The Orange Kind

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All summer long, I’ve picked up my CSA box at the student union here on campus, emptied the box’s contents into a large canvas bag, handed the box back to the farmer, and carried my bagful of produce back to my office. I store the bag in the big fridge in the office kitchen – after removing August’s tomatoes and peaches, natch – and at the end of the day, I pack everything into my bike basket and head home. However, the past three weeks have shown the flaw in my system, and it has come in the form of melon.

Heavy melons, I have discovered, not only make my bike ride home a bit more challenging — a good thing for my daily exercise — but they have been bruising my soft summer fruits. These are not end-of-the-world tragedies. I’ve definitely still been able to enjoy my bruised peaches. I spooned a compote of rescued peach flesh, lime juice, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla and a cardamom pod on top of Greek yogurt for a delightful dessert on Sunday night, for instance. But it’s frustrating, nonetheless.

Still though, just a glance towards these melons makes me grimace, as I am reminded of the poor fate of my now- injured bounty. To atone for the destruction they have wrought, I feel I need to do more than just cut them up for a simple breakfast or mundane dessert.

I just love the word ramekin

Well, I’ve come up with a solution: melon sorbet. Without realizing it, I ended up reaching for the same flavors used in this beginning-of-summer sorbet. I swear I didn’t mean to plagiarize; ginger and citrus are just really versatile.

Melon Sorbet

In terms of prepping melon, I’ve discovered the most user-friendly way is to halve it and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Place a half cut side down on a cutting board, and, using a sharp serrated knife, cut the rough skin off, starting from the top and following the rounded contours of the fruit. I did cut up the whole melon for this dish, although I didn’t end up using all of it. You’ll use about 4 cups.

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Not pictured: A serrated knife

Ingredients

4 cups of melon, prepped and cut into chunks that will fit nicely into a blender

1 cup water

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon sliced ginger

Peel of 1 lime, plus juice of 1/2 lime

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, ginger and lime peel. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 10 minutes. Once it has cooled some, place the saucepan and its contents in the refrigerator until completely chilled.
  2. Puree the melon in a blender. Place in refrigerator until completely chilled.
  3. When the puree and syrup have chilled, place the puree into your ice cream maker, strain the syrup into it and add the juice of half the lime.
  4. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

It’s What We Do

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It must be an August thing, because I’ve been dreaming about eggplant again. A thick purple gem of an aubergine came a few weeks back in my CSA, and I had been tossing around ideas of what I wanted to do with it for days. I knew I wanted it to be a dip perfect for pita — tomatoey, soft with a bit of a shimmer, not too smoky. I also knew I wanted to use the green pepper that came in the same box. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly how I was to execute my vision. I knew that Aleza was coming to town, so I assured the eggplant that its fate would be a lovely one, if it could just hang on a few more days.

In preparation for our visit, we chatted a bit online about my vision, bouncing around flavors from Israel, Persia and Armenia — places that do magical things with eggplant. On a Tuesday morning, Aleza and I hunkered down with slices of leftover blueberry pie in her parents’ kitchen. (Yes, I took a vacation day to cook this eggplant. And I think all mornings should start with slices of leftover blueberry pie.) While digging around the refrigerator, her dad came downstairs and asked us if we needed any help. “Oh no,” we assured him, “we’re all set.” We were just checking to make sure there wasn’t a vegetable we had overlooked who would want to join the eggplant. We ended up taking two smaller eggplants Aleza had picked up at the farmer’s market in Provincetown, to supplement my own.

Although it had been literally a dozen years since Aleza and I cooked and studied together in Israel, it felt just so right to have planned an entire visit around cooking a meal. “It’s what we do,” Aleza summed up to her father.

Eggplant a la Aleza Eve

Ingredients

2 lbs. of eggplant (one very large one will do)

Enough oil to cover a pan

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 half white onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

14 oz. can crushed tomato

Salt to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

We began the eggplant preparation by placing them one at a time directly on top of a burner on the stove for about 10 minutes, turning them about every two minutes so that the entire eggplant would come into contact with the flame. This blistered its skin and started to soften its flesh. Then we tossed it into a very hot preheated oven and roasted it while we prepared the rest of the dish.

As we discussed relationships, politics, writing, religion, music and tattoos, I chopped the onion while Aleza chopped up the green pepper and garlic. We went with whole cumin seeds, which we added to a pan of hot oil, and watched until they jumped and popped. Then we added the onions and a pinch of salt, which we cooked for about 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every two minutes or so. Next we added the Aleppo pepper, green pepper and garlic, and cooked that altogether for about 15 more minutes.

