Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Casseroles - yum!

I'm a sucker for casseroles, especially those that use a variety of fresh and seasonal veggies. Check out these 10 fall casseroles on MSN's delish for some great new ideas. I’m especially interested in the Pumpkin and Cauliflower casserole, and with pumpkins taking over the grocery stores in preparation for Halloween, what a great way to take advantage of the affordable gourd.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To CSA or not to CSA - My Take

Like Heather, this was my first experience with a CSA and while we’ve definitely had some struggles (lots of kale/chard, too many turnips and those funny looking white carrots), we’ve loved the experience overall and enjoyed experimenting with new (to us) produce. While I’d heard of and enjoyed bok choy at restaurants, I’d never purchased or cooked it and beets were something that came out of a can. With my CSA, I’ve learned to appreciate the adventures that come with fresh, seasonal and local ingredients and have found an appreciation for that bulbous root vegetable – the kohlrabi.

It’s been fun to see how our produce changes with the weeks, evolving from mostly greens and root vegetables to more of the fruits and veggies associated with long summer days: tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and the like. And I’ve enjoyed learning new methods and techniques for preparing my weekly CSA bounty while subbing in seasonal options instead of my usual go-to ingredients.

In an ideal world, I’d travel out to the farm each week to pick up my share, choose my options on the selection table, and take home any extra you-pick items on the board that week. But it’s just not feasible for my husband or me to trek out to Carnation once a week so we opted for the delivery option, which brings our share a mere few blocks from our house. Unfortunately, our delivery location isn’t a farmers market, but a front porch, from where I pick up my box and try to leave as quietly as possible but it’s quick, easy and convenient.

The biggest challenge I've faced with my CSA, has come the last couple of weeks while my husband’s been traveling. Our weekly share is a challenge for the two of us to complete and virtually impossible for me to conquer alone. So I’ve become a bit more creative, shucking and freezing corn, creating casseroles for later consumption (I’ve heard Heather’s mom’s squash casserole keeps well and have one in my freezer right now) and filling my freezer to the brim with different pestos and sauces. While these concoctions will be much appreciated during the cold winter months, it has caused quite a bit more work than I’m used to taking on when home alone.

So will I renew my CSA membership next year? I think Will and I are CSA-ers for life…or at least for as long as we live in the great Pacific Northwest. I’ve never tasted such wonderful fresh produce while really forcing myself to push my kitchen comfort level. Yes, it’s a challenge to use every random item each week – and I must confess I’ve ignored kale and chard several times, leaving me no choice but throw it out – but it’s such a fun surprise to open my CSA box each week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

To CSA or not to CSA?

Recently we received very disappointing news that Dog Mountain Farm will not be continuing their CSA Subscriptions next year.* As such, we are on the search for a new local produce provider and I thought I would share my process with you all.

If you are just starting out, LocalHarvest is a valuable resource. I would also encourage you to spend some time at your local Farmers Market, talking to the vendors and asking questions. You’ll get a feel pretty quickly about which ones would be a good match. After two years perusing and sampling the bounties of other vendors at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market, I have gotten to know a little bit about several of them. Without having specifically experienced each CSA, I won’t comment on my opinions here, but I would be happy to chat one-on-one with any of you. :)

The most critical aspect about a CSA for us is that it is all local. Do a little bit of reading, and you’ll find out that some farms will buy produce from out of state/country to supplement what they grow themselves. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if eating bananas, pineapples and mangos are really important to you, but for us, it is about taking advantage of what Washington has to offer.

Secondly, we love the small farmer. Getting to know Cindy and David at Dog Mountain and watching them learn, succeed, fail – only to try again – and love their farm, has been such a rewarding and educating experience. It is hard to imagine that we would get this personal touch with a farm that supports several hundred subscriptions (see # of Shares on LocalHarvest listing or inquire directly).

Delivery versus pickup: every farm handles their CSA differently, with some doing direct delivery, some offering farm pickup and some organizing a pickup at a Farmers Market or other location. We highly recommend the pickup from the Farmers Market. And here’s why: exposure to the farmers, other shoppers, vendors, etc. Just being around the Farmers Market community will help motivate and educate you on the value of eating seasonally and locally. Plus, you can supplement your CSA with things like fruit, flowers, dairy and meat. Read
Price Challenge: Hollywood Farmers Market vs. New Seasons to see how you can save money!

There are lots of other differentiators that you should explore when chosing a CSA; flexibility in size and occurrence of packages, ability to pick and choose items, and of course price.

The funny thing is, we have pretty much decided that we are not going to sign up for a CSA next summer and instead challenge ourselves to put together our own produce package each week at the Farmers Market. The upside being we get to choose our own veggies (a few less weeks of Kale perhaps?) :) and shop at multiple vendors. The down side being we won’t have pre-paid so there is no forcing function getting us to the market every Sunday! Please let me know if you have thoughts on this!

