Friday, August 31, 2012

CSA Meals - The Times They Are A-Changin'

As I mentioned yesterday, the last few weeks of August have been overwhelming in the best way. Simultaneously, work is getting busier, and I've been thinking about ways to improve my blog. I'm interested in making a change and streamlining the content so I'm not just dumping a week's worth of meals into one post.

Excitement is not always the first thing I feel about my writing my weekly CSA summaries, but last week Davy and I joined forces to make a truly dynamite dinner. Aside from feeling satisfied because it was healthy, uncomplicated and composed of mostly local ingredients, I couldn't wait to share it. This led me to the idea of reporting on a "meal of the week," be it one I've made, a restaurant visit, or any memorable experience involving food. 

As our summer share comes to a close, I thought I'd start the transition with the dinner that inspired me. 

Our air conditioning was finally fixed last week, and I didn't waste any time firing up the oven (these were the first on my list). Once I got some baking out of my system, I made use of our cool kitchen to make sherry cherry tomatoes, a favorite in our house that's been neglected this year. I've written about them before, and am happy to share the recipe if any of you are interested.

It helps to start with homegrown or CSA cherry tomatoes, and the different colors made the end result even more attractive.

I love this recipe because it's extremely versatile, and could be eaten as a main course, snack, or side dish, served over pasta, smushed on top of crusty bread, mixed into a salad, or scooped up with a fork under a layer of broiled cheese. On this particular night, we chose to grill thick slices of Billy Bread in order to more efficiently shovel the tomatoes in.

While both of us probably could have subsisted on sherry cherry tomatoes alone, I'd also gotten a beautiful piece of rockfish from Yellow Umbrella (they also supplied the bread). Before Davy took it out to the grill, I adorned it with olive oil, sprigs of thyme, a spritz of lemon juice, and minced Thai chili peppers. It was extremely tender and the flavors added just enough without overpowering the fish. The before and after are below. 

At this point you're probably sick of hearing me talk about padron peppers, but I can't help myself. We grilled those, too, and they were even better than they were blistered in a pan (which I wasn't sure was possible).

There's nothing revolutionary about this meal, but it served as a timely reminder to me that simple is often better, in food and in writing.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 17

Between fantasy football drafts, Davy's birthday, book club, Tex's birthday, and a trip to Chincoteague for Labor Day, I haven't had much time to think. Some emergency Amy's macaroni and cheese hit the spot last night for a late dinner, along with a big salad featuring carrots, cucumber, sweet pepper, and edamame. Everything that doesn't get eaten before tomorrow, which will probably be most of the following is going to come with us for the weekend:

- various sweet peppers

- various hot peppers

- red onion

- okra

- salsa kit 

- rosemary

- carrots

Friday, August 24, 2012

CSA Meals - Week 15

It's never easy to come back from vacation, especially after a week-long trip to the beach that involves multiple gourmet dinners. This year's features were steaks on the grill, lobster, breakfast for dinner, shrimp pasta, and the ever-popular pizza night. Cary and Brian outdid themselves yet again, with the traditional margherita, a spicy jalapeno and pepperoni pie, and an extra special clams casino pizza.

Jalapeno Pepperoni
Clams Casino

The back-to-reality blow was even harder this year since our house was still without air conditioning. I was hoping to score some burrata from River City Cellars to eat with fresh tomatoes and ease our pain a little bit, but, sadly, they were out of it. Instead I took home two other varieties of cheese and a new jar of spicy plum chutney, and we had another dinner with bread, cheese, Hungarian salame, and steamed edamame.

Sticking with the stove-free theme, I made a chickpea salad later in the week, minus the lettuce wraps. The poblano peppers from our share, which I diced and added at the last minute, added a little heat and extra crunch to the dish.

I put together another lettuce-free salad for lunch one day, inspired by this recipe for Mediterranean Chopped Salad from Serious Eats. Instead of onion, I added some garlic to the dressing, and was pleased with the results. I rarely think to add much besides oil and vinegar or lemon juice when I'm making dressing, but the presence of mustard makes a big difference.

One of my favorite annual events, the Hanover Firefighters Crab Feast, took place on Saturday. My parents made their second appearance, and Evan made the drive north to participate.

After the copious amounts of crab and beer, and even a few hot dogs, we relaxed, ordered a pizza, and munched on raw Dragon Tongue beans, which were sweet and crisp.

By Monday, Davy and I ended our oven moratorium. The weather was slightly cooler, and he put together an impressive pan of nachos with ground chicken, a few tomatoes, sweet peppers, salsa, lettuce, cilantro, and plenty of cheese. The oven was on at 450 degrees for fifteen minutes or so, and we barely suffered (only the cheese melted).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 16

Amy mentioned in her latest email that there are only two weeks left in the summer CSA, and I'm still in shock. How is August almost over? I know it's been cooler, and the days are noticeably shorter, but I'm still holding on. There are still plenty of tomatoes and peppers in our share, and I'm going to enjoy as much as possible while I still can. This week, we received:

- assorted sweet peppers

- assorted hot peppers

- yellow roma tomatoes

- purple and red cherry tomatoes

- carrots

- eggplant

- padron peppers (Amy was kind enough to give these to me instead of okra)

- a fragrant bunch of tuberose, pictured below

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 15

Pictured to the left is a Dragon Tongue bean - an heirloom variety that, according to Amy, can be treated like a green bean. We also received:

- new potatoes

- yellow cherry tomatoes

- "Jimmy Nardello" heirloom sweet peppers

- poblano peppers

- onion

- a few other sweet peppers

- Juliet tomatoes (a "petit roma")

- figs, which I bought from Epic Gardens

Friday, August 03, 2012

CSA Meals - Weeks 12 and 13

It's normal to make a big pot of soup when your air conditioning breaks at the end of July, right? The heat of the stove certainly doesn't increase the temperature of the kitchen and surrounding rooms to the point that you just want to leave your house.

