spring CSA, week 10

(This is actually from last week; yes, I’m a week behind. But I’m making this week’s pickup tonight, so I figured I’d better get this one out before I had to do another two-week catchup post.)

Week 10 was a doozy. It took up most of our kitchen table.

spring CSA, week 10

We got kale, two shares of apples, a bunch of rainbow carrots, a head of Romaine lettuce, a bunch of radishes, three Vidalia onions, cucumbers, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest honey wheat).

The honey wheat was perfectly decent. I would ordinarily go for a more adventurous type of bread, but alas, if you get to the pickup site five minutes before closing, your bread choices are pretty picked-over. I don’t blame my fellow Miller Library CSA members — I go for the interesting breads first myself. This week maybe I’ll get there in time to get the Great Harvest parmesan sourdough, if they have it. Oh parmesan sourdough, tangy and chewy and shot through with rich veins of cheesy goodness, how I love you.

I am ashamed to say that most of this pickup is actually still in our fridge; we had a really busy week, full of yardwork and Mother’s Day activities, and so for most of the week we subsisted on leftovers and quick-prep food like salads, ramen, fried eggs with couscous, and sandwiches. (I did manage to cut and wash the romaine, thankfully.) On the bright side, the veggies still look great. And tonight is the last pickup of the spring CSA, so we’ve got a bounty of greenery to tide us over during the two-week break between the spring and summer CSA periods.

Alas, I really wanted to make more carrot green pesto from the carrot greens, but I think I may have waited too long with these; they were wilted and browning a bit last time I looked at them. Oh well, next time.

The flowers were not part of the pickup. Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, so I picked up this lovely bunch from the East Columbia farmer’s market for the kid’s daycare teachers. People, go to the farmer’s market at East Columbia on Thursday afternoons! It’s got some of my favorite vendors. I bought a tomato plant from Tomatoes Etc that’s actually supposed to do really well in a container, producing (they said) meaty little tomatoes the size of big grapes. We’ll see how much it likes the conditions on my patio this summer.

CSA catch-up post, weeks 8 and 9

It’s like I spend my time thinking of very little other than food, what we have, what we need, and what I can do with it, and yet I turn around and find that the food blog has gone neglected for weeks. How does that happen?

Quickly then, let’s recap…

spring CSA, week 8

Man, week 8 really made a beautiful-looking pile on my kitchen table. Three grapefruit, three beets with luxuriant (and tasty!) greens, a head of green leaf lettuce, a bag of onions, radishes with their greens (sharp and peppery when cooked; I love radish greens), six apples, three cucumbers, kale, spinach, eggs, bread (Great Harvest oatmeal this time), and this was a bonus week so we also got cheese, a lovely white cheddar.

I think we managed to eat everything from this week except the radishes (doing fine in the fridge so far) and one onion.

spring CSA, week 9

Week 9: even more green leaf lettuce, three grapefruit, green beans, potatoes, more kale, mushrooms, apples, carrots, eggs, and bread (Breadery sourdough). Generally when I see kale and potatoes, I make colcannon almost by reflex, but I think I overloaded my household with colcannon the last time I made it (we were eating leftovers for days).

But this was the week that I found out, to my delight, that the kid loves kale chips… both to eat, and to fling into the air like confetti. We had to have a stern talk about that.

meatless meal

Here’s a quick shot of last week’s meatless Monday meal: sauteed spinach with grilled mushroom and eggplant, tossed with a splash of soy sauce, served on a toasted hot dog bun that’s been spread with a layer of ricotta cheese. On the side: a bowl of chilled beet soup with a dollop of sour cream. We’ve been having more meatless meals these days, almost by accident; when you have this many vegetables to get through, you tend to make very vegetable-centric dishes.

Today so far has been another meatless day; for lunch I had a giant slice of delicious spinach-mushroom quiche, and that was after a breakfast of Deb’s amazing bran muffins. (With frozen berries baked into the middle, the muffins were a big hit with the kid, until he ran out of berries and demanded a “new one.” He was not impressed when I told him he had to finish his first. Life is tough for two-year-olds.)

Anyway, frozen berries are all well and good, but I can’t wait to try that recipe with strawberries; the strawberry harvest is just around the corner. Right around early-to-mid-May, I start daydreaming about strawberries all the time. It brings an extra bit of joy to spring, which is a delightful season anyway. I love being in sync with the harvest calendar; everything is at its freshest, and you really feel like you’re plugged into the world.

