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Archive for October, 2008

Charlie says, “Happy Halloween!”

Charlie made it to Halloween! His teeth are shrinking a little, but otherwise he’s fine. The coolest part is when the smoke wafts out of his eyes after you blow out the candle. Spooky!

This week I bought a couple of items from the online store: honey and butterhead lettuce.

The butterhead is our favorite so I wanted to make sure we had some this week. (As Murphy would have it, we also got a head in our bag. But the hyrdoponic lettuce lasts a long time, so I’m not worried. I know we’ll get around to it!)

Regular subscription bag

  • Frilly lettuce and butterhead lettuce
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • bunch of radishes
  • 2 broccoli crowns
  • 6 hot peppers
  • sugar cane!
  • 3 apples
  • Not pictured: turnip greens (We gave them to our neighbors.)

Premium subscription additions

  • cilantro
  • spinach
  • eggs
  • 3 tomatoes
  • Not pictured: dill (I didn’t find the bag until I was done taking pictures.)

This week’s plan

So the lettuce, spinach, and radishes all go to salads. Some of this spinach has purple stems and a definite pecan taste. It’s really good.

I can never use enough fresh cilantro so I found this recipe for cilantro-jalapeno paste. It seemed to work really well, although stemming cilantro and seeding jalapenos is tedious work.

I’ll pop out the cubes, bag them, and then defrost them as needed for chicken soup or tacos or chips and salsa.

The other hot peppers are drying in the window. This weekend I’m going to try to oven dry them, though, because last time they got moldy before they could dry.

I wanted to find out if you can eat radish greens. (You can!) Here are some more good ideas for radishes. I blanched and chopped our greens for creamy “spinach” dip.

The sweet potatoes will be baked and eaten happily with a nice salad. Mmmm.

I think I’ll steam one head of broccoli and eat the other one raw. I like raw broccoli florets with dip or in salads.

I’m excited about the sugar cane but haven’t had time to mess with it yet. Our weekly flyer had some instructions for what to do.

Don’t need any instructions for the apples – just eat and enjoy!

I think I’ll make one more tomato pasta dish with these tomatoes. I’ve still got some garlic. If I have enough  time (and energy) this weekend, I might try to do something more Mexican than Italian to use the cilantro paste.

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We’ve had some great salads this week with chopped tomatoes, radishes, and mushrooms. We added tuna one time and another time we cut up some lunch meat to make a chef salad.

We had the potatoes baked and the broccoli steamed one day for lunch along with a box of fried chicken. (Sometimes, you just get a craving, you know?) Another day we had cold fried chicken and salad.

Sliced parmesan cheese does wonderful things to arugula. I wouldn’t have guessed it because they are both such strong tastes. But I remembered some restaurant salads that combined them – and it really works. I still have some arugula, so I may try this arugula pesto recipe.

Another thing I learned is that the hydroponic lettuce stays fresher than the loose lettuce. So make sure to use up the loose lettuce first.

I used the greens and mushrooms to make an alfredo-like pasta recipe. My mother gave me this recipe; I’m not sure where she got it. It’s pretty rich with all the cream cheese and butter. I use Neufchatel cheese to keep it lighter. You could probably also use less butter especially if you use a nonstick pan.

It’s been a strange week, and I haven’t cooked as much as normal. I’m determined to use the spaghetti squash insides by this weekend, though. Depending on what I get today, I may freeze the green beans and the squash. At the end of the season, I’m going to post a freezer inventory to see what I’ve been able to put away and how it might get used. Then I can post about frozen CSA stuff as I use it over the winter.

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  • bunch of spinach or greens (I’ve used mustard greens and kale)
  • pasta for 6
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp butter, divided
  • 6- 8 slices of Canadian bacon, chopped
  • 8 oz cream cheese (or Neufchatel), softened.
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I just use bouillon.)
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shredded.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 and start the water for the pasta.
  2. Blanch and chop greens and put aside. Here are some good blanching directions.
  3. In a large pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter and saute mushrooms, onion, and garlic over medium heat until softened. Remove.
  4. Brown Canadian bacon pieces in the same pan. Remove.
  5. Add 2 tbsp of butter and the chicken stock to the pan. Whisk in the cream cheese. Add up to half of the parmesan, too.
  6. Once these ingredients have blended, stir in the greens. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  7. Add the other ingredients back in.
  8. Did you forget to make the pasta? (I often do.) Turn the pan to very low and cover. Stir it occasionally. It’ll be all right.
  9. Once the pasta is done, mix it in the pot and then spread everything into a large casserole dish. Top with parmesan cheese. Bake for at least 20 minutes or until the cheese is brown and the pasta’s heated through.

