Another Guest Post!

Another Guest Post!

So, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to post this…my only excuse is that I’m on a 5 day lake-vacation with all of my husband’s immediately family…my brain has been a little more on the scattered side than usual!
Aaaaaanyway, I’ve got a guest post up as a “Friday Foodie” atMidwestern Moms. Midwestern Moms is a great blog that specializes in everything from Blog Monetization to Crocheting, so go check it out!
I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

CSA Summer: Produce EVERYWHERE!

CSA Summer: Produce EVERYWHERE!

Okay. Confession time…again.

I am slightly overwhelmed. It’s like someone planted a garden in our fridge awhile back, and what was quietly growing in there suddenly EXPLODED.

Need some juice? A piece of cheese, maybe? Okay, sure…but only if you can find it amidst the green bags FILLED WITHVEGETABLES.

Am I complaining? Absolutely not. Am I overwhelmed? Again, yeah. Totally.

I had all these big plans of regular, weekly CSA updates, complete with a bajillion photos and great how-to information. That, obviously, is not the case. I’ll admit, this last weekend was pretty full… Not a whole lot of opportunities to do any real cooking…but that’s a flimsy excuse at best.

“So, Lauren,” you ask, “did you guys purchase too large of a share?”

I’ve been thinking about that one, and I say we still made the right decision. So what’s the problem, then? Let me tell you: we have been LAZY. It’s a whole lot easier to throw something together that is easy and familiar than to figure out what the heck to do withChard. Now, if we were continuing to think creatively, and rely more heavily on our CSAproduce, rather than try to fit it in to existing meals, we’d probably be saving about $60 dollars on groceries every two weeks.

So it’s time to re-group. Last night, we meal-planned. I always start this and then crap out (eerily similar to my exercise habits) about three weeks in. Hopefully we can keep this up. This time, though, I’m planning a little differently.
Instead of saying, “On Thursday we shall eat Pesto Pizza. SO IT IS WRITTEN!”, I’ve got ‘meal options,’ that way, if we don’t feel like eating Pesto Pizza on Thursday, we don’t have to…and my OCD doesn’t punch me in the face for screwing up our schedule. I may write day-of-the-week suggestions, based on the age of the produce involved, but they’re not set in stone.

All that being said, we did manage to have a CSA-inspired dinner with our friends. For privacy’s sake, I’ve decided to call them B-Town and J-Sauce. Now, these two are vegetarians…and before you leave immediately for reading the V-word, let me defend myself. Since vegetarian recipes don’t use meat, they are forced to rely on creative ingredients, herbs, and spices. All this means is that you get a much more strategic and flavorful dish. Any carnivore can throw meat in one of the recipes and revel in the flavorful glory of the vegetarian’s resourcefulness.

Aaaaaaanyway, for starters, we had some sauteed Kohlrabi to munch on. We dipped it in tahini and spicy peanut sauce. I’d never had Kohlrabi before, and it was surprisingly good! It was crunchy and tasted like a cross between a turnip and a water chestnut.

For the main meal, we had an awesome salad using Red Fire Lettuce from our CSA, cucumbers, apples, dried cherries, and a yummy balsamic vinaigrette that J-Sauce whipped up. We had sauteed turnips and turnip greens with cashews and raisins, and then we had a variation of Paul’s and my specialty: Spanakopita. This is a Greek Spinach pie, and Paul and I have gotten pretty good at whipping up a big batch of them. This time, however, we made them with Chard, Turnip Greens, and Kale…and they were totally delicious.

Did you notice the pints of beer surrounding the meal? As it turns out, B-Town is a beer enthusiast, and always has a couple home-brews on tap. Here are some descriptions of the beers, straight from the Brewer himself:

“The beers: Belgian Pale Ale, a copper ale with supple, nuanced malt flavors paired with fruity yeast notes. It is nicely balanced with a slightly sweet opening and a clean finish.
Black IPA: Hops! An IPA brewed with roasted malts. The color is black but the roast character is very subdued and blends into a supple malt undertone. The beer is dominated by a citrus/hop character and a grapefruit aroma.”

Sounds tasty, huh? I’m no beer expert, but I had the Belgian Pale Ale and found it to be yummy and refreshing.

Overall, it was a pretty delicious meal. It was nice to eat dinner with people who are a little more acclimated to the CSA way of life than we are. Hopefully we can learn from them and next week you’ll get to read a post that involves a much better utilized round of produce!

