Thursday, September 30, 2010

Not Giving Up Yet

If I was judging by its beauty alone, it would one of my favorite vegetables. I love the contrast of the dark green leaves and the neon pink stem. I can practically see the vitamins and minerals inside.

But unlike looking at a million other pretty vegetables, I fail to get excited about chard. Instead finding a way to cook it seems like work. So last week when I opened my box and saw it inside, I did a silent groan inside. What was I going to do with that?

The answer is usually the same – soup. But having just had two weeks of soup, I had to stretch a bit further. After momentarily considering putting it in a vase on the kitchen table, I decided I was up to the challenge. After all, I only have a few more weeks of vegetables left. Finding out how to love vegetables I never knew I could is part of the fun of having a CSA share. I couldn’t turn back now.

While it wasn’t exactly inspirational, an idea came to me quite quickly. I was using up some flatbread and making a personal pan pizza when the chard caught my eye poking out of the crisper drawer. I’m a big fan of spinach on pizza, so why not chard? I started by topping my crust with a Laughing Cow cheese spread before adding tomato sauce. On top of that I added the chard (minus the stem), Kalamata olives, a bit of fresh mozzarella and blue cheese sprinkles. I know it sounds a little heavy on the cheese, but I’m from Wisconsin, so I’m used to it. The cheese blend went nicely with the bitter chard and salty olives.

For the rest of the chard I made Stuffed Swiss Chard from my Bon Appétit Vegetables cookbook. Similar to cabbage rolls, rice and vegetables are wrapped inside the chard and then cooked in tomato sauce. The stuffing included brown rice, onions, garlic, parsley, cabbage and mushrooms. I had cabbage to use from my CSA box, making the recipe a two-fer.

After steaming the chard to make it pliable, I wrapped it around a couple teaspoons of the stuffing before cooking the little green and pink packages in tomato sauce. The secret ingredient in the sauce was cinnamon, which made the kitchen smell a little exotic. The stuffed chard was topped with feta cheese, which went well with the cinnamon-tomato sauce.

Overall, the recipe was a success, except for the fact that I added too much parsley. It overpowered everything else, and reminded me that I don’t really like parsley. But then again, maybe I just haven’t found the right recipe yet. I’m beginning to see the beauty in all vegetables.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Soup Diet

I’ve finally begun to embrace fall. This comes with the endless whir of my blender and gallons of soup just as summer temperatures seem to be returning. No matter, though, I’m enjoying all my creations even as I’m dabbing the perspiration from my brow.

It all started two weeks ago when cauliflower appeared in my CSA box. I don’t have anythingagainst cauliflower, but I don’t really love it either. When I see it on a vegetable tray I avoid it unless the olives and broccoli have already been eaten. And cooked, my preference leans toward cheese topped or in a cream-based soup.

I set out to find a different way to cook it and use up some of my other vegetables and was
excited to find a recipe for Cauliflower and Kohlrabi soup.The recipe calls for roasting the cauliflower and kohlrabi, then cooking them in chicken broth, before pureeing them and adding cream. I used skim milk instead to make it creamy and little healthier, but I didn’t notice the difference. It was fabulous and will become my new go-to cauliflower recipe. I added a little Parmesan to the top and it was much better than any cream of cauliflower soup I’ve tasted anywhere else, and better for me too.

Next, I moved on to the leeks in my CSA box. My employer was having a slow cooker potluck lunch as a United Way fundraiser, so I made curried lentil, leek, and kale soup, using up the kale from my delivery. I like plain curried lentil soup, and was pleased to find that the lentils and kale added a little something extra to it.

I used the other leek this past Sunday to make potato, leek, and ham soup, which cooked all day while I went to a new volunteer position. I was volunteering for the REAP Farm-School-Program, which provides fruit and vegetable snacks to local schools. This week the snack was cherry tomatoes and my job was to sort through the tomatoes for the ones without cracks, discarding the ones that couldn’t be used into large plastic buckets. Later I helped seal the cherries in snack-sized portions and label them for the schools.

I was even able to take some of the discards home with me. And when I say some, I mean a lot, like a garbage-bag-full. While they weren’t very appealing raw, I knew they would make great soup. I threw the bag over my shoulder and took them home to my waiting slow cooker of potato, leek, and ham soup, which I ate while I made my tomato soup.

