don't have to share). It's so much better than regular hash -- it's got the sweet creaminess of the sweet potatoes, half-caramelized onions and peppers, the spice and meatiness of the chorizo, all topped off with an over-easy egg. There is nothing better.

So tonight I decided to make my own version of Day by Day's Sweet Potato Hash -- using what could be found in my neighborhood grocery store. Although not quite as refined as their version (can hash even be refined? With chorizo, it most certainly can) it brought me right back to those spring afternoons in the City that's (not always but in spring almost) always sunny.

This hash is really pretty easy to make, and everything gets mushed together, so there's no need to fuss. Estimated cook time: 20-30 mins. Serves 2 (or 1 plus some leftover for lunch... woohoo!)

Sweet Potato Hash w/ a Fried Egg and Toast

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, and cut into small cubes.
1 large onion, diced (cut into small squares)
1/2 red pepper, diced (see above)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like more heat)
2 raw italian sausage links (smaller sized ones, not foot longs -- if you have that, just one)
1 egg
Olive oil (about 2.5 tablespoons)
Your favorite toast

First, grab a deep skillet that has a lid, and put it over a burner on medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil, and when it is hot (1 minute or so), add in your sweet potato. Sprinkle the potato generously with salt (about 1 tsp) and pepper (a few grinds or shakes), and stir around and let cook for 1 minute. Then, make sure the potatoes are evenly distributed in the pan, and add enough water to reach to the top of the potatoes. Cover the pan and turn the heat to medium high. (See photo)

This will take at least 10 minutes to cook the potatoes through, and usually this occurs when all the water has absorbed, but if you have only a shallow skillet or if your burner is too hot, the water will absorb before the potatoes are done. How can you tell? Take one out and try it (or poke a fork in it and see if it's soft all the way through). If it's not, just add a little more water (1/4 cup), and continue as before.

While these are cooking, get another skillet and put it over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil. Let heat for about 1 minute, and add both the onion and pepper. Add a little salt and pepper, and stir. Keep cooking for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Remember, onions have lots of natural sugars, which is why they can caramelize of course, but that also means they can burn quite easily. Do not put the heat on too high and if you notice brown edges forming on the onion, turn it down.

Once these are softened, push them over to one side of the pan, and remove the sausage from its casing, placing it into the other side of the pan (hey, who wants to dirty more pans than necessary?) I wish I could find chorizo, which is more spicy (and fancy) than the sausage at my grocery store (but if you find it, more power to you!) Break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula until there are bit size pieces.  (See left) They will cook while you're doing this, which will make it easier to break up. I used chicken sausages this time, and it was great, but you know, feel free to go full on pork or whatever you do. That's the best thing about hash. As long as you like what goes in, you'll like it when it's done.

Stir that sausage around in its half of the pan to get it cooked through, while stirring the onions and peppers on their side once in a while to prevent burning. When the sausage is done, turn off the burner. Check your potatoes. When they are cooked through and there is no more water in the pan (if there is a little but their already done, that's ok, just uncover and crank the heat while stirring and it will evaporate in no time) dump the other ingredients from your second skillet into this one. Stir around and keep on medium - low heat so that all the flavors have a chance to melt.

Press the toaster down on your toast.

Put .5 tbsp of olive oil (or butter if you want it to taste even better) in the old skillet you just cleaned out. Turn on the burner to medium. After 1 minute, crack an egg into the center of the pan. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Watch it cook. I mean it! Eggs cook fast and if you want this yoke runny (believe me, you do!), you have to watch.

But you can quickly turn the hash off and put some on a plate. You'll need it ready for the egg.

Nice looking egg! Still at least 2 mins left.
When the white is completely opaque (probably 2-2.5 mins), but there still seems to be a little bit of goop on the top, you have two options: 1) cover the egg pan with a lid so the top steams it cooked or 2) (my preferred lazyman method) quickly flip the egg over for literally 2 seconds and then slide it onto your hash.

Flipping an egg takes courage, but I was given some sage advice that hasn't failed me yet. "Don't be afraid! Just do it!"

So, before flipping, make sure the egg is loose from the pan (you can run a spatula around it to make sure it is sliding freely in the pan). Then hold the pan in your dominant hand, and literally just push your hand straight out ahead of you and bring it back quickly. Not up! Don't try to lift the egg, it will do it itself. Just forward, and back. You'll see if you're not forceful enough it will just slide to the edge. You can do this!

(Can you flip with a spatula? Sure. But the yoke might break from being poked around by the spatula, so don't say I didn't warn you! If that happens, just quickly scrape onto your hash. You'll still get some good liquidy bits).

And you're done! Oh! Don't forget the toast!

Happy Spring Everyone.