summer/fall CSA, week 20; fall salad and pizza

Last week’s CSA was a beautiful fall assortment.

summer/fall CSA, week 20

We got two shares of apples, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, carrots, carnival squash, and apple cider, as well as the usual eggs and bread (Breadery sourdough).

We ate the apples pretty much as is; the kid gets half a sliced apple in his school lunch every day, and K and I both eat an apple apiece at work daily, so apples go fast. In the next few weeks I’m probably going to go nuts on the apples at the farmer’s market, too, so I can put some up as applesauce and pie fillings for the winter. Bread was sliced up and eaten that very day, and the cider disappeared quickly as well.

As for everything else…

what happens to CSA veggies

We had some items left over from last week (top right in the collage), so I mashed all the remaining ingredients into two items. I made a fall salad with roasted sweet potato, squash, Brussels sprouts, and kale; I also sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and onions for pizza. The weather right now is perfect to have the oven on, and these made great leftovers for lunches all week.

Fall Salad: everything roasts at different times, which is actually perfect because you can cut up the next thing while the previous thing is roasting. Set the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease two pans with olive oil (I used a 9×13 rectangular pan and a 9″ pie pan).

Carnival Squash: slice this one up first. Don’t worry about peeling; peeling winter squash is not to be taken lightly and if you can avoid it, do so. Just put the slices in the greased pie pan and stick it in the oven. These need to stay in for an hour or so, depending on how thick you’ve cut your slices.

Brussels sprouts: rinse and cut in halves; toss in the 9×13 pan with some salt and pepper; stick in oven. These need to cook for 35-40 min.

Sweet potatoes: peel and cut in chunks; toss in the 9×13 pan with some more salt and pepper, stirring the Brussels sprouts around as you do so they don’t burn. Put the pan back in the oven. Sweet potatoes need to cook 25-30 min, or until soft.

Carrots: peel and cut in chunks; toss in the 9×13 pan with the potatoes and sprouts. These need to cook 20 min.

Throw in some peeled garlic cloves while you’re at it. Garlic is always nice.

While the root vegetables are cooking: strip kale from stems, tear into pieces, and rinse; blanch the kale in boiling water to soften it. Then drain it so it’s not soggy.

By this point, your roasting should be done! Toss the kale with the roasted root vegetables. The squash should be done at this point too; just cut the cooked flesh from the peel and toss it with everything else. Squirt some lemon juice over all (adds a nice bright note) and drizzle it with good olive oil. Voila, fall salad. Reheats beautifully, too.

As for the pizza, I used the lazy pizza dough recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog; I put it together Saturday night and let it rise overnight and well into Sunday. It was a bit touch-and-go as the dough was very wet after its long rise, and tore easily; still, having made it, I smacked it down on the pans and pressed it out and hoped for the best.

I had previously sliced and sauteed mushrooms and onions in olive oil, and I had also wilted down some spinach on the stovetop. K had also pan-fried some sausages and cut them into thin disks, so those went on the pizzas as well. I spread jarred tomato sauce in a thin layer over the dough, then strewed the toppings around and covered it all in shredded mozzarella cheese. They went into the oven at a ripping 550 degrees for about 15 minutes.

They turned out amazing. The crust was lovely and the vegetables took on a wonderful roasted texture. Plus, served alongside the fall salad, it made enough for several meals. Definitely doing this again.

The French Twist Cafe

…has ruined me for hot chocolate.

So when I was a kid, I loved Swiss Miss hot chocolate – you know, the packets of cocoa and sugar and whatever that you can mix with hot water. I particularly liked the ones with the little mini marshmallows; I loved chasing them around in the cup and trying to drink them before they dissolved. Suckers always floated to the far side of the mug, too.

Then, when I was a teen, I discovered that Starbucks made hot chocolate with milk. It blew the watery Swiss Miss away. Starbucks hot chocolate was creamy and sweet; they steamed the milk as if for a latte, but then mixed it with sweet chocolate syrup. The richness of the milk won my heart. I now made my hot chocolate at home with hot milk and cocoa mix (nothing but sugar and cocoa in the ingredient list, thank you very much).

