Cooking from a CSA, Part 12: Homemade Vegetable Stock

Remember back in the summer, when I said I was saving vegetable scraps in the freezer to make vegetable stock? I finally got around to doing just that.

It was really easy. First, I put a little olive oil in the bottom of my stock pot. I heated that on medium, and added all my onion and garlic type scraps (leeks, onion pieces, garlic scapes). I stirred that until it was soft (about 10 minutes), then I added some of my tougher or more fragrant scraps, such as carrots, celery and parsnips. I let that cook for another 10 minutes, then just covered everything with water. I let it come to a boil, them tossed in some of my softer scraps, like salad scraps (lettuce, radishes, tomatoes). I added just enough water to cover, and let the whole pot simmer for about 45 minutes. Then I turned off the burner and let it cool.

Once it was cool, I ladled it into appropriately-sized freezer containers, straining it through a fine wire mesh as I poured. I got about 5 1.5-cup containers worth of stock. I froze three of them and used two within the next few days, and they’ve worked great for everything from soup to risotto. For things like risotto, I let the stock thaw in the fridge for 8-24 hours before using, but when making soup, I just tossed in the giant ice cube.

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Cooking from a CSA, Part 11: Easy Fall Salad

My most recent CSA box had a great selection of fall vegetables and lettuce greens. This salad was an easy make-ahead recipe that I ate all week. I roasted beets by wrapping them in tin foil and baking them at 375 degrees for two hours. I also diced the butternut squash (only about half the squash), wrapped it in tin foil, and threw it in the oven with the squash for about an hour. Then, I let both packets cool, and simply put them in the fridge.

The next day, I peeled and sliced the beets (after you roast them, the skins slide right off). I put some of my freshly washed mixed greens in a bowl, topped with sliced beets and diced squash, them sprinkled some pecans and goat cheese on top. Easy, delicious and pretty dang healthy!

Cooking from a CSA, Part 10: Sometimes, it’s not exciting

So, what have I been up to? Running. Lots and lots of running. I’ve been training for a marathon for months and the last few weeks have translated to a lot of running and very little of anything else. But the big day is this Sunday, and then I’ll catch you up on what I’ve been doing–because I did squeeze a few fun projects in.

I’ve also been struggling with the CSA the past month or so. It’s been a hard year for the farm, and I completely sympathize with that. We had a hot dry summer, and they lost some crops. That’s part of the gamble you take when you join a CSA. At the same time, though, it’s hugely disappointing to have the amount of food you are getting in each batch drop off at the same time you are switching to a half share.

See, in the spring, I was getting vegetables every week. Almost more vegetables than I could reasonably eat. My grocery bill fell significantly because I was getting big deliveries of produce with a lot of variety every week. But when the summer share started, and I switched to half share–or every other week delivery–the amount of food I received each week also fell. I also stopped getting combinations of vegetables that were easily converted into well-rounded meals. So I’ve had to go to the grocery store to buy stuff to round it out, which is really disappointing when I’m pay so much money per month for veggies.
That’s not to say that I’m not happy with what I’m getting, just that I was expecting a little more–more tomatoes, for instance. Or zucchini. Or eggplant. But I’ve actually gotten more tomatoes from my mom this year.

We’ve definitely made the switch over to fall here in Milwaukee, and I’ve been taking advantage of the cooler weather and roasting most of my vegetables. This week I made a nice, almost stew-like batch of roasted veggies with potatoes, onions, cauliflower, turnips,  and carrots. I sprinkled a spice mix (Forward from Penzey’s, a paprika-based blend), salt, pepper and little bit of honey on top and baked for about an hour. That’s the type of simple meal I’ve enjoyed. Not too exciting, but a great way to get a hearty meal out of a random mix of vegetables (note: I bought the potatoes and onion at the store to round out the veggie mixture).

Hopefully as the season winds to a close and I started getting fall squashes, I’ll feel more inspired.

Cooking from a CSA, Part 8: Freezing Basil

It’s been a while since I blogged about the CSA. It’s been incredibly hot here in Wisconsin this July, making me not want to cook in my un-air-conditioned kitchen. With that, plus the fact that I’m on the half share and not getting nearly as many vegetables and making a lot of repeat dishes, my kitchen has been boring.

But no more! I actually scored a CSA bonanza this week. When I went to pick up my share, I didn’t grab my basil out of the box. Apparently no one did. And there was an extra box down there, so I walked away with two CSA shares and entire box of basil. (I did try to contact other CSA members to see whose share I had, but no luck.)