CSA Summer: More Week 2 Recipes

CSA Summer: More Week 2 Recipes

Oh, geeze… Week 3 of our CSASummer is almost over, and I still haven’t posted the rest of our creations from Week 2!

Remember when I was worried that we weren’t getting as much produce as I had hoped for? Let’s just pretend I never said that…We get more veggies on Wednesday and our fridge is still full of green bags! For those of you who wanted to know if $20 a week was worth it…IT TOTALLYIS!

Since I don’t have nearly as much time as I do produce, I don’t think I’m going to be doing a step-by-step how-to for all of these dishes…I’ll be sure to give some general directions, though. If, however, you see something you’re interested in, just post in the comments and I’ll give a more detailed description of the process!

One of my favorite things to make is Quiche. It’s easy to prep and only takes about 35 minutes in the oven. I found a general Easy Quiche recipe that I love to adapt to my ingredients, which in this instance was asparagus. We got a beautiful purple and green bunch of the stuff, so I decided to make cheddar, asparagus, and onion quiche. So, to get started, I roasted my veggies for about 7 or so minutes in olive oil and salt and pepper, just to give the cooking process a little head start.

This recipe calls for pre-made crust, which I have no shame in saying I love, and offers a great tip: Pre-bake the crust about ¾ of the way, so that the crust isn’t mushy on the bottom of the quiche. I just threw it in with the veggies to prebake. Mix all the remaining ingredients together and throw em’ in the crust.

Now all you have to do is pop it in a 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes. To check it, I stick a toothpick in the middle to make sure it’s clean. When you pull it out of the oven, the center should just be barely jiggly, as it will finish cooking as it sits.

This is great for supper, and the leftovers (if there are any) are awesome for breakfast!

I promised some creative uses for greens, didn’t I?

Now, I love salads, I do. I also enjoy sauteed greens…but I have a feeling we’ve got a few more weeks of Green abundance, and I don’t want to get sick of them. Luckily, I have found a delicious and, more importantly, versatile option.

Pesto.

There are plenty of recipes for lettuce pesto out there, and they all look great. But I decided to make up my own. The result? Local Lettuce, Basil, and Pistachio Pesto.

Ingredients?
Lettuce (Butter and Romaine to be exact)
Basil
Olive Oil
5 or so cloves of Garlic (depending on how serious of a vampire problem you have)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Parmesan Cheese
Pistachios

Roughly chop the garlic and pistachios up in the food processor first, throw in your greens and cheese a few handfuls at a time, then blend till creamy while drizzling the olive oil in through the spout.

This pesto isn’t quite as sharp as regular all-Basil pesto, but it’s still delicious, and there are so many things you can do with it. I made a quick lunch by adding pesto to some noodles and veggies, and we also made a light and flavorful pesto pizza for a stress-free dinner.

I used Pillsbury pizza dough, pre-baked it for a few minutes, and spread on some pesto. All you do after that is throw on your favorite pizza toppings, continue baking at the dough-recommended temperature, and pull it out when the crust gets golden.

Paul and I have a good time making elaborate meals, but most of the time, we appreciate the easy stuff. Hopefully you guys will find these ideas helpful, and I’d love to collect suggestions! Remember, if you’d like more details, just let me know!

Our CSA: Wrappin’ Up Week 2

Our CSA: Wrappin’ Up Week 2

It’s taken us awhile to actually get crackin’ on this week’s vegetables! Thank goodness forGreen Bags! Seriously, though. We’ve got some friends who are a little more seasoned in thisCSA business, and they suggested using Green Bags. With our first batch of veggies, we bought the bags, but didn’t think it was necessary to get them in them right away. So, we threw the veggies in the fridge, thinking, “Oh, we’re going to use them tomorrow…they’ll be fine.” And fine they were, but we’ve since found out that if you put them in green bags as soon as you get them home, they will look almsot exactly the same as you did when you first picked them up. Moral of the story: Buy the green bags.

Here’s what we got (June 1st) last week:

From left to right, that’s: Baby Bok Choi, Asparagus, Carrots, Butter Lettuce, Oak Leaf Lettuce, Fennel, and a nice salad mix.

The whole point of blogging is being honest, so I’m going to just go ahead and say it: That’s a lot of lettuce. When we first got the produce, I looked at all of those greens, and thought: “I can’t possibly eat this much salad.”

