Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eggplant Overload

With 20 pounds of tomatoes that I've been getting every week lately, one might assume that I might be overwhelmed by all those tomatoes. And although that is starting to be true, it's really the eggplant that's getting to me. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that tomatoes can be processed in bulk: you can easily throw ten pounds of tomatoes into a pot or into the oven and make sauce. But eggplant?  Not really.  At least not in this household.  But at least I've come up with four dishes that, in theory, people might eat. These include Baba Ganoush, Eggplant Caviar, Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, and Eggplant Parmesan.

I am crazy for baba ganoush and I've gotten some other family members into it too, including my mother who doesn't like eggplant at all. There is a middle eastern restaurant somewhere in Brooklyn (wish I remembered its name) that serves the most delicious baba ganoush. It is super smoky and intense. You either love it or you hate it. I happen to love anything really smoky so this eggplant dish is like catnip to me. The more I smell and taste it, the more I crave it. So the minute I first got eggplant, I wanted to try making my own. The most promising recipe for super smoky baba ganoush comes from David Lebovitz, whom I admire. So I tried it. The first batch came out so well that there was no time to photograph it before it disappeared.  The only problem with it was that it was not smoky at all.

This is what happened: I am blessed with a gas stove so I turned it on and set my eggplants on top of the flame. The eggplant just sat there, not really charring while flames jumped and singed the cap part of the eggplant. I turned it and tried to do other sides. Ten minutes later, there was hardly any char on the outside of it. I got impatient and also began to worry about burning down my house so I stuck the eggplant under the broiler instead. That charred it much faster. But here's the thing: how is the smoke flavor supposed to get into the eggplant dish? Once you char it, you take the skin off and you're left with the soft interior that is not smoky. If I owned a grill, I would most likely char the eggplant on the grill to get the effect I'm after but without it, I just have the stove and oven.

For the second batch (pictured here), I skipped the charring step altogether. The taste was different but good in its own way. I also reduced the amount of parsley as it was overwhelming in the first batch. The reduction of parsley was still not enough so if I make this again, I might even drop the parsley altogether. I also reduced the amount of garlic and skipped the chile powder. You want the taste of the eggplant to come through and not the other ingredients. If you try this recipe, let me know if you can get it smoky (if that is what you like).

Baba Ganoush
(Adapted from David Lebovitz)
(Print this recipe)

3 medium eggplants
1/2 cup tahini paste
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped (optional)

1. Wash, dry and prick the eggplant all over. Place it under the broiler for 10 minutes or so until the outside is charred. You can turn it midway through cooking. Turn off the broiler and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Move the eggplant to a baking dish and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so until soft. Pull out and let cool.

3. Once cool enough to handle, split the eggplants open and scrape the pulp into a food processor. Puree together with the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors mix. Serve with pita, on bread, or even as a dip for veggies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


You know the old saying, "When life gives you tomatoes, make tomato sauce."

Well, maybe not quite.

But that is what I've been doing with the pounds and pounds of tomatoes from the farm. There are slicing tomatoes--eight pounds today, and heirloom tomatoes--another eight pounds, and plum tomatoes, and grape tomatoes, and itty bitty yellow tomatoes the size of currants. They are all so good. And even though they are overflowing my counters--thank goodness they don't need refrigeration--I am not one to turn tomatoes away. Most of the large tomatoes have been sliced and used on burgers and sandwiches. The heirloom tomatoes have been chopped and made into salads; the itty bitty tomatoes have been consumed by my son who was tickled pink that they were so tiny and delicious.

But that still leaves, oh, about 30 more pounds of tomatoes. And they just keep coming. So. There is only one thing to do with so much goodness: make tomato sauce. I've never made tomato sauce before because frankly, jarred tomato sauce is cheap and requires so little work. And even if you don't like prepared tomato sauce, regular canned tomatoes cooked with some herbs and spices are cheaper than buying fresh tomatoes by the pound and making your own. If I weren't receiving pounds and pounds of tomatoes from my CSA, I wouldn't spend $20 on tomatoes just to make one quart of sauce.

But here I am, making sauce. Last week, before I went on vacation, I had about six pounds of grape tomatoes. Now, grape tomatoes aren't normally used for making sauce since you usually blanch the tomatoes and then peel the skin. Can you imagine peeling 300 grape tomatoes? I think not. There is a different way and I found it in a book called, Can I Freeze It?. It's so easy and comes out really well.

Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Can I Freeze It? by Susie Theodorou)

6-8 pounds of tomatoes (cherry or grape)
6 Tbsp. water

1. Put the cherry or grape tomatoes in a big pot. Add 6 tablespoons of water. Take a piece of parchment paper, crumple it and wet it. Smooth is out a bit and place directly on top of the tomatoes so that it's touching them. Cover. Set the heat to low and let them simmer for 30-60 minutes. They're done when a bunch of them have split. Drain and let cool a bit.

2. Puree in a blender or food processor.

3. Take a fine-meshed sieve and set it over a bowl. Working in small batches, pour the puree into the sieve and use a large spoon to force the puree through the sieve. I started doing this with a spoon but then switched to a ladle and the work went much faster. A regular spoon is fairly useless so get something really big. After pressing a bit, scrape the tomato sauce from underneath the sieve periodically to get as much as possible. After there's no more left to press, what you will have left in the sieve are the skins and seeds. You can dump those out.

4. Use immediately or freeze for later use. You can freeze in two-cup batches in quart-sized freezer bags or in larger batches in gallon bags. If you use it immediately, put the sauce in a pot and simmer with herbs and spices of your choice.

