Weeks 10 & 11: The Caprese Salad of Solitude

Week 10 of our summer CSA was exactly three weeks away from our August wedding, so needless to say the CSA was not the only thing on my plate (sorry).

Andrew, as well as my close friends and family, sometimes refer to me as having “organizational abilities.” I know they’re being serious, but whatever they are referring to as my “organizational abilities” is what I think of as “Kyra’s panicked reaction to things that stress her out that don’t seem to stress other people out at all.” The phrase “organizational abilities” implies a clear-eyed, rational mind, definitely no crying about wedding reception tablecloths, and I’m pretty sure a person with “organizational abilities” doesn’t have to pour themselves a shot of bourbon every time they open their wedding planning spreadsheet.

I am a person who is happy when I have a plan and that plan is successful. While other people might focus on, say, how delicious the CSA vegetables taste, what really makes me happy is when I have a sheet of paper enumerating exactly what dish I will cook with which CSA vegetable, what day we’re going to eat it, what other ingredients I need, and how much they will cost. I also lack the patience to make this happen. It’s an unfortunate combination of traits. This is where Andrew comes in.

Andrew has no organizational abilities almost at all. One would think that I would find this annoying, but it’s actually quite useful. He’s mostly appreciative of my attempts to organize our lives—seeing as he’s the beneficiary of things like knowing what we’re going to eat, getting plane tickets more than three days before the holiday in question, and having a good credit score. But deep down inside, he doesn’t really care about whether we’re organized or not. He cares about things like Art, and Beauty, and Nature, and the late 19th-century Elocution movement (don’t ask). So when I start to get spun up over the fact that I went over our gas budget by $3.25, he tends to take the long view.

Unfortunately, the first week of August Andrew left to play a summer music festival in Santa Cruz, leaving me at home in Chicago with my planning spreadsheet and my bourbon. Apparently planning a wedding with someone is supposed to be a good way of predicting what it’s like to be married to them. In this case, we discovered that when Andrew’s not around to act as a breaking mechanism on my stress, I tend to go off the rails.

Managing the time difference was part of the problem—Andrew was in Santa Cruz which was a two hour time difference from me and a three hour time difference from where we were getting married. (We had decided to get married in Vermont, which—like so many of our decisions around the wedding over the last year—seemed like a good idea at the time.) My sense of soon-to-be-spousal compassion was tested daily when I picked up the phone determined to wake him up at 6:00 AM to discuss with him, say, if he thought we should buy 2 1/2 inch or 3 inch thick birch poles for the chuppah, before talking myself off the ledge and waiting until lunch time.

Over the two weeks he was gone, I also had some CSA boxes to content with, containing squash, green peppers, banana peppers, tomatoes, apples, chard, corn, shallots, pickling cucumbers, potatoes, fennel, broccoli, more bell peppers, more potatoes, more tomatoes, more apples. more onions, more carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, more green beans, and jalapeños.

 

I should have been happy that it was tomato season. I feel that between the end of July and the middle of September, one is morally obligated to eat as much tomato and mozzarella as humanly possible. But I was mostly feeling sorry for myself. Andrew and I had gotten engaged the previous summer during tomato season and it was awesome. The night we got engaged, we made this caprese salad:

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There was sort of a ring theme to our meal.

Hoping to cheer myself up, I made my own caprese salad, which, instead of providing comfort, became a sort of pathetically nostalgic emblem of my loneliness.

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In all honesty, the tomatoes were just really bad this year. Chicago was strangely cold in August—highs in the sixties, maybe low seventies. I mean, it was beautiful and very pleasant. But maybe not if you’re a tomato.

Andrew also has a moderating influence on what we choose to eat, since I have almost no judgment of what constitutes an actual meal. I’ll find a recipe and announce, “This calls for buttermilk, carrots, and ham! We have all of these things! Let’s make it!” And he just stares at me noncommittally until I have a chance to think things through.

This brings me to the beet & egg spring rolls I made the first day Andrew was gone.