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Squash-o-lantern!

Why should pumpkins have all the fun?

Tonight we made our spaghetti squash into a squash-o-lantern. His name is Charlie.

First we cut it into two uneven pieces – one with the top and the other just the back side.

Then we scooped out the insides. Since the insides were raw, I put them into some aluminum foil. Then I’ll just put them in the oven to bake just as if they were still in the squash.

I remember carving jack-o-lanterns being really hard. So I was surprised how easy this one was to do. I’m not sure if that’s because it was a spaghetti squash or because I’m no longer eight.

It sure was fun to make. Now to find a good use for the insides!

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Here’s what the regular bag contained this week…

  • green beans
  • 2 heads of red leaf lettuce
  • spaghetti squash
  • 3 apples
  • big bag of mixed loose leaf lettuce
  • mustard greens
  • 3 potatoes
  • bag of baby arugula

And here are the premium additions…

  • broccoli
  • 3 tomatoes
  • half dozen eggs
  • 5 pretty little yellow squash
  • Shitake mushrooms

I didn’t order anything extra from the online store this week.

This week’s plan

The little yellow squash will be cooked up in our regular stir-fry fashion. This squash looks very tasty, and I’m looking forward to it.

The green beans will either get steamed and eaten with lemon, butter, parsley, and pepper. Or steamed and frozen. Ditto for the broccoli.

Salad! The arugula looks wonderful. It’s so tiny. Plus we got more lettuce this week than last. So we won’t end up with arugula-only salads. Tomatoes and radishes from last week will go on top.

Apples! I already ate one. Something about eating a fresh apple makes me feel content. Ahhh.

These potatoes are awesome baked. We’ll bake them and load them up with cheese and other stuff. Mmmm.

I’m going to blanch and chop the mustard greens and then make a fake alfredo pasta dish with Neufchatel cream cheese and parmesan. The mushrooms will go in there, too. At least most of them. I’ll save a couple for salads.

I haven’t found the perfect answer for what to do with spaghetti squash yet. I’ve tried making hashbrowns (squashbrowns?) and that’s pretty good. I think I’ll find some sort of casserole recipe with cheese, eggs, and onions.

A couple of eggs may go towards spaghetti squash casserole. But a couple of them are definitely headed for chocolate chip cookies. Man, do I have a craving. The other day I tried to make little custards with a couple of eggs and a couple of cups of milk. I may try that again, too. If I hit on a good recipe, I’ll post it here.

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The butterhead lettuce was delicious. My 18-year-old stepson wanted to make sure I posted that it’s the best lettuce ever. That’s a pretty nice endorsement, huh?

We also had arugula and a mystery green that was pretty tasty in salads. We ran out of butterhead first, so our salads became stronger as the week went on. The fix is to use sweeter dressings. We added some raspberry jam to our vinaigrette to even out the stronger taste of the greens.

We didn’t get through all the greens, so I blanched and chopped the remainder. Not much but enough for some spinach-artichoke dip.

The radishes are still yummy, but it’s hard to get through them all when you’re slicing them thin for salads. I’m going to have to up the radish ratio on our salads next week.

The pretty apples were delicious this week. I love them as afternoon snacks.

We made omelets with the eggs and some of the tomatoes and parsley. Classier and faster than scrambled eggs but a little more nerve-wracking, too, because the timing’s so quick. Me, I’m just as happy with scrambled.

We made eggplant parmesan again. I think I’ve created a monster. I don’t want to have to do this every time we get eggplant! I’m thinking about insisting on trying to broil the eggplant rather than fry it. Healthier, easier, and less mess. But there is sort of a rush to making the real thing. I feel like such a chef when it goes in the oven.

The broccoli was fresh and delicious steamed. On the second batch I put the stem pieces at the bottom of the steamer and the crowns on top. I took the crowns out after about three minutes and left the stems in a little longer. That way everything’s cooked right.

The basil became pesto as predicted. I’m a big pesto fan.

I blanched and froze the pretty green beans.

Persimmons… hmm. Well, I learned some things about persimmons. One is there is a world of difference between unripe and ripe persimmons. By chance, the first persimmon I cut into wasn’t ripe. I think it was the only unripe one in the bunch. Not knowing persimmons, I tried a bite and it was awful – chalky with a lasting unpleasant aftertaste. I guess that’s the plant’s way of telling creatures, “Not yet.” Anyway, ripe persimmons are squishy and have a pleasant mild taste. I wanted to make persimmon pulp or puree to bake with, but I had a hard time figuring out what was pulp. The seeds made up a big part of the persimmon. I tried to gather the pulp with a knife, but next time I’m going to try a food mill. I didn’t get a lot of pulp…

Verdict’s still out on persimmons. I hope I get another chance at some point. Let me know if you have any advice.