Since all I've done is freeze my sauce, I haven't yet tried making a pasta sauce out of it. I'm sure I will soon though!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Garlic Green Beans

Week 14's take included zucchini, cucumber, basil, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, a melon and two watermelons. I also got to pick some blackberries, hot peppers and some snap beans.

Snap beans--or, green beans as I know them--are a staple of school lunches and seem the quintessential American vegetable of the 1950's. You know: meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. At least that is how I picture a typical American dinner from the 1950's. And whenever I've come across them in school or at a salad bar, they've always been clipped at the ends and have had that greenish gray color. Needless to say, nothing about this image endeared me to green beans and they've essentially been invisible to me in the supermarket.

But after going through the effort of picking a quart or two of these beans in the heat, it was mandatory that I make something with them. When cooked properly, what an unexpected delight they are. The recipe I found seemed easy and contained ingredients that I liked so I gave it a try. All I can say is, wow. I really couldn't stop eating these. This simple dish added so much flavor to a recent dinner of sticky ribs. This vegetable will be added to my repertoire.

Garlic Green Beans
(Adapted from a New York Times recipe)
(Print this recipe)

1 1/4 pound green beans, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp. lemon zest, grated
3 Tbsp. chopped or slivered almonds
Additional chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and when boiling, drop beans into the water. Boil for 3-5 minutes, depending on how crisp you want them to be. Drain and drop the beans into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry off as best you can.

2. Heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Stir in the beans and sauté for another minute. Then add the parsley, lemon zest and almonds. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the additional almonds.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zucchini Fries

So it's Week 13, which is the halfway mark. I can't believe how quickly time is going but I'm also pleased with how many things I've managed to accomplish in this time. This week brought me lots and lots of tomatoes (which is how I like it), zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, chard, watermelon, dill, cilantro, blackberries, and snap beans.

It was a little quiet on this blog in the last two weeks. It wasn't because I wasn't cooking; I had created a number of dishes that didn't quite make the cut for the blog. Since one of my goals is to make my daughter eat vegetables, I tried out some vegetable recipes that I thought she might actually eat. Since fried foods are toddler favorites (no surprise there), I experimented with some zucchini pancakes. The recipe I got was simple enough: julienned zucchini, flour, water, salt. Mix it all together and fry as little zucchini pancakes (sort of like latkes). Well, my husband and I enjoyed them enough but they could have been a little tastier (and thus, I didn't post the recipe or results). They didn't quite crisp up on the outside like you would expect and the interior was too soft. My daughter, fooled by the sight of a crispy pancake, did give one a try but it didn't work for her. After some more experimentation with zucchini pancakes using different proportions and such, I've given up on that recipe for the time being. It has potential but it needs more work. Instead, I tried making zucchini fries. This recipe was a success for at least the three of us. We ate it up, dipping it in some ranch dressing.

Zucchini Fries
(Adapted from Neely's Fried Zucchini)
(Print this recipe)

2 zucchini, cut into French fry sticks
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten with a few Tbsp. of water
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

1. On one plate, spread out the flour. In a wide bowl or pie plate, mix together the panko, Parmesan, parsley and salt and pepper. In a second wide bowl or pie plate, put the egg mixture.

2. Heat a heavy, deep pan on medium-high heat.  Add about 1/2 inch of oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

3. Dredge the zucchini fries in flour, then in egg, then in the panko mixture.

4. Carefully add a few at a time to the hot oil. Be sure not crowd them. When they are brown on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes, flip them over and cook the other side for another minute. Pull out and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle more salt on them while they are still hot, if necessary.

5. Serve with some ranch dressing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage

Week 11's take included lettuce, beets, cabbage, cilantro, scallions, shallots, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Since I hadn't done anything with cabbage yet, it was time to use it in some way. I adore cabbage but usually don't buy it because it doesn't strike me as a quick-to-make kind of vegetable. When confronted with cabbage, I fall back on Eastern European dishes or coleslaw because I can't think of other uses for it. So this week, I decided to make stuffed cabbage with the intention of freezing some for later. I used a slow cooker to make things easy but you don't have to if you don't have one. A regular pot will work just fine.

I was quite pleased with the result since it tasted just like my mother's golubtsi from childhood.

Stuffed Cabbage
(Print this recipe)

1 large head of cabbage
2-3 carrots, grated
1/2 cup caramelized onions, finely chopped (optional)
butter or olive oil for cooking
1 lb. ground beef (or other ground meat of your choice)
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Tip: Put the whole head of cabbage into the empty pot and fill the pot with water to just above the cabbage. Then, remove the cabbage and bring the water to a boil. Why? You don't really want to overfill the pot and have boiling water displaced onto your stove-top once you lower the cabbage in. :)

2. Wash the cabbage and turn it upside down so that the core is facing you. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a channel all the way around the core. If you can succeed in cutting the core out completely, that will be great, but if you can't get it out, don't worry. Scoring should do the trick provided you cut deeply into the cabbage and cut all the way around to create a channel between the core and the leaves. Some recipes tell you to pull the leaves off a fresh cabbage before boiling them but I've never had success with this method because cabbage leaves are tightly packed and they will break if you try to do this.

3. Carefully lower the cabbage head into the boiling water core side down and let it boil for 10 minutes. Hold it down with something heavy if need be (because it will try to float). Once the leaves start to cook a bit, turn off the heat and pull the cabbage head out of the water. Don't drain the boiling water yet just in case the cabbage doesn't cook all the way through.

