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 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

 

Operation Pesto

We were not remotely prepared psychologically for the arrival of the first box. Andrew was coming off an eight show week (this will be a common theme), and I had been out of town at a friend’s wedding all weekend.

The email from Nichols Farm came on Monday morning. Going on year three, we knew more or less what to expect in an early June box: spinach, kale, lettuce, rapini, potatoes, asparagus, radishes, and strawberries. I read the list to Andrew, and he stared into space for a few minutes and asked me to read it again (this will also be a common theme). Mondays are his day off, and after playing 5 shows in the span of 48 hours, he has difficulty with basic cognitive tasks and resembles a person who has recently awoken from oral surgery. It usually passes by mid-afternoon. Despite this, we came up with a plan that I was pretty sure Andrew had agreed to, and I went about going through the refrigerator indiscriminately throwing things out to make room for the contents of the box.

My friend Sammi was in town, and on Tuesday, the day the first box arrived, we were playing a recital together. We had our final rehearsal in the morning and then I headed off to pick up the box. It was around 1:30 PM when I got home with it, and I was already ravenous and a little light-headed. But having thrown everything out from the refrigerator, if I wanted lunch, I needed to make it out of the CSA.

Actually, this is not true: I could have run up the street for a sandwich, eaten it, warmed up for my concert like a responsible professional, and put off dealing with vegetables until the next day, but I was blindly determined not to fall behind on the first day of the CSA. These things can build up quickly, I said to myself as I struggled to stand. We need to make sure there’s space for when the 12 ears of corn arrive in late July. 

The recipe we had picked out for lunch was a potato salad from Smitten Kitchen.

Spring Salad with New Potatoes and Pickled Onions

First scrub the potatoes clean and cover them with an inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 min, or until they’re done. (It took mine 35 min because I was using russets instead of little ones…) While that’s happening, you can make the pickled spring onions. Mix together a half cup of warm water, a half cup of rice wine vinegar (recipe called for white wine vinegar, didn’t have any), 1 TB salt and 1 ½ teaspoons sugar and add 4 spring onions sliced thin. This goes in the refrigerator.

At this point, the potatoes weren’t done and I was getting desperate so I  made myself a smoothie. Things improved considerably after that.

When the potatoes were finally cooked, I dumped them in the sink and doused them with cold water. Then you’re supposed to refill the pot the potatoes were in with fresh water and bring it to a boil. Deb Perlman from Smitten Kitchen mentions that it’s nice to do this so that you have fewer dishes to clean, allowing me to entertain the delusion that my kitchen wouldn’t be completely destroyed after making this recipe. 

While waiting for the water to boil again, I made the dressing: ¼ cup olive oil, 2 TB mustard, 2 TB rice wine vinegar (white wine vinegar if you have it…) and salt and pepper. Once the water was boiling, I threw in the asparagus for a few minutes, then drained it and ran it under cold water. At this point, the potatoes and asparagus got chopped up and I threw the dressing over it.

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It’s worth noting that you’re supposed to let everything come up to room temperature, but I definitely wasn’t going to do that. A few of the pickled spring onions (how long ago did I make those? An hour? Last week?) went on top.

All things considered, this was pretty delicious and surprisingly filling too. I usually get bored of potato salad pretty quickly, but the pickled onions were a fantastic touch and I went back and added the rest of the spring onions to the brine so that we would have more for salads later on in the week. 

CSA vegetables used: potatoes, spring onions, a few radishes, a pound of asparagus

Other ingredients used: rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard, olive oil,

Spinach Pesto

There are few things I enjoy more than waking up the morning after a concert and knowing that I have the entire day off. I was up early to see Sammi off, and leisurely went about my morning cooking project with an uncharacteristic level of patience. 

The box came up with two pounds of spinach, which in case it doesn’t sound like it is huge amount of spinach. Neither Andrew nor I particularly like eating it raw, and we also still had lettuce, kale and rapini to go through, so I decided to make it all into spinach pesto. I used a recipe from Kenji Lopez Alt’s Food Lab cookbook, substituting spinach for basil. Based on the amount of spinach I had, I ended up quadrupling the recipe. I didn’t use up all of the spinach, either.