(I had to run to the grocery store at this point to pick up black beans for a little protein for the corn salad we had decided to serve with the eggplant, so I didn’t actually witness this next part, but will recreate as best I can.)

A good 40 minutes had passed since we’d added the eggplant to the oven, and Aleza could see it was ready by the way it had completely softened and collapsed in on itself. She knew it was really ready by the way the flesh was easily scraped from its skin with a fork, which she then added to the onion-cumin-pepper mixture on the stove. Then she added about half of a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes. She was a little worried that she’d added too much, but it was just what I’d had in mind.

We cooked the dish for another 10 minutes or so, making sure all the flavors melded into each other. As we turned off the stove, Aleza drizzled a little red wine vinegar onto the eggplant, to perk it up. After toasting some pita (which I also purchased on my trip to the grocery store) we enjoyed my eggplant vision in its full glory, drizzling olive oil onto the servings on our plate.

Second Annual Cambridge Guac Off

The competition was fierce at the Second Annual Cambridge Guac Off this past weekend. I was lucky enough to be invited back to help judge the competition, and what a contest it was! There were a dozen different entries for guests and contestants to sample, and a stock pot full of some of the most potent sangria I have ever overindulged in. Food processors whirled and mortar and pestles ground away at the ripe green fruits that had been tossed with cilantro, garlic and lime juice.

Secret ingredients abounded this year. Some, like the Rick Bayless-inspired pepitas, queso fresco and jalapeno entry, used traditional Mexican flavors. Less so was the blue cheese which found its way into the second place entry. And while some protested the awarding of first place to a pesto-infused guacamole, I for one embraced this next step in dip evolution. Rounding out the entries was a fresh mango salsa and a tequila-spiked avocado sorbet.

The Guac Off winners were kind enough to share their recipes with Cheap Beets. In the style of so many great home cooks, measuring spoons were set aside and the final dips were done to taste. I’ve assured Matt, Calvin, Rachel and Isabelle not to worry about those details, and that the recipes will speak for themselves.

For more pictures of the event, check out Calvin’s Flickr page.

First place: Pesto-Guacamole by Matt Frank

Ingredients

4 Ripe avocados

1 unripe avocado

1 medium red onion

Paprika

Sea Salt

Pepper

Cilantro flakes

Basil flakes

Lime juice

Tabasco sauce

Jalapeno paste (they sell it in a tube)

Fresh garlic

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Olive oil

Notes on the pesto: Trader Joe’s brand or homemade will work. (The winning recipe had homemade, but the trial run used Trader Joe’s) Any traditional pesto should do.

Directions

Peel and cut the unripe avocado into one inch pieces. Halve the red onion, and dice one half into small pieces.  Peel the garlic clove. Toss all three in a mix of light olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, basil flakes, cilantro flakes, tabasco sauce, lime juice, sea salt and pepper. Bake on the top rack of a 475 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Fork mash the baked avocado and garlic clove into a paste. In a separate bowl, fork mash the four ripe avocados, and then add the mashed avocado paste and the jalapeno paste. Mix. Add some Tabasco sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, lime juice and basil flakes and mix. Add a tablespoon of basil pesto. Mix. Taste, add more pesto and tabasco sauce as needed, taking care not to offset the balance. Additional spicing should be done judiciously.

Once the guacamole is properly flavored, add the baked red onion, and half of the other remaining raw onion. Gently fold into the guacamole, making sure to distribute evenly without breaking it up.

Second Place: Simple Guacamole (with a secret ingredient) by Rachel Linso and Calvin Metcalf
In a large bowl, mix together

4 very ripe avocados

1/2 can roasted diced jalapenos (approximately 1/2 Tablespoon)

1/2 yellow onion, diced

Nice-sized hunk of blue cheese

Pepper to taste

Third Place: Roasted Jalapeno and Roasted Corn Guacamole by Isabelle Weyl

The night before you want to serve this guacamole, roast a jalapeno pepper, deseed, and slice into thin strips. Shuck two ears of corn, salt and coat in olive oil. Wrap in tinfoil and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Remove corn from the cob and add to the bowl containing the strips of roasted jalapeno. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to prepare and serve the guacamole, bring the corn and pepper mix to room temperature, mash 5 smallish avocados with 3 dashes of Tabasco sauce and a hearty spoonful of sour cream.

