Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage

Week 11's take included lettuce, beets, cabbage, cilantro, scallions, shallots, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Since I hadn't done anything with cabbage yet, it was time to use it in some way. I adore cabbage but usually don't buy it because it doesn't strike me as a quick-to-make kind of vegetable. When confronted with cabbage, I fall back on Eastern European dishes or coleslaw because I can't think of other uses for it. So this week, I decided to make stuffed cabbage with the intention of freezing some for later. I used a slow cooker to make things easy but you don't have to if you don't have one. A regular pot will work just fine.

I was quite pleased with the result since it tasted just like my mother's golubtsi from childhood.

Stuffed Cabbage
(Print this recipe)

1 large head of cabbage
2-3 carrots, grated
1/2 cup caramelized onions, finely chopped (optional)
butter or olive oil for cooking
1 lb. ground beef (or other ground meat of your choice)
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Tip: Put the whole head of cabbage into the empty pot and fill the pot with water to just above the cabbage. Then, remove the cabbage and bring the water to a boil. Why? You don't really want to overfill the pot and have boiling water displaced onto your stove-top once you lower the cabbage in. :)

2. Wash the cabbage and turn it upside down so that the core is facing you. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a channel all the way around the core. If you can succeed in cutting the core out completely, that will be great, but if you can't get it out, don't worry. Scoring should do the trick provided you cut deeply into the cabbage and cut all the way around to create a channel between the core and the leaves. Some recipes tell you to pull the leaves off a fresh cabbage before boiling them but I've never had success with this method because cabbage leaves are tightly packed and they will break if you try to do this.

3. Carefully lower the cabbage head into the boiling water core side down and let it boil for 10 minutes. Hold it down with something heavy if need be (because it will try to float). Once the leaves start to cook a bit, turn off the heat and pull the cabbage head out of the water. Don't drain the boiling water yet just in case the cabbage doesn't cook all the way through.

4. When cool enough to handle, peel the leaves off and let them cool further. If the interior leaves don't seem as cooked as the exterior leaves, feel free to pop the cabbage back into the pot for another few minutes of boiling. The purpose of the boiling is to loosen the leaves so that you can work with them and not to cook the cabbage completely.  Depending on the size of the cabbage, you ought to end up with about 12-15 large leaves. Reserve the smallest leaves for a later step.

5. While the leaves are cooling, heat a pan and add a little butter or olive oil. Sauté the grated carrots until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

6. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, rice, half the carrots, the onions (if using), salt and pepper to taste, and 3-4 tablespoons of ketchup.

7. Take a cabbage leaf and lay it out flat with the stem end facing away from you.  If the stem is too hard, you can cut it out to make rolling easier. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture at one end of the leaf and roll it up like you would a burrito. Continue making cabbage rolls in this way.

8. In a slow cooker (or a large pot), lay some of the reserved cabbage leaves on the bottom to prevent burning. Place cabbage rolls on top of these leaves. Spread half of the remaining carrot mixture on top of the rolls and add half a can of the crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add a second layer of cabbage rolls on top and again spread the remaining carrots and crushed tomatoes on top. Season well again. Add additional water mixed with more ketchup (several tablespoons) to make enough sauce to cover the rolls.

9. If using your slow cooker, cook on low for 4 hours. If using a regular pot, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about half an hour. Uncover, turn up the heat, and let the sauce boil away until somewhat reduced, about 5-15 minutes. The leaves should be tender and the meat should be cooked through.

These freeze well so make lots and put some in the freezer for a future meal.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Fresh Summer Salad and Crispy Potatoes

Weeks 9 and 10 were nearly identical: lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes,  beets, cabbage, and chard. Week 9 provided me with zucchini and Week 10 provided me with corn instead. I was very excited by these selections because we are now in territory that I'm familiar with: potatoes and tomatoes, staples that my kitchen is never without year-round. Although supermarket potatoes taste the same year-round, tomatoes are another story altogether. In winter, we have to put up with those pale, tasteless things that pass for tomatoes. So when the summer tomatoes come, it is cause for celebration. We usually just slice tomatoes and eat them raw in salads.