Kenji recommends blanching the greens in water so that they’ll stay bright green, rather than turn brown three minutes after you put them in the refrigerator. Usually I skip this step, but I figured since I was making about 6 cups of pesto I probably was going to have it around for a while. This meant blanching the spinach in two different batches, and then trying to cool it all off immediately before it turns itself to mush.

The spinach went into the food processor, along with a pound of grated parmesan cheese, an entire container of pine nuts, the zest of four lemons and the juice of two, along with a cup and a half of olive oil. We also added an assortment of basil, thyme, and sage from the garden to give the pesto a little more flavor.

The first day we had it on pasta. It was fine, but not spectacular – spinach pesto doesn’t have a lot of a flavor and we didn’t have a lot of extra things to add to the pasta. It was frankly pretty delicious by the spoonful, though, and the next day I had it on sliced ciabatta  for lunch which was delicious.

You can freeze pesto if you leave the cheese out, but I didn’t do that so now we have about 6 cups of pesto in the refrigerator. The internet seems to feel it will last 5-7 days, so we are going to be a eating a lot of pesto in the next few days, and perhaps giving it out to strangers as well.

CSA vegetables used: 3/4 of the spinach.

Other ingredients used: lemons, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, sage, thyme, oregano

Roasted Chicken & Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

Lettuce is one of the more challenging CSA ingredients to use up, because as far as I know it can’t be pickled, cooked, or blended. And in the order of going badness, it tends to be towards the top, so I was feeing some urgency with respect to the lettuce. We roasted a chicken, and served it with a salad made of lettuce, radishes, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, and pickled spring onions along with a buttermilk dressing from Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune.

The buttermilk dressing is 2 shallots, 1 garlic clove, 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk, 2 cups of mayo (she specifies Hellman’s), 1 tsp pepper, a pinch of salt, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 1/2 cups of mint, and 1 spring onion. It all goes together in a blender.

 

Not too bad for a dinner ready by 5:30 PM.

CSA ingredients used: lettuce, two radishes, one spring onion

Other ingredients used: chicken, herbs, buttermilk, mint, mayo, salt, pepper, herbs, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, garlic, lemon.

Next: Sausage with Rapini and Saag Paneer

 

 

 

Week 10: Saccatoosh

Every once in a while, a recipe presents itself that so perfectly accommodates the week’s assortment of vegetables that it feels as though some vegetable deity may in fact be looking out for us. The week 10 box included a pound each of fresh cranberry beans and fresh lima beans—still in their pods—and before we could even lament our fate, Andrew discovered this Smitten Kitchen recipe for summer succotash that not only called for our exact assortment of beans, but also included three other ingredients from the week’s box: corn, tomatoes, and an onion. Also, bacon!

It also gave me the chance to try and remember the word for succotash. Apparently telling people that you’ve made “saccatoosh” and it’s really tasty doesn’t give them a clear picture of what you’re talking about.

The box also included artichokes, potatoes, swiss chard, a melon, another cauliflower (oof) and a half pound of okra. Oh, and a single beet, which vanished into the refrigerator only to be discovered again 3 weeks later. But first, the succotash:

Summer Succotash with Bacon

  1. Shell 1 LB cranberry bean. Cook the cranberry beans in water for 25 minutes.

2. Now, shell 1 LB of lima beans. Cook the lima beans in water for 5 minutes.

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3.  Fry up a bunch of bacon, remove it with a slotted spoon, then cook a diced onion in the bacon fat.

5. Put four ears worth of fresh corn, a bunch of diced up tomatoes, and 1 TB of sherry vinegar in a giant bowl. The original recipe called for these vegetables to be cooked, but we decided to keep everything raw.

6. Add the cranberry beans, the lima beans, and the bacon, and some chopped up basil.

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It’s a good thing this succotash tastes good, because we ended up with about 5 LBs of it

CSA ingredients used: corn, tomatoes, red onion, lima beans, cranberry beans

Other ingredients used: bacon, basil, sherry vinegar

German Potato Salad

Since we had leftover bacon, I also decided to make a German-style potato salad, which could be eaten cold and would give Andrew another dish he could take with him to the theater during the second week of his show. I blended together two recipes, one from the NY Times and one from Serious Eats, and managed to come away with a pretty delicious, though very vinegary, potato salad.

