Saturday, May 7, 2016

You mean we can eat that?

When we moved into our house in 2009, we discovered that the backyard was covered in something that Susan liked to call pope's weed, but was really called bishop's weed.  We also discovered that it's practically impossible to get rid of.  It spreads by seed, but also by underground rhizomes.  If you don't pull out every last bit, it comes back.  We spent many an hour pulling it out, so now, it's almost eradicated in the garden itself -- seven years later.   But it still lingers up on top of our neighbor's wall -- the one on our side of the fence they built a few years ago.

Last year, on a whim, we bought "Backyard Foraging--65 Familiar Plants You Didn't Know You Could Eat," by Ellen Zachos.  We discovered that much of what Susan grows as ornamental, is edible.  For example, those pretty yellow flowers that a friend gave us a few years ago are really sunchokes, which we can harvest every fall after the first frost or two.  And that infuriating bishop's weed is edible!  Use as you would spinach!  It's especially good early in the season, like now.

I pulled up a dozen handfuls, trying to get as much of the root/rhizome as I could, but being careful not to bring along too much other garden detritus (mostly leaves).  Once inside, I gave it a thorough wash in three or four changes of water, and cut off the bottom part of the stems and roots.  For the test run, I simply steamed it as I would spinach in its own water droplets.  It was a bit tougher than spinach, but not overly so.  After it collapsed inside the saucepan, I drained it and served with a little butter and salt, and then a few drops of white wine vinegar.  On its own, it was boring but not distasteful or bitter.  It definitely had potential with a little more effort

The next night, I was ready to roll it out for Susan, added to a saute of onions and oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, also with a splash of white wine vinegar and some salt.   I let it cook a little longer than the previous night's trial run to tame some of the toughness.  It was tasty for sure, but the stems were a bit tough.  I resolved that next time I would have to pick off just the leaves and toss away the stems.  When you're eating weeds from the garden, I don't feel the same imperative to use every bit--it's destined for the trash anyway.

For the third attempt, I added just the leaves to a simple tomato sauce made from diced fire-roasted Muir Glen tomatoes, some onion and garlic, and a little leftover lamb that was sitting in the freezer.   I cooked the tomatoes down until they started breaking down a bit, adding some water so that it wouldn't dry out, then added the bishop's weed leaves to cook for about 15 minutes, to remove any potential toughness.  Here's it's shown with some teff polenta.  It was still a bit tougher than spinach, but tasty nonetheless, free, and a terrific way to weed the garden. 

No "recipe" today -- just a thought that if you are overrun with bishop's weed to the extent that you're pulling out your hair when you pull the weeds -- you might just enjoy it on your plate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

So THAT'S what you do with porgy!


I got inspired by an Edible Boston article by Sarah Blackburn called Edible Basics: Red Fish, Blue Fish, Flat Fish, Whole Fish?, where she said:

"Generally, though, we’ll go home with the easy catch, species often derided as 'trash fish' since they’re less sexy than the prized striper and not as much fun to fight on the line as a blue. However, scup (also called porgy or sea bream), black sea bass, and even the unsightly—but delicious—sea robin and dogfish (a small, local shark) are all excellent eating once you know how to handle them."

Porgy.  I'd seen porgy in the Burlington HMart fish case for years--so numerous and so inexpensive.  And fresh.  And based on Sarah's article and other sources, I figured they were probably local and relatively sustainable. So, I went up to the HMart on a Saturday morning, armed with some preparation ideas from the article, and the knowledge that if I got there early enough, I could find a parking space and not have to stand in line for too long at the fish counter.  The 10:00 AM arrival proved to be just right, as I only had a few minute wait, but when I left the store 15 minutes later, there were ten people waiting.  If you like crowds and stress, go to HMart on Saturday afternoon. If you don't, stick to weekdays!

If you've never been there, the fish counter at the HMart is enormous.  A mix of the typical and expected, but an abundance of the unexpected.  There is always porgy.  The downside of the HMart is that you have to know what you want.  The folks behind the counter don't speak much English.  I've never seen them dispensing advice about how to prepare their fish, which is why I'd never tried the porgy, even though it sells for a ridiculous $1.99 per pound.

Armed with Sarah's article, and the accompanying recipe, I knew that I should get two small porgy to feed Susan and me.  If that was too much, we could always have leftovers.  And I knew to ask for it cleaned/gutted and scaled, with the fins removed.  The HMart has complimentary ice to help you get your fish home well chilled, and I even brought my little cooler to make sure.