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Get some style!

Sometimes diversity is not so good.
Consider sticking with a style of cooking for a couple of weeks or even a season. For instance, in the summer, we cook a lot of Italian dishes.  Sticking with a style makes for more efficient use of leftovers. You can throw things together in a pot or at least on the same plate and still feel like it’s a meal. This won’t work if you’ve got, say, an Asian-inspired vegetable dish and want to add it to leftover spaghetti with lots of Italian seasoning.

Getting good is good.
In addition to using leftovers, sticking with a style lets you develop expertise quickly. You learn what will work, how long it will take, what the pitfalls are, etc. This makes cooking more fun and you get more out of your bag of produce.

Be cost effective at Costco.
Also, you only have to keep certain spices or other dry staples around when you stick to a style. These are usually cheaper when bought in bulk, but you want to make sure you’ll use them up.

Change with the seasons.
Eventually, you get tired of cooking and eating the same types of things. Plus, different seasons bring different produce that lends itself to different styles. Once you’re comfortable with a style, think about what you want to try next and give it a shot. I’d like to get better at Asian cooking, so that may be my next challenge.

Some suggested styles…

  • Asian-inspired style: mix and match leftover stir fries or make fried rice. A lot of summer vegetables are good in stir fries: yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant (purged!), garlic. In the fall and spring, you can switch to broccoli, cabbage, onions, and carrots. Prep vegetables by chopping them all the same size. Learn how long vegetables take to stir fry and segregate them by cooking time. Matching staples: soy sauce, fresh ginger, rice, chow mein noodles, sesame oil, corn starch.
  • Italian-inspired style: great for summer time vegetables. This is my house. My family loves Italian food, so it works really well for us. Tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, and basil just beg to be cooked together and thrown on top of pasta. Use tomatoes fresh or slightly cooked. I don’t like to cook tomatoes all the way down because they produce so little sauce. Better to use the CSA tomatoes to spike a can of crushed tomatoes if you need a lot of red sauce. When in doubt, saute chopped veggies in olive oil and toss over pasta with fresh herbs and parmesan. Bellissimo! Matching staples: olive oil, pasta, Italian seasoning (in case you run out of fresh herbs), Parmesan or Romano cheese.
  • Good ol’ Southern cooking: cooked vegetables, biscuits or cornbread, and a chicken or pork dish. These leftovers could be turned into casseroles or pot pies or just different combinations. My mother’s family is from Georgia since a long ways back, but this really isn’t my favorite cooking. It’s a good match, though, for locally grown produce. Matching staples: cornmeal mix, Bisquick, salt, ham hocks or other pig parts in the freezer.
  • French country?: During the fall, we stop being so Italian and switch to salads and baked and roasted vegetables. I don’t know if French is the right; I certainly don’t go crazy with the sauces. The meals are simple, and we use the oven a lot. Lots of soups, stews, and casseroles. Comfy food that you imagine eating on a chilly night. Matching staples: herbes de Provence, bread mix, onions, butter, various cheeses.

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Meal planning

Getting a grab bag of seasonal produce requires more weekly meal planning. After all, you have to figure out what to do with all this interesting (and already paid for) food. .

Here are some tips for planning

  • Read the weekly CSA email. Patricia sends this around after the bags are delivered. It explains what’s in the bags, suggests some uses, as well as bringing up other CSA business like renewals and new drop-off locations. The preview emails are fun to read. But you never know what’s going to happen, and I’ve found it best not to plan for real until I have my bag. Who wants to plan twice? The preview emails are a good reminder to check the online store, though. If there’s something you really want to make sure you have or have enough of, you can order it before Sunday night.
  • Schedule separate time for planning. Not much time – maybe twenty minutes. It often makes sense to combine this time with prepping. Both should be considered distinct from cooking. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself mad trying to do it all meal by meal at 6:30 every night.
  • Weekends work. If you can’t plan till the weekends, that’s cool. Just make your plan from weekend to weekend. Your new fresh CSA produce will wait patiently in the fridge from Wednesday to Saturday with a few exceptions.
  • Google is your friend. My laptop is one my favorite kitchen tools now. Just figure out what you’ve got and search for recipes. I still write out my meal plan longhand on a piece of paper, though, because I like to scratch out and draw arrows and make other notes. Then I make my grocery store list on the side and tear it off to take with me.
  • Shop second. Try not to go to the grocery store until after you’ve planned the coming week. Then you have a plan and a list and will shop more efficiently.
  • Cookbooks work, too. If you don’t have any useful cookbooks, see what your friends and relatives have. A lot of people end up with cookbooks they never use and might be happy to loan them out.  If you want your own, here are a few recommendations.
    How to Cook Everything
    How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
    More-with-Less Cookbook
  • Find a style. Sticking to a style of cooking for a couple of weeks or even a season has a bunch of benefits. Find out more here.