What I should have been thinking was: “Hey, self! That’s what eating in season’s all about! Let’s find some creative uses for lettuce!”

So, without further ado, here is one of the ways (other than a salad) we’ve decided to use our ample harvest of greens. I promise I’ve got a much more creative use coming…but that’s for an upcoming post.

What’s better for a summer evening than a wrap? We decided to make Panko-Breaded Chicken Strip Wraps with roasted carrots and turnips.

To start it off, I cut our CSA carrots in half; they’re not giant carrots, so they look really pretty just split in half. I then cut up some beautiful turnips I got from the Old Cheney Farmer’s Market (I forgot which vendor…I’ll find out this Sunday and add it in the comments.) into pieces that were similar in size to the carrots, and threw them in a bowl. Next, I mixed up about a Tbsp. of honey with about a Tbsp. of olive oil, a splash of water, and some salt and pepper. After it was all mixed up, I tossed the honey/oil mixture in with the veggies and swirled them around in the bowl to coat them. Finally, I laid them out flat on a baking sheet. You can go crazy trying to keep all the carrots and turnips from touching…or you can just spread ’em out and call it good.

Here comes the chicken… I’d never used Panko breadcrumbs before, but I’d watched enough Iron Chef to know that they’re awesome. So, in order to coat my chicken strips, I set up a breading station that started with seasoned flour, then a bowl of 3 eggs with a splash of milk, then a bowl of Panko. I know this sounds like a lot of steps, but it all turned out to be pretty delicious…so you should probably just trust me.

I had my lovely husband cut three chicken breasts into strips (because…well, chicken goo…), then began the dipping process. It’s pretty easy. Coat with the flour, dip in the egg, coat with Panko, lay on a baking sheet (or pizza pan covered in tin foil…do what you’ve gotta do).

Once all of the chicken and veggies were coated, I put them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. You can fill this time with hugs and kisses, baby snuggles, playing with your favorite pet, or watching Ally McBeal. Or all of those at the same time. That would be pretty awesome.
Once the 20 minutes are up, take the chicken out and begin assembling your wraps. We used spinach wraps, Farmers’ Market tomatoes, red onions, a big pile of our Robinette Farms salad mix, and some garlic-and-herb mayo. Once your wraps are assembled, your veggies should be lightly golden and singing angelically to you from the oven. This was our result.

I don’t know if I need to add this, but it was delicious. So far, CSA, week two has shaped up quite nicely! Do you guys have any unconventional uses for greens? I think we’ve got another big round of them this week, too!

Operation CSA: Episode 2

Operation CSA: Episode 2

I have to admit that my idea to blog about our CSA adventure this summer didn’t come to me until after we had started chopping vegetables, so for this first episode, I don’t have a picture of the whole spread. Here’s what we got in our firstCSA box:

Baby Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage)
Romaine and Butter Lettuce
Spinach
Harukei Turnips (an early, Japanese variety)
Carrots
Green Garlic

It’s only our first box, and it’s already obvious that we’re going to be trying new things this summer. We kicked off the season by having a little dinner party with some super-cool friends. My usual go-to move with vegetables is to roast them in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. It makes a yummy and healthier side dish, but we decided to do things a little differently. (I still did some veggie-roasting, but switched it up a bit.)

Inspired by the Bok Choy, we decided to go Asian. We made veggie-fried rice, using cashews, tofu, mushrooms, onions, and the CSA carrots, Bok Choy, and green garlic.

Green garlic, you say? Why, yes, I did say. I had never heard of green garlic before. Basically, it’s garlic that has been harvested before the bulb gets a chance to form cloves at the base. It’s got a great, mild garlic taste, and looks like a small onion. Not too mild, though. My fingers still smell like garlic…which I’m okay with.

Paul sauteed all the veggies first, removed them from the pan, scrambled up some eggs(if you don’t already know this, Paul is the Egg King), then threw in the rice (made beforehand) and veggies with some soy-sauce. I made a dipping sauce out of soy sauce, Sriracha, and honey to pour over the rice for some extra flavor.

To go along with our fried rice, I made some Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup. I started out with vegetable base and water. Once it heated up, I added vinegar, soy sauce and cayenne pepper. Unfortunately, I don’t measure when I do this…let’s say a good splash of vinegar, about the same amount of soy sauce, and a few shakes of cayenne. It all depends on your taste. Before I started the soup, I chopped up carrots and turnips, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them in the oven…then I put them in the soup along with some onion and mushroom.

I have to tell you about these turnips…I had never had a turnip before and these wereAMAZING. Let me say it one more time. AMAZING. The only way I can describe the flavor is that they tasted like a radish and a parsnip had a scandalous rendezvous, then produced beautiful, sweet, tender turnip babies… Yeah. That’s what they taste like…and they gave a great all-around flavor to the soup.

Needless to say, with the addition of some spring rolls our friends brought over, we enjoyed our dinner thoroughly.

We also got some greens: spinach, Romaine, and (I think) butter lettuce.

Do you guys remember Rapunzel? In the story, while pregnant with Rapunzel, her mother lusted after this lettuce-like herb (Rampion, or, locally, Rapunzel) in a garden behind their house. It was so delicious-looking, she decided she’d probably die if she didn’t get any.

That’s what these greens looked like to me. They ended up tasting delicious and not getting me or anyone I love thrown up into a tower, so it was pretty much a win/win situation. I’ve been having quite a few yummy salads this week for lunch:

So that was our first week in CSA-world… I would have liked to have gotten more produce than what we got this time around, but it’s early in the season. I’m sure within a few weeks we’ll have more than will fit in our apartment! One thing’s for sure: the flavors of the veggies you get in the grocery store aren’t even in the same realm as the ones we got to eat this last week, and on that front, I couldn’t be happier.

I’ll be writing again in a few days with our next round of produce!

Operation CSA: Pilot Episode

Operation CSA: Pilot Episode

Earlier this spring, we made a pretty cool decision. We joined aCSA. I’ve been talking about this on Facebook and have had a lot of people ask me about it, so I figured it was time for a blog post.

What’s a CSA, you ask?
Well, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. This is when a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” that are available for the public to purchase. These shares are usually a weekly box of vegetables or other goods that are produced on the farm, and can be picked up at the farm or at local drop-off points that are more convenient for shareholders.

There are a lot of reasons why this is awesome…

For us, it means getting to feed our family with food that has been grown and harvested less than 25 miles away from where we live. We have met the people who cultivate this produce with their bare hands, and Charlie has even ridden in a little red wagon with their daughter.

For the farmers, it means getting to market their goods early in the season. When the sun starts beating down and they start pulling bajillion-hour days, they can work knowing that a lot of their produce has already been bought and paid for. With shareholders paying up front, the farm can start the growing season with the funds they need to keep everything running like clockwork. For some more reasons and specifics check out Local Harvest’swebsite.

What I really really love is that it provides us with a way to give back to the community without breaking our budget.

Are you ready for some specifics?

The CSA we joined is a farm out of Martell, NE called Robinette Farms. Owned and operated by a pretty kick-butt family, this farm seems like the perfect place for us to begin our foray into the world of CSA’s. Last Saturday, they held an open house in which members could visit the farm, see the fields, and meet the chickens.

We bought a medium share at $400 and will be getting a box of produce (medium share boxes are supposed to feed 2-3 adults) every week for $20 weeks.

This may bring up questions of budget…as it should. Is this really a necessary expense? Can you really afford $400 up front? That comes out to $20 per box of vegetables…is that really worth it?

Well, we’re not quite sure if it’s a necessary expense. Fresh, local produce is something that is starting to become important to us, and the fact that we are supporting local agriculture is a huge plus. Hopefully, we’ll be able to replace some of our usual groceries by getting creative with all of our vegetables, and consequently save ourselves money in the long run. We decided it was something we wanted to try, and we made it a priority to set money aside. As far as $20 a week being worth it, I guess we’ll find out. Since this is farming, there is some shared risk involved.

The farmers can’t just wake up at the end of Winter and say, “Hey, God…so it’s almost growing season…how about if I agree to stop saying OMG on Facebook, you give us a plentiful harvest…deal?”

We have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes hail beats the crap out of tomatoes, and sometimes it doesn’t rain for weeks. We’re investing in this farm, we’re taking a risk…a risk that we were able to comfortably save for. A risk that allows us to contribute to the community while nourishing our family. Sounds like a pretty good risk to me.

…It also sounds like great blogging material. Be on the lookout for pictures of our weekly boxes and meals using our delicious, uber-fresh, local produce!