  1. Take 1 LB of potatoes and cut them up into 1 inch cubes. Put them in a pot and cover them with an inch of water. Bring them to a boil, and then cook them for 10 minutes until they’re tender.
  2. Fry some bacon. Once they bacon’s done, mince up an onion and cook it in the bacon fat for 5 minutes. Crumble up the bacon.
  3. Whisk together 1/3 cup of white vinegar, 2 TB sugar, 1 TB mustard, 2 tsp salt, and some pepper into a dressing.
  4. Toss everything together.

CSA vegetables used: potatoes, onion

Other ingredients used: bacon, mustard, white vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar

Pickled Okra

Okra has always been a fairly controversial vegetable in my family, and for that reason I’m not sure I’ve ever actually eaten it. Last year, we got okra in the box exactly once, and it sat in the refrigerator slowly rotting into a slimy mess over the course of several weeks. Since we already knew we were not motivated to cook with it, pickling seemed like the best option.

I selected a recipe from Alton Brown, who seemed like a fairly reliable guide to the world of pickling suspect vegetables. To pickle the okra, you clean it and then load it all up into mason jars figure out how many jars you need. Then you dump out the okra and sterilize the jars. Add 1 chile, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1 clove of garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon of peppercorns in each jar. Then make a brine using 1 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1 cup of water, and 1/8 cup of salt.

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Odin also didn’t eat a lot of okra growing up.

Update: we opened the okra while on vacation and it was delicious! The okra wasn’t slimy in the least—it was crisp and crunchy and piquant with vinegar. It even got the seal of approval from my brother-in-law, who grew up in North Carolina and has very complex feelings about okra.

CSA ingredients used: okra

Other ingredients used: chiles, mustard seeds, garlic, peppercorns, rice wine vinegar, water, salt.

Grilled Baby Artichokes with “Caper” Mint Sauce

One night while Andrew was playing his show, I had dinner with my friend Amanda. We decided to grill clams and mussels (Andrew had a bad experience with mussels a few years back involving a bouillabaisse followed by lots of barfing, so now I only eat them if he isn’t home).

In addition to grilling shellfish, we also decided to cook something with the artichokes since they were starting to look a little sad. My intention was to recreate the April Bloomfield artichoke recipe from a few weeks back, but since we were grilling and didn’t want to use the stove if we didn’t need to, we decided to do this recipe from Epicurious. (Spoiler alert: Had I read the recipe carefully, I would have discovered that we still needed to use the stove for this one).

  1. First, you make a sauce. The sauce is 1/2 cup of olive oil, 6 anchovy filets, 2 1/2 teaspoons of capers, 1/4 cup of mint, and 1 TB white wine vinegar. At this stage, we discovered that we didn’t actually have capers, so we substituted Kalamata olives instead.
  2. Next, you trim the artichokes (as detailed in this post), and cook them in boiling salted water for 8 minutes. We somehow managed to miss the boiling step completely.
  3. Now you toss them with olive oil and put them on the grill for 5 to 8 minutes.
  4. Once they’re cooked (or in this case, not cooked), you pull them off the grill and slather the sauce all over them.

As you can imagine, they didn’t come out spectacularly well since they were essentially raw inside, but they weren’t that bad either.

CSA ingredients used: baby artichokes

Other ingredients used: olive oil, olives, anchovies, white wine vinegar, mint

Sauerkraut

Turning our cabbage into sauerkraut was Andrew’s idea. I was skeptical that this would yield anything other than a jar of homemade sauerkraut sitting in our fridge for a year, but I decided to go for it. To make sauerkraut, you dice up 1 cabbage into tiny pieces. Put 1 tsp of salt with the cabbage and begin to work it with your hands. The salt will cause the cabbage to released liquid, although it releases more liquid if isn’t two weeks old already. Nevertheless, the cabbage should reduce enough to fit in one quart jar.

