Week 10 & 11: Self-Preservation

As a pair of somewhat employed musicians, our wedding was going to be a semi-DIY affair. We spent a few days last year day-dreaming about cooking the food for our own wedding, but even mentioning the idea brought about threats of dis-ownership from both sets of parents. We lucked out and found a great caterer, one who would—almost in honor of our CSA obsession—be sourcing all the vegetables from local Vermont farms. But we were going to be doing the rest: finding the alcohol, purchasing the tablecloths and decorations, buying the flowers (which our friend Ammie—a florist and new music violist—would be flying in to arrange), and writing the ceremony.

The problem with even a semi-DIY out-of-town wedding is that you’re not there (and there is not your home). Every decision seems to take twice as long. I was particularly flummoxed by calculating delivery windows—figuring out just how reliable the myriad combinations of FedEx, UPS and the US Post Office worked, so that everything would arrive on time at the venue, but not so early that no one was there to receive them.

None of this was helping my anxiety level, and as previously mentioned, in the days leading up to my departure east, I more or less stopped being able to eat. This made the height of the summer season CSA vegetable situation somewhat dire. Since I neither had the wherewithal to eat nor could I live with myself if I let all the vegetables rot, I decided that various forms of preservation were the way to go.

The easiest was just to freeze a bunch of things. We got a vacuum sealer before last years Thanksgiving because Andrew wanted to cook the holiday Turkey sous vide. The turkey was meh, but the vacuum sealer is great. We have a chest freezer in our pantry, so there’s plenty of room and I spent an afternoon prepping green beans, cauliflower and summer squash for freezing. The vacuum sealer is quite loud when it’s sucking all the air from the package, a sound which is somehow deeply comforting.

Then I moved on to pickling. Pickling seemed like a good strategy given my loss of appetite—the pickles would be ready to eat in a couple of weeks, when we were back in Chicago successfully married and presumably interested in food again.

Pickled Banana Peppers

For the last three years of the CSA, we’ve used this recipe from Serious Eats to pickle banana peppers. I looked around a bit for something different, but it didn’t really seem worth experimenting with different flavors when this recipe is so simple and good.

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You combine 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat and add sliced peppers, and then stir for about 15 seconds as the peppers soften. Let the entire thing cool to room temperature, then put in a jar and throw in the refrigerator.

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These are so good. You can throw them on anything—pizza, sandwiches, salads, you name it.

Dill Pickles

Next up was the pickling cucumbers. Alton Brown has my favorite dill pickle recipe. You put 1 TB peppercorns, 1 TB red pepper flakes, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, and 1 tsp dill seed in a large jar. Then you add all of the cucumbers. The brine is 1/2 cup salt to 1 gallon water, and it gets poured over the top. If you put a little sandwich bag in the top of the jar and pour in some more brine to that, you can weigh down the pickles without having to do anything fancy. All of my pickling failures have tended to result from either over-filling the jar (which I’m definitely doing below…) or not weighing the pickles down well enough.

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These are lacto-fermented pickles: the brine prevents bad bacteria/mold from growing, while good bacteria can do their job. After two or three weeks at room temperature they’re still crisp, but have a wonderful slightly sour tang. When they’re ready, you can put them in the refrigerator.

Pickled Onion and Green Pepper Relish

We’ve always struggled to find something to do with green peppers. Neither Andrew nor I really enjoy eating them, which seems to be a pretty universal sentiment among our friends, who have resisted our entreaties to take them off our hands. After a bit of digging around in the internet, I found this relish recipe. It’s suppose to be a condiment for hot dogs or hamburgers and as a bonus, it’s shelf-safe, too.

You take 3 onions, 8 large green peppers, and a few jalapeños and slice them up into thin strips. Put them in a stock pot along with 6 TB pickling spices, 2 cups of white sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 2 cups of apple cider vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes.

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It starts out a bit weird, since it’s not a liquid at all, but after a few minutes, the vegetables start sweating and it begins to look like what you would expect from a hot dog topping.

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After the relish comes together, it’s time to can them. Sterilize some jars, add the relish, and put the tops on. Boil them in a water bath for 30 minutes. I didn’t actually think to taste the relish before canning it, so there’s going to be an element of surprise when we actually open one.

