Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CSA Week 9

We're coming to you live this week from the Cape Cod Bay!  Yes, we actually brought our share with us in the car on our 19 hour trip so that we could enjoy our Montalbano goodness while on vacation.  In addition to bringing produce from home, we also went to some effort to seek out local farms here on the Cape - let me tell you that they are not so easy to get to!  We hope to get to a small farmers market tomorrow though and we're very excited at the prospect.


If I were to describe this week's share in one word it would be: corn.  Like, a serious amount of the stuff.  I'm certainly not complaining though since sweet corn season is so short that we should all gorge ourselves while we can since the fresh ear's counterpart in the frozen food aisle just can't compare.

The kitchen we have to work with out here is tiny, to say the least, so pretty much everything is going on the grill.  According to Grill Master/Guru Steve Raichlen, only Midwesterners grill their corn with the husk on and he would say that the rest of the country takes the husk off with good reason.  Grilling corn sans husk means you're getting delicious grill flavor in the corn itself ... instead of in the husk.

So far we've had grilled corn with homemade mayo and grilled corn with just butter, salt and pepper.  Later this week we're looking forward to corn and tomatillo salsa made in the same style as the salsa from last week but with different ingredients to go with steak fajitas (this will be a recurring theme I'm sure) with grilled onions and sweet peppers.  

If you've never grilled onions, I would highly recommend it - they're smoky and deliciously amazing.  Grady runs a toothpicks through the onion lengthwise and then slices in between so that the rings are held together by the pick.  He the lays them on the grill away from direct heat or on very low heat for just a few minutes each side.  I'll try to add pictures of the process the next time we do it.


With fresh tomatoes you can make salsa, as we did last week, or make Italian salsa aka bruschetta.  Chop a few perfectly ripe tomatoes and toss in a bowl with some salt.  Tear or chop a handful of basil leaves and toss with the tomatoes.  Finally, drizzle olive oil on a few pieces of crusty bread and toast in a skillet over medium-low heat.  You could also pour a generous amount of oil into the pan and add a crushed garlic clove - this will result in very oily, very addicting crisp breads.  When the bread is browned a crispy, top with tomato mixture and serve.  This is a great, quick appetizer that requires a few simple ingredients and very little heat.


Our last two meals this week have used very little from this week's share but feature other local produce rather prominently.  First we had bratwurst with a side of kale and grilled corn, a cup of potato and leek soup, and homemade sauerkraut (from Montalbano cabbages, post about that here).  I'm still learning what to do with leeks but we brought an enormous one home and we already had potatoes and it was in the upper 60's so soup is what happened.  Chop the white and light green part of the leek and saute it on medium heat in a whole bunch of butter until it's soft.  Add potatoes and water/milk/stock and salt.  Bring to a boil then simmer until potatoes are soft.  Mash/puree/leave whole and serve.

The second meal was pub-style burgers with lots of veggies.  Once again, grilled corn and kale plus quick-sauteed zucchini.  The burger was topped with caramelized onions (low heat with lots of butter in a skillet) and special pub sauce as developed by the food geniuses in America's Test Kitchen.  I am personally opposed to sharing published recipes on the internet so I will have to tease you by saying this sauce is revolutionary and you should find it at the library or pay to get access to it online.  It involves 3 cloves of garlic, some Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise.  


We're haven't quite decided what we'll be doing with our little eggplant - probably roasting.  This is one of those vegetables that just doesn't inspire me yet.  I love moussaka but it's a significant amount of work and is usually a main dish and I haven't personally experimented much beyond that, I'm sorry to say.  Rachel's recipe from the newsletter looks great so we may give that a try.  We'll let you know what we do this week but we'd love for you to share any recipes or inspirations you may have in the comments - we will certainly benefit from it!


And finally, just to let you in on a bit of the beauty we are currently enjoying I give you: My Morning Cup of Coffee.


See you back in Illinois next week!

