Absence Makes the Heart Grow Nauseated

I was texting with Andrew during intermission of his show Friday night, obsessing over the fact that I had made a quart-and-a-half of spinach pesto and still had a bunch of spinach left over. I sent him a link to a recipe on serious eats for vegan saag paneer that substituted tofu for the paneer. Our conversation went something along these lines:

Andrew: “Is the tofu still good?”

Me: “No, I threw it out yesterday.”

Andrew: “Paneer is fun to make!”

Me: “Great, let’s do it!”

Andrew: “Though I’ve had some bad experiences with saag paneer.”

Me: “What kind of bad experiences?”

Andrew: “It made me sick. But you should make it for yourself!”

Me: (…)

It’s taken a few years for me to accept an important hack of CSA-owning couple-hood, which is that we don’t necessarily need to eat the same thing, even if we’re cooking together. But with Andrew playing a show, the weekend is a perfect time for parallel recipe testing. He needed something to eat between shows on Saturday and Sunday, preferably a meal that didn’t make him nauseous. I needed to use up the spinach. So we went with a recipe for sausage and pasta that would use the CSA rapini for him. And I searched for a non-vegan saag paneer recipe.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Rapini

The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated.

I made the anchovy paste while Andrew cooked the sausage and the pasta. I smooshed two anchovies, a tsp of garlic, a TB of lemon juice, and a TB olive oil all together.

You bring pasta water to a boil and put in a pound of orecchiette. While that’s doing it’s thing, you put oil in a skillet and heat it up, then throw in 8 ounces of mild Italian sausage, with the casings removed and broken into little chunks. Once it’s browned, you remove it from the skillet and put in a few more teaspoons of garlic and some red pepper flakes, and cook that in the sausage fat for a minute or so. Then you add the broccoli rabe, which has been chopped into 1/4 inch pieces. The rapini cooks for a few minutes and then you set it aside.

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Raw sausage makes any still life much less appetizing.

In the now empty skillet, you add a cup of chicken broth and 3/4 cup of pasta water. This comes up to a boil, and then you simmer it until it’s reduced a bit, 4-6 minutes. Then the anchovy oil goes in, along with 1 1/2 TB butter, the sausage, the broccoli rabe, and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (we probably put in like 2 cups, not really sure why Cooks Illustrated is sometimes stingy with the delicious parts).

CSA ingredients used: Rapini

Other ingredients used: mild Italian sausage, parmesan cheese, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice

Saag Paneer

The only thing I really knew about saag paneer before making this recipe was that it used spinach and that it made Andrew nauseous. He later clarified that the last time he had saag paneer was quite a few years ago and he was on a bad date and he didn’t know if the nausea was related to the richness of the dish or the personality of his dining companion. The recipe I picked was from Saveur.

Reading over the recipe, I was overcome by a deep sense of sadness. Making ricotta cheese is one of my favorite things. How is that I had gotten this far in life without knowing that there’s a dish you can make that is basically the same thing as making ricotta, except that then you fry it in oil? And people are allowed to eat this?

As soon as the door closed behind my last student Saturday afternoon, I got to work.

First, take 8 cups of whole milk and put it in a large pot. Bring the milk up to around 200 degrees, right before it’s about to boil. Then add 1/4 cup of lemon juice. When you’re making ricotta, you usually add salt at this point too, but as previously mentioned you are about to fry this in oil so it’s not really necessary.

Let the cheese drain. (This is what cheesecloth is for, but I usually use paper towel and it’s fine.) After it drains for a while, you want to spread it out a bit, put another piece of paper towel on it, and then put a heavy pot over that to press it. Once it’s been pressed for about 30 minutes, you can cut it into chunks.

After that, you heat 6 TB of canola oil in a frying pan and fry the cheese for about 5 minutes. The cheese goes off to cool somewhere and the skillet gets saved for later.