Apple Pie Filling

And finally: apples. Last year was apparently a rough one for apples at Nichols Farm. We had some hail storms early in the summer, which pock-marked all the apples. But even with the losses, by the middle of the fall, we had enough apples to fill our crisper bins and were running out of room in the rest of the fridge for all the other veggies. This year has been a great one for apples—and we started getting them early in the season. The apples are great—breed names we’ve never heard of, with surprising combinations of sweet and tart and crunch. But by the week before I was leaving down, our smaller crisper drawer was already overflowing with apples and I felt I needed to cull the herd.

I figured the internet must have come up with some way to make filling for an apple pie and freeze it to stick in a pie later. Sure enough, I found this recipe from Food.com and decided to just go for it.

You start with 16 cups of apples, peel and chop them, and add 4 TB of lemon juice to theoretically keep them from going brown (which only partially worked, see below).

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In a large dutch oven, add 4 cups of sugar (!), 1 cup cornstarch, 4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp nutmeg. Add 8 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, and add the apples and simmer for another 6-8 minutes, and then remove from the heat and let it cool for about 30 minutes. At this point, it will look disconcertingly like a cauldron of something you might add eye-of-newt to, but the smell is of fall and crunchy leaves and wholesomeness.

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Then it gets ladeled into a freezer bag, which is frankly easier said than done. I recommend getting a partner to help you. Going solo, I got apple pie filling all over the counter, the floor, one of the cats, and in my hair. And, you know, the entire outside of the bag.

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Looks great!

It’s also worth point out that this recipe made about twice the amount of liquid you really need for the amount of apples it calls for. I used the time-honored strategy of throwing the extra goo in the fridge, forgetting about it, and then throwing it out four weeks later.

CSA ingredients used: apples

Other ingredients used: water, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cornstarch

Next: Week 13

Week 9: Pretty in Pink Brine

The last week of July finally brought the first Napa cabbage,  a healthy amount of corn, and an assortment of other vegetables including beets, green peppers, potatoes, green beans, eggplant, summer squash, cauliflower, and tomatoes. Andrew and I were a bit of a mess. He was still playing eight shows a week downtown and was about to take off for two weeks to  play at a summer festival in California. After the festival, we would have just a week before our wedding, which was in Vermont (we thought this would be a good idea last October when we started planning it). In his last few days in town, we tried to get done everything that he needed to actually be present for, like finding him shoes and a belt for the wedding, agreeing on a design for our Ketubah, making sure he had a valid driver’s license so he could, you know, get on an airplane, and also discussing our personal beliefs about marriage. Cooking vegetables started to seem like a secondary priority—which, it seems, is why pickles were invented.

Pickled Turnips

While digging through various vegetable bins searching for vegetables to destroy, I unearthed some turnips lurking in the bottom of the refrigerator, leftover from week 4. Turnips are challenging because they’re not very good to eat. Last year Andrew turned them into a beautiful soup from Alice Waters which tasted okay but was actually kind of bitter if we were honest. This year, I investigated pickling them instead.

As it turns out, pickled turnips are standard in Middle Eastern Food, and I’ve been eating them for years every time I get a combo plate from the Lebanese restaurant right up the street. It never crossed my mind that I was eating pickled turnips, because they’re bright pink. Evidently this is because you add a small amount of chopped beets  to the pickle,  for the sole purpose of making them pink.

This recipe is from David Lebowitz. You make a brine that’s 1/2 cups water, 3 TB salt, and 1/2 cup white vinegar – something halfway between a lacto-fermented pickle and a vinegar pickle. Then they sit out at room temperature for a week.

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They were delicious, among my favorite pickles yet.

CSA ingredients used: turnips, part of a beet.

Other ingredients used: water, white vinegar, salt, garlic

Pita with Eggplant

One of Andrew’s proudest triumphs last year was sahib, a eggplant stuffed in pita dish from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. When we made it last year, Andrew loving crafted everything from scratch, including the pita bread, and then finished everything on the grill. This all happened when I was out of town, and I got back in time to only have a taste. This year I was actually around for it, but we had maybe 20 minutes to cook, so we bought pita, tabouli, and tahini sauce from the local middle eastern market, and quickly fried the eggplant.

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CSA ingredients: tomatoes, eggplant

Other ingredients used: egg, pita, tabouli

Corn Chowder Salad

Next up, I had found a recipe for Corn Chowder Salad  over at Smitten Kitchen. It sounded weird, but it checked all of the boxed. It used up lots of corn, it used up a bunch of potatoes, and it contained some protein to boot. I made it as sort of a late-night fried bacon snack, which I think is important to always have around. You fry up 4 slices of diced bacon and then remove the bacon but leave the fat. Then you fry 1 lb diced potatoes, and 6 ears of corn in the bacon fat. The recipe calls for red peppers; I only had green peppers and decided to add one of them. Green peppers are one of the few vegetables we’ve never really come up with something to do with. I was hesitant to include them, but decided that frying them in bacon fat was probably as good as it was going to get.