One of my favorite salads is a variation on a summer salad that I grew up with, simply called Summer Salad. This salad is traditionally made with cucumbers and radishes but when my son was little, he didn't like radishes and I began substituting tomatoes. You can use cucumbers and radishes or cucumbers and tomatoes or a combination of the three. The ingredients in this salad are so simple you won't believe how delicious it can be with just those few items. The secret is in the combination of sour cream and salt. It won't taste nearly as good if you don't salt it well.

Summer Salad
(Print this recipe)

1 seedless baby cucumber
1 tomato (or several radishes)
2-3 Tbsp. sour cream

Dice the vegetables so that they are uniform in size. If you can't find seedless baby cucumbers--and they do make a difference--make sure you take the seeds out of a regular cucumber before dicing it. Add the vegetables to a bowl and mix with sour cream and salt to taste. Let stand 5-10 minutes and taste. Add more salt if necessary. The salad will begin to release a lot of liquid pretty quickly. You can drain it if you wish or simply eat it up when you get to the end of the salad.

Crispy Potatoes
(Print this recipe)

2-3 potatoes
oil for cooking

The trick to getting these potatoes crispy on the outside and soft on the inside is to boil and then fry them. It takes a little longer but the results are worth it.

Wash, peel and slice the potatoes into thin rounds, about 1/8th inch thick (or thinner). Put them into a pan and add enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil over medium heat. At this point, test the potatoes with a fork. They should be underdone a bit but not hard. If they are still quite hard, turn the heat to low and cook another few minutes. Drain and lay the slices out on a paper towel to dry somewhat. Heat a pan on medium high and add sufficient oil. This is not the time to skimp on oil. When hot, begin adding the slices to the pan carefully, making sure not to overlap the slices. If the slices are still wet, you will get a lot of splatter so it's a good idea to make sure they are as dry as possible. Fry until they are crispy on the bottom side, then flip to the other side. Remove from pan and onto paper towels. While the potatoes are still hot, sprinkle with salt. Continue frying the rest of the potatoes in batches in the same manner.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Easy Cold Beet Soup (Borscht)

Forget that overly sweet Manischewitz borscht in a jar. This soup, made from scratch, is the real thing. And the best part is that it is really easy. It does take time (because in this case "easy" does not equal "fast") but you will have enough soup to last a few days.

When Week 8's selection included a bunch of beets for the first time, I immediately thought of borscht. I grew up on this soup but I never actually made it before. My mother came over to show me how to cook it. I got the beets out for her, walked away for a little bit to attend to something else and when I came back... Voila! The soup was done. I told you it'd be easy.

But in case you don't have someone else to make this for you, here is the recipe:

Easy Cold Beet Soup (Borscht)
(Print this recipe)

3 medium beets, stems removed
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
sugar (optional)
hard-boiled eggs, sliced
diced cucumber
sour cream

1. Wash, peel and cut the beets in half. Fill a medium pot with water and put beets in. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until they are fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Ten or fifteen minutes into the cooking, add the potatoes so that they cook with the beets the last 10-15 minutes.

2. When the beets are tender, pull them out and cool until they are cool enough to handle. Continue cooking the potatoes in the pot.  When cool enough to handle, grate the beets on the large holes of a box grater or with the grating attachment on a food processor. Put the beets back into the soup. Cook a few minutes more, testing your potatoes. Potatoes will be done about 15-20 minutes after you put them in. Make sure not to overcook the potatoes or else they will disintegrate into the soup.

3. Add the lemon juice, salt and sugar (if desired). If adding sugar, add a teaspoon at a time, then taste and adjust as needed. Cool the soup, then refrigerate. It's even better the next day.

4. To serve, Russians typically ladle the soup into bowls and pass the eggs, cucumbers, and sour cream around so everyone can add however much they want.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Turkey and Zucchini Lasagna

Week 8 provided me with an overwhelming number of vegetables. There were 8 heads of lettuce (the most to date), beets, scallions, collards, dandelion greens, cabbage, Swiss chard, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash, green garlic, and basil. What to do with it all? A variety of domestic difficulties and a holiday weekend prevented me from preparing most of these things. The lettuce, as always, was distributed to good homes near and far. I kept a few heads for our week-long salads. The Chinese cabbage became coleslaw.