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The exciting world of the prep cook

Before I joined Farmer’s Fresh, I never did much prepping. I’d chop some onions or potatoes now and then. But now I have a new job and you do, too – you are now your own prep cook.

Prepping is a big part of the extra time that eating real food requires. By prepping, I mean

  • washing and drying
  • chopping, slicing, dicing
  • cooking things that can be cooked or partially cooked ahead of time
  • preparing foods that are cold and can just sit in the fridge

Here’s how to survive this addition to your schedule:

Sooner is usually better. But most stuff will survive until the weekend. That’s one of the beauties of CSA produce. It’s so fresh that you have at least a couple days breathing room over anything in a grocery store.

If you are looking for absolute freshness, you may want to delay prepping until right before cooking. But that doesn’t work for me. In the past, I used to look in the fridge and think, “I could put some (insert produce) in this dish, but I don’t have time to wash it and cut it up.” Boo! Now I wash and prep everything at the beginning of the week and have it ready to use whenever I want it. If I don’t, I’m likely to put off using it and that doesn’t do anyone any good. Any loss of freshness is totally worth it to me.

Combine prepping and planning. When you’re washing and examining produce, it’s a great time to think about what it will be good for or with. Here’s more about meal planning.

Keep prepping separate from cooking. Prep in mid morning or mid afternoon on the weekends or even later at night – far away from any eventual meal. There’s too much to do to prep and cook a meal at one time. And the energy required is completely different from when you’re cooking an actual meal.

When you’re prepping you can let your mind wander, turn on the music or the tv, sing, or invite a friend or family member to come hang out. Even if they don’t help much, it will still be fun. When you’re cooking, it’s more about keeping track of different things and timing and what comes next. There’s not so much time for mind wandering.

Get one or two good knives. A good knife can make prepping fun; a mediocre one will drive you insane. You simply have too much chopping, slicing, and dicing to do to muck around with a lesser knife. Other tools are important, too, but knives are paramount.

Delegate. Once you’ve had some experience prepping, figure out what jobs you can pass on to others.

Delegate Part II: One of the reasons I enjoy cooking for my family is that they clean up. Once the plates are on the table, my part’s done. I’m incredibly lucky, I know, that my husband just assumes this is a fair trade. But see if you can’t work something out. Focus on the fairness aspect and let them clean any way they want to. Well, almost any way. I finally had to stop biting my lip and explain to my husband that my wooden utensils can’t go in the dishwasher.

Remember, even when you have to be your own prep cook, it’s still nice to have one.

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We got a cute bouquet in our bag today as a thank you from the farmers.  I’m sure enjoying them in my kitchen.

Here’s the week’s standard order…

Or if you prefer your veggies with more drama…

The green beans are so pretty that I may break my current moratorium on green beans and serve these this week instead of freezing them for later. There’s also

  • radishes,
  • lettuce,
  • arugula,
  • some mystery green that’s not really bitter even raw
  • apples,
  • eggs, and
  • Asian eggplant.

This week’s premium additions are

  • basil,
  • cherry and grape tomatoes,
  • broccoli, and
  • wild persimmons.

I also bought two additional bags of basil fro the online store to make pesto for freezing.

This week’s plan

Steam the broccoli lightly and then toss with butter, lemon juice, and pepper.

Make salad with the lettuce and some of the arugula and mystery greens. Add in cherry tomatoes and sliced radishes.

I have no idea what to do with wild persimmons – but they sure sound cool. Every week the CSA manager sends around a flyer about the week’s bags. I’m waiting for mine and hoping for some guidance.

I found a recipe for arugula pesto. If we don’t eat it all up fresh or wilted in some recipe this week, that’s what I’ll do.

The green beans look like they’d be great steamed like the broccoli. I’ll have to convince my husband that all green beans don’t need to be cooked to death to be edible.

Eggplant parmesan was such a huge hit, I may have to try again with this batch.

Check back later for an update!

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