Most of the recipes I found online echoed Sarah's suggested technique of making three or four slashes on each side of the fish to allow some flavored substance to penetrate.  Sarah's recipe suggested a melange of herbs--"full of every green herb in my garden", along with a long list of other ingredients.  I'm sure her version was spectacular, but in mid April, my herb garden isn't overflowing with much of anything, so I simplified the chunky "sauce" to parsley, lemon (juice and zest), capers, scallion, olive oil and garlic.  And used the leftover parsley stems, scallion greens, and a few lemon slices to lend their aroma to the cavity.

Together with some super-fresh dandelion greens found in the produce aisle (the other reason to go to HMart) served over polenta, this was a life-altering meal.  
  • Roasting the fish for 20 minutes yielded unctuous but not oily, flavorful, flaky fish that was delicious.   
  • Roasting the fish over a bed of thinly sliced onions is brilliant.  It keeps the fish from sticking to the roasting pan, and browns to the point of almost burning, a delicious complement to the fish and the sauce.
  • The fish itself cost $4.80 for about  2.5 pounds of fish (prior to cleaning).  That was plenty for the two of us.  Salmon for two of us would cost twenty dollars -- at least!  Why wouldn't I have this OFTEN?!
  • I can think of so many other ways to flavor this fish, and I hope to try them all soon:
    • Cilantro, lime, ginger
    • Tomato, basil, garlic salsa
    • Braised in a simple tomato sauce
    •  Marinated with miso
  • It's local and sustainable.  I'm going out on a limb here, because I do not know this for sure.  But if I were HMart selling super-fresh "trash fish" for $1.99 a pound, labeled wild caught, I don't imagine it would travel very far.
Although it would look impressive to serve a whole fish to your guest, removing the bone takes some practice, and you're better off letting guests oooh and aaah in the kitchen, the do the work of boning yourself.  The fish meat literally falls off the bone, but there's still some skill involved to be able to pull off whole chunks of fish (maybe even a whole side) without leaving much bone.  And if you de-bone the fish in the kitchen, you get to keep the fish carcass, and make some fish stock--bonus!!  As you can see in the photo, the bones are large, so they're easy to find.

Better to try this dish many times yourself and practice!  I know I will!

Roasted Porgy (Scup) with Parsley Sauce


Yield: Serves 2-4

Total Time: 45 min
Easy, tasty, and inexpensive.  Just be patient with the bones, and practice removing them until you're an expert.


Ingredients:


  • 2 porgy (scup), or similar fish about 1.25 pounds each, cleaned, gutted and scaled with fins removed
  • 1/3 bunch of parsley, with leaves roughly chopped, and stems reserved for use in the cavity
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 TBS capers, rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 scallions, minced, with the tougher green parts reserved for the cavity
  • 1/4 cup + 2 TBS good extra virgin  olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 thinly sliced lemon wedges
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:



  1. Prepare the fish:  Rinse the porgy, inside and out and dry.  Make 3-4 slashes on each side of each porgy.   Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper, and rub into the slashes.  Set aside.
  2. Make the sauce:  In a small bowl, combine the chopped parsley leaves, lemon juice, lemon zest, capers, garlic, scallions, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil.  
  3. Preheat the oven:  450 degrees.
  4. Prepare to Roast:  Spread the onion slices on a ridged sheet pan, and add the 2 TBS of olive oil
  5. "Marinate" the fish:  Take one or two tablespoons of the sauce and insert it into the slashes on both sides of the fish.  Put the reserved parsley stems and scallion greens into the fish cavities and put the fish on top of the onions
  6. Roast:  For about 20 minutes, or until the flesh is flaky and opaque. Use a small sharp knife to probe gently.
  7. Remove the flesh from the bone:  Starting at the backbone end, gently lift the flesh from the top side of the fish and place on a serving platter, leaving the skeleton in place.  Sarah suggested two soup spoons.  A cake server would also work well.  Lift the skeleton away and put the remaining flesh on the platter.
  8. Serve:  Some of the flesh, roasted onions, and sauce to each diner.  Garnish with a lemon wedge.
  9. Make stock:  Be sure to make a fish stock with the leftover bones and onions.
Click here for printable recipe page.







Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late Summer Corn and Tomato Alternative -- Soup but not Chowder

There are only so many times you can have fresh farm stand corn cooked gently on the grill served naked without butter or salt because it's so sweet just by itself, accompanied by a simple plate of heirloom tomatoes harvested from the garden, perhaps with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper and a topping of chopped basil (also from the garden).  With a side dish of grilled chicken.  This is otherwise known as Sunday dinner around here, because I would make twice or three times as much corn as needed so that it could be eaten cold straight out of the fridge or cut into salads during the week (usually with tomatoes).  And two or three times as much chicken.  Only so many times.  Susan was starting to roll her eyes.  So was I.