~ Courtney and Grady

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Counting Down

In less than 24 hours we will be leaving Chicago for this place

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

CSA Week 8

Friends!  I've been asked to write about what we make with the produce that comes in our CSA share every week.  I'm excited to share what goes on here in our kitchen and I will be the first to say that Grady does way more of the cooking work than I do, so I can't take credit for most of the good-looking food here!  Hope you enjoy what we have to share and please leave comments on how we can improve or other recipe ideas you may have using similar ingredients.  Cooking is so much more enjoyable when it is a friendly, communal experience.


Hello to all of our fellow CSA members!  We're excited to begin sharing with you the ways in which we use the items that come in our share every week.  The vegetables we receive every week from Rob and Christina are the building blocks of all our meals and while our cooking is not always the most brilliant, we are almost always assured a tasty meal all the same because of the excellent quality of our ingredients. 


The first thing we made when we got home with this week's share was a nice bowl of fresh salsa and some fajitas to use it on.  Perfectly ripe tomatoes are best used (in our opinion) in a recipe that allows their full flavor shine.

For the salsa we simply chop a large tomato (or a handful of small ones), a medium onion, and a jalapeno.  Mix in a little salt and a few splashes of white vinegar and lime juice and you're ready to go!

Fajitas themselves are very versatile and what we make is probably somewhere between a taco and a fajita but I must admit I'm not quite clear on the distinctions between the two.  In any case, this is a simple dish to make.  If you have a taco/Mexican spice blend on hand, rub that into your meat of choice.  We used chicken and cooked it on the grill.

While the meat is cooking, saute sliced peppers and onions in a neutral oil over medium high heat until soft and lightly browned (the photo below is in process - cook longer than shown here).

Shred your cooked meat and put it, along with the onions and peppers, into warmed tortilla/fajita shells and top with your fresh salsa.


This week we also received a few summer squash.  These work well as a side dish - sauteed in oil until brown and seasoned with salt and pepper - but when we had those rather monstrously huge squash a week ago, we decided to make a main dish from the vegetable itself.  

Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffing for vegetables can be whatever you think would be delicious.  We used brown rice, browned ground beef, sauteed onions with a bit of garlic, a little tomato paste and a generous amount of shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  To round out your flavors, season with salt and pepper, chili, garlic and onion powders and perhaps a dash of brown sugar.  You can choose to mix in the 'guts' of your zucchini as well so as not to waste.

Grady somehow figured out how to hollow out the zucchini without breaking or mangling it {I'm still trying to figure out how he did it}.  We then stuffed the (cooked) filling in there and baked them at 350 for probably 30 minutes.  The cooking time and amount of stuffing will vary greatly with the size of your squash but extra filling is always delicious on its own so, personally, I would overestimate on that front.  We topped our dish with some homemade sweet barbeque sauce as well to add a little kick.

While it may not be the most photogenic stuffed vegetable, it is certainly filling and delicious!


For those days when you simply don't have time to do much chopping or veggie-prepping there is always pasta with basil pesto.  We try to use basil as soon as possible after bringing it home so that we enjoy it at its peak flavor and so we often make pesto and either use it right away, or freeze it in these handy silicone muffin trays we have to use later (top pesto with oil when storing to keep it from oxidizing).

I don't use a recipe for pesto although they are certainly plentiful in a Google search.  I throw as much basil as I have plus a few cloves of pressed garlic into the bowl of my food processor and process with a generous drizzle of olive oil.  If the mixture isn't enough like a paste, I add more oil.  Next, add Parmesan cheese.  Again, the amount will depend on how much basil you have and your taste but the cheese is what makes pesto so addicting so add rather freely (omit the cheese if you're freezing).  Include a few pinches of salt and process again to blend.

When your pasta is cooked, toss with the pesto and serve with extra cheese.  You may want to save 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water when you drain it just in case your pesto needs a bit more moisture when added to the pasta.  To add a bit more interest you could also throw in a chopped tomato or two!


We haven't finished out our week of cooking yet, nor have we exhausted our share.  This week we received a bag of bean sprouts that have left me wondering how we are going to use them.  Pad Thai is the first dish that comes to mind.  A quick search of a few trusty food blogs brings a few more suggestions to the table:


We hope you enjoy your week of good eats!

