Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Very Scrappy Dinner

So, I thought I would post a picture of what I (and the roommate -- yes I feed her. It helps her tolerate my late nights) had for dinner last night. No recipes, just a picture and a list of ingredients. Why? Because I feel like people overthink food. Dinner doesn't have to be this big "thing." Of course I believe that we should take note of how blessed we are to have the opportunity to eat well every time we sit down to a lovely meal. That's not what I mean.

I think that many of us have this rigid idea of what a meal should entail -- that certain vegetables perform certain tasks, that there should be exactly this much protein to this much starch, that sort of thing. For example, too many people think of vegetables as a side player to a protein, or they think that beans go with rice and tortillas.

The best meals come, at least for me, when I "Iron Chef" it. That's how I refer to the act of cooking with whatever the heck I already have. Since I started getting the CSA boxes from Green Hill Urban Farm (, I've been doing that more often. It's an awful lot of fun to spread a rainbow of seasonal produce across the counter, stare at it for a few minutes, and come up with something fun to make with it.

It doesn't take much to be creative with food, just a fairly well-stocked pantry. A few whole spices and a mortar and pestle, a couple types of oils and vinegars, and a good selection of dried beans and grains should supplement any assortment of veggies to make a fine Iron Chef-style meal. Oh, as always, I highly recommend making and freezing your own chicken stock -- such a great thing to have on hand:

Thinking creatively about food helps to avoid waste, too. Instead of rushing out to buy a bunch of stuff you don't need to make dinner tonight, look in your fridge and see what needs to be cooked. Do you have scraps of 6 different vegetables sitting in your fridge about to turn into compost if you don't do something with them? Well, sounds like soup waiting to happen! Or, perhaps a really eclectic vegetable "ragout" over quinoa, like in that picture up there.

The ragout came about after I surveyed my very modest pea harvest from this spring. Not enough to be a major feature in a dish (man, I've been dreaming about spring pea risotto. Oh well). So, I chopped up some baby chiogga beets, purple broccoli, fennel and chard from Green Hill, some baby golden beets, oregano, snow peas, English peas and pea shoots from mine. I sauteed some red onion and garlic, threw in the veggies, then added chopped tomato, chicken stock, white beans, a touch of rice vinegar and some extra Theros olive oil. Covered it, steamed it all for a bit, then served it over quinoa. Probably would have been pretty awesome with some Moroccan spice added to the mix, but salt and pepper was just fine as well.

So basically, this post is meant to encourage several things:

1. Try not to waste food. Visit this link for some interesting stats on poverty and food waste in America:
an excerpt:
Almost 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in America each year. 700 million
hungry human beings in different parts of the world would have gladly accepted
this food.

2. Be creative! There are no real rules beyond keeping your food safe for people to eat.

3. Consider planting a garden. It's amazing how far you can stretch your food dollar when you can supplement your meals with things growing right in your yard. Saves on fuel if you only have to travel 20 feet, too.

4. Keep your pantry stocked with spices, dried grains and beans, and other non-perishables. They make your life so easy.

5. Consider supporting your local farming community by joining a CSA .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Soup

Really? Who wants soup in the summer?

Actually, chilled vegetable soup can be one of the most refreshing, simple meals around. I personally like to make a big batch of soup in the evening when it is cooler, chill and have it the next day for a fuss-free meal.

If you are a Green Hill Urban Farm CSA member, beets, fennel, mint and radishes are going to be familiar friends for a bit. I know plenty of people that are awfully frightened of some of those items. No need. If you know how to properly play with your food, you may begin to realize how incredibly refreshing late spring/early summer veggies can be.

I adore pureed beet soup with yogurt. It's super simple and hearty, but refreshing at the same time. Here's what you need for the soup:

1 small white onion
2 cloves garlic
2 stalks of celery
3-4 beets
1 1/2-2 quarts chicken or veggie stock (I tell you how to make chicken stock in previous posts --
sprig thyme
tsp whole coriander seed
tsp whole cumin seed

Chop up the celery, garlic and onion. Also chop the beet stems -- no reason to throw them away. Reserve the greens from your beets. They make a fine side dish sauteed with some garlic.

Meanwhile, heat up some oil in a sauce pot. Sweat everything you just chopped on medium heat. While that's happening, chop your beets. Be prepared to stain your cutting board. That's just life with beets. If you wash up fast, it shouldn't stick around forever.

