ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends

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Mise en place- pasta with asparagus

Today was the first CSA delivery from Root 5 Farm. We got fresh asparagus. Definitely a day for Pasta with Asparagus.

The trick to pasta with asparagus is to build up of flavorful sauce to coat the pasta. Otherwise, the dish turns out kind of boring. I’m going to use leftover chives butter (green paste on the left), and chopped green onions (glass jar on the right). Additionally, we want some protein. So I’m adding tuna in oil. However, the tuna can overpower, so I drain off any extra oil or liquid. I also toss in the tuna at the very end so the flavor doesn’t spread around too much.

Not shown, but critically important, Parmesan cheese. The salty umami flavors complement the tuna and vegetables. I made Sam stop at the grocery to pick some up. Tip: use the vegetable peeler to get long strips that don’t melt into the background. 

Next year – I’ll be able to make pasta with asparagus hopefully from my own garden.


White beans and escarole with pasta.

The dinner board lists the veg on hand and the dinners we’ll make with it (I hope). I star the veg that’s going to be used in a specific recipe. FFYS means “fend for yourself”-and means that neither of us are availble to cook that night.

Each week, I strive to look over our store of vegetables and draw up a menu for our dinners. It helps me to focus my grocery and farmer’s market purchases, plus, as I’m walking home from work, I can go over the plans for dinner and be ready to prep when I walk in the door (or after Pidi and I get home from the Dog Park.) As you can see from the board, Sunday night’s dinner was supposed to be “white ends & pasta w/greens” and since it’s Sam’s day off work, he was planning on cooking. He asked me for the recipe, but I realized I had never written this recipe down anywhere. I put pen to paper (figuratively), so Sam didn’t have to develop his psychic abilities to cook recipes that I’ve made up and never written down…

Frisee-style Escarole (via OneDropDream) Escarole (Via

Escarole is a fleshy lettuce with a mild, bitter taste and is very similar (indistinguishable, I think) from endive. Sometimes, sadistic farmers grow “chicories,” blanched plants that are forced to grow into tight pointed heads. All of these veg – escarole, endive, chicories – are part of the family of Italian cooking greens. For people who don’t like cooked lettuce, think of fleshy Italian cooking greens more like spinach or kale – greens that we cook without batting an eyelash – instead of like lettuce.

Not knowing what to do with escarole, a few years ago, I turned to Farmer John’s The Real Dirt on Vegetables that recommended cooking escarole with pasta in olive oil with garlic, and to Alice Waters who has a recipe for greens and white beans in her Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook (repo@Serious Eats). I combined the two – because who doesn’t like beans and pasta?

White beans and escarole with pasta

  • 1 head of escarole (see the picture above for sizing)
  • 14.5 oz can of small white beans, great northern beans, white kidney beans or cannelloni*
  • 1 pound small pasta that cook up to be about the same size as a bean**
  • 3-4 garlic scapes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Shaved parmesan (optional)

*I’ve tried this with dried beans, and you need the thick bean broth from the canned beans to form the basis of the sauce. Don’t try it with dried beans.

**Ditalini is the perfect pasta for this dish since it cooks up to the same size as a bean, but it’s hard to find.  Alternatives are rotini, penne, cut spaghetti or elbow macaroni.


  1. Wash and dry the escarole and chop or tear it into 2″ pieces. Taste the core and make sure it’s not terribly bitter before including it.
  2. Mince the garlic scapes, omitting the tip of the scape, if dry, and the neck where the scape bulbs into a spade shape.


  1. Boil water with salt, and cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the scapes and cook for a minute until they’re soft.
  4. Add the escarole and turn in the olive oil to wilt. If it won’t all fit in the pan (often it doesn’t…) steam the greens by adding all of the escarole to the pan and 2 tbsp water. When it steams, cover the pan for 1-2 minutes until the escarole has wilted and is more manageable. Turn the escarole in the oil to mix around the flavor.
  5. Open the can of beans and pour the whole can, bean sauce and all, into the skillet. Bring the beans and greens to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the pasta is done.
  6. Before draining the pasta, reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. This will CYA if there isn’t enough bean juice to coat the pasta and you have to thin it out a little bit.
  7. If the skillet will hold it, add the pasta into the skillet and cook for another minute or two. Otherwise, return the pasta to the pot, and use the heat of the pot to dry off the extra moisture. Add the contents of the skillet and mix. If there’s not enough sauce, thin it out a bit with the reserved cooking liquid.
  8. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. If you like the dairy thing (this recipe is vegan up until this point), take the pan off the heat and stir in cream.
  9. Top with shaved parmesan, if you like the dairy thing… Parmesan is salty, so don’t over-salt the dish.

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Stuffed Chard

A few years ago, I tried to make sushi using chard leaves instead of nori. It was a complete failure, but what emerged was this recipe for stuffed chard.

Stuffed Chard

This recipe makes 8 chard rolls  (4 servings) stuffed with creamy rice.

  • 8 large (about a foot long) pieces of Swiss chard with stems and leaves
  • 8 slices of ham
  • 8 slices of provolone cheese
  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • 4 tender aromatics (ramps, green onions or green garlic)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Cook the rice – You’ll have to look elsewhere for directions because I use my rice cooker.

Prepare the vegetables. Wash the chard well and dry in the salad spinner. Lay each piece on the cutting board and make a V shaped cut to remove the stem (See picture). Dice the stems. Set the leaves aside. Similarly, wash and dry the aromatics, and dice the leaves and stems.

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a small skillet or saucepot over medium heat. Sauteé the chard stems and aromatics until soft.

Off the heat, add rice to the sauteed greens, along with an additional 2 tbsp butter and cream. Mix well using a folding motion (to not break the rice grains) until the rice absorbs the additional fat and moisture. The rice should stick together, not be separate grains. (Think sushi rice, rather than Uncle Ben’s.) Add pepper and salt. Don’t skimp on the salt or else the rice will taste boring.

Assemble the Stuffed Chard:

If your chard is very fresh and crisp, like in the picture above, microwave each leaf for 5 to 10 seconds to soften it and make it easier to roll.

Lay the chard leaf on your work surface and close the hole from the stem by crossing over the two “lobes” that were on either side of the stem.  Lay a slice of provolone centered on the leaf. Lay a slice of ham centered on the chard leaf. Using an ice cream scoop, #6 disher or 1/2 cup measure, mound 1/2 cup of rice on the center of the provolone. Starting with the chard, gently roll the chard, ham and provolone around the rice. Add to a 9×9″ glass baking dish with the seam side down. If the roll is wider than about 5″, tuck the ends into the rice.

Repeat these rolls, arranging them 2 across in 4 rows in the glass baking dish. Add 1/2 cup white wine to the baking dish. You can add 2 tbsp melted butter if you’re not watching calories. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 8 minutes on high, then for 8 minutes on 50% power.

Optional: If you really like cheese, take the dish out of the microwave, top with cheese and broil it (6″ from the broiler) for 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and browning.

Serve two rolls per serving, topping with liquid from the bottom of the dish as a sauce.

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Orange Hoisin Tofu

My photography leaves much to be desired. This dish was not as orange as this photo makes it out to be.

My photography leaves much to be desired. This dish was not as orange as this photo makes it out to be.

The recipe for tonight’s dinner we made up from scratch. We had stuff around the house to make stir fry, but we didn’t quite know how to flavor it. Sam wanted lemon, but I wasn’t in the mood for something tart. By coincidence, we had bought a jar of orange marmalade at the COOP yesterday. TA DAA! A nice complement to hoisin sauce.

In addition, this recipe illustrates one of my favorite cooking techniques – velveting. I learned this technique from the Cooks Illustrated recipe “Marinated Velveted Chicken Stir Fry” from May 2004. Velveting is a common technique used in Asian styles of cooking, but somehow Americanized versions of Asian recipes morphed into “breading.” Take the basic Chinese restaurant-style of preparing sweet and sour chicken: pieces of chicken are dipped in batter and deep fried, producing a breading that soaks up the sweet and sour sauce. Velveting is the same principle, but doesn’t involve the deep frier and produces (I think) a better coating on the chicken (or tofu, in this recipe). In general, velveting involves tossing uncooked meat or tofu in a mixture of oil and cornstarch, coating the meat in a very thin batter-like coating. The meat or tofu is then cooked in a hot pan with very little oil, producing a coat of partially-cooked cornstarch around the meat or tofu. The meat or tofu stays moist because the coating keeps the meat from coming in direct contact with the pan.  Then a thin sauce is added to the hot pan, and the sauce combines with the uncooked cornstarch to make the sauce thick and the meat coating “swollen” and rich-tasting. The end product is similar – tender pieces of meat with a thickened sauce. I make most of my stir-fries using this technique. Caveat: it doesn’t work well with fatty beef  – the fat makes the coating come off.

Orange Hoisin Tofu

  • 5 carrots, julienned
  • 1/2 head napa cabbage, stems and leaves separated, cut into 1cm shreds
  • 1 block firm tofu, pressed. cut into 1cm x 1cm x 5 cm strips
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp orange marmelade
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • vegetable oil for stir frying

Mix cornstarch, vegetable and sesame oil in a large bowl. Add tofu strips and gently toss to coat.

Heat a nonstick pan on medium-high heat. Add a small amount of vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil shimmers, but not smokes, add the tofu in a single layer. (You may need to cook the tofu in two batches.) Don’t shake the pan around – just let one side of the tofu get nicely browned. Methodically turn all of the pieces of tofu to the second side, and again leave the pan alone and let the second side cook. I know this doesn’t seem very stir-fry like, but it’s important to evenly cook the tofu so the breading sticks. If you’re more patient than I am, you can cook the other sides of the tofu, but I usually only cook 2. Put the tofu into a bowl and set aside.

Add a small amount of oil to the hot pan, again swirl to coat and wait for the oil to shimmer. Add the carrots and the napa stems. Toss in the pan to cook about a third of the way to done. Add the cabbage leaves. Splash the vinegar into the pan and QUICKLY cover with a lid. This steams the cabbage leaves. Leave the lid on for a half a minute, then remove and toss the vegetables to spread around the vinegar. When the vegetables are about halfway cooked, tender but still firm, transfer into a bowl and set aside. They’ll keep cooking in the bowl, so pull them off early… Mushy vegetables are yucky in stir fry.

Now to build the sauce. Add a small amount of oil to the hot pan, but leave it in a puddle. When the oil shimmers, pull the pan off the heat. Turn the burner down to medium-low. Add the ginger and garlic into the oil and stir around until everything smells good – 30 seconds maybe? With the pan still off the heat, add the hoisin and marmalade and mix together. Return the pan to the heat (now on medium-low) and let the ingredients cook together until bubbly – a minute or two. Add the chicken stock and stir. Bring the sauce to a simmer.

This is based on this recipe making 2.5 servings (two dinners and one half-sized lunch).

This is based on this recipe making 2.5 servings (two dinners and one half-sized lunch).

Once the sauce is simmering, add the tofu. Gently stir the tofu and sauce to coat all of the sides of the tofu. Bring the sauce back to a simmer – the sauce should thicken slightly. Once the sauce has thickened, add the vegetables and gently stir to coat the vegetables with sauce.

(As a sidenote, until I wrote this post, I thought it was spelled “marmelade.” Learn something new every day!)

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Mushroom Week Day 4: Mushroom Burgers

Mise En Place... with a bit of tea and snacking along...

Mise En Place… with a bit of tea and snacking along… Annotations made with Skitch.

EDIT: There’s pictures now… Now I can only apologize for  the lack of a final picture of a cooked burger. 

So, I’ve found there’s two types of “mushroom burger” – the first is a portobello cap between a bun – a grilled mushroom cap sandwich, as it were. The other is macerated mushrooms with other stuff, made into a patty, and eaten between a bun. This recipe the latter type. But, since it’s a Cooks Illustrated recipe (yet again!) there’s a LOT more to it.

Disclaimer: I didn’t do much of the cooking tonight. Sam had the day off, so he did 95% of the cooking. My contributions were: microwaving frozen peas, opening a can of corn, microwaving said corn, and toasting burger buns. So much of this post is based on Sam’s narrative of making of mushroom burgers.

As an aside, all Cooks Illustrated recipes are sometimes more complex than they need to be… This is the extra work the writers at Cooks put into developing recipes that are reliable, not simple. Cooks is NOT concerned with novice  chefs that can’t read a recipe. They expect you to know your way around your well-equipped kitchen. That being said, all of the reliability of their recipes comes with a trade off. Sometimes the steps seem completely unnecessary and pointless. (note my discussion about rehydrating porcini mushrooms from Tuesday) But, when I’m cooking one of their recipes, I follow their instructions religiously.

Onto the mushroom burgers (So says Sam)… Sam doesn’t think this recipe made a “mushroom burger,” just a really good “veggie burger.” There wasn’t enough mushroomyness for him. In the recipe, the mushrooms were only one of four main components. The recipe called for  lentils, bulgur wheat, and pakno breadcrumbs, with mayonnaise to bind it together. So the overall impression was not “mushrooms” it was “patty of stuff.” We brainstormed how to make the whole thing more “mushroomy” and the only good idea we could come up with was to use dried shiitake mushrooms ground to a powder as a binder and a way to absorb more moisture. I also though about a “stuffed mushroom burger” where a portobello cap was grilled, then stuffed with mushroom filling and finished under indirect heat, and served on a bun. It would be a hybrid of the mushroom cap sandwich and the veggie burger.

So they’re a time-consuming but tasty substitute to Gardenburgers. We’ll have to do some tests to see how well the formed patties can freeze. Having these on hand in the freezer would make me more likely to cook them again. I’ve come to expect veggie burgers to be a quick dinner, not a 45-minute prep that required the food processor.

Sorry for the lack of pictures – I didn’t take any since I wasn’t cooking. There’s a few pictures hiding on the actual digital camera (I take all my photos on my iPhone), but I don’t know how to get to them…

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Mushroom Week: Day 2 Mushroom Ragu

Mushroom Ragu. Fan-stupid-tastic.

Mushroom Ragu. Fan-stupid-tastic.

Of all of the recipes I have ever cooked, this is the best. There have been recipes that are easier (mapo tofu), that I make more frequently (pasta primavera), that I save for special occasions (tonkatsu), or that I work hard to enjoy the indulgence (e.g. calzones). This recipe tastes the best, cooks the fastest, and is the most reliable. The whole impetus of Mushroom week was the mushroom and wild rice soup from last night, plus my LOVE for this recipe. I hope everyone tries it out.

You’ll find porcini mushrooms at high-end grocery stores, the internet or mail-order. Give them a smell, if you can get into the packaging. They should smell strong of earth and woods.

This is also another recipe that would be easy to convert to vegetarian or vegan. Substitute chicken broth for mushroom or vegetable broth (or water…) and either omit the pancetta or substitute some other faux-meat. If you do omit the pancetta, add extra olive oil (a tablespoon maybe?) and cook the tomato paste (step 2) until it is very brown, but not burnt. This will make sure there are lots of interesting maillard reactions to produce meaty flavors. You’ll be happy to give it the extra minute or two.

I want to emphasize how important it is to rinse and strain the porcini mushrooms. They come dried and there’s always some grit in the dried mushroom. This recipe reconstitutes the mushrooms in chicken broth to form tasty mushrooms, and a VERY rich flavorful broth. It may seem unnecessary to pick the mushrooms out of the broth with a pair of forks, or to filter the broth through a coffee filter, but DO IT. These steps make sure there is no grit left in the mushrooms or the broth. Grit will RUIN this recipe.

The first time I made this recipe, I totally skimped on the de-gritting of the porcini. I just dumped the mushrooms through a wire strainer over a measuring cup, transferring all of the grit into my recipe. It was not good, let me tell you…

Mushroom Ragu

Serves 4

Mise en place for Mushroom ragu. From top left: porcini mushrooms, pancetta, crushed tomatoes, parmesan cheese, spaghetti, portobellos, chicken broth and a bowl holding the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and tomato paste.

Mise en place for Mushroom ragu. From top left: porcini mushrooms, pancetta, crushed tomatoes, parmesan cheese, spaghetti, portobellos, chicken broth and a bowl holding the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and tomato paste.

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed well
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 oz pancetta, cut into 1/2″ pieces (substitute country ham or thick-cut bacon just fine. Don’t substitute proscuttio.)
1/2 pound (2 large) portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, but into 1/2″ pieces.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves (we used dried)
14.5 oz can of whole tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti
grated pecorino Romano cheese (I substituted parmesan because I needed parmesan for another recipe I’m cooking later this week.)

1.  Place porcini and broth in a small microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife.  Microwave on high power 1 minute, until broth is steaming.  Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes.  Lift mushrooms from broth with fork and finely chop.  Strain broth through fine mesh strainer lined with a large coffee filter into medium bowl.  Set aside mushrooms and broth.

2.  Heat pancetta in 12-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until rendered and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.  Add portobellos, chopped porcini, olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, and rosemary; cook, stirring occasionally, until all liquid has evaporated and tomato paste starts to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add reserved chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, and their juices; increase heat to high and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  While sauce simmers, bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large dutch oven.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook until al dente.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, and return to pot.  Add sauce to pasta and toss to combine.  Adjust consistency with reserved pasta water and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve, passing pecorino separately.

Per Serving (with no added cheese):
Calories: 641
Total Fat: 25.1 g
Sodium: 715 mg
Carbs: 74.3g
Protein: 28.4g