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Once everything is cooked, you mix the fried vegetables, the bacon, and 1/2 cup cider vinegar.

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Sadly, no picture of the final product, just random vegetable components. It was pretty good – the cider vinegar was a nice touch and as expected, green peppers fried in bacon fat are not too bad.

CSA ingredients used: potatoes, corn, a green pepper

Other ingredients used: bacon, apple cider vinegar

Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes

In years past, we’ve made most of our Napa cabbages into kimchi (when I wasn’t making imprudent decisions about cabbage rolls). However, we still have a half gallon mason jar of kimchi in the refrigerator from last year, and I think it’s actually still good too.

Lots of recipes for cabbage will call for, like, a cup of it. This is not even remotely cool. Under what circumstances does a person have a cup of Napa cabbage sitting around? Anyway. While bitterly rejecting recipes for Napa cabbage, I came across this recipe for Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes from Smitten Kitchen that called for an entire 8 cups. I was sold.

First you make a sauce: you mix together 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 2-3 tsp Gochujang (Korean pepper sauce), and 1 TB brown sugar.

Then you toast 3 TB sesame seeds and set them aside. Saute 2 TB minced ginger and 1 TB minced garlic in oil for 30 seconds, and then add 10 ounces of sliced shiitake mushrooms and cook for about 6 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium and add 8 cups of sliced Napa cabbage and 3 sliced scallions.

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8 cups of Napa cabbage turns out to be about a quarter of it

While this is happening, you cook 10 ounce soba noodles in a pot of boiling salted water. You’re also supposed to cook a cup of frozen edamame in the water with the noodles. I had frozen edamame, but didn’t read ahead enough to realize I was supposed to cook them with the pasta, so I left them out entirely.

Once the noodles are done, drain them and combine with the cabbage and mushroom mixture, the sesame seeds, and the sauce.

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This is not a very good picture. It was pretty dark out by the time we finally ate.

CSA ingredients used: napa cabbage

Other ingredients used: soba noodles, Shiitake mushrooms, scallions, soy sauce, brown pepper, Gochujang, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic.

Spicy Dilly Beans

At this point, the green bean situation was getting out of control and it was pretty clear that we were not going to sit down and eat 3 pounds of green beans. Last year I had done a vinegar pickle with them which I wasn’t super fond of (though my 18 month old nephew apparently ate an entire jar for dinner over Christmas last year), but this year I decided to try again with a different pickle recipe.

This recipe for spicy dilly beans is from Serious Eats. You trim the beans, which is pretty time consuming when you have 3 lbs of them. Then you fill 5 pint jars with a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of dill seeds, and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes each. The brine is 2 1/2 cups of water, 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar, and 4 TB salt.

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These are going to be really spicy

I filled them all up, and then they went in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

CSA ingredients used: all of the green beans

Other ingredients used: garlic, red chile flakes, dill seeds, water, vinegar, salt

Next: Week 10, in which I’m all alone to obsess about tablecloths

 

Week 7: The Calm Before the Corn

The Week 7 box arrived at a moment in the summer crop cycle where it’s easy to become lured into a false sense of security. Spring is over and the massive quantities of leafy greens have dropped off, and the summer vegetables have started to arrive, but they are still cute and tiny. This week we had broccoli, cauliflower, baby Yukon potatoes, bok choy, red beets, carrots, raspberries, blueberries, summer squash, and English peas.

However, I was wary. I knew those beets and broccoli were only going to get bigger. In fact, there was likely a Napa cabbage sitting in the field right now with our name on it, growing larger and larger by the day, until it would at last break free and take up residence on the entire bottom shelf of our refrigerator.

We had made a curry pretty recently and neither of us exactly felt like it, but when I came across this recipe for Aloo Gobhi in Serious Eats that used the potatoes, the cauliflower, the peas, the carrots, and the onions, I couldn’t help myself.  Using 5 CSA vegetables in one dish is about as good as you can do without resorting to the black arts (or buying a $500 juicer).

