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I just had my second to last CSA pickup and it’s making me a little weepy. I must confess that Rodney is ready to move on and not have our usual Saturday morning pickup stress. While he enjoys the fruits of my labor, he’s less enthusiastic about the fruit itself.

But me…I’m going to miss it. There are parts of it that I won’t miss – namely the omnipresent need each Saturday to wash several pounds of greens. But I love the ease of reaching into my crisper and pulling out something gorgeous that inspires me to cook.

Last week was no different. We returned from pickup with our usual bags (plural) of produce, which included the following:

  • Choice of Tomatoes
  • Buttercup Squash
  • Cubanelle Peppers
  • Parsnips
  • Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Adirondack Blue Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley

I’ve become totally obsessed with buttercup squash and one of the first things I do now that it’s squash season is immediately slice the squash and bake it at 350 degrees with a few sprigs of fresh herbs. Otherwise it sits on my counter and mocks me when I’m too busy during the weekdays to think about roasting squash for dinner.

Buttercup is sweeter than some of the other varieties that you might encounter – the butternuts, the acorns. And like all squash, it sits well in the fridge once it’s been cooked, making it useful for all kinds of recipes down the road. 

With the buttercup roasted and in the fridge, I set about making dinner. I had planned for roast chicken, but as so often happens up at the lake, we started drinking wine, and by 5PM I was slightly wobbly and had no inherent interest in making dinner. But I was hungry, and came up with the idea to make the top layer of scalloped potatoes for dinner using nothing but a few potatoes, onions, cream, parm, herbs, and a few cloves of garlic.

The true story behind these potatoes is even more shameful than their slightly embarrasing beginnings. Having fed the kids, Rodney and I found ourselves starving when the potatoes eventually came out of the oven (slightly too crispy from inattention) and rather than eat them at the table like civilized adults, we plunked ourselves right down on the floor in the kitchen, the platter between us, sleeves rolled up, cutlery free, and dove right in.

I rationalized that they were more similar to nachos than a potato side dish, which didn’t make things any better. My id was ashamed, and I’ve vowed never to eat dinner on the floor again to protect my easily-bruised ego.

To make the scalloped potato sheet pan:

Layer the following ingredients in a sheet pan that’s been rubbed with olive oil and covered in parchment paper: 3 medium red potatoes, thinly sliced; 2 cipollini onions, thinly sliced; 3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed. Pour ½ cup of chicken stock and ½ cup of heavy cream over the potatoes. Toss some parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup) over the top and sprinkle with a little more salt and freshly-ground pepper. Scatter thyme leaves on top of the potatoes and bake at 350 degrees for about 90 minutes (or until the potatoes are golden and bubbling). Since I was drinking wine, I lost track of time and nuked them a little longer than I should have but they were still wonderfully delicious.

I know that I haven’t talked about what happened to the squash yet; that’s still to come…for now, let’s talk turkey.

Perhaps because I’m not cooking Thanksgiving this year, but have had some kilowatt cravings for turkey. Buying a whole turkey for our family is a little excessive as two big appetites don’t make up for three little ones. And we all know how I feel about poultry breast. If you’re unfamiliar, I urge you to check out this post where I review my feelings in detail. However, on occasion, Whole Foods will surprise me with the gift of drumsticks, and when I see them at the store, I’ll buy a pack or two.

And what better way to prepare them than to dry-brine the drumsticks overnight, David Chang-style, with a touch of salt and sugar. And because it’s turkey…a little dried sage. I also used my David Chang pork belly technique on the drumsticks with a high temp sear in the oven, followed by a low and slow bake at 250 degrees. It produces the best kind of drumstick – brown and crispy on the outside with juicy leg meat inside.

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We ate the majority of the drumsticks on their own, as you would at your local Renaissance Fair with sleeves rolled up and juices dribbling down our chins. Minus the wenches of course.

What, might you ask, does this have to do with my CSA? Leftover turkey is wonderful in all kinds of dishes, and don’t you start thinking about tetrazzini. Although come to think of it, prepared with good ingredients, tetrazzini would likely be spectacular. Turkey is great in anything from soup to fried rice, but I used it here in lettuce cups using my CSA romaine. The lettuce cups are really healthy – gluten and dairy-free – and get a sweet and spicy kick from curry powder and dried cranberries.

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To make the turkey drumsticks:

 

Dry rub the drumsticks with a few tablespoons of salt, sugar, and dried sage. Let sit in the fridge overnight, tightly wrapped with saran wrap. The next day, let the drumsticks come to room temp and then bake in a hot oven at 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes until nice and crispy. Turn the oven temp way down to 250 degrees and continue to bake for a few more hours- they won’t dry out at this temp and with their juices sealed in- test with an oven thermometer if you’re unsure (leg meat should read 165 degrees). They should be done in 1 hour, but I let mine go for 3 hours and they were perfect.

