Sunday, 10 June 2012

Meal Planning: The Week Ahead

I hit the (cook)books this morning to work out the meal plan for the upcoming week. We decided last night to change our basket from the regular basket to the local basket, which means less fruit, but all Ontario produce. This is just as well, because the back log of oranges was getting embarrassing. At any rate, taking into account what's in the fridge now and what's being delivered on Wednesday, here's what we're eating this week:

Green Poached Eggs with Spinach and Chives (Cook This Now)

David's Choice (I wash my hands of meal planning, shopping, and cooking on Tuesdays)

Pan-Roasted Radish and Anchovy Crostini (Cook This Now) 

Chicken broth with pork and kale (Tender) with salad and great bread

Even that leaves a few things potentially uneaten, but it's a good start.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Saturday Market Haul, Kale Chips, and Mint and Lime Iced Tea

I was off to the market again this morning and picked up eggs, stood in line for strawberries, and got some great rhubarb. The eggs were from a different vendor, but still $6 a dozen, so that appears to be the going rate at this market. I heard that they are $5 down at the Leslieville Farmers' Market, but I'm pretty attached to doing my market-going on Saturdays, and they go on Sundays.

I find fresh strawberries to be such a stressful proposition as I'm always really excited to get them, but as soon as you bring them home the clock is ticking to use them before they go soft. Between the time that I washed them and hulled them, some started getting mushy (don't worry, I just ate them quickly). Even now, with a bowl of hulled strawberries at the ready, I'm agonizing on how to use them, but I have to decide tonight. Having eaten some raw, I think I'm leaning towards mixing them with the rhubarb in a crumble, lest I agonize so long they become completely inedible.

Speaking of hulling strawberries, I'm on a quest to learn how to do things properly in the kitchen, and this video from Saveur explains a quick and easy way to hull berries. I'm clearly going to need more practice.

This week did not go quite as scheduled, menu planning wise, and as of this morning we still had 9/10 perishables uneaten from this week's Mama Earth delivery. Knowing that it's the greens that go south first, I made some kale chips this afternoon to snack on. I was skeptical of kale chips at first, as things pretending to be other things are never as good as people try to make them out to be. But honestly, we actually both quite like them, and it's a super quick way to dispatch a bunch of kale. I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe, but I think once you get the size of chip you like nailed down, any combination of oil and seasoning would be delicious.

And finally, it's hot, right? Allow me to recommend's recipe for Mint and Lime Iced Tea. I'd advise cutting down the steeping period for the tea, as per the comments, to about 3 or 4 minutes and cut down the amount of sugar from a teeth aching 1 1/2 cups to a more modest, but plenty sweet, 1/2 cup. David's mom has tons of wild mint growing in her garden, so I take a bunch every time I'm there.

Alright, let's get this crumble in the oven and take these strawberries out of their misery...

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Chez RosenBum Eats: Melissa Clark's Sautéed Wild Salmon With Brown Butter Cucumbers

Ever since I read Mark Bittman's Food Matters, I've felt the need to make huge changes to what we eat and where it comes from. As a result, we've really cut down on the amount of meat we eat (especially Monday-Thursday), making it, as Bittman suggests, a side dish rather than the main event. When you cut down on your meat consumption though, you've got to fill the plate somehow, so I signed us up for organic fruit and vegetable delivery from Mama Earth Organics. I felt that if we had a list of foods that had to be eaten, we'd be a little more creative and definitely eat more fruits and veggies. After almost a year, I've been thrilled with the service. The winter was mostly filled with imported organic stuff with local root vegetables and hydroponic salads thrown in, but since the growing season has really started, we've been seeing some really great stuff. But it's a challenge, getting through all of it, and there's more waste than I'd like if we don't have a clear plan. So this past Sunday, I sat down with my cookbooks and the list of perishables (both in the fridge and in the upcoming delivery) and found a way to incorporate them all. Starting this coming Sunday, I'll post our menu plan for the coming week.

