Weeks Ten CSA Challenge – Working Girl

This week I started a part-time job instructing “Business Planning for Entrepreneurs.” Classes start September 17th, and I need to build a new 12-week curriculum before that date. Heading into an office other than the one at my home and adding extra hours of work to my schedule made this week’s challenge an easy choice. I needed to make meals that wouldn’t consume too much time in the preparation and would provide leftovers that could become lunches for the week.

Another great first this week…my niece took her first horse ride! No more ponies led by others. Amanda took the reins.

Reins

The ride was beautiful and on the way back to the barn, we saw a beautiful sunset! Life in the country rocks.

Sunset

Week ten CSA included: beets, collards, carrots, onions, yellow squash, bell peppers, hot peppers, jalapeño pepper, corn, garlic, zucchini, and tomatoes.

Week Six Challenge:

Think outside the casserole and make dishes that satisfy for a meal as well as serve up well reheated for a lunch.

RECIPES, LINKS, REVIEWS AND DISCOVERIES

Stuffed Green Pepper

Recipe: Stuffed Peppers

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/stuffed-peppers-recipe.html

Review: My first stuffed peppers without meat and they were refreshingly good. I still like meat, but more and more lately I don’t get really hungry for it often. The yellow squash and the zucchini baked inside the peppers really were a great match to the pepper.

 

Vegie Burgers

Recipe: Spicy Black Bean and Corn Burgers

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/stuffed-peppers-recipe.html

Review: These were so good that I made a quadruple batch and froze them as patties for future lunches and dinners. To the large batch I did add an extra can of whole black beans I didn’t mash and I went really light on the flour. They held together fine without it. Also VERY good with Sweet Chili Sauce.

Beets

Recipe: Roasted Beets

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-beets-recipe.html

Review: When roasting beets you really can’t go wrong. The thyme added a little something extra. My local grocery didn’t have goat cheese. Yes, I can’t believe it either. So I had to substitute for feta. Good, but not as good as goat cheese.

 

Chicken-Rice Soup

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Soup

Link: My brain

Review: I buy my chickens locally these days. They roam free at Barry’s Barnyard. They feed in a pasture…protected from predators in a huge wire and wood enclosure. Chickens raised this way taste better in my opinion. But until I used a slow-cooked chicken carcass I made for dinner to make soup, I didn’t know how much better they were. For years I thought I had gotten my grandma’s recipe wrong because my chicken noodle just didn’t have that special something hers had. But using the free-range chicken for the soup made the difference. It tastes exactly like grandma’s soup.

Recipe: Cut up a good-sized onion and scallion, about 5 whole carrots, celery if you like. Rinse the whole chicken inside and out. Season lightly inside and out with Borsari. Mix together some of the onion and carrot and celery and place inside cavity. Place mixed veggies in bottom of slow cooker and place chicken on top of them breast side down. Make about 2 cups of chicken bullion and pour into slow cooker, add about two cups more or water. Turn cooker to low and cook for about 4 hours. I start checking at four hours because cooking time will range with the size of the chicken being cooked.

When chicken is done, lift and serve.

 

Pour the veggie and bullion mixture left from slow cooking into a stockpot. (Remove some of the fat from the top of the mixture to reduce calories if you like before transferring it to the new pot.) Pick the carcass for meat and add the meat to the veggie and bullion mixture. To be really authentic to the recipe, remove the larger chicken bones, snap them in two and add them to the mixture. Now is the time to add any extra produce you may desire. Collards worked great, but anything you like with chicken will be good. Add a bay leaf to the mixture and cook on low temperature for about 30-45 minutes. Remove bones and add noodles or rice (cooked separately in advance) to the pot and cook for about ten more minutes. ENJOY and thank Mrs. Nevada Elizabeth Smead Gray.

Weeks Ten CSA Challenge – Working Girl

This week I started a part-time job instructing “Business Planning for Entrepreneurs.” Classes start September 17th, and I need to build a new 12-week curriculum before that date. Heading into an office other than the one at my home and adding extra hours of work to my schedule made this week’s challenge an easy choice. I needed to make meals that wouldn’t consume too much time in the preparation and would provide leftovers that could become lunches for the week.

Another great first this week…my niece took her first horse ride! No more ponies led by others. Amanda took the reins.

Reins

The ride was beautiful and on the way back to the barn, we saw a beautiful sunset! Life in the country rocks.

Sunset

Week ten CSA included: beets, collards, carrots, onions, yellow squash, bell peppers, hot peppers, jalapeño pepper, corn, garlic, zucchini, and tomatoes.

Week Six Challenge:

Think outside the casserole and make dishes that satisfy for a meal as well as serve up well reheated for a lunch.

RECIPES, LINKS, REVIEWS AND DISCOVERIES

Stuffed Green Pepper

Recipe: Stuffed Peppers

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/stuffed-peppers-recipe.html

Review: My first stuffed peppers without meat and they were refreshingly good. I still like meat, but more and more lately I don’t get really hungry for it often. The yellow squash and the zucchini baked inside the peppers really were a great match to the pepper.

 

Vegie Burgers

Recipe: Spicy Black Bean and Corn Burgers

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/stuffed-peppers-recipe.html

Review: These were so good that I made a quadruple batch and froze them as patties for future lunches and dinners. To the large batch I did add an extra can of whole black beans I didn’t mash and I went really light on the flour. They held together fine without it. Also VERY good with Sweet Chili Sauce.

Beets

Recipe: Roasted Beets

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-beets-recipe.html

Review: When roasting beets you really can’t go wrong. The thyme added a little something extra. My local grocery didn’t have goat cheese. Yes, I can’t believe it either. So I had to substitute for feta. Good, but not as good as goat cheese.

