The Cusp of Fall

Cool, fall-like weather has been the norm here for the past couple of weeks. Overall, the summer has been mostly cool and rainy, but we had shifted into weather that caused me to break out the hoodies. Now, as usual, summer has bobbed its head back up for one final September hurrah. The temperatures snuck back up into the 80s, though there’s blissfully little humidity.

It’s fitting, then, that this week’s share is mostly the greatest hits of late summer – corn, peppers, beans, eggplant. The rain and cool temperatures this year have made it a bummer year for tomatoes and melons, but otherwise, the abundance continues. Salad greens came back on the early side, too, thanks to the cool weather.

This is the pile of delicious that is awaiting me as I type:

CSA share for 9/12/17

Red leaf lettuce, arugula, bell peppers, 2 kinds of green beans, corn, summer squash, potatoes, parsnips, leeks, eggplant, shallots, hot peppers, parsley, apples, peaches.

Tonight, my priority is corn. We’re going to do BBQ baked tofu, corn, and salad, I think. I’ll get creative again tomorrow.

Eggplant Pasta Salad

One of the things I love most about cooking is the ability to take recipes as starting-off points and going on to customize the meal to what my specific tastes are. Admittedly, I can’t really picture how cooks manage to suss out the measurements in their recipes; I’m so stereotypically the type of cook that runs on what it looks or smells like that it’s hard to pin down the specifics.

The other night, we had a side dish with dinner that was one of these modified recipes. I’m a big fan of alternative pasta salads; I’m not thrilled with the mayonnaise ones as a general rule. So, when one of my friends posted rave reviews on Facebook of this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to give it a try.

First off, let’s talk pesto. The blog post and recipe linked above walk you through the steps of making your own pesto dressing for this salad. If you don’t have any pesto already on hand, go for it! It looks like a solid dressing, and I’m 100% in favor of spreading the good word of non-traditional pesto. I will write an entire blog post on this later, but for now, let me make it quite clear: you do NOT need to limit yourself to basil and pine nuts to make pesto. Any dark greens or herbs can be used, and any oily nut can be used. I most often use pecans in my recipes, since we have family in Texas and often end up with huge bags of high-quality pecans floating around our kitchen. Lately, as this blogger did, I’ve used walnuts, because I’m out of pecans (my three-year-old is a FIEND) and having a stash of them in the house gives me more options than pine nuts do. Long story short, pesto is more a method or a genre than a specific sauce or dressing.

More on that later. Needless to say, I had my own pesto already, in my freezer, which I broke out to use. I thinned it with some olive oil and garlic vinegar.

Next, let’s examine the charred eggplant. I’ve mentioned before my love of the Thug Kitchen recipe that involves charred eggplant, and now this. You can grill the eggplant, as the recipe suggests, though if you’re short on time, are an apartment-dweller, or are just too lazy to take out the grill, you can also just take the vegetables and cook them in the broiler, which is what I did. I drizzled the eggplant slices with olive oil and seasoned them with garlic, salt, and pepper, though you could also marinade them.

We passed on the sun-dried tomatoes; not so many fans of them in this house. Instead, I put some halved cherry tomatoes into the finished salad.

Delicious.

We extended the leftovers into a meal the next day by adding a can of garbanzo beans and a little balsamic vinegar. White beans would have also worked nicely if you were keeping the recipe vegetarian; I can also imagine tossing in some sausage or cubed chicken to make this a meal.

Beans, beans, beans

This is what shelling 2 pounds of beans looks like:

And this is what shelling 2 pounds of beans *really* looks like. IPad with Mad Men (I am slow in my media consumption), a beer, and the remnants of the construction of the turkey meatballs I have cooking in my oven.

I love Tuesday nights. It’s utter insanity, leaves me exhausted, but I’m blanching and freezing these beans, and when my bean-loving toddler is happily chowing down sometime mid-winter…. it’ll all be worth it.

Thug Kitchen

Hang around here long enough, and you may get sick of hearing about the one subject that dominates my conversations almost as much as CSA: Thug Kitchen.

Thug Kitchen is a series of cookbooks, blog, twitter account, etc. The authors live in LA and declare that their mission is to make eating healthy – and, specifically, vegan – accessible, affordable, easy, and delicious. They do this stunningly well, over and over and over again. I have two out of their three cookbooks, make meals from them regularly, and never have encountered a recipe that I’ve disliked. If you want healthy comfort food, Thug Kitchen is for you.

