Cucumber Season

September 9, 2011

The box from the CSA we joined showed up this morning as we all bustled to get out of the house. It is now a mad dash to get the veggies into the fridge and out the door in record time.
I love opening the box because although we pick what we get; I have often forgotten the details by Friday.

Looking into the box this morning I was pleased to see a gigantic cucumber; if it was not organic I would swear that it was a genetic pairing of a cucumber and an elephant. Often these gigantic cucumbers are bitter or tasteless, but we got a similar specimen last week. It was delicious and refreshing, crisp and cucumbery (Check out the quiz show from BBC radio The Unbelievable Truth with host David Mitchell).

So what to do with a cucumber this size? A quick prep time salad is my favorite way to eat good fresh cucumbers.

Ingredients:

-One or two fresh cucumbers peeled and sliced into thin rounds (I like the slices paper thin, but do what your knuckles and patience can stand).

– Fresh pepper to taste

– Salt to taste

– A 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar; there should be enough to thoroughly coat the cucumbers, but they should not be floating in the vinegat.

– One teaspoon of sesame oil (I sometimes add a little hot sauce for a kicker)

Process:

Throw everything in a ceramic or glass bowl. Chill for half hour. Serve.

This is a really easy side salad and I have not an adult or child who has not liked it. I think the recipe is ultimately my approximation of something I had in a little teriyaki shop a few years ago.

Enjoy.

April Fool’s Day fish stew

April 5, 2011

Returning home from work on a Friday night inevitably sings for pizza delivery. Last Friday night I decided to make a basic cioppino style fish stew. I stopped at the market after dropping a friend off on the way home from work. I grabbed some shrimp as well as a couple of small fish steaks (Halibut, Cod or even a light Tuna will work). However; on this go around, I chose a fish I had never heard of before called Escolar (more on this fish later) . I grabbed 3/4 of a pound as well as 4 small Italian sweet sausages and headed for home.

The recipe for the stew is as follows:

Ingredients:

– 1 large  soup pot

– 1 large saute pan

– 1/2  a yellow onion diced

– 3 celery stalks diced

– 1 yellow or red pepper diced

– 2 yukon potatoes cubed

– 1 carrot diced

– 1 can of fire roasted chopped tomatoes

– 1 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

– 2 tablespoons of dried basil

– 1 tablespoons of dried oregano

– 1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes

– salt and pepper to taste

– 1/2 to 3/4 pound of shrimp shelled and deveined

– 3/4 of a pound of fish steak (you want a steak because there are fewer bones which are easily removed)

– 2 tablespoons of wine ( I used red and white because I had the urge)

– 3 cloves of garlic minced

Directions:

1. In the soup pot bring the tomatoes and broth to a boil.

2. Add the wine and boil for an additional minute to burn off the alcohol.

3. Reduce to a simmer and add garlic and spices.

4. In the frying pan heat oil over a medium heat and saute onions, carrots, celery and peppers until the onions are wilted (translucent).

5. When vegetables are ready add to the soup pot and continue to simmer.

6. Brown sausages in same pan vegetables were sauteed in until almost cooked through (about 5 minutes on medium).

7. Remove sausages and slice into 1/2 inch rounds when cool enough to touch.

8. Add to soup and simmer for another 1/2 hour to an hour (longer is better).

9. Return soup to a medium heat (almost rolling boil) add fish steaks and allow to cook for 5 to 8 minutes (keep an eye on them). Poke with a fork they should not fall apart but should yield a bit. Add shrimp and cook for 3 minutes.

10. Reduce heat and serve with nice bread or polenta.

Note: This keeps for about a day; perhaps two, so do not make a huge amount.

During the meal; which turned out well, my wife asked me about the fish. I admitted not knowing about escolar and proceeded to look it up on Wikipedia. The normal info was there such as location, genus, etc., but about halfway down the page I noticed some interesting subheads. The first was titled “Consumption” and the second was labeled “Effects of consumption”. I kept a straight face as we had just finished our meal. Everyone had polished their respective plates, and it looked like a great evening was in the making. The description for the effects was colorful, but the general gist is that I had just poached the equivalent of an  Olestra or Olean steak. I must admit the fish was delicious and buttery. Thankfully, I had served far below the troublesome portion size per person and even less to my son. It is now several days later and we are all fine.

My take away is that either the ingredients in the stew may have minimized the effects, or as a friend suggested we are some of the tribe who can eat this fish with no ill effect. The larger question is where is the FDA and labeling for products which are known for having these side effects?

I am thankful that is so easy for the public to get information quickly, but I would love for our government agencies to be held to a higher standard.