Next, you put 4 TB of chopped garlic, a piece of chopped ginger, 1/4 cup of water, and a serrano chile (I didn’t have one, so I used a frozen thai green chile. It was fine.) in a blender. You blend it until it’s a paste, and then heat up the remaining oil in the skillet and fry the paste a bit. Mine was more of a liquid than a paste, but it didn’t seem to make a huge difference. After that, 6 cups of chopped spinach goes into the pan and cooks until it’s wilted, about a minute. Then you turn the heat way down and cook it until it’s very soft, about 15 minutes.

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Notice the tofu in the background that did not actually end up being part of the recipe

After that, you add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of  garam masala, and 6 TB of heavy cream (in case you thought the fried cheese wasn’t enough). The cheese goes back into the skillet, and everything cooks together for another 15 minutes. I had mine over brown rice, but I bet it would be even more amazing with naan.

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CSA ingredients used: spinach

Other ingredients used: milk, lemon juice, heavy cream, garlic, ginger, a chile, cayenne, garam masala, rice.

This was exceedingly good, and exceedingly filling, and so far there hasn’t been any ill effects. Just in case, I decided to wash it down with a tamarind pisco sour (2 oz pisco, 1 1/2 oz tamarind concentrate,  1/2 oz simple syrup).

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Next: Week 1 Field Report

Operation Pesto

We were not remotely prepared psychologically for the arrival of the first box. Andrew was coming off an eight show week (this will be a common theme), and I had been out of town at a friend’s wedding all weekend.

The email from Nichols Farm came on Monday morning. Going on year three, we knew more or less what to expect in an early June box: spinach, kale, lettuce, rapini, potatoes, asparagus, radishes, and strawberries. I read the list to Andrew, and he stared into space for a few minutes and asked me to read it again (this will also be a common theme). Mondays are his day off, and after playing 5 shows in the span of 48 hours, he has difficulty with basic cognitive tasks and resembles a person who has recently awoken from oral surgery. It usually passes by mid-afternoon. Despite this, we came up with a plan that I was pretty sure Andrew had agreed to, and I went about going through the refrigerator indiscriminately throwing things out to make room for the contents of the box.

My friend Sammi was in town, and on Tuesday, the day the first box arrived, we were playing a recital together. We had our final rehearsal in the morning and then I headed off to pick up the box. It was around 1:30 PM when I got home with it, and I was already ravenous and a little light-headed. But having thrown everything out from the refrigerator, if I wanted lunch, I needed to make it out of the CSA.

Actually, this is not true: I could have run up the street for a sandwich, eaten it, warmed up for my concert like a responsible professional, and put off dealing with vegetables until the next day, but I was blindly determined not to fall behind on the first day of the CSA. These things can build up quickly, I said to myself as I struggled to stand. We need to make sure there’s space for when the 12 ears of corn arrive in late July. 

The recipe we had picked out for lunch was a potato salad from Smitten Kitchen.

Spring Salad with New Potatoes and Pickled Onions

First scrub the potatoes clean and cover them with an inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 min, or until they’re done. (It took mine 35 min because I was using russets instead of little ones…) While that’s happening, you can make the pickled spring onions. Mix together a half cup of warm water, a half cup of rice wine vinegar (recipe called for white wine vinegar, didn’t have any), 1 TB salt and 1 ½ teaspoons sugar and add 4 spring onions sliced thin. This goes in the refrigerator.

At this point, the potatoes weren’t done and I was getting desperate so I  made myself a smoothie. Things improved considerably after that.

When the potatoes were finally cooked, I dumped them in the sink and doused them with cold water. Then you’re supposed to refill the pot the potatoes were in with fresh water and bring it to a boil. Deb Perlman from Smitten Kitchen mentions that it’s nice to do this so that you have fewer dishes to clean, allowing me to entertain the delusion that my kitchen wouldn’t be completely destroyed after making this recipe. 

While waiting for the water to boil again, I made the dressing: ¼ cup olive oil, 2 TB mustard, 2 TB rice wine vinegar (white wine vinegar if you have it…) and salt and pepper. Once the water was boiling, I threw in the asparagus for a few minutes, then drained it and ran it under cold water. At this point, the potatoes and asparagus got chopped up and I threw the dressing over it.

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It’s worth noting that you’re supposed to let everything come up to room temperature, but I definitely wasn’t going to do that. A few of the pickled spring onions (how long ago did I make those? An hour? Last week?) went on top.

