CSA Cooking Class: Winter Share Tips

CSA cooking class (1)

Tonight was not just any Wednesday night… Tonight my apartment was filled with 6 incredible women, and we chopped, chiffonaded and chatted our way through a bunch of root vegetables, creating a fantastic dinner. This was the first of what I hope will be a series of cooking classes that I am offering to members of the Tuv Ha’aretz Forest Hills CSA. Golden Earthworm Organic Farm, our CSA’s vegetable farm, supplied the awesome produce including a heaping bunch of collard greens, carrots, cabbage, watermelon radishes, and sweet potatoes – THANK YOU GOLDEN EARTHWORM! My intention with the evening was not so much cooking from recipes, but rather to review broad techniques which can be applied to a variety of the winter share vegetables. Last night was the last winter share pickup (sniff, sniff), and it was a HUGE haul including 8 pounds of carrots, 8 pounds of potatoes, 3.5 pounds of watermelon radishes, 3.5 pounds of beets, and more. Since Matthew and I get 2 winter shares, we have learned and improvised many uses for the bounty of root vegetables (HELLO 16 pounds of carrots!), and I wanted to share some of the tried and true techniques I use, as well as learn techniques from other members of our CSA. Here are the concepts:

Soup

Anything can be made into a soup. This is particularly true with root vegetables. Tonight’s soup was a coconut, sweet potato, ginger soup. It’s so simple, and no secret really – coincidentally Melissa Clark shared this concept with readers a few days ago. I made this soup earlier in the day because there’s only so much we could get done in a few hours, right?! Especially when mostly everyone brought red wine! (Did I tell you these ladies are awesome?!) What I did: peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, 1/2 large onion, 4 cloves of garlic, a few slices of fresh ginger, 1 can of coconut milk, zest and juice of 1 lime, covered with water, brought to a boil, then simmered until soft, then pureed. Served garnished with chopped cilantro. This soup will freeze really well, and making and freezing a batch now means an easy no-cook dinner on a balmy July night. This soup – and many pureed soups – are delicious chilled.

CSA cooking class (2)

Any root vegetable can be shredded. This is one of my favorite uses of carrots, beets, watermelon radishes, kohlrabi, anything! I have been making shredded salads lately with hella pungent dressings (think: tahini, whole grain mustard, lemon juice, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil all mixed together –  trust me, it works!) which I toss with puffed grain and chopped herbs. Its an easy preparation that makes quick work of the veggies, and the salad keeps well in the fridge for a few days. Toss with puffed grain right before serving.

CSA cooking class 5

Anything can be layered between 2 sheets of polenta. Since we receive polenta from Cayuga Pure Organics through our CSA, we’ve found some fun uses for the staple grain, and one of the ones I like the best is using polenta as a “crust” for a “pie”. There are a lot of quotes in that sentence because it’s more like a casserole, but I’ve made it in a pie plate and cut it up like a pie, and it’s really cute! Tonight we built it in a Pyrex with a filling of garlicky collard greens (that’s where the chiffonade comes in) and crumbled tofu. We added some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano to the polenta, which gave it a nice creaminess. Since the whole dish is cooked on the stove top, and all the ingredients are cooked when the pie is assembled, so it’s not even necessary to cook in the oven if you’re in a time pinch, but tonight we threw it in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. Other things that can be used to round out the filling are beans, lentils, tempeh or any sautéed vegetable.

CSA cooking class 3

Everything is better when it’s cute and individualized. In the summer CSA season, we receive a variety of fruit in the fruit share, but being that we’re in the Northeast, winter season’s fruit share is apples. When I think of an easy apple dessert, I think individualized apple crisp. It’s always fun to make little, individualized anythings, and I love that everyone had the chance to participate in making their version. After we all peeled and cubed the apples and put them in the bottom of a ramekin, we topped with a mixture of rolled oats, shredded and flaked coconut, ground and sliced almonds, coconut oil, cinnamon and sugar. I planned on running a vegan class tonight (the late addition of the parm to the polenta was ad lib) so we used Earth Balance, but I typically use butter. The trick to this dish, which I learned from my father and I think was the first dish I actually learned to make, is to be sure to put a few extra cubes of butter on the top, so it melts and oozes down through the topping and into the apples below. The butter is what makes it crisp.

CSA cooking class 4

Tonight was a bit of an experiment, and I think it went great! Everyone went home with leftovers of good food, new knife skills, tips and tricks to tackle their refrigerators full of root vegetables. There is nothing I love more than standing around a table, cooking, chatting and drinking with old and new friends, and on a Wednesday no less – success! – thank you to the great women that came out!