One last discovery “white tuna” is not “white tuna” it is; 9 out of 10, times escolar. So as you sit down to that lovely sashimi avoid the albino tuna.

Picking up where I left off

March 28, 2011

So you pulled out all the stops and created a masterpiece of soup goodness from the residuals in your fridge. You have been thrifty and have minimized your waste stream. Now you want to bring it to work and flaunt your bad ass lunch prowess, but you remember the last time. You carefully poured your soup into a nice airtight container, you put the container into a leftover plastic grocery bag and you sailed out to work. Just knowing that lunch would be warm hearty soup with a bit of crusty bread made you feel mega wholesome with a tinge of warm fuzzy.

You arrived at work and settled down to the business of the day. The knowledge of your soup might even have added to your efficiency.

As you all knew it would, disaster struck when you opened your away bag. It was well marinated in a fragrant bath of soup stock and expertly minced veggies and food bits. You winced as you pulled your laptop from its protective sleeve, hoping that it was not moist, and that for the next six months you wouldn’t get a faint scent of rotting tomato every time you hit the a key. You tossed the paper work which had hidden in the darkest corners of your bag for days (you should not have taken that home anyway if you were practicing good life/work balance). Perhaps worst of all you peaked into the plastic grocery bag and see that the lid is still securely fastened and has protected your now meager lunch.

How did this happen? Honestly it can only be expressed as the workings of dark and ancient magic. To make it worse, the universe just did not take a shine to you today. It will pass. The smell of your bag and belongings may be forever altered, but your luck will change for the better. I am certain of it.

Is the solution to abstain from soup goodness? My answer is a defiant no. I recently tried an experiment which is so profoundly simple that it brings up the image of Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High with the slip on Vans.

1. Fill your container almost all the way to the top, leave a little room for expansion (especially if it is glass) and freeze the soup the night before.

2. Pack your container of block hard soup in a bag and stow it in your bag.

3. Let it thaw at your desk and heat at lunch time.

The added benefit of not having to carry a cold pack is an added bonus.

Note: Pasta can do strange things when frozen so you can always add before heating if desired.

Soup recipes to follow in future posts.

Enjoy.

containers

September 27, 2010

As mentioned thoughts about lunch weigh heavy on my mind these days. It is not that there is nothing else going on. Work life is busy, home life is busy, scrabbling to find time for personal fun and projects is a constant. Certain that I am not alone in these feelings I wanted to share a personal finding. No job is important enough to cause you to forego a decent lunch and lunch is a point in the day when it is critical to stop, reflect, eat and enjoy.

An important piece of this equation is the container in which you are packing your food stuffs. Nothing is more of a bummer than opening your pack, laptop case, brief case, lunch bag and finding your ipod  coated in a thick coating of minestrone or discovering a stray piece of cheese weeks later in a dark corner of your away bag. Choose well, choose size appropriate, choose well sealed and well fabricated. Do not save money here. Spend money on your tools and they will serve you well.

Considerations:

Do you have access to a fridge?

What do you most often bring for lunch?

How much do you need to be sated and how much space will you need to be placated?

How easy is the container to clean?

How easy is it to assemble and pack?

How light and easy to carry is your lunch setup?

I am sure I have missed some details, but this gave me the fundamentals for making good choices which have served me well and saved me a ton of cash.

My top picks for non refrigerator scenarios are as follows listed from most costly to least.

Modern Bento boxes like Zojirushi’s Mr. and Ms. Bento line or Tiger’s thermal are great. They keep food cool or hot or both for around 6 hours and require a little planning. If you are waiting more than 6 hours you need to establish a stealth snacking strategy at work or call the labor board.

A great site to get stoked:

http://justbento.com/

Stanley and Thermos are making some great new containers which are reasonable, functional and well made.

The soft pack insulated lunch bag is the new stand in for the lunch box of yesteryear, but keep it clean. Just because it starts out the year clean, shiny and sterile looking does not mean that after a few weeks it will remain so. Take a peek into any kids lunch bag by the end of September and behold the corners and crevices; remember it wasn’t so long ago that the eating process for the little ones was a full contact sport. In short, buy well made and easy to clean. Additionally, get containers which fit in the bag you chose. The plastic type with a gasket work well and will save you a ton on plastic bags.