All things considered, this was pretty delicious and surprisingly filling too. I usually get bored of potato salad pretty quickly, but the pickled onions were a fantastic touch and I went back and added the rest of the spring onions to the brine so that we would have more for salads later on in the week. 

CSA vegetables used: potatoes, spring onions, a few radishes, a pound of asparagus

Other ingredients used: rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard, olive oil,

Spinach Pesto

There are few things I enjoy more than waking up the morning after a concert and knowing that I have the entire day off. I was up early to see Sammi off, and leisurely went about my morning cooking project with an uncharacteristic level of patience. 

The box came up with two pounds of spinach, which in case it doesn’t sound like it is huge amount of spinach. Neither Andrew nor I particularly like eating it raw, and we also still had lettuce, kale and rapini to go through, so I decided to make it all into spinach pesto. I used a recipe from Kenji Lopez Alt’s Food Lab cookbook, substituting spinach for basil. Based on the amount of spinach I had, I ended up quadrupling the recipe. I didn’t use up all of the spinach, either.

Kenji recommends blanching the greens in water so that they’ll stay bright green, rather than turn brown three minutes after you put them in the refrigerator. Usually I skip this step, but I figured since I was making about 6 cups of pesto I probably was going to have it around for a while. This meant blanching the spinach in two different batches, and then trying to cool it all off immediately before it turns itself to mush.

The spinach went into the food processor, along with a pound of grated parmesan cheese, an entire container of pine nuts, the zest of four lemons and the juice of two, along with a cup and a half of olive oil. We also added an assortment of basil, thyme, and sage from the garden to give the pesto a little more flavor.

The first day we had it on pasta. It was fine, but not spectacular – spinach pesto doesn’t have a lot of a flavor and we didn’t have a lot of extra things to add to the pasta. It was frankly pretty delicious by the spoonful, though, and the next day I had it on sliced ciabatta  for lunch which was delicious.

You can freeze pesto if you leave the cheese out, but I didn’t do that so now we have about 6 cups of pesto in the refrigerator. The internet seems to feel it will last 5-7 days, so we are going to be a eating a lot of pesto in the next few days, and perhaps giving it out to strangers as well.

CSA vegetables used: 3/4 of the spinach.

Other ingredients used: lemons, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, sage, thyme, oregano

Roasted Chicken & Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

Lettuce is one of the more challenging CSA ingredients to use up, because as far as I know it can’t be pickled, cooked, or blended. And in the order of going badness, it tends to be towards the top, so I was feeing some urgency with respect to the lettuce. We roasted a chicken, and served it with a salad made of lettuce, radishes, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, and pickled spring onions along with a buttermilk dressing from Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune.

The buttermilk dressing is 2 shallots, 1 garlic clove, 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk, 2 cups of mayo (she specifies Hellman’s), 1 tsp pepper, a pinch of salt, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 1/2 cups of mint, and 1 spring onion. It all goes together in a blender.

 

Not too bad for a dinner ready by 5:30 PM.

CSA ingredients used: lettuce, two radishes, one spring onion

Other ingredients used: chicken, herbs, buttermilk, mint, mayo, salt, pepper, herbs, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, garlic, lemon.

Next: Sausage with Rapini and Saag Paneer

 

 

 

Week 3: Something About Gender Normativity and Quiche

Strawberry Ice Cream, Spinach, Potato, and Goat Cheese Quiche, Fennel and Sugar Snap Pea Salad and Grilled Steak with Potatoes and Caesar Salad

The third week’s CSA box came as a welcome respite from the previous weeks’ leafy-green-athon. We were excited to see fennel and green garlic, which were among my favorite CSA items from last year. I was also eager to try the cilantro, and was determined to for the first time in my life use up a bunch of cilantro before it rotted. Andrew was pleased about sugar snap peas, and we both were a bit concerned by the turnips, since last year we had hoarded them for months until they got used up all at once at Thanksgiving dinner.