Aloo Ghobi

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First, you make the masala. It’s 1 TB grated ginger, 2 minced garlic cloves, a handful of cilantro, 1 tsp red chili powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp salt, a pinch of cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves. You pour in a half a cup of water and puree it until it’s smooth.

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Next, you add 1 TB canola oil to a skillet and set it over medium heat. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin, and 1 clove of minced garlic. Cook it for about a minute, and then add 1 thinly sliced onion and cook for another 8 minutes.

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Once the onions are soft, turn the heat up a bit and add a can of diced tomatoes (these were supposed to be fresh tomatoes, but we didn’t have any and I wasn’t about to buy any when we were about to be up to our ears in tomatoes). Then comes a handful of potatoes and some carrots. This cooks for 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are soft.

Once the potatoes are soft (it was closer to 25 minutes for me), the masala mixture goes in to the skillet along with 1/2 cup water and some cauliflower. Turn the heat to low and simmer for a while. At the very end, the peas and a handful of cilantro go in.

I ate it over rice with yogurt, and we had a giant container of leftovers for the next four days too.

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CSA ingredients used: cauliflower, peas, potatoes, onions, carrots

Other ingredients used: garlic, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, red chili powder, turmeric, salt, mustard seeds, a can of tomatoes.

With the next few night’s dinners taken care of, I decided to try to do something with the leftover currants from the previous week. In the index of the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, I found exactly one entry for currants, in the form of Oat and Currant Scones.

It should be clear to any regular reader of this blog that our interest in food is purely epicurean and we would never purposefully cook something healthy.  However, we are fans of the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. I don’t tend to enjoy particularly sweet desserts, but I’ve found that I enjoy most of the recipes in this book. The only downside is that after cooking from it for a bit, you have about 12 different types of flour in the house.

Oat and Currant Scones

Per usual, this recipe had a vaguely ridiculous ingredient list, but we had accumulated everything on it for some previous purpose. I assembled white whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, buttermilk, old-fashioned rolled oats, milk, vanilla, sugar, and oat flour. Oat flour, it turns out, is oatmeal that you put in the food processor for 30 seconds.

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The bourbon was not part of the recipe.

To get started, you preheat the over to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together 3 ounces of white whole wheat flour, 3 1/8 ounces all-purpose flour, 1 5/8 ounces oat flour, 1 3/4 ounces sugar, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut 1 stick of butter into it until the texture resembles bread crumbs.

Then you add the currants and the oats and stir it around gently, trying not to smoosh the currants up too much.

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Mix together an egg, 4 ounces of buttermilk, and 1 tsp vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Pour it quickly into the dry mixture and stir it around a bit.

Dump the dough out on a floured work surface (more floured than my work surface would be recommended…) and knead it a few times. Divide it in half, and then pat each half into a disk that’s about 1/2 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Divide each circle into 6 wedges.

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Transfer then to the baking sheet, brush the tops with milk, and sprinkle some coarse sugar on the top. Bake them until they’re puffy and golden brown, about 22 minutes.

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CSA ingredients used: currants

Other ingredients used: white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, oats, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, butter, an egg, buttermilk, vanilla extract, milk

Stir-Fried Sesame Bok Choy

By the end of the week, we’d used up almost everything except the boy choy. We made it as a side to go along with country-style pork chops. This recipe is from the New York Times.

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Prep the bok choy by cutting it into 2-inch pieces. Combine 1/4 inch chicken broth, 1 TB rice wine, 2 tsp soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp cornstarch and set it aside.

Heat the wok (we’ve been doing this on the grill; directly on the coals) and stir-fry 3 garlic cloves and a 1 inch piece of ginger for 10 seconds. Then add the bok choy, sprinkle with some salt and some sugar, and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook another minute, then sprinkle with 2 tsp of sesame seeds and serve.

 

CSA ingredients used: bok choy

Other ingredients used: sesame seeds, soy sauce, cornstarch, garlic, ginger, rice wine, chicken broth

Next: Here comes the corn!

Week 4: Pot Pie-A-Palooza

The Week 4 box arrived containing strawberries, raspberries, sugar snap peas, turnips, red onions, fennel, cilantro, baby lettuce, and Swiss chard. We made a few simple salads out of the fennel and the baby lettuce, and being fairly exhausted, we were determined to pick simple recipes for the week for everything else. In a shocking turn of events for readers of this blog everywhere, that didn’t actually happen.