For those of us with a provided workplace refrigerator the container possibilities are virtually endless. I personally do not like microwaving food in plastic containers so I love the glass containers with a good solid lid. I also like a container that is not so cramped that you feel like a dog while you are sitting down to lunch. If you can; bring a plate and some cutlery, heat your food, and plate your lunch. I have found that it is almost a foreign concept to sit down with a plate and cutlery and eat a proper meal. I guarantee that your day will change if you sit down and eat a semi civilized meal at lunch instead of gulping down food and pretending to work in front of your computer. Honestly, no one is impressed at your diligence, work ethic or productivity. On the other hand, sitting down calmly and eating a nice hand-made meal on a plate will make you calmer, more productive and at least give the appearance that you are not a ulcer candidate.

http://www.pyrexware.com/index.asp?pageId=14

Go out and have some lunch. Stay in and have some lunch. Just get up and stroll away from your cube, office or workspace and stretch your legs.

back to school; lunch and a full blown rant

September 7, 2010

I remember the excitement and terror as a young boy heading out into the crisp New England air on the first day of school. My family at my side; we would head for the bus stop, and I would prepare myself for the raucous ride of a few towns to the regional middle school. The bus would stop at each of the town centers and a load of kids would pile on both friends and rivals. I would check to make sure I had pencils, notebooks, erasers, hole punches, rulers and lunch.

Many of the kids would have no lunch pail; they were the lucky ones who would be grabbing the school provided salisbury steak, butterscotch pudding and deep fried tater tots. I had a home made lunch with pumpernickel or whole wheat bread, meatloaf & fresh tomato sandwiches, home baked cookies, fresh fruits and vegetables. I was so envious and knew I would be teased; many of the kids would never have seen or heard of pumpernickel bread. Some of them used racial slurs to describe my sandwiches. Lunch time was the period which separated the predators from the prey and I thank my lucky stars that I was always to stupid to be afraid of anyone or anything. I would fight at the drop of a dime to defend the honor of my home made meals. I often got to spend my lunch at the supervised table with rougher crowd. By the end of each year the crew was trading pudding for home baked cookies and pizza for fresh ground cashew butter on rice cakes.

So what does this have to do with anything? I have found that I get totally stoked about lunch. I have been making some pretty elaborate and easy to put together little dittys and I think I want to share my crazy. I hope to sustain this for a bit or at least until I run out of things to cook and jam into a lunch container. So look out for future posts with pictures, ingredients, recipes and rants.

Cheers.

speed minestrone

July 14, 2010

In a pinch I occasionally have moments of cooking clarity. We have all had the occasion to return home late only to realize that we have not made a plan for dinner. I think this is frustrating to many, but I also think that it can serve as a muse for culinary experimentation. At the very least, it makes us think outside of the box if we make the choice not to reach for a box, freezer pack, clamshell or carton.

I whipped together a vegetable minestrone which I think may have taken under an hour start to finish; and in my sons opinion, “It was very good, maybe your best.” I normally let a minestrone slow cook for hours and it works out well, but this one was done at high velocity.

Ingredients:

2 pots- 1 large for the Minestrone and 1 medium for the pasta

1 Saute Pan for oninons

Roll cut carrots

Skinned and diced Potatoes

Roll Cut Celery

Fresh kale or spinach (add the spinach just a few minutes before serving or it will be mush)

1 Large can of fire roasted chopped tomato

1 vegetable boullion

Roughly 2 tablespoons Oregano (fresh and dry) if possible

Roughly 2 tablespoons Basil (fresh and dry) if possible

1 Teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Half a medium onion Chopped

1 or 2 cups of water

1 Can cannelini beans rinsed

2 to 3 cloves minced garlic

Chopped peppers or any other veggies you might have around

2 Cups of cooked pasta. Cook according to directions and rinse in cold water. (I used Penne)

Directions:

1. Empty Tomatoes into the large soup pot, fill tomato tin with water and add to pot. Set heat on high. Add boullion.

2. Add cannelini beans to soup as soon as it starts to boil and reduce heat to medium high. The soup should remain at a low boil throughout the prep time.

3. Skin, chop and add potatoes.

4. Skin, chop and add carrots.

5. Add Kale if you are going to.

6. Add dried spices now and save fresh ones for later.

7. Chop onions, saute until transluscent and add to soup.

8. Add any other soft skin veggies (peppers), spinach and chopped celery now and reduce heat to medium low.

9. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

10. Add fresh herbs and pasta and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve hot with a little grated pecorino romano (splurge and get the good stuff if you can).

A bake toasted cheese sandwich on a crusty bread is also good with this one. We had an old picnic bun with Jarlsberg which was tasty (no need to get special bread; work with what is on hand).

For the vegans out there try a slice of marinated baked tofu with a roasted red pepper and fresh basil.

Minestrone is a great lunch soup because the broth has a tendency to absorb into the pasta so tends not to leak out of containers. Add water, nuke, and you are in biz.

beet and carrot salad poached from a mayo clinic cookbook

July 8, 2010

I found this great cook book in a used bookstore a ways back. I must admit I mostly look at the pictures when I am hungry and then eat something boring. There is a great recipe in the book which is super easy for a beet and carrot salad which is amazing and easy. For the parents out there; even the finicky eaters love this one (you can tone down the garlic if needed).