With our schedules getting busier and less time to cook, I became particularly obsessed with finding recipes that used more than one CSA item. When I saw that we had potatoes as well as spinach, I proposed using them together in some sort of gratin/galette/quiche/ tart/frittata/whatever. Then I helpfully headed off to rehearsal, leaving Andrew to contemplate whether he really felt like making another pie crust.

Unable or unwilling to decide about dinner, Andrew began by making this simple strawberry ice cream from Food52. The chief virtue of this recipes was that it used up another cup and a half of buttermilk that we still had leftover in the fridge. (We thought maybe we shouldn’t let things other than vegetables go bad in our fridge, either.) Andrew jumped at the chance to use some in ice cream.

Strawberry Ice Cream

To make the ice cream, you take one quart of strawberries and hull and quarter them and blend them with 3/4 cups sugar. Then add 1 1/2 cups of cold buttermilk, 1/3 cup sour cream, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and mix everything together until smooth. You freeze it in an ice cream maker and then transfer to your freezer to firm up for a few hours. We didn’t have quite enough sour cream, but we had some cream cheese kicking around in the fridge and used it to make up the difference.

 

Spinach, Potato, and Goat Cheese Quiche

I got home from rehearsal to find that Andrew had resigned himself to making a quiche. He pulled together the recipe from a couple different sources, starting with this recipe from Serious Eats, but also referencing Michael Ruhlman for the ratio for the quiche custard.

We’d been eating a lot of pie-type things, and Andrew started to feel that we should be a bit more health-conscious, probably because he has a front seat to the sheer amount of butter that goes into your average pie crust. He found a recipe for oat crust in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook, hoping that 2/3rd of a cup of oats might counteract the consequences of a stick of butter in the crust.

To make the dough, you start with 2/3 cup (or 2.5 oz by weight) of regular old-fashioned oatmeal and grind the oats in a food processor until it becomes oat flour. Then you pulse in 3/4 cup (or 3 1/8 oz by weight) all purpose flour and 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and work in 1 stick of cold cubed butter. Dump the crumbly mix in a bowl and smear in  3–5 TB of ice cold water. To see if you’ve added enough water, pinch some dough—if it binds together, you should be good. Form dough into round, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When it’s rested, roll out and blind-baking the crust under pie weights for about 15 minutes in a 400°F oven.

To make the quiche filling, you fry the potatoes and onions in oil until they start to brown and drain them. Wilt the spinach in a dry pot for a few minutes (the giant pile of spinach reduces itself to a tiny ball in a very satisfying way). The potatoes and spinach go into the shell along with some big chunks of goat cheese, and followed by a custard poured over the top made with 4 eggs, 1/2 cup whole milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, and ¾ tsp kosher salt. It cooked in a 350°F oven for about an hour. Andrew pulled it when the thermometer stuck in the custard was at 170°F.

CSA vegetables used: spinach, 1/3 of the potatoes, 2 red spring onions

Other ingredients used: thyme, oatmeal, flour, butter, goat cheese, egg, milk, heavy cream, salt.

 

Shaved Fennel and Sugar Snap Peas with Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette

While the quiche cooked, we threw together a shaved salad that we loosely based on a recipe in Prune. We sliced raw fennel, spring onions, and sugar snap peas thinly on a bias. 

The dressing called for garlic, which I made using some of the CSA green garlic. At this point in the season, the CSA garlic looks more like a scallion than garlic. You can barely see the outline of cloves inside each head. To make the dressing, grate the garlic against a microplane and mix it with ¾ cup olive oil and ¼ cup plus 1 TB lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Awkward teenaged garlic

CSA vegetables used: 2 red spring onions, fennel, green garlic, ½ the sugar snap peas.

Other ingredients used: thyme, oatmeal, flour, butter, goat cheese, egg, milk, olive oil, lemon

We ate dinner at 9:30 at night, and while we were tired and cranky, we felt triumphant in having used up all the spinach, half the potatoes, half the sugar snap peas, the fennel, the last of the spring onions, some green garlic, not to mention half the strawberries, all in the first 12 hours of having the box. 

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This is expert level CSA use

Wednesday we decided to grill some steaks in honor of Andrew’s birthday. I had been struck by the size and heft of the CSA romaine—it had a subwoofer-like crunch when you broke off a leaf. It seemed perfect for a Caesar salad. Since we were already firing up the grill, we decided to grill the potatoes as well.

