Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pickled Beets

Dear Daughter can take some good selfies!

     I am so sorry but three weeks into my CSA , while I am loving it... I had to let some of the veggies go.   Those three little green aliens in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator, frankly, scared me and while I spent countless hours on the Internet (I have nothing else to do...seriously), I could not bring myself to devote any time to actually cooking these "things".  When Friday's shipment arrived, I made the hard decision.  The romanesco had to go and so it did.
     Friday's shipment brought us a ton of veggies for this week:  one head of cabbage, one bulb of fennel plus the fronds, three small beets, chives, curly kale. two small pattypan squash and two zucchini.  I have my work cut out for me but I am ready.  

       Here is the plan:
     Monday:  Quinoa Asian Slaw:  This will utilize part of the cabbage plus the rest of last week's green onions.  I may also make stuffed pattypan squash.
     Tuesday:  Grilled Chicken Breast with either a Fennel and Apple Salad or a Fennel Gratin.
     Wednesday:  It is my birthday and I was just informed today that the family would be making dinner!
     Thursday:  Kale with Sausage and White Beans

     Most of the zucchini is already gone - first in a simple zucchini carpaccio over the weekend - thinly slice the zucchini and layer on a plate.  Dust with a little black pepper and some olive oil.  Shave Parmesan and voila....really tasty and easy.  Tonight, the remaining zucchini will be made into fritters to accompany our sirloin steak.

     I have never had beets but Dear Daughter and Dear Husband both love them in salads so I made a quick pickled beet recipe this morning and will serve them as an appetizer tonight atop a salad made of arugula, walnuts and goat cheese.

Pickled Beets

     I am a bit out of sorts.  Yesterday, we saw a wonderful Omnimax film about D-Day.  Narrated by Tom Brokaw, it was quite well done and I think we all learned something new.  The film showed many panoramas of the Normandy region and it made me a bit homesick for France.  This is the first summer in seven years that we have not spent time there and I miss it.  Being back in Europe last week was such a wonderful experience and I think that we are all missing that life.  We will adjust and weren't we lucky to have a little dose of it so soon after leaving.

Pickled Beets
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pan Roasted Pork Chops with Pea Shoot Pesto

     "Good," was the one word response that I received via text from Dear Daughter when I asked her about early morning swim practice.  I did not hear back from her until nearly twelve hours later when she sent me this text, "Hey Mom.  Do I have an account so I don't have to pay cash because I don't have enough money for what I want."  This must be a glimpse into my future.
     Dear Daughter is at a local college for a one week intensive swim camp.  It is her first "sleepaway" camp and while she is quite used to travel and new experiences, this is a biggie.  When I dropped her off on Monday, I suddenly became a horrible mother for "leaving me in a place like this."  She nearly crumbled into tears, couldn't figure out why she didn't have  a roommate and was stumped at how to lock her dorm room door.  I took a deep breath, put on a big smile, didn't attempt to kiss her goodbye in front of everyone and quickly escaped to my car.  Later that evening, she was better but I was still getting text messages from her at 11pm.  She had a roommate but was not "bonding" with her and she was hot.
     Tuesday's flurry of text messages were all "happy".  She had made friends, had worked out well at the practices and was actually enjoying the cafetaria food.  All must have been well with the world as by Wednesday, she vaguely remembered she had parents.  I guess this is what I need to expect.  However, in all honesty, I have no problems with the lack of communication.  Frankly, that means that she is having a good time.  Perhaps I am not a horrible mother after all.  .
     In the meantime, I have been cooking up a storm this week but those three little green aliens (aka romanesco) are still lurking in the bottom of my vegetable bin.  I am running out of time as I get my next CSA shipment tomorrow.  Other than that, we have enjoyed our veggies this week.  While I had intended to use the squash in a gratin, I saw a wonderful pasta dish and made it instead.  Yum, yum - it was delicious but how could it not be with milk, butter, cheese and pasta?  The asparagus was going into a frittata for last night's dinner but Dear Husband had a better dinner idea...let's have a picnic at the lake.  "Did he say picnic?  Down by the lake?"  The asparagus would have to wait.
     The pea shoots made the base of a tasty pesto and mixed into the accompanying salad, it added a depth of flavor.  This is a very simple dish but looks and tastes as if you worked for hours.

