Tuesday’s share – Week 6

Whew! What a day we had yesterday. Swelteringly hot. I had a “set-up shift” for CSA, which meant that I had to show up early and help load the bins onto the tables, bag shares for people who couldn’t pick up in time, etc. I also desperately needed to go to the grocery store (my Mother in Law brought pizza over, and we rather effortlessly fit the two boxes into my fridge, which is a testement to how empty it was), and I was performing in a community band concert in the evening. As the last line suggests, my awesome Mother in Law came over to help and handled dinner (as well as the mountain of dishes in my sink, whew). We had a lovely evening. The concert was actually the first for the West Orange Community Band, which just formed this winter. I’m glad I’ve been juggling the rehearsals with the rest of my life – it was SO MUCH FUN. Our next concert is August 21st.

I digress.

The share yesterday was bountiful, plus a friend offered me her beets – anyone who knows me knows I won’t turn down more beets. Pictured is the contents of my vegetable share, eggs, and fruit. I got my usual chicken and ground turkey in addition to this, and I ordered some stuff to have on hand for grilling.

Pictured: Eggs, peaches, apples, sugar plums, romaine lettuce, cherokee lettuce, swiss chard, kale, cilantro, 3 cucumbers, 3 summer squash, 2 eggplants, 1 bunch of red torpedo onions, 2 bunches of beets (share size was 1), a half pound of green beans, Kohlrabi, and tomatillos (which were an “extra,” but I like salsa verde.)

I haven’t done anything yet except wash & tear the romaine for a salad later. Some thoughts before I head over to work on the pile (Little Chef is at camp, Littler Chef is napping, and I am in an air conditioned house, thank God. I went out to get some sun before, and I lasted about 10 minutes.): Salsa verde, possibly the plum torte, even though it calls for purple plums. Maybe I’ll experiment and find some new plum recipes. I’d happily eat them all straight, but I’d like to branch out. For the kohlrabi, I think I’ll try mashed – I have an article from a magazine about new ideas for mashing (other than potatoes and cauliflower), and that looks interesting. The kale is likely going to be chopped and frozen. The chard might be frozen; I’m not sure yet. The beet greens look good, so I may freeze the chard and use them as my dark green. I do have a “chard stalk hummus” recipe that I may try instead of just relegating the stalks to a stock pot. The eggplants are the long, narrow type. I may do something funky like eggplant fries or eggplant bacon with them. The cilantro will really have to end up in whatever we do tonight, because it’s wilty with the heat.

No matter what I decide to do, there will be photos. I’ll post here when I can, and if you want more immediate gratification, find me on Instagram! @omgcsa

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It’s not often that I pick a dud for dinner. I have startlingly good luck with the recipes I choose, which I’ve always chalked up to understanding my family’s tastes and preferences. Tonight, though? Total let-down.

In my diet and lifestyle makeover that began a couple of years ago, I invested in several “lightened up” slow-cooker cookbooks, one of which is Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution.  I’ve made several meals from here that I enjoyed, and the pictures for Thai Eggplant Curry looked enticing. I love Thai food. I love curry and lime. I love eggplant.

… I didn’t love dinner tonight.

The texture was all wrong. The sauce was too thin, and the eggplant was too chewy. The curry taste was not strong enough – I think I’d have to double the amount of curry paste to get in the ballpark of what I like. I added fresh basil leaves in an attempt to perk it up, and even that didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t alone in my assessment; my spouse graciously ate his serving, though with the same lack of relish I was experiencing, and Little Chef picked out his rice, peppers, and beans and left the rest. (I used green beans instead of snow peas, because it’s what’s in season and was in my share.)

I’m going to take the leftovers (boy oh boy, there were a lot of leftovers) and add them into a basic Pad See Ew tomorrow. I’ve got noodles and a big head of napa cabbage, so hopefully I can salvage the bulk of the eggplant that way.

I’ll share pictures from the cooking process, when everything smelled so hopeful. Don’t bother making the effort to make this, though. It was disappointing.

High Summer, Part 1

I took this ridiculous picture today.

What you’re seeing here is the sum total of both my Coeur et Sol share and my Bloomfield-Montclair share, along with some backyard harvest, though minus whatever we ate from Chelsa’s share last night.