But then, along comes the French Twist Cafe.

It’s a tiny little place, tucked away on a side road off the Main Street of historic Sykesville. It’s warm, cozy, and very welcoming, and they make fantastic crepes. I had their autumn special crepe, with applesauce and salted caramel drizzle, and it was delightful; with the seasonal gingerbread chai alongside, I really felt like I was celebrating fall.

autumn apple crepe and gingerbread chai at the French Twist Cafe

But forget all that for a minute and let’s talk about the hot chocolate. I think they call it “chocolat chaud,” which as far as I can tell is just French for “hot chocolate.” I ordered a hot chocolate and watched them steam the milk; then, to my surprise, the only thing that went into the milk was a generous scoop of bittersweet chocolate chips, stirred until melted. I think the lady said the chips were 70% cocoa, which is pretty darn bitter if eaten on its own. And that was it! No syrup, no sugar, no artificial flavorings of any kind.

It was a revelation.

The taste is pure chocolate, rich and creamy with the milk, no cloying syrupy aftertaste. I was amazed. The next time I got Starbucks hot chocolate, it felt far too sweet on my tongue; I missed the uncomplicated simplicity of nothing but bittersweet chocolate and hot milk, whisked together. Thanks a lot, French Twist Cafe; you’ve ruined me for hot chocolate forever.

Guess I’ll just have to go back.

hot chocolate at the French Twist Cafe

Ignore how the drink looks. It looked much prettier when they gave it to me, but I couldn’t resist taking a sip or three before I took a picture.

(They sweeten their whipped cream with honey. Get the honey whipped cream on top. It’s heavenly.)

3 more weeks of CSA

The past three weeks of the CSA have been just delightful, really. I’m always sad to see the last of the peaches but honestly, towards the end of the year, they just aren’t as sweet as they are in high summer, whereas the apples are coming into their prime. And now that it’s properly autumn, I love turning the oven on to roast root vegetables, and bake cakes and quickbreads. I also don’t mind simmering stuff for hours on the stove, to fill the house with warmth and savory smells.

Anyway, here are weeks 17, 18, and 19:

summer/fall CSA, week 17
summer/fall CSA, week 18
summer/fall CSA, week 19

Plenty of root vegetables, plenty of apples, lots of lovely dark greens. And I don’t know where Breezy Willow sources these amazing Red Delicious apples, but they totally live up to the name. Red Delicious in the supermarket is uniformly bitter in the peel and tastelessly mealy in the mouth; I never buy it. But the ones in the CSA share have a lovely, juicy crunch, and although the peel remains bitter, it provides dimension to the sweetness of the flesh. It’s mind-blowing. I can’t even believe the two apples are related.

Seven! Weeks! of CSA!

I’m so behind on CSA posts, I’m not even going to list what’s in the pictures. I’m just going to post the pictures and let them speak for themselves. Besides, if the adage is true, we’ve got a cumulative six thousand words contained in these pictures. So, here we go, CSA weeks 10 through 16:

summer CSA, week 10summer CSA, week 11summer CSA, week 12summer CSA, week 13summer CSA, week 14summer CSA, week 15summer CSA, week 16

You can sort of see trends in the progression. Summer peaches are giving way to early fall apples. Last week was the first week without corn. Summer squash is dying down and I wouldn’t be surprised to see winter squash coming up shortly. Fortunately the weather is also getting cooler (gloriously cooler) and having the oven on to roast squash would not be a hardship.

This series also includes two “bonus” weeks (they happen every four weeks) in which we got cheese and pumpkin butter. (My son highly recommends Breezy Willow’s pumpkin butter. Plus when he eats it, he starts singing “Peter Peter pumpkin eater.” It’s really cute.)

summer CSA, weeks 8 and 9

Quick, let’s get this two-week-CSA update out… only just ahead of tomorrow’s pickup.

There’s been a lot going on in this kitchen; we’ve been canning, pickling, and generally inhaling massive amounts of summer produce. I have learned that peeling peaches is actually quite easy, even if you don’t use the scoring-and-blanching method. (The kid loves peach, but refuses peach skins.) I have also chunked up what feels like a record number of watermelons. Two-year-olds inhale watermelons. Good for hydration, right?