4. When cool enough to handle, peel the leaves off and let them cool further. If the interior leaves don't seem as cooked as the exterior leaves, feel free to pop the cabbage back into the pot for another few minutes of boiling. The purpose of the boiling is to loosen the leaves so that you can work with them and not to cook the cabbage completely.  Depending on the size of the cabbage, you ought to end up with about 12-15 large leaves. Reserve the smallest leaves for a later step.

5. While the leaves are cooling, heat a pan and add a little butter or olive oil. Sauté the grated carrots until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

6. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, rice, half the carrots, the onions (if using), salt and pepper to taste, and 3-4 tablespoons of ketchup.

7. Take a cabbage leaf and lay it out flat with the stem end facing away from you.  If the stem is too hard, you can cut it out to make rolling easier. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture at one end of the leaf and roll it up like you would a burrito. Continue making cabbage rolls in this way.

8. In a slow cooker (or a large pot), lay some of the reserved cabbage leaves on the bottom to prevent burning. Place cabbage rolls on top of these leaves. Spread half of the remaining carrot mixture on top of the rolls and add half a can of the crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add a second layer of cabbage rolls on top and again spread the remaining carrots and crushed tomatoes on top. Season well again. Add additional water mixed with more ketchup (several tablespoons) to make enough sauce to cover the rolls.

9. If using your slow cooker, cook on low for 4 hours. If using a regular pot, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about half an hour. Uncover, turn up the heat, and let the sauce boil away until somewhat reduced, about 5-15 minutes. The leaves should be tender and the meat should be cooked through.

These freeze well so make lots and put some in the freezer for a future meal.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Fresh Summer Salad and Crispy Potatoes

Weeks 9 and 10 were nearly identical: lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes,  beets, cabbage, and chard. Week 9 provided me with zucchini and Week 10 provided me with corn instead. I was very excited by these selections because we are now in territory that I'm familiar with: potatoes and tomatoes, staples that my kitchen is never without year-round. Although supermarket potatoes taste the same year-round, tomatoes are another story altogether. In winter, we have to put up with those pale, tasteless things that pass for tomatoes. So when the summer tomatoes come, it is cause for celebration. We usually just slice tomatoes and eat them raw in salads.

One of my favorite salads is a variation on a summer salad that I grew up with, simply called Summer Salad. This salad is traditionally made with cucumbers and radishes but when my son was little, he didn't like radishes and I began substituting tomatoes. You can use cucumbers and radishes or cucumbers and tomatoes or a combination of the three. The ingredients in this salad are so simple you won't believe how delicious it can be with just those few items. The secret is in the combination of sour cream and salt. It won't taste nearly as good if you don't salt it well.

Summer Salad
(Print this recipe)

1 seedless baby cucumber
1 tomato (or several radishes)
2-3 Tbsp. sour cream

Dice the vegetables so that they are uniform in size. If you can't find seedless baby cucumbers--and they do make a difference--make sure you take the seeds out of a regular cucumber before dicing it. Add the vegetables to a bowl and mix with sour cream and salt to taste. Let stand 5-10 minutes and taste. Add more salt if necessary. The salad will begin to release a lot of liquid pretty quickly. You can drain it if you wish or simply eat it up when you get to the end of the salad.

Crispy Potatoes
(Print this recipe)

2-3 potatoes
oil for cooking

The trick to getting these potatoes crispy on the outside and soft on the inside is to boil and then fry them. It takes a little longer but the results are worth it.

Wash, peel and slice the potatoes into thin rounds, about 1/8th inch thick (or thinner). Put them into a pan and add enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil over medium heat. At this point, test the potatoes with a fork. They should be underdone a bit but not hard. If they are still quite hard, turn the heat to low and cook another few minutes. Drain and lay the slices out on a paper towel to dry somewhat. Heat a pan on medium high and add sufficient oil. This is not the time to skimp on oil. When hot, begin adding the slices to the pan carefully, making sure not to overlap the slices. If the slices are still wet, you will get a lot of splatter so it's a good idea to make sure they are as dry as possible. Fry until they are crispy on the bottom side, then flip to the other side. Remove from pan and onto paper towels. While the potatoes are still hot, sprinkle with salt. Continue frying the rest of the potatoes in batches in the same manner.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Easy Cold Beet Soup (Borscht)

Forget that overly sweet Manischewitz borscht in a jar. This soup, made from scratch, is the real thing. And the best part is that it is really easy. It does take time (because in this case "easy" does not equal "fast") but you will have enough soup to last a few days.

When Week 8's selection included a bunch of beets for the first time, I immediately thought of borscht. I grew up on this soup but I never actually made it before. My mother came over to show me how to cook it. I got the beets out for her, walked away for a little bit to attend to something else and when I came back... Voila! The soup was done. I told you it'd be easy.

But in case you don't have someone else to make this for you, here is the recipe:

Easy Cold Beet Soup (Borscht)
(Print this recipe)

3 medium beets, stems removed
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
sugar (optional)
hard-boiled eggs, sliced
diced cucumber
sour cream

1. Wash, peel and cut the beets in half. Fill a medium pot with water and put beets in. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until they are fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Ten or fifteen minutes into the cooking, add the potatoes so that they cook with the beets the last 10-15 minutes.

2. When the beets are tender, pull them out and cool until they are cool enough to handle. Continue cooking the potatoes in the pot.  When cool enough to handle, grate the beets on the large holes of a box grater or with the grating attachment on a food processor. Put the beets back into the soup. Cook a few minutes more, testing your potatoes. Potatoes will be done about 15-20 minutes after you put them in. Make sure not to overcook the potatoes or else they will disintegrate into the soup.