Grilled Steak, Potatoes, and Caesar Salad

The recipe for Caesar Salad, from Serious Eats starts with the croutons.

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Take a bowl and whisk together 3 tablespoons oil and and minced 2 garlic cloves. Pass the oil through a strainer and put the garlic cloves aside for later.
  3. Next, dip a bunch of bread cubes in the garlic oil, add 2 TB parmesan cheese, and mix it all together. Put everything in the oven on a cookie sheet and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. The dressing is next: mix 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2-6 (this seems like a wide range, doesn’t it?) anchovies, 1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce, the garlic from before, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese together and blend. The recipe says with the blender running you should add 1/3 cup of canola oil. Then you pour it into a bowl and add 1/4 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Pull the croutons out (assuming you didn’t already burn them, like I did) and put another 2 TB of parmesan cheese over them.
  6. Mix dressing, croutons, and romaine together.

The grilled potato recipe also came from Serious Eats. The potatoes were left skin-on, cleaned, and cut roughly in half and boiled until tender. Then we tossed them with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and finished by searing them over the hot side of the grill until they were crusty and dark. Andrew grilled lemon halves and the last of the spring onions alongside, then sliced the onions, and tossed the potatoes with the onions and with lemon juice in a bowl before serving.

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The steaks were salted about 45 minutes before we planned to cook them, and then we let them rest so that the moisture from the salt would absorb back in. Once the grill was ready, Andrew cooked them on the grill along with the rest of the CSA potatoes and some lemons. He finished the steaks over the hot side of the grill, searing them until they reached an internal temperature of 125°F.

CSA vegetables used: half of the romaine, the rest of the potatoes

Other ingredients used: lemons, 2 steaks, 1 head of garlic, olive oil, canola oil, bread cubes

Next: In which Andrew cooks turnips while I visit the suburbs and we try dry curry.

 

Week 2: The Greens Mile

This year we had a choice of where to pick up our CSA box, so I decided to switch from the wine store a block and a half away to the wine/cheese/olive/bread store a whole four blocks away. Andrew felt that the extra three minute walking time was a huge imposition and an undue burden, but I argued that by changing location we might occasionally come home with a wedge of artisanal cheese or a loaf of bread. He proved me right by grabbing a baguette for lunch when he picked up the box Tuesday afternoon. Victory!

After last week’s successes, we opened the second box feeling pretty confident. The thrill of seeing two entire quarts of strawberries was soon replaced by a daunting awareness of the multitude of leafy greens, most of which looked like they needed to be used up expediently. There were some wild card items such as a Chinese cabbage called, confusingly, Tokyo bekana, and leaf broccoli (what is this?), in addition to the CSA stalwart head lettuce, spinach, and kale. There was also kohlrabi, which we greeted with some alarm given its tendency last year to pile up over the weeks until it had taken over an entire crisper drawer.

And so with slightly more subdued zeal than last week, we made our plan.

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We started with the spinach. There’s something about spinach that seems to say, I may have been picked fresh this morning, but if you don’t use me in the next 45 minutes I’m going to turn into black slime right here on the table. We hastily decided to making pesto.

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Spinach Pesto with Feta and Cherry Tomatoes

We used a recipe from Serious Eats for spinach pesto, which was part of a larger recipe calling somewhat bizarrely for zucchini noodles and sunflower seeds. We figured that if this tasted good over strips of zucchini masquerading as spaghetti, it would probably taste good over, you know, pasta.

You begin by spending about an hour and a half washing dirt from the spinach. Then you toast pine nuts and mix them together with the spinach, lemon juice and zest, 4 cloves of garlic, and a cup of gruyere in the bowl of a food processor. We also added a handful of thyme from the garden. Process until it begins to form a chunky paste and then blend in a cup of olive oil, pouring it in slowly while the machine whirs.

We ate the pesto with pasta, feta, and cherry tomatoes.

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CSA vegetables used: spinach

Other ingredients: garlic, lemon, olive oil, thyme, pine nuts, gruyere, pasta, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes.