 

Spring Rolls with Beets, Brown Rice, Eggs, and Herbs

This weird recipe calls for Napa cabbage and also for beets (in case you’ve forgotten in the 2 months since I last posted…but we have a really large Napa cabbage in the refrigerator at this point). It also made use of some of our mint and basil that was going wild in the back yard. As an added bonus,  I didn’t have to cook the beets.

First you prep a bunch of things.  You need to cook about a cup and a half of rice. Once it’s done, toss it in a bowl with 1 TB rice vinegar. Next, peel 3 or 4 raw beets and grate them (recipe was for 1 LB – I almost had this with one beet). Grating it took like an hour, and your cutting board will look like a crime scene, but that’s just how it is with beets.

Then prep some assorted herbs and cabbage: I used 1/3 cup of mint, 1/2 cup of basil, and 2 cups of shredded Napa cabbage. The beets and herbs go together in a bowl with 2 TB rice vinegar, and the shredded cabbage goes in its own bowl with another 2 TB vinegar.

Now it’s time to make a few egg pancakes. Take 3 eggs and crack them individually into 3 little bowls and beat them. Slip one beaten egg into an 8 inch non-stick skillet that has a little oil in the bottom. After a minute or two, flip the egg over and you should have a little omelet. Repeat with the other two eggs. Once the eggs are done, cut them into little slices.

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Finally, everything gets rolled together. You need 8 1/2 inch diameter spring roll wrappers. Dip each one in warm water for about 30 seconds to maybe it pliable, and then place some whole basil and mint leaves on top. Next, add some of the beet mixture, then the cabbage mixture, then the rice, and a few strips of egg.

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Obviously I was suspicious of how these would taste—raw beets and eggs and such. But they were actually pretty good, and the egg made them substantive enough to eat a few as a meal.

CSA ingredients used: Napa cabbage, beets

Other ingredients used: mint, basil, brown rice, egg, Spring roll wrappers, rice wine vinegar,

 

 

 

Sirka Paneer

Recognizing that I was heading into a period of time where I might be a little to excited/crazed to feed myself, I decided it would be smart to make a giant pot of something. I bought this book by Raghaven Iyer called 660 Curries after my last experience cooking saag paneer, feeling that I needed to upgrade my Indian cooking resourcing a little. As a CSA cookbook it looked like it would be invaluable—vegetables in any combination in delicious curry format. I picked a recipe for Sirka Paneer, which is a sweet-tart cheese with potatoes and cauliflower in a vinegar sauce.

To make this recipe, first you need to make paneer. (Or buy it. You could do that. I just didn’t, because I had milk and I didn’t feeling like going out again)

Then, pour 1/4 cup water into a blender jar and 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, 1/4 cup tomato paste, 1 TB coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 dried chiles, 2 fresh chiles, 2 cloves of garlic, and a bit of sliced up ginger. Blend it around together to make a paste.

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Next, heat 2 TB vegetable oil in a skillet and add 1/2 cup chopped red onion (I used white onion). Stir-fry it until it’s started to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the curry paste to the pan and lower the heat, then cook 2 to 4 minutes until the oil start to separate from the curry.

Next, you add 1 cup of water to the blender and blitz it around to clean out the blender. Once the paste is done, throw in this water as well.

Next, add 2 cups of chopped cauliflower, 2 medium potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes (I put in about 6 little ones), and 1 tsp salt to the pan. Bring everything to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. I decided to add some carrots too since I had them.

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Once the vegetables are tender, add the coconut milk and the paneer and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then sprinkle some cilantro on top and it’s done.

This recipe was great – the carrots were not a good call and I ended up mostly picking around them. But all of the other vegetables were soft and mushy and the curry flavor blended into them really nicely.

CSA ingredients used: cauliflower, onion, carrots, potatoes

Other ingredients used: milk, vinegar, apple cider vinegar, salt, garlic, ginger, coconut milk, cilantro, tomato paste, chiles, cumin, and coriander.