3. Add the lemon juice, salt and sugar (if desired). If adding sugar, add a teaspoon at a time, then taste and adjust as needed. Cool the soup, then refrigerate. It's even better the next day.

4. To serve, Russians typically ladle the soup into bowls and pass the eggs, cucumbers, and sour cream around so everyone can add however much they want.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Turkey and Zucchini Lasagna

Week 8 provided me with an overwhelming number of vegetables. There were 8 heads of lettuce (the most to date), beets, scallions, collards, dandelion greens, cabbage, Swiss chard, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash, green garlic, and basil. What to do with it all? A variety of domestic difficulties and a holiday weekend prevented me from preparing most of these things. The lettuce, as always, was distributed to good homes near and far. I kept a few heads for our week-long salads. The Chinese cabbage became coleslaw.

After the long holiday weekend of eating anywhere but home, I realized that there was no dinner for Monday night. Scanning my refrigerator, I noticed the perfect combination of items that were about to go bad: ground turkey and an unopened container of ricotta. These items, together with a half-used box of lasagna noodles gave me the obvious answer: lasagna. But wait! I can't just make something without using at least one vegetable from the farm. At first, I wanted to layer in everything: chard, zucchini, and collards but then thought better of it. If the vegetables aren't disguised, my daughter won't eat it. (And even if they are disguised, there's a good chance she won't eat it anyway.) So I settled on just adding zucchini as a layer. After consulting a few different recipes, I created this combination:

Turkey and Zucchini Lasagna
(Print this recipe)

1 large, or 2 small zucchini (or any summer squash)
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. ground turkey
1 26 oz. jar of tomato sauce
1 15 oz. container of ricotta
1 egg
6+ sheets of no-boil lasagna noodles
8-16 oz. shredded mozzarella

1. Prepare the zucchini or squash first: Trim the ends off the zucchini and slice it length-wise into 1/8th inch slices.  Heat a pan on medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil and sauté garlic until fragrant, about a minute. Working in batches so that there is no overlap, lay the zucchini slices in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the slices to brown both sides. Remove from heat when they are as browned as you like them. Alternatively, you could also roast the slices in the oven.

2. While these are cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a pot, brown the ground turkey, breaking up any lumps. Once browned, drain the fat and put back on the stove. Skip this step to make a vegetarian version. Add tomato sauce and simmer until hot. My tomato sauce was on the runny side so I reduced it until it was thick. I also added a little sugar to my sauce to make it less acidic. Leave to cool a bit.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta with one egg. Mix thoroughly.

4. Next, it's time to assemble the lasagna. Using a pan with at least 1.5-2 inch high sides, spread half of the tomato sauce mixture on the bottom of the pan. Lay the noodles on top making sure not to overlap them. Next, spread the ricotta mixture on top, then lay the zucchini slices on top of the ricotta mixture. It's okay to overlap these. Lay more noodles on top. Finally, spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top of the noodles and distribute the mozzarella cheese on top.

5. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove foil and let the cheese melt and brown for an additional 5-10 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to slice.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Simply Sautéed Swiss Chard

Chard's colorful stems and veins that run through the leaves remind me of Magritte's trees. This was previously a vegetable that I ignored in the supermarket because I was unfamiliar with it. Seeing it as part of my weekly share forced me to try it. It's a green, much like spinach, and as such, it's easy to prepare. Whatever you can do with spinach or beet greens, you can do with chard. To make a quick side, here is all I did:

Simply Sautéed Swiss Chard
(Print this recipe)

1 lb. Swiss chard
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped or pressed
Lemon juice

Chop the chard, separating the stems from the leaves. Heat a pan and add the olive oil. When it's hot, stir fry the garlic until just fragrant, no more than a minute. Add the stems and cook until tender. Then, add the leaves and cook a little longer until they are wilted. Season with salt (and pepper if you like) and squeeze some lemon juice over it.

Asian-style Cabbage Slaw

Week 7's selection included red-leaf lettuce (6 heads), collards, Chinese cabbage, curly endive (chicory), green garlic, and the aforementioned broccoli. Since the July 4th holiday weekend was approaching, I decided to make some coleslaw for a family barbecue. Traditional coleslaw can be hit or miss for me (and depends largely on whether it is made with onions, which I can't stand). It also uses a lot of mayonnaise, which, although it tastes great, can be overwhelming. I wanted something a little different that would use Chinese cabbage instead of regular cabbage and give coleslaw a lighter taste. The stalk of a Chinese cabbage leaf tastes pretty much like regular cabbage. The leafy part, however, is more tender but still has the same flavor.

A simple search turned up this recipe from Bobby Flay for Napa Cabbage Slaw. I modified the recipe quite a bit to make my own version that gives the cabbage an Asian flavor without the spiciness.

Asian-style Cabbage Slaw
(Print this recipe)

Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2-3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1-2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1-2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 head Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage (plus another head if need be), shredded
1 large carrot or 2 small carrots, shredded
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Mix the first 6 ingredients. Taste and adjust the quantities of any of the marinade elements. I did a lot of fiddling with the oil, mayonnaise, soy sauce, and sugar because I started with too much acid (i.e. lemon juice and vinegar).