I'm not sure making soup in the summer is a good idea even with functioning central air, but I had a significant number of vegetables to work with, and wasn't creative enough to think of another use for them. I chopped potatoes, scraped corn off cobs, cut ribbons of Tex's chard, sliced carrots, and minced garlic in preparation. 

To start, I sauteed the garlic in olive oil in my dutch oven, added the carrots and potatoes to brown them a bit, and then dumped in a mixture of chicken stock, water, and some diced tomatoes that were taking up freezer space. Rosemary, thyme, and a parmesan rind went into the broth to add some flavor, and I let everything simmer for a couple of hours. When I turned off the heat (to Davy's relief), I stirred in a can of rinsed cannellini beans, corn kernels, and the chard. 

The soup rested in the fridge over night, and on Sunday, I made a cross between gremolata and pesto by blending lemon zest, basil, garlic, and olive oil to add a little bit of freshness and citrusy tang.

What I should have made, instead of soup, was something like the Vietnamese chicken salad that we ate earlier in the week. I don't have the source of the recipe, but it includes chicken, napa cabbage, scallions, cilantro, and peanuts. I added grated carrots, and the dressing contains fish sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. It's quick, light, and especially satisfying served over rice noodles.

To go with the salad, we tested out the Padron pepper method I mentioned, and it worked beautifully. 

On average, about one in every ten pepper is supposed to be extremely hot, and the bunch that we got fit that standard. The few that were spicy hit me in a surprising rush of heat and saltiness, which only made me want to eat more.

Luckily, Amy had more Padrons available this week, and Davy and I made another round on Tuesday night. In the interest of not turning our kitchen into a room-sized oven, we ate Hungarian salami, a few cheeses from Caramont, and a makeshift bruschetta with yellow cherry tomatoes and basil marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I will admit to making pasta a few times, despite the unofficial stove ban, but all of our tomatoes were practically begging me to make fresh pasta sauces. There may have been a few tomato and feta sandwiches thrown in as well, which only require the brief, contained heat of a toaster oven.

We're leaving for the Outer Banks tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to bringing the rest of our share and using a kitchen to its fullest capacity without worrying about the temperature ramifications. Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

CSA Meals - Week 11

I once participated in a conversation with a group of people, including a vegetarian friend, about why she decided to give up meat and how she went about it. She said something that's stayed with me, which was that her family didn't center their dinners around meat every night. 

It struck me that, despite the fact that I consider myself to be a healthy eater, I normally start planning meals based on the protein rather than the vegetables. Even though I think about my friend's words fairly often, I never made much of an effort to put the idea into practice.

Three or four years have passed since then, and this is the first CSA season in which I'm really noticing a difference in the way I approach cooking and eating. I'm getting better about using our fresh, weekly produce items as building blocks instead of side dishes.

We still had potatoes from Week 10 and ate them thinly sliced, off the grill. Davy always manages to season them perfectly, and they accompanied grilled tile fish and raw green beans.

Wednesday marked a turning point in the summer. I was completely worn out from the heat, and had no desire to make dinner until I saw the cover of my neglected Bon Appetit. August's cover recipe is an open-faced tomato and feta sandwich. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of it before, but it's a genius way to feature ripe tomatoes. 

I didn't even have to go to the store to make these for dinner now that we have an oregano plant, and Davy and I both loved them. 

The simplicity of this method even allowed me the time to chop a bell pepper and cucumbers from my parents' garden to use throughout the week. For not saving that much time, I certainly felt like I'd accomplished a lot whenever I took out the prepared vegetables.

We used some of them for a chopped salad with tomato, feta, and basil alongside pork nachos, and more the next night in a salad when we ordered pizza.

The weekend highlights were limited to two more rounds of tomato and feta sandwiches, along with leftover grilled potatoes converted into homefries, and a lemony shrimp pasta dish.

On Tuesday, I went home during my lunch break and made a salad with tomatoes, corn, avocado, hard-boiled egg, lime juice, basil and olive oil.

The salad was not only flavorful and refreshing, it also allowed me to clear several items from my fridge before they were past their prime, and not once did the thought of starting with meat cross my mind.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 13

When I pulled the soy bean stalks out of our CSA bag, I nearly jumped up and down in excitement. Edamame are one of my favorite healthy snacks and addition to recipes. We also got:

- more padron peppers
- sweet bell peppers
- an onion
- cherry tomatoes
- slicing tomatoes
- green beans
- hot peppers (one of which is a mature Padron)