The new “Inner Circle” – How my CSA has changed

As I mentioned once upon a time, my farmer decided to change his CSA.  Rather than a weekly box of surprise vegetables and an “Iron Chef” type challenge, now we get to choose what is in our box.  I saw a post on the Farm Aid website the other day by someone similarly stunned by the end of his meat CSA.

My farmer requires a minimum order of $20/week if you want to pre-order, rather than just show up at the farmer’s market and purchasing; in exchange we get a discount of 20% off the market price.  Since my old CSA worked out to just $18/week, now I only order every two weeks.

That is "lovage" (luv-ahj) in front of the rhubarb.  It smells like celery and is surprisingly variable.

That is “lovage” (luv-ahj) in front of the rhubarb. It smells like celery and is surprisingly variable.

To keep the challenge element in our week, my daughter and I had decided I had to choose one item each box with which we were unfamiliar.  I have tried that, somewhat.  We bought lovage the first week.  But we are still using our lovage, and there hasn’t been much too unusual on our pick list, so not much strange, so far.

I have sprinkled lovage on pizza, added it to Kirsten’s Beef & Bok Choy Pie, and used it to season pan drippings gravy for pot roast.  All were very nice; it adds a delicate flavor boost that seems very sophisticated.  I think it would be good in creamy soups and salad dressing.

What we have been able to do under this new system, is order a large quantity of one vegetable that I focus on for the week.  For example, the first box this spring, I ordered extra asparagus to combine with the several lbs of asparagus after the last two weeks of my winter CSA, and we pickled asparagus.

Two weeks later, the featured veggie was rhubarb.  We made rhubarb crisp, rhubarb compote (great for serving over ice cream, or mixing into oatmeal) and a strawberry rhubarb pie.

The next order, we got 3 lbs of purple asparagus and pickled purple asparagus (say THAT 3 times fast!) to complement our green pickled asparagus; which is ready to eat and turned out FABULOUS by the way.  🙂

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This week, I ordered three lbs. of strawberries to combine with our volunteer strawberries and I am going to re-make the Strawberry Black Pepper and Mint Jam from last year – with all the sugar this time.

Macerating Strawberries

Macerating Strawberries

Thank you to everyone still following my little blog.  I went back to work in May after my surgery and have been completely exhausted at the end of each day, and had too much to do on the weekends to have time to blog.

Our family likes the blog as an archive of what we are doing and the food we love, (although the kids want more desserts for out troubles ;).  I love the satisfaction I feel tying together healthy food, with local and small business and the well-being of my family.

We haven’t given up and I still follow you as well.  I am going to try Heather’s tomato pesto as soon as my tomatoes are ripe (I’ve been wanting to try it, but Kirsten’s description recently of licking the food processor bowl put it on my MUST TRY list for sure!

Happy Wednesday!

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Winter CSA Box 11- More Asparagus (Let’s make microwave risotto)

This week we did not get a great deal of variety, but we made up for that with quantity.

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5 more lbs of asparagus.  My daughter pointed out there are no huge stalks in this shipment.  Those big guys last week must have been the first harvest, over-achievers.

Spinach (big leaves) –  I love spinach salads.  If only our strawberries were ready.  They have blooms, but no berries yet.  😦

Shallots, and thyme.

We haven’t used up all of last week’s asparagus.  But have no fear!  We have lots of ways to consume this member of the lily family.

To prepare asparagus, I always break the stalks naturally by hand.  This way I never end up with woody, stringy stalks that I used to get sometimes when I trimmed them with a knife.  The ends go into the compost, so I don’t feel guilty about not using ALL the asparagus.

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Simple preparations are easy with asparagus.  Luckily, they taste like a treat and no one ever feels cheated because you steamed your asparagus.

Steamed:  I steam my asparagus until just fork tender, and if not serving immediately, I remove it from the steamer to a bowl filled with ice, so it stops cooking and doesn’t get mushy.  Sometimes it is chilled if I haven’t timed the rest of dinner very well.

