This Week in Food: Sotheby’s, CSAs and Stephen Colbert

The highlight of this past week (aside from, you know, working crazy hours and getting back into the swing of grad school) was discovering that I could participate in a CSA on campus, provided by the kind folks at Ward’s Berry Farm. For $20 I picked up a box teeming with poblano peppers, butternut squash, yellow carrots, apples, kale and some basil.
And wouldn’t you know it, auction goers at Sotheby’s “The Art of Farming” also participated in community-supported agriculture. The auction raised more than $100,000 to support local farming and to preserve heirloom vegetables. On the way out, attendees were able to pick up $20 boxes of farm-fresh veggies.
All lovely ideas, although, am I the only one who sees this auction as elitist? The fact that vegetables need to be a cause celebre for rich people says something troubling about the way we eat in America. Vegetables should be seen as something that EVERYONE can eat every day. Is the only way this kind of heirloom agriculture can exist is through high class events like this?
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Stephen Colbert testifying about Americans not wanting to do the work of migrant farmers. So we have small farmers selling their produce to wealthy people, while the rest of the country is only able to afford produce which has been picked by exploited workers without a voice?
As I think further about this, in the next few weeks I plan on seeing how much the produce I get from the CSA would cost in the stores I normally shop at: Whole Foods, Russo’s, etc. I’m curious to see whether I’m saving money or paying a premium to support local agriculture.
Either way, it’s clear CSAs aren’t an ideal solution for everyone. One of the reasons I am doing a CSA box is it’s right there on campus. But many people don’t have that luxury, and certainly can’t spend hours in the car driving to the farm or pick-up spot. Then there’s the issue of choice. I’ve been cooking veggies for years and will hopefully be able to find a use for everything I get in my box. But it’s hard enough get folks who don’t eat enough vegetables to eat them even when they’re chosen to suit their tastes.
Look for CSA updates in the weeks to come — if I can fit them in with school and work!

Once I was a Plum Tree

There is a reason why The New York Times reprints this recipe every year.

One of the nice things about biking along the Charles is the built-in pit stop at Whole Foods on River Street. OK, OK, I like going to Whole Foods on the weekends. In fact, there’s a Whole Foods sweet spot. Around 1PM on the weekends, I guarantee you vendors will have their products on display with samples galore. I stopped planning weekend lunches long ago, for I know that there will always be some cheese, olives, and a bite of something interesting, be it ful medames, cranberry walnut bread, or even a cannoli, all which I have enjoyed in the past six months at local Whole Foods.

A few weeks back, I dropped by the Whole Foods for my weekend repast, and was shocked to find a display of plums on sale for .99/lb. Yes! At Whole Foods, AKA Whole Paycheck. As luck would have it, I had stumbled across a plum cake recipe the day before which looked very easy. I bought half a dozen plums and biked home.

Plums will only be in season for another week and a half.

And, the plum cake was divine! We gobbled it up that night. Seriously, we destroyed that cake, and there were only three of us at dinner. It was soft. It was buttery. It was moist. It was the best plum cake I’ve ever had.

We devoured it.

The next day I biked straight to the Whole Foods from work, sighed when I realized the sale was ending that day, loaded up my basket, went home, and was thrilled to discover the recipe doubled perfectly. I wrapped one plum cake in the freezer for the next time we have surprise dinner guests with a sweet tooth, and brought the other cake to my mom’s for Rosh Hashana.

I share this story with you only now because I realize plum season is coming to a close, and I want to encourage you to buy the last of the plums and make this cake.

This recipe isn’t very secret. In fact, it is the most requested recipe The New York Times has ever published, and it has been published at least once a year since its first printing in 1981.

Original Plum Torte (or, as my mother said, “Svetchakuchen”)

by Marian Burros

Ingredients

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup unbleached flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 eggs

12 halves pitted purple plums

sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and eggs and beat well.

3. Spoon the batter into a spring form of 8,9 or 10 inches. Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.

The dough magically rises in the oven, encasing these purple gems.

Note: I did the plums the skin side up the first time but thought the cake was a little soggy around where they’d sunken into the batter. Next time I did them skin facing down, figuring that would help with that problem. It made a little difference, but you can do it either way and the cake will turn out great.

4. Bake one hour, approximately. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with whipped cream.

5. To serve torte that was frozen, defrost and reheat it briefly at 300 degrees.

NOTE: To freeze, double-wrap the tortes in foil, place in a plastic bag and seal.

Killer Radishes

Killer radishes no more.

When I was a little girl, I hated radishes. Their peppery bite was too much for my young palate, and the “killer radishes,” as I had nicknamed them, would be piled into a white and red tinged mountain on the side of my plate. This process proved successful for my first 21 years. Then one warm Friday night during my semester in Jerusalem, I came face to face with a cottage cheese dip dappled with chopped radishes. I was apprehensive at first — cottage cheese, um, kind of yuck — but I was starving and that dip was the focal point of an otherwise rather mundane meal. I plopped a small teaspoonful on the side of my plate (where radishes belonged) and apprehensively scooped some on a celery stalk. And the killer radishes did not kill me. In fact, they were pretty darn tasty. I basically polished off that dip and walked away thinking, radishes, hmm, not bad at all.

It’s been over a decade since I saw the red radish light. One way to make me swoon: thin discs of radish melted in a pan over butter, sprinkled with a little salt and some chopped green onion. That was my favorite way to eat radishes until I found this recipe. I should first admit that I love just about anything pickled, but there’s something about this dish in particular — the sweetness coupled with a mellowed ginger — that I really really love.