Corn, Tomatoes, Avocado, and Bacon in Various Combinations

As the days went on and the wedding got nearer, it became clear that my concerns about being too busy to cook for myself were somewhat moot because I discovered I had no appetite at all. Apparently this is pretty normal in the two weeks before one’s wedding. Luckily, if you’re going to be picking at your food for a few weeks, an early August farm box provides a pretty accessible assortment of choices. Here are a few of the salad-like things I made in a vain hope that I would at some point be hungry:

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This avocado/corn/cucumber/feta/basil salad was great, particularly the lime-pickled onions for combating nausea
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Actually, the bacon corn dish was great, too, since I can always eat bacon no matter how stressed I am.
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Baked feta was a less sensible choice—a giant hunk of feta seems like a good idea, but I could only eat a few bites.

CSA ingredients used: tomatoes, corn, onions, cucumber

Other ingredients used: feta, bacon, basil, avocado

Next: In which I solemnly take on the responsibilities of a wife-to-be by using a vacuum sealer to freeze things.

Week 8: Elotes FTW

As predicted, the Week 8 box was….large. We had green cabbage, summer apples, corn, a truly massive quantity of broccoli, cauliflower, more carrots, more green beans, fennel, and more red currants. And a head of lettuce.

I had been waiting for the green cabbage for months. We’d been craving homemade sauerkraut since I had tried to make it last November and it got all moldy and we had to throw it out, and we had a brand new fermentation crock as a wedding present, along with fancy pickle weights that would theoretically prevent that from happening again.

Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut

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Moldiness aside, Sauerkraut is a actually easy to make. You cut up the cabbage and put it into a large bowl (or a fermentation crock, if you happen to have one!). You add about 3 TB of salt and knead it every 15 minutes for the next few hours, until you’ve produced enough liquid to cover the cabbage. In years past, the cabbage has sat in the refrigerator for a week or two before I get around to using it, making it pretty dry. This time I made it immediately, but I still didn’t get enough liquid out of it to cover the cabbage completely, so I made a brine of 1 cup water to 1 tsp salt and covered it with that.

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The trick is to get the cabbage to stay underneath the level of the water, and it wants to flat to the top. This recipe from Serious Eats recommended using some of the outer layers of the cabbage that you wouldn’t want to eat and putting those on top, and then putting the weights on top. It works like a dream!

The only downside is that this isn’t ready for 3 – 6 weeks.

CSA ingredients used: Green cabbage

Other ingredients used: water, salt

Pork Lettuce “Wraps”

The lettuce seemed like the next priority. We had some left over country-style pork chops   from the week before, and Andrew suggested that we make little lettuce rolls using some of the corn, sliced pork, leftover rice, and a dipping sauce.

The dipping sauce is 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup lime juice, 1/3 cup fish sauce, and 2 minced garlic cloves (It made way, way, more than I needed.)

 

I broke off the biggest leaves of lettuce and assembled them with sliced pork, corn, and rice.

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It immediately became clear that these were going to be impossible to eat, much less dip, because the lettuce leaves were not particularly inclined towards being rolled up. I gave up and threw everything together to make a salad instead, albeit one that had rice in it and a dipping sauce as dressing. It was a bit weird, but it got the job done.

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CSA ingredients used: lettuce, corn

Other ingredients used: pork chops, rice, water, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar

Grilled Elotes & Summer Squash Tacos

While musing about what to do with the first corn of the season that was properly celebratory, I came across this recipe for Elotes, or Grilled Mexican Street Corn. The picture at the top of the recipe was, shall we say, persuasive. It seemed a little indulgent to light the grill just to cook some corn, so we decided to grill the summer squash (from Week 6) and make tacos with a recipe I found at the blog Cookie and Kate.

While Andrew was lighting the chimney, I made the cheese mixture for the corn. It’s 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup feta cheese, 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder, 1 clove of minced garlic, and 1/4 cup of minced cilantro. Once the corn comes off the grill, you coat the corn with the topping, squeeze lime and chile powder over the top, and go to town.

These were unreal. They were among the best thing I’ve ever tasted, which I suppose based on the contents of the cheese mixture shouldn’t be shocking. After fretting while making them about how they would taste as leftovers, we devoured all five ears between the two of us in about two minutes.

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CSA ingredients used: corn

Other ingredients used: mayonnaise, sour cream, feta cheese, cilantro, garlic, chile powder.