Beef Stir-Fry with Sugar Snap Peas

We chose a simple beef stir-fry for the sugar snap peas. It involves making a marinade and a sauce that are largely the same thing, but not quite. To make the marinade, You take 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp rice wine, 1/2 tsp sesame oil,  and 1/2 tsp cornstarch and combine it with a pound of flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain.

For the stir-fry sauce, you mix 2 TB dark soy sauce, 2 TB rice wine, 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup oyster sauce, and 2 TB sugar, 1/2 toasted sesame oil, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Then you heat some vegetable oil in a wok, stir-fry half of the beef for about a minute, set it aside, and cook the other half of the beef.

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Then you wipe out the wok and add a pound of snap peas, follow by 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tsp ginger, and a minced scallion. Then return the beef to the wok, and add the sauce and cook it until it’s thickened and everything is coated, about a minute.

We served it over rice and it was delicious. I’m not a huge fan of sugar snap peas, but covered in sauce and slightly browned they were exactly what I wanted.

CSA ingredients used: sugar snap peas

Other ingredients used: beef, soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, sugar, salt, chicken stock, rice

Pancetta, White Bean, and Chard Pot Pies

While looking for creative things to do with Swiss chard (Andrew, for reasons incomprehensible to me, doesn’t like to eat it), we came across a recipe from Smitten Kitchen for little pot pies. This is a prime example of a recipe that I became completely convinced was a great idea, only to discover that it was in fact not a great idea at all. My reasoning was that after week of weather in the high 80s and 90, suddenly it was 60 degrees in Chicago and we should take advantage of this by using our oven. If it had been 40 degrees in Chicago, this probably would have been a great idea. Also, I was completely charmed by these cute pictures of little pot pies, and very excited that I happened to have baking dishes of the appropriate size.

Luckily, I had enough sense to break the project out over several days.

The first step was to make the dough. For this step, you mix 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of table salt, and 13 TB butter together in a large bowl using a pastry blender (I was excited to discover we had one of these, although I’m sure I’ve tried to throw it out 1000 times on some kitchen purge or both before Andrew stopped me). You’re supposed to mix this all together until it looks like couscous (??). In another bowl, combine 6 TB sour cream, 1 TB white wine vinegar, and 1/4 cup of water. Stir everything together until it forms a dough, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the refrigerator.

The next day I made the filling. To do this, you heat 1 TB olive oil in a large frying pan. Add 4 oz diced pancetta and cook it until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta using a slotted spoon and let it drain on a paper towel. Then add a diced onion, some diced carrot, and a few diced celery stalks to the pan filled with pork fat. After about 8 minutes, add a garlic clove and cook for another minute. Then add the thinly sliced Swiss chard and cook for about 3 minutes. Pour everything into a bowl, add the pancetta to the bowl, and put it all in the refrigerator for when you’re ready to assemble everything.

Having done all of that, it was starting to get warm again and we definitely did not feel like baking or eating pot pies. At a certain point it became clear the weather was just going to keep getting hotter, and I needed to just make them and put them in the freezer for October.

Saturday night I finally assembled the pot pies. First you make a roux: melt 3 1/2 TB butter in a saucepan. Add 3 1/2 TB flour and mix it around. Cook the roux for a bit until it starts to get some color. Then add 3 1/2 cups of chicken broth one ladle-full at a time, stirring to incorporate it before you add any more. Once all the broth is in there, you can bring it to a boil and let it reduce for about 10 minutes. Add the white beans and the bowl of vegetables and pancetta from before.

Now you split the mixture evenly between four oven-proof bowls. Then you split the dough into four parts, roll it out, and put it over the pot pies.

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I left them out while I was waiting for them to cool before putting them in the refrigerator, and when I came back into the kitchen I discovered that a cat had decided to help himself to some.

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Odin expressed an interest in the chicken broth, pancetta, butter, and sour cream specifically.

CSA ingredients used: Swiss chard, onions

Other ingredients used: flour, butter, sour cream, white wine vinegar, pancetta, carrots, celery, chicken broth, white beans.

Ultimately, I did end up making one and eating it, mostly because I didn’t have anything else to eat and I was ravenous. It was undeniably delicious, but also somewhat overwhelmingly rich – the sour cream in the dough along with the thicker-than-average homemade chicken broth made it so that I could only eat a few bites before I was full. I did have it for lunch for the next two days.

