Archive for May, 2009

May 13, 2009

Creamy Watercress Sauce over Pasta with Asparagus

What the heck do you do with watercress? Let alone, what is watercress?

I know this short, leafy plant likes to grow in wet, swampy areas and it has a very short growing season. At first I was throwing it into salads, mixing it in with other greens, but you don’t get a very clear idea of its unique contribution. Occasionally I would nibble on a leaf and notice it was kind of spicy (like the aftertaste of a radish or the kick of a leek – but not pungent, more fresh). At a loss for what to do with my watercress, I hunted through the internet for some delectable recipe.

I was inspired by a recipe I saw for Pasta with Creamy Watercress Sauce but lacked many of the key ingredients (namely the creme fraiche). I decided, however, to throw together my own version of a creamy watercress sauce based on a household favorite, the Bernardi Sauce.

The Bernardi Sauce is a basic butter, milk and flour roux, which Eric learned from his Italian teacher back in undergrad. It cooks up fast, and with that flour in the pan – you can barely leave its side. It’s fairly high maintenance, as far as sauces goes. It’s good to have your ingredients ready to go before you turn on the heat.

I started by roughly chopping up all of my watercress and putting it in the blender. I let it sit there, waiting for the Bernardi Sauce.

After thoroughly washing the asparagus (removing the gritty, sandy soil that gets caught in it), I cut the stalks into two inch pieces. I placed these in a small sauce pan and added olive oil. I sauteed them over a medium high heat for four or five minutes then added salt, pepper and garlic powder and reduced the heat.
With the asparagus well under way, I started on the Bernardi Sauce. Once I seasoned the white sauce to taste, I poured it over the watercress in the blender. In order to obtain a creamy sauce with a smooth consistency, I let the sauce blend for quite a long while. Meanwhile, I mixed the pasta and asparagus. Beautifully green, and blended to perfection, I poured the sauce over the pasta and sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top.

My only regret: sour cream. I wish I had added sour cream to the watercress before adding the Bernardi Sauce. Watercress’ peppery taste is a very back-of-the-mouth flavor, and I think a hint of tartness or sourness would have rounded out the flavors nicely. Otherwise – delicious! and repeatable.

 

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May 12, 2009

An Ode to Sorrel

Now that sorrel is in my life…I will never be the same.
Spring will forever hold new meaning for me.

Sour Sorrel

Sour Sorrel

Best flavor comparison: baby kiwifruit
When I saw sorrel’s small, arrow-shaped leaves, I expected something akin to radish greens – spicy, earthy. When you bite into the leaves, however, the initial clean, watery taste is followed by a burst of citrus. Eric’s initial reaction, “What the…? Did it *!@#* a lemon?” If you don’t know what’s coming, sorrel will knock you off your feet.

We have been so enamored with sorrel’s fresh flavor, we haven’t dared saute it or puree it (two common ways it is prepared). Here I am, the salad hater, jumping at the chance to mix some fresh sorrel in with the salad mix and radish greens. On the first night, we threw together some greens, added boiled potatoes and topped it off with a blended balsamic/Dijon dressing and leftover chives. Fantastic. The sorrel plays so well with the vinaigrette, adding new dimensions to a simple salad.

Mixed Greens (with sorrel) and Potatoes with Sides of Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms

Mixed Greens (with sorrel) and Potatoes with Sides of Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms



Tell Me More…
Also known as Rumex acetosa, sorrel, according to Botanical.com is indigenous to England. Apparently sorrel is a slight diuretic, which after a long winter of heavy meats, potatoes and cheeses can have a nice cleansing effect. According to J. Benn Hurley,

Early Egyptians and Romans nibbled on fresh sorrel leaves after overeating, both for their soothing effect on the digestive system and for their diuretic properties. In North America, 200 years ago, sorrel was eaten as “lemonade in a leaf.” It’s a good source of vitamin C, and used to be taken to prevent scurvy.