2. Add the cabbage, carrot, and scallions and toss to mix. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. Mine sat in the refrigerator overnight. The longer it sits, the more the vegetables will sink into the marinade and the more marinade you will have. Once you take it out of the fridge, feel free to add more shredded cabbage to increase the volume and soak up the marinade. If you don't add more cabbage or other vegetables, you will end up with a growing pool of marinade at the bottom. This doesn't affect the taste; only the presentation.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A Broccoli Disaster

Week 6's trip to the farm stand not only introduced me to green garlic, but also surprised me with ten heads of broccoli. I took all ten because, unlike unpreservable food such as lettuce, broccoli lends itself to freezing quite well. I had visions of delicious wintry stir-fries dancing in my head as I collected the heads into my bag. At home, I was again confronted with the fact that my fridge is too small and the weekly bounty is too large. (Yes, sure, I could donate some or give it away (which I do) but where's the challenge in that?) My goal is to preserve some of the vegetables for use in the winter when there is no CSA to go to. After giving away two heads of broccoli to my family, I packed the other eight in my makeshift cooler with some ice packs. And promptly forgot about them while I busied myself with Scallion Pancakes. Not surprisingly, when I remembered about the broccoli, it all turned yellow and purple and pink. So colorful yet so inedible. Sadly, into the garbage it all went.

During the following week, Week 7, I got another chance with the broccoli. Only four heads this time but given that I typically use only one head of broccoli for a stir-fry anyway, this could easily be four future stir-fries. But wouldn't you know it? After all that chopping and blanching and shocking, it turned out that I had overcooked it. I froze it anyway--better to have overcooked broccoli than no broccoli--but I had failed again. Preserving Summer's Bounty had recommended a blanch time of two minutes for broccoli florets that were about an inch-and-a-half long. Somehow, I didn't pull them out of the water in time. Either that or the recommended blanch time is too long.

Better luck next time.

Scallion Pancakes

After weeks of filling my fridge with organic, nutrient-rich, green vegetables that I minimally processed for dinner, all I could think about when I saw the scallions at the farm stand during Week 5 was scallion pancakes. This is a great way to make a nutritious vegetable less nutritious by adding white flour. But no matter. I had to have these. After a little searching, I found this recipe, complete with pictures.

I followed the recipe step-by-step. After I left the dough to rise, things began to unravel. After checking the dough repeatedly, it still hadn't risen. It was getting close to dinnertime, family members would be home soon, and they'd be hungry. So, I took the dough out anyway, and began to work on it. And work on it. And work on it. It was sticky and unmanageable. I couldn't get it to become smooth, dry and elastic (as in the recipe's picture) to roll into a log. The dough had no intention of rolling into a log. If I picked up one end, it would just ooze out of my fingers and refuse to comply. I added flour. And more flour. And even more flour. Each successive addition of flour (by tablespoons) seemed to just disappear into the dough mass after a while. I must have added more than a cup of additional flour before I just threw up my sticky hands. 

I decided to just start cooking them and hope for the best. Instead of cutting off neat disks from a log, I just started tearing gobs of dough from this mass. Rolling was impossible so I just patted each disk with my hand, sprinkled scallions on top, and tried to roll and squish it down as best I could. I prepared all these little "patties" and laid them on a plate to fry. My husband arrived home at this instant and saw the mess and my distress. He dropped his bags on the floor and began to help. He noticed that the patties that were already in the frying pan were puffing up and we were both concerned that they would brown on the outside but remain raw on the inside. He came up with the technique of further mashing these patties into the frying pan with a spatula to make them thinner. As a result, some came out as puffy, little pancakes and some were large and thin. After everything was done, it was the moment of truth.

We all tasted one. They were delicious! Puffy or thin, they all had the same, chewy, delicious taste. Despite the dough not quite working the way it should, they were as good, if not better than, a Chinese restaurant's. They were hands down the best thing I've made with the CSA vegetables so far. Yeah, I know, it's the dough and not the scallions that made this good but hey, it was something I had never made before.

Next time when I make this, I'll try to add less water in one of the early steps. That may have caused the problem. It's also possible that my yeast wasn't as fresh as it could have been (but it wasn't expired) and prevented the dough from rising promptly.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Introduction to Green Garlic

Week 6's take included four heads of lettuce, Swiss chard, zucchini and summer squash, fennel, broccoli, and a strange, four-foot vegetable known as green garlic. In advance of getting the green garlic, I scoured the web for green garlic recipes and found a few. Recipes had instructions such as “snap off and chop the scape” and “peel the brown outer layer.” This left me confused until I watched a video about what green garlic looks like and what the different parts are called. At the bottom of the plant is a familiar bulb of garlic that has not been “cured.” Curing dries out the garlic bulb making it easy to store for longer periods of time. The green stem in the middle of the plant with the slight bulge at the top contains a flower and is called a “scape.” This is edible and has a mild garlic flavor.
I was eager to cook with this familiar, yet strange vegetable and found Penne with Roasted Garlic, Pancetta and Arugula. This dish was perfect because it not only used the garlic from this week’s selection, but also used some of the arugula that I still had from Week 5. And I love combining two or more of my weekly vegetables in a single recipe.

Roasting Garlic
Because roasting garlic can take anywhere from forty minutes to more than an hour, I roasted it the day before. The recipe called for 6 bulbs, and I only had 4 so I supplemented with regular garlic. In the picture, the green garlic bulbs are the smaller, pinker ones and the regular garlic is larger with papery skin. To roast garlic, simply cut off the tops such that the cloves are exposed, drizzle with olive oil (I used extra virgin), cover with foil and place in the oven for at least 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Roasted garlic can be enjoyed on its own as a spread. Once roasted, squeeze the cloves out (they should be soft and creamy) and spread onto bread for a delicious appetizer.

