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Thai Red Curry Vegetables

Thai Red Curry Vegetables

 

This slow cooker Thai Red Curry has become a surprise hit in my household. I love that its full of vegetables and the first time I made it was totally vegetarian, eschewing the fish sauce and tossing tofu in at the end. I worried it might be too spicy so I pulled all the vegetables and tofu out of the broth, arranged them on my children’s plates next to their rice and they ended up asking for seconds. Zoe especially loved “the chicken”.  The second time I made it, I finished it with fish sauce, and then dropped some cleaned shrimp in (still keeping the tofu). Fish sauce is an Asian condiment made from fermented fish, and is one of those things that smells so badly but when used in the right context adds such a depth of flavor and salt that can’t be achieved any other way. In fact, any curry at a Thai restaurant, even the vegetable ones, have fish sauce in them. Still, it’s an ingredient that most people don’t want to buy to use once, and it’s really hard to get past the funky fermented smell that permeates the room once you open the cap. If you don’t want to go that route, you can simply season at the end with both soy sauce and regular salt and it will still be delicious. It’s important to add salt at both the beginning and end of the cooking process because in the beginning it will flavor the vegetables cooking, but those vegetables throw off a lot of natural juices that will dilute the broth and need to be balanced at the end. Thai Red Curries are traditionally less spicy than green so I went with that. I use one 4-oz jar of Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste as a base. It’s a fine product that contains only pureed aromatics and nothing else, but to achieve a full flavor I add more ginger and lemongrass. Slow cooking everything and adding butternut squash lends sweetness that allows me to leave out the traditional ingredient of palm sugar. You can use regular coconut milk, or light, they both taste good, the latter producing a less rich and more soupy broth that is still worthy of some rice. To that point, the perfect side dish is some steamed jasmine rice, but any white rice will do too. Cut all of the vegetables the day before and store them in a big bowl so in the morning you plop everything in the slow cooker and are done with it.

all the beautiful veggies

all the beautiful veggies

Slow Cooker Thai Red Curry

Serves 4

two 13.5 oz cans of full or low-fat coconut milk

one 4 oz jar Thai Red Curry Paste

1 stalk lemongrass, smashed with the back of a knife to release its flavor, split lengthwise and cut into two inch lengths and tied together with a string

one 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more at the end

1 tsp salt, plus more at the end

 

1 cup carrots, sliced 1/4″ on the bias

2 cups greenbeans, (I like the Chinese long beans, but American green beans work too) trimmed and cut into approximately 2″ lengths

2 cups butternut squash cut into chunks

1 red bell pepper, sliced 1/2″

one pound shitakes, stems removed and caps sliced, or 8 oz button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

8 oz organic firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes or

one pound of shrimp, peeled and cleaned

 

1. Add coconut milk, curry paste, ginger and lemongrass to slow cooker and whisk to combine.

2. Add vegetables and gently stir to coat all of the vegetables with the sauce. The vegetables will not be completely submerged and that is ok. During the cooking process they will release their water and shrink down.

3. Cook on high for about 3.5 hours or low for about 6 hours. Fish out the bunch of lemongrass and discard. Finish seasoning to taste: It could take an additional 2 tsp of salt and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce at this point, or 2 tsp fish sauce, depending on the water content in the vegetables. Taste it and season it to your taste. I like salty so I will even add a couple squirts of fish sauce right to my bowl.

4. When it’s seasoned, if adding shrimp, turn the cooker up to high, drop in the shrimp and cook until pink and firm to the touch, about 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. If you aren’t sure, take one out and cut into it. Add your tofu once the shrimp are cooked and gently warm through.

5. Serve in a bowl as a soup or with Jasmine rice.

You can finish the dish with chopped red chilis if you like a bit more heat like I do, fresh cilantro leaves and sliced scallions. Enjoy!!

