Back, Tired.

I’m back from “Abroad,” and sitting on my sofa all freshly-scrubbed from a nice hot shower in my own fickle tub in my own cramped bathroom, as opposed to the clean-yet-guilty feeling I had each morning these past few weeks.  It’s not the first time I’ve stayed in hotels with aesthetically-pleasing but poorly-designed bathrooms, and have gotten the entire room practically flooded, and this trip was no different.  Well, there’s no flooding here in Massachusetts — thank god, as there is also no one in Housekeeping here but me and Keith — but there is one heck of a tired gal sitting here with you.  I’ll start the European low-down soon, I promise, but in the meantime I wanted to introduce a new little idea I had.  I’ve been writing to you all for a while now, but sometimes I forget that what it is that we’ve discussed.  So what I’ve decided is this:  each week I’ll post five utterly random things about me, whatever it is that I think of that day, and this way maybe we’ll get to know each other a little better.

Sound good?

CSA 2009, Week Eleven: Guest Writer!

Since Keith and I are in Europe and therefore unable to use two weeks of our CSA share, we asked some friends to take over the cooking, eating and writing that comes with our box.  This week, Melissa discusses fennel.  Enjoy!
— Nayiri

I was so excited to be the lucky recipient of one of Keith and Nayiri’s CSA boxes.  I spent the days leading up to the pick-up dreaming about the delicious vegetable goodies it would contain.  I knew tomatoes would be unlikely, but wondered what would be there instead, and would any mini food challenges come in the box, too?

Part of what I’ve really liked about participating in a farm share in the past is the element of surprise and of trying to figure out how to use things I might not normally buy. I have a farm share to thank, for example, for developing my appreciation of hearty greens. I didn’t used to regularly purchase collards or kale or even eat my beet greens prior to getting them in a farm share.  Now, however, I get excited by the possibilities whenever I have them, instead of feeling like “how am I going to use this?!?!”  I could hardly wait to find out what surprises would come this time.

When I finally got to unpack the CSA box, I found it filled with the following:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Peppers — 1 green, 1 purple, and 1 small red (hot?)
  • Scallions

Melissa's CSAEverything seemed pretty straightforward, except one thing: the bulb of fennel.  Of course, I’ve had fennel seeds (and liked them) in sausages, and over the last few years I’ve even developed a taste for black licorice and anise-flavored things (like pastis or absinthe — which I just found out gets its flavor from both anise and fennel), but my experience with the vegetable-like bulb itself was limited and my memories not terribly fond.  But there it was, in the box.

Never having owned a fennel bulb before, I had no idea what do with it, and maybe even doubted why I would want to. Turning to the cookbook shelf (Who am I kidding? It’s a whole bookcase!), I selected a few I thought might provide some encouragement and curled up on the couch, determined to make use of that bulb.

Most of the things I came across left me uninspired, but when I saw the recipe for this salad, I knew I’d found my answer.  I was going to a friend’s house for small, poolside movie-night and knew (hoped?) this salad would be just the thing I wanted to bring. I mean, it did have two of the most crucial elements for the group: cheese and nuts.  How could it be bad?  Surely Annie Somerville (chef of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco) wouldn’t lead me astray, right?

Fortunately, she didn’t.  The salad was delicious, even with the fennel (maybe because of the fennel?!). Earthy and nutty, buttery and tangy, and just overall fresh tasting, it was enjoyed by everyone at the party — including me.  Score another one for the persuasive powers of the CSA box!
— Melissa

Green Salad with Beets, Fennel, Walnuts + Ricotta Salata, from Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville
Makes four to six portions

Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 medium beets, about ½ pound, roasted, peeled, and cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
2 heads of butter lettuce, about 10 cups inner leaves and trimmed outer leaves
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, small sprigs and leaves
½ fennel bulb, core and stalks removed and sliced thin crosswise
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted and coarsely chopped
1½  to 2 ounces ricotta salata cheese, 2 to 3 tablespoons

  1. Make the vinaigrette.
  2. Place the cut beets in a small bowl, toss with 1 ½ tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  3. Wash and dry the lettuce and parsley. Combine the greens, fennel, walnuts, and half the cheese in a large bowl; gently toss with the vinaigrette.
  4. Separate the salad onto individual plates, tucking the beets between the leaves, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and the remaining cheese.

Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette
Makes about ½ cup

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil

Whisk everything but the oils together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the oils, whisking until emulsified.

Belgian Graffiti.

I love graffiti, always have.  I remember riding in the backseat on the way to my father’s New York City office and sitting up straighter when we passed my favorite tags along the Henry Hudson.  I’d count how many times I’d see them spray painted on brick walls, cement underpasses and in between windows, and that number would glow behind my eyes until I went to bed that night.