Tomato Season

A few years back, inspired by some reading about eating locally and seasonally, I announced to Rich that we would not be having tomatoes on a regular basis. Tomatoes, I explained (OK, really declared), would only be eaten in the summer time, mostly in August, but the eating and serving of could begin in mid-July and last through the end of September. Perhaps some of October, if we were lucky.

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And that’s how it’s been, more or less, for a good while now. I think once or twice a plastic box of grape tomatoes snuck their way onto the counter and were used in a hearts of palm and avocado salad. But really, the first tomatoes I purchased this year were when Cousin David came the second week of July. They ended up on a platter of Caprese salad for the neighborhood potluck.

Two weeks back I received some tomatoes in the CSA. They weren’t quite ripe, light pink and still a little hard to the touch. I set them on the counter on Thursday night and walked away. By Sunday, I could tell by looking at them that they’d be ready to eat by Wednesday, nearly a whole week after they first hit the kitchen. Torture! I then spent the next three days thinking about my midweek lunch, which would be the tomato. No cheese, no bread, just a little pesto I whipped up Tuesday night with some basil I rescued from the fridge. I also found some leftover roasted garlic hummus in there, so I ended up alternating bites: ripe tomato with pesto, then the garlicky hummus. I was quite a happy camper.

For Thursday’s lunch, I ate the next tomato, this time with a perfectly ripe avocado that I peeled and sliced next to it. (And yes, I do see the irony of insisting on a local, seasonal tomato while eating a trucked-in avocado next to it.) I keep bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in my desk at work, so I drizzled a little of each on the two, and ate my lunch. There may have been some moaning; I’ve been told I have a problem making inappropriate noises when eating certain summer produce. There may have been an incident earlier this summer with a peach.

This past week brought a new batch of tomatoes to the house: Juliet, a type of heirloom grape tomato.

They look like a miniature plum tomato, and when I get near a plum tomato, I have the sudden urge to slow-roast it. Now, I know turning on the oven in August sounds questionable, but the nights do get cooler, and really, the oven is only at 250 degrees the entire time. The end result is more sweet than savory. The tomato proves itself to be a terrific fruit: It’s tomato candy, really.

I came across this recipe in Saveur magazine in 2007. It was a feature on the 25th anniversary edition of The Silver Palate Cook Book, a collection of recipes developed by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins in their little gourmet shop in New York City. I clipped the recipe and roasted a batch that very same week. And then I went and did something I don’t do very often: I went and bought the cookbook. No trial period with the library, just straight to Amazon. It turned out to be a great buy. Sometimes you can just tell from one simple recipe.

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As I mentioned, today I used the Juliets, but I usually do this with plum. I’ve read that people eat these on top of pasta, as a side to chicken and fish, or maybe on top of some beans. I usually eat them off the baking sheet. Once they made it all the way onto an antipasto plate, next to some olives, hard cheese, and roasted red peppers — once. Every other time, they’ve gone directly into my mouth. Today I tried to exercise restraint. I used some in a grilled cheese sandwich (fontina) and tossed on top of some greens and roasted radishes, with a sweet balsamic dressing drizzled on top.

Don’t let the number of tomatoes used in this recipe deter you: You can make it with fewer, just reduce the amount of oil and sugar for the whole tray. I don’t always have the fresh herbs on hand to garnish. Not that I’ve let that stop me.

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Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes – The Silver Palate Cookbook

½ cup best quality olive oil

12 to 18 ripe plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and seeded

2 Tablespoons sugar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Small whole Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves, or small fresh mint leaves or finely slivered basil, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 250F
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and oil it lightly. Arrange the tomatoes on it a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle lightly with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the sugar and pepper.
  3. Bake the tomatoes until they are juicy yet wrinkled a bit, 3 hours.
  4. Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a platter. Just before serving, sprinkle them salt and garnish with the herb leaves.

Cornucopia

Well, it’s official. Today Cheap Beets is one year old. It really has just zipped by. I remember, as I turned the kitchen calendar to March, saying worriedly to Rich, “But I didn’t even get to talk about Brussels sprouts!” And all of a sudden it was June and not a word about asparagus. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, “there’s always next year, and the year after that.”

kosher vegetarian

When I started the blog, I was on a mission: To help people eat well during the recession. We’d been through a layoff and survived it with very full, happy bellies, and I wanted to assure as many people as would listen that they could do it too. I spent a good deal of last summer worrying about what to call the blog: Rich could see the writing on the wall and suggested I call it “Double Dip” and feature two scoops of my homemade ice creams in the banner. Sigh.

