Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 10, 2017: This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Cucumbers

Cooking with this Week's Box!

Welcome back for another week of cooking and eating out of the CSA Box.  This week I’m in the mood for simple food.  Simple in the sense of basic cooking methods, classic preparations, simple seasonings, and basically just stepping back and letting the vegetables stand on their own.  None of this week’s suggestions are complicated or intricate.  Some recipes may require time to marinate meat or bake something, so you’ll have to plan ahead a bit, but nothing is hard or time consuming. 

Lets start with this week’s featured vegetable, cucumbers!  This week I vote for the Vietnamese Cucumber Salad featured below.  This recipe consists of a bowl full of sliced cucumbers and onions tossed with fresh herbs, chopped peanuts, garlic and minced jalapeno dressed with a simple 5-ingredient dressing.  It would be excellent served with Vietnamese Pork Chops.  The pork chops are marinated for about 20 minutes before cooking, so marinate the chops first before you make the cucumber salad. 

The next recipe I’d like to suggest is Sauteed Sirloin Tips with Bell Peppers & Onions served with Potato Gratin. For this meal, you will need to plan ahead and marinate the sirloin tips overnight.  I would suggest putting this entire meal together the night before or better yet, if you are a weekend prepper, prep this meal on Saturday or Sunday.  Marinate the steak and make the potato gratin…even bake it off, cool it to room temp and refrigerate it.  When you get home from work the next evening, all you have to do is reheat the gratin and cook the sirloin tips along with the green bell and Italian frying peppers. 

Roasted chicken is such a simple dish.  Don’t let a whole bird intimidate you.  All you have to do is season it and put it in the oven to bake.  If you need a recipe to guide you, look in any basic cookbook or choose your favorite one on-line.  I like to put a layer of vegetables in the bottom of my roasting pan when I roast a chicken.  The vegetables cook in the juices running off of the chicken, making them so delicious.  Plus, an added benefit is that the vegetables prevent any splattering of juice and fat in your oven!  So this week I’m going to roast carrots and zucchini under the chicken.  The zucchini won’t need as long to cook, so I’ll add the zucchini to the pan about half way through the cooking time for the chicken.  By the time the chicken is cooked, the vegetables should be tender and golden.  Remove the chicken from the pan to rest for about 10 minutes.  Add a big handful of chopped fresh herbs from your garden to the vegetables and your dinner of Roasted Chicken with Roasted Carrots and Zucchini is ready!  One of the great things about a whole roasted chicken is how many meals you can get out of it!  Use the chicken carcass to make a delicious broth to use as the base for a simple Chicken and Noodle Soup.  Before you go to work in the morning, put the carcass in your crockpot along with some onions, garlic and some dried sage and parsley.  Let it simmer on the lowest setting all day.  When you get home in the evening you’ll be met by the aroma of homemade chicken broth!  Strain the vegetables and bones out of the broth and then reheat the broth in a pan on the stove.  Add some chopped onion, garlic and any leftover roasted vegetables and chicken you have remaining from the night before.  Bring the broth to a simmer and then add some noodles of your choosing.  Simmer the broth just until the noodles are cooked, then add a big handful of chopped fresh herbs to the pan and dinner is ready! 

One of my favorite ways to prepare cauliflower is to simply roast it.  My next meal suggestion could be prepared any night of the week, but it might be a nice fit for “Friday night Fish Fry.”   Turn your cauliflower into Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower and serve it with  Panko Crusted Fish Sticks with Herb DipThe fish sticks are actually baked, which I think is easier and leaves you with less mess to clean up.  Plus, you have the oven heated up to roast the cauliflower, so you might as well bake the fish in there too!  My strategy for preparing this meal is to make the sauce and put it in the fridge while the oven is preheating.  Then prep the cauliflower and get it in the oven to start roasting.   While it’s roasting, prepare the fish sticks.  The cauliflower will take 30-45 minutes to roast and then you put the cheese on and bake it another 10 minutes.  The fish will only take 12-15 minutes to bake, so put the fish in the oven when it’s time to add the cheese to the cauliflower and that should bring everything into the home stretch at about the same time! 

The tomatoes and green beans this week are going to form the base for this simple Penne with Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans & Feta. Eat it as is or add some Italian sausage or some leftover roasted chicken to the dish if you’d like.

And lastly, I am on a kick with including broccoli in my Sunday brunch egg dishes!  This week I’m going to make this Broccoli and Mushroom Egg Bake  and serve it with Honey Skillet Cornbread. The catch is the cornbread will include the fresh corn in this week’s box.  Just cut it off the cob with a paring knife and include it in the cornbread.  There’s one catch to this plan, the cooking times for these two dishes are different.  One is at 350°F and the other is at 400°F….compromise at 375°F and I think you’ll be just fine.  If there are two of you in the kitchen, each of you tackle one of the dishes and you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and the morning paper for half an hour while your breakfast/brunch bakes.  Bread takes 20 minutes and the eggs take 30-35 minutes.  Best to let the bread rest a bit, so even if they go in the oven at the same time, it will all work together in harmony.  Serve this meal with fresh slices of SWEET SARAH CANTALOUPE!!!