New York is different these days, tidied up, and graffiti isn’t a common sight in Boston.  Europe, on the other hand, is teeming with street art, and I make a point of documenting what I see wherever I go.  Keith, I think, gets a bit frustrated with me, as I can tend to wander off down miscellaneous alleyways with only the most perfunctory of hold on for a second‘s, and then spend a good few minutes angling my camera this way and that.  The things we do for love, right?*

Click on the picture below for a slideshow of graffiti I photographed in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent — unsurprisingly, there was no graffiti to be found in Bruges, but considering that the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even the teensiest tag would be instantly rubbed away.

Graffiti in Ghent, Belgium

* I’ll leave it to you to determine if I mean Keith’s love of me, or my love of graffiti.

Taking Off.

I’m sitting in my steaming hot dining room, contemplating the pile of dirty dishes from yesterday’s charcuterie fest (more about that later) in the sink, and avoiding packing.  We leave tomorrow for a week in Belgium, followed by a week in Holland, and I don’t know why I’m putting off packing, since I’m so efficient at it.  I think it’s because it’s too hot to move and I still have to turn the two cups of blueberries we haven’t eaten into muffins (or scones) that I’ll stick in the freezer and consume when we get back, and the thought of turning on the oven makes me want to cry.  Or crawl into the freezer with my muffins.  Or both.  I am that hot.

Yesterday my cousin Nikita came over to teach me and Melissa how to make charcuterie, and now my fridge is full of three different kinds, all of which must be eaten or given away before noon tomorrow.  I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t think I’m up for the task.  There’s that much food.  I’ll put up recipes on how to make duck liver pâté, rillettes and pâté de campagne when I get back, but here are is a picture to tide your interest in the meantime:

Charcuterie Saturday, 1
It’s called a tease for a reason, my friends…

I may have Internet access while in Europe, I may not, so just in case:  au revoir, à bientôt.

CSA 2009, Week Eleven.

Another CSA box, another damn eggplant to use up.*

Eggplant PizzaEven though I love moussaka, even I couldn’t seriously consider making the dish again, less than two weeks apart.  What I did do, though, was my take cue from Guillaume’s recipe, and broiled thin slices of eggplant; rather than layer them with spiced lamb, I overlapped them onto a pizza.  I had a red pepper in the fridge and decided to roast it in order to intensify its flavor.  After topping it all off with some cheese, dinner was all set — and I think it’s safe to say that I have thus conquered the eggplant.

A few things of note about this dish:

  • My mistrust of yeast remains firmly intact.  I have yet to make my own dough, or anything that involves yeast.  Maybe this will change in the future, maybe this won’t.  We shall see.
  • Making your own pizza sauce is easy.  This seems like a good recipe, though one I have not tried.  Please keep me posted if you do.
  • I was crazy to make pizza on such a hot day, and my oven warmed the entire apartment even more.  Please be smarter than me and try it on the grill!

Eggplant + Roasted Red Pepper Pizza
Makes six to eight portions

1 pre-made pizza crust
½ cup pizza sauce
1 red pepper
1 eggplant, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves
Olive oil

  1. Roast pepper.  If you’re using a gas stove, turn the flame up to high and place the pepper directly over fire, otherwise use oven’s broiler.  Using tongs, rotating the pepper occasionally, until the pepper’s skin blisters and blackens all over.  Transfer the roasted pepper to a paper bag; crimp the bag shut and allow the pepper to steam inside, then cool down.
  2. While the pepper cools, broil eggplant slices.  Turn broiler on high.  Lightly oil a baking sheet; garlic-infused oil is particularly nice, but not necessary.  Arrange as many eggplant slices as can fit over the surface of the baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Broil for five minutes six to eight inches from heat.  Remove from baking sheet to a plate, and repeat as needed until all the eggplant slices are done.
  3. Preheat oven to 450°; when the temperature is reached, prebake the pizza crust.  If you’re using pizza dough, roll it out on the baking sheet you used for the eggplant, otherwise plop down the pizza crust onto the sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn golden and crisp up just a bit.  Move the baking sheet to the top of the stove or onto a trivet to cool.
  4. Remove the roasted pepper from the bag and use a knife to scrape its skin off.  Cut off the stem, slice the pepper open lengthwise and use your knife to scrape out seeds.  Julienne the pepper and set aside.
  5. Spread pizza sauce over the crust with a spoon.  Top with eggplant slices, mozzarella, red pepper and Parmesan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the crust is a uniform golden brown. Sprinkle with basil before serving.
* The rest of our box contained cilantro, cucumber, collards, fennel, garlic, parsley, potatoes, salad mix, sweet onion and tendersweet cabbage.