At this point, you’re supposed to add the liquid that you acquired, put the sauerkraut somewhere to fermented for a week, and call it a day. My cabbage failed to released any liquid at all, so I made a brine for it using 2 cups of water to 1 tsp salt and poured it over the top.

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If you think this sounds too simple to actually work, I agree with you. However, over the course of the week it did indeed turn into sauerkraut, and I absolutely loved it. It was a nice, tart ferment while somehow still tasting fresh. We brought it with us on vacation and ate it with hot dogs for a few family dinners.

CSA ingredients used: cabbage

Other ingredients used: water, salt

Garlicky Swiss Chard

Usually by Sunday or Monday,  I’m desperate enough to use up any vegetables we haven’t cooked yet that I will make random side dishes for us to pick at over the next few days that aren’t connected to any sort of meal. This is an favorite swiss chard recipe from Melissa Clark.

Roll up the chard and cut it into 1/4 inch strips. Heat some oil in a saucepan, add 2 cloves of minced garlic and saute for a minute, then add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir in the chard and cook uncovered for a few minutes, then cover and cook a few more minutes until the chard is bright green.

As with spinach, the chard impressed me with its ability to cook down into almost nothing. But it was tasty with leftovers.

CSA ingredients used: Swiss chard

Other ingredients used: garlic, red pepper flakes, oil

Next: A desperate move with a cauliflower

Week 7: Burgers & Scones

The Week 7 box came with more carrots, more cauliflower, more cabbage, more onions, green beans, lettuce, more beets, and the first of the summer corn. We also got a pint of black currants. It should go without saying that at this point we were really, really behind.

I want to take a moment to indulge my neuroses surrounding CSA success. In my mind, there are multiple markers of success, including using up all of the vegetables that you have before the next box comes, using up all of the vegetables before they rot, and spending as little money as possible on groceries to supplement the CSA. Other people might be interested in cooking healthy food that tastes great, but frankly those people are probably not very organized.

At this point in the summer, using up all of the vegetables before the next box comes is basically impossible unless you have are in the habit of eating 8 onions a week. Similarly, rotting is less of an issue since fewer vegetables are immediately perishable. However, what becomes a huge issue is how to fit everything in your refrigerator. Given that, my priority changed from using up the things that were going to go bad quickly to using up the vegetables that took up the most space.

Corn, Avocado, and Tomato Tacos

First came the corn. This recipe was one of the few that came completely from our imagination. We mixed together raw corn, cherry tomatoes, avocado chunks, queso fresco, and cilantro with a lime vinaigrette and put them on flour tortillas.

CSA vegetables used: corn

Other ingredients used: avocados, cherry tomatoes, queso fresco, flour tortillas, cilantro.

Burgers and Corn

While I was at a gig, Andrew cooked up a few burgers and had the rest of the corn barely cooked and unadorned, or as he put it, “America on a plate.” The burger patties were left over from a few months ago. Andrew had ground the meat at home, portioned out the burgers and froze the leftovers. He likes them “smashed” style. 

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He ate the burgers with a few shavings of vidalia onions and our newly brined pickles. The corn was cooked in its husks in the microwave for a few minutes, a perfectly easy way of cooking corn when your only cooking a few at a time.

CSA vegetables used: corn, vidalia onions, and pickles

Other ingredients used: buns, burgers, American cheese

Grilled Chicken and Summer Squash

Neither Andrew nor I are a huge fan of summer squash, but in the last few weeks we’ve discovered that we love it when it’s grilled. Andrew grilled a chicken and all of the summer squash one evening and made a nice little summer squash salad by cutting them into little chunks and slathering them with olive oil, lemon juice, capers, basil, and salt and pepper.

CSA vegetables used: summer squash, red onion

Other ingredients used: a chicken

Real Salad Nicoise

Well, almost. We bought kalamata olives at the last second instead of nicoise. This one is from Serious Eats.

