CSA 2009, Weeks Five + Six.

If this past month was any indication of what the summer has in store for me, I’m doomed.  No, I don’t mean Boston’s wonky June weather; I mean my inability to get around to using my CSA vegetables as soon as possible because I’ve been too damn busy. First a chunk of my family arrives in town, insisting on taking us out for multiple meals and monopolizing my time; then Marcella comes to visit for a week of shopping, rainstorms and restaurant explorations.  When’s a girl supposed to find time to put her produce to use during all of that?

CSA 5So, as with weeks two and three of my CSA, I’m combining weeks five and six into one post.  I did manage to take a photograph of week five’s haul, as I normally do, but I’ve decided the time has come yet again for me to instead snap shots of items on their own.  The boxes’ contents haven’t yet gotten so huge that they can’t all squish together into the frame, but I’ve gotten so eager to get everything out and washed and sorted that I honestly forget most of the time, and then have to toss the vegetables back together at the last minute for their line-up, which leaves me feeling stressed for neglecting to remember in the first place.

Here’s the list of five and six’s harvest:

  • Baby beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots (both weeks)
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Garlic scapes
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Napa cabbage
  • New potatoes
  • Red giant mustard greens
  • Salad mix with arugula
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash

CSA 6These lovely little potatoes were part of week six’s booty; it’s never a challenge to figure out what to do with a potato, isn’t it?  You can jazz up a mash by turning it into colcannon, bake thin slices of potato onto a cheesy pizza, comfort yourself with a bowl of soup.  Then, of course, here’s countless frittatas to make and frites to fry, and there’s nothing easier than sticking a foil-wrapped one into the oven to bake. The potato is really an incredibly versatile ingredient.

Warm Potato Salad with(out) Crème FraîcheLast night, I decided to boil the potatoes and make a warm salad to go alongside the lamb chops I was planning to broil for our dinner.  These little guys were so tender and delicate that some of their skins had rubbed off when I washed them clean of dirt and grit, so I knew that I could just toss them as is into a pot of water to boil.

Like I said, the potato — charming and lovable as it is — is easy.  Almost no thought at all is required when it comes to preparing a few.  The rest of my vegetables were another story.

Frozen vegetable stockI found myself wondering, Would it be chickening out a bit to turn most of what I received into stock, rather than figuring out what to do with my highly-intimidating kohlrabi? After debating with my self for a good while, I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with throwing some of my more complicated produce into my stockpot with several cups of water, some seasoning and some herbs.  (For a more detailed and specific recipe, look at this.)  You always need vegetable stock, I reasoned, not to mention store-bought is basically salted vegetable-esque water…  which is why I now have something like eighteen cups of stock in Ziploc bags stacked in my fridge.

Maybe it was cheating, making stock.  Then again, it’ll be a while before my flavorful frozen supply runs out, so I’m happy.

Warm Potato Salad with(out) Crème Fraîche, from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice  Waters
Makes six portions

1 ½ pounds new potatoes (Alice says to use Bintje)
2 shallots
¾ cup cream (I used milk; it was what I had on hand)
salt and pepper
½ cup crème fraîche (which I omitted, since I didn’t have any on hand, and replaced with Greek yogurt, which is far healthier anyway)
sherry vinegar

  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins until tender; drain.  When they are cool enough to handle, cut them into ¼-inch slices.
  2. Peel and dice the shallots fine, and put them in a small pan with the cream.  Season with salt and pepper and warm gently; the trick here is to slowly soften the shallots without reducing the cream.  When the shallots have softened, then take them off the heat and stir in the crème fraîche.
  3. When you are ready to serve the salad, put the potatoes in the cream mixture, add a splash or two of sherry vinegar to taste, and warm again gently.  Correct the seasoning and serve garnished with freshly ground black pepper.

CSA 2009, Week Four.

CSA 4Normally I’m not much for clichés but you know what they say: it’s a cliché because it’s true.  Well, you know that one about time flying?  I’ve seen it in action, friends, most recently with my CSA box.

It’s only week four of CSA season, and already I’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of produce Keith has been bringing home from our pick-up spot.  This week we had mostly leafy greens that I’ll be tossing into assorted salads, but soon we’ll be eating peppers, melons, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and eggplants.  I can’t wait, though our haul this week happily was made up of the following:

  • Arugula
  • Carrots
  • Garlic scapes
  • Lettuce
  • Rainbow chard
  • Salad mix with red lettuce, green leaf lettuce and tat soi
  • Summer squash

cous cous w. feta + chick peasThose green tendrils curling like pigs’ tails in the upper right corner of the box are garlic scapes, something I love.  How could I not, considering that I generally tend to double a recipe’s suggested amount of garlic?  Scapes are much milder than their grown-up siblings (Do you consider garlic to be masculine or feminine?  Or am I the only one out there that anthromorphizes her vegetables?  Excluding speakers, of course, certain languages that have gender-specific nouns. But back to the matter at hand…) so I had no qualms about chopping them fine and then dumping them into my couscous.

