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EVOO Cooking School

THE GREEN PROJECT: volume 1

Arugula greens and flower salad
Pan fried baby bok choy

 

 

 

 

 

first time tasting radish and turnips-so I thought I best keep it simple

When Bob and Lenore decided to offer EVOO as a drop-off point for the weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) vegetable baskets from R-evolution Gardens, they also thought it would be fun to do a little experiment with me, their Sales Manager, who has had zero formal culinary training. Like many a working Mom, I come home to kids screaming, “What’s for dinner?” or “When will dinner be ready?” and I have to scramble together a quick meal that consists of the holy trinity of the dinner plate: a meat, a starch and a vegetable. And many times, the produce I use is far from being local, organic or seasonal. We all know it’s healthier for our bodies, our environment and our local economy if we eat seasonal foods from within our own food shed. But knowing that and doing it are two different things. So my task this summer is to make something new each week for my family from ingredients found in my CSA basket which will by and large be entirely new to my family.

First, let me introduce you to the cast of this “reality show”:

Mamma Shanda: I’m not an adventurous eater, but my Dad is from Alabama, so I did grow up eating strange, exotic foods like collard greens, black eyed peas, ho cake and grits! And growing up in southern California, I had a healthy dose of Mexican-American food.

Daddy Rick: From a small town in the Pacific Northwest, he grew up eating a typical Middle American diet and had very little contact with ethnic cuisine or vegetables other than the standard fare like broccoli, carrots, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and, like me, yucky canned veggies.

Fiona: 12 years old and willing to try almost anything and to say something kind even if she doesn’t like it.

Jacob: 7 years old and not at all eager to try new things except under pain of punishment.

Joe: 5 years old, also reticent to try new things, and highly addicted to sugar and processed foods.

Like most American kids, mine like pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, hot dogs, simple veggies either steamed or sauteed, and a green salad made with Romaine lettuce.

Day 1: I’ve come home with so much produce that I know won’t keep long so I decide to use the baby bok choy and the arugula and arugula blossoms. Before prepping them, I corral all the kids to show them what they will shortly be consuming. They are dubious. If I were a really good Mom, I would make them stay and help, but I have to work at break neck speed because to hear them tell it, they are so hungry they are about to start eating each other! So I send them away and commence the experiment. Bob said that the bok choy would be easiest done just sliced down the center, root cut out, gently washed, then placed in a heated pan with olive oil and garlic. Well, as soon as I slice the bok choy down the center and attempt to cut out the inner root, the entire thing falls apart in my hands. Then I realize I have no garlic as I have just moved and not yet restocked the pantry. Drat. I go forward placing individual pieces in the olive oil. It comes out saturated and the greens wilted. The white stalk is hard to chew. The sea salt I finish it with makes it only somewhat edible. Dad and Joe kind of like the greens, but this is not a big hit at all. The arugula and arugula blossoms become a salad with olive oil, wild honey vinegar and sea salt. The boys both spit it out, “Blech!” Fiona just says, “Hmm, interesting.” Rick eats it without comment.

Day 2: A few days later, somewhat gun shy now, I plunge ahead. Today I’m going to attempt to use up the radish, Japanese turnip and mixed salad greens. I decide to simply cut the bulb of the turnip and radish into coins and let everyone try them fresh and plain. I do, however, saute the turnip greens and radish greens together in a bit of olive oil and finish with sea salt. The mixed salad greens I reserve for Mommy and Daddy, having tasted them and knowing full well they’ll be wasted on the kids. So we go around the table tasting off the plate of turnip and radish coins and their sauteed greens. It’s quite funny to see everyone’s faces as they pucker and wince. None of us likes the coins. And the boys declare the sauteed greens horrible. Daddy grosses everyone out by eating sauteed greens sandwiched between two turnip slices. He’s actually enjoying the variety of vegetables being introduced even if he doesn’t necessarily like all of them.