Today sorrel is most commonly used in soups and sauces.
Sorrel Sauce
Sorrel Soup and Sorrel Pesto
Green Borscht

If these ideas don’t suit you fancy, take a look at these mouthwatering recipes:
Butter-Braised Radishes with Sorrel
Courgette (Zucchini) and Sorrel Fritters
Mariquita Farm also has several ideas (Sorrel and Goat Cheese Quiche)

May 9, 2009

Morels, Asparagus and Rhubarb

I was sure to arrive at the Farmer’s Market early today. Last week all the morels and asparagus sold out before I got there. This week, however, there was an abundance of both. Rhubarb was less plentiful, but Mary Jo Benden from Welden Farm had beautiful, red bunches of rhubarb. And just in case the color alone wasn’t enough to convince me, Mary Jo uncovered a tray of rhubarb crumble, “It bakes up like this,” she says. Mmmm, rhubarb crumble!

Welden Farm rhubarb

Welden Farm rhubarb


I confess, I have never tried morel mushrooms. They are, however, considered a delicacy in the area. Like ramps, their growing season is brief (about three weeks), and at the Market people buy ’em while they can. The man I bought them from suggested (for newbies) cutting them in fourths and sauteing them in butter.
Morel Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms


Several places sold asparagus, and not always for cheap. Four dollars a pound was a common price, but I found a couple of vendors who were selling for $3 or $3.50 a pound. I bought my asparagus from two different vendors.
Bountiful Asparagus

Bountiful Asparagus


Having enjoyed our last Market meat experience, Eric encouraged me to buy some more. I stopped by Fountain Farms and expressed how much we enjoyed last week’s skirt steak, but in the spirit of variety, I opted to explore other vendors. As I turned the corner, I stumbled upon Jordandal Farm, where to my surprise was the smiling face of Maria, a regular customer at the cafe I used to work at. Maria patiently talked me through the flavor and health benefits of Jordandal’s grass-fed Red Angus beef. I bought a pound of their ground beef, with plans for making homemade burgers.
Jordandal farmer Carrie Johnson and Maria

Jordandal farmer Carrie Johnson and Maria

May 8, 2009

A Use-Every-Green Stir fry

In this Photo: dandelion greens, crimini mushrooms, bok choy, ramps, chives, mustard greens, parsnip, mung bean sprouts, radish greens

In this Photo: dandelion greens, crimini mushrooms, bok choy, ramps, chives, mustard greens, parsnip, mung bean sprouts, radish greens


When the new box of produce arrived from Vermont Valley, a sense of panic came over me as I took stock of what remained from last week’s harvest. The good news is, those leafy greens really cook down. I pulled everything left over from last week’s delivery (except the spinach) out of the fridge and decided on a stir fry. I called Eric, who was on his way home, and let him know that if he wanted to add anything else to the stir fry he had better pick something up at the store.

We are lucky to live nearby what I consider to be the best grocery store, ever. The Willy Street Co-op is one of the reasons Eric and I moved back to Madison, WI. It’s that great. As a locavore (of sorts), I appreciate how Willy Street highlights their local produce with purple signs. “Local” can be a rather controversial label – how many miles away is local? Willy Street defines local as anything produced in Wisconsin or anything produced 150 miles away from Dane County. During the height of Wisconsin’s growing season, Willy’s produce department becomes a sea of purple tags. Guided by the purple signs, Eric located some crimini mushrooms, mung beans from Troy Community Farm, as well as a parsnip.

Meanwhile, I was plotting a side dish: Watercress and Radish Salad.
In this photo: sunflower oil, white wine vinegar, radish, fennel, watercress

In this photo: sunflower oil, white wine vinegar, radish, fennel, watercress


I was inspired by a red cabbage coleslaw I had at Marigold Kitchen. Fennel was the eye-opening ingredient, and I was excited to try combining it with watercress. A relative of the mustard greens, watercress has a rather unique flavor – somewhat musky. After cutting the watercress into thin slices, I added grated radish. The dressing was simple: white wine vinegar, sunflower oil, fennel, salt and pepper. Perhaps I got a little too excited about the fennel – it’s flavor dominated the salad. Nonetheless, the flavor combination was de-lish, worthy of being repeated and perfected.