Radishes, I have learned, are pretty darn cheap. We’re talking a bunch for less than a dollar. Russo’s had them this week at two bunches for $1.50. I’ve gotten nearly a pound’s worth at Market Basket for $1. One dollar, people. A dollar. Even better, they are ridiculously simple to grow. If you do have a plot of land, no more than a square foot, or even a pot,  just plop some radish seeds in the soil in late spring. Make sure there’s sun and they are watered regularly, and by July, you’ll be plucking radishes from the land.

(My only caveat is if you live in an older house, please get your soil checked. Most houses around here were covered in lead paint at some point, and lead paint usually means lead in the soil.)

Pickled Radishes with Ginger

Adapted from Gourmet, November 2007

1 bunch of radishes, trimmed and quartered

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)

3 tablespoons sugar

1 heaping tablespoon very thin matchsticks of peeled ginger

Really, it's frozen!

Note: I keep my ginger root in the freezer. I’ve found that it really extends its life. For this recipe, all I do is set the root on the counter for about 10 minutes. It slices and dices just like a fresh piece does. The frozen root also grates easily with a microplane.

Place the quartered radishes in a bowl and toss with salt. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, 1 hour.

Drain in colander (do not rinse) and return to bowl.

Add vinegar, sugar and ginger, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

Transfer to an airtight container and chill, covered, shaking once or twice, at least 12 hours more (to allow flavors to develop).

Before...

Pickled radishes can be chilled up to 3 weeks.

...After. The pickling makes my red radishes quite pink.

The Group Behind Groupon

This morning Rich and I got ourselves a dinner at one of his favorite restaurants for half price. And all I did this was read the daily Groupon deal that came to my inbox. I knew Groupon was getting big when I heard  the anti-report on Marketplace a few weeks ago, but I had no idea it was the fastest growing company in Web history until I read today’s Forbes cover story. Personally, I love this new world of Group Coupons. For me, it’s a way to enjoy a nice meal that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to enjoy. And for the restaurant, it’s great publicity.

Back on the Wagon

My mother's kitchen: where the meat magic happens.

Sorry I haven’t posted in more than a week, but I have a good excuse. In the past five days I have eaten five different types of meat: brisket, turkey, meatballs, stuffed veal, chicken and chicken soup. And not one after the other. Last night, as my husband put it, we hit for the meat cycle. Basically, if it had a face, chewed its cud and had split feet, it was served on a platter at my mother’s Rosh Hashana table.

I can’t remember ever eating as much meat as I just have. I no longer have a cholesterol level; I have a gravy level. I don’t recognize my body anymore. Last night my sister and I reviewed our recent diet, and she pointed out that she really believed her hair was weighed down by animal fat. I think it really was. It had lost its shine, its cute bouncy curls. Her hair looked the way I feel. As I look down at my body — hello meat belly — I have decided this is not a good thing.

And so on the way back to Boston, I had the husband drive to Russo’s before we even got home. I now have some radishes hanging out in the kitchen, waiting to be pickled for veggie potluck at the co-op tomorrow night. I think this week is going to be very veggie-based, and THANK GOD, it will culminate in a very much needed fast for Yom Kippur.

I shudder at the thought that I have the rest of the universe’s holidays two months from now. I love spending time with my family for the Jewish holidays, and I do love the food, bad as it is for me. But I feel like I’ve been cheating on my veggie blog, and I’m glad to be back on track. Stay tuned for updates as I get back on the straight and narrow.

Peach-Basil Ice Cream: Want or Need?

In every language I’ve studied, I have always confused the verbs “to want” and “to need.” French, Latin or Hebrew; Roman or Semitic script, my tests would always come back with the same red marks through those verbs. Call it pathological.

So last fall, when someone brought a batch of homemade ice cream to our neighborhood potluck, I decided I NEEDED an ice cream maker. Setting myself a ridiculously low budget, and assured myself that if I could find an ice cream maker for that much, it was meant to be, I logged onto craigslist, and there it was, waiting for me: a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, $25. And it came with two freezing chambers, which means I can keep one in the freezer at all times, in case I NEED to make ice cream.

KitchenAid makes an ice cream maker attachment for the mixer, but it's not as cheap as my craigslist find.

I’m a big fan of craigslist. I’ve found a lot of my wonderful kitchen tools there, including a fantastic Le Creuset saucier and a brand new set of All-Clad pots and pans (a wedding registry duplicate). All on craigslist, for a fraction of retail price.

I have definitely gotten my money’s worth from my ice cream maker. We’ve made the classics like mint chocolate chip and Heath Bar crunch, but the biggest hit so far has been peach-basil. I had a pile of fresh peaches at the beginning of the summer which were screaming to be made into ice cream. But I could see their destiny included an infusion of basil, as well.

Peach and basil work wonders together.

Peach-Basil Ice Cream

This recipe was adapted from Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book, which my husband bought from the B&J factory when he was a kid — even though he didn’t have an ice cream maker. Apparently the chocolate chip cookie recipe is that good.

Ingredients

2 cups finely chopped ripe peaches (about 5), peeled if you prefer (I see no need to peel, personally)

This is about the right size dice.

1 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

And this what the chiffonade should look like.

1 1/4 cups sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 large eggs

2 cups heavy or whipping cream

1 cup milk

instructions

1. Combine the peaches, basil, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, stirring the mixture every 30 minutes.

Before...

2. Remove the basil-peach mixture from the refrigerator and drain the juice into another bowl. Return the peaches and basil to the refrigerator.

...and after.

3. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the peach-basil juice and blend.

4. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. After the ice cream stiffens (about 2 minutes before it is done), add the peaches, then continue freezing until the ice cream is ready.

Excuse the blurriness. I'm just that fast!

Makes generous 1 quart.

We freeze our ice cream in an old 1-quart peanut butter tub.

Hope you enjoy it. Our foster cat Rooster certainly did!

Nom nom nom!