Day 3: Many days have now passed. I figure the troops will revolt if I do this to them too often. And I have evening commitments that leave no time for experimentation. A new basket has now arrived and Bob figures a pound of bacon and a head of garlic will do the trick. Tonight I will chop up the bacon, cook till crispy, throw in garlic till aromatic and throw in the greens: kale, bok choy,  and chard . It smells great and I am quite optimistic (even though I was in such a hurry the bacon did not get totally crispy). But what do I get? Two yuck votes from the boys, an “it’s okay” from Fiona, and Dad and I end up eating it all. We like it. But for the kids, this experiment is not going well. Tomorrow it’s going to be steamed broccoli again. My ego can’t take this!

Day 4: At the bottom of the produce drawer is a bunch of limp spinach from the first week’s basket. Bob calls it variegated because it’s bumpy. Lenore says variegated means something else entirely (mufti-colored?). So I don’t know what this stuff is exactly but I like it better than the typical spinach you find in the grocery store. It’s much less bitter. Tonight turkey burgers are on the Bonn family menu. I decide to blanch the spinach then chop it real small and hide it in the burgers. Well, there’s no hiding the spinach, so it takes some prodding to get the kids to dig in. But I will say, I make a pretty mean turkey burger to begin with so I feel confident I may have a winner on my hands. To the ground turkey I have added a generous supply of dried herbs and spices: garlic, onion, parsley, coriander and sea salt. Plus two tablespoons of olive oil. Into that mixture goes the spinach blanched in salted water, squeezed “dry” and chopped. And voila! They WILL eat their greens, so help me. I fully expect riotous outbursts for messing with one of their favorite meals. But no such thing occurs. Instead the table is quiet as they munch away. And Jacob and Fiona ask for seconds. VICTORY!

Jacob enjoying his turkey burger (stuffed with fresh spinach)–he’s likes it! he likes it!

And now I get a break until the next basket arrives . ….


My how time flies when you’re having fun….

Just three months ago I was embarking on a new adventure here at beautiful Cannon Beach.  Wide eyed and white knuckled I ventured into the kitchen at EVOO.  Now 12 weeks later I feel there is much I still want to experience but I am no longer the fledgling learning to fly.  It would be a daunting task to surmise all I have learned here to date.  It has been an amazing and almost overwhelming amount of culinary staples as well as a surprising amount of small details overlooked by the home cooking I have been used to.  I really feel that I have been welcomed in to an almost underground society here; the scene behind the curtain of a great meal or a good night out.  Memories created on a first date, a birthday celebration, or just a fabulous dinner with close friends usually start with the when and where to eat. The people in the background who you may never see, work like madmen to ensure their guests’ good time out. Remember to be kind and tip them well as they deserve it, believe me!

When I first decided to come to the coast I was on the fence about whether attending a culinary school was the direction I wanted to take. I have always loved learning but the heavy price tag of admission, coupled with some of my chef friends advice to just work your way up the ranks had me questioning what to do. This experience seemed to be the perfect chance to test the waters. For me the dynamic here has been exceptional. The standards are high as are the expectations of mental and physical stamina.  Thinking in a proactive way so you can anticipate and delegate the best of your time is the key. It was a chance for me to test what my grandparents used to call “the stuff you were made of.”  In my family we pride ourselves on some pretty tough stuff. And here, everyday technique, cleanliness and speed are questioned.

I have been reading a great book in my down time called “Beaten, Seared & Sauced” that has closely resembled my day to day activities here in this little kitchen.  It’s about a man changing direction late in life and attending the CIA in NY.  Let’s just say I can relate. One of the similarities is that encouragements are given but even the most subtle of compliments are reserved only for when the job is done correctly.  In my mind that makes it much more meaningful and heartfelt.  The recognition gives me a good sense of pride for my accomplishments.  Actually the ultimate compliment from Bob is when he stops mid stride, leans in to check my work with a discerning eye, pretends to wipe away a tear and says “they grow up so fast ” before continuing on his way.  In return when I stop with inquisitive looks, my questions of the how and why have always been answered with a scientific background and a practical approach.  It has really helped me to connect with what I am doing.

Which brings me to the question of what I am doing next? Culinary school still looms in the background after seeing my mentor in action.  I have also been in touch with a select catering company and looking at the possibility of going back to school in the food writing realm.  Anything is possible, right?  I am happy to say that for now, I have been asked to stay here at EVOO and continue learning through the summer.  I plan to become a jack of all trades, handling the retail, service, and still doing my favorite time, prepping in the kitchen.

