Sunday, May 27, 2012

Union Square Farmer's Market & Radishes

I have a weakness for this farmer's market at Union Square.  I love the farmers who go there, I love the location, and I love the produce.  On a stressful day, going to the market is calming; something about all the colors, sounds, and smells comforts me.

The most important lesson my parents may have raised me with is that no matter how busy you are, there is always time for a real meal.  I don't eat pre-made meals or fast food because honestly, it's not that much more convenient than a real, healthy meal made at home with good ingredients and a little TLC.  How long does it take to wash and slice some vegetables?  Sauté up some greens?  Coddle an egg?  Almost as much time as it takes to go out and order a cheeseburger and fries.  But the time you put into making a good meal is rewarded when your body feels good after you eat, and you can smile with the knowledge that what you ate tasted good and was good for you.

I don't think I'm that picky of an eater, but I do have personal preferences, just like anyone else.  And personally, I've never been a huge fan of radishes.  They are spicy in a way that isn't that pleasant to me, and honestly, I don't know what to do with them besides eat them raw.  A quick search on the internet seems to turn up basic recipes of roasted or braised radishes, but whenever I have good, fresh produce, I don't like cooking it, especially vegetables and fruits.  They're better for you when they are raw.  And so, because my mother raised me to eat my vegetables, when I saw these beautiful spring radishes in the market for just $2 a bunch, I had to buy them.  I mean, I really had to.  I was out of vegetables.

Sure, technically now that I grocery shop for myself, I could just buy my favorite foods all the time and eat nothing else, but that's not a practical way to live.  I like asparagus, but I won't buy it when it's $5/lb, and I really enjoy steak, but I'm not going to pay $15/lb to eat it every weak.  When produce looks good and is sold a good price, I buy it.  That is what I mean when I say I like food.  I don't just mean I like certain foods; I mean I like food in general.  I enjoy experiencing flavors, and I respect good produce.  And that means when fresh spring radishes are sold at $2/bunch, I buy them.

So what do you do with radishes?

Well, when I had bought the radishes, the bunch was so fresh and beautiful, I thought it would be a waste to throw away the green tops, but I've never eaten them before, so I asked the farmer what he normally does.  He told me I could make a quick salad with the radish greens and an anchovy vinaigrette.  He also told me I could stir the greens into a soup.  Both ideas seemed interesting but it's been far too warm recently for soup and I don't generally keep anchovy products in my pantry.

In the end, after I brought them home and thoroughly washed them, I sauté-ed the radish greens with some butter and garlic.  That was truly delicious.  It tasted somewhat like mustard greens.
I ate the radishes rawsliced with some butter and salt.  This is how my mom and my grandmother always ate them when I was growing up, and so this is how I eat them now.  And despite the fact that I have never been that fond of radishes, the hot greens with the cold radishes made a lovely meal.  Such is the power of good produce.

**note: for people who really want to know what else you can do with radishes, I recently stumbled upon a recipe for radish chips, not unlike the idea of kale chips, in which radishes can be baked and dehydrated to form a tasty chip.  Apparently this works in both sweet and savory forms, but I'll have to try it and report back!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Raspberry, Orange Zest, and Ginger Scones

The first time I had a scone, I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, and it was from a mix that we bought at a "food lover's market" (Balducci's, for anyone in the DC metropolitan area).  They were raspberry scones, which I made with fresh orange juice instead of water.  I thought they were delicious.  Being Asian, my family didn't eat scones at home, so to me they were a revelation, a discovery.  There was something incredibly fragrant about them, and I loved their crumb and their texture.  My senior year of high school, my breakfast of choice was raspberry scones that I would buy from coffee shop close to my school.  They only cost 95¢, and I think I probably ate one every other day for a while.  I still remember sitting in my physics class and relishing each bite.

Somehow though, raspberry scones and I, we stopped seeing each other.  We didn't have a fall out exactly, but we grew apart. I went to college at a school that didn't serve raspberry scones, and I never put in time to make them again.  I was busy.  The years passed.  The memory of my love slowly faded.

And then one day last week it all came back to me.  I had a bag of freeze dried raspberries in my pantry that I had bought to eat with my yogurt, and I was having a craving for some sweet baked goods.  I thought about putting the two together.  Suddenly, I remembered raspberry scones in physics class.

This recipe is a very distant cousin of the one at North Fork Table and Inn, but I like my scones to be really fragrant, so I added vanilla, orange zest, and candied ginger, along with raspberries.  The ginger is optional, but I really think the combination of vanilla, orange, and raspberries is wonderful.  If you don't have freeze-dried raspberries, obviously fresh or frozen fruit works just as well.  If you do use freeze-dried fruit, just remember to tuck the dried raspberries into the middle of the scone to prevent them from scorching (as dried fruit will tend to do in the oven if left on top of goods that are baking).

I like my scones served with sweetened whipped butter.  It is the perfect breakfast.  To make my whipped butter, I just soften one stick of butter, add a generous spoonful of sugar, a little vanilla, and some fine grey sea salt and beat together the ingredients for a good five minutes or so until the butter has lightened to a beautiful white color and is fluffy and and delicious.  Anything that isn't eaten immediately can be refrigerated in little ramekins, covered with plastic wrap.  This keeps for about five days.  To use, just take out of the fridge.  You can let it come to room temperature/soften a bit (shouldn't take more than 10 minutes) or you can just use it as is.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cold Brewed Coffee

I try to keep my life simple.  I like my sleep, and so in the morning I keep my routine to a bare minimum.  I don't wear make up, I don't do much with my hair, I don't spend a lot of time picking out clothes, and I don't drink coffee.  I don't want to have to deal with the issue of coffee grounds, filters, hot water, and cleaning up.  I also don't own an espresso machine, Keurig, coffee maker, French press, or anything like that.