  1. Make a vinaigrette. Take 1 shallot, 1 garlic clove, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 4 anchovie fillets (rinsed), 3 TB white wine vinegar, and 1 TB water and whisk them together in a bowl. Add 3/4 cup of olive oil (I have never been convinced that adding the olive oil separately actually does anything).
  2. Potatoes: Cook some potatoes in 2 inches of water. Add 1/2 cup of onion, a few sprigs of thyme, and 4 cloves of garlic. Simmer for 40 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Green Beans: Cook some green beans in boiling water for about 3 minutes, and then dump them in an ice bath.
  4. Eggs: Cook some eggs in an inch of boiling water for 9 minutes, and then throw them in an ice bath.
  5. At this point, you’ve actually managed to use every pot and bowl you own, despite this being an extremely simple recipe.
  6. Assemble the salad: potatoes, cherry tomatoes sliced in half, green beans, tuna fish, olives, and capers. We didn’t use lettuce greens because we didn’t have any, but we did throw in some radishes.

Despite the fact that anchovies have traditionally been a divisive topic in our household, we became obsessed with this salty, tangy dressing and proceeding to make it on salads for the next several weeks.

CSA vegetables used: some potatoes, some green beans, some radishes

Other ingredients used: olives, cherry tomatoes, eggs, tuna fish

Dill Pickles

We also made another round of the fermented dill pickles, this time using fresh dill instead of flowering dill. The recipe can be found here; my post on it can be found here.

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CSA vegetables used: pickling cucumbers

Other ingredients used: dill, garlic, salt, water, dill seed, coriander

 

Black Currant Scones

After searching high and low for interesting uses for the black currants, we ultimately decided to do the most obvious thing and make scones. This recipe came from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. It calls for about 12 different kinds of flour, but tracking them down is worth it – we’ve loved everything we’ve cooked from this book, and this recipe is no exception.

  1. Whisk together 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup oat flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt. Cut 1/2 stick of butter into little chunks until it looks sort of like breadcrumbs and add it to the bowl.
  2.  Add the black currants (the recipe called for 1/3 cup, we probably used a full cup at least) and 1/2 cup of oat flour. Stir it together with a fork, but don’t beat it too much.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add it to the dry ingredients.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a bit. Then divide it in half and form it into two rounds. Take each round and divide it into 6 little wedges.
  5. Brush the tops of each scone with milk and then sprinkle with course sugar. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 min.

The scones weren’t too sweet and the fresh currants and an almost bitter tartness that was surprisingly delicious. It was a pretty cool day when we made them, so we got all English and had them in the afternoon with clotted cream and tea.

CSA vegetables used: black currants

Other ingredients used: whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, oat flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, butter, oats, egg, buttermilk, vanilla extract, milk, more sugar.

Next: I go on vacation and Andrew guest posts.

 

 

 

The Week of 17 Vegetables, Part 2

As the week progressed and we gradually started to see the back of the refrigerator, the weather was still a blistering 90 degrees and humid. This presented a challenge for using up certain vegetables. For instance, we had a dire need to find a purpose for three enormous heads of cauliflower, but the dishes we were interested in cooking all involved turning on an oven, frying them in hot oil, or slathering them in cheese—all of which sounded terrible given the temperature outside. We decided to save the cauliflower for when it cooled off, and hoped they wouldn’t be sitting in the refrigerator until October.

There were still any number of other vegetables to be used up, including a cucumber, some broccoli, green beans, and potatoes, and various types of onions. We also still had sour cherries. It was so hot that no food sounded particularly appealing, but I decided that if I was going to eat at all it was probably going to be a cold soup. We found an avocado and cucumber soup on Serious Eats which was perfect for our purposes.

Avocado and Cucumber Soup

  1. Take 1 avocado, 1 diced cucumber, 2 chopped tomatillos, 1/4 cup of onion, 1 small seeded (or not…) serrano, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of water and blitz them in a food processor. Put 2 teaspoons of cilantro on top.

CSA vegetables used: cucumber, white onion

Other ingredients used: avocado, tomatillos, 1 serrano chile, salt, water, cilantro

Grilled Chicken and Green Bean Salad

Next up were the green beans. Andrew found a recipe for grilled green beans from Serious Eats, and we decided to make it along with a grilled chicken. Andrew made a miso chicken and we grilled the green beans, tossed them with thin sliced red bell pepper, and slathered them in a miso dressing. The miso dressing was made from 3 TB dark brown sugar, 2 TB soy sauce, 2 TB white miso, 1 TB rice vinegar, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/4 tsp ground white pepper.