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I belong to something called a CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you buy a share of the harvest from a farm your community has made a deal to support. Each week you get a box of whatever they have picked. You don’t know what you are getting or how much. It’s a great way to support the small farmers that are growing quality food but making very little money. It’s also a great way to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, try some things you might not have, and its fun!

One of items in our box recently was Salad Turnips. They were among the nicest I’ve seen in a while. But so many people don’t know what to do with them! Yes, you can make a salad with them, but don’t let the name discourage you from cooking them as well. Salad turnips are sweeter, juicier and more delicate than a traditional turnip. The first thing I always do is cut off the greens. You can store them separately in a Ziploc bag with a little air caught in it to make them last longer. The greens are delicious in salads, pastas, or cooked on their own the same way you would cook spinach or swiss chard. Be sure you wash all the parts thoroughly, turnips tend to be very sandy (after all they come from the ground) but especially right at the part where the root and the green meet. For the simplest preparation possible you can cut them into eighths, drop them in boiling, salted water until just tender when pierced with a knife (About 5-7 minutes). You don’t want them too cooked or they will become mealy and fall apart. Then hit them with a bit more salt to taste, fresh black pepper and a dollop of nice butter. Toss in a bowl while hot and the water that comes off the turnip will emulsify the melting butter into a creamy sauce. My 3-year-old loves them! I also like to roast them with soy sauce, olive oil, maple syrup and thyme for a more intensely flavored side dish. Finally, you can make a salad with thinly sliced turnips and arugula (was also in our box that week). Season it with salt and pepper, a squeeze of fresh lemon and bit of extra virgin olive oil and toss to coat lightly. Top with Parmigiano Reggiano that you have shaved with a peeler. Bellisimo!

Soy Maple Turnips

Serves 2 (as a side dish)

2 lg. Salad Turnips, cut into 1/8ths

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons Extra virgin Olive oil

2 sprigs thyme

  1. Scrub turnips well with a vegetable brush, cut into eighths and place in a baking dish.
  2. Top with remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook 20 minutes.
  4. Remove cover and stir. Cook 10 minutes more, uncovered.
  5. Stir and cook 5 minutes more, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Using a dry towel, grab the baking dish and swirl around turnips to coat them in the thick sauce.Image

Remember, maple syrup is sugar and wants to burn. If you are cooking a small amount of turnips and sauce in a large pan, there is more surface area and more opportunity to burn. Things like the assize of your pan and the size of the cut turnips will affect your cooking time. Keep an eye on them and make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sauce is almost evaporated and thick the turnips are done.

You can drizzle a little extra maple syrup on top for some added sweetness. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Fudgesicle ice pops are an integral part of summer, don’t you think? They aren’t quite chocolate ice-cream, with a more dense fudgey, almost chalky texture (if you can imagine chalk tasting delicious), always eaten as a race against the hot sun melting it down your arms and onto the pavement. I developed this recipe for my version of fudgesicle made with organic raw agave*** instead of sugar, cocoa powder, plain yogurt, and banana. I then add coconut butter to give it a real richness. The result has only a faint coconut flavor but a very decadent texture and mouthfeel. I think this recipe is a touch too sweet, but my husband and daughter disagree so I left it as is because I’m not one for sweet things at all. If you want, you can back out the agave a bit but remember when tasting the mix it is going to taste less sweet once it is frozen.

Cocoa Agave Ice Pops

2 cups Organic Whole Milk Yogurt

1 banana

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

4 tablespoons Raw Coconut Butter

1/2 cup Cocoa Powder

6 T Raw Blue Agave***

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into icepop molds and freeze until solid.

***

***A note on Agave:
After this post was published I read some research about Agave Nectar that I had to share. It’s not new research, but it’s new to me. I try and keep things as minimally processed as possible in our diets without going to extremes. I chose to use Agave because of its low glycemic index, trace minerals it contains and what I thought was a less processed more natural product. However, research I read says that although the glycemic index is low making it better for diabetes patients because it doesn’t spike their blood sugar, the process in making it is just as complex as making other processed sweeteners. Furthermore, because of this process it contains high amounts of fructose, which isn’t good for the body. So for now, while I research it some more, I am going to stick to things like honey and maple syrup, which are minimally refined and I will rewrite this recipe with the new ingredients.