It's not that I don't enjoy coffee -- I actually think it's great when made properly (i.e. not Starbucks) -- I just don't find it to be worth the hassle.  Sometimes though, with my terrible sleep schedule, I feel like I need a cup of joe to start my day.  So one day I gave in, set my alarm 10 minutes earlier, woke up, fumbled with grounds, hot water, and a filter, was annoyed by the process and, ultimately, disappointed by the results.  It was simply awful.  I don't know if it's because I was impatient and didn't give the coffee enough time to "steep" (is that word only acceptable to use with tea?), but it was both weak and bitter.  I bought the exact same coffee my dad drinks at home (classic, French roast) and so I knew the problem wasn't the coffee, but rather my method of making my cup of joe.  But there has to be a better way to make coffee, without going out and spending $50 on a clunky machine.

Then I remembered something I had read once in the New York Times about cold brew coffee.  I googled it for the exact ratios and decided to to try the cold brew coffee method.  I prefer my coffee cold anyhow, so it didn't seem like I had much to lose.  I altered the ratios of coffee grounds to water just a bit and then gave it a go.

The process is very easy.  Simply combine  ⅓ cup coffee grounds with 1 ⅔ cup water.  It doesn't matter if the water is tepid or cold.  Let this sit for about 12 hours (though sometimes I leave it for a day and it doesn't affect things too much) at room temperature or in the fridge.  Strain through two coffee filters.  Refrigerate or drink.  For me, this makes 2 servings of coffee.  The coffee is concentrated enough that you can "dilute" it with ice or milk and it still tastes strong.  In the fridge, covered, it will keep for about 2-3 days before you start to lose the lovely flavor profile.

I know I said I don't normally drink this coffee with
milk, but I thought it made for a nice picture
For each of my cups of coffee, I found I barely needed a teaspoon of sugar to sweeten up a cup (normally I stir in about 4 spoonfuls of sugar) and I didn't need milk.  The cold brew method results in coffee that isn't bitter.  Instead, it is mellow, warm, almost chocolate-y in taste.  I really truly enjoy drinking it; so much so that I now make this every week or so and keep it in a bottle in my fridge so that it is always on hand when I want or need some coffee.  The method is convenient and simple, and it results in great tasting coffee.  Somehow this method of flavor extraction brings out naturally sweeter notes for a very different flavor experience.  The coffee is rounder, fuller on the tongue.  It is smooth.  It is exactly what I want in a cup of coffee.

Enjoy the flavor and the experience of a cup of coffee with none of the hassle.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Springtime Comfort Food - Coddled Eggs

Spring has sprung.  You know how I know?  Because asparagus has popped up at the local farmer's market.  I'm starting to see rhubarb in the stands again.  The parsley and chives I'm growing on my windowsill have started sprouting enthusiastically.

I judge the weather not on the skies outside, but on the produce that I can get my hands on.  And I am eagerly counting down until June when the farmer's market right across the street from me returns and I can get my fill of summer peaches and plums, local seasonal honey, and plump, ripe berries.  In the late spring and summer months I can completely understand how some people go on raw food diets.

But for now, it is still a bit chilly some days and rainy on others, and so it's not quite time yet to throw open the windows and let the sun in.

It is during these times of the year when I feel like light comfort food is the best.  It's no longer the weather for soups and stews, but it's not quite time yet for spring salads.  Instead, I say springtime is the time for coddled eggs.

Coddled eggs are lightly cooked eggs with relatively firm whites and runny yolks; they're much like a soft boiled eggs without the issue of the shell.  When you have fresh farm eggs this dish is exceptionally lovely because it allows the flavor of the eggs to really melt in your mouth, but even with standard grocery store eggs I love making this.

Now you can coddle your eggs in one of those teacup/ramekins made specifically for this purpose or you can poach your eggs in simmering water, but I like simplicity and I make meals for one, which means I don't find it worth it to pull out a pot and wait for water to heat up when I just want to cook one egg.  So yes, I use a microwave.

I always feel a little bit guilty when I admit it, but I enjoy eating microwaved eggs.  I know, this sounds awful.  The idea of "microwaved eggs" isn't often associated with good food in people's mind.  But if you do it right, microwaved eggs can be quick, easy, and delicious.  Because I'm not talking about the scrambled, puffed up, styrofoam-looking eggs that you can get when you just haphazardly toss an egg in a bowl and cook the bejesus out of it with radiation.  I'm talking about coddled eggs, gently cooked in milk, flavored with a little bit of garlic, chives, and black pepper, and sprinkled with a bit of black truffle salt.

The methodology is simple: pour about one-third of a cup of milk into a small bowl or ramekin.  Add a dash of garlic powder.  Microwave it for about 45 seconds, until you see it start to bubbling.  Be careful because milk will froth over if you heat it for too long.  Carefully crack an egg into the hot milk (do this at a low level so the egg doesn't splash in).  Microwave for 10 seconds.  Stir the milk around the egg gently.  Microwave for another 10 seconds.  Stir gently.  Microwave for another 10 seconds.  Stir gently.  After about 30-40 seconds of total cook time, your egg whites should start to solidify.  Your cook time will vary based on how powerful your microwave is and how runny you like your yolks.  I generally go with a cook time of about 35 seconds.  Add some freshly ground black pepper, minced chives, and black truffle salt.  Let this sit for one minute.  Trust me; it makes a difference.  Then, enjoy.

This is great with some lightly buttered toast, or on it's own.
It is so simple and easy, and it is the perfect comfort food for spring.

Note: because of the possibility of undercooking, I wouldn't recommend this dish to children, pregnant women, or individuals who are otherwise immunocompromised.  Or you could just make sure to use really fresh eggs.  Talk to a farmer at your local farmer's market!