In my defense, it was a hot summer.  Anything that involved turning on the indoor stove was off limits, and raw tomatoes needed no heat.  But still, there are only so many times.  The temperature had dropped, so a corn and tomato chowder would be perfect.

Here's what I had on hand:  Six ears of white corn from Wilson Farms (the white corn is here, shouted the signs...who could resist?), and some tomatoes from the garden.  The recipe surfing I did for inspiration mostly turned up chowders that relied on cream or milk, but I thought that much dairy would overwhelm the subtle flavors of the corn and tomatoes.  Bacon was a common theme, and I had a few slices in the freezer awaiting a mission.  Bacon would give the soup some depth.  One or two recipes had shallots, which I thought would work well.  I had a few Zavory hot peppers, "the first habaneros with mild heat" from the garden.  My experience with them so far this season was that they were very mild, so I intended to use six or seven, hoping for some mild heat.
An abundance of sage!!

The recipes I found without dairy called for using chicken stock.  My feeling was this would overwhelm the corn and tomato flavor, so I opted for making a corn stock from the denuded corn cobs.  Once I was well into the soup making I realized that some herbs would work well.  Basil would be my usual choice, but just outside the kitchen door was an abundance of sage, which I don't use nearly as often.  So at the last minute I piled up about 10 leaves of the sage on the cutting board, cut them once to open the insides, and tied the stack into a little bundle with a silicone band.  Kitchen twine would work too, or even just chop up the sage and add near the end of the cooking.

The result was a mildly flavored soup, heavily sweet from the fresh sweet corn, with some depth provided by the tomatoes.  Some labneh gave the dish a little tang, and when trying the leftovers the next night I added in a little Cholula hot sauce, and moderately hot vinegar-based hot sauce, where vinegar is an important part of the flavor.  Plain sherry vinegar would work well too if you don't want the heat.

Corn and Tomato Soup

Yield: Serves 4-6
Total Time: 45 min
Great for a late summer appetizer or main dish on a cool evening.  It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ears corn, kernels stripped off, ears reserved for use in the stock
  • 4-6 small tomatoes, or 1-2 large
  • 1-2 habanero peppers (optional, more or less to taste)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 10 leaves fresh sage, more for garnish
  • 4-6 teaspoons of labneh or greek yogurt or creme fraiche or sour cream (one per serving bowl), or to taste
  • Vinegar based moderate hot sauce (such as Cholula) or sherry vinegar, depending on your taste.
  • salt and pepper to taste
Method:
  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, cook the bacon on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the bacon is crisp.  Reserve the bacon for later, and pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Saute the shallot and peppers in the bacon fat for a few minutes, until translucent.
  3. Put the corn cobs in the pan, and CAREFULLY add water to cover cobs (water and hot fat will spatter!)  If your cobs don't fit in one layer, only cover the first layer.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Rotate the ears of corn so that they all get some time in the water.  Remove and discard the cobs.
  4. Add all but 1/2 cup of the corn kernels and all of the tomatoes.  Cut the sage leaves once to open them up, and tie with kitchen twine or a silicone band so that they can be easily removed. (Alternatively, cut them in a chiffonade and add them toward the end of the cooking time.)  Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the corn gets a little tender.
  5. Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to buzz the soup to whatever texture you like.  Alternatively, use a blender and blend in batches filling to only 1/3 full to avoid overflow of hot soup (not good!)
  6. Return to the heat and add in the reserved corn kernels.  Cook for a few minutes.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of the labneh or sour dairy of your choice and some drops of the hot sauce or vinegar, if desired, to taste.
 Click here for printable recipe.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pesto, without the nasty cleanup

It's September, and our three basil plants have been supplying us all spring and summer.  As long as I keep up with the occasional flower, they seem happy.  With the season winding down, it was time to give them a major haircut, which means it's pesto time!

I love pesto, but I loathe the mess.  Typically, I dump the ingredients--basil leaves, oil, garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts), salt and pepper into the food processor, give it a whir, rearrange the leaves several times, and repeat until I get a nice "paste" of tiny basil bits suspended in the oil.  (I typically add the Parmesan cheese later, because I often make enough to freeze, and pesto laden with Parmesan doesn't freeze well--or so I've heard).  But the result is an oily food processor with those tiny basil bits splattered all over the food processor parts--a chore to clean up.

