spring CSA, week 5

It’s been rainy and muddy at the CSA, but the vegetables continue to arrive.

This week’s haul: a pound of kale, a bunch of green onions, a bunch of asparagus, three kohlrabi (the funny looking roots sprouting greens in the bottom right corner), a spaghetti squash, a head of garlic, three pounds of red potatoes, three grapefruits, two lemons, six apples, and the usual eggs and bread (Great Harvest cinnamon chip).

I already know what I’m going to do with the spaghetti squash (this recipe is a favorite with both me and K), but I’m going to have to look up how to handle kohlrabi…

Deb’s mom’s apple cake

Man, I have to start taking pictures of my food; no one reads a food blog for the text. But the apple cake is mostly gone. Does anyone really want to see a picture of a mostly empty baking dish?

Anyway, I made Deb’s mom’s apple cake for book club, using some of the CSA apples, and it was well-received. I halved the recipe and it fit a 9×9 Pyrex perfectly, browning and puffing up in about an hour. The only change I made was to substitute applesauce for half of the oil.

It’s really tasty, guys. The batter came together without any fuss and it baked up like a charm. The apples are sweet with cinnamon but don’t dry out in the oven, and the cake part is sweet and light and just a tad eggy. I think that the bits remaining will be good for breakfast tomorrow, too.

three oven recipe reviews

This morning, K found me making quenelles of leftover pesto and dropping them into an ice cube tray for freezing. “Why are you bothering with the tray,” he asked, “when you could just drop the quenelles straight onto a sheet pan and freeze them there?”

He had a very good point, so I switched over. (Once frozen, they’ll pop right off the pan and won’t stick to one another in the freezer bag.)

Anyway. Sunday did not bring the wintry weather that everyone had predicted, but I gamely stuck with my plan of oven cooking. After all, the more I cook on Sunday, the less I have to cook on weekday evenings. All of the following recipes are great for times when you’ve a couple of spare hours to man the oven (prep doesn’t take too long, so you can do other things while the food is in the oven… like attacking homework, however unsuccessfully).

I’d put off dealing with the beets for a while, but then I saw this recipe for roasted beets with a balsamic glaze and gave it a shot. It turned out surprisingly good; I had been worried that the balsamic would be too strong, but instead it went all sweet and tangy and complemented the beets very well. The orange zest was a nice touch. The only thing I’d change is that next time, I’d just go ahead and peel the beets with a vegetable peeler before roasting them. After roasting, the skins are so caramelized that it’s hard to tell skin from flesh, and I missed more than a few shreds of skin while trying to peel the beets.

This week’s paltry pound of spinach made a smaller version of the best baked spinach, and I gotta say, it really was the best baked spinach ever. I used Parmesan instead of Swiss cheese, vegetable broth instead of cream, probably halved the amount of butter, and the gratin was still sinfully, wonderfully delicious. I can’t wait until we get spinach from the CSA again — I might even ask if they can sell me a little extra. I kept sneaking bits of gratin from the baking dish, and finally had to force myself to package it up in lunch containers before I ate it all right there.

Finally, since the oven was going to be on for a while and we had half a head of cabbage left, I made a dish that’s turned into a standby: this braised cabbage with carrots and onions. The cabbage turns soft and picks up a lot of flavor from the broth. Goes very well with just a little bit of protein for completeness (leftover corned beef, in this case), and reheats nicely for workday lunches.

Didn’t get around to the potato and caramelized onion gratin, but we’ll try to get this pesky homework done first…

spring CSA, week 4

It’s pretty gloomy out there, but at least there are some beautiful colors in the produce.

CSA week 4

This week from the CSA: spinach, green beans, onions, yams, apples, and a vast amount of carrots; sourdough bread from Great Harvest; oranges and lemons from the partner farm in Florida. There was also Breezy Willow applesauce in lieu of eggs this week, but I forgot to pick it up. (That’s the problem with assembling your own share instead of getting it all at once, as I’m told is the case with other CSAs.)

We split our share with another couple, so really we’re only responsible for eating half of that bounty. But it’s still a lot for just one week, and the produce drawers in the refrigerator are getting dangerously full, as is the citrus bowl on the counter. I still have half a head of cabbage from last week, as well as a big bag of carrots and a bunch of asparagus from Giant, and many uneaten potatoes and onions.