Oh, and today is the first day of the market at Miller Library! And then tomorrow there’s the next CSA pickup as well as the market at East Columbia, and then Friday the market at the hospital, and then Saturday the Old Town Market in Ellicott City will start up… I won’t be able to get to all of these, even though I want to, but it’s lovely to be surrounded by so many opportunities for fresh local food.

CSA catch-up post, weeks 6 and 7

We were out of town for the week 5 pickup, but we got back for weeks 6 and 7. I have to say, after eating out for a week, I was pretty happy to get to cook again.

Week 6: six apples (no idea what variety, but they were spectacularly delicious), green beans, Brussels sprouts, a head of romaine, potatoes, onions, kale, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest challah).

spring CSA, week 6

Week 7: multicolored Breezy Willow eggs for Easter, mushrooms, green beans, apples (not as good as last week’s, sadly), eggplant, cucumber, rainbow carrots, green leaf lettuce, red potatoes, and bread (Great Harvest parmesan sourdough).

spring CSA, week 7

The mushrooms and eggs went into Smitten Kitchen’s baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms dish, for Easter brunch. Green beans are disappearing quickly too, since apparently the kid likes having them (blanched, lightly seasoned) in his lunch thermos. When offered them at home, though, he refuses, saying “I eat at school.” Toddlers are weird.

dining in Vancouver BC

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to a) have family in the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada, and b) have the opportunity to visit them regularly.

As a kid I never found it odd that so much amazing Cantonese food was always available over there. As I grew older and learned more about the world, I definitely appreciated it. And now, as an adult, I actually have the nerve to get bored of days upon days of Cantonese feasting, and we’ve started to sneak out and avail ourselves of Vancouver’s other culinary delights.

feasting in Vancouver

Top and bottom left: a sample of the aforementioned Cantonese feasting, a lunchtime collection of everyone’s impulse orders at Old Buddies Seafood Restaurant (for dessert, a triple order of adorable steamed “Birthday Rabbit Buns”). Top right, a collection of Beard Papa cream puffs. Middle right, hot dogs and bags of fries from Japadog (and may I heartily recommend the Terimayo dog with the butter-and-shoyu fries? K preferred the shichimi-garlic fries but we sometimes disagree). And at the bottom right, a delicious selection of tacos from La Taqueria Pinche. The best ones in my opinion were the braised beef cheeks (for meat) and the refried beans (for veggie).

Man, I want to go back already.

(Fun footnote: our two-year-old was so enamored of the jellyfish entree at Old Buddies that it was almost all he ate for lunch. The next day, upon seeing the jellyfish tank at the aquarium, he exclaimed, “Yummy! I eat!” Fortunately there was enough ambient noise that he went mostly unheard.)

Kimco Bethany Seafood: crazy combinations

When we sat down at Kimco Bethany Seafood, I really had no idea what we were in for.

They welcomed us with cups of tea and tiny bowls of rice porridge. The Korean barley tea was great on a cold night – rich and dark, like toasted wheat bread. The porridge was very tasty, with flavors I didn’t quite recognize – dried fish? – but it was gone in just a couple of bites. Adorably, the spoons they provided had little paper envelopes over the bowls, to keep them sanitary.

We’d gone in thinking seafood bibimbap for dinner, but our eyes were caught by the sushi-and-sashimi combo. The small combo, the helpful waitress assured us, would be enough for two to share. (At $59.95, I thought, it had better be.)

It began innocently enough, with a sort of Korean twist on a bento platter: seaweed in a spicy red sauce, sliced sushi roll battered and fried, edamame, some sort of sliced dried starchy root vegetable (I think? Honestly, I have no idea, I’m sorry) and thick pieces of fish skin, fried crunchy. Before we’d had time to taste everything on the platter, two hand rolls arrived, seaweed cones perched in a little stand, filled with rice and fish and pickled vegetables, and the waitress encouraged us to eat those quickly, before the seaweed got mushy.

After that, the next round of dishes arrived in such a flurry that I’m unable to tell you what got there first. I think Korean meals just involve being surrounded by a number of little plates, and if the diners aren’t completely outnumbered by the sheer crowd of dishes before them, you’re doing it wrong. (nb: I am not Korean. I’m Chinese-American; this is a brave new world to me.)