Anyway, last week on the CSA: corn, chard, cucumber, cantaloupe, white potatoes, peaches, green peppers, zucchini (I think I could have picked yellow squash, but I like zucchini much better), tomatoes, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest challah).

summer CSA, week 9

The chard got creamed with some spring onions from the farmer’s market. Cucumber got refrigerator-pickled, along with last week’s cucumber. Zucchini was simply sliced, seasoned, and roasted; peppers joined tomatoes, last week’s eggplant, and some salsa for a tasty chicken dish. Corn is, weirdly, still intact in the fridge. I’ll probably boil it up and snack on it tonight, before tomorrow’s pickup.

And the week before that: zucchini, nectarines, eggs, cantaloupe, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, corn, green beans, bread (Breadery Grains Galore), and a bonus item; I picked Breezy Willow’s barbecue sauce. (Verdict: sweet and fruity.)

summer CSA, week 8

Nectarines, cantaloupe, and tomatoes were eaten immediately; green beans were blanched, seasoned, and served up in lunches; corn was boiled and eaten up. Zucchini was sliced, seasoned, and simply roasted in the toaster oven. I don’t remember what specifically happened to the onions, but we use onions up all the time; they probably got diced into something and sauteed.

I like to keep summer cooking quick and easy. With the warm weather outside, who wants to be standing next to a hot stove or oven? (Except when you’re canning. More on canning later. I keep saying that, but someday I’ll actually find the time to write that post too.)

summer CSA, week 7

Last week (week 7) in the CSA: zucchini, cucumber, peaches, corn, plums, garlic, blueberries, potatoes, eggs, and bread (Breadery Grains Galore). There should have been kohlrabi as well, but I swapped for more potatoes.

summer CSA, week 7

Fast forward a week and the zucchini and cucumber are still uneaten. I boiled the corn the very first night (fresh corn is the best; it dries out if you leave it in the fridge for too long) and it was fantastic. (Well, except for the one ear I got which hadn’t quite developed all of its kernels. Them’s the risks.) Peaches, plums, and blueberries disappeared in fairly short order as well. We boiled up the potatoes with some onion and Old Bay, to go with steamed crabs this weekend.

I’m reading over the previous CSA post and… I think the kale is still in the fridge too, actually. It’s probably still fine; kale is a hardy vegetable and I washed the leaves and packed them in paper towels, which is a great way to keep leafy greens for longer. Still, need to get to that.

Also, I didn’t get to do anything cool with the eggplant, because K decided to cut it into strips, batter it, and fry it. (He also battered and fried five cut-up tilapia fillets, an entire sliced jalapeno, and an entire onion. This is what happens when I leave him alone for an afternoon and tell him to make dinner. At least our kid loved eating the fried fish.)

Back to kale. Kale possibilities are endless. I usually like to saute blanched kale in bacon grease with garlic and onions, or cook it into a soup (ideally with beans and sausage), or bake it into chips. The weather being what it is, though, I think it’s actually an ideal time to enjoy a massaged kale salad. There are even some mangos in the fridge.

Now let’s just hope the kid will eat it. He’s developed a dispiriting habit of refusing food at home, saying, “I already eat that at school” or “I only eat that at school.” Kid, the food you eat at school is the same food I cook at home. [sigh]

CSA week 6: peaches! and other stuff.

I am eating a peach right now and it tastes like heaven. I always resented summer (heat, humidity, chokingly stuffy cars) but now I have a reason to celebrate it: these sweet, ripe, beautiful local peaches.

This is not a freestone peach, so it’s messy; the flesh is sticking to the pit in clumps and strands, and everything is getting stuck in my teeth. Also, my cubemate is doing a valiant job of ignoring the slurps and smacking sounds I’m making as I try not to let a single drop of juice escape to run down my arm. Peaches are not a graceful fruit to eat. But a fresh, summer-ripe peach is totally worth the inevitable assault on your dignity.

Mmm, peaches. I’m going to be haunting the farmer’s market for these.

