Monthly Archives: May 2010

Veggie Box

I love Fridays.  Yes, I know it’s Sunday today, but I’ve had a busy couple of days and it’s taken me a while to post this.  I love Fridays because every Friday around 2pm, a man rings my doorbell and gives me a big box full of fresh veggies.  I take it upstairs into my kitchen and immediately unpack it to see what awesome presents I got.  This week I got:

– green beans
– onions
– sweet potatoes
– potatoes
– cauliflower
– carrots
– avocados
– tomatoes
– broccoli
– zucchini
– brussels sprouts
– red capsicum
– button mushrooms
– pumpkin
– leek
– and inexplicably, a tin of black bean soup

I’ve tried getting a veggie box before, but it didn’t really work for me – it was a local co-op scheme, which I’m all for, but there wasn’t much variety in the offerings, and transporting a big box of veggies without a car was a little more than my arms (and shoulders, and back) could manage.  But I was reading back through the archives at Where’s The Beef, and I was inspired to give to give the box another go.  So I hopped over to Green Line Organic to check out their boxes.  I figured with free delivery on the first box, it was a pretty risk-free investment, so I jumped in with a $35 box of the week.  There was lots of variety, but heaps of fruit.  It was amazing fruit, sweet and delicious, but I prefer much veggies to fruit, so I switched to the $40 veggie box for my next order (I might go back to the fruit & veg mix in summer, though).  I’ve been getting the veggie box for a just over a month now, and I love it. The $40 box is way too much for me to get through in one week (even with some help from Awesome Housemate and The Socialist), so I now have a really good stock of freezer meals for busy days.

My main reason for wanting to get a veggie box was that it would be a time saver – between a full-time PhD, a part-time job, two blogs, a social life, a relationship, writing, sewing, and everything else that goes into making a life, I was struggling to get regular shopping done, which meant I never had food in the fridge, and ended up eating heaps of take-out.  Getting the veggie box means I cook more often and more creatively.

I was worried there wouldn’t be much variety, but there’s heaps.  I was worried the whole box would be full of things I don’t like, but that hasn’t been the case at all.  There was a fairly solid run of cabbage and celery, neither of which I’ve cooked with much in the past, but it’s been a great creative challenged me to cook things I normally wouldn’t (this okonomiyaki, for example, was an excellent use of cabbage, and I’m planning to make these spring rolls very soon).  But I requested a break from cabbage and celery for a bit, and sure enough, there’s none in this week’s box.

Mostly, though, I was concerned about the lack of control – that I couldn’t just decide on a recipe and make it, because I’d have all these other things I’d already bought that I had to use first.  But that hasn’t been a problem either – in fact, what it’s done is sent me looking for recipes for things I have, and I’ve discovered all sorts of new things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.  It’s changing the way I cook, eat, plan, and think about the daily work of feeding myself (and a few others).  I’m quite fascinated by the management and meaning of eating – what we do, how we do it, why we do it that particular way, what influences us…I can see some food theorising in my academic future, for sure.

I try to follow this advice from Limes & Lycopene on how to use up a veggie box, but I’m not always so good at it – I tend to get more excited about substantial veggies like potatoes and pumpkins and want to cook those up first, leaving the greens til later.  It’s not a great strategy given that greens don’t keep as well as potatoes, but I have been super-impressed with how well the produce has held up – a bag of mixed salad leaves has lasted just over a week so far, and I’ve only had to pick out two or three bits that are starting to yellow, I’ve got zucchinis that are two weeks old in the crisper, and they’re still looking perfect – the quality is far superior to supermarket stuff (it’s even better than my local greengrocer), and the flavour is just so good.  Whatever the benefits of organic food, environmental, health or otherwise, it’s the flavour that ultimately convinces me.

Pickled Ginger Red Cabbage

I am, in general, a bit of a pickle fan.  But I’m also a bit picky about my pickles – I don’t like the flavour to be too harsh, and I think the pickling or the pickle should add something that the fresh vegetable doesn’t offer.  This pickle certainly does that – what if offers is a fantastically intense ginger flavour and a gorgeous gem red colour.

I originally got this recipe from a cooking class back when I worked at the Belconnen Markets in Canberra – but I can’t remember whose class it was, and the recipes sheets don’t have any names on them, so I’m afraid it will have to go uncredited for now.

This photo does no justice to the colour.