There was creamed corn, but with huge corn kernels, and the cream had an interesting acidic tang. There were clams, on open shells, tasting bright and fresh. There was a bowl of steamed egg (always one of my favorite dishes) and one of burnt rice. There were cold knotted cooked scallions bearing a thick dollop of spicy red sauce. (Not a big fan of this one, mainly because my teeth couldn’t penetrate the thick knot of slippery fibrous scallion; I eventually chewed it enough to extract some flavor, and then eventually gave it up as a poor use of my time.) A dish of tasty noodle stir fry joined the crowd. And then an entire little fish less than a foot long, fried crispy from head to tail, arrived at the table. “I don’t know what this fish is called,” the waitress confessed as she set it down.

It didn’t matter what it was called. It was fantastic. K’s chopsticks broke through the crispy skin with a promising crunch, and uncovered meltingly soft flesh underneath. The fish had been seasoned spectacularly well, salty and spicy and delicious; each bite of crunchy, fried skin was incredibly savory, each morsel of tender white meat fantastically good. I spent half the meal gushing about that fish, even after we’d finished picking all the flesh off the bones and crunched the fins between our teeth. I may have said that its very existence on this earth was proof that God loved us and wanted us to be happy.* I did not shut up about this fish for quite some time.

*It should be noted that I am pretty much an atheist.

Sometime after the Fish of Divine Revelation, they brought us the sashimi platter and little bowls of rice. Up to this point, we’d had a pretty awesome meal, and I am sad to say that the tide turned a little bit. The tuna was great, dark and meaty on the tongue; the salmon was sweet, buttery, and melted in the mouth. But some of the other fish had obviously just been defrosted, and not all the way; a couple of slices were cold and grainy with ice crystals, and one piece was so partially-frozen that it even crunched between my teeth. We soldiered on, drenching the frozen bits in soy sauce, and I saved some lovely bits of fat salmon for last. But it did put a pall over the dining experience.

the crazy sushi-sashimi combo, in a series of pictures

When we’d had enough, the waitress showed up again… with a big bowl of hot, spicy tofu soup and even more panchan. There was cooked fish in the soup, which looked like the same kind of smallish fish that we’d eaten fried earlier. Although I’d previously felt that I couldn’t stuff much more in my stomach, I found that the tofu soup really hit the spot; I found myself putting away even more helpings of soup, tofu, and pieces of delectable fish.

We stumbled out of there stuffed to the gills. (After that much seafood, I could almost believe that I had gills.) It was a great experience. We’d definitely go back. But maybe not for the sashimi.

spring CSA week 4, and awesome lamb pot roast

Last week’s pickup: potatoes, green beans, apples (six Stayman, six “Red”), three beets, three grapefruit, mushrooms, eggs, a bag of spinach, eggs, bread (Breadery sourdough), and a bonus item. I picked apple butter. The other choices were horseradish mustard, salsa, or applesauce.

spring CSA, week 4

In previous years, Breezy Willow offered a bonus item (usually preserves, honey, or cheese) once a month, in place of eggs. This year it’s along with eggs. I’m pretty happy about this, because we really got in the rhythm of a certain number of eggs per week, and the monthly egg interruption threw us off a little every time. Also, yay for a true “bonus” item.

Last night I threw a bunch of CSA root vegetables in a Dutch oven with a big hunk of lamb from Wagon Wheel Ranch (unfortunately I didn’t look at the label, so I’m not sure what cut it was), some Guinness, and lots of stock and flavorings. It turned out phenomenal, so much so that I burned my tongue going back for second tastings straight out of the oven. Great for cold-weather cooking. Hey, if it’s going to snow outside (at the end of March!), I’m going to turn on the oven.

Snowy Sunday Lamb Pot Roast

A good hunk of lamb, bone-in, I think it might have been leg?, 4-5 lbs
1 gigantic carrot, cut into chunks
2 small yellow onions, chopped
5 stalks celery, chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
5 medium white or yellow potatoes, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cans of Guinness, about 28 oz
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup lamb stock, though beef or chicken would do fine
1 beef bouillon cube
generous pinch dried thyme
generous pinch dried rosemary
2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel, and season all available surfaces with salt and pepper. Sprinkle flour over entire chunk of lamb. Coat the bottom of a large Dutch oven with olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add the roast and sear each side for 4 to 5 minutes, or until nicely browned. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add more olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic, more salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until carrots are cooked but onions aren’t browned. Add the potatoes and Guinness and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, stock, bouillon cube, herbs, and bay leaves. Bring it back to a boil, put the roast back into the pot, and cover. Put the covered pot in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, turning the heat down to 250 F after about an hour, until the meat is nice and tender, with an internal temperature of over 140 degrees. (Mine was 200 degrees when I finally checked it, but it was almost meltingly tender.)

