12 October 2007

Farmer's Market Finds Part II

It's time for another Farmer's Market Finds! I decided to wait till after my next Farmer's Market trip (this past Saturday) and do a big round-up post of all the yummy fresh veggie meals I've been making. It was another successful outing, with a ton more leeks, another basket of green tomatoes, several jars of exotic homemade jams, a Russian cheese and raisin pastry "for the road," homemade baklava and buttermilk brownies, some sweet heirloom peppers, an eggplant, a small squash, and a small zucchini. I also went to New Pi and picked up a few random things like sea salt and Ciao Bella blood orange sorbet (so worth the splurge!) They had a sale on my favourite Amy's rice bowls, so I leaped on that. I also got several vegan cookies that I really need to learn to recreate. If anyone knows a recipe for a dark chocolate cookie that involves walnuts, oats, and chocolate chips and is both soft and crumbly on the inside and crispy (oily) on the outside, let me know!

One of the things I made last week was a huge success – this was my first try with leek and potato soup, and though it wasn't the same thick creamy concoction I went crazy for in Ireland (perfect on a cold day with an iced coffee) it was still pretty damned successful. I found the recipe on a British site, and followed it more or less though I made a few adjustments.

You start with a couple of large leeks, and you want to wash them thoroughly before shopping. I learned that leeks have a LOT of dirt between the layers, so it's best to cut a nice long slit in each leek and trim the root and the dark green parts before you wash it. Rub between the layers to get all the dirt out and then put your leeks on the cutting board. Cut into four long slices and then chop. Throw those leeks into a pot with a couple nice big cloves of minced garlic and two tablespoons margarine, already melted over medium low heat. Fry about ten minutes, stirring frequently, or until the leeks are soft. I'd like to point out now that I peeled the potatoes in this interim, as the recipe suggested, and it was an absolute disaster. You really need to be stirring constantly to avoid burning or browning (and I think it's less than ten minutes, honestly) and despite a nice new peeler I had a lot of trouble peeling a pound of my small, lovely butter potatoes from the market even in ten minutes' time. Not only did I keep dropping them into the trashcan that I was peeling into, but I was bleeding from about five cuts on my hands and kept having to throw cubes out because I got blood on them. Ew.

Anyway, go ahead and peel your potatoes in advance (I used a little less than a pound) and chop into little cubes. These particular potatoes were great for their mild and buttery flavour. Toss them into the pot with the leeks and add broth. I realised, as I was about to add the four cups vegetable broth called for by the recipe (actually it says chicken, but I clearly ignored that), that I didn't actually have any veggie broth left. Also, I didn't quite have the pound of leeks and pound of potatoes called for, so I used two cups vegetable stock and maybe about a cup and a half of water. I thought the stock had a lovely flavour, and I'd stick with it the next time. Also throw a few shakes of salt in and plenty of pepper (it says ¼ t but I just dumped a bunch in – I love that sinus-clearing black pepper in soups). I also added a shake of garlic powder.

Bring to the boil and cook about 15-17 minutes or until the potato is soft. The recipe says you can do it twenty minutes if you'd like to mash your potatoes, but I don't want my soup to look like grits and I like big chunks of potato. Once it's done, you add milk or cream. I used skim milk and it was thin but still tasty, and I didn't mind the consistency at all. You can just add to taste in each bowl (and you don't have to cool it any before eating!) or add ½ pint to the whole pot. I chilled the leftover and just added milk to each serving after microwaving.

The next thing I tried with last week's finds was a strawberry and arugula salad that did NOT go well. I don't know if it was the particular arugula, or just arugula in general, but it was VERY bitter and after a few bites I gave up. A shame, too, because the fresh strawberries, pecans, and honey mustard dressing made a great combination.

The final thing I did with my market leftovers was this quick veggie fry up. I chopped my remaining green tomatoes, some red tomatoes, and red onion – unfortunately the okra seeds had all hardened so I had to pitch it. Still, what I had was quite tasty, if a wee bit too oily.

So this week, my first cooking attempt was baked leek. The recipe comes from an unknown cookbook in my collection (transcribed to my computer), but it's absolutely amazing. The whole recipe was twenty weight watchers points, so about four or five for an average serving – not bad at all. The topping is nice and crusty, though it softens up if you try to microwave to reheat. The goat cheese, though, really makes it.

Basically you just simmer eight cleaned and trimmed whole small leeks in water to cover until soft, about six to eight minutes. Then you lay them in a greased baking dish and put together a cheesy topping – 1/3 of a cup light plain yoghurt, five ounces of (amazing) fresh goat cheese, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, a large egg, and salt and pepper to taste (I was pretty generous because I didn't put salt and pepper in the pot with the leeks). Give it a nice vigorous beating with a fork and spread over the leeks. I used a square casserole dish and spread it pretty thin, but it worked fine.

Next I just tossed together another ¼ cup grated Parmesan (great way to use that stuff up!) and a couple torn slices of Peppridge Farm buttermilk bread (any bread will do). One was an end slice – smart move. Sprinkle over the top of your leeks. Next I added the "secret ingredient," a handful of fresh thyme, which I think really added to the flavour. You want to bake 35-40 minutes at 350. I pulled it out after about thirty-two because the topping was golden. It was really good, but the outer and larger leeks weren't quite tender enough. I'd wait till the topping's pretty well browned, or just take off the outer layers of the leeks after cooking them.

The next thing I tackled with my veggies was Laura Rebecca's Vegetable Tian (adapted from the September issue of Martha Stewart Living). It was really easy, and though a little oily I thought it brought out the taste of the vegetables very well. I was smart to use small vegetables, though I suppose you could really layer them up high to the top of the pan. You can find the recipe at the preceding link, and I didn't make many adjustments. I had a bit too much eggplant so I just pan fried the leftover slices for a snack. The leeks definitely got much too brown while I was slicing my veggies, so apparently I didn't learn my lesson the first time. I used red wine – specifically my old standby Sutter Home Cabernet – and when I added the oil after the first thirty minutes I think I ended up with about two tablespoons. If I'd done better with that part I think it'd be just about perfect. Lovely for a light meal, and remember that small vegetables are often more flavourful. (Also, this is incidentally vegan because I didn't bother with the grated Parmesan at the end!)

Coming up we have a couple of baking challenges – my own recipe for "Good Life Muffins" baked for Muffin Monday and cranberry fig scones adapted from a vegan recipe, baked for my own Vegetarian Feast challenge. Unfortunately, there will not be any Apple Brandy Spice Cake with Creme Anglaise this month, planned for a couple of dessert challenges occuring simultaneously, and you can blame Apple for that - charging me $100 for a replacement battery that's supposed to be free under AppleCare (I thought). Boo, Apple. Boo.


Carver said...

Those all look delicious. Nice to see you eating so well. It's ironic because I used to worry when you were in undergraduate school and had limited options on the meal plan and weren't eating that well. At this point, you are inspiring me to start cooking more and eating better. Good job. Love, Ma

urban vegan said...

Leeks & potatoes--oh, yum. I've forgotten how much I love this combination. I make my soup with soy milk, with great results.