Grilled:  Toss the  asparagus in olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  We grill it over medium heat until nicely charred and crisp tender.  Mmmm.  It is hard to have any left to eat with dinner because we tend to grab it right off the grill.

I also use asparagus as a vegetable in other dishes.  My favorite is risotto.  This week I tried a microwave risotto recipe that turned out surprisingly well.  We also used asparagus as one of a number of vegetables (including the last of my purple sprouted broccoli)  in a yummy chicken pot pie that I will post shortly.

Pickled – I haven’t done this yet, but will try it this weekend if I get a chance.  Luckily, asparagus doesn’t go bad quickly, so If I don’t get to it this weekend, it should be okay next weekend.  I wonder if we might get asparagus 3 weeks in a row?

Microwave Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon

I had read earlier this year that you could successfully make risotto out of rice other than arborio rice.  Since we bought a 20lb. bag of brown rice at Costco, that was what I decided to use.

This recipe was modeled on the microwave asparagus and lemon risotto recipe in the May issue of Cooking Light, but it had to be adjusted due to the fact that I was messing with what type of rice I was using.  Arborio is apparently a medium grain rice, and my bag of brown rice says it is a short grain rice.  I admit I am not fully educated about the finer details of various types of rice, but it did affect my cooking time significantly.

  • 3/4 c. chopped onion
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. uncooked rice

Combine the first 4 ingredients (through olive oil) in a 2 quart microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes.  Add rice and combine, then microwave on high for 3 minutes.

  • 3 c. chicken stock
  • 1/3 c. dry white wine

Add chicken stock and wine, combine then microwave on high for 4 minutes.  After 4 minutes, stir stock for 30 seconds, the microwave on high for 4 minutes.  Repeat this process until liquid has been absorbed.  For arborio rice, the recipe said it should take a total of 16 minutes.  For my brown rice it took significantly longer, up to an additional 20 minutes.

  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1/2″ pieces

Add asparagus and microwave on high for 2 minutes.

  • 1/2 t. lemon zest
  • 1.5 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c. shredded parmesan cheese

Stir in remaining ingredients, saving some cheese for garnish.

I'm not sure how "dry" a sauvignon blanc is considered, but it tasted good.

I’m not sure how “dry” a sauvignon blanc is considered, but it tasted good. 🙂

Because I used brown rice,  I didn’t save much time by making the risotto in the microwave.  But it was a fun experiment, it tasted right, and there were a lot less dirty dishes than  making risotto the traditional way.

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Loving my Purple Sprouted Broccoli – 2 recipes today

Anne from Life in Mud Spattered Boots had said my purple sprouted broccoli would wilt quickly, so I have been using it every chance I get.

My favorite part is the color!

My favorite part is the color!

It has a different flavor than regular broccoli, a bit sharper.  The stems are longer, with smaller heads.

To prep, I rinsed the broccoli, tore off the larger leaves lower on the stems and cut off the bottom of the stems.  Because these do have longer stems with small broccoli florets along the stem, I had quite a bit of stem that I used in both dishes I have tried so far.

First, I faked a version of pad thai.  Then I made omelets filled with the purple sprouting broccoli and a variety of leftovers scattered in the fridge.  Both were fabulous!  (Gotta enjoy the successes when they happen.)  🙂

First the faked pad thai.  Generally working from a recipe in Thai Cuisine At Its Best, by  local author Josie Wannarachue.   I took a number of liberties, so I am going to call this:

Thai Style Chicken and Noodles

  • 1/2 package rice noodles

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for one hour.

  • 3 T. vegetable oil

    I have a problem with not letting meat sit still long enough to get a nice sear.  I made a conscious effort not to do that this time.

    I have a problem with not letting meat sit still long enough to get a nice sear. I made a conscious effort not to do that this time.

  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 1 c. chicken, thinly sliced

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat, then brown the garlic.  Add the chicken and cook until done.  Lower the skillet temperature to medium-high.  Drain the rice noodles and add the noodles to the skillet, cooking until the noodles are soft.