Cha Ya Asian: good food, bad menu

A friend had a hankering for Asian fusion cuisine, so even though it generally isn’t our thing*, we checked out the Cha-Ya Asian Bistro.

* I have nothing against Asian fusion, but generally when I want Thai, Chinese or Japanese, I go to places that specialize. Personally I believe “fusion” restaurants were intended for larger groups who can’t agree on a single cuisine, or maybe sushi fans eating out with non-sushi-lovers.

So I try to give menus at Asian places a pass when it comes to spelling, but I must admit that we had a bit of a laugh at the Vegetable section of the menu:

the vegetable section

The first item is “Crispy beef sautéed in chef’s special brown sauce.” In the Vegetable section? I suspect lazy copy/paste. And then the last item is “Vegetarian Pasta,” but your “pasta” choices are fried rice, pad Thai, and drunken noodle. I’ll give you pad Thai and drunken noodle as a very loose interpretation of pasta, but I think it’s stretching the definition just a bit too far to include rice.

But speaking of the rice, we got a side of egg fried rice for the two-year-old, and it was fantastic. The kid was a huge fan and ate a ton of it. The only issue was that they had no silverware he could use; they provided a tablespoon, but the bowl of the spoon was too big for his mouth. Then, when we asked for a smaller spoon, they came up with a long-handled teaspoon used for stirring bar drinks. The bowl of the spoon was a good size, but the kid could not deal with the very long handle. We ended up feeding him, which took time away from our meals. At one point I got tired of it and said, “okay, feed yourself. Just use your hands.”

The kid gave me a horrified look. “No! No use hands! Mommy feed myself!”

“Mommy feed… myself?” I ate a bite.

“No! Mommy feed MYSELF!” And he pointed into his open mouth.

So Mommy kept feeding him. We’ll work on proper usage of reflexive pronouns at another time. Just saying, if you’re going to have a whole kids’ menu section, it might be nice to also have kid-sized silverware.

Anyway, I got the Mandarin Pan-Fried Noodle dish (I think that was its name) and it was just what I wanted: a lot of thin egg noodles, fried crispy around the edges but still soft and dripping with sauce in the middle, piled high with chicken and vegetables. Others at the table got drunken noodles and green curry. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

When ordering, they’ll ask you how spicy you want it, on a scale of 1 to 5. Personally I was dubious over the fidelity of the spiciness scale – what do they do, just hold the bottle of hot sauce over the wok and give it one to five shakes? Or put in exactly one to five spoonfuls of chopped chili? Anyway, I ordered mine as a zero on the spiciness level, so I will never know.

I hadn’t been inside the restaurant since they renovated. They took over where the old coffee shop used to be, and now the place is dominated by a giant curving bar… at which no one was sitting, at least not between the hours of 6 and 7 on a Wednesday. The bar takes up the center of the restaurant, and then the outside areas are filled with tables, which is where most of the patrons were sitting. The service was attentive and courteous, and the servings are very generous. Next time we have a group of people who are indecisive about cuisine, I wouldn’t mind going there again.

banh mi at Café Au Lait

I’ll put the tl;dr up front here: We got banh mi from Café Au Lait, a nice little eating space tucked into an office building on Ridge Road. The banh mi were tasty, and they’re buy-5-get-1-free. But if we want banh mi again, we’ll call in the order well ahead of time, because it was the longest I’ve ever waited for sandwiches.

So I don’t know if Café Au Lait is usually slammed on Saturdays for lunch hour, but it was certainly slammed this past Saturday. We dropped by to order sandwiches for the family: five banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). Then the nice young man at the counter told us that banh mi were buy-5-get-1-free; would we like to order one more? We were more than happy to do so.

The young man at the counter told us that the kitchen had a lot of orders to deal with and that it would probably be a half-hour wait; would we like to go away and come back?

We were a bit surprised, as our previous experience with banh mi was with the Lee’s Sandwiches chain in southern California, where the time to get a banh mi was roughly comparable to how long it takes to get a sandwich at Subway. Still, we’d wanted to try the local banh mi for a while; we agreed that we would wait for them.

