Posts Tagged ‘strawberries’

Week 14: August 25 – 31

August 30, 2008

The summer seems to have flown by.  It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 14 weeks since I’ve turned to a grocery store to get my produce.  Next week, I’ll be back to school.  Because I teach, I have extra time in the summer to prep and freeze food.  The academic calendar, that now seems to anachronistic and obsolete for being based on an agricultural schedule, has been ideal for my local food endeavor.  (For a bit more on the connection between school and agriculture, see this 2006 article about a school break for potato harvesting in northern Maine.   (There is also a link from my articles in the Boston Globe page.)

I’ve been making so much tabbouleh that I ran out of bulgur.  Whole Foods sells organic bulgur in their bulk section, so I can buy lots of it relatively cheaply in a paper bag.  It’s become sort of a game to see how few plastic bags I can acquire.  The one I went to didn’t have any organic bulgur in their bulk section, so I didn’t get any.  But they were having a special event with lots of their local suppliers giving out tastes.  One of the supplers was Highlawn Farm, and all-Jersey dairy in Lee, Massachusetts (in the Berkshires, between Springfield and Albany).  They’re better than organic in most ways, but certification is too expensive.  One of their products is heavy cream.  Good cream means good ice cream, so I bought a pint.  Remember the strawberries we sugared for ice cream and froze back in week 5? My husband used one of those pints to make strawberry ice cream in our electric ice cream maker. Between the extra-good cream and the extra-good strawberries, it was by far the best strawberry ice cream I have ever tasted.

This week our CSA share consisted of two pints of cherry tomatoes (we took one red, one yellow), three pounds of tomatoes,three small eggplants, three green bell peppers, one pound of broccoli, one scant bag of mixed baby lettuce leaves, ten ears of corn, one bunch of beets, one bunch of onions (which we gave away to friends) and one bunch of tatsoi.

Some of the vegetables were already getting soft in the wrong ways, so I made a batch of gazpacho.  Into the blender went most of a bell pepper (the yucky soft part, and half an inch around it, went into compost), cut into chunks.  It was followed by about 3 inches of Armenian cucumber, skin and seeds included, quartered and thickly sliced.  Friends gave us half an Armenian cucumber from their garden, and it’s so big that the half spanned the full width of a refrigerator crisper drawer, and the amount I put into gazpacho was about the same as one whole normal cucumber.  I added a generous spoonful of minced garlic (we buy it jarred, it’s our one vegetable laziness), a generous splash of white vinegar, a few drops of Tabasco, some dried basil and oregano, and some salt.  When I blended it, it was a lovely pale green with darker green flecks, and had a lovely spicy flavor.  It would have been fine simply as green gazpacho.  But I had tomatoes that needed to be used, so the two softest tomatoes went in, and the gazpacho turned sort of coral-colored, which is not very appetizing.  Luckily it tasted delicious.  Two tomatoes, one bell pepper, and one normal-cucumber-equivalent yielded four bowls of the cold soup.  For a fancier presentation, reserve some of the cucumber and bell pepper, dice them, and sprinkle some atop the pureed soup in each bowl.

We brought four ears of corn with us to dinner at a friend’s home, and she did somethind delicious with them.  First she had us husk them enough to see how the corn was and remove any damaged tips.  Then she pulled back the husks and put butter, salt, and herbs directly onto the corn, then pulled the husks back over.  She then roasted the ears in her oven for about 25 minutes.  It was so much tastier than our usual boil-and-butter!  We nibbled cherry tomatoes while waiting for dinner to be ready. 

The other six ears of corn went with me on a visit to my grandmother, along with two tomatoes and a salad made of all the lettuce, two very large radishes (sliced thinly into pretty circles), one bell pepper, and all the remaining cherry tomatoes.  All of it was very, very well received.

Two of the tomatoes (slighly less, one had a bad spot that got composted instead) and two of the eggplants went into chana masala, an Indian chickpea dish.  It doesn’t usually have eggplant, but it should.  Lazily, I use MDH boxed spice mix to season it. 

The broccoli and tatsoi are bound for a stir-fry with tofu, maybe with the third eggplant.   The beet greens will be a side dish by themselves.  The beets themselves will wait, the way root vegetables do.

I sent my husband to buy fruit at the midweek farmers market, and he came home with six peaches, six Ginger Gold apples, and four Gravenstein apples.  Ginger Gold is a relatively recent hybrid (1989), with respectable Winesap lineage on one side of the cross and a random sapling from Virginia on the other.  I’ll need to remember next year that Ginger Gold apples are lovely for eating out-of-hand, delightfully crisp and slightly tart.  Gravenstein apples, on the other hand, are an heirloom variety with a flavor that reminds me of apple pie, and a texture that suggests they should be cooked.  I plan to make maple syrup baked apples with the remaining Gravensteins, but I’m not sure what to stuff the core with (well, the space where the core is removed before baking) because I have neither raisins nor walnuts on hand.

Happy Labor Day!