 

Chicken-Rice Soup

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Soup

Link: My brain

Review: I buy my chickens locally these days. They roam free at Barry’s Barnyard. They feed in a pasture…protected from predators in a huge wire and wood enclosure. Chickens raised this way taste better in my opinion. But until I used a slow-cooked chicken carcass I made for dinner to make soup, I didn’t know how much better they were. For years I thought I had gotten my grandma’s recipe wrong because my chicken noodle just didn’t have that special something hers had. But using the free-range chicken for the soup made the difference. It tastes exactly like grandma’s soup.

Recipe: Cut up a good-sized onion and scallion, about 5 whole carrots, celery if you like. Rinse the whole chicken inside and out. Season lightly inside and out with Borsari. Mix together some of the onion and carrot and celery and place inside cavity. Place mixed veggies in bottom of slow cooker and place chicken on top of them breast side down. Make about 2 cups of chicken bullion and pour into slow cooker, add about two cups more or water. Turn cooker to low and cook for about 4 hours. I start checking at four hours because cooking time will range with the size of the chicken being cooked.

When chicken is done, lift and serve.

Pour the veggie and bullion mixture left from slow cooking into a stockpot. (Remove some of the fat from the top of the mixture to reduce calories if you like before transferring it to the new pot.) Pick the carcass for meat and add the meat to the veggie and bullion mixture. To be really authentic to the recipe, remove the larger chicken bones, snap them in two and add them to the mixture. Now is the time to add any extra produce you may desire. Collards worked great, but anything you like with chicken will be good. Add a bay leaf to the mixture and cook on low temperature for about 30-45 minutes. Remove bones and add noodles or rice (cooked separately in advance) to the pot and cook for about ten more minutes. ENJOY and thank Mrs. Nevada Elizabeth Smead Gray.

Weeks Seven, Eight & Nine CSA Challenge – “Quick” Meatless Meals

It has been busy at Villa Capriccio! Harvest season for my own garden, canning, freezing and making jam has usurped time.

I am not complaining, the haul has been awesome.

Check out my giant zucchini – 19” long – 6” radius at largest point and yielding 15 cups of zucchini for 5 batches of zucchini bread this winter!

 mongo cuke 

It was the first season for potatoes in my back yard and super excited about my 12 batches of raspberry-peach jam.

 

 Potatoes      Jam

Unfortunately, all this bounty has shortchanged my CSA experiment. I had to combine the last three weeks to make it all work. Still, it has continued to be a delight. With all the great vegetables and fruits coming my way, I decided to celebrate by going meatless. And since time was at a premium, I chose “quick” recipes. Not to say there isn’t some prep involved, but they are more streamlined than my usual choices.

Over the last three weeks, my CSA packages have included: Cabbage, fresh garlic, collards, corn, new potatoes, shallots, white onion, sweet basil, yellow squash and eggplant.

Week Seven-Eight-Nine Challenge:

Quick meatless meals

 

Food for thought

  • Making Eggplant Parmesan was my first chance ever to whisk, dip, flour, dredge, and fry anything. It is a skill I am long overdue in acquiring. Frying may not be the healthiest, but it is yummy.
  • I need to find a better knife sharpener.

 

RECIPES, LINKS, REVIEWS AND DISCOVERIES

 cabbage burgers

Recipe: Cabbage Carrot and Green Pea Patties

Link: http://recipes.malayali.me/menu/easy-recipes/cabbage-carrot-green-peas-patties

Review: These were tasty, but man, or man, were they tough to get to hang together. There seems to be no binder. Perhaps I got the grind too course or too fine, but it just wouldn’t stick it out through the process. I want to take another crack at it because it would be terrific to have a stockpile of these in the freezer for quick lunches. Maybe I’ll add some black beans whole and some ground to add some southwest and kick it up a bit.

 

 Eggplant

Recipe: Eggplant Parmesan

Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/eggplant-parmesan-recipe.html

Review: As previously mentioned, I am not an eggplant fan. My CSA seems determined to change my mind with every variety of eggplant coming through the door. This eggplant parm was awesome! I loved it. The marinara sauce was incredible! I must confess, I did ratchet up the red sauce a bit with about five times the required basil, twice the thyme and double the garlic. YUM! The red sauce recipe is a keeper for a homemade sauce.

 

Summer Nights Eggplant

Recipe: Summer Nights Eggplant

Link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/summer-nights-eggplants/

Review: This is kind of a twice-baked potato idea. You hollow the eggplant, blend and cook with other ingredients, stuff it back into the eggplant and bake. Think my breadcrumb ratio was off as they seemed to override the taste of the other ingredients, but it was a good meal and folks had seconds.

 

Corn and bean salad

Recipe: Southwestern Black Bean Salad

Link: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2009/06/southwestern-black-bean-salad.html

Review: Yum from every angle. Great as a side dish. Great as a chunky dip, great a day later and even a week later. Paired with blue corn chips, it was absolutely awesome.

 

Yellow squash

Recipe: Summer Squash Ribbons with Thai Basil and Peanuts

Link: http://food52.com/recipes/5505-summer-squash-ribbons-with-thai-basil-and-peanuts

Review: This was so good, that I have made it three times in the past three weeks. Though it has shown me that my mandolin doesn’t slice thin enough to really do this recipe justice. Even better about this recipe…no cooking involved and a great use of my fresh Thai basil. A real winner.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 2.59.25 PM

Recipe: Kickin’ Collard Greens

Link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/kickin-collard-greens/

Review: I liked this recipe, but I think I would do it differently. A little less liquid to cook down the collards with and I wouldn’t put the bacon in with the greens until the bulk of the liquid cooked off. I like the bacon to have a slight touch of crispness rather than getting all soggy.