The stir fry took very little time – once all the ingredients were chopped. The mushrooms, parsnip, bok choy and ramps went in the HOT frying pan first, with a little sunflower oil. Once the parsnips softened a bit, I added all the greens and sprinkled soy sauce over the top. Using tongs to keep the ingredients moving, I let it cook for only a minute or two. Once on the plate, I sprinkled some mung bean sprouts on top and served it with basmati rice and watercress/radish salad.

May 8, 2009

Finding the Community in CSA

On Thursday evenings, sometime between 4 and 7pm, Rosie and I take a short walk to our CSA pickup location. It’s only six blocks away. When we arrive at our neighbor’s house, we head straight back to their open garage, where 8 white bins filled with the week’s produce are stacked on top of each other. With a pencil, I scratch “Mahollitz” off the list of family names, and transfer the greens from the reusable bin into my cloth grocery bag.

In this Photo: tatsoi, radishes, spinach, scallions, sorrel, Claremont lettuce, watercress, salad mix

In this Photo: tatsoi, radishes, spinach, scallions, sorrel, Claremont lettuce, watercress, salad mix

Inevitably, during this time Rosie and I meet someone new. Last week we met the young family who lives at our pickup location. A girl in her early teens was carrying a violin case. Her school-aged brother was clearly intrigued by my little Boston Terrier, but too wary to pet her. The littlest was a thumb-sucking, waddling girl. Dad was shuffling his family into the house, mumbling something about getting dinner started.

Yesterday, we met Betty. Betty thought Rosie was awfully cute, and wanted to know all about Boston Terriers. We chatted a little bit about radish greens, which I confessed to being unfamiliar with. She told me her daughter, with whom she shares her CSA, likes to saute them in stir fries. We said we would see each other next time.

These short experiences of connection with neighbors are just as life-giving as the food itself. Our friendships are small, nascent at best – but like all things in Spring, there is time to grow.

When I joined our CSA (community supported agriculture) through Vermont Valley Community Farm I was not only looking for great tasting food that supports a local economy and reduces gas consumption – I was looking for connection. Here is a quote from the Slow Movement website that resonates with me:

We are searching for connection. We want connection to people – ourselves, our family, our community, our friends, – to food, to place (where we live), and to life. We want connection to all that it means to live – we want to live a connected life.

Thankfully, eating locally provides several opportunities for connection. Eating locally, for me, is an act of cultivating community. I talk with the folks at my CSA drop off point. I return to the vendors at the Farmer’s Market and let them know how last weeks purchase went. My friends and I share stories of how to prepare ramps, or we rejoice in the appearance of asparagus at the Market. Food easily becomes the center around which we come together, and when it’s local – you don’t have to sit at the same table to share in the same sense of abundance.

May 6, 2009

Sauteed Radish Sandwich

This sandwich was delicious. The mustard and vinaigrette went a long way in terms of flavor. The combination of radishes and spinach added a sweet and earthy flavor to the meal.

    Crusty sourdough bread, toasted and crunchy
    Spinach greens
    Sliced and Sauteed Radishes
    Dijon mustard
    Sprinkle of balsamic vinaigrette
May 6, 2009

Salads

Radish, Watercress, Sunflower Seeds - Oh My

Radish, Watercress, Sunflower Seeds - Oh My

Have I mentioned that salads are the furthest thing from my mind when preparing a meal? The abundance of greens in our fridge means, however, I am not allowed this luxury – I MUST EAT SALAD. I really can’t think up enough non-salad recipes to use them all. That being said, once I make a salad – I usually enjoy it. This week we have had an interesting time combining the ingredients we have to make fulfilling and delicious salads.