  • 3 T. sugar
  • 3 T. lime juice
  • 1 T. paprika
  • 2 T. fish sauce
  • 2 T. dark soy sauce
  • 2 eggs beaten

Add the sugar, lime, paprika, fish sauce, soy sauce and eggs, cooking for one minute.

  • 3 c. purple sprouted broccoli, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 green onions, cut into ½” pieces
  • 3 T. chopped walnuts
  • lime wedges

Add the purple sprouted broccoli to the skillet and combine.  I covered the pan and allowed the mixture to cook until the broccoli was crisp-tender.  Add the green onions and the nuts.

When combined, serve with lime wedges.

And it stayed Purple!  :)

And it stayed Purple! 🙂

There are never bean sprouts at my grocery store, so I don’t include those in my pad thai.  Actually, ever since there was an e-coli outbreak related to alfalfa sprouts when I was in college (a long, long time ago), I have not been a big fan of sprouts of any kind.  Funny how you hold onto weird stuff like that.

There were no left overs.  🙂

Ham & Veggie Omelets

My second purple sprouting broccoli dish was an omelet for Saturday brunch.  The kids were gone, so I could upscale breakfast a little bit.  This was also a meal where I took the opportunity to use up a lot of small bits of leftovers in the fridge.  I apologize in advance for the streaming narrative on this recipe, but it was a mass of random acts based on what I kept finding in the fridge.  🙂

I knew I wanted to use this new veggie in omelets, but I hadn’t decided which direction to go with them.  Did I want to do something frenchy, with a creamy sauce and shallots?  Looking around, I had some french bread, and crostini on the side would be a nice complement.  What would I use to top the crostini?

Then I noticed a small container that had about 1/2 cup of mixed leftover beans (and stuff) – it had started as ranch baked beans left over from one night, a little left over chili from another night, and some black beans I don’t remember when we had ’em, but all together they were good.  I had used them as dip for quesadillas during lunch one day last week.  Anyhow, I decided that was what I would put on the crostini, TA DA,  we had a southwest theme!

Having decided on a flavor theme, rooting around in the fridge turned up leftover grilled bell pepper and onions, and leftover maple bourbon smoke ham.  SWEET!

First, I chopped the purple sprouted broccoli into about 1 inch chunks and stir fried that in a pan with some olive oil and the left over ham (cubed) and grilled peppers and onions.  When the broccoli was fork tender, but not soft, I set that aside.

Mixing eggs and milk, I started the first omelet in a cast iron pan already coated with 1 T. of melted butter. (That is why my eggs didn’t stick in the cast iron pan – not so healthy after all, in spite of all the veggies). After the egg set, I added the broccoli mixture and added some shredded mexican blend cheese before folding the omelet.  Putting the lid on the pan to let the filling fully melt and cook, I turned my attention to the crostini.

I turned on the broiler in my oven, sliced the french bread into half inch slices and buttered both sides.  I toasted the first side on the top shelf for 1 minute (I have also learned to set a timer, because I DO burn things under the broiler!).  When I flipped the toast, I added the beans and broiled for another minute.  They were perfect!

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Again, my broccoli was still purple.  We felt like we had the best breakfast in town AND I used up the remainder of 4 different leftover containers.  It was the perfect start to my weekend!  🙂

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Breakfast Pizza with Eggs Sunny Side Up

Sometimes, ideas on how to use my vegetables come from strange places.

I receive a catalog for skin care products (huh?) that has expanded to include a few food items, and it had this recipe for breakfast pizza that looked yummy.  The kids will ALWAYS like pizza, right?  Pizza for breakfast should secure me a spot in the Awesome Mom Hall of Fame, right?

We had pizza for dinner yesterday, so I planned ahead and had extra pizza dough ready to roll (literally, ha ha!) this morning.  I added extra veggies to up the nutrition factor and the numminess (as far as I am concerned) and used leftover ham from Easter that my husband had smoked.  It was a Maple Bourbon Ham from Smoke & Spice that has an extraordinarily flavorful exterior.  That ham recipe is a keeper for sure!