Pickled Ginger Red Cabbage

1/2 red cabbage
3 teaspoons sald
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons very finely chopped or shredded ginger (I used about twice this, since I was basically going for cabbage that tasted like pickled ginger)
1/2 – 1 small red chilli, thinly sliced

Shred the cabbage as thinly as you possibly can.  Toss with the salt and place in a large colander sitting in a bowl.  Cover with a plate and then weight the plate with something heavy (tins will do).  Leave to drain at room temperature for around 3 hours.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, ginger and chilli until the sugar dissolves.  Add the cabbage and toss well to combine.  Transfer to an airtight container and chill, stirring occasionally, for at least 8 hours.

Keeps for several weeks in the fridge.

Tempeh San Choy Bow

I love this weather.  I find the first snap of cold refreshing, invigorating, energising.  I walk faster, I talk faster, I’m more awake and alert.  I find myself more engaged in my life, and particularly in cooking.  I’m not particularly interested in salads in this weather, though, so I set to thinking up another use for the iceberg lettuce that’s been sitting in my crisper.  I thought about the lettuce soup my (stereotypically arrogant and terrifying French) boss used to make at the cafe I worked in when I was 17 (my first job).  It was a lovely soup, but I can’t quite bring myself to cook iceberg – I love the crunch of it, the freshness.  So I goggled for recipes, and eventually I settled on San Choy Bow.  I love San Choy Bow!  And I almost never see veg versions anywhere, so I figured I’d make it for myself!

This is a totally un-authentic recipe that I made up as I went, but goodness it was tasty!  (Sorry about the terrible picture – I was impatient to eat!)

Tempeh San Choy Bow

Peanut Oil
1 pkt tempeh, minced super fine
1 onion, minced super fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 chillies, minced or 1-2 tsp chilli paste
good splash soy sauce
good splash veg oyster sauce
good splash rice vinegar
1 carrot, minced
1 stick celery, minced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
4 iceberg lettuce leaves

Heat the peanut oil in a pan over medium-high heat.  Add the minced tempeh and fry, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onion starts to soften.

Stir in the chilli, soy sauce and oyster sauce, ensuring all the tempeh is coated.  Add the carrot, celery, and spring onion and fry for few minutes, until the mixture is quite dry.

Spoon mixture into the lettuce leaves, fold up to eat, and enjoy!

Soba Noodle Salad

I was looking for something light and nourishing for dinner the other night, and came up with this yummy soba noodle salad (based on, oh, a thousand recipes around the place).  It’s a great combo of noodles, steamed greens, fresh crunchy cucumber, with some bite and tanginess from the picked ginger and the lime-heavy dressing.

Soba Noodle Salad

200g Soba Noodles
1 bunch bok choy
1/2 lebanese cucumber, cut into ribbons
1 shallot, finely sliced
Pickled ginger to taste

Dressing:
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp sesame oil

Cook the noodles according to packet directions.

Mix all dressing ingredients together until well combined.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

Wash the bok choy, and separate the green leaves from the white stems.  Steam the stems for around 2 minutes, then add the leaves for another minute.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and toss with dressing.  Serve.

Super easy, and super yum!

Okonomiyaki

I’ve had half a cabbage from my veggie box sitting in the fridge for the last week, waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.  It’s not a vegetable I cook with a lot, and it wasn’t I was reading about Cindy & Michael’s Japanese adventures that inspiration struck.  But it was worth the wait, the answer was perfect: Okonomiyaki!

Okonomiyaki is usually described as Japanese pancake or Japanese pizza, but I think it bears a closer resemblance to bubble and squeak.  And I love bubble and squeak.

I googled some recipes to get a basic idea, and then proceeded on my merry way.  I was a bit worried once I’d made the mix – it turned out pretty light on the batter and looked like it wouldn’t hold together:

I pressed on, certain that even if it didn’t turn out pretty, it would still be a tasty mess of bubble and squeak.  But in the end it came out kinda pretty.  At least, it wasn’t a mess:

Delicious!

Okonomiyaki

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 egg
enough water to make a runny batter
half a cabbage, finely shredded
lots of veggies, finely shredded (I used carrot, zucchini and onion)

To serve:
Okonomiyaki Sauce (I used Vegetarian Oyster Sauce)
Japanese Mayonnaise

Measure the flower into a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg.  Mix with a fork to combine.  Start adding water a little at a time until you have a smooth, runny batter.