Pan Roasted Pork Chops with Pea Shoot Pesto
Adapted from the New York Times

Monday, June 22, 2015

CSA Shipment #2 and Food Detox


     Our flight from Berlin to Pittsburgh via Newark was delayed three hours.  While we were lucky to find this out at midnight when my phone went "ding" and a text from United Airlines arrived, it still made for a very long day.  I quickly called the taxi company at 1am and changed the time of pickup but after that, I am not sure that anyone really slept.  It is sad to admit but the other reason I didn't sleep was that I knew that the delay would squash any hopes of picking up my CSA shipment later that day.  Yep, that is really sad.
     Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivers our weekly produce to a local catholic church and our pickup times each Friday are between 5pm and 8pm.  Had our flight been on time, we would have arrived at the church by 7pm but with the 3 hour delay, we would be lucky if we could get there by 10pm.  What if there was another delay coming out of Newark?  Prior to leaving Berlin, I emailed my CSA contact and explained our situation.  We would just have to forego the shipment - could it be donated as our shipment the previous week had been?
     We arrived in Newark tired and a bit grumpy and that would only continue as we went through passport control, picked up our bags, went through customs, re-checked our bags and then realized that we had to also stand in the normal security line, again.  (I forgot how blissful it was to travel direct from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt, Brussels or Paris.)  I checked my emails and I had received a response from my CSA Contact; she had contacted the driver.  Good - better someone else get it than it just go to waste.  

     However, the more I thought about it, the more...I don't know how to explain it.  I didn't want someone else to get my veggies.  I wanted my veggies.  I quickly emailed....couldn't I just pick them up at another location or perhaps the church would hold onto them and I would get them on Saturday morning.  My contact apologized and said that the driver never received the message.  The veggies would be a the church but she didn't know what they did with them after the 8pm closing.  Right then and there, I decided that I would stop by on my way matter the time to see if I could get them.  Am I becoming a veggie can that be...when most of the time, I just do not like them?
     Long story short...we arrived at a very empty church parking lot just before 10pm.  Might I just add that at this point, we had been awake for almost 24 hours and both Dear Daughter and I were really punch-y.  DD always amazes me at the strangest times. When I explained our detour to her, I expected a full blown out war.  No stops - only food and bed.  However, she took it in stride and indicated to me that the church wasn't that far out of the way.  So, here we were in the very deserted parking lot and looking into the entrance window, I could see the boxes!  The food was still there and we were not the only ones who had not picked up.  There was hope...except, what church would keep their doors open that late at night?
     Evidently, this church does.  I pulled the door and it opened.  I stepped inside, opened my box, pulled out my bag, broke down the box and suddenly remembered to check the small cooler for my weekly cheese shipment.  DD visibly cheered from the car.  We did it!
     Saturday was a long day.  With the jet lag, I woke up at 4:30 am.  We were completely unpacked by 6am and DD was awake by 7am.  By early afternoon, we were nestled on the couch eating pizza rolls (terrible for you but oh so good when you need comfort/junk food) and checking out a series on Netflix (which we proceeded to watch 6 episodes of...back to back).  We did manage to rally a bit for dinner and I cooked up two BIG-A_ _ steaks while DD made her specialty, Potatoes Gratin.  We sleepily grinned as we relished bites of rare steak followed by spoonfuls of cheese crusted, cream infused potatoes.  Let me tell you, we slept well that night!
     However, by Sunday morning, I realized that I needed a bit of a food detox.  We ate extremely well during our trip and I will tell you all about it later.  My system needed a bit of a rest and my bag of veggies was just the answer.  I never thought that I would enjoy a spinach based smoothie for breakfast followed by a vegetable broth based veggie soup for lunch, but it was wonderful.  I woke up this morning feeling so much better...much less bloated and the scale was happy also.  Recipes for these will follow at the end.
     Let me tell you about box number 2 and my plans for their contents over the week:

A large bag of spinach:  This is almost gone as I needed it for both the smoothie and the soup.
5 green onions:  Never difficult to use but I have an idea for a frittata.
15 stalks of asparagus:  Last year, we made asparagus fries and loved them (recipe on this site) but this time, I think that I will use them in the frittata with the green onions.
1 yellow squash: Easy to make into a gratin if I can find some good tomatoes.
1 bag of mesclun:  No worries there...we need to eat more salads this week.
Now the two kickers:  A large bag of pea shoots and romanesco (not one but three)! 