To make the lettuce wraps:

Wash and dry a few large romaine leaves and set aside. Shred or chop the meat from 2 drumsticks and mix with a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of curry powder, 1 rib of chopped celery and 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries. Give the whole thing a stir, season if necessary with salt and pepper, and then pile into the romaine leaves, garnishing with a few fresh cilantro leaves.

And now that I’ve mentioned David Chang, I might as well fully admit to the fact that I made pork belly again. I’m pretty sure that cooking it twice in 10 days is as severe an offense as making banana cream pie twice in that same time period. I can’t help it, I’m completely addicted to it, and even worse, I’ve gotten my kids to love it too. Lauren was begging for pork belly last week with a slightly crazed look in her eye.

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dates 078

I was recently at the grocery store and spotted some fresh dates. I eat dried dates all of the time, my favorite being the dark Medjool dates that have a lovely caramel flavor. The first time I tried the fresh dates, they were bitter but still good – what I didn’t realize is that they benefit from a few days on the counter so that they become soft and chewy. I thought that my kids would love these. Sam’s reaction was both surprising and totally predictable – which makes no sense except that it does. So here we go, dates…

ME: Guys! I have something pretty special to share. What is this?

SAM: Is this the last mystery food ever?

ME: No, it’s not the last mystery food ever. What do you think that is?

EMMA: Juice and a vegetable?

ME: I’ll get you water.

ME: It’s not a vegetable.

EMMA: Fruit!

ME: Yes it’s a fruit. What kind of fruit is it?

SAM: I don’t know, but it’s squishy in some places.

ME: What do you guys think? What kind of fruit is that? Have you ever seen anything like it?

LAUREN: No.

ME: Should I open it up?

SAM: Wait, NO!

ME: What?

SAM: I want to guess what’s in it.

ME: Guess what color it is? OK. What color is it going to be inside?

EMMA: Blue.

ME: Blue? What do you think Sam?

SAM: The same color.

ME: You think it’s going to be the same color? Let’s see…

LAUREN: Wait, no!

ME: OK Lauren needs to guess. What is it?

LAUREN: A little lighter of a brown…

ME: OK. Here we go…

ALL: [GASP] WHOA!
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laurenandemma_FeedMeDearly

I try to avoid the “lately…in pictures” type of post because capturing a story is so important to me. There’s always a story, and one of the most joyous parts about writing this blog is getting to tell it.

But sometimes there isn’t a story. This week, we didn’t visit a Halloween Festival Megaplex Spectacular. We didn’t travel to an exotic foreign location with tall ships and Canadian beer. We stayed home, we nested, we ate some old-fashioned home-cooked food. I guess that’s a pretty good story after all.

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Chocolate croissants in the park….

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Blink and you’ll miss this speck of a park in Chelsea. Look for it and you might see little ones at play.

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Quiet moments…

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Wild moments…

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I’m in a rut. A dark, dank, no light at the end of the tunnel rut, and it all starts and ends with tomatoes. Other than the token tomato soup that I shared with you last week, I’ve gotten lazy with my tomatoes. Tomato salad, tomato salad, sliced tomatoes and salt (!), tomato salad. These are the confessions of a local food addict.

Box contents:

  • Tomatoes
  • Acorn Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Assorted Peppers*
  • Beets
  • Spinach
  • Leeks
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cippolini Onions

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Tomato salad with shaved zucchini, corn and parsley

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Tomato salad with beet green pesto vinaigrette, corn, arugula, and torn mozzarella

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Tomato salad with steamed broccoli, arugula, corn, and lemon yogurt dressing with za’atar

It sounds so ungrateful, because what’s not to love about these gorgeous salads? But I’m over it. I need to branch out. Give me a tart, give me a quiche, give me a flaky buttery crostata. I picked up more tomatoes in my CSA box on Saturday: Mark my word, you will not be seeing any tomato salads next week. As beautiful, health-inducing, and waistline-friendly as they may be, it’s time to pack them up with the sundresses and stow them away until next year.

Although this may seem like stream of consciousness, edit-worthy and destined for the delete button, I’ve left it in here to prove one point: that just because I cook some elaborate meals for our family each week, I still struggle with what to make. I get stuck in old routines, I defer to the dish of least resistance. Come January when a fresh tomato is but a fleck in my distant memory I’ll be full of ideas. This week, I’m running on empty.

Joining a CSA is wildly fun, but you end up getting a set of vegetables that you might not otherwise be in the mood for. Which I guess is a blessing in disguise because it forces me out of my comfort zone, and into the cookbooks that I love to collect and don’t always have time to read. So stay tuned for next week where I’ll hopefully do some creative things with lettuce and tomatoes. That involve neither bacon nor bread.