~ Courtney and Grady

Friday, July 20, 2012

Joe's Blues

Mid-July is the time for local blueberries and this year we were able to go out and pick nearly 13 pounds of fresh, organically-grown Michigan blueberries!  We rented a blueberry bush from a place called Joe's Blues and they guarantee that you will get at least 12 pounds from your bush.  This past weekend we took a mini vacation just around the lake to go see our bush and take from it every ripe berry we could find.

These are a high bush variety that are nearly 60 years old!  I hope to be this productive when I get to be that age :-)

The day was lovely, sunny and a bit hot so after we packed up our bounty, we headed to the little downtown area to grab a bite to eat and followed that with a short trip to the beach.

Being an East Coast girl, Lake Michigan has always creeped me out just a little bit.  It's so huge and ocean-like, but it's not the ocean.  I just get confused and a little disturbed, which is probably why this was actually my first time ever touching this lake.  I know, I've lived near the lake for almost 8 years now and have never even dipped a toe in.  I guess it took a blueberry high and the beauty of Michigan to convince me!  I was still confused though since my first thought when we chose our beach spot was that we would have to move soon if the tide was still coming in.  To me 'beach' will likely always mean 'ocean.'

No beautiful summer vacation would be complete without a bite or two of ice cream so that was our last stop before heading home.

Almost a week later, we're still working on getting all those blueberries into the freezer - we finally ordered our deep freezer and it comes tomorrow.  Between the cherries and the blueberries and hopefully soon some peaches and possible 1/4 of a cow ... well, we're going to need it!

As I said in my cherry post, we've decided to freeze because it's simple, stores produce close to peak nutrition and you can use it months in the future for most of the same purposes as fresh.  We realize we're using up electricity to keep our goods frozen and that we're in some trouble if we lose power for an extended period of time (although I would imagine being city apartment dwellers that this may not be as likely for us as for others) but dehydrating would probably be our next ideal option and we don't have a dehydrator yet, so we'll wait.

For now, we are overflowing with delicious, little blueberries.  This experience only compounds my desire to grow fruit on our own property some day - we got 13 pounds in one day from one bush - just imagine the possibilities!  Fruit growing can be challenging work, but oh how rich you feel when you run your hands through pounds of fresh berries!  Such extravagance.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fermentation: Successes and Failures

A few months ago I ordered two very exciting books:

The Essential Urban Farmer is filled with excellent information about all things urban/small-space farming and I'm sure I will gush more about it's usefulness when I finally get around to writing about our little community garden space.  But the other book - wild fermentation, well, it's been causing a stir here in our kitchen.

The only real fermentation I've been doing has been yogurt, which you can read about here, and because we don't buy raw milk at the moment there isn't much that's truly wild about that process.  Thanks to Sandor, though, we're branching out!

Fermentation #1: Sourdough

The basic way to make a sourdough starter is to mix equal parts flour and water, stir a few times per day and wait for wild yeast to show up and feast upon the meal you made for them.  We caught our little critters within 48 hours!

Once you catch them, you need to keep feeding and watering them, but you're also free to bake with their natural leavening power!  This is mostly where the success/failure comes in - we made the "Alaskan Hotcakes" recipe in the book and they were generally a success although I still need to figure out how to cook them properly.

They were quite edible, noticeably sour and improved greatly with maple syrup and apple butter.

Next I tried bread.  Bread brings with it a long list of failures for me (see this post for an example).  When I first started, things were OK but I was using all white flour and commercial yeast and that's just not what I'm after for regular consumption anymore.  After exploding glass in a hot oven on two occasions and attempting many "foolproof" and "scientific" methods, I still am mostly disappointed.  But it's bread for goodness sake!  Haven't people been making bread for almost forever?  How could it be so hard and complicated?  So, based on Sandor's kitchen ethic of never measuring, I mixed up some sourdough bread (I did this also because I really couldn't find a plain sourdough recipe that uses whole wheat flour, only sourdough starter, and makes 1 loaf).  Serious failure.