Penne With Roasted Garlic, Pancetta and Arugula

Some thoughts on the eventual dish I created: Overall, it was very good--and I would make it again--but it could use some modification. First, I never cooked with pancetta before and didn’t remember what it tasted like (but I’m sure I’ve had it in a restaurant before). The pancetta was on the salty side but came out as crispy as bacon, even though at first, it appeared fattier. In the future, I would likely use bacon instead. Second, when adding the garlic, my intuition told me that the 6 bulbs I had roasted was too much and I added only half the garlic stated in the recipe. That proved to be plenty and the garlic gave the dish a surprisingly cheesy, creamy texture. The wilted arugula added a delicious spiciness, rounding out the dish. Yum!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sautéed Collard Greens with Ham

Week five is the first week where everything I received was green. Strawberries, which were the only non-green item up until now, are done for the season. My take included more of the same: four heads of lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, collards, and now, two new additions: scallions and chard.  After another hour of back-breaking work, I also picked a quart of sugar snap peas and a quart of snow peas.  Scallions were in a choice group with radicchio (this means that from this group, I pick two items in any combination I choose). I chose two bunches of scallions and no radicchio. I’ll be honest: no matter how many times I’ve had radicchio, I’ve never liked it. Its bitter taste is just too overwhelming for me and I always push it to the side of the plate whenever it comes with my salad. At the same time, I love scallions and was sure I could make lots of interesting things with them.

I’ve received collards three times and three times, I’ve given them to my parents-in-law. It’s not that the collards are the red-headed step-child in my weekly take; it’s just that I never seem to get around to trying them and since my in-laws know what to do with them and I don’t, I figure they could enjoy them while I figure out whether kale is just a decoration or an edible food. Imagine how delighted I was to receive the collards back. In cooked form. They were sautéed with some honey ham. The flavor of cooked collards mixed with meat reminded me of my Russian childhood eating golubtzi, known as stuffed cabbage in English. Collards retain their deep green color and the flavor is a cross between grape leaves and cabbage.

Here, then, is my father-in-law’s recipe for collards with ham:

Sautéed Collards with Ham
(Print this recipe)

1/4 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 lb. honey ham, diced
1 bunch collards, chopped
1 Tbsp. oil

Heat oil in a pan and, when hot, sauté onion and garlic until softened. Add the ham and cover with water. Cook for approximately half an hour. Add the collards and cook until soft. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Kale and Spinach and Yes, More Lettuce

My take for week four: four heads of lettuce, two pounds of spinach, kale, collards, arugula, and more pick-your-own strawberries and snap peas.

I focused on preparing kale this week because it’s a vegetable I’ve never tried before. My familiarity with kale is limited to seeing it used as a ruffled doily underneath sandwiches and burgers on my plate. Delis seem to use kale as a frilly border for potato salad. Well, it’s time to bring kale to the fore and make a dish out of it. Raw, kale tastes like a cross between broccoli and cabbage. Cooked, it has a mild cabbage flavor.

Bringing kale to the fore proved difficult. Kale still seems like a side dish to me so I made it with peanut sauce. I probably overdid the peanut sauce because it was a little heavy on the sauce. It was tasty to me despite my inability to convince anyone else to try it.

Kale in Peanut Sauce
(adapted from How to Cook Everything)
(Print this recipe)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 lb. kale
1/4 c. chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want vegetarian)
3 Tbsp. peanut butter
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a deep skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until hot.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Add the kale, stock, peanut butter and salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the kale is wilted, about five minutes.  After five minutes, uncover and cook another five minutes.  Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Adjust the seasonings, if necessary.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Blanching and Freezing Spinach

With so much produce, it’s time to get serious about preserving some of this goodness, else risk spoilage. There is not much one can do about lettuce but the other greens lend themselves to freezing. I ordered Preserving Summer’s Bounty to learn how to freeze, dry and can a variety of vegetables. Freezing turns out to be quite easy. You just blanch the vegetable in question, shock it in ice water, dry it off and freeze it.  Of course "easy" doesn't always mean "quick."

Having frozen spinach on hand means I can top homemade pizzas with it or drop some in omelets for extra flavor and nutrition.  I also sneak it into homemade Asian-style dumplings.  Amazingly, spinach is a vegetable my son has always liked. My daughter has never touched a vegetable in her life so I continue to experiment with trying to sneak vegetables into her.

To freeze spinach, in a large pot, bring at least a gallon of water to a rolling boil. Use a gallon of water per pound of vegetable. While the water is coming to a boil, wash and trim the spinach and discard wilted leaves. Prepare a large bowl about a third full of ice water. Once the water boils, drop the spinach in and wait for the water to come back to a rolling boil. Once it is at a boil again, set your timer for two minutes. After the spinach has blanched, pull it out and drop it in the ice water. This shocks the spinach and prevents it from cooking further. Let it cool. Pull it out and dry it out on paper or kitchen towels. Divide into batches or leave as one big batch (whatever you need) and put into freezer-safe containers. Freeze, then bag and stack more efficiently in the freezer.

I separated mine into four half-cup plastic containers. The volume of spinach went from this:

…to this:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lettuce, Spinach and Bok Choy… Oh Boy!

My take the third week: Six heads of lettuce (it makes the previous week’s four heads seem downright stingy), spinach, bok choy, collard greens, and pick-your-own strawberries and snap peas. Apparently, the family share of the harvest includes a free gym membership as well. After picking strawberries and snap peas for over an hour, the following day I felt as if I'd been to the gym. Every muscle I had ached and all I wanted to do was to stay in bed. But no. Whether I want to or not, I have to make dinner most nights for my hungry crew, else we have to suffer through take-out.