The particular challenge with a lot of the stuff that comes in the box, particularly in early spring, is that I've never cooked with it before. Things like ramps, chard, and kale were all brand new to me. But eating in season is a priority now, so I needed to learn to cook with what was available. That's why Melissa Clark's Cook This Now is so fabulous. The book is laid out by the month and she focuses on ingredients that are commonly (and locally) available at that time of year. She's based in NYC, and they are a few weeks ahead of us growing wise, but I haven't felt it to be a huge handicap. For each recipe, she writes a long, juicy introduction and finishes with ideas for substitutions and extras. That was a life saver when a recipe called for bulgar (which I thought I had, and didn't) and her suggestion to substitute was quinoa (which I did). I like options that I don't have to agonize over. I've cooked four recipes thus far and they've all been great (David has approved all for repeats), so I'm excited to keep cooking through it.

This week's delivery included Ontario mini cucumbers. We've had them a couple of times already and the takeaway has been that they get soft quickly. We had to find a way to use them first. Last time I made a Greek salad, but a quick perusal of the index of Cook This Now revealed a recipe for 'Seared Wild Salmon with Brown Butter Cucumbers' (conveniently also posted on the New York Times website). This was auspicious timing, because I'd just read in Bon Appetit about how it was wild salmon season. The fact that our local fishmonger, Hooked Inc., tweeted that they had BC wild salmon in stock made it a no brainer for box delivery day. I'm not going to lie, the price tag was a bit shocking, but I'm trying not to be cheap about things like meat and fish anymore.

Anyways, the dish was delicious. You could really taste the difference between this salmon and the frozen crap we've been buying. This was also a great vehicle for the cucumber, although David thought maybe we could have added it and the garlic a little closer to the end, as they were in danger of overcooking. Her side dish suggestion was soba noodles, but we used an Israeli couscous mix that we enjoy.

So, one perishable down, only nine more to go. Onward!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

From the Farmers' Market

I made my first visit of the year to our local farmers' market this morning. We used to go to the St. Lawrence Market at 7am every Saturday, hangover or shine, but we were spending a lot of money (mostly on breakfast) and never sleeping in. When we started getting organic fruit and veggie delivery, we took a break. I work close to SLM, so the regular stalls in the south market are always available. What you can't get during the week is the local/free range eggs, and I've been missing those. So my goal for this morning was to source some eggs and maybe get some rhubarb and strawberries.

As published in their weekly newsletter, there were eggs, but they were $6/dozen. The family who sells eggs on Saturdays at SLM charge $3.85 for a dozen large. I bought the eggs this week, and we'll see what they are like, but I will keep looking to see if I can find a slightly cheaper dozen. It may well be that's the going rate, and if that's the case, I'll buy from my farmers' market for simplicity sake.

Rhubarb was also available, so I bought a bunch ($4) that I turned into a super delicious and comforting crumble tonight. There were no strawberries, but it was a long shot, and strawberries are so stressful anyways, as it's a race against the clock before they rot.

So a small haul this week, but I was excited to find such a vibrant and varied farmers' market within walking distance from home. If I'm lucky, maybe I can haul D out of bed to join me next week.

Book Review: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

I have recently become obsessed with the idea of living as locally as possible, especially when it comes to food. We get the majority of our vegetables from a local organic company, although their focus is organic first, then local, which means the winters get pretty global). I try to get local eggs and buy organic dairy, as if this is somehow more local than non-organic. We get a lot of our meat from the market. And I have visions of making a whole host of things from scratch, from condiments to breads and pastas. It’s kind of a joke though. I think I miss the mark more often than not and I’m not sure if anything I’m doing is making a difference in either the quality of the food we eat or to the local economy. Naturally, when failing at doing something small, my mind rolls towards doing something big. In this case, that’s ditching the city, moving to a farm and growing everything. Becoming completely self-sustained. 