The squash turned out okay too, but had nothing on the corn.  We put the grilled squash on flour tortillas and ate it with black beans, tomatoes, and an avocado chimichurri (2 tsp lime juice, 1 cup parsley, 2 cloves of garlic, 3 TB olive oil, 1 TB water, red pepper flakes, and a little bit of cilantro.) We didn’t have quite enough parsley, and I decided to compensate by adding a bunch more garlic. This was less than brilliant; avocado chimichurri sounds like a great idea but it was so garlicky as to be almost inedible.

CSA ingredient used: summer squash

Other ingredients use: tortillas, tomatoes, black beans, avocado, lime, parsley, garlic, olive oil, water, red pepper flakes, cilantro

Buddha Bowl

Having used up most of the fun ingredients, it was time to turn my attention to the cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli. I decided to get some tofu and make Buddha Bowls for Andrew and I to take with us to our various weekend engagements.

I baked the tofu, which was sort of fun. You have to press it for a bit to get the moisture out before you chop it up and throw it on a baking sheet to bake for 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

 

After that, I steamed carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli and added them to the bowl along with rice. The sauce was a peanut sauce from Brand New Vegan: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup water, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 TB rice vinegar, 1 TB hoisin sauce, 1 tsp sriracha, 1/2 tsp chile garlic paste, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, and 1/3 cup peanut butter. It all went together in a saucepan and cooked for a few minutes until it was thickened.

I did not succeed in taking a picture of the buddha bowl itself, which is a shame, but this recipe is highly recommended.

CSA ingredients used: carrots, cauliflower, broccoli

Other ingredients used: rice, tofu, soy sauce, garlic, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, sriracha, chile garlic paste, ginger, peanut butter.

Red Currant and Apple Chutney

By the end of the week, we’d used up almost everything except the fruit. We briefly entertained the idea of making a pork chops with an apple currant chutney, but upon remembering it take an hour and a half to make chutney, we decided to cook our pork chops and just eat them, and make chutney to have on something later in the week.

You slice up an onion and cook it for a bit in olive oil, and then let it caramelize (for 45 minutes or so). In a separate saucepan, you add three or four apples that have been cored and chopped and some red currants, and and 1/4 cup water. You simmer them over low heat for 30 minutes, and then add the onions, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and some salt.

It tasted pretty good! I even had it a few times on its own as a snack.

CSA ingredients used: red currants, apples, and onions

Other ingredients used: olive oil, water, brown sugar

Next: Let the pickling begin

Week 9: Starve a Fever, Feed a Cold Cauliflower

Two days into his 9-show week, Andrew came down with a cold and was surprisingly cheerful about it. He usually saves his colds for the end of a run of a show, and was excited to get it out of the way while he was already committed to spending 6 nights a week in a dark room. Vacation was around the corner, and we were both hopeful that this meant he wouldn’t get sick again for it.

Having a cold while trying to use up a CSA comes with its own set of challenges, given that most recipes are fairly labor intensive and nobody actually feels like eating vegetables when they are sick. However, we did a pretty commendable job by cooking a combination of soups and flavor-filled Indian style side dishes.

Sausage and Kale Soup

Andrew threw together this soup before running off for his Saturday matinee. We’d bought the Italian sausage for another purpose that Andrew now deemed unappetizing. So he took half of it, sliced it thickly, and browned it briefly in a pot. Then he took the sausage out, threw in some diced onion and garlic, and sauteed everything until it was wilted. He poured in some chicken stock we had in the freezer, added back the sausage, and cooked until the sausage was just cooked through. He tossed in some kale and simmered for the last minute. He declared it tasty enough, given his compromised abilities to discern flavor.

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CSA ingredients used: 1/2 of the kale, onion

Other ingredients used: sausage, garlic, chicken broth

Indian-Style Cauliflower Pickles

Through a combination of lack of inspiration and denial, we had developed a fairly dire cauliflower situation—with three heads of cauliflower from three different CSA weeks piling up in the refrigerator. With the weather finally cooling off, I felt it was time to face the cauliflower head-on (sorry).  I found myself drawn to the gorgeous scarlet color of the cauliflower in this Indian-style pickle recipe. The only barrier was my limited experience with frying, but I didn’t give it much thought, since when applying flame to a large pot of oil, what can possibly go wrong?