Ingredients:

a food processor

2 or 3 medium sized beets boiled until soft and cut into food processor sized pieces

4 or 5 medium sized carrots

1/3 cup of fresh cilantro

2 cloves of garlic minced

1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar

Directions:

Shred beets in the food processor and place in a large mixing bowl (something that will not stain is preferable)

Shred carrots in the food processor and add to the beet mixture

Add minced garlic

Add rice wine vinegar

Add the cilantro and mix thouroughly

Garnish with a little extra cilantro

Enjoy.

another Italian film and a “borrowed” blood orange recipe

June 21, 2010

I watched another remarkable Italian film last night. The film “Il Divo” by Paolo Sorrentino was historically fascinating, visually striking and the acting was great. I am not normally a huge fan of docudramas but this story of the Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was wonderful, dark, exciting, and disturbing. I would definitely recommend this one.

The Recipe

This is a small appetizer or snack which I have made a few times. I found it in a small Italian cookbook I found in Goodwill; the dust sleeve was missing so the title is escaping me. I will circle back and give credit where credit is due although I think this is a fairly common recipe. It is incredibly easy to make.

Ingredients:

3 or more naval or blood oranges (I like the blood oranges for taste and visual)

Olive oil

Dry or fresh chopped oregano

Dry or fresh chopped basil

Dry red pepper flakes

A large colorful serving plate

Directions:

1. I like to roll the oranges with a slight amount of pressure on a table for a few seconds to get the juices going, but this is not mandatory. It really depends on the season and the oranges.

2. Wash the oranges under cold water for a few seconds.

3. Slice the oranges into 1/4 inch rounds and arrange on your plate.

4. Sprinkle each slice with your herbs.

5. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil, but don’t drown them.

6. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Do not place in fridge or the olive oil might start to congeal.

7. Serve with small forks and a nice crusty bread.

8. Enjoy.

so, Netflix in the dark

June 18, 2010

Not having much  time to watch films these days I have taken to watching old films and television shows on a tiny netbook. It reminds me of my early childhood when we only had a small black and white set in the house. It was a long while before I realized that many of the programs I loved as a kid were actually shot in color. On that note, I always have a warm feeling when watching a well made vintage black and white film.

I watched a great one last night called “Bicycle Thieves” (Ladri di biciclette) directed by Vittorio De Sica.

The film is available as an instant download on Netflix.

monday mornings are not optional

June 14, 2010

I awoke to a loud bang early this morning. It is remarkable only because it was a loud bang and not stress or an over active chain of thoughts which woke me. The last time an explosion rocked the neighborhood a neighbor down the street was having their door blown in by an ATF concussion device. No, I live in a fairly quiet neighborhood. I found it almost eerily quiet when we first moved from the Bronx. I have acclimated and sleep fairly well without the constant rattling of the elevated line, the symphony of car alarms and ridiculously wired car audio systems.

“Did you hear that?” a voice from the darkness. “Yes, did you hear that?” another voice from the darkness.

“What time is it?” dim shadow. “I don’t know; it looks like the power is out.” another dim shadow.

“Go outside and see what it was!?” sleepy wife. “It was probably a transformer; we have no power. I’ll go look.” me.

As I walk through the house there are beeps and chirps as the electronics begin to realize they are cut off from their lifelines. The clocks all blink; all of them are wrong. It is light out. I open the door. Blinding light and a caucophony of crows shrieking. As my eyes adjust I see a single black lump lying motionless on the sidewalk not far from the front door. I do not see smoke; I imagine the dead crow to be smoldering. I can only guess at what happened.

“What is it?” wide awake wife. “I think a crow short circuited the transformer on the street.” me.

“Should we call someone?” wide awake wife.

After listening to the electric companies “We are experiencing temporary outages in Northern parts of the city.” I reach a human. “I think A crow took out a transformer in my neighborhood.” I relay the address; the representative says a crew is out already; they are investigating. I relay the address again. Perhaps they do not have to investigate. Maybe they can come to where the transformer is blown. It then dawns on me…we are under attack. Crows have orchestrated a full scale attack on the neighborhood and are systematically taking out transformers all over the city. “Thank you for your concern sir, the shortage should be temporary.” I hang up.

“When will the power come back on?” wide awake. “I don’t know.” me.

“How will we wake up on time?”  We both laugh.

I try not to think about the last thoughts of the crow as I try to get back to sleep.

I think they went like this…

Warm. Food. Warm. Breeze. Warm. Buddies. Family. Warm. Shiny. Nice Click. Click. Click. POP.