 

 potatogalettes

Recipe: Potato Galettes with Sage

Link: http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/09/01/potato-galettes-sage-recipe

Review: Perfect with a little sour cream! Definitely comfort food rather than everyday fare, but very good.

 

 

 

 

WEEK FIVE CSA CHALLENGE – BUTTER ME UP!

When I lifted this week’s CSA produce bag, something was different. It was the same dimension as past weeks, but now it had density. I investigated to find cabbage, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, onions and beets among the kale and Napa cabbage. We had turned the seasonal corner from butter lettuces and herbs to much heartier, heftier fare.

I grew up in touch with the seasons, knowing what vegetables and fruits would be ready for eating when. But I had allowed distance from farming and the supermarkets’ utopian practice of stocking nearly every fruit and vegetable in every season to induce unmindfulness of when foods ripen and even from where they come. The only clue to connection was the dearness of price. A pint of strawberries cost $7.50 in January? Hmm, they must not be in season locally.

Growing up, my parents had two acres where we raised corn, strawberries, asparagus and potatoes. My two brothers and I worked many hours pulling weeds, hoeing and thinning corn mounds, gorging on strawberries still warm from the sun, digging and slicing seed potatoes, and shooting at Red-winged blackbirds with BB guns to steward our produce from seed to sauté.

It was shocking to me that these most primary memories of the seasons had been obliterated in a glut of convenience and abundance. I am so grateful to Edible Earth Farms and my new raised bed gardens for putting me back in touch with this lost knowledge. It makes me feel more integrated, more aware, more rhythmic, more in touch with the cycles of life.

While cleaning my produce, I made related discovery. No two beets were near alike in size, the Napa Cabbage had a small worm trail and a cucumber had a brownish area where it had thickened due to contact with the ground. These imperfections made me laugh, pointing up how far I had strayed from organic, real and non-hybrid. The produce I was cleaning was grown for taste and nutrients not transport. They might be a little smaller than grocery issue, but they also haven’t absorbed chemicals to pump them up or assassinate their predators.

I had been homogenized, taken in by uniformity, shine, and lack of blemish. I had begun to believe that these with important attributes. Enthrall to the culture of produce perfection, I realized I had become hyper-vigilant in my cleaning of fruits and vegetables, cutting deeply away anything that hinted of insect or earth or over ripeness. I had forgotten what real, non-modified, organic produce looked like. I had left behind the beloved carrots with two taproots looking like a pair of legs, the taste of my aunt’s tomatoes (grown each year from seeds saved for generations), and the wisdom to know what was harmful to eat and what was safe. I finished cleaning each leaf of the Napa cabbage bored through by the worm. He was no longer in residence and – after all – it was just a little hole. No reason to waste precious cabbage leaves. There was enough for both of us, and in fact we were connected by this miraculous food.

The inspiration for this week’s recipes came from buying a brick of yeast that seems to be the same size and consistency as movie brick of C-4. I had gone to the grocery store to buy a few little packets of yeast like I remembered doing with my mother. But the packets had disappeared. I dropped by the bakery counter hoping for some advice. The woman there told me that she didn’t think they stocked it anymore…apparently the majority of the population purchased their bread pre-made. She kindly offered to sell me a block of commercial yeast. I took her up on the offer and got the buy of a lifetime…$2.49 for enough yeast to last a lifetime.

So I added surplus of yeast to diverse produce and came up with this week’s theme of breads.

yeast

This week’s food-stuffs: Acorn Squast, Zucchini, Cabbage, Napa Cabbage, Onions, Yellow Squash, Cucumber, Kale, Beets

Week Five Challenge:

Bake a bread for every item of produce and cook a recipe submitted by a beloved a framily member that includes Napa Cabbage and promises to do it justice.

Food for thought:

–      mace is a spice similar to nutmeg

–      spice cabinet is filling up with things I believe I will use

–      Spelt Flour is a whole grain, non-wheat flour. Spelt is a cereal grain in the wheat family that is higher in protein and easier to digest than wheat.

–      And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

NapaCabbageEggs

The recipe: Andrew’s Napa Cabbage Recipe – Contributed to Chuck’s culinary education

– from the Poulet de Palais de Pollard

The instructions:~ two eggs ~ 1 chopped Green Onion ~ some roughly chopped Napa Cabbage ~ teaspoon of Oyster Sauce ~ tablespoon of Soy Sauce ~ a few thin slices of Cucumber, cut lengthwise. ~ a few dashes of Rice Wine Vinegar ~ Fresh, crusty roll 1) preheat a skillet on medium high heat 2) a bit of butter in a nonstick pan, melt 3) Cabbage and Onion in pan to soften 4) stir in the Oyster Sauce 5) beat eggs in a cup then add to skillet 6) cook until firm 7) spindle with soy sauce to taste 8) put egg on a crust roll 9) add slices of cucumber and some dashed of vinegar 10) enjoy a packet of goodness.

The review: This made a great dinner, but I would happily eat it any hour of the day. I need to get a shallower frying pan so I can flip the mass or become less a Nancy-pants about the watery goo that always accumulates in the top of an omelette. But beyond my own runny egg peculiarities, I loved this meal. The cabbage took center stage…which isn’t so easy with its subtle taste. The texture it brought to the eggs was simply inspired. Thank you for the suggestion, Andrew!

 —

 Zucchini Bread

The recipe: When life hands you zucchini, bake this bread

The instructions: I inherited, tweaked and named this recipe. It is my favorite sweet bread…ever.