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Mojo De Cilantro

Amazingly, the cilantro (which we forgot about) survived an entire week in the refrigerator, something I have never known grocery store cilantro to do. As I was heading out to a party (my bridal shower, actually) I made a quick cilantro sauce to bring along (tacos were on the menu). The sauce is 4 cloves of garlic, a bunch of cilantro, 1/4 tsp cumin, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 cup olive oil, a few TB water, and a splash of sherry vinegar (I used white wine).

CSA ingredients used: cilantro

Other ingredients used: garlic, cumin, salt, olive oil, water, white wine vinegar

I couldn’t say what it tasted like because I ate it on tacos along with a bunch of other things, but it sure was beautiful.

Lime Pickled Red Onions

We were running low on our pickled onions from earlier in the summer and also vegetable drawer space, so I decided to make a new batch. For these, I used lime juice instead of vinegar. You slice up some red onions, cover them with lime juice, add 1 1/2 tsp of salt and let them sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. When you take them out, they’re pink!

CSA ingredients used: red onions

Other ingredients used: lime juice, salt

Next: Week 5

 

Week 3: Lettuce Entertain

The arrival of house guests at the end of June made large-scale cooking projects basically impossible. I did, however, manage to finish off the remains of the previous week’s box on a 90 degree day using our new blender and the last few bulbs of green garlic and onions. This recipe for cold garlic soup is from Cucina Fresca, a great summer cookbook since it consists entirely of cold or room temperature recipes, including a bunch for cold soup, they only thing I have felt like eating the last three weeks. The authors also have an instinctive understanding that soup should also include sour cream, heavy cream, or both.

Garlic Soup

First, dice up a few onions onions and some garlic and saute them in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Then you add a medium baking potato (peeled and sliced) and 4 cups of chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer everything until the potato and garlic are soft. After that, the mixture gets pureed in a blender and refrigerated until it’s cold. Then you add a cup of heavy cream and 2 TB sour cream. The only downside is that it takes a while for it to get cold in the refrigerator.

CSA ingredients used: onions, garlic

Other ingredients used: oil, potato, chicken broth, heavy cream, sour cream

Week 3

The next day, the Week 3 box arrived, as well as Andrew’s parents.

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Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, English peas, onions, radishes, kale, mustard greens, two heads of lettuce, spinach

As it turns out, having a few extra people in the house makes using up a CSA box significantly easier. Instead of plotting out creative, labor intensive ways to cook and preserve vegetables, with four people we could just…eat them. We had a series of lovely salads over the next few days using the head lettuce, the radishes, the cherry tomatoes, and the english peas. Andrew made another batch of Prune’s buttermilk dressing which lasted us the entire week.

CSA ingredients used: lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions (from week 1), radishes, peas

Other ingredients used: eggs

By the weekend, we were mostly out of salads and I started to get to work on the other vegetables. Spinach, arugula, and mustard greens were left. The arugula I made into another portion of salsa verde from the previous week, to use for slathering on various proteins. For the mustard greens, I decided to make one of our favorite easy pasta recipes.

Penne with Green Olives and Feta (and mustard greens)

First you make a gremolata: chop of 1/4 cup of Italian parsley and mix it with a minced garlic clove and the zest of one lemon. Set it aside.

Next, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the mustard greens and and cook for about 3 minutes, then drain them. Bring the water back to a boil and add 12 oz penne. Cook it until it’s al dente and drain, reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta back to the pot, and mix in 1/2 cup of feta, 1/2 cup green olives, the mustard greens, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. When you’re ready to eat, the gremolata goes on top.

The mustard greens from the box were very…potent, both in their peppery flavor and their ability to turn the pasta water jet black.

It was actually really cool looking. The pasta, on the other hand, came out of the blackish cooking water looking distinctly unappetizing:

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Luckily, it tasted just the way it was supposed to.

CSA ingredients used: mustard greens

Other ingredients used: penne, feta, olive oil, green olives, Italian parsley, lemon zest, garlic

Next: Week 4!

Week 2: Herb Pie in the Sky

When the box arrived on Tuesday, we were completely out of food and needed to do a fair amount of cooking right off the bat if we were going to get through Andrew’s upcoming double day. The box didn’t disappoint: we got rhubarb, two quarts of strawberries, spinach, lettuce, arugula, spring onions, green garlic, radishes, and more asparagus.