     Actually, I have no worries for the pea shoots.  I have been waiting for these and I will try a pan roasted port chop recipe tomorrow with a pea shoot pesto, courtesy of the NY Times.  However, I did not know what romanesco was...and now I do.  It is the mix of my two most hated veggies (outside of canned peas) research says that it is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower!  Seriously!  It looks like an alien.  I have seen them in markets and have fled...very quickly. Look at this?  Can this be edible but more importantly, fast good?  Help!

     So I need ideas, please, for tried and good romanesco recipes.  In addition, Saturday night's dinner will include lamb ribs...what do I do with these - the ribs are only about 3 inches long.

More about Berlin to follow but if you are looking for a small food detox...I highly recommend the following two recipes.  I liked them, but more importantly, DD liked them.

Mediterranean Smoothie
Adapted from

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Germany: Berlin, A Quiet Sunday Morning

It is Sunday morning and Dear Husband (DH) has to work. It has cooled off greatly since our arrival early Friday morning and the sky is a brilliant blue. After a simple breakfast of a soft boiled egg and a brotchen (bread of choice in Germany), I walk with DH to the conference hotel located a mile away. We could have taken the subway but the morning is crisp and clear and at 8am, the streets are nearly empty. It is one of the many pleasures of Europe, quiet Sunday mornings. Here in a major city, the streets are practically empty, ghost-town-like and it should be.

It is wonderful to be back yet so hard to be back. The feelings and memories of our time in Europe have been quickly pushed back in our minds. They have to be or we would probably be nonfunctional. In just a short 48 hours, we have enjoyed wandering down the aisles of simple grocery stores finding familiar products and almost greeting them as long lost friends. We have taken our beloved ICE train and sped across the countryside to a new adventure. Our meals have been incredible; ranging from a Michelin-star three course lunch, to my beloved bratwurst and brotchen sandwich slathered in mustard to a quirky pasta dinner in our apartment. 

It is 9:00 am and DD is still sleeping. I will let her as she needs it. To be truthful, I need to sit alone in the airy kitchen and pretend that this is my home and I am enjoying a typical lazy Sunday morning. Later, we can go out for a guaranteed adventure. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Getting into the Summer Groove - Boneless Rump Roast and CSA #1

     Last Friday afternoon, I was as excited as a child at Christmas.  My CSA pickup time was between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm.  I pulled up to the designated location, hopped out and practically skipped into the building.  There was no one in the entry way but I knew from my instructions what I needed to do.  Check my name off the list on the clipboard, open one of the large boxes marked "Full Share", take the bag out, break down the box and stack it with the others and finally take one item out of the small cooler bag.  That being accomplished, I headed back to my car to open my bag of goodies.   It really was like Christmas.  A Vegetable Christmas...for someone who isn't crazy about Vegetables.  Oh well, it was something to open.
Here is what we were given for our first CSA delivery:

  1.  One very large bok choi
  2. About 15 sticks of rhubarb
  3. Swiss Chard
  4. 1 head of Red Lollo Lettuce
  5. 1 head of Green Butterhead Lettuce
  6. 3 zucchinis
  7. A bunch of lambs quarter - WHAT IS THAT?
  8. A jar of chopped tomatoes
  9. A block of mild cheddar cheese from a local dairy

     Here is what went through my mind:  "Lots of lettuce, which was fine with me."  "Zucchini, well, I could make zucchini bread."  "What is lambs quarter?" "Rhubarb...I do not want to make a dessert with it."  "I can always deal with more tomatoes and a block of cheese."  So overall, it was not a bad first haul.  But wait....the Swiss Chard.  Ugh!

     When I was young and my father was in graduate school in Mississippi, I remember my parents had a fairly large vegetable garden one summer.  I have very little recollection of what they grew except for two items:  Swiss Chard and Cauliflower.  Now, my father will read this and will probably set my memory straight...reminding me of vine ripened tomatoes, plump cucumbers or sweet corn.  Who knows?  All I remember is Swiss Chard and Cauliflower and to this day...those along with canned peas do not pass through these lips.