3 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup loosely packed brown sugar

1 cup cooking oil

3 tsp maple syrup

3 cups shredded zucchini

2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

2 tsp salt

½ cup wheat germ

2 ½ cup unsifted unbleached flour

1 cup chopped walnuts (if feeling decadent) 

  1. Turn up the music, sing along and/or boogie down
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F – grease and flour two 9” x 5” baking pans – Set aside
  3. In a medium bowl:

Mix baking soda, baking powder, salt, wheat germ, flour, and walnuts (if using) – Set aside

  1. In a second, larger bowl:

Break the three eggs and whip ‘em good. Add granulated sugar and whip again. Add the brown sugar and whip yet again. (If you want a taste of heaven and promise not to sue if tummy issues arise from consuming raw eggs, grab a spoon and try some of this heavenly froth.) When the vegetable oil comes along, you must whip it. When the syrups goin’ strong, you must whip it. Clean that whip! And grab a wooden spoon. Stir in zucchini just until fully integrated. Pour dry ingredients into wet and fold in until well mixed. (This is another perfect moment to sample a spoonful for those who believe that salmonella avoidance is for someone else.)

5. Pour mix into pans equally and pop into oven on middle rack for about an hour. I set mine to 50 minutes, then check every 5 minutes until a wooden tooth pick comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then remove and cool the rest of the way on cooling racks. Wait, strike that. When cooled just enough to touch, cut off a gorgeous piece, smear it with some butter and enjoy. Bread freezes well. I actually freeze shredded zucchini so I can make this bread fresh throughout the winter.

The review: As this is my recipe, it is obvious I love it. So it seems that the review for this recipe is up to those who try it.

 Unknown

The recipe: Cabbage Bread

The link: http://curiouskai.blogspot.com/2011/07/cabbage-bread.html

The review: This is more a baking technique than a recipe. Prior to baking the dough, you wrap it in cabbage leaves. The leaf leaves behind a really cool pattern on the bread. I have to admit, I had a great deal of bread success going into this attempt, and I got a little cocky. Why not – instead of making my first attempt with a simple white bread – make cinnamon rolls instead? Why reference how large a portion of dough should be used in the size leaf I had? Why buy cooking twine? I am a baker, why couldn’t I just wing it? The results weren’t heinous, but it will take some practice to make my cabbage bread look as good as the one in the photo above. I over packed the cabbage leaf, I didn’t seal the edges so the filling seeped out, the dental floss I ended up using left taste and color on the bread. But hey, experimentation is fun and the results were highly edible…just not as successful as they could have been. Photos below show my wraps before cooking and after. Still the cabbage pattern effect is organic and cool.

Cabbage wraps

cabbage sweet rolls

 —

Cabbage bread

The recipe: High-Calcium Cabbage Bread Recipe

The link: http://homecooking.about.com/od/breadrecipes/r/blbread75.htm

The review: I am the first to admit that the failure of this recipe could be completely mine. But I regret the cup of toasted sesame seeds that were sacrificed to make this bread. I weaned myself off white breads years back and have developed an affinity for hearty, whole grain breads with less-than-sweet taste. However, I could locate no pleasure center in the taste of this bread. Each bite seemed a chore. Since it did have some herb flavoring, I decided to re-purpose the bread. I cut it and double cooked it like biscotti and turned it into croutons.

 Beet swirl cut

The recipe: Psychedelic Dill, Beet Bread

The link: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_JyrjHwiLeU8/SbEwEH0siKI/AAAAAAAABYo/vpGZR0ZFEEw/s1600-h/red+bread4.jpg

The review: This bread was a ton of fun to make and flavorful to eat with a great texture. Don’t allow yourself to be turned off by either the inclusion of the dill or the beet. Both deliver a great flavor and they work well together in this marbleized bread. Besides, making and baking the dough softens each flavor. This recipe will stay at the top of my list. Perfect for replacing store-bought hearty breads. I did struggle with the proportions. Both dough mixes were too wet when mixed as the recipe instructed. I had to add a great deal more flour to be able to get them to the right consistency.

 Beet swirl

feta cut

The recipe: Kale and Feta Bread

The linkhttp://souvlakiforthesoul.com/2013/11/kale-and-fetta-bread-recipe

The review: This is wonderful savory bread! My streak continued with recipe proportions making the dough either too wet or too dry. This one was too dry to hang together. I was out of Greek yogurt after making the recipe, so I ended up adding a bit more olive oil and some leftover tzatziki to make it work. Happily, it didn’t destroy the taste. This bread packs a great deal of taste and interesting texture and umm-umm-umm those yummy bits of feta!

feta pan 

 Acorn Squash Bread

The recipe: Acorn Squash Bread

The link: http://evabakes.blogspot.com/2012/11/acorn-squash-bread.html

The review: Sweet, moist, spicy, dense and awesome. I had to freeze this bread for later to avoid eating it all fresh out of the oven. This bread is well worth the bake!

LemonSquashCut

The recipe: Lemon Summer Squash Bread

The link: http://heatherchristo.com/cooks/2011/08/01/lemon-summer-squash-bread/

The review: OMG! The zest, the lemon, the frosting…like sunshine and lemonade turned into a cake. Definitely dessert bread, but friends will ask for seconds…and thirds if they aren’t shy.

onion flatbread

The recipe: Grilled Green Onion Flatbread

The link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/grilled-green-onion-flatbread-recipe.html

The review: I don’t think Emeril and I are kitchen compatible. This is the second of his recipes I have started with high hopes and ended up disappointed. I didn’t buy his seasoning mix…opting to make it from scratch as directed in the recipe. The flatbread was okay, but nothing special. The seasoning was way over the top. Perhaps I used too much, but the mix seemed to overpower the flatbread. It may be time to tighten up my Creole and Cajun cooking skills. I know Emeril is a regional James Beard Award winner. Love to hear that others have had better success.

 Next week’s challenge: A taste of the islands, mahn.

 

 

WEEK TWO CSA CHALLENGE – THE DINNER PARTY

WEEK TWO CSA CHALLENGE – THE DINNER PARTY

This week’s CSA challenge is four-fold.

First, I must make a full meal from my CSA stash that will feed myself and five guests.

Second, the meal needs to be gluten-free, but not so that anyone would notice.

Third, The dishes must be prepared on time, at the right temperatures, by one cook…me. (This is usually where my dinner parties skip the tracks).

Lastly, I must compose a meal that allows me to spend time with my guests. If you are lucky enough to get time with friends in this hectic life, you shouldn’t be miss out because you are too absorbed in cooking.

What arrived this week:

Garlic Scapes, Collard Greens, Radishes, Red and Green Spring Lettuce, Cilantro, Argula, Kale, Broccoli and Bib Lettuce

Here is what I made of it:


Food for thought:

(this is what I learned)

  • It is not difficult to plan, prepare and enjoy a gluten-free meal.
  • Garbanzo bean flour savory pancakes are DA BOMB!
  • No matter how casual the occasion, people feel freer to nosh on appetizers when plates are provided.
  • Always check that the grill is working order before the party.
  • I can’t get enough of spring onion and pea soup.
  • Lemon zest isn’t just for decoration.
  • Last week: “What is a garlic scape?”  —-   This week: “I love garlic scapes! Are there more?”
  • My new love of fresh herbs has compelled me to rip out a weedy flower bed and replant it with herbs (and flowers)!
  • -I so enjoyed cooking with chive flowers last week that I picked a bunch and made chive flower vinegar.

CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR RECIPE  http://leitesculinaria.com/80938/recipes-chive-blossom-vinegar.html

 

THE PARTY

My friends arrived with some incredible wine and we proceeded to drink and talk and enjoy the miracle of having time together! And yes, I did achieve part four of this week’s challenge. I wasn’t buried in my cooking because I had planned and prepared the menu scrupulously. I balanced a few items that needed to be served hot with many that could be served cold or at room temperature. I also chose recipes whose flavors would be enhanced by being prepared in advance. Appetizers were on plate before anyone arrived and I filled one sink with wine bottles and ice and made it the drink station to share drink host duties. Everything that could be pre-prepared was waiting in its serving dish along with its serving utensil. Glassware, serving dishes, napkins and utensils were all queued up and ready to go. Pandora was on the “Coltrane” station. I was ready.

I had originally conceived a spring picnic theme for the dinner. But a couple days of torrential rain and flooding drove the festivities indoors…or more suitably into an ark.

Course after course, the dinner went well. People were telling stories, eating, and enjoying themselves. At one point, I sat back and tried to etch the scene into my brain. It was pure bliss. I realized that food had gathered us together and that our being together had lifted us all to a wonderful place of enjoyment, laughter, sharing, and a contended feeling abundance. This made me realize the power of food. I also realized I had achieved a goal I had not previously allowed myself to dream.

I have this awesome friend, Lisa. She is the person who feeds people, she takes care of their souls, she even teaches them to sing (figuratively and literally). At Lisa’s house you always feel welcome and wanted and really, really well-fed. I had always wanted to be a person like Lisa who could make a house feel like home for anyone who entered it. Tonight I did just that.

What a gift this week’s challenge has been. It made me live in the present rather than in a timetable…and that made all the difference. Food isn’t meant to cause a struggle or instill a compulsion to make everything perfectly. Food is pure pleasure with the benefit of sustenance. It is meant to bring us together, not stress us out. This week’s dinner party has taught me to give up on ideal and enjoy a greater pleasure…the present.

And now, the recipes:

The recipe: SPRING GREENS PESTO ON ASIAGO IN BUTTER LETTUCE LEAVES

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-spring-greens-pesto-1-48795

The review: Perhaps mixing collards, kale, as well as red and green spring lettuces wasn’t the best aesthetic decision…making the pesto an unfortunate shade of brown. But the taste was out of this world. Placing the pesto on the Asiago slice was a great contrast of flavor and texture. A leaf replacing a cracker is inspired. The lettuce doesn’t just make the nosh healthier. It also complimented the pesto without dulling or competing with the taste the way a bread product often does. And – to my way of thinking – since the lettuce is basically water, I could eat more of these because I wasn’t filling up on bread. This recipe will be oft repeated on summer afternoons and any day I want to have feel like a summer afternoon. Note about recipe variation: I substituted garlic scapes for garlic…yum. 

The recipe: PUDLA (INDIAN CHICKPEA CREPES)

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-pudla-indian-chickpea-crepes-recipes-from-the-kitchn-199998

The review: When I mentioned to friends that I was looking for gluten-free options for a dinner party, they told me about crepes made with Garbanzo bean flour. They really sold the savory pancake, so I gave it a go. Packed with green chili, cilantro, fresh ginger and chili powder, I couldn’t stop myself from eating them hot from the pan. They were just so darn tasty all by themselves. Next time I make them, I will definitely serve them hot from the griddle. Because as they cooled, they lost some of their magic spicy punch and became a more ho-hum dough round. Since I was using the crepes as a scoop for people to enjoy Indian-style mustard greens and lemon-cilantro hummus, I made them a bit thicker and much smaller than the instructions directed. Next time, I will buy a crepe pan and then experiment with thinning the batter to try to achieve the intended crepe delicacy and sheerness. But any way they turn out, I am certain that up I will gobble them.

The recipe: GRILLED BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD WITH BUTTERMILK-CHIVE DRESSING

The link: http://scrumpdillyicious.blogspot.com/2012/08/grilled-lettuce-salad-with-buttermilk.html

The review: Who knew you could grill a butter lettuce? Not this chick. I was so intrigued, I had to try it. I won’t say it made a night and day difference in the taste of the lettuce. But there were definite nuances of heat, texture, flavor enhancement and searing that made the salad novel and interesting. The buttermilk dressing was very good but not a standout. Then a happy accident occurred. By some miracle of divine mix-up, I crossed recipes and thought I was supposed to add the zest of two lemons to the buttermilk-chive dressing. I was tempted to leave it out, believing that  lemon zest merely adds texture and visual interest. I included the zest and learned that my opinion of lemon zest (and likely all zest) could not have been further removed from fact! My mistaken inclusion of lemon zest pushed this buttermilk salad dressing from pretty darn good to transcendent. It was a wrong turn I advise taking!

The recipe: FARRO SALAD WITH ROASTED KALE AND BEETS

The link: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/11/dinner-tonight-farro-salad-with-roasted-kale-and-beets-recipe.html

The review: This recipe brought me my first taste of farro – and for that – I will be forever grateful. Farro is a truly filling grain that is very low in gluten, is high in fiber, iron and even higher in protein than quinoa. It also was a chewy, meaty sort of a grain that started me dreaming of hot morning breakfasts of farro…since kicking oatmeal out of my bowls. BTW, a non-gluten version of this recipe may be easily achieved by leaving out the farrow. But I digress. Being a huge fan of roasted beets and goat cheese, I knew I would enjoy this dish. Still, as I read the recipe, I decided to make a tiny change. The recipe says to roast the beets and kale together, which would be perfectly delish. However, my experience making and decimating kale chips inspired me to do something different. If the kale were cooked with the beets at the recommended temp and time, they would end up kind of moist and limp. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But for my eating pleasure, I imagined something different. I roasted the beets sure, but roasted the kale separately until it dried into crispy, crunchy kale chips. Then – only at the last minute before serving – did I mix the kale with the rest of the ingredients. The result was that at serving time you had the chew of farro, the slightly al dente squish of beets, the mushy crumble of goat cheese AND the crunch of kale. A very nice recipe detour. 

The recipe: GARLIC SCAPE SATAY AND SATAY SAUCE

The link: http://food52.com/recipes/17117-garlic-scape-beef-satay-with-garlic-scape-satay-dip

The review: The siren song of satay sauce lured me to select this recipe, blithely overlooking my potential crack up on the rocks of failure. My mouth watered at the thought of peanut butter, lime, fish sauce, coconut milk, soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic scapes and cilantro coming together to make the perfect sauce. This recipe did not let down my expectations. I almost could not believe I made this dish when it turned out so articulated in taste, so perfect in texture, and so darn yummy. Dinner guest Verlynn confided that she was considering eating spoonfuls of the sauce straight after her first taste. It was hard to believe that my preparation of this dish started with misgivings. In the last year, I have developed an aversion to beef. The thought of it is always yummy. But whenever I put it in my mouth, there’s dissatisfaction, and sometimes even some gagging involved. None of my guests dislike meat, so that was not a concern. But as I came home from the butcher, I wondered how I personally would like this entrée. Slight concern flared to slight panic as the grill sputtered out minutes before well-done kebabs were achieved. Guests seemed excited about medium-well beef, so we forked ahead. I have to say, it was the best beef I have EVER prepared and the only beef I have really enjoyed within reckoning. It was incredible. Perhaps it was the butcher’s care in selecting the best cut for kebabs. Maybe it was my four day marinade protocol. Either way, this recipe was a home run. This beef satay – made with fresh everything and given days in the refrigerator to ripen – was so good it made me smile thinking about leftovers! 

The recipe: CORN AND RADISH SALAD

The link: http://www.marthastewart.com/319260/corn-and-radish-salad

The review: This was a delightful dish, but somehow it missed the mark. Perhaps it was my cooking. Neither the punch I expected from the lime nor its interplay with salt and sweet really never emerged. However, the contrast of the corn and radish was new and exciting. Guests liked this dish, but it wasn’t the best thing on the table. Perhaps it just suffered from relativism. Relatively, the rest of meal was so above par, that this dish was not a standout. Think I might better enjoy a bite of lime-drenched corn on the cob with a nibble of radish mixed in the mouth. But again, perhaps I failed this recipe. Hard to tell.

The recipe: THE BEST BROCCOLI OF YOUR LIFE

The link: http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2008/11/the_best_brocco.html

The review: This broccoli was very good, but the name really had guests expecting the moon. I agree completely that roasting is a far more tasty way of cooking up quite a few hardier veggies. But beyond roasting adding to the favor signature of a dish, this broccoli recipe (at least not in my amateur hands) failed to rise to the level of best. I won’t throw out the recipe. I will just relabel it: Pretty Darn Good Broccoli. 

The recipe: STRAWBERRY-ARGULA SALAD WITH RICOTTA TOPPING

The link: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-strawberryarugula-salad-86114

The review: I was in the kitchen for a quick second packing some take-home bags, when I heard the unmistakable sound of pleasure when guest David took his first bite of this dessert. It was a primitive sound universally understood. His “Ooh!” spoke of a summer day when you bit into a perfectly ripe strawberry that at that particular moment hit all the pleasure centers just right and made your brain say, “Damn, this is good!” I smiled knowing the dessert was a home run! I set the bags down and sat down to serve myself. “Ohh, Indeed!” The argula and the almonds are wildcards of taste and texture, but great wild cards to balance what could be the overpowering sweetness and softness of this dish. And the sweetened ricotta was an amazing accompaniment of cream, lemon and vanilla (oh yeah, I added a touch of vanilla not in the recipe) to the sweetness of the strawberries and raspberries. Again, tempted to eat a sauce by itself with a spoon. But that is just who I am. 

WEEK 3 CHALLENGE – EDIBLE EXOTICA

WEEK ONE CSA CHALLENGE – EXPANDING THE PALATE

I have been dreaming of this day.