Well, it’s been a year, and I’m ready to let you guys in on a very big secret; a confession, of sorts. Although I do love beets, and radishes, and green beans, and cauliflower, too, most people are shocked to find out that my favorite vegetable is corn. I mean, I know all about the corn subsidies, the evils of high fructose corn syrup and as its nasty use as a filler in animal feed. I know, my dear readers. Oh, I know.

But here’s what you don’t know: I was spoiled by the freshest corn possible when I was growing up. Literally, picked right off the field. Have you ever had it? Then you know what I’m talking about when I say it’s the sweetest, crunchiest, best taste in the world.  Growing up in Western Massachusetts, my mom bought the bulk of our vegetables at the roadside stand in nearby Enfield, Connecticut. Less than four miles from our house, the little town was still mostly farmland well into my high school years. If you wanted corn for dinner, you’d go to Johnnie’s Roadside Market and watch the corn fly down the shoot after it had been picked off the field. My six-year-old niece Becca learned this week that’s how you buy corn, too. I want THAT one, and point to yours as it flies by. And be sure to eat it as soon as you can, the longer it’s off the stalk, the tougher it becomes. When I was young, I wanted to marry a farmer so I could have an endless supply of corn every day. I don’t even need to shmear anything on it. Just plain old corn, followed by a good flossing.

For the past few weeks, we’ve received piles of corn in the CSA, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  I’ve tried to move past eating it plain, as I know not everyone is as smitten with the vegetable as I am. I’ve shmeared it with feta and squeezed lime juice on top of that. Scrumptious. And I’ve taken to making this salad, as well. It’s really just things from the CSA box. I wasn’t even going to post it, but my friend Marianne said I needed to after I brought it to veggie potluck this week.

The longest part of this recipe is the green bean prep, but if you do the Cook’s Illustrated method that I’ve talked about here before (lining a handful of tips together, giving a little cut, and then doing it to the other side), it flies by. Taking another page from the magazine – and I think Alton Brown says to do this too – dig out your Bundt pan and stick your ear of corn, upright, right in the hole. It makes kernel removal a cinch.

Fresh Corn, Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

½ lb. fresh green beans, trimmed

¼ cup water

6 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed

4 cloves of garlic, slivered

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 heaping Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. After 30 seconds, add the garlic, green beans, pinch of salt and the water. Cover, letting the beans steam away in the pan for about five minutes. While this is happening, shuck your corn, and remove the kernels using your Bundt pan and a large, sharp knife. Add corn to the skillet and give a stir. While the corn and green beans are cooking, rinse your tomatoes and cut those in half. Add to skillet and give another stir. Cook for about three minutes longer, then add your basil, another pinch of salt, and cook a minute or so longer. That’s all. Share with others, if you can. I’ll understand if you can’t.

A Summer Rain

Occasionally my cookbook habit (some would say “problem”) has proven extremely helpful outside of the kitchen. To wit: last week, Rich went and nearly ruined his shoes riding his bike home in the pouring rain. This was entirely preventable, since I had announced to him that morning that I was taking the bus and leaving my bike at home due to the forecast. But, he, and nearly everyone I talked to that day, sniffed at the idea that it could rain like that in August, especially after the steamy July we’d just been through.  But rain it did, buckets and buckets. And that night, while Rich stuffed crumpled grocery circulars into his shoes, I curled up on the couch with the cookbook that had given me the heads up.

I found The Old-Time New England Cookbook in a box labeled $1 at a gastronomy event last year. It’s seasonal and local with a certain Yankee particularity; think of the Farmer’s Almanac but with recipes. The book breaks down the New England year not into four seasons, but rather nine. Instead of summer, we have early summer, regular summer and the end of summer, which as it turns out, runs from August 2 to September  9. The opening sentence of that chapter provided my meteorological tip-off: “The rainy spell you may be complaining about in August lasts longer than most people believe it should.”

The next sentence has proven equally uncanny in predicting the bounty of my CSA this month: “As August gets on a bit, however, there will be corn and tomatoes, beans, swiss chard, spinach, summer squash, young potatoes, and all sorts of wonderful fresh vegetables in the back-yard garden.  The worst of it is, of course, that when these vegetables do start showing up there is always an oversupply. Can or freeze, we say, and this rainy spell in August is just the time to do it.”

As if on cue, so far this month we’ve received pounds of summer squash and piles of corn. I’m not complaining, and neither is Rich. We’ve become very fond of this dish, eating it roughly twice a week for three weeks now. But the last time I made this, for last week’s Shabbat dinner, it was something particularly special.