The one caveat is that you must not be offended by swearing. Their gimmick, from which the “Thug” in their name comes, is that all of the recipes are written in street-sounding language. There are a lot of f-bombs. Being from northeastern New Jersey (think Sopranos – it was shot nearby), I find this hilarious and endearing.

Below are some visuals for why this cookbook is worth every penny. Please, try not to drool on the keyboard.

Eggplant with Soba Noodles

 

Blueberry Buckle
Red Lentil Burger

This is not the last you’ll see of Thug recipes coming from my kitchen. Yum.

Ground Cherries

One of the advantages to joining a CSA is that by its very nature, it enables you to try produce you wouldn’t normally choose – or even find – in the grocery store. CSA shares are so notorious for this, actually, that the Huffington Post even did a series entitled “WTF, CSA?” unpacking some of the unfamiliar produce one might encounter. It’s perhaps worth noting that the name of this blog is a send-up to that series.

One of my favorite CSA discoveries is the ground cherry. They’re also apparently known as cape gooseberries, though the first thought that comes to mind when you see them is probably not one of fruit!

If you think they look like miniature tomatillos, you are spot on. Ground cherries are in the same genus as the tomatillo. The distinctive paper wrapping is present, and I’d say they share a similar texture. However, these beauties are much smaller. To eat them, you pinch the skin off…

Which reveals the fruit. (See how tiny they are!)

Ground cherries are firm, with a pop of seeds when you bite down on them. We often get a choice of ground cherries or cherry tomatores, though they are not comparable in taste and texture. Ground cherries share more of the citrus-like edge that tomatillos have.

I love eating these raw and by themselves, and often most of the point doesn’t survive my prep-time snacking on a Tuesday night. However, I have stumbled across this pie recipe that sounds too good to pass up. The next time we get a pint of ground cherries, I’ll bake one and report back on the results.

Do you have any favorite uses for ground cherries? Feel free to share in the comments!

Vacation

AKA – Life sometimes gets in the way of our best-laid blogging plans.

We went for a long weekend up to Connecticut as a family to celebrate our anniversary, and since we were staying at a family-owned beach house, I had access to a kitchen, and my New Jersey produce came with me. With the exception of Saturday night, when my husband and I got away for a nice dinner out, we ate at home. I did pop down to the local farm stand for some corn – I was dying for it, and we’ve only gotten it in the farm share one year, so I always end up looking elsewhere.

Crab cakes and Salmon-Dill burgers courtesy of Atlantic Seafood.

Swordfish courtesy of Old Lyme Seafood.

The vegetable mix in the second meal is something I’m quite proud of, actually. I had an eggplant and a few summer squashes, and my plan had been to make “fries” out of them… until I realized that I’d forgotten to buy eggs.

I wasn’t going to bother with going back to the store (this was Sunday, and we were leaving Tuesday morning), so I improvised. I’d already discovered by this point that there was no olive oil in the house – something I’d assumed would be there and was incorrect – but I’d brought up tamari and rice vinegar on the off chance that I’d be cooking something out of Thug Kitchen. So, I chopped up all of those beautiful veggies, threw them in a big mixing bowl, and shook in a generous dousing of each of those. I peered through the spice cabinet and found “Italian seasoning” – basil, oregano, etc. I sprinkled some of that in there, as well as some of the lime sea salt that was an impulse purchase at Atlantic.

Threw this all on a sheet pan, and roasted it at 350 for about half an hour.

HEAVEN.

It reheated well for lunch the next day, too.

The takeaway here is, in my opinion, that improvisation almost always ends with some delicious discoveries. Would eggplant fries have been satisfying with a big hunk of swordfish? Sure. Were my last-minute roasted veggies better? YES. Oh, heavens, yes.

Applesauce Therapy

Sometimes, when the outside world feels like it’s too much to process, self-care looks like homemade peach applesauce.

Please ignore my messy table. I’m only on cup one of coffee for the day.