For Queens Peeps: Registration is open for the 2013 Spring/Summer/Fall season! We are filling up quickly, so if you’re interested in participating, please sign up soon! Click HERE for the online registration, and click HERE for more information about our CSA.

Chicken Soup: STAT!

Chicken Soup

Winter may be drawing to a close, and the weather may be getting warmer, but from a Chinese medicine perspective this unpredictable seasonal change is an important time to eat healing, balancing soups. March is crazy like that: the wind is still whipping, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s still that nasty cold/flu/virus going around. There are actual snowstorms followed by 55F days with bright sunshine and clear skies! It’s bonkers, and it’s times like this that eating warming, simple soups will keep your body strong, fortified and grounded. Chicken soup can be made at a moments notice with little effort and preparation, and often there are plenty of leftovers which can be stored in the freezer, to be thawed at a future time of emergency healing need.

Chicken Soup 1

As a kid, whenever I was starting to get sick, my mother would put up a big pot of chicken soup. Her soup was not like the typical brothy chicken soup – she threw in dried mushrooms, tons of dried herbs and large chunks of vegetables like carrots and celery. She didn’t strain the soup either, just shredded the meat off the simmered chicken legs, and added it back to the pot. It ended up more like a stew, and it always did the trick. I’ve continued this tradition of throwing together a pot of chicken soup when Matthew or I start feeling a cold coming on and need a little food support, as I did a about a month ago when I was feeling run down.

Chicken Soup 6

So what’s really doing the healing here with this Jewish Penicillin? Is it the warm liquid of the broth that helps clear stuffed nasal passageways? Is there some stort of inflammation-mitigation from chicken soup which lessens the cold’s symptoms? Is it the nutrients in the vegetables themselves? Is it that chicken soup balances the body’s constitution?  Is it the comforting of a familiar food ritual? I would argue that it’s all of the above, and more probably. Chinese medicine builds herbal remedies much the same way as chicken soup. Six, eight, sometimes up to fifteen or twenty herbs work synergistically in an herbal decoction, just the way the chicken, vegetables and herbs play off each other to create this rich, complex, healing soup.

Chicken Soup 3

The Chinese approach to treatment in general is whole-foods based. In traditional herbal formulas, the actual branches, twigs and leafy herbs are boiled into a tea – kind of like a bouquet garni, right? My bouquet garnis tend to be huge herbal packages that I tuck into my soup as it cooks. In this version, I used parsley stems, thyme, black peppercorns and dill, all wrapped together in a cheese cloth, which I fished it out at the end. Sometimes I throw in other healing ingredients like ginger, goji berries and dried shiitakes for a super-souped up bouquet garni.

Chicken Soup 4Chicken Soup 5

One of the great things about chicken soup is that recipes are not necessary. At the most basic level, soup is just vegetables, herbs and spices (and sometimes meat), simmered in water on the stove-top. While you can add a additional steps to that basic formula (sautéing or roasting the vegetables first, straining the end result, adding noodles or dumplings or rice or matzoh balls), you don’t have to. And as you can see through the pictures above, my chicken soup is pretty basic. I first lay the chicken legs, then whatever veggies I have around, (in this case carrots, turnips, celery, onions and garlic), salt it up, add the bouquet garni, cover with water, and bring that baby to a boil.

Chicken Soup 7

After the soup comes to a boil, you will notice some white, foaminess come to the surface, especially around the edges. Skim that foam off! I am a proud soup skimmer. Not only do I think that skimming creates a cleaner, clearer broth, but I love the zen of the skimming itself. When I skim, I think about life, about soup, about this, about that… It’s my little moment of cooking-meditation. Once skimming is complete, cover the pot, and allow the soup to cook on low for a few hours.

Chicken Soup 9Chicken Soup 10

When the soup is done, strain the broth and pour that golden healing liquid back into the pot to cool. You might notice some fat coming to the surface – keep it there – This fat is good stuff which will help keep you strong. But if you are super sick, very weak or recovering from a serious illness, skim the fat off. According to Chinese medicine, when you are extremely weak, even chicken soup is to heavy to easily integrate and digest. To serve, you can eat/drink the broth on it’s own in a mug or bowl, or it can be bulked up by adding carrots, and/or dumplings/noodles, and/or fresh herbs. Above, I decided to add dill spåtzel, which I had never made before, but which I felt like would provide the right accompaniment to the broth. While they didn’t come out like I wanted, they were delicious. (For some reason I didn’t take pictures of the spåtzle-making-process, but this post is super-long anyway, so I’ll do a separate spåtzel post in the future when I try my hand at it again.)