The following recipe is perhaps one of the easiest I’ve ever made, and the end results are fantastic, scapes or no.  It’s a perfect dinner for when the warm weather finally hits Boston — if it ever does — as the only hot ingredient you need is water.

Couscous with Chick Peas + Feta Cheese, adapted from The American Heart Association’s Low-Calorie Cookbook
Makes six portions *

2/3 cup uncooked couscous, preferably whole wheat
1 1/3 cups boiling water
juice of 1 medium-sized lemon (though I love lemon, so none of mine are medium-sized)
1 15-ounce can of chick peas, drained
1 large bell pepper (I used red, but any color is fine)
½ cup finely-chopped fresh basil leaves
½ cup finely-chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used my six beautiful scapes, chopped)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Pour the couscous into a large heatproof bowl, then pour the water and lemon juice over the couscous.  Let the mixture sit for about fifteen minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  2. Add the chick peas; stir.  Add bell peppers, basil, parsley and garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with feta; stir.  Salt and pepper to taste.  May be served at room temperature, or chilled.
* 298 calories per 1 ½ cup serving, in case you were wondering.

CSA 2009, Weeks Two + Three.

CSA 2 + 3Have I mentioned lately that this past week was an unusually frenzied one for me?  In between all of the running around and dining out, I barely had any time at all to even think about cooking, let alone actually using a pot or pan — which was so stressful, by the way, knowing I had a fridge full of produce at home, feeling neglected. Don’t worry… none of the food went to waste.  It was just a bit of a challenge and a scramble to use it all up, though.

Our past two weeks of boxes contained the following:

  • Bok choy
  • Hakurei salad turnips
  • Joi choi
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Scallions
  • Spinach

Scallion + Sesame PancakesBoth weeks’ haul each included a bunch of scallions, one of Keith’s favorite things to eat, so I decided to try my hand at making scallion pancakes.  This recipe is from Veggie Planet‘s Didi Emmons; the restaurant’s “Vegan Oddlot” over brown rice is my favorite dish, in case you were wondering.  Here Emmons adds sesame seeds to the mix, bringing a nuttiness to the dough; next time, however, I just might increase the scallion quantity to even out the ratio between scallion and sesame.  The flavor is nice regardless, but keep in mind that sesame comes before scallion in the recipe’s name for a reason…

Sesame-Scallion Pancakes, from Entertaining for a Veggie Planet by Didi Emmons

for the pancakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more as needed
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
3 tablespoons toasted black or white sesame seeds

for the dipping sauce:
3 small, skinny chile peppers, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons black vinegar or balsamic vinegar

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and 1 tablespoon of the oil.  With a wooden spoon, stir in ½ cup boiling water to form a soft dough.  (Add additional flour or boiling water if necessary.)  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Cover the dough with its bowl and let stand for 30 minutes.
  2. Dust the dough with a bit of flour and roll it into an 8 x 16 inch rectangle.  Brush 1 tablespoon of the oil over the surface of the dough and sprinkle it with the scallions and sesame seeds.  Starting on one long side,  roll up the dough like a jelly roll.  Cut the roll into 8 even slices.  One at a time, lay a slice of dough on the work surface.  Flatten it with a floured hand, then roll it into a 4-inch disk.
  3. To make the dipping sauce:  In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Set aside.
  4. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium-high heat.  Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the skillet and adding oil as necessary, pan-fry the pancakes until crispy and brown, turning once, about 1 minute per side.  As the pancakes are done, transfer them to a baking sheet and keep them warm in a 250° oven while you fry the  rest.  Serve the pancakes warm with the dipping sauce.

Cookbook Pile-Up.

It’s a bit of a crazy week for me; my parents are in town, along with about fifteen of my Filipino relatives — which may sound like a lot, but considering that over half of them are still in the Philippines, this is just a teensy percentage of my family.  I’ve been playing tour guide and chauffeur, as well as putting my apartment up as a rest stop in between shopping sprees and lobsters.

CookbooksSo, in the midst of this all, the cookbooks I ordered arrived in a series of packages — with the exception of two (more on those in a second).  I love cookbooks, but I tend to buy them in a bunch like so many tulips, and I almost always buy them used, as they inevitably end up battered and splattered.  I’m super-excited to stick Post-Its to the recipes I’ll try first, make shopping lists, pair sides with entrées…

The two cookbooks I mentioned earlier are Michel Guérard‘s La Cuisine Minceur, which my mother let me steal the last time I was in New York, and Jamie Oliver‘s Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, an unexpected early birthday gift from my friend Ben.  He included a note:  “I love this cookbook — the design, the layout, the recipes.  Plus, I bet you can have fun with it with your CSA stuff, so it couldn’t wait until October.”  How nice is that?

Here’s a list of the other cookbooks in the stack, which I am sure I will be referencing quite a bit in the near future:

CSA 2009, Week One.