Either way, now is a good time to start your planning for next summer’s CSA. The markets will be open for a few more weeks, so get out and start researching! Otherwise, make sure you remember to sign up in later winter/early spring as many farms do fill up!

* A full farm is a lot of work! David and Cindy have decided to narrow their focus a bit and spend more time on their poultry business. They will still be at the Farmers Markets and host their Farm Dinners so good news for us!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cooking for Fido

Saw a great recipe on Dogland Adventures using such farmers market and CSA staples as carrots, zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower to make a great meal for your furry friend. Why not share your fresh goodies with Fido and prepare a healthy, all nautural meal to make that pooch feel like a prince or princess for the night?

No cooking required

I’ve been remiss about posting here, partly due to end of summer doldrums and partly due to my feeling of intimidation towards my other KD partners – seemingly culinary geniuses! So in honor of the end of summer – and to highlight some of my creative non-cooking skills – this entry is all about the greatness of fresh produce…in the raw.

I love fresh salsa and have been delighted by all the beautiful tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro shipped my way each week. Few things are better to me than a nice chunky salsa, with chopped tomatoes, diced onion (I like a LOT of onion, both for crunch and flavor), a couple jalapeños (I generally use 1 spicy pepper for each two tomatoes used), a big handful of cilantro, some finely diced garlic and lime juice. Throw in some salt and whichever other seasonings you like and voila. Mix this concoction with some mashed avocados and some extra lime juice and you’ve got a great guacamole. Don’t like chunky salsa? Peel the tomatoes and throw everything in the food processor. If you have cabbage on hand, throw some in for added crunch. I won’t include any exact measurements here because in my opinion, salsa is all about your preference and tastes you prefer.

Salads are always a great way to use a ton of fresh veggies (check out Melissa’s post on a recent Bittman article for some great ideas) and it’s fun to get creative and use what you have on hand. As my husband and I learned recently when we were chopping up goodies for salads before realizing we didn’t have any greens on hand, purple cabbage provides a nice and beautiful bed for whatever salad veggies you’re using.

And in my opinion, few things are better than a tomato and onion sandwich on fresh white bread with a bit of mayo. Nothing tastes quite as much like summer as a fresh, sweet tomato.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mock Apple Pie

My friend Amy who's an amazing baker made a pie for girl's night last week. She didn't tell us what the filling was, but we all assumed it was apple. Surprise! It was made with zucchini. Yep, that's right you read zucchini! And it was GOOD. Truth be told it wasn't as good as an apple pie--tasted a bit too healthy--but that's nothing a bit more butter couldn't take care of.

So for those of you struggling to find new ways to use those zucchini, I highly recommend trying your hand at mock apple pie. I don't have the exact recipe Amy used but here's one I found on the web. If you do make it, don't tell your dinner guests that it's zucchini and see what they think.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

By Request, Packer Family Recipes: Mom's Marinated Coleslaw & Great Zucchini Casserole

If your garden or fridge is overflowing with fresh vegetables, then these two recipes are for you! Straight from the Packer family cookbook, I grew up on these summer staples and think they are such an easy way to cook up a delicious meal for your family or guests.

Mom's Marinated Coleslaw
Serves: Many! And I am not kidding, this is an enormous recipe, but it is very easy to adjust. Just throw together what you think is a reasonable amount of vegetables and cut the marinade recipe by half or thirds.

Your Cuisinart is your best friend for this recipe, adjust the blades accordingly for:
1 medium to large cabbage, shredded – I like to use a mix of green and purple cabbage
2 large carrots, shredded
2 scored cucumbers, sliced thin
1 bell pepper, diced or sliced thin – any color will do!
1 medium red or yellow onion, in ¼ sliced rings
**Optional: 1 kohlrabi, peeled and shredded!**

¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
¾ cup white vinegar – I like to use white wine vinegar
1/8 cup salt
¾ cup salad oil – I like to use Saffola oil

Mix and pour over vegetables. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight, turning occasionally

Great Zucchini Casserole
Serves: 8 – 10
4 medium zucchini, sliced or cubed 1/3 inch thick
6 T butter (can be part olive oil)
½ cup chopped onion
¾ - 1 cup shredded carrots
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup sour cream (can be part yoghurt)
3 cups herbed, cubed bread stuffing

Melt 4 T butter and sauté onions. Add carrots and zucchini and cook a few minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in 1 ½ cup stuffing, soup and sour cream
Turn into a 1 ½ quart casserole dish
Melt remaining butter and add remaining stuffing. Sprinkle over casserole
Bake at 350 ⁰F for 30 – 45 minutes, until browned and bubbling

I paired these two dishes with some Kansas City style pork spare ribs and an Oregon 2003 De Ferrari reserve Pinot Noir for my Labor Day weekend dinner. Hope you enjoy as much as we did!