After the long holiday weekend of eating anywhere but home, I realized that there was no dinner for Monday night. Scanning my refrigerator, I noticed the perfect combination of items that were about to go bad: ground turkey and an unopened container of ricotta. These items, together with a half-used box of lasagna noodles gave me the obvious answer: lasagna. But wait! I can't just make something without using at least one vegetable from the farm. At first, I wanted to layer in everything: chard, zucchini, and collards but then thought better of it. If the vegetables aren't disguised, my daughter won't eat it. (And even if they are disguised, there's a good chance she won't eat it anyway.) So I settled on just adding zucchini as a layer. After consulting a few different recipes, I created this combination:

Turkey and Zucchini Lasagna
(Print this recipe)

1 large, or 2 small zucchini (or any summer squash)
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. ground turkey
1 26 oz. jar of tomato sauce
1 15 oz. container of ricotta
1 egg
6+ sheets of no-boil lasagna noodles
8-16 oz. shredded mozzarella

1. Prepare the zucchini or squash first: Trim the ends off the zucchini and slice it length-wise into 1/8th inch slices.  Heat a pan on medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil and sauté garlic until fragrant, about a minute. Working in batches so that there is no overlap, lay the zucchini slices in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the slices to brown both sides. Remove from heat when they are as browned as you like them. Alternatively, you could also roast the slices in the oven.

2. While these are cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a pot, brown the ground turkey, breaking up any lumps. Once browned, drain the fat and put back on the stove. Skip this step to make a vegetarian version. Add tomato sauce and simmer until hot. My tomato sauce was on the runny side so I reduced it until it was thick. I also added a little sugar to my sauce to make it less acidic. Leave to cool a bit.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta with one egg. Mix thoroughly.

4. Next, it's time to assemble the lasagna. Using a pan with at least 1.5-2 inch high sides, spread half of the tomato sauce mixture on the bottom of the pan. Lay the noodles on top making sure not to overlap them. Next, spread the ricotta mixture on top, then lay the zucchini slices on top of the ricotta mixture. It's okay to overlap these. Lay more noodles on top. Finally, spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top of the noodles and distribute the mozzarella cheese on top.

5. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove foil and let the cheese melt and brown for an additional 5-10 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to slice.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Simply Sautéed Swiss Chard

Chard's colorful stems and veins that run through the leaves remind me of Magritte's trees. This was previously a vegetable that I ignored in the supermarket because I was unfamiliar with it. Seeing it as part of my weekly share forced me to try it. It's a green, much like spinach, and as such, it's easy to prepare. Whatever you can do with spinach or beet greens, you can do with chard. To make a quick side, here is all I did:

Simply Sautéed Swiss Chard
(Print this recipe)

1 lb. Swiss chard
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped or pressed
Lemon juice

Chop the chard, separating the stems from the leaves. Heat a pan and add the olive oil. When it's hot, stir fry the garlic until just fragrant, no more than a minute. Add the stems and cook until tender. Then, add the leaves and cook a little longer until they are wilted. Season with salt (and pepper if you like) and squeeze some lemon juice over it.

Asian-style Cabbage Slaw

Week 7's selection included red-leaf lettuce (6 heads), collards, Chinese cabbage, curly endive (chicory), green garlic, and the aforementioned broccoli. Since the July 4th holiday weekend was approaching, I decided to make some coleslaw for a family barbecue. Traditional coleslaw can be hit or miss for me (and depends largely on whether it is made with onions, which I can't stand). It also uses a lot of mayonnaise, which, although it tastes great, can be overwhelming. I wanted something a little different that would use Chinese cabbage instead of regular cabbage and give coleslaw a lighter taste. The stalk of a Chinese cabbage leaf tastes pretty much like regular cabbage. The leafy part, however, is more tender but still has the same flavor.

A simple search turned up this recipe from Bobby Flay for Napa Cabbage Slaw. I modified the recipe quite a bit to make my own version that gives the cabbage an Asian flavor without the spiciness.

Asian-style Cabbage Slaw
(Print this recipe)

Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2-3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1-2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1-2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 head Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage (plus another head if need be), shredded
1 large carrot or 2 small carrots, shredded
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Mix the first 6 ingredients. Taste and adjust the quantities of any of the marinade elements. I did a lot of fiddling with the oil, mayonnaise, soy sauce, and sugar because I started with too much acid (i.e. lemon juice and vinegar).