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After much thought, I’ve come to understand there are two things happening in this dish. The first is tarragon, the herb which has reigned supreme in the Parr household since early last summer. It usually shows up in my beans; Rich likes to use it when he cooks chicken and fish. In this dish, tarragon’s sweet licorice flavor coaxes out the squash’s inherent sweetness – the word caramel comes to mind whenever I take a bite.

The second thing happening here is taking the time needed to cook the onions. I must cook them down for about 45 minutes, until they’ve basically melted, before I could even think about adding the squash.  I think in other dishes there’s more wriggle room, but here the onions really need the extra time.

As you can see from the photos, the squash I used this time around was made with globe squash, but rest assured this is a catch-all summer squash recipe: yellow straight neck, crookneck and zucchini are also more than welcome to join the party. In all honesty, I’ve never tried this with a pattypan, so if someone ends up getting some in the next few weeks, could you please let me know how it turns out?

Summer Squash with Tarragon and Whole Wheat Pasta

Ingredients

2 cups summer squash, cut into 1½-inch pieces

½ onion, diced – any onion will work well with this dish

1½ Tablespoons tarragon, chopped

Enough oil to cover the pan

Kosher salt

½ pound of whole wheat pasta (I prefer linguine for this dish)

Directions

Set a large pot of water, salted like the sea, to boil on a back burner. On a front burner, heat enough olive oil to coat a pan on medium heat. Give it a minute or two to heat up, then add the onions and a nice-sized pinch of kosher salt. Turn the flame down and let the onions slowly cook and melt down. This should take about 45 minutes. Every four minutes or so, stir them with a wooden spoon.

When your onions have finally broken down – I’m talking a browned, soft puddle of onions – add the squash and a second pinch of salt. Cook the squash for about 10 minutes, stirring every three or so with the wooden spoon. Please don’t get nervous about the texture of the squash. Many people complain about its wet, squishy quality, but I promise that the strength of the pasta balances it.

At this point, your pasta water is roiling. Add the pasta, and cook it for approximately three minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

At that three minute point, use tongs to transfer the hot pasta into your pan of onions and squash. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the pan, and the tarragon, and cook everything together for a good three minutes or so, until the pasta has finished cooking. (Taste it before you turn the flame off to make sure it’s softened. Add more pasta water as necessary.)

Breakfast of Champions

kosher vegetarianI am not a breakfast food person. Not that I don’t eat breakfast — it is, of course, the most important meal of the day. But I am not one for cereal, omelettes, waffles or pancakes. Today I had leftovers from last night, tamari and mirin roasted vegetables on top of soba noodles. Yesterday was eggplant salad with a side of pita and hummus. My stepdad used to come down the stairs in the morning, spy the food on the plate in front of me and exclaim, “Soup, it’s not just for breakfast anymore!”

I’ve tried, really, I have. This past June, when Whole Foods put large containers of Fage yogurt on sale, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to get more into breakfast. I’ll have some in the morning with a teaspoon or two of jam, maybe a nice bit of honey swirled in, I told myself. After taking a look at the expiration date – all the way in August! – I bought several containers, assuring myself that this would be the perfect way to start my breakfast quest.

Well, it didn’t work. The yogurt got eaten, all right, just not for breakfast. I used it in Ana Sortun’s beet tzaziki (I’ll post the recipe soon, Scout’s Honor), to cool down curries and dress up dressings. And then there were these paletas.

This is a riff on another one of Fany Gerson’s ice pops. She makes hers with blackberries; I thought this was the perfect opportunity to use the pint of blueberries from my CSA. She suggests using the berries whole, or, if they are too big (a problem I can’t possibly imagine) to slice them in half. I tried her method but soon discovered the pop stick could not be inserted properly. Instead, I used the blender to whirl it all together.

A lovely byproduct of making the lemon simple syrup for this dish is candied lemon peel. As I munched on mine, I pondered what other things would be nice candied. More on that one in a later post, I hope.

And if you ask me, these would make a perfectly suitable breakfast.

Yogurt Blueberry Ice Pops – adapted from Fany Gerson’s Paletas

1 lemon

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

1 ½ cups plain unsweetened Greek-style yogurt

2 Tablespoons honey

2 cups fresh blueberries

Directions

Rinse the lemon, then peel it. (This recipe uses only the peel, so save the lemon for a different use.) Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon peel, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve, then refrigerate until chilled.

Put the yogurt and honey in a blender, add the chilled syrup and blend to combine.

Put the berries in the blender and whirl.

Pour the mixture into the molds.

If using conventional molds, snap on the lid and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (45 minutes to 1 hour), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours.