Monthly Archives: June 2009

Cabbage & Potato Gratin

The CSA delivery this week contained, among other things, a big, bright green napa cabbage. Slightly overwhelmed by the seemingly vast quantities of various greens in the fridge, I turned to Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, a book that my mom got me a while back and that I liked just fine at the time, but that has become a beloved daily reference for me since the onset of CSA season.

In it, I found a recipe for cabbage and potato gratin with sage. Sounded good. I picked up some gorgeous little yukon golds at the greenmarket and got to cooking. I changed the recipe slightly in that it called for savoy cabbage and I used napa, and it called for 3 eggs and I did not have them, so I made a roux instead and threw in a little wine for good measure, and I tripled the garlic, because I do not understand recipes that call for one clove of garlic, and I used super aged gouda instead of parmesan, because I had some that was on the verge of getting crusty. Lastly, I sprinkled some cheddar and bread crumbs on top, because a crispy, cheesy topping makes any savory baked dish better. You know it’s true.

I didn’t snap any photos of the process, even though I thought the various shades of greens and the creamy potatoes were lovely. I didn’t take any pictures, because I did not anticipate this dish being worthy of documentation or anywhere near as good as it was: comforting, savory, not too heavy, a complete meal in one big pan. You should make a cabbage and potato gratin at your earliest opportunity. Rustle up your favorite potato gratin recipe and swap out half the taters for cabbage cut into inch wide ribbons and parboiled and gently wrung out. Find a way to work in some sage and garlic cooked in butter. You will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts.

Now off to bottle up that cream ale. It is long overdue…


Peas and Prayer Flags

My mom’s and my biennial garden tea party took place last weekend. My momma would like me to post recipes here for everything that we produced for said party, and that might happen gradually over time. There will certainly be a post on the clotted cream when the next attempt happens in a few weeks. We did a lot of baking and preparing, samovar and tea set borrowing, hat selecting, etc., and ladies came and got to wear neglected accessories and sip tea (or gin) from tea cups and chatter the afternoon away, and said ladies were also given tours of the garden upon request and had photos taken under the rose arbor at my mother’s insistence.

I got my photo taken on party day, but my personal garden tour came a day later, when my mother was no longer wearing a frilly dress and Carmen Miranda hat, and I was moved by the extent to which my momma’s garden is an extension of the very best parts of her. I have always thought of her as a gardener, but I was struck more by the particular ins and outs of her garden this time, probably for a few reasons: 1.) I am more interested in gardening and covetous of the space to garden than I have been in the past. 2.) My mom always grew flowers in abundance outside our various houses, but her veggies were mostly out in a community plot when I was growing up. Over the last few years, the veggie garden has migrated to her house, and the integration of food and flowers that I love so much has reached new levels in recent years. And lastly, 3.) Though I thought of adults as somewhat static when I was a little kid, I realized pretty quickly that the best ones are more dynamic, still growing and changing with time. There’s no cut off for that, no grown up age where the growing is done. As my mother continues to learn and soften and expand into an evermore wonderful lady, so, too has her garden evolved. Volunteer plants are encouraged more than ever. Potatoes are allowed to pop up in the broccoli patch, and they are loved and nurtured there. A mix of Chinese greens “does their thing” by the runner beans, and she picks whatever parts are tender enough to eat.

I know that hours upon hours of careful thought have gone into that garden, that winter months are spent devouring seed catalogues, that plants are rotated year to year to keep the soil healthy, that there is much planning and order in the place. But there is a looseness, too, in my mom’s garden. Plants are permitted to reseed themselves in unlikely spots. A decision has been made to let nature do its thing some of the time. I love being in the garden and seeing my mom loosening up those reins and striking a balance of control with her beloved plants, because I love the herbs and potatoes and prayer flags of course, but moreso because I love my momma. I love being in the garden, because her great big heart is there, on full display. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Momma lets hers run loose among catmint and foxgloves and amaranth.


Momma giving me the tour, weeding as she went.
Momma giving me the tour, weeding as she went.
During the garden party, my mother bustled around with a trowel and small pots, digging up plants to bestow upon her guests during tours. Here she is with a handful of weeds, doing a little light tending.
The left side of the house
The left side of the house

A few years ago, this was all lawn and a small herb garden. The herb garden expanded. Then came berry bushes and runner beans, and the border with the neighbor’s lawn is now marked by blueberries and dramatically named Love Lies Bleeding amaranth plants, by potatoes and asparagus and any number of other treasures. The lawn is history.

Garlic scapes and Chinese greens
Garlic scapes and Chinese greens

 Those are the greens doing their thing at the front of the house. Garlic scapes are tasty, and I love their graceful curlicues.

Peas and Prayer Flags
Peas and Prayer Flags

There were so many peas ripe for the picking, bright green beneath prayer flags flapping and tattering away, carrying blessings away on the breeze.