Mix in the veggies, ensuring they’re well coated.

Heat a little oil in a large, non-stick fry pan over medium heat.  Add about half a cup of the mixture (depending on the size of your pan).  Press together and neaten the edges with spoons.  Cook for 5-10 minutes per side, flipping once it’s cooked enough to hold together.

To serve, drizzle with sauce and Japanese mayo, and eat piping hot!

I made up a big bunch and put them in the freezer for quick meals – they do very well in the sandwich maker for a few minutes.

Minestrone

Oh hello winter!  I am so glad you’re here at last.  Winter, with your snugness and layers and capes.  Winter with your warm, comforting food, your long cooking times, your semi-hibernation.  Winter with your delicious minestrone soup, oh yes, I am happy to see you.

I know not everyone is as pleased to see winter as I am, but regardless of your feelings on the weather, this is one of the tastiest soups I’ve ever made.  I’m not sure what made it so different, but it was good.  Really good.  I was surprised by how good it was.  Maybe it was the organic veggies (I’m convinced they really are tastier). I was basically looking for a way to use up my veggie box veggies, and I’m so glad I went with soup.  Make it in big batches and freeze the leftovers (if they last long enough).

So Glad It’s Winter Minestrone

olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
a small sprinkle of dried herbs like thyme, tarragon, oregano, etc
2 tins beans (I like white beans but use your favourite)
2 tins tomatoes, chopped
2-ish cups of water or stock
lots of veggies, chopped (I used potatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potato)
Salt & pepper

Optional, to serve:
Sour cream
Grated parmesan
Extra olive oil

Sauté the onion, celery and carrot in a little olive oil until they begin to soften and the onion becomes translucent.  Add the bay leaves and herbs and stir for a few minutes until fragrant.

Add the beans and the tomatoes.  Start adding the veggies, beginning with those that required longest cooking time first.  Add the next vegetable as the previous one starts to soften.

Once all veggies are added an cooked (don’t overcook!), season with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle into big bowls, drizzle with a little olive oil, and top with sour cream and grated parmesan (optional, and vegan if you leave these out or substitute them).  Best served with a nice thick slab of sourdough and eaten beside the heater.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

I adore gnocchi.  I haven’t, however, had much success with making it.  I’ve tried the potato variety (my favourite), and ended up with a pile of slimy mush.  I’ve tried semolina, and ricotta, and not done much better.  But I recently found myself with a bunch of spinach which was rapidly approaching the point where I’d have to use it or loose it to the compost heap in the sky, so when I turned up this recipe, I decided to give gnocchi another go.

The recipe was kind of a disaster.

I followed the instructions exactly (unusual for me) and the mixture was super-wet and sticky and not going to form into any kind of shape at all.  So I added a little flour, and kept adding until, about 1 1/2 cups later, I had a mix that was (just) holding together.

Then I tried to shape it with just lightly floured hands, but that just left me with sticky mix all over the place, and not the nicely torpedo shaped dumplings I was after.  In the end, I simply dropped spoonfuls of the mix onto a floured bench and rolled them from there, which worked just fine.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

1 bunch English spinach
500g ricotta
100g of finely grated parmesan
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain flour
a pinch of grated nutmeg
salt
pepper
2 tblsp butter
10 sage leaves
Extra parmesan, to serve

Wash the spinach well.  Pile it into a large saucepan with just the water on the leaves, cover, and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, until wilted.  Cool slightly, then squeeze out as much water as possible.  Chop finely.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except butter and sage to form a soft dough.  Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a well-floured surface, roll in flour and shape into long sausages.

Cook in batches in a large pot of boiling salted water.  They will only take a few minutes and rise to the surface when ready.  Partly inspired by this recipe for pan-fried gnocchi and kale, I decided to fry my gnocchi lightly once they were boiled, for a bit of colour and to firm up the texture (they were still very soft).

Meanwhile, cook the butter and sage leaves in a pan over low heat until the butter is brown and nutty.

To serve, spoon a little of the butter over the gnocchi, and top with parmesan and fresh black pepper.  Delish.

Awesome Housemate declared that if you served this to someone in a fancy restaurant, they wouldn’t complain.  I’m not quite so taken with them, but I am back on the gnocchi-making wagon, and will definitely be giving those soft, amazing potato dumplings a go soon.

I had the leftovers the next day with a spicy tomato sauce, and I think that was even better.