CSA 1This year’s CSA started the same as last year’s: with a small box of vegetables.  The better to ease us into the practically-overwhelming bounty the upcoming weeks have in store for us, you see.  In a few weeks, I’ll be challenged to use up pounds and pounds of produce in a short period of time, but this week’s box held the perfect introductory amount of the following:

  • Bok choy
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Spinach
  • Radishes

spinachI was the most concerned about turning the spinach (in the plastic bag beneath the radishes) into something Keith and I could have for dinner.  I’m a big spinach lover, opening my arms wide for it in all forms, but Keith easily tires of anything aside from baby leaves in a salad.  Since Keith has liked every dish of my mother’s, I gave her a call to get her spinach recipe.  It’s a combination of ground beef, onions, sweet tomatoes and spinach — though I threw in my turnip greens too, so as not to let them go to waste.  My mother has made this dish with fresh tomatoes as well, but I have to say I prefer it with canned, unless you’re fortunate enough to fall into a bounty of really sweet tomatoes.  It makes all the difference.

My Mother’s Spinach
Makes four portions

2 tablespoons olive oil
one pound ground beef (ground turkey would work too)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes
1 ½ pounds spinach, cleaned with tough stems removed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high head.  Add beef; stir to declump.  When beef is completely browned, add onion until it is soft, about eight to ten minutes.  Add tomatoes and mix, breaking tomatoes into pieces.  Stir in salt and pepper to taste before adding the cut up spinach; cook until spinach has wilted.

Homesick, Sort Of.

I’m feeling homesick again, except I’m nostalgic not for where I’m from but rather for where I could be.

When we moved to this apartment about two years ago, one of the selling points aside from the ability to remodel the kitchen was the proximity to a massive supermarket.  For someone accustomed to hauling groceries home during a fifteen-minute walk, this was a big deal.  The thing is, the novelty has worn well off now, especially as I make a point, when I travel, to visit markets like London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon.  Each time I do drop in to such a market, my excitement is smothered a bit by a combination of my longing and my jealousy.

How wonderful would it be to instead of having a local grocery store to have a local market?  To be able to form a relationship with my chard-grower, to become friends with my sorrel-supplier, to pal around with my berry-picker…  It sounds awesome, doesn’t it, to have a connection not only with our food, but also the people who coax them out of the earth?  The closest I can come at this point is taking part yet again in the Food Project‘s CSA program this year.  We’ll start getting produce boxes in a few weeks’ time — I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here’s a link to 2008’s food.

CSA 2008, Week Twenty-Two (AKA The Last Week).

Oh me.  I’m so sad to report that the final week of our maiden voyage on the S.S. CSA went undocumented.  If I were a certain kind of person, I would provide you with an elaborate reason as to why my shutter-finger failed (A car crashed into the house!* My neighbor’s cat snuck in and stole my camera!) but such strange events happen to me so often that I’ve got to say thoxat I’m finding myself really embracing the idea of not having any excuses.  So let’s just jump in…  to the produce:

  • Butternut squash x two
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Onions
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabagas
  • Salad greens
  • Scallions
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnips

As I unpacked, I felt the two butternuts staring me down.  These monsters were so intimidating — one was practically as long as my arm.  I knew that I wanted to maximize their flavor, which of course meant it would be into the oven with them.  What I didn’t want to end up with, though, was just cubes of roasted vegetables, so I decided I would turn as much of my box’s contents into stock.

Recently, I had read a great post over at VeganYumYum that detailed not only the perfect way to make stock, but had some fantastic accompanying pictures.  I really loved Lolo‘s carefree exuberance with ingredients, so I pretty much threw my entire vegetable bin into the stock pot.  I was particularly happy to boil the kohlrabi down into stock, as well as the sweet potato.  In the end, I found myself with eight and a half cups of vegetable stock, which I strained and froze in two-cup quantities.  Later, I pureéd four cups of stock, half of the kale and half of the salad greens with my roasted  squash, until I had a soup with a nice thick consistency that would pair perfectly with a crusty baguette.

Vegetable Broth, from Vegan Yum Yum
Makes about ten cups of broth

“Minimalist” Broth
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 large onions, chopped
1 pound celery, chopped (I had some celeriac, which I used instead)
1 pound carrots, washed but unpeeled, chopped
3 whole cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
10 whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoon salt
¼ cup low sodium Tamari
1 gallon water

(I also used my kohlrabi, my sweet potatoes, my scallions, some of the turnips, and half of the kale.  Lolo suggests tossing in whatever vegetable leftovers you may have in your fridge.)

  1. Place a large stock pot with some olive oil in the bottom over medium heat.  Add all chopped vegetables and stir occassionally for ten to fifteen minutes, or until all are softened.  Pour in water, peppercorns and bay leaf; increase the heat to high and cover.  Cook for 1 hour, decreasing the heat slightly once the whole the liquid begins to bubble.   Finish by adding tamari to taste; let the stock simmer uncovered for another 20 to 30 minutes to concetrate the flavors.
  2. Strain the vegetables out into a large pot or bowl.  Strain out additional solids through a cheesecloth.  Pour into ice cube trays, freezer bags or similar for storage.  The broth will keep for up to one week refrigerated, and up to two months in the freezer.

* Surprisingly, this actually happened.  It was about a year ago, a few houses down.