Aside from needing to cook, we also had a string of house guests coming to town, and I suddenly decided that the standards of cleanliness before guests arrive as a soon-to-be-married couple were dramatically higher than they where when we were co-habitating as boyfriend and girlfriend. I can’t explain this reasoning in any remotely healthy way, but I suppose of all of the ways the patriarchy manifests itself, this one is pretty harmless.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the previous day we cleaned and reorganized the pantry,  and I also figured out how to descale my espresso maker. Having been without espresso for several years, caffeine at that level of concentration had a very dramatic effect on me.

We sat down to think through the week, and I came away with a plan that basically involved cooking every single dish for the rest of the week that afternoon and evening. We were going to grill ribs, bake cornbread, make salad, make a marinade for chicken legs, grill them, cook an elaborate Ottolenghi recipe, make rhubarb shrub, and also recaulk the bathtub.

Rhubarb Shrub

I discovered shrub, or drinking vinegar, over Christmas when one of my students had gifted me with some homemade cranberry shrub and I proceeded to drink it with bourbon and vermouth for most of January. I was excited because I didn’t know this stuff existed and I loved it. I’d experimented with flavored simple syrups in past summers, and while they are gorgeous and colorful they always ultimately go to waste because as it turns out, I hate sweet fruity cocktails.

This recipe from rhubarb shrub is from Serious Eats. First, slice 2 lbs rhubarb into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Add it to a pot along with a cup of sugar and a cup of white wine vinegar. Bring it to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes until the rhubarb has turned into stringy mush (this took about 15 minutes and a potato masher for me). Then, strain it through a fine mesh strainer and let it sit for about a half hour until it’s stopped drinking. You throw out the solids, and the bright pink liquid is yours.

CSA ingredients used: rhubarb

Other ingredients used: white wine vinegar, sugar

Grilled Spare Ribs with Cornbread and Buttermilk Dressing on Lettuce

Andrew cooked the ribs for about 24 hours in the sous-vide, and finished them on the grill. We used a tamarind BBQ sauce that we’d made and canned in the fall, and served them along with a homemade cornbread and a salad made from the CSA lettuce with the rest of last week’s buttermilk dressing.

CSA ingredients used: lettuce

Other ingredients used: spare ribs, tomatoes, cucumber, all of the cornbread ingredients

When we saw we were getting more spinach, we sent out a plea on Facebook for suggestions of what to do with it. We got any number of ideas, but our friend Matt responded with this herb pie that would use up a bunch of CSA ingredients in one go and would work really well for Andrew to take to go. The only downside was that it broke a well-documented CSA rule– don’t cook Ottolenghi recipes. However, armed with espresso I blithely declared that I could handle it, I would make it after dinner and we would have it for lunch along with chicken thighs for the rest of the week.

Chicken Thighs with Za’atar & Herb Pie

First the chicken thighs. We picked this recipe for a middle eastern chicken from Serious Eats to go along with the herb pie. You begin by making za’atar: 1 TB dried oregano, 1 TB dried thyme, 2 TB sesame seeds, 2 tsp ground sumac. You split it in half, put half to the side, and add 2 TB olive oil, salt, and 3 garlic cloves to the other half to make a paste. This goes all around and under the skin of the chicken thighs. The other half gets sprinkled on top of the chicken thighs later.

After letting the chicken marinade for a bit, Andrew grilled it while I got to work on the herb pie. It had sixteen ingredients (which never bodes well) but at this point we already had most of them. I decided to make the ricotta first. To make ricotta, you heat milk to 200 degrees and add some lemon juice and salt. Unfortunately, the lemon that I used was mostly mummified and I didn’t get enough juice out of it to curdle the milk. I tried to strain it, but nothing happened.

I usually strain ricotta through a paper towel rather than cheesecloth because I don’t want to spend $3.99 every time I make ricotta, but we had literally one piece of paper towel left. The semi-curdled milk just sat there on top of the paper towel, not draining through. It was actually remarkably impressive, and under different circumstances would have made an excellent advertisement for a paper towels. After about 20 minutes of staring at it waiting for it to strain, I went out and bought another lemon, a bunch of paper towels, and some actual cheesecloth.

In an effort to make the experience as pleasant as possible, I prepped and organized everything carefully before starting, and cleaned as I went. I chopped spinach, green onions, arugula, parsley, mint, and dill, grated cheddar cheese and crumbled feta, grated lemon zest and chopped onions, and put everything in a nice little bowl of its own, just like in cooking videos. Shockingly, it does, in fact make for a much nicer cooking experience.