     I did not want to put anything to waste but I am not ready yet to delve into Swiss Chard.  Luckily, shortly after picking up my order, I was on my way to my in-laws.  I offered her the Swiss Chard and she was more than happy.  "I know what to do with this!  It is so pretty!"  Chard, pretty?  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The next day, she emailed Dear Husband indicating that she had located a new recipe for the horrid leafy vegetable and was planning to make it soon.  The Chard had found a good home.

    Now, what did I do with the rest of the bounty... this bounty that had to be eaten fully by today as we are leaving on a trip (and I miss CSA #2).  Not needing a dessert, I boiled down the rhubarb in some honey and water and pressed out the liquid.  I have been using it as a flavor for my sparkling water and it is actually not bad.  Mix it with some vodka, lime and seltzer and it is a nice cocktail.  Best of all, I hear that it helps increase your metabolism...something I desperately need at the moment.

     Red Lollo Lettuce was the easiest.  A baked goat cheese salad over a bed of lettuce with a dijon vinaigrette made a very nice first course for our Rump Roast on Sunday.  Monday night was Asian night and Dear Daughter participated in making Stir Fry Chicken with Bok Choi served over brown rice (found in the NY Times).  Green Butterhead Lettuce was the base of our lunch salads for the week.  Chopped tomatoes are in the fridge for our return.  The cheese was a great addition to our Saturday night cheese course, which included unpasteurized cows milk aged gruyere, an herb flavored goat cheese, truffle cheese from Italy, a small wedge of Rochefort and local honey.

Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Red Lollo Lettuce

     I bet; however, you are still wondering what I did with the Lambs Quarter or what this even is.  Well, my trusty CSA sent along a description followed by a blog posting which indicates that Lambs Quarter is actually an edible weed!  While it doesn't look like spinach, it is very close in flavor in spinach.  Remembering that I had to eat most of these items rather quickly and was also trying to lose a few pounds before the trip, I figured that the best recipe would be to have Crockpot Italian Surprise,(recipe on this site, August 2013), which calls for both grated zucchini and spinach.  Whew, I did it!

Lambs Quarter - New Discovery

     While summer has started, there is no sleeping late in our household.  The end of school marked the  beginning of summer swim club practices.  Each morning, Dear Daughter wakes up at 6:15, scarfs down a quick banana and then we head off to the local outdoor pool for a 90-minute practice.  By the time she sits down to breakfast around 9:00 am, she is ravenous.  After breakfast, she puts in about 90 minutes of enrichment schoolwork (not her choice, btw).  By noon each day, we feel as though we have been going for hours.   And we have.

     My challenge last week was to come up with ideas for all of the different cuts of meat that we currently have.  Last Sunday, we had boneless rump roast.  I have never cooked this nor do I think I have ever had this.  I am not a big roast and gravy sort of person.  I searched the Internet and found a very simple recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Simply Recipes.  Regardless of the odd cooking method, the roast came out perfectly cooked and very tasty.  The only downside was my complete inability to make a pan gravy.

     So no food challenges for next week.  I will tell you that our trip, while work related for Dear Husband, is more food and shopping related for the rest of us.  Late tomorrow afternoon, we will be finishing up a lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant.  Next Monday includes an evening food tour (on bicycle).   Lunch on Wednesday will be at the 52nd Best Restaurant in the World.   Google that and you will know where we will be.  BTW, I find that having lunch at these places is much more economical than having dinner and just as good an experience.  

    Enjoy the recipe and enjoy the week.

Boneless Rump Roast
Adapted from Simply Recipes

1 3 to 3 1/2 pound boneless rump roast
8 to 10 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

It is best to have a rump roast that has a small layer of fat on the top.  Mine did not and it still turned out very tasty.

Take the beef out of the refrigerator at least one hour and preferably two hours before cooking.  Salt the roast and then fold it back into its packaging.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.     Pat the roast with paper towels to dry;,.  Make small incisions all around the roast and insert the cloves of garlic.  In some cases, the garlic was quite large so I halved them lengthwise and pushed them in to the meat.  Rub the entire roast with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  

Place the roast directly on the grate in your oven.  Yes, do it.  But make sure to put a pan under the grate to catch the pan drippings.  