The CSA meal plan

This past Tuesday marked the  Crown Heights CSA‘s first ever pick-up. Some terrific volunteers organized a CSA in the neighborhood for the first time this year, and I am beyond thrilled to be a member for a variety of reasons. I love fresh veggies, I love directly supporting a farmer, I love having paid for the share up front so it feels like I’m getting free stuff every week, I love the idea of picking up my veggies outside a great bar, the produce laden happy hour possibilities, and I love the element of the unexpected, the mini cooking challenges that arise from a bounty of produce that was not hand picked or planned out in advance — not by me, anyway.

I have been telling Shawn for a very long time that I was going to make a meal plan for us. Any day now. For months and months. Packing lettuce heads and unruly turnips and tall asparagus into the fridge Tuesday night, I realized that I needed a plan to make sure the veggies would be eaten in a week, before the arrival of the next batch. The day for advanced planning and scheming had come. The meal plan is now in effect, reamshackle though it may be.

Step one was to divvy up the goods. I am splitting a share, so Anna came over Wednesday morning to take some stuff away. I’m obsessed with asparagus season and have personally consumed several pounds of asparagus in the last month or so, and I had some snap peas from the market in the fridge already, so Anna got Sang Lee’s asparagus and snap peas. She also took some nice red lettuce and a few scallions, and we split the luscious baby strawberries down the middle. I think the split was a bit uneven, with me making out with more, but she assured me that it was good and fair.

I wound up with a bundle of harukei turnips, two heads of Boston lettuce (one red, one green), a huge head of bok choi and scallions and strawberries. Here is what I planned:

  • Sugar snap pea and harukei turnip salad
  • Lettuce wraps with tofu and almond sauce
  • Biscuits and gravy with turnip greens (biscuits and gravy are a comfort food of Shawn’s that he has introduced to me. We had the fixings in the fridge, purchased on a rainy day last week, and I thought turnip greens were an appropriate pairing)
  • Wine-braised seitan and bok choi
  • Boston lettuce salad with blue cheese and scallions

We ate the first things — turnip and snap pea salad and lettuce wraps — on Wednesday night, and they were great. The harukei turnips are incredibly mild, without the spicy, bitter tang that so many turnips possess. They are great raw: sweet and crunchy and the slightest bit juicy. I tossed them with snap peas and fresh mint and a very simple dressing of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and a tiny bit of sugar and mustard. The lettuce wraps were tasty, too, as were biscuits and gravy and turnip greens made slightly smoky with smoked sea salt and paprika, brightened up with a squeeze of lemon.

The seitan is bubbling away as I type this, in my favorite cooking liquid. I find the combination of red wine and soy sauce bizarrely addictive. Add half a head of garlic and a bunch of ginger, and I have just about found my bliss. When simmering homemade seitan, I almost always return to this flavorful combination of wine and soy and spices. I love the texture of seitan, but find that it can be quite bland, so I take every opportunity to punch up the flavor, usually using broth instead of water in the seitan itself and spicing the sticky dough, and cooking it in as strongly flavored broth as I can whip up. I made today’s seitan with vital wheat gluten and a combination of soy sauce and whey instead of water, mostly because I have a jug of whey leftover from making cheese and this seemed as good a place as any to work it in. How I will wrangle the huge head of bok choi into a pan for braising with the seitan and its cooking liquid remains to be seen, but the seitan has just finished up, and it is delicious, and I’m sure the end result will be, too.

As part of the meal plan, I will be packing up the latest cooking adventure and taking it out for a picnic this evening. Shawn and I have tickets to Alvin Ailey  tonight (!!!), and I’m very much looking forward to an affordable start to our date and a celebratory start to a summer of healthy, sustainable, most enjoyable cooking and eating.

I’m off to eat the first of many lettuce-based salad lunches!


Seitan Recipe


Cooking Liquid:

Approximately 2 cups red wine

1/2 to 1 cup soy sauce

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

2-3 scallions


The Seitan Itself:

1 1/3 cups vital wheat gluten

onion and garlic powder to taste

1/4 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup vegetable broth or water (I used whey)


How to do it:

1) Combine all ingredients for cooking liquid in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while you prepare the seitan.

2) Toss wheat gluten with onion and garlic powder and any other dry spices you wish to add.

3) Combine soy sauce and broth or water. If you wish to add fresh garlic, grated onion, or any other wettish aromatics, now is the time.

4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and knead for about 5 minutes. The mixture will be lumpy at first, then spongey, and will ultimately become elastic and somewhat smooth. Let sit for a few minutes before cooking.

5) Cut uncooked seitan into small pieces (they will puff up as they cook, so cut them to about 3/4 the size of the desired end product) and add to cooking liquid. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.


Note: This recipe is extremely adaptable. Add dried mushrooms or vegetables to the cooking liquid, play with spices to your heart’s content. Gluten is pretty bland on its own and very forgiving. Add finished seitan to sauces and stir fries, or braise with massive amounts of bok choi and serve with whatever grain is in your cupboard. I love it in sandwiches with cooked vegetables and a little melted cheese, a variation on the cheese steak that is nothing at all like the real thing, but tasty just the same.