2. Add the cabbage, carrot, and scallions and toss to mix. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. Mine sat in the refrigerator overnight. The longer it sits, the more the vegetables will sink into the marinade and the more marinade you will have. Once you take it out of the fridge, feel free to add more shredded cabbage to increase the volume and soak up the marinade. If you don't add more cabbage or other vegetables, you will end up with a growing pool of marinade at the bottom. This doesn't affect the taste; only the presentation.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A Broccoli Disaster

Week 6's trip to the farm stand not only introduced me to green garlic, but also surprised me with ten heads of broccoli. I took all ten because, unlike unpreservable food such as lettuce, broccoli lends itself to freezing quite well. I had visions of delicious wintry stir-fries dancing in my head as I collected the heads into my bag. At home, I was again confronted with the fact that my fridge is too small and the weekly bounty is too large. (Yes, sure, I could donate some or give it away (which I do) but where's the challenge in that?) My goal is to preserve some of the vegetables for use in the winter when there is no CSA to go to. After giving away two heads of broccoli to my family, I packed the other eight in my makeshift cooler with some ice packs. And promptly forgot about them while I busied myself with Scallion Pancakes. Not surprisingly, when I remembered about the broccoli, it all turned yellow and purple and pink. So colorful yet so inedible. Sadly, into the garbage it all went.

During the following week, Week 7, I got another chance with the broccoli. Only four heads this time but given that I typically use only one head of broccoli for a stir-fry anyway, this could easily be four future stir-fries. But wouldn't you know it? After all that chopping and blanching and shocking, it turned out that I had overcooked it. I froze it anyway--better to have overcooked broccoli than no broccoli--but I had failed again. Preserving Summer's Bounty had recommended a blanch time of two minutes for broccoli florets that were about an inch-and-a-half long. Somehow, I didn't pull them out of the water in time. Either that or the recommended blanch time is too long.

Better luck next time.

Scallion Pancakes

After weeks of filling my fridge with organic, nutrient-rich, green vegetables that I minimally processed for dinner, all I could think about when I saw the scallions at the farm stand during Week 5 was scallion pancakes. This is a great way to make a nutritious vegetable less nutritious by adding white flour. But no matter. I had to have these. After a little searching, I found this recipe, complete with pictures.

I followed the recipe step-by-step. After I left the dough to rise, things began to unravel. After checking the dough repeatedly, it still hadn't risen. It was getting close to dinnertime, family members would be home soon, and they'd be hungry. So, I took the dough out anyway, and began to work on it. And work on it. And work on it. It was sticky and unmanageable. I couldn't get it to become smooth, dry and elastic (as in the recipe's picture) to roll into a log. The dough had no intention of rolling into a log. If I picked up one end, it would just ooze out of my fingers and refuse to comply. I added flour. And more flour. And even more flour. Each successive addition of flour (by tablespoons) seemed to just disappear into the dough mass after a while. I must have added more than a cup of additional flour before I just threw up my sticky hands. 

I decided to just start cooking them and hope for the best. Instead of cutting off neat disks from a log, I just started tearing gobs of dough from this mass. Rolling was impossible so I just patted each disk with my hand, sprinkled scallions on top, and tried to roll and squish it down as best I could. I prepared all these little "patties" and laid them on a plate to fry. My husband arrived home at this instant and saw the mess and my distress. He dropped his bags on the floor and began to help. He noticed that the patties that were already in the frying pan were puffing up and we were both concerned that they would brown on the outside but remain raw on the inside. He came up with the technique of further mashing these patties into the frying pan with a spatula to make them thinner. As a result, some came out as puffy, little pancakes and some were large and thin. After everything was done, it was the moment of truth.

We all tasted one. They were delicious! Puffy or thin, they all had the same, chewy, delicious taste. Despite the dough not quite working the way it should, they were as good, if not better than, a Chinese restaurant's. They were hands down the best thing I've made with the CSA vegetables so far. Yeah, I know, it's the dough and not the scallions that made this good but hey, it was something I had never made before.

Next time when I make this, I'll try to add less water in one of the early steps. That may have caused the problem. It's also possible that my yeast wasn't as fresh as it could have been (but it wasn't expired) and prevented the dough from rising promptly.