Tuesday, August 28, 2012

CSA in the Kitchen

One of the things I love about our share is that we get to pick which herb we want every week and what usually amounts to one extra item of produce.  I appreciate this because it means that we can eat more of what we like!  When it comes to picking an herb I almost always go for thyme - I don't really know why except that I just love the smell!  Thankfully, thyme dries very well.

I would highly recommend selecting your herbs not just with the week's meals in mind, but your winter pantry as well.  Thyme, basil, oregano and rosemary all dry relatively well and are useful for brightening winter dishes.  For my birthday last week, my wonderful husband bought me a dehydrator!  Maybe this wouldn't be exciting to you, but I'm over the moon about it.  As soon as we got our share home, I set the herbs to dry.

You don't need a dehydrator to dry your herbs though, just a paper bag and some time.  Think ahead just a bit and you will be delighted with the results mid-winter.  Freshly dried herbs truly make a difference!

There are some herbs that I don't seem to use much of when they're dried.  Sage, which I have in the picture above, is one of them.  Instead of adding to my underused store, I preserved the sage in butter.  Compound butters work well for herbs that either don't dry well or that you would prefer to use "fresh" in a dish with butter.

Mince the herb (I just use scissors) and mash the butter in with it, using a fork.  Room temperature butter is much easier to work with.  Once it's properly mixed, scoop the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and shape into whatever shape suits you - logs are good.  Wrap the log and place in the freezer for future use.  My plan for this butter is to be gently melted and browned then tossed with pasta.  Simple and delicious.


When we see the first tomatoes of the summer we are always overjoyed.  By the end of August, tomatoes have become old news - I almost get bored trying to think of what to do with them.  We must not let this happen!  To bring new life to my tomato scene, I plan to make a tomato tart.  Fresh tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, drizzle of olive oil all on top of a flaky tart crust.  It's like pizza but more buttery.

I believe most basic cookbooks can guide you to a decent tart crust (I'd suggest one without sugar).  Simply roll out your dough, fill it with fresh-cut tomatoes and whatever else sounds good - garlic maybe?  Fold the sides of the dough up as pictured above and bake on a tray or pizza stone until golden brown.  Again, I'd reference the dough recipe for heat and approximate time.  Here is a recipe for a savory, whole wheat pastry dough.

Second tomato inspiration: roasted!  Yes, you can make your very own sun dried tomatoes in your oven at home.  If you're lucky enough to have an oven that bakes below 200 (or a dehydrator!), you're in even better shape as a slower roast dried them better with less risk of burning.  Set your oven to its lowest heat setting.  Wash your tomatoes, slice them in half lengthwise and toss with olive oil.  Spread slices open side up on a tray (you may want to line it with parchment paper).  You can also add pieces of garlic if you wish.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave in the oven for a few hours, checking periodically until they are shriveled and flavorful.  You can find good directions here, as well.


I said I would give an update as to what we did with our hot peppers ...

Wearing gardening gloves, I took the tops off these hot peppers and sliced them down the middle.  Put them in a pint Mason jar, covered with high-quality vodka and left it on a shelf in the pantry.

I was planning on leaving it there for a few days but thought I'd check up on it about 6 hours after starting the infusion.  I dipped in a spoon and took just a tiny drop to taste.  I would describe the sensation as liquid fire!  Seriously though, I immediately dropped the spoon and ran to the fridge to start gulping whipping cream.  We'll keep this stuff around, but we'll be sure to use it very sparingly!


And finally, when you can't think of what to do with your veggies, I suggest ratatouille.  Yes, it sounds fancy and yes, it's delicious.  Thankfully, this dish is also flexible and simple.  We still had an eggplant on hand last night, not sure from where, so I peeled and chopped that into 1/2 inch pieces, chopped a sweet pepper (you could use more than one), chopped and onion and chopped, cored and seeded a handful of tomatoes.  All of these I sauteed in olive oil over medium heat, separately (this isn't necessary but according to some it makes the overall dish better - if you'd like, just toss them all straight into the baking dish).  As each batch was finished, I layered it into a lightly oiled 9 x 13 baking dish.  Once everything is in, add some pieces of crushed garlic and bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven at 350 for about an hour.  

If you happen to have zucchini or summer squash on hand, you can add those or substitute them.  You could add more peppers or make it onion-heavy.  I sprinkled freshly dried thyme and basil-oregano vinegar on ours, which was tasty!  I'd show you a picture but have you seen baked eggplant?  It's just not pretty.  So, take my word for it that it tastes wonderful.


Have a great week!

Courtney and Grady

Monday, August 27, 2012

days, recently

Apologies for my blogging absence outside of our CSA posts.  I'm not sure if it's just the late summer days or feeling just busy enough with work and home that I don't often find myself with the mental energy and motivation for writing.  I'm rather sure that cooler weather will have an effect on this feeling, though!

Important days that have passed in my absence: blog anniversary!  I've been blogging for just over one year now.  I can't believe it's only been one year, actually, because it seems that so much more has happened between now and last summer - the biggest things being that we now live in Chicago and I have employment.  Many thanks to those of you who have encouraged me along the way in this writing.  I don't think I would maintain this space if I knew that no one out there cared :-)

Day after anniversary: my birthday.  Yes, it was lovely.  I did work, which made for a quiet evening with my love and two slices of pie.  We've decided that turning 25 makes me a real adult.  Whether that's true now, earlier or later, I am so thankful for another year of life and growth.

Finally, we were on a vacation earlier this month that I have yet to share much about.

Cape Cod is an annual trip for my family reaching back almost 50 years.  My grandparents took my mom and her siblings, my parents take my family, and this year Grady and I returned to a cottage we called 'ours.'  As always, it was beautiful.

I just started a page on Flickr as well, where you can find a few more photos from our vacation, if you like.

Happy Monday, friends!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CSA in the Kitchen

Let's start the week off right with a salad.  We got two lovely heads of lettuce this week and promptly turned them into a Caesar salad.  The salad part is quite simple - tears the leaves off of the stem and rinse thoroughly, then dry thoroughly (it's important to dry lettuce well so that the dressing actually stays on it).

We make our Caesar dressing from scratch, so it's a bit more labor-intensive but so very delicious.  Beat one egg yolk (yes, this involves eating raw egg) with the juice of half of a lemon.  Add one or two cloves of freshly pressed garlic, 1/3 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese, 1 TBS of Worcestershire sauce and 1 minced fillet of anchovy.  While mixing, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Dress your salad greens and enjoy.


These last few weeks we have found ourselves with quite a few bell peppers.  This is a wonderful thing but, you see, Grady and I enjoy certain foods so much that we will often eat them once per week - we have had fajitas or something along those lines involving fresh salsa at least that often and sometimes more.  You, however may not love fajitas so much and so we bring you: meatloaf.

Yes, we did chop a green pepper and add it to our meatloaf mix.  The carrots we added were from our share last week.  We like to top our meatloaf with BBQ sauce so while you can taste the distinct green pepper a bit, mostly it tastes like delicious sauce with some meat and veggies.  For the mix I would use 1 medium carrot, 1/2 an onion and 1/2 a bell pepper per 1 pound of ground meat.


This share is also looking perfect for making a refreshing batch of Gazpacho (use tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, jalapeno, and possibly even the herb you picked up).  According to Cook's Illustrated magazine, the way to make a perfectly creamy soup is to slowly drizzle in the olive oil as the blender is running.  Take a look at the recipe on this website to guide you to your simple dinner-from-a-blender!

Photo taken from oui, chef blog


Our love affair with the grill continues this week as we plan to attempt grilling beets and fennel - maybe at the same time, maybe not.  I would say this could be a recipe for burned roots and bulbs but Grady is determined and so we will seek to enhance these foods with grill-supplied smoky flavor.  We'll let you know how that works for us ... if any of you have tried grilling either of these items before, please do let us know.


Got hot peppers?  I know we do!  We took a handful to attempt infusing in vodka for future use in such drinks as very spicy Bloody Mary's.  Not wanting to drink your peppers?  Well Preserved food blog had a great recipe for hot peppers fermented with whey.  Check it out here!

Have a great week, everyone!

~ Courtney and Grady

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CSA in the Kitchen

Welcome to another week in the kitchen!

It seems that the temperature may finally be dropping a bit {I try to be as cautious as possible when talking about Chicago weather!} and yesterday we even had a rainy day!  Hopefully this means good things for Montalbano Farms. 

As I consider the coming cooler weather, I'm reminded of an excellent way to prepare essentially any vegetable: roasting.

A good friend of mine reminded me recently that it's not just beets and winter squashes that take well to this form of cooking.  Last night, we tossed some chopped carrots with olive oil (you can also use butter) and sprinkled with salt and pepper, set in the oven at 400 for 45 minutes or so - voila!  Dinner. ... ah well, part of dinner!  We had a tiny cabbage on hand as well, so I cored and chopped that, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper - are you noticing a trend? and cooked it alongside the carrots.

Your new kitchen motto could be: When in doubt, Roast it.  Many vegetables are made sweeter by roasting, which can make even the ones you might think of as less-pleasing, more tasty.


On with the sweet peppers!  I've already suggested quite a few ways to prepare these crisp veggies and I probably already suggested grilling.  If you haven't tried it, you should.  Cut the peppers in half (remove seeds and ribs), rub with olive oil and place on the grill.  You should use a lower flame or keep them partially away from the flame.  Here we were working with a charcoal grill and we put them over very hot embers.  {You also see onions, garlic, jalapenos and tomatillos here.  We're serious about grilling stuff}.

Predictably, these all went into some fabulous fajitas!


Speaking of peppers, did you grab a handful of hot peppers when you picked up your CSA?  Or maybe you got a whole bunch in your share?  Great!  Aside from making excellent fresh salsa, jalapenos will serve you well in the form of Jalapeno Poppers.

As you may have guessed, these were also grilled.  Grady cut a little 'window' into each pepper to get the seeds and ribs out.  Then he mixed our fajita seasoning into cream cheese, the amount of seasoning will vary with your taste but I'd say he used a big pinch per pepper.  Stuff the peppers with the cheese mix, close the 'window' with a toothpick, then cook on the grill away from direct heat for 20 minutes until slightly charred and cheese is melty.  Beware the tips!  They'll be hotter (spice-wise) than the body of the pepper.


This rather creepy looking jar of stuff is actually a rather delicious and easy way to make pickles.  We've been getting cucumbers of just the right size for the last few weeks and every new one has gone into this jar as it has arrived in our kitchen.  I can't say I love pickles, but Grady does so we make them.  For a batch of pickles you'll need a large glass or ceramic jar with a wide mouth plus a small plate that fits inside the mouth and a mason jar filled with water to weigh the plate down when the time comes.

Dissolve 6 TBS of sea salt in 1/2 gallon of filtered water, add your cucumbers, up to 2 heads of peeled garlic, and a few branches of fresh dill.  Make sure everything is fully submerged under the brine (this is where the small weight and plate come in), cover with a cloth and leave on the counter for up to 4 weeks after which time you can move it to the fridge.  Over the course of these weeks, the salt will inhibit the growth of bad (food-spoiling) bacteria and encourage good bacteria that will sour and preserve the cucumbers.  If the water level gets low, add 1 TBS of salt dissolved in 1 cup of filtered water.  If white stuff grows on the top, just skim it off - no worries!

This recipe is taken from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz and I strongly recommend reading the book for further questions and excellent recipes!  Our pickles have turned out quite well, so don't be afraid!


Finally, here's a picture of that pasta dish from last week that involves fresh chopped tomatoes.  If you haven't tried it, this is a great meal to throw together at the last minute.


 Love selecting your herb every week and then by mid-week you sadly realize you've yet to use it?  Most herbs can be dried very easily and they make so much of a difference in your cooking that you simply must try it!  I soak the herb in a little bowl of cold water and swish it around just to make sure all the dirt gets rinsed off.  I spread it to dry and, once dry, place loosely in a paper bag, fold the bag closed and leave in the pantry (away from heat and light) until I forget about them.  At the point that I remember them, which is hopefully about a month all together, I strip the dried leaves from the stems and store in an air-tight container.  The smell of thyme mid-winter or a little crushed oregano to brighten your chili - just these things make it worth your while.


We are always looking for new ideas and feedback about how to prepare CSA veggies!  If you'd like, please share any tips or recipes you've discovered along the way.  Thanks!

~ Courtney and Grady

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CSA in the Kitchen

It's that time of the week again!  To all of our Montalbano Farms friends, sorry about the confusion as to which CSA week we're in.  Different locations started on different days so we're not all numbered the same.  From now on, I will simply be sharing what we're doing/have done with what we got in our Logan Square Market share on Sunday morning.  Again, please feel free to comment with ideas and recipes!


Beautiful, crisp green beans.  I'm not going to lie - this week I will be eating every single one of these raw and probably with my hands.  I love these veggies and they're so refreshing on a hot summer's day that I'm not really sure why you'd want to cook them.  If, however, you do not love green beans as much as I do, I would suggest slicing them on an angle to make smaller pieces and then combining them with sliced cucumber and tomato.  Dress this mid-summer salad with olive oil and the vinegar of your choosing - we have an oregano vinegar that I would use for this!

 The bell peppers this week would be great candidates for stuffing, following the same guidelines as we used a few weeks ago for zucchini (found here).  If I were considering turning up the heat in my oven (which, to be honest I'm probably not since we don't have central air), I would love these pepper sliced on top of a pizza!  Green peppers, mushrooms and onions is my favorite topping and all of these things can be be found in our CSA/other farmers market vendor stalls.  This week, however, I may be setting these peppers aside for a cooler day when I do want to make pizza so I'll wash and slice them, lay the slices on a tray to freeze and then store them in a freezer bag once they're solid.  The texture doesn't hold too well, but they still taste great!

 This heap of jalapenos may get frozen this week too.  The heat drops significantly once frozen, but I don't much mind that.  Another simple way of making these peppers last longer is to make chile paste.  Wearing gloves (really, you should - have you ever touched your eyes after handling peppers?  seriously unpleasant!), stem and seed 2 - 3 or more peppers and chop.  Puree in a blender while slowly adding hot water to make a paste.  Add salt and then store in the refrigerator.  You can use this paste as a base for sauces, to spike soups, flavor meats, maybe veggies - the possibilities are only limited by your taste buds and your ability to remember that you have it in the fridge!

Those last little red peppers I'm thinking are going to be in an infusion of some kind but I haven't decided yet (oil? vodka? vinegar?); I'll keep you posted.


More lovely tomatoes!  Tonight I plan to enjoy these raw, chopped and tossed with pasta.  For the dish I'll add some shredded basil, drizzle with olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper.  If I'm feeling very accomplished in the kitchen I may even crush a few garlic cloves to simmer very lightly in the olive oil before tossing - this will infuse the oil and I'll discard the cloves once the oil is ready.  Come to think of it ... this is essentially the dinner version of the appetizer from last week, bruschetta.  Parmesan cheese would also be a welcome topping for this meal.


The beets we received will likely be roasted (wrapped in foil in the oven at 400 until soft when pierced) and eaten warm with butter as a side dish.  I plan to eat the greens steamed and also with butter, possibly as a side with my pasta tonight.  Butter just makes so many things better!

The cucumbers probably won't get buttered ... although ... bread and butter pickles, while not containing actual butter, are extremely delicious ... however, I was more thinking of trying a salad of this type.

Watermelon!  How could I forget?!  Do you really need to be inspired to eat this treat?  Well, if you don't want to get your cheeks sticky with juice, we offer the following suggestion - try something a little different involving muddling a few watermelon cubes with fresh mint leaves and simple syrup then shaking with ice and gin (or white rum or vodka or no alcohol at all, just add more soda) - top it off with a bit of club soda.


Thanks for stopping by!

~ Courtney and Grady