 

Today, I picked up my first ever Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce delivery compliments of the fine folks at Edible Earth Farm. Edible Earth is a small, certified organic produce farm north of Tionesta, Pennsylvania. http://edibleearthfarm.com

 

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a CSA, it is an agricultural investment model that allows people to become shareholders in a farmer or farmers’ upcoming crop by buying in before the season begins. Investors share the risks and rewards of food production with the grower/s and hopefully reap substantial profits of produce and/or other consumables throughout the growing season. Pre-paid subscription fees allow growers to invest in equipment and supplies and offer a base return for the incredible work the farmers undertake. A CSA is an awesome way to put your money where your mouth is to live your food ethics and eat well.

 

I picked Edible Earth because it is a certified organic farm that offers weekly deliveries in my area from June to October (about 20 weeks depending on weather). I was impressed with Edible Earth’s website, stories, communication practices and ethic, so I decided to invest…oh yeah, and to get oodles of yummy, nutrient-rich produce for nearly half a year. My personal mission for this – my first – participation in any CSA anywhere is to waste nothing, try everything, cook well, eat happy and share the journey.

 

I found my crate in the stacks and removed a large plastic bag of early spring produce. Happily, the CSA’s kind inclusion of this bag removed my shame of having overlooked bringing my own. I opened the top and took it all in…green, purple, red and fragrant. I searched the bag with my hand and found the enclosed list of produce included and set about trying to match names with vegetables. Being a farm girl, most were easy, but some did prove challenging. Is that mustard greens or broccoli rabe? 

 

So that is what I will be doing. Each week of this growing season, I will share what produce arrives, how I prepare it, how each recipe turns out, third party reviews from some adventurous special guests, links to or the full recipes used, and new discoveries made along the way. Oh, and each week, I will have a unique food challenge to guide my cooking! Enough exposition…let’s get to it!

 

A few of us gathered early at the pick-up site (Allegheny Outfitters), excitedly awaiting the Edible Earth delivery truck. Most subscribers had reusable shopping bags…I apparently missed that advice in the email announcement regarding the arrival of good eats. We chatted expectantly and shopped a bit.

 

Then the folks from Edible Earth arrived and unloaded about 20 lovely wooden crates, each labeled with the last name of the its shareholder and the Edible Earth logo. In the bag was: Siberian Kale, New Red Fire Lettuce, Broccoli Rabe, Bibb Lettuce, Green Onions, Mustard Greens, Oregano, Chive Blossoms, and Spinach.

 

I chatted with the very cool April of Edible Earth and ate raw radishes from scrubbed root to feathery green tip with my friend Piper (Allegheny Outfitters store-owner, fellow shareholder and mega-awesome chick). Then I headed home to prepare for my first week’s challenge with an Internet recipe search session.

 

Week One Challenge: Find and make a brand new recipe for each item of produce and make certain that the recipe included at least one ingredient that I do not like or had been previously reluctant to eat.

 

My theory was that having good food paired with tested recipes would expand my palate and perhaps remove items from my No-Eat List.

 

I will share the recipes and results, but before I do, I will first share what I learned this week.

 

Food for thought

-There are 16 ounces in a pound

-Be adventurous in your eating and your life.

-I am going to grow and eat (the once detested – but now prized) herb, oregano.

-I must bow homage to any culture that made the inclusion of flowers in cooking an art form. However, Mario’s Batali, please consider explaining how to drain ricotta in your Chive Flower Gnocchi recipe. It took me two recipe failures and loads of research to learn that it involves cheesecloth and 24 hours.

-Green onions (also known as spring onions) are just regular onions that are harvested early in the season. Owing to this knowledge, next year, I will not follow suggested onion seed spacing guidelines in my home garden. Instead, I will overplant and enjoy pulling and eating my green onions while leaving the rest of the crop to bulk up in the space absented by their bulb brothers and sisters. And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

 

The recipe: Fish Fillets with Olives and Oregano

The link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Fish-Fillets-with-Olives-and-Oregano-234651

The despised: Brine-cured olives and oregano

The review: FAVORITE ENTRÉE OF THE WEEK! When I finished this dish, the first thing I thought was that I wanted to eat it again the next day. It was amazing how the individual tastes came together to form something wonderful and complementary to the fish…and yet left flavor space for such a (let’s face it) usually bland white fish. This entrée was so good that I have committed to purchasing more fresh oregano and olives to pre-mix, portion and freeze for encores of this elixir. The recipe itself was quite simple and it made me start fantasizing about what else would taste good with oregano or olives or both. Unfortunately, after smelling it, I was too excited to remember to take a photo, so you’ll have to settle for the one featured on Epicurious…which looks almost as good as mine. ; )

 

The recipe: Spring Onion and Pea Soup

The link: http://www.marthastewart.com/341221/spring-onion-and-pea-soup-with-ramp-cros

The despised: Mint

The review: In a week of superlative nosh and despite my Initial dread of the mint garnish on this soup, it was my best discovery of the week. You can bet that more spring onions and peas will be located quickly and batches of soup will be squirreled away in the freezer for winter eating….believe it or not with loads of mint.

 

The recipe: Linguine with Broccoli Rabe and Walnut Pesto

The link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/linguine-with-broccoli-ra_n_1058527.html

The despised: Broccoli Rabe

The review: I will admit, broccoli rabe is actually what gave me pause about this recipe. Owing to their weed-like appearance, broccoli rabe was on my not-in-this-lifetime list. However, this unique pesto was super yummy! So much food, so little time. So I tasted and packaged, labeled and froze for a quick meal during a week when I do no have such an embarrassment of food riches.