Common Salad Ingredients:
Salad Mix / Spinach
Radishes
Toasted Nuts (pecan or almond)
Seeds (sunflower, flax, pumpkin)
Mushrooms
Dandelion Greens
Watercress

As for dressings…
Each time it’s different. I start with 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar: balsamic is good (but strong), apple cider and white wine vinegars are my usual suspects, but for an asian flavor I use rice vinegar. Oil is most often olive, but sunflower can be nice, canola in a pinch. Fresh garlic is fantastic (for you garlic lovers), but ground will do. I like mustard and honey, especially honey because it minimizes the kick of vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste (usually more pepper). If going asian, I’ll add any of the following: soy sauce, fish sauce, ketchup and sesame seeds. So many variations! Like I said, each time is different.

First Salad of the Season

First Salad of the Season

A Note on Radishes
I expected this root vegetable to be bitter and perhaps spicy, but instead this bunch reminded me of jicama. They were slightly sweet, crisp and watery. They had an earthy flavor to them, and when sauteed they went limp and became even sweeter.

May 3, 2009

First Trip to the Farmer’s Market

Finally, Eric and I had an opportunity to visit the Dane County’s Farmers’ Market on Madison’s Capitol Square. It was 11:00am by the time we arrived, and the place was bursting with people. I would like to say that people from all walks of life were in attendance, but really the Farmer’s Market is one of those things that white people like. Of the mostly white (upper-middle-class) folks present, there was quite a bit of diversity. Young and old. Walking and stroller-bound. Conservative and liberal. I am concerned, however, about the absence of people of color and lower socio-economic status. Are farmer’s markets really something only white people like? Or is there a form of food racism at play?

I discovered the term food racism in Roger Bybee’s article on Food Justice in YES! Magazine. After reading Bybee’s article, I have become increasingly aware of how white my grocery store and farmer’s market are, and how diverse our corner store is.
Things that make you go, hmmmm.

But, back to the Farmer’s Market, and our exciting purchases. Yesterday, Eric found a tantalizing recipe for grilled steak over fresh watercress. Although not our intended meal, it got us thinking – mmmmm, steak!

Our First Stop: Fountain Prairie Inn & Farms

We talked with the kind vendors, asking their advice on what kind of steak they would recommend for our purposes. Already sold out of their most popular cuts, we decided to go with a pound of the Skirt Steak, which was handed to us, rolled up and frozen in a vacuumed sealed bag. With promises to let them know how things went, we headed off in search of more goodies.

Popcorn was next on our list. Continuously disappointed in the tough and chewy varieties found at the store, we opted to try a more local version of our favorite snack food. Kinke’s Market, a persistent vendor who attends most of the winter markets, sells several varieties. We picked up a pound of the Baby Rice Popcorn and a pound of the Red Baby Rice Popcorn, which the fella said were nice and soft – no husks to get stuck in your teeth. SOOOO excited!

Just before we turned the last block, we stopped to chat with Cindy Fricke from Cherokee Bison Farms. I read on the Isthmus’ Daily Page that Cindy and her husband, Leroy, sell cold-pressed sunflower oil from their own sunflowers. In search of a high-heat cooking oil, Eric and I were excited to learn that someone in our area was producing it. Not an inexpensive purchase, our little pint of oil cost us $8.50.

With one quick stop at Gourmet’s Delight Mushroom Farm for white button mushrooms – the ever-popular criminis were already sold out – we were stocked and headed for home.

Stir Fry: It’s What’s for Dinner

Back at the house, we let the skirt steak defrost, then rolled it out to get a better look at its highly praised marbling. What a beautiful piece of meat, and so much. We split the steak, saving half of it in the freezer for another day. Nice to know our $10.75 purchase will last us at least two meals.

While Eric picked out spices for a marinade, I grabbed ingredients from the market bag and fridge. Within moments we had spontaneously planned a locavore feast.