 

So I’m late on this post. Ramp season is just about over. I have been working like a madwoman and haven’t had time to post, but  it’s absolutely necessary to get an entry in on them, so better late than never. I promise I’ll be on time next year. What are ramps, you ask? In the restaurant world, ramps are the first sign of spring, after a long winter of butternut squash and apples but much more delicious than fiddlehead ferns (which are also an early spring thing but to me taste like dirt.) They are a type of wild onion, closer to a leek, with a delicious leafy stem and tender bulb and they grow wild in New York, but often come from places like West Virginia and Oregon first. In the northeast you can by them at greenmarkets, as I have never seen them in an actual store, but you better get there early before the restaurants snap them up. They are delicious and sweet yet spicy and grassy.  You can use them much like an onion or scallion, or just simply char them and serve them in a heaping pile of steaming deliciousness aside grilled fish or meats.  Trim off the root end, then use a paper towel to peel off the thin top layer, stem down to the root to get rid of the sand. If they are particularly sandy you can wash them, but be sure to dry them well or the tender leaves will rot and you don’t want that.

They are versatile and yummy and not at all difficult to work with. Anywhere you would put an onion, you can put a ramp, but since the flavor is more delicate you want to highlight it instead of mask it so keep the other ingredients simple.

Scrambled eggs with ramps is a great first dish, simple to execute but the outcome is totally sophisticated. Separate the white part from the green and slice the white finely. Then rough chop the green. Gently sauté the whites in butter or olive oil, until translucent and buttery. Sprinkle a little salt and then add your scrambled eggs. Toss in the greens and cook gently until the eggs are soft and creamy. Serve on toasted baguette, ciabatta or crusty whole grain bread.

Ramps lend themselves particularly well to other spring vegetables, because things that grow around the same time and area generally taste good together. If you want to expand on the egg idea, you can make a dinner fritatta with potatoes, asparagus, ramps and mushrooms. I like oyster or hen of the woods (maiatake) but any mushroom will do.

Spring Vegetable Fritatta

1. Parboil some spring potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from water and turn out onto a plate lined with a paper towel to dry.

2. In a large sauté pan, (preferably NOT non-stick*), heat some oil until just smoking and add your mushrooms, not too many so you don’t crowd the pan. Don’t touch the mushrooms. Don’t stir the mushrooms. Let them pick up some color before you move them. Moving them constantly won’t get that delicious caramelization that you want which will intensify the flavor. When you see some browning happening, then you stir them. You do, however want to monitor your heat. The pan needs to be smoking before you add the shrooms, which will then lower the temperature of the pan. But then the temp will rise again, and if you see lots of white smoke, or if your pan is looking too brown on the bottom, lower the heat. Conversely, if your temp is too low and your pan is not hot enough the mushrooms will steam as they release water instead of browning. Look at it and judge. Add a little salt halfway through cooking to draw out the moisture. Once you see color developing you can stir the mushrooms. If you need more oil because mushrooms inherently soak up oil, add a little drizzle around the edges of the pan. Cook until the mushrooms pick up color, throw in some asparagus sliced thin, sauté briefly to take the rawness out of the asparagus but leave still crunchy and then remove mixture to a bowl and reserve.

3. Cut up the potatoes to the desired size and cook in a sauté pan, along with the white part of the ramps in oil or butter until crunchy (just like home fries).

4. Scramble your eggs, add in the reserved veggies and season withe a little Salt and pepper. Add this mixture to the hot sauté pan with the potatoes. Cook until set and lightly brown on the bottom, adjusting the heat so it is hot enough but doesn’t burn.