The place wasn’t that full, so they must do a bustling business in takeout orders. We bought a chocolate croissant to snack on (perfectly decent, though not French-bakery-crusty by any means), went over to Home Depot and ran a leisurely errand, and were back in about 40 minutes.

The sandwiches still weren’t ready. The young man was extremely apologetic and offered to throw in some bags of chips. We waited maybe five or ten more minutes, and then the sandwiches finally came out.

On the bright side, they were pretty delicious. We got five flavors: classic, roast pork, grilled pork, meatball, and lemongrass chicken. (We chose roast pork for our sixth baguette.) We were sharing the sandwiches among five adults, so we cut each one into four pieces. The taste varied dramatically depending on whether or not you got a slice of jalapeno pepper in your bite.

Each sandwich came encased in its own Styrofoam container. (I don’t know why they didn’t just wrap them in paper; it would have taken up less room. Maybe they were afraid the sandwiches would get squished?) They were served on a somewhat softer, doughier bun than I’m used to; classic banh mi is served on a baguette, but this was toasted ciabatta. It’s okay; it was still tasty. All of the meats had great flavor, although the grilled pork was somewhat unexpectedly spicy. The pickled sliced vegetables gave just the right sweet-sour crunch. I liked it a lot, although personally I’d go with less jalapeno.

So yeah, the banh mi was pretty good. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it still pretty good, and it’s certainly great to have banh mi right here in Ellicott City. I’m already looking forward to getting a coffee drink or a bubble tea next time I go. I’ll just be sure to call in my order ahead of time.

banh mi from Cafe au Lait
…we waited 45 minutes for this.

spring CSA, week 3

I made the week 3 pickup on Thursday, which actually was the first day of spring! It certainly felt like spring; the weather was nice, the sun was out, and some of the other CSA members had brought their kids to help pack up the veggies. Everyone was smiling; I think we were all glad to say goodbye to winter this year.

In the pickup: 3 lb potatoes, a head of cabbage, twelve apples (six Jonagold, six York), 1 lb spinach, bread (Great Harvest challah), 1 lb mushrooms, eggs, two large carrots, and three grapefruit.

spring CSA, week 3

I could have used the cabbage last week, but it’s all right, we’ll eat cabbage two weeks in a row. We ate out a lot this weekend (more on that later, maybe), so I didn’t get a lot cooked from the share; however, I did manage a scramble with the mushrooms and some broccoli and onion. I am drowning a bit in apples though. C cooked down hers in cinnamon and sugar; I’m thinking of giving that a try.

spring CSA, week 2

Well, it felt like spring yesterday, but now it’s snowing (again!), so I’ll try not to get too excited. When I brought the CSA share home on Thursday, it was getting pretty cold outside, but we had gorgeous sunlight coming in through the kitchen window.

spring CSA, week 2

In the pickup: 3 pounds of potatoes, six York apples, six Red Delicious apples, a pound of green beans, a pound of kale, a pound of Brussels sprouts, 2 pounds of onions, a bunch of beets, eight oranges, a dozen eggs, and bread (Great Harvest sourdough).

Potatoes and kale! It’s like the CSA knew that I wanted to make colcannon for St Patrick’s Day. I mashed in the sweet potatoes that we got last week, too, so it’s extra healthy with all the sweet potato nutrients. The kid wasn’t a big fan of the kale, though. Pity. On the other hand, he put away a surprising amount of cabbage.

(Aside: at two years old, the kid is a letter-of-the-law kind of guy. I told him there would be cupcakes for dessert, but only if he ate the last two bites of his dinner. He promptly gobbled up a bite, chewed it for a bit, and then spat it back out onto his plate. “Uh-uh. You have to swallow,” I said. The look he gave me clearly stated that swallowing hadn’t been part of the deal.)

For St P’s this year I boiled corned beef according to the package directions and threw in chopped cabbage for the last fifteen minutes or so, just to get it cooked but not overcooked. I made colcannon as above, and (for a timely birthday party) smitten kitchen’s Guinness chocolate cake, as cupcakes, with a cream cheese frosting (some with a dash of Bailey’s, some without). Turned out well, except I bobbled a pan of the cupcakes coming out of the oven, and the poor things were still hot and fragile and kind of collapsed in on themselves. Oh well, I frosted them anyway. When it comes to moist, tasty chocolate cupcakes, no one is terribly picky, least of all a two-year-old.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone!