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

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