Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Got flies?

We have our first fruit flies of the season, so I laid out a couple of the fruit fly traps that worked so well for us last year.

Here are some other trap ideas from Instructables.com.

And this fruit fly article just has the best title: Time flies like the wind — but fruit flies like bananas.

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CSA meal planning at my house

Feeding a family takes planning – especially with a CSA subscription. Here’s an overview of how I plan our food on a weekly basis.

Sunday: Check the CSA menu and online store

Usually, updates to the weekly menus and online store are available by Sunday afternoon. The CSA menus are just for getting an idea of what might come. There’s simply no way to predict what will be available, so I’ve learned not to make hard plans from this list. It’s good for getting my brain going, though. (more…)

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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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Fresh lemons

Fresh lemons makes a big difference. I get a bunch every couple of weeks at the grocery store. I don’t use fresh limes as often so I keep a bottle of good key lime juice in the fridge for emergencies and only buy fresh limes when I have a specific use for them

Choose smooth-skinned lemons that are heavy for their size.

Juicing lemons

Lemons juice best at room temperature. If they’re cold, pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds. Either way, roll your lemons around on the countertop, pressing with the heel of your hand to soften the lemon and get more juice.

1 medium lemon equals approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

There are lots of ways to juice lemons, but the idea is to get the most juice and the fewest seeds. I tend to just squeeze half a lemon in one hand over the fingers in my other hand. My fingers catch (most of) the seeds. (Be careful if you have any cuts on your hands!) You can also use a juicer or a reamer. My stepson suggested a method of cutting wedges and then slicing through the pulp horizontally. Then you squeeze the wedge against the knife. The juice then runs down the knife. I think this is excellent for restaurants when you’re given a wedge and a table knife. However, when I’ve tried it juicing lemons this way with my prep knife I’ve sliced my hand pretty good a couple of times. This is especially unfun when they’re covered in lemon juice.

Storing lemons

Lemons last longest stored in the refrigerator. Pick them up once a day and flip them if you can. This will keep them from getting moldy on one side.

If you only use a bit of a lemon, you can wrap the rest in plastic wrap or put it in a small tupperware in the fridge. It will last 4 or 5 days.

Here’s a neat tip from whatscookingamerica.com. If you only need a few drops of juice, pierce a lemon with a toothpick and squeeze out some juice. Then stick the toothpick back in to seal the lemon and put it back in the fridge. Pretty cool!

Using lemons

  • Squeeze up to half a lemon into a glass of water, soda water, or tea.
  • Steam any vegetable. Top with a pat of butter, pepper, and lemon juice
  • Make a light salad dressing with lemon juice, olive oil, water, salt, pepper, and a little sugar or jam.
  • Here are some household lemon uses. Yellow is the new green!

And don’t forget lemon zest…

Zesting lemons

When a recipe calls for lemon zest, listen. It adds wonderful flavor and there really is no substitute. That’s why it’s handy to have some lemons around. And lemon zest can be frozen for months.

Here’s an easy tip from Katie E. at www.discusscooking.com: After you’ve squeezed some lemon halves out, freeze the leftover halves in a freezer bag. Then the next time you need zest, just pop one out and start zesting. Brilliant! I can’t wait to try this.

1 medium lemon yields about 1 tbsp of lemon zest.

I zest using a magic grater. There are lots of other zesters, though, including some that you can use to make long pretty strips of peel. Be sure to get only the colored part of the peel and not the white pith underneath – it’s very bitter.

Zest is often thought of as a dessert ingredient. But it is good in lots of vegetable and chicken recipes, too.

For instance, here’s a tasty summer squash recipe that calls for lemon zest.

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Handling herbs

Washing ahead of time

It’s pretty great to have fresh herbs to use in recipes. Sometimes in the midst of cooking I think, “Wow, some of that fresh thyme would be great in this!” But then when I realize that I’d have to stop, wash, dry, and chop it,  I decide that I can get away with salt and pepper and maybe some dried thyme.

So… I’ve started wash my herbs soon after I get them so at least they’re washed and dried when I want them. I’m not sure if the herbs keep as long this way, but they definitely have a better shot at being used.  I use a salad spinner, lay them out to dry, and put them in the fridge for later.

Herb recipes

If you’ve got a bunch of different herbs, you could make pita crisps. Mmmm!

If you’ve got a bunch of parsley, make tabouli.

If you’ve got a bunch of basil, make pesto. (You can freeze some, too.)

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At least part of the joy of CSA-ing is feeling better about your relationship to the environment. So I’ve tried to find ways to reuse or recycle the bags and containers.

Plastic vegetable bags
You can take these to Kroger! My Kroger has a plastic bag recycling bin just inside the doors near the carts. Make sure they’re not grungy or wet. I just turn mine inside out when I’m done with them, and they’re fine by my next grocery trip.

Paper bags
If you recycle other papers, these bags make convenient storage containers for junk mail/paper recycling. Or fold them up and put them in the car for when you wish you had a bag. Any other ideas?

New plastic containers
These new containers do a better job protecting the soft veggies.

The containers are #1 plastic. That’s the kind used for drink bottles. So if you’ve got a place to recycle drink bottles, you may be able to give them these containers, too.

Recycling centers

Here are some local plastic recycling places in Georgia. It’d be best to check with them first to make sure the containers won’t mess things up.

Cobb County: free for residents, lots of recycling options

Georgia Tech: plastic bottles #1. I’ve emailed the facilities manager to see if containers are okay.

Near the airport: This is my favorite recycling spot because they don’t just take plastics #1 and #2. They also take tin cans, aluminum cans, cardboard, and glass.

Anyone else know of good recycling places in our area?

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