Last year, I made a batch of spinach pesto and froze a bunch of it in an ice cube tray. The trick is to blend everything except the cheese, since cheese doesn’t freeze well. You add the cheese back in whenever you get around to defrosting and eating it. This time, in a hunger-induced lapse in judgement, we decided not to freeze any of the pesto. The sheer quantity of spinach involved meant that we ended up with about a quart and a half of pesto, of which 1/3 of a cup ended up in our pasta. The good news is that the spinach, at least, is no longer giving us the side-eye.

Next: When a salad turns out to be a roast chicken.

 

 

Week 1: A Box, A Plan, An Ethnically Ambiguous Salad

I picked up the first CSA box Tuesday after an afternoon of teaching that culminated in a hail storm that stranded me at my student’s house for an extra 45 minutes. Earlier in the day, the City of Chicago Department of Revenue had decided to remind me of my need to update my license plate registration with a $60 ticket, but nothing could dampen (heh) our enthusiasm when I got the box home and we had a look at the first fruits and vegetables of the season.

We were determined to start the summer right. With the contents of the box safely wrapped and packed in the refrigerator, we sat on the sun porch and flipped through cookbooks and online recipes in a manner disturbingly resembling a getting-it-together montage in an inspirational film, if they made inspirational films about vegetables. We organized the box in rough order of perishability:

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Andrew has a tendency to bake pies, so I suspected that a strawberry rhubarb pie was in my future. But having just had friends over for a Memorial Day cookout, we consulted and determined that it was unlikely we could eat an entire pie by ourselves. Plus, why cook strawberries when you can just do this for breakfast?

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I mean, come on.

Salad Nicoise(ish)

For lunch the next day, we set out to put a dent in the potatoes, radishes and the lettuce with something resembling a Salad Nicoise. Andrew is particularly fond of a soft-cooked egg recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. You bring a 1/2 inch of water in a pot to a boil and cook the eggs covered—6.5 minutes for a runny yolk; a little over 8 minutes for something less drippy. They come out pretty luscious.

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Nicoise olives are a distinguishing feature of Salad Nicoise, but not this one.

CSA vegetables used: half the potatoes, the head of lettuce, half the radishes.

Other ingredients used: one can of tuna in oil, Kalamata olives, feta, eggs, bread. Also, red wine vinaigrette: red wine vinegar, lots of dijon mustard, a pinch of sugar, olive oil and salt & pepper.

Caldo Verde

Next on the chopping block (sorry) was the spinach, which we used for dinner in a Portuguese style soup, also from Cooks Illustrated.

  1. Chop up the chorizo (the recipe called for 12 oz, we used 16 oz. because it came in packages of 8 oz). A cat may attempt to intervene at this stage.
  2. Throw the chorizo in a dutch oven and brown for a bit, then take it out. Replace the chorizo with onions (we used half the CSA spring onions), garlic, red pepper flakes, a bit of salt, and cook until just beginning to brown.
  3. Add the potatoes, 4 cups of chicken broth, 4 cups of water, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Because Cooks Illustrated believes that it’s not dinner unless you have to wash at least one appliance, at this point you take 3/4 cup of broth and 3/4 cup of the solids and throw them in a blender, drizzling in 3 TB of olive oil until smooth. You add this mixture back into the soup at the end to thicken it.
  5. When the potatoes are tender, put the chorizo back in the pot. The original recipe called for collard greens, which were cooked for some 20 minutes, but we used spinach, which we dumped in right before we ate. The recipe also calls for two teaspoons of white wine vinegar, but Andrew forgot to add it and nobody noticed.

 

 

CSA items used: the rest of the potatoes, the spinach, half of the spring onions.

Other ingredients used: 16 oz Spanish Chorizo, chicken broth, garlic, white wine vinegar.

Given the picture above of the chorizo fat glistening in the dutch oven, it’s probably unnecessary to add that this was extraordinarily deliciously. Also, filling. There’s probably two meals worth left over.

Not bad for the first 24 hours, but it’s too early in the week to get cocky.

Next: How many sauces can you make with arugula in one day?