Roast at this temperature for 30 minutes to brown the meat.  Then, lower the temp to 225 and cook for another 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours depending on the size and shape of your meat.  This is really important.  You need to periodically check the meat.  I had a meat probe inserted and once the temp registered 135F, I took it out of the oven.  Most of the meat was medium - but I like medium rare, so I could have taken it out a little earlier.  Let the meat rest for 15 to 30 minutes.  You can use the pan drippings collected on the pan to make a gravy.  Google how to make gravy and best of luck to you.  It never works for me but it isn't an issue as I would just rather have some mustard or horseradish standing by as a condiment as needed.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Locally Sourced Food: Tasty Lamb Shoulder Steaks

     I read once that the French start talking about dinner while they are enjoying breakfast.  Lunch is a two hour affair; school lunchrooms serve multi-course meals; the menu du jour is going to set you back about $12 but it is going to include a starter, main course and dessert (and if you are lucky wine and coffee).  I may be an American but when it comes to meals, I am French.  My obsession is getting worse.  Practically every meal now has to make a statement; it has to nourish my soul as well as my body.  Luckily, I think my family feels the same way.  In Belgium, Dear Daughter was asked by her History teacher what she did over a certain school holiday.  Her response did indicate her vacation location but mainly centered on the food she had experienced on the trip.  "Your parents are really raising a foodie," was her retort.  She was right.
     I was petrified that once returning to the States, my options for finding wonderful ingredients would be limited to expensive mail order catalogs.  How wrong I was.  We are dining like kings and my obsession is only increasing.  In little over two months, we have been able to establish links to local farmers and most of our food is locally sourced.  The first major purchase for our new house: a stand-alone freezer which sits in our garage.  My next project:  To paint the wall next to the freezer with chalkboard paint so I can keep a list of items that are in the freezer.  I do not want anything to go to waste!  Once a week, I have my own menu planning session.  I attempt creative uses of leftovers that sometimes work and sometimes...completely bomb.  While a large part of this endeavor is occurring because I do not have gainful employment, a larger part is because I really like doing this.  It is more than a hobby.
     Let me give you the rundown on our ingredients.  Our milk and cream are now being delivered each Friday and comes from a dairy that is 20 miles away.  Our beautiful brown eggs come from a lady who raises free range chickens about a mile down the road.  Our freezer is stocked with 1/4 of a cow and a lamb, which were free range, grass fed and raised about 45 minutes away.   This week, our CSA starts and we will begin receiving our vegetables from a cooperative of Amish farmers, who live less than an hour away.  Regular deliveries of pork and chicken will also start soon.  I have learned how to make my own mozzarella cheese and hope to experiment making ricotta cheese this week.  I have not found a local source for butter, but I will.  While all of our food needs cannot be sourced locally; if I need my fix of French cheese, Spanish ham or Greek olive oil, I do not need to go online.  I only need to head to the Strip District in downtown Pittsburgh to experience food shopping heaven.  I even know the best places to get fresh fish and now we can dine on some fantastic sashimi while sitting at our own kitchen table.
     Having 1/4 of a cow and a lamb is challenging; however.  There are cuts of meat in the freezer that I have never cooked or eaten and struggle to understand what to do with them.  But researching the cut and experimenting with different recipes is becoming a lot of fun.  I suspect that when the vegetables start arriving, I will have a lot of research to do as well.  I am great with a salad but how do you cook broccoli when you can't stand broccoli - when the aroma of cooked cauliflower brings a wave of nausea?  Dear readers, that will be a challenge and are you ready to experience it with me?  
    I am hoping that each week, I can give you a vegetable or two plus a cut of meat and perhaps you can give me recipes.  I will also let you know what I ended up creating.
     I have cooked several lamb dishes over the past two months starting with rack of lamb (fantastic), boneless leg of lamb (which my family enjoyed but our guests did not) and braised lamb shanks (the sauce alone was decadent).  This past weekend, the pull from the freezer was lamb shoulder steaks.  I had never heard of this cut.  I wasn't sure if I could grill the steaks or if they were designed to be roasted or braised.  But the packaging did indicate "steaks" so I went with grilling.  I marinated them overnight and Dear Husband grilled them for about 10 minutes total and WOW!!!   They were so, so yummy!

Tasty Lamb Shoulder Steaks