Right, where was I? This week is week 6 of the Breezy Willow summer CSA. In the pickup:

summer CSA, week 6

Zucchini, green beans, blueberries, garlic, peaches(!!!), cucumbers, eggplant, three tiny heads of broccoli, kale, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest challah). I also grabbed another handful of sage and thyme, which are likely destined to accompany chicken in some way. (Hmm, it’s been a while since I made toaster oven chicken.)

I’ll probably steam the broccoli, and blanch the green beans and kale (all using the same pot of water; let’s not waste joules here). I like cooking vegetables and then sticking them in the fridge for later; I find that having cooked vegetables around greatly simplifies activities like packing lunches and assembling quick weeknight dinners. And, in a pinch, you can at least serve them alongside whatever fast food meal you picked up on the way home because you left work late / got stuck leaving daycare / just don’t have time or energy to cook. (No domestic goddess, me.)

The cucumbers will probably get pickled with the cucumbers from last week’s pickup, since I hadn’t gotten around to that. And the peaches and blueberries will take care of themselves.

As for the eggplant, no concrete plans yet. The eggplant possibilities are endless. We might grill it, if we fire up the grill this weekend (and if so that’s likely where the zucchini will get cooked too), or we could roast it for baba ghannouj (in which case the kale will get cooked then as well), or maybe I’ll try one of those crazy recipes from the Ottolenghi cookbook that we got for Christmas. The world is my oyster! Or my eggplant, anyway.

CSA membership doesn’t take any special amount of creativity; it just takes commitment. Cook, preserve, or freeze, it doesn’t matter. Just get the pickup out of the way; next week is coming, ready or not.

CSA week 5, and carrot cupcakes

Summer CSA week 5: green beans, spinach, broccoli, green peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, red and white potatoes, blueberries, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest challah). I also picked up a handful of thyme and sage.

summer CSA, week 5 pickup

Interestingly, a friend who makes her Breezy Willow pickup at a different site on the same day reported that she got cabbage instead of broccoli. I’m relieved to have been in the broccoli crowd; it’s a vegetable the kid will actually eat. (He picks the beet greens off of his pasta; he would likely be completely unimpressed with cabbage.)

What we’ve cooked so far from the pickup: absolutely nothing! We had a long Independence Day weekend but we ended up just having cookouts and going to other peoples’ houses. We have a lot of grilled meats left over though so my plan is to just cook all the CSA items up separately (well, definitely the beans, spinach, zucchini, and broccoli) so that we have it available for sides for the meats. The cucumbers will probably get pickled, and the peppers and potatoes will be frozen for later (thanks to the Unmanly Chef, I know how to freeze root vegetables! My world will never be the same).

As for the blueberries, what we didn’t eat right away has been portioned off for the kid to take to daycare in his lunch. I’m sure he’ll be delighted.

Although I didn’t make much of a dent in the CSA pickup this weekend, I did manage to get in the kitchen to make some cupcakes. It was K’s birthday weekend, and he loves carrot cake and coconut flavors; I poked around the internet and came up with this combination:

Take 5 Carrot Cupcakes courtesy Food and Wine

Candied carrot cupcake toppers from Food Network

…and a cream cheese frosting, fairly standard: 1/2 block of cream cheese creamed with 1/2 stick of butter, then mixed with 2 cups powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla until smooth.

Honestly the most annoying part was grating the carrots; we grated one and a half carrots by hand until I finally figured out where we’d stashed the grating disk for the food processor. Man, I love technology. Once we had the food processor fired up, I think it took less time to grate all of the remaining carrots and wash the resulting dishes than it would have to grate the rest of the carrots by hand.

I also toasted coconut flakes in the last 5 minutes of cooking, to have coconut to sprinkle over the top. I set up my decorating station so that any mess I made would be contained on top of a baking mat. Those things are so easy to clean.

all set up for decorating

That was when I found out that a plain old cupcake, no matter how badly it’s frosted, will look amazing when you have candied carrot strips and bits of coconut to sprinkle over the top.

cupcakes: decorated!