5. At this point you have 2 options. You can turn it out onto a plate and then flip it over. Or you can stick the whole pan into a preheated 350 oven. The stove top yields a flatter fritatta with a creamier center. The oven yields a little puffier with a more cooked interior.

6. Cook until done. Turn out onto a plate and shave parmigiano over the top.

* Non-stick pans are not made for high heat. To get a good sear on something never use nonstick, as heating the pan too high will cause the coating to degrade and release chemicals into your food. Besides, you won’t get the beautiful browning you are looking for anyway. Non-stick pans are fine for scrambled eggs and omelettes, but not much else.

YUM!!!!

At any given time I have Kale in my fridge. I gobble it up in salads, crunch on it in chips, put it in soups, or eat it on it’s own braised in tomato sauce. What I have discovered about toddlers is that they will eat anything if it’s cooked in tomato sauce and then chopped so fine they can’t tell it’s there. You can then put it on pasta, shells would be my choice so that the little cups that the pasta form can scoop up all the saucy goodness and provide a vehicle for the green.

This time, I served it with some fennel sausages and cubed up yams tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil- both roasted in the oven. The sweetness of the yam really complimented the kale and tomato and the sausage added a savory meaty element.

You can store Kale for a surprisingly long time in the fridge if you put it in an airtight bag with a damp paper towel inside. Just leaving the leaves in the crisper bin will render them flaccid and putting just the stems in water (flower vase style) never works. The leaves themselves need the moisture too so a large tupperware works too but takes up a lot of room in the fridge.

Braising implies cooking something tough slowly in liquid. When it comes to meat, you would do it with more exercised cuts like shoulders and legs, in which you would sear first and then finish in the liquid. Braising works great with a hearty green like Tuscan Kale because it breaks down the fibers and intensifies the sweetness.

*As far as which tomato product to use- (I can go on forever about this) I’ve been trying to stay away from canned tomatoes Cirio Passata Rusticabecause of the BPA in the cans. Of course sometimes you can’t avoid it. Try different brands to see which ones you like. Whole tomatoes in their juice are usually the best option because you aren’t getting an amalgamation of substandard pieces. That being said, I’ve been using a brand lately called Cirio Passata Rustica which comes in a glass jar. They taste really good to me. Passata Rustica means a coarse pass through a food mill on the tomatoes, so you are getting just the chunky pulp without the fiber or skins and sometimes seeds. Pomi tomatoes in the box are generally good. You generally want to stay away from any kind of tomato puree because it’s actually just reconstituted tomato paste. . What I look for is taste- nice and sweet, without too much salt, which many brands tend to have. Aside from the can issue, La Valle D.O.P. tomatoes are very good- they are of a certain Italian classification that needs to meet specific standards to pass.  After all that, there is even variation among a brand itself. You could be happy using one brand for a while and then all of a sudden it stops tasting good for a while. That’s what happens- it is, after all, a plant, a crop, and sometimes the crop isn’t as good. Sometimes you need to change for a while, or forever.

Kale Braised in Tomato

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 white or red onion sliced thin

6 small cloves of garlic or 3-4 large, peeled and smashed

2 bay leaves, fresh or dried (but fresh is so so much better!)

1 1/2 bunch Kale (because I ate the other half bunch raw-couldn’t help myself)

about 24 oz of tomato product*(see note)- more or less this amount is okay

salt and pepper

  1. In a medium sized saucepan or a high, straight sided saute pan with a lid, place the cold oil, bay leaf, garlic  and onion and begin to heat slowly. The idea is for this to cook slowly so that the onions gently release their juices and become sweet. We are not looking to completely caramelize them (so you don’t want much color) just to make them translucent, soft and buttery.

 2. When the onions are there, add the kale and mix briefly to coat. Cook about 2 minutes to wilt, then add tomato. Stir and cover.

3. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until kale is tender, about 40 minutes.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. You can adjust the consistency of the sauce by leaving the lid off and simmering if it is too soupy.