Let’s talk about the first cookbook that I checked out in detail: David Chang’s “Momofuku”. I’ll be honest, Rodney gifted me this book a few years ago and it went directly to the cookbook shelf to collect dust. I did flip through it briefly and thought to myself: Konbu? Dashi? Not happening.

Although I pride myself in taking risks with ingredients like Chermoula and Black Tahini, when you nudge me East of the Mediterranean, I panic.

Maybe it has to do with that time when I summoned the nerve to walk into an authentic Japanese grocery store in Midtown, saw not a lick of printed English and fled without purchasing my intended bag of Shiro miso.

But on impulse last week, I was shopping for short ribs at Whole Foods’ meat counter and the pork belly was calling to me. I try to buy organic and hormone-free meats whenever I can, and Whole Food always has a great selection. With no intended recipe in my head, I came home and wondered…. “who knows how to cook pork belly?”

“David Chang, that’s who!”

My subconscious is intuitive when it comes to food.

Out came the Momofuku cookbook. I brushed off the dust and flipped through to page 50 for belly directions. An overnight dry brine, and then an hour-long crispy-skin inducing roast at 450 degrees followed by a long slow roast at 250.

I won’t indulge you with any specific descriptions of what happened next but it involved a trail of gleaming fat on my cheek and pieces of charred bacon wedged under my fingernails. Appetizing, I know. But have you ever seen a dog attack a piece of meat when she thinks that nobody is looking?

Fortunately I was able to save most of the belly for other purposes, namely this super delicious pork belly Banh Mi sandwich. I ate it for lunch and then served it to Rodney for dinner that night. His eyes rolled into the back of his head, which I took as a positive sign.

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(that was mine from lunch)

(here was his from dinner right before the top layer smooshed everything down into one fantastic porky/salady mess of fabulousness)

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To make the pork belly:

Sprinkle a 2-lb piece of pork belly all over with 2 tablespoons each of salt and sugar, cover and place in the fridge overnight. Nestle the belly in a roasting pan and heat in a high oven (450 degrees) and roast fat side up for an hour. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees, basting occasionally, and continue to cook for another 90 minutes. Let cool, then slice.

To make the pickled cabbage:

While the pork belly is roasting, take a quarter head of red cabbage, core, and then slice thinly. Toss the cabbage in a bowl with 1 tablespoon each of salt and sugar, and 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar. Let the cabbage pickle on the counter, tossing every once in a while.

To make the banh mi:

Split a French bread roll in half, and squeeze a little may on each side (I prefer to use Kewpie mayo, a Japanese brand, but use whatever you have on hand whether it’s Hellman’s or homemade). On one side layer the majority of your vegetable ingredients- the pickled cabbage, sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots, and torn cilantro. Season this side with a touch of salt. On the other side layer your sliced pork belly, sliced radishes, and daikon sprouts (or shredded daikon / more radishes if you don’t have the sprouts available). Season again with a touch of salt. Finish the sandwich by squeezing a touch of lime over the whole thing and adding a few drops of Chili Lime Cholula or Sriracha (even Tabasco will work). Enjoy the best dang sandwich you’ve ever made.

But I didn’t want to stop there because directly opposite the recipe for pork belly was a recipe for pork shoulder which he uses for all kinds of preparations, including ramen.

There was a time when I thought that ramen meant a Cup-o-soup full of dried noodles and super salty broth. Which wasn’t entirely unpleasant (notwithstanding the searing post-consumption MSG headache), but if you’ve had real deal ramen made with pork stock….there’s nothing like it.

The great thing about cooking pork shoulder is that you’re left with a) a mound of perfectly shredded pork meat for our soup and b) a gigantic dinosaur-looking bone which you can use to make the stock.

So that’s what I did – dry-brined the shoulder according to Chang’s directions, and then roasted it at a low temp for close to 8 hours. I used the bone to make a pork stock overnight in the slow cooker, and the next day made ramen. Which isn’t a true replicate of Momofuku’s ramen because I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand (the konbu, the dried shitakes) but it was my version. Meaning to say a CSA vegetable-doctored Asian/Mediterranean hybrid that sounds weird but was really delicious. Feel free to add whatever vegetables that you have on hand, but my fridge was stocked with plenty of goods from my CSA box, along with some delicate daikon sprouts that I pick up weekly from my local market.