I had a ton of cauliflower and two boxes of tomatoes, both of which have already gone to good use in Cauliflower and Parmesan Cake and Tomato and Corn Pie. These two dishes (from Smitten Kitchen) are two of my absolute favorites, but both taste best in season–especially the Tomato Pie. In fact, last year, I tried to make it with store-bought tomatoes after tomato season ended, and it just didn’t have the same oomph that makes it so wonderful during the season.

Both those dishes used a healthy dose of basil, but even after I gave away bunches to coworkers, my carpool buddy, and even my landlord, I still had 10 giant bunches of basil left. What to do? I froze it.

It’s super-easy to freeze basil. I rinsed it thorough in a colander, spun it in my salad spinner to remove the water, and laid it on a dish towel in a single layer. Then I rolled up the dish towel to gently wring out the last of the water, unrolled it, and put the basil in a freezer bag in a single layer. I sucked all the air out the bag with a straw, and threw it in the freezer. The basil won’t have the same leafy texture that fresh basil has, but it has a bit more flavor and body than dried basil, so it works great for cooking.

Cooking from a CSA, Part 7: Moving to a Half-Share

Two weeks ago my CSA’s spring share ended and I moved to a half share for summer. I’m kind of relieved (after all, you know I’ve been having trouble eating everything), but I already miss having a full fridge all the time.

20120623-161232.jpgI’ve made the most of my last two batches including a lemony risotto with sugar snap peas, asparagus, Swiss chard and fennel. While it was a nice blend of vegetables, it definitely wasn’t a recipe worth sharing. Way too lemony with nothing to balance it out. That’s what happens when you make up your own recipes and just throw stuff in a pot to see what happens—sometimes the results aren’t perfect, even if they’re pretty.

A more successful rice dish was thing one:

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This was another “throw stuff in a pot and see what happens” recipe, but I was delighted by the outcome—and it made great leftovers. I started with a bag of brown and wild rice blend (Lundberg Wild Blend) from the grocery store and cooked it according to the instructions with vegetable broth and a tablespoon of butter. There was still a bit of liquid when the rice was done, which ended up being a good thing because it coated the vegetables like a sauce and helped my leftovers heat up with out over-drying. (Dry crunchy rice leftovers = eew).

Brown and Wild Rice with Garlic Scapes, Fennel and Swiss Chard

  • 1 cup Lundberg’s Wild Blend
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (I used a can + water to make 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic scapes, finely sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, ends removed, finely sliced (I also removed the very solid pieces of the core)
  • 1 bunch Swiss Chard, ribs removed, cut in 1-in. ribbons
  • salt
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • cumin

1. Cook the rice according to package instructions (in this case, bring veggie broth, butter, and rice to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low to simmer for 40-50 minutes).

2. When there’s about 15 minutes left for the rice, begin to warm olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic scapes and cook gently until just soft (about 5 minutes).

3. Increase the heat to medium, and add the sliced fennel. Season with salt, pepper, thyme and cumin to taste (I used a dash of the first three and was rather generous with the cumin). Cook until the fennel is tender, but not soft, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the chard ribbons to the saute pan, and cook until barely wilted. Check the rice and see if it’s done (as noted above, I went by texture, not amount of liquid). Add contents of rice pot to saute pan and stir together. Serve warm.

Unfortunately, my CSA suffered a huge strawberry crop failure this year, so I’ve only received two pints of fairly small and very ripe berries. They were perfect for baking and I made a double batch of Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberries and Cream Scones. They were wonderful right out of the oven:

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And they’ve also worked out well frozen. I simply shaped them, put them on individual pieces of parchment paper…

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…and thrown them in a freezer bag. Then I bake them according to the recipe instructions. This is a trick that I learned from Deb at Smitten Kitchen (she mentions it right in her recipes if you can make them ahead, which is fantastically helpful). Since scones are best right out of the oven, it’s nice to have a supply in the freezer!

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Cooking from a CSA, Part Six: What do I do with all these scraps and extras?

Let’s go back to the end of last week. You might remember that I was feeling a little discouraged because I didn’t get through all the vegetables and ended up throwing some stuff out. This week I again had the same problem—I just couldn’t get through everything, especially since I didn’t cook that much over Memorial Day weekend. I hate wasting food, and I’m throwing out a ton of ends and outer leaves that would be great for something like composting or juicing or making stock. So I sat back and looked at my options.

Composting is out, because I don’t have any use for compost or space to do it on the scale I require for the amount of scrap veggies I’m producing. I could keep scraps and take them out to my parents’ to compost there, but it seems kind of pointless, personally. If I did have a yard, or even a patio/balcony garden, this would be a great option.