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The first step was to saute the a chopped onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes, cooking them but not browning them. After that, you add 1 LB chopped spinach and cook for a few minutes. Then all of the rest of the greens – 1 3/4 oz parsley, 1 3/4 oz arugula, 1 oz mint, and 2/3 oz dill. The recipe also calls for celery but we didn’t include it. Once these cook for a few minutes, you remove all of the greens and put them in a colander to cool.

At this point, I went to go decaulk the bathtub.

Once that was done, the greens were almost cool. The next step is to add 2 oz feta, 3 1/2 oz Cheddar cheese, and 4 oz ricotta to the mixture, along with the zest of 1 lemon, 2 eggs, 1/3 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and a 1/2 tsp sugar.

Now it’s finally time to play with the fillo dough. You put five layers of dough on top of each other, brushing each layer with olive oil before you add the next. It goes into a 8 1/2 inch casserole dish (this was momentarily confusing – the cookbook says a pie dish but the picture in the cookbook is of a rectangular dish. Because, England. Everything is a pie. But we figured it out.) Then comes the herb filling, followed by 5 more layers of dough, each brushed with oil. After that, you put it in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes and it’s done.

CSA ingredients used: spinach, some arugula

Other ingredients used: chicken, dried thyme, dried oregano, garlic, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, onion, feta cheese, ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, dill, mint, parsley, fillo dough, olive oil.

Next: I have to cook again?

Week 1: Field Report

There’s a certain false confidence that attends the first CSA box. Chicago has a late spring, so the box isn’t spilling over with abundance—it’s just the right amount of early vegetables. As Monday rolled around, we found that without too much strain, we’d succeeding in using up almost the entire box. The only things left were some asparagus, baby kale, and a few radishes.

We still had an ungodly amount of spinach pesto. You may recall from a previous post that I had claimed that it was best to freeze pesto before you mix in the cheese. But my older sister told me that was bananas, that she’d frozen plenty of cheesy pesto and it defrosted just fine. So since Andrew and I couldn’t stomach another spoonful of pesto (a welcome problem to have), we decided to go ahead and freeze it. This method from the Kitchn popped up on my Facebook newsfeed, which would have been exciting and convenient if such emotions weren’t shadowed by the sense that the bots are watching my every move.

The pesto method involves spreading it out on a piece of wax paper on a sheet pan, covering it with another piece of wax paper, and sticking it in the freezer. Once its frozen, you can break off pieces of whatever size you need when the urge comes. As a bonus, you don’t have to try to clean pesto out of your ice cube trays.

 

Grilled Salmon, Asparagus, and Kale with Buttermilk Dressing

Monday, Andrew’s day off, featured an extensive pantry cleansing, including a sorting and culling of spices. During that process, we discovered an unlabeled jar that contained a delicious spice rub. After some detective work, we figured out that it was from this recipe for lamb that consisted of cumin, Urfa Chile (this is the best thing ever), sumac (also the best thing ever), and salt. We slathered this all of the salmon and grilled it, along with the rest of the asparagus. We made a side salad using the CSA kale, and the remainder of the buttermilk dressing from earlier in the week.

CSA vegetables used: half of the asparagus, kale

Other ingredients used: salmon, rice, sumac, Urfa pepper flakes, cumin, salt

And that was the end of week one. To recap:

Dish CSA vegetables used Does it taste good? $$$? Exhausted? Gone? Or rotting in the fridge?
Spring Salad w/New Potatoes Potatoes, radishes, spring onions, asparagus Yes, thanks to the spring onions $ Yes We didn’t quite finish this before I got tired of the asparagus flavor gradually permeating everything
Spinach Pesto Spinach Yes, but not when you’ve eaten it four days in a row I know I said this last year, but why are pine nuts so effing expensive? No Definitely not gone, but safely frozen for a day a long, long time from now
Grilled Chicken & Lettuce with buttermilk dressing Lettuce, radishes, spring onions That was legitimately delicious lettuce $ No Gone
Orecchiette with Sausage & Rapini Rapini Totally fine $ No We got close to finishing this, but not quite
Saag Paneer Spinach Oh my god yes Surprisingly inexpensive, especially if you use paper towels instead of cheesecloth to strain the paneer Yes, but that’s more the result of eating fried cheese is surprisingly exhausting Gone, but not forgotten
Grilled Salmon, Asparagus, and Kale with buttermilk dressing Kale, asparagus yes $$$ (Salmon) No Gone

Casualties: None so far, but some of the radishes are looking a little shifty.

Next: Oh no more spinach