5. After it’s finished I’ll cool it down a bit and then chop fine on a cutting board, small batches at a time.

Falafel aren’t the sort of thing you would think to make at home. First of all they are fried, and fried can be very controverisial. There are the people who love fried, wanna marry it, have it’s babies and dip them in batter and fry them. Then there are the people who eschew it either for health reasons or simply because they don’t want to stink up their houses in the process.I’m not going to go all Paula Deen on you and try and convince you that you should eat fried foods every day, but a little fried never hurt no one, especially if you don’t eat processed fried foods and the fried food in question happens to be chock full of dietary fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Chickpeas are very nutritious. And cheap. You can balance out the fried with a myriad of salads and pickles to be served in the pita along with them.

As far as the frying thing goes, I like to make flat patties instead of spheres, so you don’t actually have to deep fry, therefore using less oil. It would be like making chicken cutlets. I can’t really help the smell in the house thing but to me I happen to think it smells good! It’s not like it’s a scallop or something (which might be the worst after cooking smell EVER!)

So just to be clear, falafel are Middle Eastern patties or balls of chickpeas and herbs, fried  and served with salads and sauces, sometimes in a pita. And my answer to the inevitable question of whether you can use canned chickpeas or not is an emphatic NO! First of all, you will never be able to get the texture you want out of canned chickpeas. They are wetter, almost mushy and already cooked. Secondly, the flavor of dry chickpeas is so much better than canned.  Thirdly, you really aren’t saving yourself anything by using canned. Canned are more expensive and it’s not like you have to cook the dry ones first, you just soak them the day before and then grind them up. Easy.

My favorite recipe is Mark Bittman’s, published in the New York Times in 2008. I use that as a guideline, with a few touches of my own. I don’t like ones that have breadcrumb or flour in them. It definitely makes the batter easier to handle but I find that it makes the falafel too dense. If you make patties instead of balls, it will be easier to handle anyway.

Falafel

Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times, 2008

serves 2 adults, 1 toddler and leftovers

1 and 3/4 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 small onion, quartered

1 teaspoon coriander, ground

1 tablespoon cumin, ground

cayenne to taste

1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves or 1/2 cup each

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Neutral oil, for frying*

1. Cover chickpeas in a non-reactive bowl or container with 4X the amount of water to beans. Refrigerate overnight uncovered. This will hydrate the chickpeas and get them ready for cooking. This is pretty standard procedure for any dry bean. Chickpeas will double or triple in volume as they take in the water. You don’t cover them because they can ferment.

2. The next day drain beans well discarding liquid. Some people like to save the liquid and use it, but although there is a slight loss of nutrients there are also compounds in the liquid that cause flatulence and by discarding it you reduce the likelihood of it.

3. Place beans in a food processor and add all the remaining ingredients except spices and oil and Falafel "batter" after grindingpulse. You want to chop all of the ingredients finely but not make a puree. You may have to do it in batches, and you will probably have to scrape down the edges of the bowl a few times in between pulsing. If you absolutely must, add a few drops of water to get it going, but the more water you add, the harder the mixture is going to be to work with, and then you might have to add a bit of flour to get it to bind up again.

4. Once mixture has come together, transfer to a bowl and add your spices, season with a bit of salt and cayenne to taste. You can taste the batter raw, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s just going to be mealy, but you can get an idea. I also always like to fry one off as a test to really see how it’s going to taste, so you don’t end up cooking an entire batch of underseasoned falafel.

5. Heat about an inch of oil in a saute pan with sides. You want the oil to be shimmering. Test the oil by adding a pattie. It should start sizzling immediately. If your oil is too cool, your patties will soak up too much oil and fall apart. Conversely, if too hot, you will get brown too quickly before the inside is cooked and could even burn. You want the oil about 350 degrees if you have a thermometer.