To make the tomato soup, I altered a recipe from Cooking Light for Creamy Balsamic Tomato Soup. I roasted the tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, beef broth, and brown sugar before pureeing them in the blender. Next, I put them all through my food mill to take out any skins or seeds, a step I had often skipped in the past. The extra step was definitely worth it. The soup was so creamy and I didn’t bite into one errant seed. And the soup was so good as is, I didn’t even bother adding the cream.

So now only the tomato soup remains. I’ve had it for lunch and dinner today even as the heat rises outside. I picked up a new box of vegetables yesterday, but they’ll have to wait until I’m done with the tomato soup. I haven’t decided if soup is still on the menu. That will all depend on the weather. Or not.

Monday, September 13, 2010

BLT – Finally

After dreaming of it for so long, I finally made my first BLT last week. And how was it? Pretty darn good. It also felt good to finally satisfy this craving. It’s unbelievable how something so unassuming can rise to such heights. I may be getting a little dramatic, but the fact that I’ve been thinking about this BLT all summer, is probably why I enjoyed it so much.

Like most of everything I made this summer my BLT took a little planning, namely remembering to buy bacon and eating it before it got moldy. I thought about making a gourmet version that a friend had recommended after I blogged about my moldy bacon last time, but I didn’t remember to check the recipe before I left for the store.

I also didn’t remember to check my mayonnaise supply and my BLT was almost thwarted this time because of the lack of this sandwich spread. I was able to scrape enough out of the jar for my first two before I ran out. For my third – I ate them three days in a row for lunch, not in one sitting – I substituted jarred green goddess salad dressing. This is the one flavor of store-bought salad dressing I haven’t made on my own, so I usually have a jar in the refrigerator. It tastes particularly good on a taco salad, but it turns out, not that great on a BLT.

I’m not a huge fan of standing over a stove dodging splattering grease, so I usually make bacon in the microwave. It’s easier, but it comes out chewier that I like it. This time I decided to try making it in the oven as I remembered a friend doing. I baked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, which was just a few minutes too long. Since I didn’t have to tend to the bacon over the stove I was able to get some other work done around the house while it cooked. I checked it at 15 minutes and decided it wasn’t crispy enough so I put it back in the oven for five more minutes, which turned out to be a little too long for the pieces on the end. They were pretty well done, but they still tasted good. This was still bacon, after all.

After a summer of trying some pretty crazy things (beet burgers come to mind) returning to the classic BLT just as summer ends seems just about right. I have some bacon left in the package and, if I don’t eat it for breakfast, I will revisit this classic again. I just need to remember to get mayonnaise from the store. For this old classic, it’s the only dressing that will do.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What is My Recipe?

This is the first post in what I hope will be many for the FoodBuzz Project Food Blog Challenge. I am competing, along with more than a thousand other food bloggers, in a series of blog challenges to win prizes including a featured blog on This is my response to the first challenge, which asks participants to create a post that defines them as a food blogger and that tells the reader why they should be the next food blog star. The entry will be voted on by judges and other participants. Readers can vote too, for a special reader's choice designation, but you will need to register at FoodBuzz. To vote for me, click on the Project Food Blog ad at right starting September 20.

So what makes me different as a food blogger? Like any good recipe, it’s the combination of ingredients:

Cooking By The Box Recipe
One Part Local, Fresh, Organic Vegetables
One Part Memories and Reflections
One Part Creativity
One Part Practicality and Midwest Sensibility

One Part Local, Fresh, Organic Vegetables
Local, fresh, organic vegetables from my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share are the main ingredients of this blog. This was my third summer buying a CSA share, but my first writing about it. My intent was to keep a record of recipes so that next year, as in the past, I wouldn’t have to scramble to come up with ideas each week.

I hoped writing it down would help me remember the creative uses for the tried and true vegetables like cucumber and zucchini, and those that stumped me, such as fennel and eggplant. That was the goal, but writing week after week has become more than just an account of what I cooked. Which leads me to the second ingredient.

One Part Memories and Reflections
I was born and raised in Wisconsin, only two hours from where I live now. While the land is slightly different, my CSA offers me many of the same vegetables I ate as a child. The tomatoes, squash and yes, even beets, are the foods that nurtured and sustained me, my family, and ancestors before them. Each time I grasp one, it’s as if someone from my past has handed it to me, whispering a story I have long known and that I can’t help but tell again.