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CSA vegetables used: green beans

Other ingredients used: chicken, red peppers, rice, miso, brown sugar, white miso, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, crushed red pepper flakes, white pepper

Having broken the rules and tentatively waded back into Ottolenghi with last week’s kohlrabi recipe without any dire consequences, we were primed to do it again. Andrew tentatively suggested Ottolenghi’s Surprise Tatin for the potatoes, and I took one look at the artful and lovely picture of the finished product and latched on to the idea. We had all sorts of other rationalizations, including: once we make this, it’ll be great to have leftovers. Also: it only has nine ingredients, so how long could it take? The answer turned out to be all of Andrew’s afternoon, not to mention trips to multiple grocery stories attempting to locate the correct type of puff pastry.

Surprise Tatin

  1. Halve the tomatoes, drizzle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put them in a 275 degree oven for 45 minutes until they are nice and dry.
  2. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 25 minutes and cut them into 1-inch thick disks.
  3. Saute the onions with oil and some salt for 10 minutes.
  4. Now it gets fun. Brush a 9-inch cake pan with oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  5. Cook the 3 TB sugar and 2 TB butter on high heat until it’s caramelized. Pour the caramel into the cake pan and tilt it around so that it covers the bottom. Scatter 3 sprigs worth of oregano leaves on the bottom.
  6. Lay the potato slices close together at the bottom of the pan, cut side down. At this point, Andrew discovered that 1 LB of potatoes was not enough to cover the bottom of the pan, and had to return to step 2 and repeat.
  7. In the little gaps between the tomatoes, tuck in the onions and tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 5 oz of goat cheese, cut into slices and scattered over the top.
  8. Puff pastry time. Cut a disc of puff pastry 1 inch larger than the dimeter of the pan. Lay it over the tart and tuck in the edges down around the potatoes.
  9. At this point, if you’re exhausted and angry at the author, you can put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours and eat it later.
  10. Once it’s time to eat, bake the tatin in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and cook another 15 minutes. Then you remove it and let it sit for 2 minutes EXACTLY.
  11. This is the best part! Pull it out of the oven and stick an upside down plate on top. Now you “carefully but briskly” flip it over onto the plate and remove the pan.

CSA vegetables used: onions, potatoes

Other ingredients used: cherry tomatoes, sugar, butter, oregano, puff pastry sheets, goat cheese, salt, pepper.

As the most festive meal of the week, it seemed only fitting to cook a sour cherry pie to go along with the Surpise Tatin. Andrew has recently become enamored the baking column in Serious Eats written by Stella Parks, who goes by the pen name Bravetart. She had an old-fashioned dough recipe that he decided to try in place of his usual pie dough.

  1. Whisk together 8 ounces of flour, 1/2 ounce of sugar, and 4 grams of salt together in a bowl. Cut 2 sticks of butter into little 1/4 inch chunks and mix it all around. Then smoosh the butter with your fingers. Add 4 ounces of cold water.
  2. Roll the dough out into a 10 by 15 inch rectangle. Now you fold it up in a super complicated way that’s hard to get into without diagrams.
  3. Now you can roll it out and make a pie!
  4. To make the filling, take 2 lbs of pitted sour cherries, 1 ounce of lemon juice, 7 ounces of sugar, 3/4 teaspoons of kosher salt, and 1 1/2 ounces of tapioca starch and mix it together with a spatula. Pour it into the pie shell.
  5. Whisk 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 1/2 ounce of heavy cream, and a pinch of salt together and brush on top of the pie.
  6. Bake the pie in the oven for an hour at 400 degrees. Cover it loosely with silver foil and then bake another 15 minutes.
  7. The pie will have to cool pretty considerably before it solidifies enough to eat.

CSA vegetables used: sour cherries

Other ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, butter, lemon juices, tapioca starch, egg, heavy cream.