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Week 6: June 29 – July 5

July 8, 2008

The veggies are starting to pile up.   Production at our CSA is in full swing, and the quantities of vegetables we’re getting are copious.  We went away for the holiday weekend, so we weren’t home to cook and eat as much as usual.  Our plan was to freeze what we couldn’t use, but then the weather took a turn for the hot and muggy, so I didn’t blanch-and-freeze veggies after all.

We got two bunches of beets (with greens, of course), one bunch of Red Russian kale, one of collards, one of parsley, one head of Napa cabbage, three bunches of carrots (two orange, one yellow), one pound of fava beans, and two pints of strawberries

One bunch of last week’s basil turned into enough pesto for a couple of dinners, with beet greens on the side, followed by ice cream topped with strawberries.  The strawberries I picked over (and there were quite a few bad ones, and quite a few more that needed bad spots removed), then sliced and macerated in 3 heaping tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (if I’m remebering correctly).  The beet greens I washed (salad spinner method), cut coarsely, steamed, then tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.   The beets themselves keep well and are still in my crisper drawer.

The salad spinner method of washing greens is this:  fill the colander of the spinner about 2/3 full of greens.  For very sandy greens, rinse the leaves before placing them in the colander.  For moderately sandy or dirty, rinse them once in the colander alone.  With the colander in the bowl of the salad spinner, fill the bowl with water.   Use your hands to agitate the greens.  Lift the colander out of the bowl.  Notice how dirty the water is.  Pour out the water and rinse the bowl.  Place the colander back in the bowl.  Repeat the process, starting by  filling the bowl with water again.  When the water left in the bowl looks clean enough, you’re done.  If you’re steaming the greens, leave them wet, otherwise spin to dry. 

The collards and kale were too large to fit in our crisper drawer, so they sat on a shelf in the refrigerator and quicly became very limp.  I had planned to freeze them, but then it was too hot to blanch them.  I cooked them with black beans and served them over rice.  My favorite way to season collards, which works with most greens (like turnip greens or kale) is with olive oil, fresh garlic, and dried basil, cumin, and cayenne, and salt.  It’s a surprising and very tasty combination I got from the Green Cafe in Bethlehem, PA.  It works for just the greens, as a side dish, and it also works for black beans and greens together.  The beans need more cooking time, so do them first, and when they’re basically done add the greens, giving them only just long enough to soften. 

The Napa cabbage was dense enough to go in a crisper drawer, and held up fairly well, so it’s still there.  I expect that it will go, with tofu, into a stir-fry of some sort.  The parsley is also still in a crisper drawer, and either needs to get packed in water and frozen (no blanching for herbs) or made into tabbouleh.  The carrots (both orange and yellow) are also hanging out in a crisper drawer.  They’ll last perfectly well until I figure out what I want to do with them.  Some of them will get washed, cut into sticks, and packed in lunch bags.  I’m thinking about buying a vegetable scrubber to be just for carrots – they’re covered in CSA dirt, and will be eaten raw, so there can’t be any “foreign contaminants” on the scrubber, like those acquired from grocery store potatoes. 

I’m stumped by the fava beans.  I think I’ve been stumped by them every year.  I use a lot of kinds of beans in my cooking (I can think of 8 varieties off the top of my head) but not favas.  Not only do I not know what to do with favas, I don’t know how to make fresh beans edible.  Boiling?  If you know what to do with fresh fava beans, please leave a comment!

Week 5: June 22-28 (part I)

June 25, 2008

When we decided to get all our veggies farm-direct this year, we changed from a small share to a large share from our CSA. That means we’ll get twice as many vegetables as usual from June through October. If we were getting just the right amount for 5 months, then we should now be getting just the right amount for 10 months. We’ll supplement from the farmers markets whenever we see good prices on foods that we like that also freeze well.  On our to-do list:  buy a chest freezer, probably used and cheap from Craigslist.

This week what we got from the CSA were: parsley, broccoli, turnips (with greens, of course), chioggia beets (with greens, of course), mustard greens, two bunches of kale, two bunches of small carrots (whose greens are inedible – a rarity), and two pints of strawberries.

The farmers market strawberries we got a few days ago were uniformly small, unblemished, and bruise-free. They were incredibly sweet and flavorful when we ate about 2/3 of them right away, around lunch time. We decided to save the other 1/3 to eat after supper. By the time those few hours had passed, the berries had lost a lot of their flavor. Our CSA farmer doesn’t grow any fruit at all, but he sometimes trades with other farmers in his area to get fruit for us. This is the first time we’ve ever gotten strawberries from him. Some of the berries were beautiful, but my husband was out for the evening and it didn’t seem fair to eat them myself, so they had to be saved. Many of the berries were overgrown, or blemished, or bruised. Generally they seemed better for making into something than eating straight. Putting Food By says strawberries freeze better sliced and with sugar than whole or without sugar. What would we do with the strawberries later? Ice cream! The recipe book that came with our ice cream maker has a strawberry ice cream recipe that calls for the berries to be sliced, macerated with sugar and lemon juice, and allowed to sit at least two hours. Perfect! So we prepped the strawberries, and then put each pint into the freezer, to become ice cream sometime later this summer.