Well, that brings us to the bottom of yet another CSA box.  We’ve all been anticipating tomato season, and I suspect next week’s box will include a sizeable bag of tomatoes.  So, get those tomato  recipes ready!—Chef Andrea  

Vegetable Feature:  Cucumbers


“Why Cucumbers? (Doesn’t everyone know about cucumbers?)”  This is the opening line to the chapter about cucumbers in Elizabeth Schneider’s book, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.  Cucumbers are a fairly mild-flavored vegetable with a high water content, but they are more than just crispy.  In this country we may be most familiar with the American green slicer variety, but this is just one of many different types of cucumbers grown around the world.  They do have characteristics that vary from variety to variety including appearance as well as flavor.  For example, there are long Asian cucumbers that are long and sometimes kind of curled.  There are also Armenian cucumbers that are described as  “serpentine fruit” because of their long, narrow, curled shape.  A few years ago we grew an Indian cucumber called Poona Kheera.  It was a small, stout cucumber that was bright golden in color when young and then the skin became russeted when fully matured.  We grow several different varieties of green slicer cucumbers, and in recent years we’ve taken a liking to a variety called Silver Slicer.  This variety was bred by Cornell University and is distinctly identified by its pale yellow skin and crisp, white flesh.  We like it because it yields well, holds up well after picking without getting soft, has tender skin that doesn’t get bitter and it has an excellent fruity flavor.  It is a little smaller than a traditional green slicer, which is also an advantage because it has a smaller seed cavity.

Transplanting cucumbers
Cucumbers may be grown in a variety of growing systems.  Some are grown in hoop houses or hydroponic systems with trellises to tame the vines and keep the fruit and plants upright.  We choose to grow our cucumbers in the old fashioned way…in the dirt outside in the fields.  We do have a unique strategy though.  We start all of our cucumbers in the greenhouse as a transplant.  They grow very quickly once the seed germinates, so we only have about three weeks from when the seeds are planted to get the field ready!  We plant our cucumbers on raised beds covered with a reflective silver plastic that has drip irrigation lines running underneath it.  We do this for several reasons.  First, the reflective plastic helps deter pests such as cucumber beetles which can wreak havoc on the plants by chewing the leaves and scarring the fruit.  The plastic mulch also provides some heat gain which helps encourage growth in this heat-loving crop.  We plant an early crop that we put in the field as soon as possible in the spring and then do a second planting to get us through the latter part of summer.  We typically cover the first planting with a row cover draped over wire hoops.  This protects the plants from any chilly nights and also helps trap more heat to help the plants get established and take off.  Once the plants are producing fruit, you can almost predict the volume of a harvest by the temperature.  Ok, not quite, but they are very responsive to changes in temperature and if you have a really warm week you can really see some phenomenal growth and be surprised with harvests that literally double and sometimes triple seemingly overnight!

Cucumbers are a simple food that may be eaten raw or cooked.  I have to admit I don’t have a lot of experience eating cucumbers cooked, other than a canned pickle.  While cucumbers are most often eaten raw in salads, sliced onto sandwiches, eaten with dip or simply salted, they can also be cooked.  I’ve seen recipes, such as the one featured in this week’s newsletter, for stir-fried cucumbers, but they can also be used in soup, braised, lightly sautéed or wilted.

If you find yourself with more cucumbers than you can eat in a given week, you can always turn back to the good old pickling method.  Refrigerator pickles are a quick and easy way to preserve cucumbers that won’t require canning or any special equipment.  While I, admittedly, most often consume cucumbers in the form of a simple creamy cucumber salad or simply sliced and salted, don’t limit yourself!  Branch out and try a cucumber stir-fry or make a cucumber soup—chilled or hot.  You can even make some delicious, refreshing cucumber drinks!   

Spicy Stir-Fried Cucumbers with Shredded Chicken

Yield:  4 servings

12 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast, pounded ⅛ inch thick and very thinly sliced crosswise
5 garlic cloves, smashed, divided
1 Tbsp finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger, divided
1 tsp baking soda
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
12 dried red chiles, such as chiles de arbol—10 left whole, 2 stemmed and crumbled
1 pound cucumbers, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 serrano chile (substitute jalapeño), thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Lemon wedges and steamed rice, for serving
  1. In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with half of the garlic and ginger and the baking soda;  season with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, stir the vinegar with the sugar and ¼ cup of water.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of the oil until shimmering.  Add the chicken and stir-fry over moderately high heat until the chicken is almost cooked through, 2 minutes; transfer the chicken to a plate.  Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of the oil to the skillet along with the whole and crumbled dried chiles, cucumbers, vinegar mixture and the remaining garlic and ginger;  season with salt and pepper.  Stir-fry over moderate heat until the cucumbers are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated, 3 minutes.  
  3. Add the chicken and serrano/jalapeño and stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through, 1 minute.  Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper.  Serve with lemon wedges and rice.

This recipe was featured in Food & Wine, October 2013.

Vietnamese Cucumber Salad

2 pounds cucumbers
1 large jalapeño, seeds and veins removed if desired, thinly sliced
3 scallions, finely sliced (substitute 1 medium onion, thinly sliced)
1 garlic clove, finely grated or pounded with a pinch of salt
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
16 large mint leaves, coarsely chopped
½ cup toasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
¼ cup neutral-tasting oil (eg. sunflower oil)
4 to 5 Tbsp lime juice
4 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
  1. Using either a Japanese mandolin or a sharp knife, thinly slice the cucumbers into coins, discarding the ends.  
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, jalapeño, onions, garlic, cilantro, mint, and peanuts.  
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, 4 Tbsp lime juice, the vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and a small pinch of salt.  
  4. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and toss to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more lime juice as needed.  Serve immediately.

This recipe is from Samin Nosrat’s book, Salt Fat Acid Heat.  It was featured in an article on the blog.

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