Chicken Soup

We went through the first batch of refrigerator soup within a week, and I never did end up getting sick. Then, yesterday with this crazy March madness, I felt that ominous tickle-in-my-throat-maybe-I’m-coming-down-with-something-thing, so I reached for my emergency stash of frozen broth (STAT!), reheated it, garnished it simply with fresh grated ginger and chopped parsley. No fuss, super easy, and voila – the pantry pulled through with a prescription! And I AM feeling better today.

Note of chicken vs. vegetable soup: This formula can be followed without the chicken for sure, and the end result will be a delicious, rich, healing vegetable soup. I often make vegetable soup like this, but in these cooler, winter months and during this seasonal-change-craziness, I do like to add some meat to my soups to give them a more warming, nourishing quality. When adding chicken to my soup, I use legs from Fleisher’s, a butcher in Brooklyn that sells sustainably-raised, pastured chicken. I source my meat from there for ethical, environmental and taste reasons, and I would encourage you to use the best quality chicken that you can find.

Many Food Businesses Grow in Queens

Espace 8 - Version 2
Espace 31 - Version 2

 

 

 

 

I’m writing this on a sugar high.

I’m also on a Queens high, since I have a kind of borough pride about all the awesomeness coming out of the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s E-Space Kitchen Incubator, which celebrated it’s 2nd anniversary this evening in Long Island City. The event showcased the incredible chefs and caterers which call the E-Space communal kitchen their home, and let me tell you – what they make, you should get, because it’s gooooood!

Please click on the pictures above to learn about these food visionaries, their products and their companies. Save this post for next year’s holiday gifts – Support small businesses, support Queens, and support people following their dreams.

Also worth mentioning, fellow Queens blogger Meg Cotner from We Heart Astoria, has written an unbelievably helpful resource: The Food Lovers’ Guide To Queens. I was so excited to meet and chat with her at the event tonight – she even signed my copy of her book! Which you should also buy – come eat in Queens!

Stay tuned for a future article when I follow-up on an extremely generous invitation to help one of the companies above make their product in the ESpace kitchens! Who do you think it is?!

Slow Cooker Congee: To Cook Jook

Plated JookLiving in Queens, there are ample opportunities for culinary inspiration, and dim sum brunch yesterday was merely one of those times. Heading out for dim sum means that there are many steamed buns, dumplings, and fried meat morsels in your future. However, before you get to the doughy goodness of steamed delectables, there is often an opportunity to start your day the way countless Chinese people here and abroad have started their days for centuries: with a bowl of congee.

Congee, also termed jook, is unassumingly simple. To call it porridge would turn off too many people, as would calling it rice soup or even worse, gruel, but that is essentially what it is. Rice (or sometimes another grain) is cooked in an obscene amount of water – it wouldn’t be unheard of to use a 1:10 rice:water ratio – until the rice completely breaks down and the water and rice meld together into a gloopy, gelatinous, delicious stew. Congee is most often served at breakfast, but because it is so gentle on the body, it is also a traditional healing food, served to people convalescing from fevers, viruses and illness.

But back to dim sum: the jook cart rolled by, and I gestured for a bowl. A woman ladled out simple white porridge into a simple white bowl, garnishing with a small handful of scallions. Perfection! I am a huge fan of savory breakfasts, and as soon as I tasted this jook, I knew that it was this that I must cook (I really wanted to make that rhyme once during this post). When I was studying Chinese medicine, I experimented with congee, and I have gone through phases of jooking it up since, but it’s probably been a years or so. Matthew occasionally makes whole grains for breakfast, but never this thinned-down, soupy version. So last night I took out my slow cooker and started to assemble.

Jook ingredients 1

Jook is most often cooked with white rice since it tends to break down easier than brown rice, (and the affinity for brown rice is a relatively recent phenomenon) but when cooking jook in a slow cooker overnight, brown rice is just fine. In addition to the rice and water (1:7 ratio), I threw in a cubed sweet potato, grated ginger, some dried shitake mushrooms (fresh would work fine, too), one clove of minced garlic and some salt. Congee is often used as a vehicle for healing foods, and most of the ingredients I used do have the TCM  healing properties of boosting the body’s natural energy. Long story short, while this is great to cook when you’re feeling weak or sick, it’s never NOT a good time to eat it!

Jook is gentle, nourishing and simple – it’s almost like a morning stretch, but for your digestion. Chinese medicine stresses the importance of gentle foods in the morning to avoid overwhelming the digestion, and jook does just that. 8-hours overnight on low did the trick for this lowly cup of brown rice. When I jumped out of bed to check on my jook this morning, I was thrilled with how the rice and sweet potato broke down, creating a gorgeous orange-y smooth soup. I decided to make the dish bit more substantial by topping with a poached egg, along with the requisite scallions and drizzle of sesame oil and tamari. I do tend to go more firmly in the savory direction for breakfast, but the sweet/savory combo in this dish was just what I needed this morning. If more of a sweet jook is what you’re after, throw in some walnuts, goji berries, dates or apples. If you’re craving some extra sustenance in the cold, winter months, cook the congee with a meaty bone. The possibilities really are endless. Many Asian cultures have their own version of jook, and I’m looking forward to searching Queens for more inspiration. If you cook jook at home, please comment below with your favorite combinations.