After a weekend that involved baking both a tatin and a pie, the next night we were looking for something that required little to no effort to cook. We found it in the form of this Serious Eats recipe, and once again pulled out the wok to stir-fry on the grill.

Stir-Fried Beef with Broccoli and Oyster Sauce

  1. Take 1 LB of hanger steak, cut into 1/4 inch strips, 1 TB soy sauce, and 1 TB xiaoshing wine and combine in a bowl. Let marinade for a couple of hours in the refrigerator
  2. Combine another 1/4 cup of soy sauce, with 2 tsp corn starch and mix it all around. Add another 1/4 cup of xiaoshing wine, 1/3 cup of chicken stock, 1/4 cup of oyster sauce, 1 TB sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil.
  3. Mix 2 minced cloves of garlic, 2 tsp minced ginger, and 3 scallions in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Cut the broccoli into florets.
  5. Once the coals are good, start stir-frying. Beef goes in first, and is cooked for about 1 minute and then gets dumped in a bowl. Next in goes the broccoli, followed by the the garlic/ginger/scallion mixture and the sauce. At the end, the beef goes back in and everything gets stir-fried together.

CSA vegetables used: broccoli, spring onions

Other ingredients used: 1 lb hanger steak, soy sauce, xiaoshing wine, corn starch, chicken stock, oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger.

Next: Field Report, Weeks 5 & 6

Week 3: Something About Gender Normativity and Quiche

Strawberry Ice Cream, Spinach, Potato, and Goat Cheese Quiche, Fennel and Sugar Snap Pea Salad and Grilled Steak with Potatoes and Caesar Salad

The third week’s CSA box came as a welcome respite from the previous weeks’ leafy-green-athon. We were excited to see fennel and green garlic, which were among my favorite CSA items from last year. I was also eager to try the cilantro, and was determined to for the first time in my life use up a bunch of cilantro before it rotted. Andrew was pleased about sugar snap peas, and we both were a bit concerned by the turnips, since last year we had hoarded them for months until they got used up all at once at Thanksgiving dinner.

With our schedules getting busier and less time to cook, I became particularly obsessed with finding recipes that used more than one CSA item. When I saw that we had potatoes as well as spinach, I proposed using them together in some sort of gratin/galette/quiche/ tart/frittata/whatever. Then I helpfully headed off to rehearsal, leaving Andrew to contemplate whether he really felt like making another pie crust.

Unable or unwilling to decide about dinner, Andrew began by making this simple strawberry ice cream from Food52. The chief virtue of this recipes was that it used up another cup and a half of buttermilk that we still had leftover in the fridge. (We thought maybe we shouldn’t let things other than vegetables go bad in our fridge, either.) Andrew jumped at the chance to use some in ice cream.

Strawberry Ice Cream

To make the ice cream, you take one quart of strawberries and hull and quarter them and blend them with 3/4 cups sugar. Then add 1 1/2 cups of cold buttermilk, 1/3 cup sour cream, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and mix everything together until smooth. You freeze it in an ice cream maker and then transfer to your freezer to firm up for a few hours. We didn’t have quite enough sour cream, but we had some cream cheese kicking around in the fridge and used it to make up the difference.

 

Spinach, Potato, and Goat Cheese Quiche

I got home from rehearsal to find that Andrew had resigned himself to making a quiche. He pulled together the recipe from a couple different sources, starting with this recipe from Serious Eats, but also referencing Michael Ruhlman for the ratio for the quiche custard.

We’d been eating a lot of pie-type things, and Andrew started to feel that we should be a bit more health-conscious, probably because he has a front seat to the sheer amount of butter that goes into your average pie crust. He found a recipe for oat crust in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook, hoping that 2/3rd of a cup of oats might counteract the consequences of a stick of butter in the crust.

To make the dough, you start with 2/3 cup (or 2.5 oz by weight) of regular old-fashioned oatmeal and grind the oats in a food processor until it becomes oat flour. Then you pulse in 3/4 cup (or 3 1/8 oz by weight) all purpose flour and 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and work in 1 stick of cold cubed butter. Dump the crumbly mix in a bowl and smear in  3–5 TB of ice cold water. To see if you’ve added enough water, pinch some dough—if it binds together, you should be good. Form dough into round, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When it’s rested, roll out and blind-baking the crust under pie weights for about 15 minutes in a 400°F oven.