I seriously considered buying a juicer this week. I must have read about thirty different juicer reviews and talked to a half dozen people about their juicers this week. I love fresh juice, and I actually did a modified juice/raw diet for about a week earlier this year—not really as a weight loss plan, but because I just felt lousy after all the junk I ate over the holidays, and it was a good way to cut myself off from the bad habits completely, give my system (which was feeling overtaxed) a break, and think carefully about everything I was eating. It helped me get my eating habits back on track. But I’m not considering it as a lifestyle change, and I normally like to eat my fruits and vegetables instead of drink them. Also, I would end up spending a lot of money on fruits and veggies to make ideal juice combos—I don’t get many fruits in my CSA box and I don’t like many straight vegetable juices. Plus, a quality juicer is pretty expensive and there are other items I’d rather buy (a nice digital camera springs immediately to mind!). So, a juicer an option I might consider in the future, but I’ve ruled it out for now.

So, for now, I’ve settled on making vegetable stock as the best option for my CSA leftovers and scraps. I actually started this week by throwing a bunch of my leftovers (mostly lettuce, radishes and other salad goodies) into a freezer-proof tupperware container and throwing it in the freezer. As the week goes on, I’ll add more scraps—and I should have great stock-making scraps this week, since I just received carrots, leeks, green garlic, and plenty of other great vegetables. It’s important to note that I’m only saving stuff that is still fresh and has been cleaned to the bin. No past-their-prime veggies—as Vegan Yum Yum points out here, that’s probably why many commercial veggie stocks taste so bland. Expect an update when I make the first batch.

Cooking from a CSA, Part 5: Three-Greens Pasta

My favorite meal this week was born of necessity. I was one day away from the next CSA delivery and had a pile of vegetables left to use. One of the easiest ways to reduce a mass of greens is to cook it, so I cleaned three bunches of greens, added some turnips and veggie sausage, and tossed it with some pasta. Quick, easy, and really delicious. The variety of greens adds a lot of subtle flavor, and the veggies sausage (Yves Italian variety, I believe) added some nice spice.

Three-Greens Pasta

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 1 bunch spinach (washed, stems removed, sliced in 1-in. ribbons)
  • 1 bunch arugula (washed, stems removed, sliced in 1-in. ribbons)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (washed, stems removed, sliced in 1-in. ribbons)
  • 1 bunch turnips, scrubbed and cut into quarters
  • 2 links vegetarian sausage, sliced
  • 1 tbl. minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, oregano, thyme (to taste)
  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta as directed, but add the spinach and arugula for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Just pile it right on top of the pasta and water, and swirl it with a spoon. Then, drain the contents of the pot in a colander and put in a large serving bowl.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the veggie sausage and turnips, and sauté for about five minutes, until contents start to lightly brown.
  3. Add chard, garlic and seasoning to the pan, and stir. Cook about 5 minutes, until chard is slightly wilted but still has some body. Remove from heat.
  4. Add sautéed ingredients to the pasta mixture, and stir. Serve immediately.

Cooking from a CSA, Part 3: Week 2 and Spring-time Saute

My second CSA box arrived with all kids of goodies:

Black Spanish and traditional red radishes

Three kinds of lettuce

Three kinds of beets

Aspargus

Leeks, green garlic, and scallions

I also received a bag of tomato puree and a 5 lb. bag of golden potatoes. Most of the this week’s goodies went into salads, and I made another pasta dish similar to last week’s, but with asparagus and leeks–oh, and I threw in pine nuts and a can of chopped clams–so good!

But my favorite thing this week turned out to be these:

Haruki Turnips

I’ve never been a fan of turnips, but when I got this adorable bunch of baby turnips, or haruki turnips as they are usually known, In my CSA box, I had to give them another try.

I started by turning to the Internet for help and found a few recipes for pasta with turnips and this recipe for gnocchi with turnips that served as my inspiration. (That gnocchi looks excellent and I have to go back and try making that sometime).

Using only what I had on hand from my latest CSA box, I whipped up a quick buttery sauté that totally turned me around on turnips! I hope I get another bunch in the box soon.

Springtime Sauté with Turnips and Potatoes

  • 2 small to medium potatoes
  • 1 bunch baby turnips, including greens
  • 1 small leek
  • 2 green garlic stalks
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Parmesan (optional)

1. First, wash all the vegetables, taking extra care to scrub the potatoes with a brush. Dice the potatoes (skin on), and slice the leek and green garlic into thin rings. Throw the rings in a colander and give them a good wash. Remove the greens from the turnips and cut the turnips into quarters. Remove the long stems from the greens and cut the leaves into 1-in. wide strips.

2. Heat the olive oil and butter on the stove on medium-high heat, until the butter is melted. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to brown–about 5 minutes. Throw in the leeks and green garlic and cook about 2 min., until they just start to loosen up. Add a sprinkling of oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.

3. Add the turnips and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add the turnip greens and cook until just wilted.

Voilá. Serve in a bowl and top with grated cheese if desired.

Cooking from a CSA, Part 2: Week 1 Wrap-Up

My first week with the CSA was pretty much as success, except for one thing: Many of the greens wilted before I had a chance to eat them. Luckily, the CSA-blogging community (who knew such a wondrous resource existed?) came to my rescue and suggested that I bag the next batch to keep moisture in. There is a great CSA link party every week, hosted by In Her Chucks, which you can find here. It’s a great way to find other people writing about CSAs.

I made a number of  salads and sandwiches, but my two favorite dishes from the week were a great pasta with leeks, green garlic, red peppers, mustard greens, and mushrooms (I bought the mushrooms, but every thing else came from the box), and a beautiful salad with two types of beets (roasted in the oven at 300 for a few hours, then left in the fridge overnight to cool), lettuce, radishes, scallions, walnuts, and feta.

Cooking from a CSA box, Part 1: Joining a CSA

A few months ago, I took a leap of faith and signed up for a CSA (that’s Community Sponsored Agriculture) option that was delivering to my office. Every week from late April to mid-November a bushel of vegetables will be dropped off at our headquarters cafeteria, filled to the brim with fresh-off-the-farm organic vegetables.
Why was it a leap of faith? After all, fresh organic vegetables are awesome, aren’t they?

I’ve looked into CSAs a few times and decided not to sign up for a few reasons:

1) A bushel of vegetables a week is a lot of vegetables! I hate wasting food, and I worry about my refrigerator being filled with rotten produce.
2) Members don’t have any say in what arrives in their box. So if it’s 3 lbs. of turnips or another vegetable I’m not too fond of, I’m out of luck.
3) Some of them are quite pricey, and don’t work with my food budget.
4) Trying to remember to drive over to the drop-off location, and arranging my schedule to make that happen seems very inconvenient.

The CSA offered through my office eliminated a few of my worries:

1) Since I’m a vegetarian (well, pescetarian, if you want to be technical), I eat a lot of produce anyway, so this wasn’t my strongest concern. A rep from the farm came to the office and answered a lot of my questions, including the one about the amount of food. They also offered a half-share with biweekly pick-up for the summer portion of the CSA (June through October).
2) I like trying new things, especially with food. Maybe I can learn to love turnips.
3) With the half-share and a monthly payment of $75 spread over the entire year, my concerns about the price were alleviated. Since I originally researched CSAs a few years ago, the cost of groceries has gone way up. Also, the grocery store nearest my home has TERRIBLE produce. So I often find myself running to the local organic co-op last minute, and that type of grocery shopping gets quite pricey. $75 a month for the bulk of my food will cut my grocery bill by quite a bit.
4) They deliver to my office. It can’t get easier than that–I’m there anyway!

So I’m very excited to have inexpensive fresh produce coming to me at work.

I received the first box on Thursday, and I’ll admit that I was a little overwhelmed. Look at everything inside:

Left to right, top to bottom: Mustard greens, radishes, scallions, green garlic, leeks, frozen strawberries, three types of beets, a bag of mixed salad greens, celeriac, more beets, a head of parnisse, arugula, mizuna, purple mustard greens.

Plus, there were two bonuses:

Frozen strawberries and roasted red peppers.

I didn’t start cooking until Saturday morning, when Mary and I experimented with an egg dish:

Baked Omelet filled with vegetables

Easy Baked Omelet

  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup flavorful grated cheese (we used Feddoste)
  • 1 bunch arugula, rinsed, thoroughly dried and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small leek, cut in half length -wise, then chopped. Rinsed.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1 scant tablespoon butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Whisk eggs and milk together. Heat butter and olive oil in a pan over medium. Add mushrooms and leeks and cook until just soft. Add arugula and stir in until barely wilted. Turn off heat and stir in red peppers. Pour vegetables into 1 qt. casserole dish and add egg mixture, salt, pepper and half the cheese, stirring to mix. Top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes, or until the omelet is puffed and golden brown on top. Serves four.
Wish me luck as I try to work through the rest!