 

The recipe: Quinoa and Kale Salad with Apricots

The link: http://www.runnersworld.com/recipes/quinoa-kale-salad-with-fresh-apricots

The despised: Apricots and Kefir

For the record, I object to this kefir ,not this Kiefer 

The review: Though I have never been able to get kefer past my lips and apricots have never seen the inside of my shopping cart, this recipe’s considerable healthful punch intrigued me into trying it. This salad was easy to make, delicious and it fueled me through an awesome run later that afternoon. If I added a bit more quinoa and threw in a little Chia, this salad would also satisfy me as a meal. The apricots balanced wonderfully against the slightly bitter bite of the kale and the lemon tang of the kefer. This one will stay in the front of the recipe file! BTW, I file recipes by my desire to eat them again. Thanks to this recipe, kefer saved my pancakes! I was just about to stop eating pancakes. The thrill was gone. I had run out of milk and there it was…the half full kefer bottle. So I used it and a little water instead. It added an incredible taste (and some higher class vitamins, minerals and micro-organisms to my griddle cakes) and gave it an exciting texture contrast. Still crispy and golden on the outside, but airier and more batter-like – though fully cooked – on the inside.

 

The recipe: Butter Lettuce Soup

The link: http://www.weareneverfull.com/lettuce-convince-you-butter-lettuce-soup-is-good/#sthash.c7hfwSQ6.dpbs

The despised: Buttermilk, Sherry and Lettuce Soup just sounds creepy

The review: Another great soup! I think my eating issues have come from trying things singularly. I might not like drinking buttermilk and the smell of sherry in the bottle might put me off my kibble, but blended together in the proper proportions and mixed with other complimentary tastes, I might come to like any foodstuff. And with so many incredible cooks and chefs out there creating such fantastic recipes, there is no reason not to enjoy. Even if I personally have a tin palate for combining much past peanut butter and jelly.

 

The recipe: Indian Style Mustard Greens

The link: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/indian-style-mustard-greens

The despised: Jalapeños

The review: Mustard greens have never been my idea of a scrumptious leaf and jalapeños – though tasty – often deliver more pain than pleasure to my mouth and digestive system. That said, I was apprehensive about tasting this concoction when completed. I won’t say it was my personal favorite of the week, but it was yummy enough to make me search searching for naan recipes and endive upon which to enjoy it. And it all fairness to this recipe, family members who tasted the greens said things like, “Damn, that is tastes like more.” In fact, they went over so well, that they were gone before I remembered to take a photo. Included is the “Food & Wine” photo of this dish.

 

The recipe: Large Gnocchi with Chive Flowers

The link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/large-gnocchi-with-chive-flowers-gnocchi-con-la-erba-cipollina-fiorisce-recipe.html

The despised: Chive Flowers (okay, not exactly despised…more like unknown and suspect)

The review: Although the chive flower is something I have put in arrangements, I have never considered putting them in my belly. It has always seemed more livestock fodder than cuisine. To make things more challenging, I didn’t see how the recipe could work. There just seemed to be too little binder to hold together the dumpling when it hit the boiling water.

 

My instincts proved prophetic as my first attempt quickly exploded in the pot…half disintegrating, half becoming a ring of boiled-on pan residue while sad, drown, wilted chive blossoms bobbing in grief of their passing. I salvaged the still unused gnocchi dough and blended it into an asiago-ricotta-chive flower purée that I would repurpose into stuffed shells.

 

 

I read the recipe over and over. I searched for tutorial videos to no avail. Then I thought it had to be the cheese. I live in a spectacularly beautiful rural setting. However, owing to our small population, specialty food shops have not chosen to locate here. Hence, no Montasio cheese to be had. Reading online that Mantasio was somewhat like an Asiago but more with the taste of a Swiss, I put on my Alton Brown substitution spectacles and used aged Asiago. Had I spoken with Alton before I trying this hunch, he would have given it the thumbs down. The Asiago I purchased was an aged, crumbly cheese. Montasio is a raw, softer cheese that actually serves as a binder in the recipe.

 

Determined to prevail, I journeyed 60 miles to a larger community where – unfortunately – they were fresh out of Montasio cheese. But the store’s cheesemonger advised me on substitutes. She suggested raw Asiago that has much more binding capability.

 

Again, I prepared the dough and tucked the fragrant scallions and a beautiful purple blossom into a gnocchi and hesitantly dropped it into the boiling pot. It took longer than the first trial, but again the gnocchi cocoon exploded.

 

I scoured the net, reading everything written on chive flower gnocchi. Nothing, nothing, nothing…wait, this recipe is different. Where Mario instructs users to simply drain the ricotta, this recipe tells you to drain the ricotta in cheesecloth over a 24-hour period. And to apply pressure to the cheese/cheesecloth bundle to eek out every possible molecule of moisture. Perhaps this is the answer. But should I repurpose this second batch and start again…and then drive again for new cheese supplies? 

 

Wait, this new recipe also says that if your gnocchi explodes, it is likely that the ricotta is too wet and to try adding an egg white to the mixture. Got it. Freshly boiling pot…whipped egg white blended…spoon to hold under the gnocchi to protect it from the fiercest buffeting of the boiling water. Drop…okay…no burst. Can I take away the spoon and allow the bubbles to collide with the pasta? Nope, a chunk broke away. Can I stand holding a spoon under each gnocchi as it cooks 8 to 12 minutes in boiling water? No way. Looks like another batch of stuffed shells. But I did finish this one gnocchi. I plated it and tasted it without the butter sage sauce to really examine the flavor. It was gorgeous to cut into the dough and see the surprise of the chive flower. And the taste was out of this world.

Determined to get it right, I started over with a very small batch. Ricotta drained correctly, it was basically a cinch. Though tasters were in love with the butter-sage sauce and indeed the taste of the gnocchi itself, they were a bit skeptical of the pasta’s white, gooey appearance. I think next time, I will try to brown the gnocchi in the butter sauce just a bit before serving.

 

NEXT WEEK’S CHALLENGE: THE DINNER PARTY