I don’t follow a recipe for applesauce anymore, though I got my start with this one. I found it to be good but too watery, so I often use just a splash of water, rather than measuring anything out. I use whatever pile of apples I’ve gotten from the CSA – usually a plastic shopping bag’s worth. I like adding cinnamon and vanilla extract, but you can experiment with what you like. To make a two-fruit applesauce, I just add in a smaller amount of the other fruit – today I used two large peaches to my bag of mackintoshes. Bring to a boil, and then simmer on medium heat until everything is mushy enough to be mashed with a potato masher. It freezes well, thank goodness. My son is an applesauce fiend, and it’s nice to always have some on hand.

“Veggie Madness”

That’s the way I usually put CSA prep on my to-do list. I turn into a kid in a candy store or an overactive puppy – SO MANY VEGGIES. WHAT TO DO WITH ALL OF THEM?!?

Often, I take a picture of the week’s share laid out on my table. It’s a great way to really see and enjoy the abundance. I didn’t do that this week, though I did get a picture of the wagon loaded up with my kid and my share…

Tuesdays are tricky for dinner. CSA pick up starts at 2 pm. We often don’t know what’s coming in the share until Monday evening or Tuesday morning. Add in an active preschooler, and there’s not a lot of time to work my magic on the share and turn it into a complete dinner. I try to make an easily accompanied protein that I can make fit into whatever vegetable landscape I end up with. Today was one of those days.

I made “Beer Chicken.” I’ve long since lost the link where I learned to make Beer Chicken, but the author of that blog post asserted quite heavily that she was not providing a recipe, but a method of preparing chicken, up to you to customize. This redefines easy: take chicken thighs, place them in the bottom of the slow cooker, sprinkle them with spices of your choice, pour in one bottle of beer, then cook on low for 8 hours.

It works. Every time. Tonight was smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and a little kosher salt. The beer was 16 Mile Tiller Brown.

DELICIOUS.

On-site today, there were plenty of jokes about taking a break from salad. We’ve finally hit deep summer, where lettuce stops being abundant thanks to the heat. I genuinely did not expect to find myself going home and making… well… a salad. But we got arugula, and it was delicious! Arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, walnuts… and we dressed it with a homemade dressing: parsley, basil, garlic, oil, garlic vinegar, brown mustard, and maple syrup. YUM.

I intend to typically include a list of what’s in the share. You’ll get that in tomorrow’s post; tonight, I’m very tired. I’ve been munching some ground cherries and sipping some wine while writing this post. I have blanched carrots to get in the freezer, kale to chop and freeze, and then it’s off to bed for me. Look for a list of the bounty, an explanation of what the heck ground cherries are, and a dinner featuring eggplant tomorrow.

Welcome!

Let’s start with the generic greeting: welcome to my food and cooking blog.

Now that a formal hello is out of the way, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Stevie, and I’ve been a member of my local CSA for about 5 years now. I’ve become increasingly enthusiastic (some might say “obsessive”) about cooking with my CSA share – avoiding as much waste as possible, trying new things, experimenting with my own takes on recipes, and ultimately feeling good about the choices that I make about meals for my family.

This is the second season that I’ve been posting pictures and recipes on the facebook page for my CSA, but the interface there can be kind of clunky. So, I’ve finally decided to start a blog. I’ll be sharing photos, links, recipes, descriptions, tips, etc. for using your farm share.

Because food is seasonal when you’re living the CSA lifestyle, you’ll find my posts line up best with your needs and timing if you’re living in the northeast, though you’re of course able to visit recipes at a later date for when they work. For those of you who are playing along at home and are local, the CSA I am a member of is the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA. Their website is here: http://bloomfield-montclaircsa.org/ and the facebook group is here: https://www.facebook.com/BloomfieldMontclairCSA/

The individual farms included in my shares are:

Circle Brook Farm

Tree-Licious Orchards

Griggstown Farm

Wrong Direction Farm

I highly recommend seeking any and all of them out, even if you are not a member of the CSA at this time.

When I post recipes, I will do my best to be clear about the ownership of a recipe. Unless I’ve specifically noted that I’ve made something up, I am not claiming ownership to the recipes. You’ll find a link in the menu to a page full of cookbook recommendations. As time goes by, there will also be a page of links to other cooking blogs and cooking sites, as well. Please bear with me as I build the site.

I’m looking forward to sharing my delicious hobby with you all. Happy eating!