6. Shape patties by using a tablespoon, scooping some batter up and using the palm of your other hand to smooth the edge. The batter is wet, so you can’t pick it up and roll it like a meatball. In falafel houses they will often use an icecream scooper and drop the scoops into the deep fryer. So scoop instead with your tablespoon, round it with the palm of your other hand, and then gently hold the spoon horizontally over the pan of oil and shimmy it in. If your oil is nice and hot it will start to cook it immediately setting the shape. Continue doing this so that your pan is full, but not crowded. It is important you don’t crowd the pan, or your oil will cool down, the steam emitting will get caught between instead of evaporating and the falafel will become soggy and fall apart. It’s not that hard, I’m just giving you all the information you need.

7. Flip them over when they are golden brown and cook the other side.frying falafel

8. Drain on paper towels when evenly browned and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

* For frying, you not only want a neutral oil, but you want one with a high smoke point. Olive oil does not have a high smoke point and is not suitable for frying. Canola oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil are all better choices, but you need to be careful of where you buy them from. If you would like more information on this subject you can read it here.

I serve them with whole wheat pita and salads. On the simple end you can just cube up tomatoes and cucumbers, shave some red onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe some lemon juice. Shaved savoy cabbage tossed with a little red wine vinegar is really good too. If you’re feeling adventurous you can pickle some beets, turnips or carrots, with cumin and serve those. As for the sauces they are super easy.

For the tahini sauce, you buy sesame paste (tahini) and mix it with about equal parts water. The tahini behaves weird when you add water to it. It starts out looking smooth and pourable, then you add water and it seizes up and becomes all pasty. Keep stirring it vigorously and adding water, a little at a time until it becomes a smooth loose sauce. Season with salt to taste, fresh squeezed lemon juice and I also like to grate some garlic in there with a fine grater or microplane.

I also love to make a tzakiki or raita type yoghurt sauce. If you buy full fat greek yoghurt, (like Fage total) it is the absolute perfect consistency and doesn’t need to be drained. I love the stuff but it’s not what I use on a regular basis for my normal yoghurt eating needs because in around 2008 it’s popularity forced production out of Greece and into upstate NY. I did some research trying to find out if they are using grass-fed milk, including writing to the company and they never got back to me, which basically tells me they don’t. It’s highly unlikely that a large processing facility owned by Dannon in New York is using grass-fed milk, especially if it’s not labeled as so. It does say that they don’t use the rGBH hormone, which is a good start I guess.  rGBH is a hormone that cows are given to keep them lactating year round, because just as humans, even if the demand is there, our supply will dwindle and even dry up over time, especially if it’s not a baby suckling and instead a machine. rGBH has been thought to pass into our bodies through milk and be the cause of early puberty in girls that has become a staggering epidemic in this country. The FDA issued a statement saying that they have found no difference between cows given the hormone and not, which means absolutely nothing. They need to protect their interests, being big dairy industry and Monsanto (who if I’m not mistaken are the manufacturers of the hormone) and they haven’t done any solid reseasrch on the subject, they just haven’t received any proof saying otherwise. But I digress. For this application, I have yet to find a grass-fed organic yoghurt that is thick and luscious so when I make falafel I still use the Greek stuff and for my daily needs I go with something else.

Back to the sauce: finely dice up some red onion and toss it with fresh lemon to marinate for a bit. Mix into the yoghurt. You want it to be chunky but still have room for the herbs- I like to use mint, and a lot of it. Shred the mint finely with a sharp knife and mix in. Add a pinch of ground cumin  and if you like it spicy, a bit of cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you need a bit more lemon add it. This dip has so many uses. My husband hates yoghurt but loves this dip and can find so many creative things to rip apart and dredge in it.

Like I mentioned before, you can serve the falafel in pita with a simple cubed up salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. Or you can go a bit more fancy and pickle some turnips, beets or carrots.

Falafel hold leftover fantastically. They stay crispy and heat up well. We always have leftovers with this recipe and love eating them the next day.

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