These past months I feel like I have found little pieces of myself and my passions again.   I am excited every day to be cooking in the kitchen, and sharing my very first blog has rekindled my affinity for writing.  I feel lucky to be surrounded by a supportive community and amazing group of people that have made me feel like family after such a short amount of time.

Thanks to everyone for reading and following me on my journey so far, and thank you, Bob and Lenore, for all you have done to help me on my way.  I’m looking forward to an amazing summer full of new experiences and the chance to follow my heart.  Signing off but not going far…. Kate

 

P/S: Watch for Shanda’s blog, “The Green Project”–coming this summer as she tells us how her family responds to eating “green,” i.e., more vegetables from her CSA basket.


GOOD FOOD TAKES TIME (Good Cooks take the time needed)

Hooray hooray for the month of May!

Its time for a new menu and new learning’s.  I have a good feeling that this month will be an appreciation of patience.  The best things in life take a bit of time.  In the past couple of months things like pasting garlic have tested my time table.  First you must peel each clove, remove the innermost sprout, mince it and then you can finally draw the flat of your blade over it again and again until an aromatic paste is formed.  At first it sounds simple enough but in the midst of  the 5th clove, with more garlic sticking to the knife and my fingers than actually turning into the beautiful smooth texture I envisioned, I realize the clock is against me. I am pretty sure I was given this laborious task for a few reasons.  Either Bob wants to be sure I’m not able to attract ANY eligible men and therefore keep my mind in the kitchen, or he is protecting me from potential vampire attacks.

I feel this month will continue to challenge me to remember to breathe in times of frustration and to persevere toward the amazing meal.  Take shucking peas for example.  In my mind I have lofty ideas that a whole box of English peas should take oh…45 minutes to get done.  I have the water on and heating so it will be ready to blanch them when I am ready.  Of course, I should have known by my mentor’s slight head shake and Cheshire cat smile that my time-line was more around the 1 1/2 hour mark.  In the end the whole huge box only yielded about 3 1/2 cups of shucked sweet little green peas. I call them ” escapeas ” because half of them take flight – in no particular direction except away from the bowl they are meant for!  And let’s not forget these little gems are just one component for the risotto on our first course of the May Dinner Show.

This Italian rice dish is one that must be nurtured itself as well.  A good risotto must be tended to constantly for about 25 minutes and when it is done it must be served right away to impart the creamy texture intended.  It waits for no one!  Arborio rice is most commonly used, sauteed in butter or olive oil first and then adding a ladle of stock one at a time, stirring to distribute the liquid evenly and prevent any burning. When the stock is absorbed you repeat the process. It can be mixed with a variety of ingredients, mushroom leek and lemon has worked well for my dinner parties in the past.  Whatever you add the goal is to have a dish that is hands down one of my favorite comfort foods.

I was so excited to see Osso Bucco on the menu this month as well!  I had seen plenty an Iron Chef make it while totally geeking out on the Food Network, wishing that I did not have to live vicariously through the judges on the flat screen.  The first time I was able to order it for myself was at Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo on my birthday trip to NYC.  Truth be told he was always my favorite Iron Chef anyway so this was my little dream come true.  Lets just say I was not disappointed…the marrow from the bone gave the slow cooked braised veal a velvet mouth feel.  The meat was so tender it almost melted.

It is made with lamb on our menu, but the effect is the same.  I have seen it turn even the most skeptic of palates into lamb lovers.  I truly believe it has to do not only with the painstaking preparation, but also with the quality and freshness of the lamb itself.  Bob has it delivered within the week the lambs are harvested, and they are only harvested when ordered. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I now know the time and work involved in each little step takes my enjoyment of a meal to a whole new place.  Every component in the menu has a purpose on the tongue.  It can be light and sweet like my peas or full of richness and depth like the lamb.  A bright gremolata balances any heavy notes and a thick nutty cream sauce can smooth out delicate potatoes. It is truly the little things, the sometimes frustrating, time sucking, minute details, that really do make all the difference in a dish. So this week I am in great appreciation of the symphony of food I help to create as I embrace every task I am given!

Here is the Lamb dish with rutabaga and gremolata. Melts in your mouth.