Friday, May 29, 2015

Time to Cool Off

Yes, it's too early to start complaining about the heat. But I'm going to anyway. I guess I'm just a wimp. While I am no fan of winter, I would rather be too cold than too hot. So what am I to do to keep cool as it gets warmer and warmer?

Thankfully, we have cucumbers. The saying, "cool as a cucumber," is definitely based in fact.  Eating them definitely makes you feel cooler. And what better way to eat them than in a cucumber salad.
Photo via Bon Apétit
Like coleslaw, the debate about cucumber salad revolves around using the cream-based dressing or a vinegar-based dressing. We've had this discussion before.  While I remain strongly in the vinegar camp for coleslaw, I'm pretty equally divided when it comes to cucumber salad. My favorite is the one my mother made when I was a child, and I guess a lot of us have dishes like that. Her cucumber salad was very simple: peel the cumbers, slice thinly, optionally add a green or yellow onion also sliced thinly, and a bunch of chopped fresh dill. The dill has to be fresh. Has to. Put in a small squirt of olive oil, salt and pepper, and cover the cucumbers with white vinegar. It's great after a couple of hours, and perfect the next day.

Here are some more cucumber salad recipes, and I've included ones from both sides of the argument.

  • I still have half a bunch of radishes from a week ago that I need to use up. I'm planning on trying this recipe this week.
  • I remember buying tahini for some recipe once. I had to buy a big jar, even though I only needed a tablespoon or two. I wondered what the heck to do with all the extra tahini. It makes some pretty good cookies, but the real find was using it in a cucumber salad dressing.
  • You can shell some of the peas from this week's box for this creamy cucumber salad.
  • When it gets really hot out there, this crab and cucumber salad will be super refreshing!
  • And I guess, technically, tzatziki sauce is a kind of cucumber salad...
Photo via Simply Recipes

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Being Well Dressed

This time of year, there's lots and lots of lettuce to go around. We're getting it in our boxes, and also getting it from our gardens. So, of course, we have salads every day.  I much prefer my own dressing. It's nice to know what's in the food you're eating. Ever try to read the label for a bottle of salad dressing? I hope you remember your chemistry from college...

Photo via The Daily Meal
Making salad dressing is extremely easy. It's also cheaper. Well, you can buy very fancy ingredients, of course. Trust me, I spend lots of money on that.  But it doesn't have to be.  You need a bowl, and a whisk. That's about it. Here are some common salad dressing recipes that can get you by most of the year.

  • Mustard vinaigrette – This is about as easy as it gets. You need two parts of some kind of vinegar, one part of some kind of mustard, and one part olive oil.  Feel free to get as creative with this as you like. Try different kinds of mustard (I would stay away from the bright yellow kind, but try just about everything else).  Try different kinds of vinegars: cider, red wine, rice, or the flavored ones.  There is a great store for flavored vinegars and oils in Springfield Town Center.  To make the dressing, whisk together the mustard and vinegar, and slowly stream in the oil as you constantly whisk. You're getting them to emulsify.  And a little salt and pepper, and you can add spices or fresh herbs too.  Voilà!
  • Citrus vinaigrette – The same as above, but replace half of the vinegar with some kind of citrus juice. Lemon and lime work well, orange mostly doesn't have enough acid, but you could put a little orange juice and a little lemon juice together.
  • Bleu cheese – Yes, it's wonderful. Yes, it's also completely full of calories and fat. You could make it full fat, and it's way better than what you get in the store, or you can use low-fat or fat-free dairy ingredients.  Mix together 3 tablespoons butter milk and sour cream, 2 tablespoons mayo, 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar, and 1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese.  Season with salt and white pepper.
  • Thousand island – This one is deceptively simple.  It's just equal parts ketchup, mayo, and relish.  Both mayo and ketchup are also way better when you make them yourself.
  • Lemon poppyseed
  • Sorry Alton, but your Caesar dressing is missing 2 anchovy fillets.  Once you add those in, it's perfect.
  • This buttermilk ranch recipe is a little involved, but oh so good!

Photo via Alton Brown

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hold the Strawberries

Photo via Wikipedia
The big red things in your box are rhubarb.  When I was a kid, and even to today, my parents had it growing in their garden.  And one of the first things from the garden after the long, cold Midwest winter broke would be the rhubarb.  My mom would make strawberry-rhubarb cobbler or pie.  It's very tart, so pairing it with something super sweet, like strawberries, works very well.