  1. You start by dicing up the cauliflower into florets and soak them in salt water for 10 minutes. Let them dry completely. The recipe recommended setting them outside to dry in the sun, but I was concerned they would become squirrel/pigeon food, so I used the top of the stove instead.
  2. Next, heat between 150 ml and 200 ml of oil in a wide pan until it’s smoking, and then fry the cauliflower. I didn’t measure the oil before I dumped it in, and ended up with way, way, too much oil. The first batch of cauliflower that went it instantly turned a perfect color of golden brown, but as I fished it out I realized I was about to start a grease fire, so I turned the oil off and hoped the residual heat would fry the remaining cauliflower.
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Some of these cauliflower florets are not like the others.

3. Next, you roast 1/2 TBSP of fenugreek seeds, and put them in a spice grinder along with 1 1/2 TBSP of mustard seeds. At this stage in the process, you’re supposed to put the cauliflower back in the oil, but I didn’t because I misunderstood the directions.

4. Mix the cauliflower with the powdered seeds, 90 ml of red chile powder [editors note: this is a LOT of chile powder. I had to grind up dried chiles that I found in the pantry and they tasted like…absolutely nothing, since they were 3 years old], 1/4 tsp turmeric, and the juice of 3/4 lemons. You mix everything together, and pour it, along with the oil, into a container.

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Now it appears I didn’t use enough oil

In spite of all of the various mishaps, the final product was delicious—especially the cauliflowers that had actually fried.

CSA ingredients used: 1 head of caulilfower

Other ingredients used: peanut oil, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, lemons, red chiles.

Roasted Beets with Chiles, Ginger, Yogurt, and Indian Spices

We very intelligently grilled the beets earlier in the week—wrapping them in foil and nestling them next to the coals while we were grilling the ratatouille—but then we forgot about them for a few days. When I rediscovered them, I also chose this salad with Indian spices from Melissa Clark, which looked both delicious and like something that Andrew might be able to taste as he entered the next stage of his cold.

  1. Slice up the beets into little cubes.
  2. Mince 1 clove of garlic and mash it up with a teaspoon of salt. Next, add 1/3 cup of Greek yogurt, 1/2 of a diced jalapeno pepper, a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, and 1 tsp of lime juice, and some salt.
  3. Spread the dressing on the beets.

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CSA vegetables used: beets

Other ingredients used: yogurt, mustard seeds, jalapeno, ginger, lime.

Lemony Carrot and Cauliflower Soup

With one cauliflower down, I was excited to see what I could do with the next one.  I had been searching all over for a recipe for cauliflower soup that seemed appealing in the middle of summer, and was unmoved until I discovered this one from Melissa Clark that used a combination of lemon and miso and would address some CSA carrots to boot. We substituted chicken broth for vegetable broth or water, because while I trusted Melissa Clark, I felt that when cooking with cauliflower you need all the help you can get.

  1. Toast 1 TB coriander for 2-3 minutes under they were fragrant. Then smoosh them in a mortar and pestle.
  2. Heat 1 TB oil in a large pot. Cook 2 cups of diced onions until they are soft, and then add a clove of garlic and cook for 1 minutes.
  3. Add 1 TB of diced carrots, the crushed coriander, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 6 cups of chicken broth, along with 3 TB of white miso. Bring it to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, and then cover and cook another 10 minutes.
  4. Use an immersion blender to liquify everything. Before eating, stir in 4 TB of lemon juice.

This was one of my favorite cauliflower dishes so far and we still had a fair amount of cauliflower and carrots left, so I made another batch to freeze for later (along with a note to myself to remember to add lemon when I defrosted it).

CSA ingredients used: 1 head of cauliflower, 5 carrots, 1 large onion, garlic.

Other ingredients used: coriander, salt, chicken broth, white miso.

Next: The perfect CSA recipe, if I could remember how to say it.