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To make the make the pork shoulder for the ramen:

Sprinkle a 3-lb piece of bone-in pork shoulder all over with 2 tablespoons each of salt and sugar, cover and place in the fridge overnight. The next day, pour off any accumulated juices and nestle the meat in a roasting pan. Roast at 250 degrees for 6-8 hours (I found that it didn’t really matter- Because I couldn’t attend to it when it was done cooking, mine probably cooked for 9 hours and was just fine). Let cool slightly, then shred, saving the bone for the stock. Also, save any fat and juices that have accumulated in the bottom of the pan in a mason jar- they’ll help flavor the stock. You can add a tablespoon of water to the pan to help deglaze and remove the stubborn pieces. This will make FAR more pork than you need for the soup, so feel free to use for anything else that you want – enchiladas? tacos? stew?

To make the pork stock:

Place the pork bone into a slow cooker, and add some vegetables – I added a chopped onion, 2 carrots peeled and chopped, 2 chopped stalks of celery, 2 bay leaves, and 5 peppercorns. (This makes a more Mediterranean-flavored stock since I wanted to use a versatile stock for other uses as well). Add 2 quarts of water, and set the slow cooker to low, cooking for 8-12 hours or over night. When the stock is done, strain out the vegetables.

Pull the mason jar of congealed pork fat from the fridge (mmmm, congealed pork fat sounds delicious, doesn’t it?) and scoop off the light-colored fat from the top. You can keep it if you’d like for other purposes- roasting potatoes, etc. Then scoop out the darker brown porky bits that are at the bottom of the jar and stir this into the stock for added richness. If you’re going to use the stock just for ramen, add a few tablespoons of soy sauce for color and added flavor.

To make the ramen:

Assemble your ingredients: I used a combination of sliced radishes, sliced green onions, sliced red cabbage, and daikon sprouts. Make sure that your pork is warm, and have some extra soy sauce and Sriracha on hand.

Cook your noodles in a large pot of salted water. I like to use Somen noodles, but you can use anything you’d like. While the noodles are cooking, cook your eggs to perfectly soft-boiled consistency and follow chef Chang’s recommendations to the letter: bring a pot of water to boil, add your room temp eggs, and then cook for exactly 5 minutes, 10 seconds. I now swear by this method- the eggs come out perfectly cooked. Run under cold water and peel.

When the noodles are done, ladle them into a large, flat bowl, and top with your ingredients- the radishes, cabbage, sprouts, pork, warm shredded pork, and the soft-boiled egg, halved. Season to taste with additional soy sauce and Sriracha.

Now from one cookbook to another: Michael Symon’s “Carnivore”.

I was a Michael Symon fan long before he first appeared on the Food Network as Iron Chef Symon. Michael Ruhlman had written about Chef Symon’s eponymous restaurant “Lola” in the book “The Soul of a Chef”. Ruhlman’s portrayal of Chef Symon was nothing short of infectious, and despite never having been to Cleveland, I immediately developed a legitimate crush on the bald guy with a big laugh and even bigger food.

Michael Symon came out with the book “Carnivore” two years ago, and I bought it immediately, eager to check out his recipes at home. The book has never disappointed, and it was the first resource I checked for some short rib inspiration.

Short ribs are a favorite Fall food, and the temperature doesn’t have to dip more than a few degrees south of 70 before I break out the cast iron Dutch oven. I used Michael Symon’s recipe for red wine-braised veal short ribs, which I swapped for your standard full-grown beef variety and scaled back for a moderate 5 ribs and 1 bottle of wine. (his calls for 4 bottles!)

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yellow cauliflower_FeedMeDearly

I wasn’t certain whether this cauliflower goes by the name of “orange cauliflower” or “yellow cauliflower” so I decided to look it up. Turns out that it has an interesting history involving Cornell University research and a mutant vegetable in Canada. If you want to learn more, check out the story on Saveur’s website. As for the results of our challenge this week? A cauliflower the color of cheddar cheese didn’t win any friends. Especially when one of the kids hates cheddar cheese. 

ME: Guys, I have something for you to try!

SAM: What is that?

ME: Orange Cauliflower. Yeah.

LAUREN: I’ve tried it before.

ME: Yeah? You have? When?

LAUREN: Yeah, you gave it to me one dinner.

ME: I did?

LAUREN: At New York.

ME: I don’t remember.

LAUREN: I tried it.

ME: Really?

SAM: Nooo I don’t like cauliflower!

ME: You’re just going to tell me what you think it looks like. Look how cute it is!

ME: So, you want a little piece. Here.

SAM: EWW!

ME: Look how cute it is!

SAM: It looks like a… Noo, I don’t like it.

ME: Why don’t you smell it?

LAUREN: It smells like air.

ME: What do you think it smells like, Emma?

EMMA: It smells like… like beets.

ME: Interesting. Do you want to touch it?

EMMA: Nooo.
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