I have a very funny rhubarb story, actually.  When I first started participating in a CSA several years ago, I got a box with Swiss chard in it.  I'd never seen nor even heard of chard before, and so I thought it was just small rhubarb.  So I made a cobbler out of it with some strawberries.  The whole time, the texture wasn't exactly right, but I plowed forward anyway.  It didn't have much in the way of the tart flavor (duh), but it seemed okay.  I brought it to a church potluck.  Pastor had about 3 helpings, so I guess it was fine.  Let's hope he's not one of my loyal readers...
Photo via Taste of Home
Pairing rhubarb and strawberries works so well, in fact, that most people can hardly come up with something with rhubarb not containing strawberries (or blackberries, or another very sweet berry).  Gauntlet cast!  If you, like me, have greedily eaten all of your strawberries from last week, here are some things you can do with rhubarb without them!
  • One of my very favorite blogs to follow for canning idea is Food In Jars.  If you ever in your life want to make some jam or can anything, follow Marisa's blog.  She's written a cookbook that's well worth it, too.  Her rhubarb suggestion is rhubarb vanilla jam.  I guess you can pickle rhubarb too; seeing as I like my pickles super sour, and the combination with star anise is intriguing, I might give that a try!  
  • Sticking with the sweet theme, I've found two baked goods to try.  Naptime Chef is a wonderful blog for baked goods, another worthy one to follow.  I really want to make this rhubarb ginger buckle, and these oatmeal squares sound pretty good too.
Photo via bon appétit

    • I've found two highly promising savory recipes as well.  I'm using the rhubarb from my box this week to make a compote with pork tenderloin.  This recipe for spicy chicken with rhubarb salsa sounds fantastic, too.
    • Last but not least, don't forget cocktail hour!  Some of the Nalls staff are pretty keen on the idea of rhubarb infused vodka.  I'm planning to try out my mixology skills for a couple of blog posts later this summer, so stay tuned for that!
    Photo via Spoon Fork Bacon

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Savory Berries

    We're getting our first peeks of summer fruits, and eating them is like a long drink after a drought.  I can't seem to keep them in the house.  My six-year-old has eaten three pints of apricots (his favorite) since Friday.  I don't know where he puts them all.

    Photo via Epicurious
    Any blueberries left from your box?  I booby-trapped the fruit drawer in the bottom of the fridge, so I actually have some left.  I wanted to use them creatively, preferably not for dessert.  So here are some savory berry ideas:

    Photo via Cookstr

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    Technicolor Cropshare

    Photo via Simply Recipes
    Beets and carrots, carrots and beets!  Yahoo!  Many, such as Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, say that you should eat five different colors every day to make sure you get a broad array of vitamins in your diet.  This week's box sure helps with that approach: orange carrots, purple beets, blue blueberries, red strawberries, green chard and cabbage... There you go!

    Let's see how we can mix and match colors.
    Photo via Healthy Happy Life

    Photo via Epicurious

    Friday, May 8, 2015

    There's More to Life Than Eating Cantaloupe, Horatio

    Oh, what a jewel you'll find in this week's box!  The first cantaloupes of the year.  And, trust me, this bears little resemblance to what you'll find in a supermarket.  Texture, taste, color, sweetness... it's a completely different animal.  Er, fruit.

    So eat it.  Immediately.  Greedily.  As-is, although I would recommend not eating the peel.  Then, once you're done, go and get another one from the store.  Yes, while eating them straight is my preferred approach, there are more things you can do with cantaloupe.

    Photo via Epicurious
    A classic appetizer this time of year is sliced cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Get a good prosciutto, because what makes this work is the salty/sweet contrast.  There are a number of salads based on this pairing, too.
    Photo via Foodess

    The sweet/spicy contrast works great with cantaloupe, too.  Diced into a salsa (as simple as onion, tomatoes, your favorite chilies and lime juice), it's excellent over grilled chicken.  It goes great with salmon or shrimp as well.

    Enjoy.  As unlikely as it sounds, cantaloupes are one of the true gems of the season.

    Photo via Steamy Kitchen

    Tuesday, May 5, 2015

    A Tale of Two Pastas

    Over the winter, I've collected two recipes that I've been itching to try:  Pappardelle With Spring Vegetables, and Spring Vegetable Ragout With Fresh Pasta.  Now that we're starting to see the fruits (okay, veggies, actually) of spring, I finally get to make this!
    Photo via Fine Cooking
    The latter recipe is exceedingly simple.  It calls for blanching whatever baby spring vegetables you have, reducing that water to a vegetable broth, and tossing vegetables, fresh pasta, fresh herbs, and butter with the broth.  The former one is a bit more complex.  It calls for a quick sauté of the vegetables, and tossing with a sauce of shallot, seasonings (cayenne and celery seed), mascarpone, and reduced chicken stock.

    When I look at the pictures of the two recipes, in both I see the ultimate taste of spring.  It should be crisp, incredibly light, and fresh tasting.  Because of that, I like the herbs from the latter, and I think the heaviness of mascarpone cheese called for in the former would be way too heavy.  On the other hand, I believe the sauté pan would give the vegetables a crispness that blanching wouldn't (think stir fry), and the dash of cayenne would definitely liven the dish.  While either vegetable broth & butter or chicken stock would make a wonderful sauce, I'm leaning towards stock.  The collagens it has (you're using homemade, right?) will give the sauce a silkiness that simple broth won't.

    Photo via Fine Cooking
    In either case, the great thing about these recipes is that they'll work for whatever young veggies you've got on hand at the moment.  I was at Nalls today, and picked up some asparagus and some beautiful young rainbow carrots that'll work fantastically.  So, whichever you pick, open a bottle of crisp white wine and enjoy the fruits -- er, veggies -- of spring!