Once the onions are translucent in the pot, add your stock, then the chopped beets and thyme and turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn it back down to a simmer.

Meanwhile, toast your whole cumin and coriander over medium heat. Once toasted, crush in a mortar and pestle or use a coffee grinder. Trust me, it is worth it to buy your spices whole like this. They last longer and taste better. Add the cumin and coriander to the soup. Go ahead and throw in a bit of salt at this point, too.

Alright, for the yogurt that you will top your soup with, you need:
6 oz plain yogurt -- thick Greek style is the best
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
few leaves mint, chiffonade

How do you make mint chiffonade? Stack the leaves, roll them into a cigar shape, slice thinly. There you have it.

Folks, I overdid the mint. Don't use this much.

Mix it all together. A fine alternative to mint, by the way, is dill.

After everything simmering in your soup is soft -- give it about 30 minutes or so -- go ahead and throw it all in a blender or food processor and puree. Add cold water if you need it. Chill soup, then serve with the yogurt on top, some good crusty bread and a salad.

The salad that I made was pretty simple, but seems fancy:

Shaved fennel and assorted radishes from Green Hill (shaved on a mandolin slicer)

Sliced apples, goat cheese, romaine

Theros olive oil and fig vinegar (you can substitute balsamic), salt and pepper.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Support local everything!

Welcome Green Hill Urban Farm CSA members! Every week I'll be posting recipes that will help you find creative uses for all of those fabulous veggies that Mike Fortune and company are sending you home with every Wednesday. I'll be focusing, at least initially, on no-heat "cooking" for all you people (like me) that don't have AC and don't need to add any extra heat or humidity to the house. If you already are a reader of the Scrappy Gourmet and would like to learn more about Green Hill, visit their website here: The good news is that they happen to have room for more CSA members -- about 30. Support your local farmers!

Check out the recent story I did about the farm in the Mountain Xpress:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Low or no-heat cooking.

It's not even summer yet, and it's freaking hot. The last thing that I feel like doing is slaving over a stove. So, I like to dream up ways to have well-rounded meals that involve minimal or no heat. Salt and acids are your best friend when it comes no-heat "cooking." Both help veggies -- like kale for example -- break down to something a bit more edible. Munching on a raw kale leaf just doesn't sound great, but massage it with some salt, sesame oil and rice vinegar, and you have a great, refreshing summer salad or side. Here is a picture of some lovely kale that came from Green Hill Urban Farm, as well as some radishes which will form a great salad.

The radishes are optional for this dish. They came in my Green Hill CSA box with the kale, so I thought I'd just throw it all in there. (want to learn more about Green Hill and how to get enrolled in their CSA program? Visit this link:

So, to make marinated kale ribbons, here's what you need:

1 bunch kale, stems stripped away

2 T tamari/soy sauce

1/4 cup seasoned (sweet) rice wine vinegar


2 T toasted sesame oil

Now, here's where I tell you that you need to go out and buy yourself a cool toy. You deserve it. Head out to your local kitchen supply and grab yourself a mandolin slicer, pictured below with a radish that it perfectly julienned in seconds flat. Watch your fingers, please.

Stack your kale leaves on top of each other and roll into a cigar like so:

Then slice into ribbons like so:

Put your kale ribbons and julienned radishes into the bowl. Next, add all of your liquids.

Throw in a pinch or two of salt, get your hands down in that bowl and massage away. The salt will pull a lot of liquid out of your veggies. Let it all marinate for a while, at least 10-15 minutes, then pull the kale out of the dressing and serve. This dish keeps for a couple of days in the fridge. In my opinion, it's best the next day. As always, if you feel like you want more vinegar or tamari, add away.

Optional additions to your ribbons include fresh ginger and/or garlic, toasted sesame seeds, sliced red get the idea.

Eat your ribbons alone as a refreshing salad or with other items as a side dish. Here is my own low-cook dinner that I had on this hot hot evening:

Flash-seared Copper River salmon with kale ribbons. On top of the fish is some avocado relish (white onion, avocado, tomato, lime juice, salt. Also fresh dill, cilantro and Theros olive oil from Green Hill). In the background is some whole wheat French Bread from Annie's bakery in Sylva with more Theros olive oil infused with garlic, rosemary and thyme from my own garden. The fish only took a minute to cook, everything else was no-cook. Very healthy stuff and my house is much cooler (if you consider 79 degrees to be cool).