I've read many times that the main problem with novice-made bread is that they add too much flour while kneading, so you're supposed to wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking.  Let me tell you - I kneaded this dough with wet hands, dry hands, floured hands and everywhere in between for probably 45 minutes and never achieved the smooth, elastic dough that all bread makers aspire to.  I also got embarrassingly angry and frustrated with my dough.  Eventually, I got it in a semi-manageable state, let it rise again and dumped it in the oven.  The resulting bread was edible but seriously dense and had a pathetic crust.  I'm giving up on bread making for the foreseeable future.  Grady says he may try his hand now and that's just fine with me!

On to successes...

Fermentation #2: Cabbage aka Sauerkraut

Pretty straightforward: chop cabbage, add salt, pound it to release water to cover and let it sit and do it's thing.

I have actually failed at this before too and I'm not totally sure why except I think I didn't get the water level high enough (I added salt water to the crock above because the amount pictured is definitely not enough).  Our kraut is coming along nicely now and we may begin eating it tonight (it was started about a week ago).

Fermentation #3: Honey Wine

This one is also very simple.  Mix honey and water and let it sit out, stirring a few times per day.  In the same way as with sourdough, the sweet mixture attracts yeast and starts the fermentation process.  Once you've got some bubbles going (ours fizzed like soda when stirred), transfer to a carboy with an airlock to finish.

This is also a more immediate gratification concoction than other alcoholic ferments in that it can be ready 2 weeks after starting, although you can let it go for about 4 and bottle and age it, if you want to.  We haven't tasted it yet but all seems to be going according to plan, so hopefully we'll be enjoying it soon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cherry Season

The cherries are here!  Cherry season is finally upon us and the tables at the market now stock neat boxes packed with the deep red little fruit.  For some, however, this season either didn't come at all or came with little promise.  Here in the Midwest, we had a week of summer weather in very early spring followed by more normal, down to freezing, spring temperatures.  This combination proved disastrous for fruit blossoms as they came out for spring and in some cases were then frozen off their branches.  Thankfully, a few vendors at Green City Market were still able to bring a small crop to market.

Knowing that the harvest would be small this year, Grady and I took the first opportunity to buy 8 pints of cherries to save up for future use.  Not only did we get a delicious box full of sweet and sour (1/2 and 1/2) cherries, but Grady also bought me a small bouquet of elderflowers {post to come on this}!!! 

We spent about an hour together on Independence Day just standing in the kitchen, pitting cherries.  Having no special device to remove said pits, we experimented with different techniques using a wooden chopstick.  Overall, certainly a messy endeavor but so worth it as long as you're wearing an apron!

For the moment, we are freezing most of the excess produce we bring home.  There are many ways of preserving food and there are pros and cons to each one.  Freezing uses up energy to keep things frozen, it's a big problem if you lose power for more than a few hours (well, less of a problem with fruit than meat), and it can make the produce watery once thawed.  Still, we are using this method for fruit right now because it seems to be the best way to keep just the fruit.  I don't want to make jams and jellies, except a very small batch or two, because we rarely eat them and they all require sweetener, usually white sugar, to preserve.  We simply are looking to have fruit in as close to natural state as possible come winter.  I have no citation for this at the moment, but I have also read in numerous places that freezing is the best method for retaining maximum nutrients since canning cooks them and depletes them.  One caveat to the above would be that natural fermentation often is the best choice because it preserves using no energy and it often makes nutrients more available than when the produce was fresh.  We have a few fermentations on the counter right now too, but that will also wait for another post.

Our summer kitchen is busy and full.  Cherries are our latest joy but there are still more fruits and berries to come (not to mention the cabbage, cucumbers, squash, basil, etc ....)!  How are you putting up summer's bounty in your kitchen?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Celebration

Good friends, good food and good music.  Just after the summer solstice, we gathered for a celebration of the season.

Our beautiful hostesses provided lovely food and drink - we brought more food, more love and perhaps a song or two to share.  

How better to spend a summer evening than in such circumstances and with such company?