Grandma’s Sweet Pizza

It is with great sadness that I write this post, dedicated to the memory of my beloved grandmother, Lisa Meyers, who passed away peacefully on the morning of November 30th, 2012.  Grandma turned 90 in October, and up until a year or so ago, she travelled the world, went on daily walks, baked cookies, and emailed. I loved to brag about her: “my grandmother is 83 and is still cross-country skiing”, “my grandmother is 86 and just got back from Fiji or Croatia or Australia or Africa or Antarctica”…   Among the many things that Grandma was, (world traveler, home-ec teacher, family matriarch) she was a chef extraordinaire.  She had her standard dishes, which included Jewish classics like stuffed cabbage, brisket, sour cherry soup and German apple pancakes, but she wasn’t afraid of experimenting and incorporating new ingredients (she recently made biscotti with pumpkin seeds!).  While her cooking was incredible, her baking was out of this world. She made delicate flat iced cookies, crumbly powdered-sugar-coated nut crescents, apple cake, passover chocolate-walnut cake, crumb cake, and these jam bars that she called “sweet pizza”.

Grandma 20
I started cooking her sweet pizza a few years ago, and when I asked her how she got her perfect crumb topping she replied “Oh, you just do like this”, as she rubbed her palms together, “it makes crumbs”. So that’s what I tried … no dice.  My topping was more clumpy, not crumby. When Grandma passed, I thought of these cookies. I knew that I would be comforted by making them, and I knew our family would be comforted by eating them, despite the fact that I knew my version would never come close to hers.  So for the first five days after her passing, I made a batch of these cookies every day, and not surprisingly, they were gone by the end of shiva each night.  So the next morning when I woke up, the first thing I did was put the butter on the counter top to let it soften.  It became my mourning ritual, and I felt a deep closeness to her as I went through each step of the recipe.

Grandma’s recipe is so simple: 3 sticks of butter, 3 cups of flour, 3/4 cups sugar and the rind of one lemon. She didn’t even list what to do with the ingredients, and she clearly omitted one essential ingredient: THE JAM!  I’ve stuck with her basic recipe, but added some chopped nuts (my theory is her version included nuts, but she omitted them when she wrote down the recipe), and I fiddled with the ratios. It’s still a work in progress, and one I’m happy to toil away on.

Grandma’s Sweet Pizza

  • 3 sticks plus 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup total roasted and ground almonds and/or hazelnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup each apricot and raspberry preserves (or any other flavor)

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, ground nuts and salt, set aside. Then, cream the butter with the sugar in a standing mixer on medium speed. When light and creamy, add extracts and lemon zest on low speed. Keeping the mixture on low, add the dry mixture little by little until well incorporated. Once mixed, reserve about 2 cups of the cookie dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, and place in freezer.

Spread the rest of the dough on an un-greased jellyroll pan with an offset spatula. I love this step – so meditative.

Bake (turning half-way through) for 18-20 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Cool completely.

Let’s talk jam: I tend to like raspberry jam for my cookies, unless the cookies in question are hamentashen, in which case I prefer apricot. Grandma made her’s with apricot, but since I like raspberry so much better, the first batch of sweet pizza I made that week was with raspberry. When my aunt Janet tried the cookies, she told me that when she has made the cookies, she likes to mix apricot preserves with raspberry preserves, which is what I did for the second batch, and I must say, my mind was blown. It was delicious, and it is what I would recommend.

Spread out the jam on the cooled baked dough — this is where you really see where the “sweet pizza” name comes from. Take out the frozen dough and cut into small cubes, then crumble the cubes on top of the jam. The pieces should not be uniform – big pieces, little pieces, it’s all good.

Bake, again rotating pan half-way through, for 15-20 minutes, until the crumbs are golden. Cool completely, then cut into cookies, large or small, and store in a cookie tin (this is one of her old cookie tins) for as long as it takes to eat them all, probably less than 24-hours if you have your family around.

I can’t believe I’ll never be able to ask Grandma to clarify what exactly she did so that she could merely rub her hands together and produce the most perfect, almost steusel-like topping, but I’m also fine with mine taking a permanent runner-up to her blue ribbon sweet pizza. May her memory be a blessing.

Walking