I gave most of the lettuce and the collard greens away. I’ve never bought or used collard greens before and I’m not sure I’ve even tasted them before. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to try them; I was just preoccupied with making use of the other things in a timely manner. With bok choy and snap peas, I made a dinner of grilled Flat Iron Steak, accompanied by Bok Choy and Snap Peas. With spinach, I made Schav, a Russian cold borscht traditionally made with sorrel, but which can also be made with spinach. Sorrel is hard to find and spinach is the common substitute.

Flat Iron Steak with Bok Choy and Snap Peas
(Print this recipe)

1 lb. flat iron steak
1 Tbsp. oil
1 head bok choy
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 c. oyster sauce
2 cups snap or snow peas, cleaned and strings removed
3 Tbsp. soy sauce

1.  Preheat grill or broiler. Rub steak with oil and season with salt. Grill (or broil 4 inches from the heat) on each side for about 3-4 minutes for medium rare. Remove from the heat and let rest before slicing.

2.  In the meantime, chop the bok choy. Separate the white stems from the green leaves. The stems take longer to cook so they will go in first. Heat a skillet with oil and sauté the garlic until light brown and fragrant. Add the stems and stir fry until softened. Add the leaves and stir fry until wilted.  Remove from heat and stir in the oyster sauce.

3.  Wipe pan and return to heat. Add more oil if necessary. When hot, add the snap peas and stir fry until they've turned bright green and are crisp tender. Remove from heat and stir in the soy sauce.

4.  Slice the steak and serve with these two delicious sides.

Spinach Soup (Schav)
(adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman)
(Print this recipe)

When days are hot, I always crave this cold, green soup from my Russian childhood. My grandmother would make this with the tangy, lemony sorrel that was always available there. Here, in the US, it’s not so available. In the last ten years, I’ve only seen it sold once in my local supermarket and even so, it was sold as an herb in a small plastic container alongside the other herbs. That is not nearly enough for this light, cool soup. You will need seven cups of it so the small containers won’t do. Use spinach instead for a reasonably good facsimile to the traditional sorrel soup.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small rib celery, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 chopped scallions
5-6 cups chicken stock
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
7 cups spinach (or 4 cups sorrel and 3 cups spinach)
salt and pepper
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced, for garnish
2 small cucumbers, peeled and diced, for garnish
sour cream, for garnish

1.  In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add celery and shallot and sauté until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the scallions and sauté another 5 minutes.

2.  Add stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and reduce the heat to medium low. Make sure the stock is covering the potatoes; if not, add more stock or water to cover. Simmer the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the soup and set aside.

3.  Bring the soup back to a boil. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, 3 minutes or so.  Remove from heat and add the salt and pepper.

4.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot.  Alternatively, pour the soup into a blender and puree in batches. Move the soup to a tureen.  Stir in the heavy cream, cool, and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

5.  To serve, dice the potatoes and add them to the soup along with the sliced egg, cucumber, and sour cream.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lettuce, Lettuce, and More Lettuce

On my pick up day of the second week, it was raining cats and dogs and lizards and snakes. I debated about whether to go at all and re-read the rules about switching pick up days. You can switch days if you call in advance and you’ll be able to pick up the produce that they harvest for you on a different day but you can’t pick your own vegetables on other days. So I put on my poncho and headed to the farm. I dressed in a light t-shirt and pants underneath. I arrived and had my first experience with picking up the vegetables that they had harvested. At the farm stand that week they had lettuce and arugula. I had checked the farm’s blog before going to see what would be available that day. The blog mentioned a “little lettuce” and arugula. When I arrived, I realized that my definition of “a little” was different from the farmer’s. My share included four heads of lettuce and a pound of arugula! I laughed. What was I going to do with four heads of lettuce? Even at our most diligent, there is only so much lettuce that we can eat in a week. And a pound of arugula? When you go to the supermarket and you pick up a clamshell container of arugula or other greens, the container looks big but it is usually only 5 or 6 ounces of greens. Imagine loading up the scale with a pound of greens. It makes for a lot of volume.

There were strawberries to be picked still and I decided to go picking despite the rain. It wasn’t raining heavily – and I did have my poncho on – but the wind made it cold. What made me think that mid-May rain was going to be warm? I trekked the significant distance to the fields and began to pick. It was slow going because of the rain and my glasses began to collect rain and obscure my vision. The wind whipped at me periodically. By the time I was done, I could barely wait to get home. My fingers were so frozen I couldn’t uncurl them, and the two paper quarts of strawberries became too wet to hold all those strawberries. A tear developed in one of them and by the time I got to the car, the bottom fell out and with it, all the strawberries. I picked them up from the gravel and put them in a plastic bag. In the car I turned on the heat, which quickly warmed up my frozen fingers. Next time if it rains, I’ll pick a different day to go picking.

But oh, those strawberries were worth it.

The lettuce found its way into my usual green salad consisting of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. Arugula took a little more thought because I didn’t remember what it tasted like or knew what to do with it. Sure I’ve had it in salads when I've gone out to a restaurant but I’ve never bought it. When fresh, the taste is bitter and surprisingly spicy. How could a green be spicy? Over the course of the week, I made two different arugula salads, one using both arugula and strawberries. It makes me feel clever to make use of more than one weekly CSA ingredient in one dish.