They were phenomenal, by the way. The cupcake recipe makes an almost magically moist and airy cake, and the rich cream cheese frosting, punctuated by toasted coconut and crunchy candied carrot, is a perfect accompaniment.

And K liked it, which is really all that matters. Happy birthday, K!

summer CSA, week 4

Last week on the CSA front: spinach, romaine lettuce, beets, cucumbers, yellow squash, mushrooms, blueberries, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest challah). It was also a “bonus” fourth week, so we got cheese; I picked Muenster (my favorite sandwich cheese). We were supposed to get spring onions as well, but I got to the pickup site late, and they’d run out; I got an extra box of blueberries instead.

summer CSA, week 4

See how the blueberry level is lower in one of the boxes? The kid got to them first. I don’t blame him; they were ripe and perfect and very sweet. I may have tasted a couple myself.

I’m pretty proud of how we managed to use up most of the pickup already:

Spinach, mushrooms, some eggs: cooked into (another) frittata
Beet greens: sauteed and mixed into a pasta bake with penne, sausage, cheeses, and tomato sauce
Yellow squash: sliced and grilled
Blueberries: eaten. Really, they’re just gone. I pondered making cobbler, but I turned around and there were only a handful left, so we just ate them all. I don’t think we even got around to washing them.

Still outstanding: beets and cucumbers. I plan to refrigerator-pickle the cucumbers tonight according to my mom’s recipe. The beets were roasted in a foil packet on the grill yesterday, so now they can be peeled, sliced, and served up in basically any way. We picked up some soft sheep’s cheese from the Ellicott City Saturday market that I think would go with them beautifully.

We also took advantage of the beautiful weather this weekend to stop by Larriland farm for some summer berry picking.

Ripe and unripe raspberries at Larriland

The red raspberries were abundant and beautiful. We sent the kid and his grandparents off to the blueberry bushes, where he stuffed himself, while we harvested two generous flats of raspberries. We picked some blueberries, too, but by that point we were starting to get tired and overheated, so there might not be enough for jam; I think I’ll just freeze whatever we don’t eat.

Anyway, I’ve bookmarked a recipe for a simple raspberry jam. I’ll let you know how it goes. I canned my first strawberry jam last week (also from harvested Larriland berries), and it was divine, so I’m pretty excited about canning at the moment. Now we just need space to store all these preserves.

summer CSA, week 3; also, kohlrabi and primaries

The third week of the summer CSA: two kinds of lettuce (green leaf and “Eric the” red), a bag of spinach, a bag of green beans, three crispy cucumbers, a bag of red potatoes, four “color me” yellow squash, a generous pint of blueberries, a dozen eggs, and bread (Breadery sourdough).

summer CSA, week 3

The picture doesn’t include the blueberries, because they were hiding in the fridge, away from hungry toddlers. The eggs were in the fridge as well.

I also dropped by the East Columbia Farmer’s Market last week, for strawberries from Orchard County Produce. All the sun made the strawberries nice and sweet (they were bland last time due to all the rain). While I was picking up strawberries, they also let me take a picture of their very expressive kohlrabi.

kohlrabi faces

Gotta have fun with that split kohlrabi.

In other news, primary voting is today! I did some extra driving around because I showed up to the wrong location, where they directed me to another wrong location, but I eventually made my way to the proper polling place and cast my vote like a good citizen. I have to say, I was dying for an iced coffee the entire time. I think that doing our civic duty would be a lot more comfortable and inviting if they had a nice refreshments area. Kudos to the people outside gamely waving their campaign signs, who sadly outnumbered the people voting inside. I hope they brought cold drinks today. Dude, if I were a kid on summer break right now, I’d totally set up a lemonade stand just outside a polling place.

I heard someone on the radio saying that the turnout was going to be really low. That makes me sad; voting is one of the most important rights that we have as citizens, and in a country that values and protects free speech, why would you muzzle yourself?

If you need to read up on the races, here’s the official list of candidates, the Baltimore Sun’s incredibly helpful voter guide, and a roundup of candidates on social media at our very own Hocoblogs’ Elections page. I like to eat local because it makes me feel close to the land and the people around me, but eating local is only one of many ways to be a real part of the community.