In this Photo:

  • Cold-pressed Sunflower Oil (Cherokee Bison Farm)
  • Button Mushrooms (Gourmet’s Delight Mushroom Farm)
  • Saute Mix (Vermont Valley)
  • Ramps (see note at the bottom)
  • Bok Choy (Vermont Valley)
  • Ground Ginger
  • Ground Coriander
  • Chives (Vermont Valley)

A Note on the Ramps:
Although we did not purchase them, the ramps did come from the Farmers’ Market. They were a gift from Mary and Marty. Every Saturday Mary and Marty stop in at Fair Trade Coffeehouse to sit and enjoy their Market purchases. Over the last few months Eric and I (when I still worked at Fair Trade) developed a kinship with this kind couple. Last week Eric was bemoaning his Saturday work schedule, which does not permit him to attend the Market, and humorously suggested he should simply pay Mary and Marty to pick up certain items for him. Last week he was dreaming about ramps – and today? As suggested, Mary and Marty came bearing ramps. Are we not blessed? What a wonderful world it is.

Good Eating

Holy Expletive! We just got done eating, and that meal was out of this world. The beef was cooked to perfection – thank you Eric. After marinading in sunflower oil, coriander and ginger for an hour, Eric cooked the steak over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, I tossed the mushrooms, ramps (minus the green tops) and bok choy (also minus green tops) into a hot pan with a bit of sunflower oil. When things started to turn brown, I layered all the greens on top, splashed some soy sauce on top and mixed it all together for no more than two minutes.

The result was beyond my hopes. The meat was delicious, if not a bit chewy. I am still learning about meats and their different cuts, and I look forward to exploring different kinds of steaks. It was, nonetheless buttery and delectable. It was the greens, however, that stole the show. They were just the perfect amount of bitter, sweet and buttery. I repeat, ‘Holy Expletive.’

May 1, 2009

May Day and Fresh Greens

Spring is officially here, and with the arrival of our first CSA box(community supported agriculture) we are excited to return to a more locavore way of life. Thank you Vermont Valley Community Farm!!

I’m not one to drool over a salad, but when I saw these fresh greens I about cried.

In the Photo Above (from left to right, top to bottom):

Red Oakleaf Lettuce (Oscarde variety),
Saute Mix (spicy Red Giant Mustard, Southern Giant Mustard, Green Wave & Mizuna),
Salad Mix (green lettuce, endive, red beet greens),
Spinach,
Dandelion (Catalogna and Red Rib varieties),
Bok Choy,
Watercress,
Radishes,
Arugula, and
Chives

It is a bit daunting to see our fridge full of greens (and a few radishes) that I have little idea of what to do with. What does one do with radish greens? What the heck is watercress? Vermont Valley has, however, posted some recipes to help us newly converted locavores eat all the food we receive.

This morning, we started off with something simple: a Chive Omelet stuffed with mushrooms, carrots and dandelion greens served with oven roasted potatoes.

Recipe

Cut potatoes into small cubes and place in a bowl. Add oil, salt and pepper and fresh rosemary (if you’ve got some). Spread on a cookie sheet and cook in the oven at 400 degrees until brown on the outside and soft in the middle.

Sautee minced carrot(s) for 2-3 minutes in some oil or butter over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for additional 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and mix dandelion greens in just so they warm up just a tad.


When potatoes are almost done, mix 3 eggs with diced chives and minced garlic. Add salt and pepper and whisk briefly with a fork. Heat frying pan on medium-high heat and add the egg mixture. DO NOT futz with the eggs. Let them sit and cook for a moment, occasionally tipping the pan to let the runny mixture to slide to the edge of the pan. Lift up the edge of the omelet and let the runny bits drip beneath so they can cook.

When omelet starts to look brown underneath, add the stuffing in the middle. Gently fold over the egg on top of the goodies and let if cook a bit longer.

And Voila – you have got a yummy, partially locavore meal.