There are two moments of dread when dealing with a CSA, and those are:
1) how are we going to deal with all this produce? and
2) can we eat it all before we get next week’s share?

It’s not so bad, because some items (apples, root vegetables) can sit around for weeks, whereas others (mostly greens) need to be eaten pretty quickly. Still, when the long-storage items start overflowing from their containers, they need to be addressed.

I love being surrounded by raw ingredients, because I love daydreaming about what to cook. For instance, given the glut of potatoes and onions, I’m thinking I’ll caramelize a bunch of onions and layer them throughout a potato gratin. I haven’t tried it before, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work. Also, it’s still cold enough outside (snow this weekend? really?) that I won’t feel bad about keeping the oven on to make roasted green beans and asparagus, finished with just a squeeze of that Florida lemon, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Apples can easily be turned into applesauce, which simmers away happily on the stovetop and makes the house smell like pie. Carrots: sliced and braised, with a squeeze of orange juice. Finally, this recipe for braised cabbage with carrots and onion is always a hit (with me, anyway).

I just need to get it all done this week, so that there’ll be room in the fridge next week. Maybe I can schedule one dish per night.

in praise of the local supermarkets

Yeah, yeah, we made corned beef and cabbage. There’s nothing easier than corned beef and cabbage. You put the slab of supermarket corned beef in the pot, throw in the spice packet (or some peppercorns and mustard seeds if they weren’t nice enough to give you a spice packet), cover with water, and boil for a couple of hours; take the meat out, throw in some root vegetables and boil for another twenty minutes; throw in some sliced cabbage and boil for another five or so. Done. Serve with soda bread and grainy, smoky mustard. Eat leftovers for the next week or so. We all know how corned beef and cabbage works. It’s a well-loved tradition in the K and k household this time of year.

(I also tried making this chocolate-orange Guinness cake. It turned out flavorful but dry, as if I’d left it in to bake too long, even though I’d yanked the pans out five minutes early. It’ll need some tweaking.)

But anyway, I’m not here to talk about St Patrick’s Day food. I’m here to talk about my local supermarkets.

See, K was poking around this blog and said, “you know, you sound pretty elitist. You don’t talk about the Giant and the Harris Teeter even though you shop there all the time.”

And it’s true! I didn’t mention them at all! I rectified the problem on the Pantry page, but I feel I need to give the Giant and the Teet even more credit. (I first heard “the Teet” from my friend C, and I’ve been uncontrollably repeating it since. It’s so fun to say. “Oh, I picked this up at the Teet…”)

Anyway, the Giant is a smallish village center Giant, and if it weren’t so convenient (thank you, Columbia village designers), I probably wouldn’t be there so often. But it’s less than a mile from our house and it’s there for me whenever I need it. At various times, I’ve raced over there to get butter, baking powder, or heavy cream with a half-finished cake or scone batter still sitting on the counter. I drop by there regularly for orange juice and cheese, and grain-fed chicken eggs during the CSA off-season. (Since the mad cow scare, and the rather disgusting revelation that laying hens were sometimes fed cow brains as protein, I’ve switched to purchasing eggs from solely grain-fed hens.)

And for all its diminutive size, the Giant does a pretty good job with stocking. I was astounded to find creme fraiche at the cheese display near the deli. You can get almond flour and tahini from the “natural goods” isle. It’s really quite astonishing. I lean on the Giant a lot.

Because the Giant is smallish, the produce isn’t as rich or varied as it could be; they don’t have a lot of the more exotic produce, nor do they always have the variety of fresh herbs I’m looking for. That’s why I also go to the Harris Teeter, in the next village center over. The seafood counter at the Harris Teeter is clean, bright, and does a constant business (I like quick turnover in my raw seafood). They also have great specials every week. Harris Teeter has an amazing cheese display too, and they’re great about putting snacking samples out.

I’ll tell you something that neither the Giant nor the Harris Teeter had, though. Neither of them had organic red potatoes. I’m not an organic fanatic or anything; if I want broccoli or asparagus and there’s no organic to be had, I’ll happily buy the non-organic variety. But with potatoes, which are one of the top ten fruits/vegetables to buy organic if possible, I prefer to buy organic. Sadly, though both the Giant and the Teet offered organic potatoes, none of them were red potatoes, which K considered mandatory for the St Patrick’s Day meal.