I’ve had Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life on my night stand for nearly two years. It never felt like quite the right time to read it and these kinds of memoirs can get my idea wheels turning, so I have to be in a place where I can properly flesh them out. Packing for our yearly trip to rural Pennsylvania, I tossed it in my book bag, a striking contrast to the urban fantasy and women’s magazines that mostly filled the pile. For the first week of vacation I churned through witches, wizards, and grim reapers. And then, on a hot Thursday afternoon, as my pile of books grew ever smaller, I took The Dirty Life out to the swing. Not 20 pages in I was hooked on her tale of city girl turned farmer and was eager to use the book as evidence to David that this was the way forward for us.

Several engrossing hours later, I had finished the book and knew several things for certain: 1) Kimball’s life thus far is an amazing tale of hard work, perseverance, and relationship building in the face of chaos and stress; 2) there is no damn way we could ever in a million years do it. It comes down to a lack of knowledge, as Kimball’s man-friend turned husband had made a life already of farming, but mostly to a realization that I had about myself. I’m a hard worker, a problem solver, and doggedly determined, but my Dad has not been calling me ‘Princess’ for almost thirty years for nothing. I don’t like being dirty, or too hot, or too cold. I need 7 ½ hours of sleep. I like my creature comforts and when I’m on edge, especially traveling, nothing puts my soul to rights like a good browse through a mall or grocery store. 

This isn’t to say that Kimball herself didn’t have quite an about-face. She went from being a travel-writing New Yorker to a full partner in an enormous farming operation that didn’t do things the easy way. And the parts of her story about the challenges the farm brought to her relationship really resonated. She had to go to Hawaii for two months, back to her old life, to know that the farm with her husband was where she belonged. But the second she met her husband-to-be, she dove into the work. I just don’t think I could do it, and what this book has made me realize is that that’s ok.

What it’s given me is a reminder of what’s really important to me, which is good food, from small operations run by people who really love what they’re doing. Fresh, local ingredients that I can turn into delicious things. I’m committed to the idea of joining a proper CSA once we can afford it, hopefully next summer. And in the meantime, I’m really going to put more effort into better sourcing the things that make up our meals. Maybe the new dream can be living somewhere we can belong to Essex Farm CSA?

Available for purchase online here, here, or your favorite local bookstore.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Welcome to Chez RosenBum

People who know David and I as a couple would probably be surprised to know that food wasn't initially a very important part of our relationship. Past about the first week of dating, I can count the number of times that we went out for dinner in that first year (just the two of us) on one hand. More importantly, we didn't really cook for each other much either. It started with weekend breakfasts, grew to weekend dinners, but didn't really move into the place we are now until we moved in together. It wasn't easy, at first, as we'd both grown up with different ways of eating and had certainly gotten into our own specific habits when living alone. David grew up with unsalted butter and sugared fruit and I couldn't fathom the point of butter without salt but thought that putting sugar on strawberries was gilding the lily. What we had in common though was a love of eating, and more importantly, a love of cooking.

We have a few other things in common too that make our gastronomical relationship simpatico: we both find comfort in culinary schedules and we're both willing to commit to a big-ass project. This means that while we eat the same thing for breakfast pretty much every weekend (cinnamon buns on Saturday and our seasonal menu on Sunday), Saturday dinner could be pulled pork smoked for 8 hours in our barrel smoker or homemade pizza with dough that's been resting for 24 hours.

Differences, of course, continue to emerge. David isn't able somehow to clean up after himself as he goes, so his forays into the kitchen are marked with a hurricane-like path of destruction in his wake. I lack the patience to excel at making pastry and somehow can't make fish without smoking the apartment out completely (these tasks are ceded entirely to David). I am perhaps also not as flexible of an eater as I might be, which means we don't eat as much seafood or spice as David would like. 

We were lucky enough to do a test kitchen blog for for almost a year, until they were shuttered, and that really gave us a taste of sharing with the people we care about what we enjoy producing in our kitchen. What we talk about here won't probably be quite so detail focused, but instead talking about the kinds of things we're cooking on a day to day basis and other topics related to food, wine, and entertaining. We're remarkably inconsistent with our food snobbery (we do love McDonald's on a road trip, for example), but the one thing we remain unbending on is our commitment, when we're both home, to sit down at the table together for dinner. We hope you'll join us.