Arugula Salad
(adapted from a Whole Foods recipe)

2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups baby arugula leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the arugula and cilantro and toss. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Strawberry Arugula Salad
(adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

3 cups strawberries, hulled and halved
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 cups arugula
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Mix the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar and let stand for ten minutes. Add the arugula, salt and olive oil and toss. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The First Week: Strawberries!

I turned down a road at the sign for the Watershed Reserve and immediately saw farmland ahead. The quiet country road is flanked on both sides by tall grass and farmland. The farm entrance was not too far away. I parked by the farm stand and checked in with the attendant who had set up a table near the field. He explained that this was the first week and they didn’t have the name badges ready yet. I signed in and got my two single quart containers to pick strawberries. The field for picking was a bit of a walk past the herbs (which I could also pick) and some tall grass. Now, picking strawberries isn’t something I had done in more than ten years. My only experience with picking strawberries entailed bending down twenty times a minute in 90-degree heat trying to find some reasonably ripe strawberries underneath wilted leaves that had sprawled into the dusty channels between strawberry beds. It was then that I had decided that I’d stick to store-bought strawberries. The only problem is that store-bought strawberries are usually disappointing and I haven’t tasted a good strawberry in years.

I came to the strawberry beds and picked one to taste. What a difference! It was sweet and juicy, not hard and bland like supermarket strawberries. The strawberries were plentiful and easy to pick. The challenge was how to pack my quarts efficiently with as many strawberries as possible.

Opening day actually fell on my pick-up day: Tuesday. When I signed up, the application asked me to choose a pick up day. Without knowing anything about the best day, I picked Tuesday. As I picked, there was another man picking who told me that in previous years picking always started on a Wednesday. After he complained that “Tuesday don’t get a break,” they decided to start on a Tuesday this year. How lucky for me!

With my quarts full of strawberries, I made my way back and stopped to pick a few herb sprigs. Never (well, almost never) having cooked with fresh herbs before I can tell you that I don’t know the difference between sage and oregano and wouldn’t be able to identify either of them by sight or by taste. I mean, who knows what oregano tastes like if it’s mixed into jarred pasta sauce? I picked oregano, sage, chives and mint. Perhaps I can get a crash course in cooking with a wide variety of herbs this year.

At home, I added chives to an omelet and made some fresh mint tea by steeping mint in boiled water. Delicious! But I didn’t know what to do with the sage or oregano. At least, not yet.

As for the strawberries, most were eaten fresh. I sliced them up for my kids and they devoured them. My daughter in particular likes strawberries. As the days wore on however, half a quart of the strawberries began to languish in the fridge. Unthinkable! So I made some strawberry yogurt pops. My daughter loves these and thinks they are a “treat” when, in reality, they are a healthy snack.

Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles

2 cups strawberries, washed and with stems removed
2 cups vanilla yogurt
1-2 teaspoons honey, or to taste

Blend everything to desired consistency, pour into ice pop molds and freeze. If you want a smoother consistency without strawberry chunks, puree the strawberries first and press the mixture through a sieve to separate out the seeds. Then, blend with the yogurt and honey. If you don’t have special ice pop molds, you can pour the mixture into small Dixie cups. Cover each cup with foil and stick a wooden popsicle stick into each.

So I Joined a CSA

Together with my husband, we joined a CSA this year. Finally. A co-worker of my husband’s told us about this whole CSA thing a few years ago. It sounded interesting at the time but given that we were both working, it remained a good idea only in theory. In practice, I knew that I couldn’t devote that much time to cooking all week long to take advantage of the produce before it would go bad. But last year, in 2009, I remembered about this idea in the spring and decided to join. I looked through a list of local CSAs online and settled on one: Honeybrook Organic Farm in Pennington, NJ. But when I clicked on the link to join, I received the message that it was too late and that the 2009 season had sold out. What a shame.

So I waited. Promptly in February of this year, I filled out the application and sent in a check. And waited. It was a long wait to see if I’d get a share and I didn’t hear from them until the end of March. Priority is given to previous members over new members. But we got the postcard in the mail that we were in. I could hardly wait until May.

Hubby and I had debated about whether to get an individual share or a family share. According to their website, an individual share feeds two adults and a family share feeds four. Given our two little ones, it was doubtful they could be relied on to chow down on all those veggies. But, my husband felt it was better to have more rather than less. So we chose the family share. But neither of us really realized how much a family share was.

What is a CSA?

CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Individual farms participating in CSAs offer shares of farm crops to community members for a fee. In this model, consumers pay ahead of time for a “share” of the crops that they then receive throughout the season. Consumers generally have no control over what they will receive; they receive whatever is ripe and in season. A positive feature of the model is that the produce is usually below market price and often organic. A negative is that this is not for people who can’t handle unpredictability, who don’t like most vegetables, or who don’t like the concept of not being able to choose.

For more information, visit Local Harvest; the website describes what this is and how it works. It also has a search engine for finding a CSA farm that is close to you.

The Challenge

After the first few weeks of receiving vegetables, I began to realize just how much a family share is at this farm and just how much cooking, preserving and giving away I must do. My refrigerator is now overstuffed with bags of greens: lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, chard and bok choy. Every crevice is taken up to the point where I’ve had to cut back on buying other foods that I normally restock the fridge with. It is overwhelming.

What to do with it all? The answer is that I must cook, cook, cook. What to cook and what to preserve for later? Can I use it all up in creative and delicious ways? Can I preserve some for later use the rest of the year? Will my picky family eat it, or at least try new vegetables? Oh, and did I mention that I’m just a home cook who has never cooked with some of these vegetables that I’m going to get?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I’m excited to embark on this culinary journey for the next six months.