For every post I write that talks strictly about a recipe, you’ll find one that celebrates the memory of a different time or place, or the cook who made it best. I think this is one of the best parts of eating and I’m glad to celebrate it.

One Part Creativity
Eating the same vegetables over and over again all summer long could get boring if I didn’t change things up a bit from week to week. While I enjoy the family favorites I can make by heart, I also love the unexpected new favorites I find along the way.

Trying new things with old favorites and seeing vegetables I don’t necessarily love in a new way nourishes my body and soul. Writing about it here is the way I share the meals I make even when we can’t gather around the same table to enjoy them.

One Part Practicality and Midwest Sensibility
On the other side of creativity lives practicality. This is the part of me that sees my CSA share as a business agreement. I signed up for it and I need to take it seriously. I must eat every vegetable I paid for and not let anything go to waste. Thankfully, this is also the part of me that knows in the Midwest summer does not last forever, and who is adept at finding ways to preserve the extra bounty of summer for the long winter months ahead.

When this part of me takes over, the recipes may not be as fun as when I’m feeling creative, but I’ll thank me when I take the first bite of a hot stew filled with summer-preserved tomatoes when my CSA share is just a memory.

So What Does it Make?
If I could really mix all these ingredients together, I’m not sure what it would taste like, although, for some reason macaroni and cheese with some fresh vegetables to make it a little healthier comes to mind. Whatever form you imagine these ingredients baking into, I hope it tastes familiar enough to feel a little comforting. I also hope it keeps you guessing too. In my mind, that’s the perfect recipe for the next food blog star.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It Sure Feels Like Fall

It seems like fall has arrived right on time as September arrived. Fall-like weather pulled in following the torrential rain Thursday night. Perhaps, not coincidentally, my slow cooker made an appearance on the kitchen counter this week. I had heard word of the approaching cold front and thought it would perfect timing to try a recipe I saw in the Isthmus last week.

The recipe for Eggplant Sausage Stew appeared in an article by Terese Allen discussing the problem that is the eggplant. It seems I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what to do with them. I don’t like any of the usual recipes, such as baba ganoush, eggplant Parmesan, or ratatouille. Unlike beets, which I’ve learned to like, I don’t really care for the purple vegetable anyway you slice it. I’ll tolerate it in moussaka, because of the heavily spiced meat and béchamel sauce, but if I had my choice, I’d replace with it zucchini in a heartbeat.

The other recipe, Eggplant Curry Pizza, covered the taste of the eggplant in curry sauce and then used them as a topping for pizza. Although I love curry, I wasn’t sure I could stomach a pizza where curried eggplant was the main ingredient.

The Eggplant Sausage Stew called for spicy Italian sausage, which I substituted with turkey sausage for no other reason than I know where it is on the shelf in the grocery store. Since I don’t buy meat very often, it’s the same way I buy most meat.

I made the stew early in the week before the temperature dropped, on a night when I knew I would be getting home from work late. It smelled so welcoming to open the door to a home-cooked meal. I did a little prep work, such as browning the turkey sausage, onions, garlic and eggplant the night before and then including all the other ingredients together in the slow cooker before I left for work.

As with other recipes I’ve converted to the slow cooker, it worked quite well, with the tomatoes cooking down during the day and melding with the other ingredients. The only thing I noticed was that the stew tasted very boozy. Sure enough, afterwards I did a little research and found some evidence that less moisture is lost during slow cooking, making less of the alcohol evaporate. Next time I will use a little less wine and substitute either water or broth for the rest. Overall the stew was wonderful and will find a permanent place in my recipe binder. I'm glad to say I've found a new way to eat eggplant.

Because I’m not ready to say goodbye to summer, entirely I made a cold Thai cucumber salad to go with my stew. I made it earlier this year for a Thai cooking club dinner, but this time I only used what I had on hand. The complete recipe is listed in the recipe panel, but I only used a few ingredients in this week's rendition. It actually turned out quite well. Mine included 1 chopped cucumber, 1 clove crushed garlic, a few sprigs of parsley chopped, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons of lime juice, a dash of sugar, and chopped peanuts. It was completely different than the stew and made me remember that summer really isn’t over yet. At least I hope not.