To make the quiche filling, you fry the potatoes and onions in oil until they start to brown and drain them. Wilt the spinach in a dry pot for a few minutes (the giant pile of spinach reduces itself to a tiny ball in a very satisfying way). The potatoes and spinach go into the shell along with some big chunks of goat cheese, and followed by a custard poured over the top made with 4 eggs, 1/2 cup whole milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, and ¾ tsp kosher salt. It cooked in a 350°F oven for about an hour. Andrew pulled it when the thermometer stuck in the custard was at 170°F.

CSA vegetables used: spinach, 1/3 of the potatoes, 2 red spring onions

Other ingredients used: thyme, oatmeal, flour, butter, goat cheese, egg, milk, heavy cream, salt.

 

Shaved Fennel and Sugar Snap Peas with Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette

While the quiche cooked, we threw together a shaved salad that we loosely based on a recipe in Prune. We sliced raw fennel, spring onions, and sugar snap peas thinly on a bias. 

The dressing called for garlic, which I made using some of the CSA green garlic. At this point in the season, the CSA garlic looks more like a scallion than garlic. You can barely see the outline of cloves inside each head. To make the dressing, grate the garlic against a microplane and mix it with ¾ cup olive oil and ¼ cup plus 1 TB lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Awkward teenaged garlic

CSA vegetables used: 2 red spring onions, fennel, green garlic, ½ the sugar snap peas.

Other ingredients used: thyme, oatmeal, flour, butter, goat cheese, egg, milk, olive oil, lemon

We ate dinner at 9:30 at night, and while we were tired and cranky, we felt triumphant in having used up all the spinach, half the potatoes, half the sugar snap peas, the fennel, the last of the spring onions, some green garlic, not to mention half the strawberries, all in the first 12 hours of having the box. 

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This is expert level CSA use

Wednesday we decided to grill some steaks in honor of Andrew’s birthday. I had been struck by the size and heft of the CSA romaine—it had a subwoofer-like crunch when you broke off a leaf. It seemed perfect for a Caesar salad. Since we were already firing up the grill, we decided to grill the potatoes as well.

Grilled Steak, Potatoes, and Caesar Salad

The recipe for Caesar Salad, from Serious Eats starts with the croutons.

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Take a bowl and whisk together 3 tablespoons oil and and minced 2 garlic cloves. Pass the oil through a strainer and put the garlic cloves aside for later.
  3. Next, dip a bunch of bread cubes in the garlic oil, add 2 TB parmesan cheese, and mix it all together. Put everything in the oven on a cookie sheet and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. The dressing is next: mix 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2-6 (this seems like a wide range, doesn’t it?) anchovies, 1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce, the garlic from before, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese together and blend. The recipe says with the blender running you should add 1/3 cup of canola oil. Then you pour it into a bowl and add 1/4 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Pull the croutons out (assuming you didn’t already burn them, like I did) and put another 2 TB of parmesan cheese over them.
  6. Mix dressing, croutons, and romaine together.

The grilled potato recipe also came from Serious Eats. The potatoes were left skin-on, cleaned, and cut roughly in half and boiled until tender. Then we tossed them with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and finished by searing them over the hot side of the grill until they were crusty and dark. Andrew grilled lemon halves and the last of the spring onions alongside, then sliced the onions, and tossed the potatoes with the onions and with lemon juice in a bowl before serving.

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The steaks were salted about 45 minutes before we planned to cook them, and then we let them rest so that the moisture from the salt would absorb back in. Once the grill was ready, Andrew cooked them on the grill along with the rest of the CSA potatoes and some lemons. He finished the steaks over the hot side of the grill, searing them until they reached an internal temperature of 125°F.

CSA vegetables used: half of the romaine, the rest of the potatoes

Other ingredients used: lemons, 2 steaks, 1 head of garlic, olive oil, canola oil, bread cubes

Next: In which Andrew cooks turnips while I visit the suburbs and we try dry curry.