I am not inflexible. A few pesticides never killed anybody. We bought the bag of non-organic red potatoes and they went wonderfully with the rest of the meal. But when Giant or the Teet stocks red potatoes, I will throw a party.

Oh, and although it’s not really a supermarket, I should still mention the Costco in Elkridge. The $4.99 rotisserie chicken (cheaper than at Giant or the Teet) has been a quick dinner when both of us are running late and don’t have time to cook. We just eat the meat off it (thighs and drumsticks as is; breasts become chicken a la king or chicken salad) and throw the carcass in the freezer to make broth later. The Costco baked goods and meats are fantastic as well.

spring CSA, week 3

For week 3 of the CSA, the week of St Patrick’s Day, the farm wanted to make sure that we would have the makings of a good Irish meal. So we got a head of cabbage, two turnips, and three pounds of potatoes, along with a butternut squash, a bunch of chard, apples, grapefruits, oranges, and the usual eggs and bread (Great Harvest challah).

week 3 share

I predict corned beef with boiled vegetables in our future.

As for the stuff from last week, we still have the beets and some of the onions and citrus left. Most of the other root vegetables went into Ina Garten’s amazing pot roast recipe, in which we also used a giant meaty chuck roast bought from Breezy Willow Farm.

half a world away

I visited Japan when I was a teenager. I loved the food there, stands at every corner dishing out bowls of hot ramen, seaweed-wrapped rice balls at the convenience stores, even the McDonald’s where they carefully (and without a trace of irony) arranged the plastic fork and knife in the center of the folded paper napkin on the plastic tray. Everything was so neat and clean and beautiful, even the streets and subway tunnels, and it makes the tragedy and destruction all the more horrible to contemplate.

It seems like a lousy time to think about a food blog, but I think Ruth Reichl strikes exactly the right note when she writes about why food matters.

It is precisely because we are so fortunate that we should do what we can, and appreciate what we have.

scrapple, and the Dutch Country Farmers Market

K is the one who likes scrapple. He’s tried to get me to eat it before, but I’m not really a fan. Even I had to admit, though, that the scrapple at Lantz Restaurant, in the Dutch Country Farmers Market in Laurel, was pretty fabulous.

I think the trick is in the incredibly thin slicing. Because it’s sliced so thinly and fried so well, most of it is just crunchy fried goodness (particularly the edges and corners), and it goes all soft and melty in the center. True, it does taste of organ meat (a downside for me), but it also tastes of wonderful seasoning; the taste of organ meat goes away quickly and the seasoning remains to warm your mouth.

Given that, I still probably won’t order scrapple with my eggs and homefries (or warm, buttery grits) next time we’re out there for breakfast. If K orders scrapple, though, I will nip a little of his.

The rest of the Dutch Country Farmers Market is fantastic as well. I love walking in and being wrapped warmly in the scent of baked goods, fresh from the oven. Then we walk off to the left and smell sausage and fried chicken. Fresh meats and produce can be found in the center, and then as you come up the right aisle, you encounter snacking heaven: cheese samples, bits of sausage, pickles, dips. It’s fabulous. Plus the cheese vendor will grate or shred your purchase if you so desire.

cheeses at Dutch Country Farmers Market

It’s a splendid place. Get there early if you want breakfast, though, as there will almost certainly be a line. We got up a little late and had to wait for the first wave to finish. It was definitely worth the wait.

spring CSA, week 2

Breezy Willow’s spring CSA kicked off week 2 with potatoes (mixed white and sweet), onions, parsnips, beets, kale, tangerines, blood oranges, different types of apples, and the usual bread and eggs.

spring CSA pickup week 2

Potatoes and parsnips: I see stew in my future, probably also involving the enormous carrots from last week.

The bread is Great Harvest’s parmesan sourdough. If I see the parmesan sourdough, I grab it. It is delicious, cheesy both inside and out. Quite often I’ll end up tearing pieces off and munching as I put away the other vegetables.

I don’t know how other CSAs work, but Breezy Willow puts out piles of produce and lets you know how much of each you should take. There are scales scattered throughout, too, in case you can’t figure out how much spinach is in a pound. It makes the lines move slowly, but I find the whole setup quite charming.

spring CSA apples week 2

I’m also thinking apple crumble. Nothing like apple crumble on a cold March evening.