So it was with great excitement that I read the following lines from one of the e-mail blasts from Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI):  "My preferred "presto with little mess-to" method is using a stick blender which I find easier to wash up and less wasteful than a food processor."  I assumed that a "stick blender" was British for an immersion blender, and was game to try this.  

I found the method worked best by turning the blender on and stirring it around the bowl to make sure to capture all the basil.  The stirring was the same motion you'd use for stirring anything else in a bowl.  After about a minute or so, I had a nice creamy pesto sauce, which I added to the homemade pasta dug out of the archives in the freezer (May 2015). and topped with some grated Parmesan cheese.

So thank you KGI!  And thanks for the video showing how to make TRUE pesto as done in Genoa, with a mortar and pestle.  (And if you need a pesto recipe, the proportions there are as good as any).  Some day I will try this, but until then, I'm sold on the stick-blender method.

Also, a by-the-way shoutout to KGI.  If you're at all into gardening, or think you might want to be into gardening if only you knew what to do, this is a must-have resource.  They have a great website with articles and videos.  But best of all have an online garden planner that lets you lay out your garden and it generates a planting schedule and shopping list.  It also keeps track of what you've planted for next year, so you can take advantage of succession planting concepts.  It costs $25 per year once you've used up your free month, but it's well worth it.  ESPECIALLY because they plow the money back into all sorts of good causes.  Last year, they gave grants to 200 community gardens around the world in their Sow it Forward Food Garden Grants!
 



Thursday, July 31, 2014

The heirlooms are here!


This should be a festival day.  I have a garden with lots of vegetables -- eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, zucchini, butternut, snap peas, carrots, and peppers.  And I have a few hybrid tomatoes that were nice enough to give give fruit starting in late June.  But these are all supporting characters to the star of the show, the heirloom tomatoes.  There's nothing like ambling up the backyard stairs, plucking one of these off, and doing something simple, like hearty bread spread with thick Greek yogurt from Sophia's Greek Pantry in Belmont (labna if you can't get yogurt this thick--I'm pretty sure it's the same foodstuff), some fresh oregano, and thick slices of heirloom tomato. These are purple Cherokee, an all time favorite.  The Brandywine's are close behind.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yes please, I'll have me some of that: A simple one pot pasta with tomatoes and basil

Here's a shout out to Food52.  They're an cooking-oriented website that covers a lot of territory, has a great attitude, and consistently puts out good content that I want to read (and recipes I want to cook).  I get their e-mail newsletter several times a week, and there's always something I want to try.  Check it out if you haven't.  It seems that they're pretty successful, and I hope that the appearances are true, because they deserve to be.  So, they don't really need a shout out from me, but today was special.

I was reading Food52 at lunch time, like I often do, and saw this "genius recipe" for one pan tomato pasta, clicked over, saw the lovely picture, and started reading.  The idea is simple, true genius, and I wished I'd thought of it myself. Turns out, it was Martha Stewart who thought of it.  Apparently, this was all the rage a while ago on the Internet, but I missed it.  It's dead easy and delicious.  And I just had to make it tonight. 

Here's why.....the garden tomatoes are starting to come in. And the basil is doing well.  I had onions and garlic in the pantry and a some whole wheat pasta spaghetti.  It was a no-brainer.

The recipe is indeed as easy as looks.  You just dump all the ingredients in a straight sided skillet (called a sauteuese).   There's enough water to just cover the pasta.  You boil it for 10 minutes (they say 9, but my spaghetti was whole wheat, and it said 10), and you've got a meal.  Top with a little Parmesan cheese and your set.  Yum. Go look at their recipe.  It works!  Prep time...5 or 10 minutes, tops.

A few notes.  When I looked at the quantity of salt (2 teaspoons for a dish that makes four servings), I was sure it would be too salty.  But it wasn't.  And I chiffonaded the basil leaves and tossed them in right at the end of the cook time so they just wilted into the dish rather than cooked.  It's better for fresh basil not to be cooked.  And you just use raw onions--no sauteing first--the 10 minutes of cooking in the starchy water was enough to sweeten up those onions so they were mighty tasty.

And click over to their link to other one pot pasta meal "spinoffs".  There's bound to be something tasty there!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Two Lost Years

I posted on July 4, 2012.  And then again on July 2, 2014.  Two years with no posts.  I had good intentions, but then two years slipped away.  I didn't stop cooking and I didn't stop taking pictures. 

There were some good dishes in there, some more memorable than others.  There's zero chance that I'll write about these pictures, but I might be inspired to try some of them again..

I hate to throw the pictures away, so I made a little assemblage of the neglected posts.  Enjoy!

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