It’s high summer. Tomatoes. Summer squash. Eggplant. Ground cherries (which I’m shamelessly popping as I type this up). Basil, canteloupe, beets, peaches…

Getting this treasure trove really helped my outlook on life today, and it’s been therapeutic to process this evening. Late afternoon, I had an unfortunate patch of bad news, so my cooking reporting is not quite as varied as I’d hoped it’d be by this point, but there is always tomorrow.

I had hoped to make ratatouille tonight, but with the interruption, we had sandwiches, instead. I did make a killer salad for a side: Coeur et Sol salad mix, purple radish, yellow cucumber, and Montclair-Bloomfield ground cherries and green bell pepper. Yum.

I’ve been itching to try out Thug Kitchen’s Peach-Mint Sun Tea. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Peaches came from my share. Mint was the orange mint I have growing in my yard. I did find I needed to strain the tea after blending, which they don’t mention in the recipe.

I broke out the CSA cookbook for the first time this season, and I used some of the parsley that’s thriving in my yard to try making Chimichurri. It’s currently steeping. I could have used the next-size-down jar (I made a half-recipe), but I didn’t realize that until too late. Live and learn.

Eggplant. There is eggplant everywhere. Tonight, I made an eggplant parm that will likely go in the freezer tomorrow. I breaded and baked the slices of eggplant in the same manner that I did for the eggplant sandwiches from last week. I sauteed portobello mushrooms and basil (from my share) and mixed that into the (jarred) sauce to make things more interesting. I used the leftover eggs from the breading process to thicken the ricotta; my mom used to do that for calzone filling.

I found myself with an abundance of thyme from my yard, as I often do. Thyme is really easy to grow, and I’m grateful for it, because it’s one of my favorite herbs. It’s really easy to dry, and I documented the steps tonight for you to follow. This drying method works well for any non-oily herb. I’ve had great success with thyme, dill, rosemary, savory, oregano, and marjoram with this method. Herbs like basil are better dried in an oven or a dehydrator because they have so much moisture that they risk molding before they’ve successfully dried.

First, you’ll need your herbs, kitchen string or yarn, scissors, and a brown paper bag. I save the lunch-style bags I get from things like bagels for this purpose. Tonight, the bags came from my fruit share, actually.

Tie a bundle of the herbs together, leaving a long  tail of string. Place them inside the bag, with the string coming out of the top. Pinch the top of the bag and tie it shut, like a drawstring, but leave a nice long tail. Label your bag with the herb and the date, and cut ventilation holes in the bag. use both string tails to tie the bag up in a cool, well-ventilated, dry space. I use a closet in my kitchen that otherwise holds a recycling bin, broom, mop, etc. It has a bar across, as though one would hang coats in there,  so it’s really convenient for hanging. You can see the graveyard of old strings in the photograph – this has been my drying place for years, and I’m a little lazy about cutting down the bags.

On average, your herbs should be dry in a couple of weeks. This will vary due to temperature and humidity. I usually err on the side of leaving them hanging longer – there’s little damage that can be done. Store the dried herbs in glass jars or repurposed empty spice jars and revel in the feeling of not paying an arm and a leg for the store-bought stuff.

Clearly we’re not through the pile of veggies yet. See you in installment #2.

Eggplant Sandwiches

There’s a pub nearby me – Oak Barrel Pub, if you’re curious – that has an outstanding eggplant sandwich. Instead of a traditional eggplant parm, with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella, this sandwich has the fried eggplant slices on a baguette with balsamic, tomato, fresh mozzarella and arugula.

Last night, I made a healthy, at-home version of this sandwich with the eggplant and radish greens I got in my share from Coeur et Sol and the tomatoes from Montclair-Bloomfield, and the result was delicious.

I sliced the eggplant and breaded it – fairly usual, an egg wash and breadcrumbs that were a mix of Italian seasoned and Panko.

I then baked them on a cookie sheet at 350. I didn’t time how long – when they’re browning, they’re good.  I flipped them halfway through.

Sandwich assembly, then back into the oven to heat the cheese through….

And the finished product. So satisfying.

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.

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.