Breakfast Pizza

  • 1 lb pizza dough (room temperature)
  • olive oil or olive oil cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 475°.  Roll pizza dough into a 9″x13″ rectangle and place on pizza pan coated with olive oil or olive oil cooking spray.

  • 4 oz. thinly sliced ham
  • 10 asparagus spears, blanched and cut into 1 ” pieces
  • 1 c. rinsed baby spinach

Cover the pizza with the ham, then add spread the spinach and asparagus over the pizza, leaving about a 1″ border of crust all around.

  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 c. shredded cheese ( I used asiago and mozzarella)

Break the eggs onto the top of the pizza.  The asparagus and spinach really did keep the egg whites from running off the pizza.  Top with the cheese all over and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

The four stages of breakfast pizza creation.

The four stages of breakfast pizza creation.

The eggs set nicely and the final result was easy enough to assemble in the morning before school and work.

My 15 year old son was too wigged out by eggs on pizza and refused to even try it.  His loss, because this was WAY better than the honey nut cheerios he ate instead.  However the rest of the family loved it.  The twelve year old ate 3 pieces!

While he dissed my breakfast, my son did give me an app that makes collages of my boring photos.  So I guess I’ll forgive him – this time.  🙂

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Winter CSA Box 10 – Finally, some veggies!

Yesterday, we picked up our first box in several weeks.  But now, it is Spring and some of the spring produce is starting to come up.  We didn’t get a huge variety, but we got a lot.

5 lbs of asparagus.  Some of these shoots were the size of a broomstick, and others were obviously the skinny minnies of the field.  But they all looked great.  I found a recipe for a breakfast pizza that I will use the skinnies on and chop the larger ones into a spring risotto.  Yummm.

5 pounds of asparagus!

5 pounds of asparagus!

Swiss Chard – We received two big bunches, which made my husband very happy.  He loves swiss chard, but always seemed to be gone when it came around last year.  He would hear my stories of sneaking greens into dishes so the kids would eat it, and he would pout.  Yesterday, he steamed one whole bunch, stems and leaves, to serve with pork chops and rice.

This week's haul!

This week’s haul!

Broccoli –  We got both Green Magic broccoli,  which successfully overwintered but does not have a tight head like my farmer felt a good head of broccoli should have.   We also received sprouting broccoli, which he says is very similar to broccolini, except this has purple on the top of its head.   I like the look of the purple sprouted broccoli, but he says the color goes away when it is cooked.  Darn it!

Lentils  –  dried lentils.  I have a pea & lentil cookbook, and the varieties of legumes do mix and match pretty easily.  My daughter was shocked I would have a cookbook solely dedicated to peas and lentils. 🙂

Dried Sage – I have discovered that I can crumble the dried herbs on parchment paper, then pour them into my spice jars when I get tired of the dried spices piling up in the corner of the kitchen counter.

It feels good to get back into the swing of using my CSA veggies again.  🙂

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Bogus Hummus – no tahini

It has been several weeks since we received a shipment from the winter CSA.  Then I had to have surgery that has kept me down and drugged for the past two and a half weeks.  So I haven’t been involved in the cooking portion of our family life (and you really don’t want to see what I would have written while on narcotics!)

I had dried garbanzo beans and wanted to make hummus, but we had no tahini (basically peanut butter only made with sesame seeds instead of peanuts).  My doctor still forbids me to drive and I did not feel like trying to explain tahini to my husband and sending him to the store.  So we winged it, and it turned out pretty well.

Bogus Hummus

First, I brined the dried garbanzo beans.

  • 2 c. dried garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 c. kosher salt

Combine in a bowl with enough water to cover the beans after they swell.  Soak overnight.

The next day, I rinsed the garbanzos and simmered them in unsalted water for 30 minutes, until very tender.  Drain and rinse.

If you don’t have dried garbanzos or don’t want this to be a two day affair, substitute 2 cans of garbanzo beans and adjust the liquids as necessary to get the texture you are looking for.