Parsley, of course suggested tabbouleh.  I’ve learned that tabbouleh can change with the seasons depending on what vegetables are available.  Usually I use dried (store-bought) parsley and mint.  Having fresh herbs is a treat.  This week, tabbouleh involves parsley, carrots (finely chopped), and chickpeas.  Radishes would have made a nice addition, but we didn’t have any.

For a long time, kale was relegated to the short list of vegetables-I-don’t-like, along with brussels sprouts.  It’s so good for you, though, and we kept getting it from the CSA, so when I couldn’t give it away, I kept trying recipes.  I finally found a way I like kale (and my husband does, too).  It’s a soup, so more of a winter food than a summer food. We froze both bunches to use next winter, following the blanching steps in my previous post. Kale stems are tough, so the leaves have to come off. It sounds awfully laborious, but turns out to have a trick: gently pinch or wrap your fingers around the stem, just below the bottom leaves. Pull away from you. If you get the pressure right, your fingers will push the leaves up off of the stem, sort of un-zipping. Quick, easy, and bizarrely fun!

Here’s the kale soup recipe I created:

  • 1/2 lb dry lentils (French green are best)
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 – 2 tsp garam masala (Indian spice mix)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (I buy it jarred, no idea how many cloves)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 5-10 grinds fresh black pepper
  • 6 cups water
  • In a 4-quart saucepan combine the lentils, garlic, garam masala, and water. Simmer until the lentils start to break down. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste to adjust seasonings. Add the kale and simmer until it is wilted.

Week 4: June 14-21

June 22, 2008

Our CSA finally feels like it’s in full swing.  This week we received broccoli, mizuna, red leaf lettuce, bok choy, arugula, sugar snap peas, and radishes.   

We finally started to save for winter.  One bunch of broccoli and one bunch of mizuna went into the freezer.  Both vegetables require the same steps. 

  • First you clean them very well.  For broccoli, there’s enough risk of insects that it’s recommended that the broccoli soak for half an hour in well-salted water, which should kill any insects and make them float to the surface.  I was glad not to find any floating bugs after saline-soaking my broccoli. 
  • Next, the vegetables get trimmed.  Of course the ends come off.  The broccoli stems needed peeling because the skin was so tough.  Mizuna leaves that were already decaying got tossed into compost.  The idea is pretty simple:  if you want to preserve food, remove any with over-active food-decaying enzymes. 
  • Cut the vegetables up.  Pieces should be evenly sized for even cooking.  How big you cut them depends on the recipes you plan to use them in later.  It’s all about planning ahead. 
  • Blanch the vegetables.  This involves submerging them in boiling water for anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the vegetables.  My mizuna got 1 minute.  My broccoli (florets and sliced-and-quartered stems) got 3 minutes, which might have been more than it needed.  (Putting Food By and The Cook’s Companion both give times for different vegetables.)  The decay-causing enzymes in the very center have to get cooked and stop working.  I blanch vegetables using a deep-fry basket in a big saucepan.  The deep-fry basket has a handle.  Before I got it, I used a metal colander (again, lowered into a saucepan), and had to hold the colander with tongs.  It’s also possible to put the vegetables directly into the saucepan, and then use a colander to drain them when they’re done.  The drawback to that method is that you can’t then use the same hot water for multiple batches of vegetables.
  • As soon as the veggies are blanched, they get shocked: submerged in an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process.  I use another metal saucepan for the ice-water, since it can handle the temperature extremes and the rapid temperature change.  The ice bath is for the same length of time as the blanching. 
  • Shake off excess water.  Pack into storage containers.  We packed the broccoli in an old yogurt tub, and the mizuna in a ziplock bag, which we freeze flat to reduce clumping and make thawing and cooking easier. 

Freezing a couple bunches of vegetables still left us plenty to eat fresh. 

We at the sugar snap peas raw. 

The lettuce and arugula became a series of salads.  What remained of last week’s romaine went in, too.  Red leaf lettuce seems to go slimy fastest, of all the lettuce varieties.  Romaine lasts unusually long.  Baby lettuces go slimy faster than full-grown, possibly because they need to be kept bagged, while the full-grown ones have their own head structure to keep them together. 

I made spicy peanut-sesame noodles and mixed in one of the bunches of bok choy (raw).  Cold grain-based salads are some of my favorite lunches.  I learned the hard way that the bok choy should get mixed with the noodles before the dressing is poured on.  I make my own dressing, using the blender to mix peanut butter, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chili oil.

I stir-fried mizuna and some of the broccoli (from the bunch that wasn’t blanched and frozen), along with tofu, in Japanese seasonings: soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and wasabi.  It’s a combination I figured out myself the first year in the CSA, just from being told that mizuna (then totally unfamilar to me) is also called Japanese mustard greens. 

Another stir-fry was Chinese style, flavored with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.  It involved the other bunch of bok choy, the rest of the broccoli, the radish greens, and some garlic scapes from the farmers market. 

My farmers market treat this week was a quart of fresh strawberries.  Massachusetts strawberries are smaller than grocery store ones, but red all the way through and oh so sweet and flavorful!  Of course, you get what you pay for.