In the food processor or blender, add the drained garbanzo beans, plus:

  • 1 t. minced garlic
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 6 t. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 T. cumin

Process until smooth and salt and pepper to taste.

You really could add additional spices (chili powder?), but I wanted the kids to eat it as a snack as well.  We ate it with carrots, on baguettes, and with Wheat Thins.

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My daughter said she would only eat my hummus if it was good.  (Brat!)  But she says it is good and she has been eating it, so I can relax.  🙂

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Winter CSA Box 9 – Its coming up Greens – the last box before St. Patrick’s Day

We’ve been very busy around here lately, with big changes at work, at home, at school.  We have been cooking, taking notes and photos of how we have used our CSA goodies, but I just have not had the opportunity to sit down at the computer (or the will to kick the 15 year old off the computer), to write.

But when I do find that time, I have some great recipes coming (and a few the kids didn’t care for but I REALLY liked (Mango Banana Mint Smoothies anyone?)

As we head into the final stretch of the Winter CSA, Farmer Al keeps telling us he is running out of goodies to put in our boxes.  😦  In Box 9, we got a few staples from storage:  dried garbanzo beans, shallots, chili peppers, russet potatoes and apples.  From the newer crops we got Swiss chard, with beautiful red and yellow stems, and baby spinach.  Yumm!

Already I have made a garbanzo bean salad. I carmelized some onions with the chopped chard that I was going to use as a condiment, but the next day I turned it into spaghetti sauce, that we later used as pizza sauce.  That is three, count ’em, 3 days of dining on one running recipe that kept getting reinvented day by day.  And no one complained!  🙂  Sweet!

Because he is running out of goodies, we are skipping the next scheduled pick up for Box 10, but he promises to get us three weeks of CSA in April.  He better not be lying to me again….. GRRR.

Although, my farmer did break my heart since my last pick up.  I had been thinking it was time to sign up for the Summer CSA and wondered why we hadn’t received notice yet.  Then he sent an e-mail announcing that he is changing the format of his CSA.  Rather than a weekly box of vegetables of HIS choice, we now will order what we want in advance and he will deliver each box to a local farmer’s market to be picked up weekly.

This has caused a huge identity crisis for me.  Megan at Clean Eats Fast Feets has talked about how the weekly CSA box appeals to her competitive spirit; how can you use what you are allotted without any waste?  I have to agree.  That challenge awakened something in me that appealed to my problem solving skills – forcing me to try whatever it took to use whatever I had before it was wasted.    Before my CSA, each week I would sit down and select four dishes I planned to make for dinner, shopped for ingredients on the weekend and prepared my dishes each evening during the week.  Very orderly, with some wiggle room for the unexpected/ school concert, dinner invitation, lazy order of pizza without too many extra groceries or ingredients that couldn’t be used within the next few days.

With the CSA box in the middle of the week, even with the advance notice of what might be in your, there was always an element of surprise, and panic.  How will we possibly eat three different types of greens before next week?  What is THAT squash and how should it be cooked?  Will the kids even try anything with those peppers in them?  The risk and the adventure made it fun and challenging.  There was less planning on the weekend and more looking at what I had and creating… something….

Left on my own, I am not likely to ever order as many greens, or squashes (squashi my daughter asks?).  The younger lady of the house suggested I can require myself to order at least one unusual type of vegetable each week to kick up the challenge.  But it just seems so…orderly.

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of mine who lives on Maui (devastating, I know!) and she  joined a CSA (Yea! – CSAmom influence at work!).  She gets to choose what she receives each week and she loves it.  No one is going to tell her what she has to eat!  She gets papayas, avocados and some funky Italian greens she really likes.

I researched the other CSAs in the area, and they too let you choose the produce you take home, so I am going to stick with my farmer and try the new system.  On the upside, the new pick up spot is at a local winery – I am a member of their wine club, so I CAN do a little free wine tasting while I pick up my vegetables each week.  🙂

Hi ya!  Got some veggies in the truck!  :)

Hi ya! Got some veggies in the truck! 🙂

That may cut down on cooking the day I pick up my CSA box.

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