Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Catching Up, Part 2...

Week 6
Japanese Eggplant
Green Beans
Summer squash (went with zucchini this time)
Sunjewel Melon (first time seeing one of these)
Carrots (these were purple!)

We were gong away over the weekend, so I wanted to use the most perishable items. I figured those were the eggplants and zucchini.

I found a recipe in Everyday Vegetarian Cooking ("Six Books in One!") that I'd picked up a while ago in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble for $9.98 (price sticker still on it). I'd marked lots of recipes but never got around to trying any of them. This was the day! Conveniently, one of the "Books" (more like chapters) was on "Spinach, Eggplant, and Zucchini," so I started there. However, I found the winner in the "Mixed Vegetable" section (I'm sorry, "book"): "Vegetable and Polenta (Cornmeal) Pie." It was published in Australia, so included British and American names for some of the veggies: Eggplants (aubergines)," "Red capsicum (peppers)," and "Zucchini (courgettes)." I think I may have liked zucchini better if I knew it as "courgettes."

So you're supposed to cook the polenta (and add parmesan), then chill it in a pan in a fridge, then cut it into wedges to place on top of the cooked veggies, which would then be baked in the oven. Forget that, I said. It may look a bit less pretty, but I opted to cook the polenta, add the parm, skip the chilling step, then just spread the polenta on top of the veggies. Along with the zucchini and eggplant (which I salted first), tere was onion, garlic, the aforementioned peppers, and canned (well, boxed in this case) chopped tomatoes. (I skipped the mushrooms, since we didn't have any.)

Veggies were cooked in a pot for 20 minutes (covered), then transferred to a pie dish, covered with the polenta, and baked for 20 minutes till it got crispy.

I perhaps made a few more veggies than intended, or maybe I should have drained the tomatoes, but it ended up bubbling over the edge of the pan. I smelled burning, went to check on it, noticed the smoke in the oven, and quickly opened the window and door and turned on the fan. Alas, it was too late, as the smoke detector confirmed that it is in fact good at detecting smoke. It was just some drips on the bottom of the stove, and the dish itself was fine.

And quite good! I even liked the zucchini part. Maybe because I told myself they were courgettes...

Catching up...

It's been a couple busy weeks, including a trip to Long Island for a wedding, finishing grad school, etc. Within that time frame, we did manage to use some of our CSA bounty. So, before we go pick up today's haul, here's a brief recap:

Week 5:
Summer squash
Kale (selected over chard and collards for a change of pace)

What We Cooked:
Quinoa with Caramelized Leeks
I think this was a variation from the Bittman book. Along with the leeks, I also roasted some beets we had leftover from the previous week and added those on top. I though the roasted beets were quite tasty! (Robertus fessed up that he is not so fond of beets but that it shouldn't stop me from cooking them.) Bonus: This used up one of the two bulk bags of quinoa that we'd had sitting around for a few months.

 Veggie Stir-Fry with Tofu

One thing I have learned from the CSA experience is that if you have a bunch of random veggies to use up, make a stir fry! This one involved kale, kohlrabi, carrots, onion, and peppers (those weren't from the CSA). Not the most exciting dish, but pretty tasty! I didn't mind the kohlrabi as much in this form as when I'd had them before, maybe because I'm used to eating broccoli in stir fry.

Veggie Wrap

This was just a lunch of lettuce, cucumber, a bit of shredded cheddar cheese, and country dijon mustard in a tortilla. Simple, but good.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Robertus Cooks: Pasta with Swiss Chard, Red Pepper, and Onion!

Monday nights have always been a “robertus, go dash off something quick for dinner” kind of night. Because we don't spend a lot (okay, any) time thinking about dinner ahead of time, I wind up falling back on a handful of easy-to-knock-out dishes: Pasta with a jar of sauce, pizza, macaroni and cheese, that sort of thing. Last night was no different. However, because we didn’t do a lot of cooking with our CSA produce over the holiday weekend, we had a fridge full of reasonably fresh vegetables. So, I went with a go-to from our last go-round with the CSA: Pasta with Swiss chard, peppers, and onions.


  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bundle of Swiss chard
  • 1 box of dry pasta (Penne, in this case)
  • 1 emergency bag of baby spinach
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt
  • pepper

I started off by dicing the red pepper and onion, and then pulling the leaves off of the Swiss chard stems. I like to do all the prep work before starting the actual cooking – makes for a less hurried process, plus I can use the cooking time to drink beer clean as I go. Also, ripping plants apart with your bare hands is cathartic after a long Monday in the office.

Throw the peppers in a hot pan with some sunflower oil (or other high-heat oil). After a couple of minutes, add the onion. In the meantime, get a pot of water going and blanche the chard. Take the chard out, pour the pasta in. Use the same water – it’s been infused with chardy goodness, it looks cool, and you get to be lazy. It’s a win/win/win.   

mmmm paaaaastaaaaa
We do have other plates
Turn down the heat on the peppers and onions. Dice up a clove of garlic, and take a knife to the lump-o-chard. Add those in with a little water and cover. The chard shrank like nobody’s business, and so I wound up adding some baby leaf spinach to the pan. The spinach also shrank like nobody’s business, but at that point, I was out of leafy green vegetables to throw in. Let all that stuff cook down a bit, but don’t overcook it. Invariably, I take the pan off the heat for extended stretches of time, because our stovetop is terrible. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the vegetable mixture, add salt and pepper to taste. 

Once everything is mostly cooked, drain the pasta in a colander, making sure not to pour half of the scalding water on your legs like I did, like an idiot. Throw a little olive oil on the pasta, salt and pepper to taste, top thoroughly with the vegetables and fistfulls of parm, and serve.
Easy like Monday evening. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Using Cabbage in a Dal

First, thanks to HowChow for mentioning this blog in a post. I've been reading HowChow for years, and it's helped keep me up on what's happening in the Howard County restaurant scene.

I got a little behind in the posting because of the holiday weekend. I did manage to use some produce, though! A few lunches were not really worthy of a writeup: wraps with lettuce, cucumber, mustard, and shredded cheddar. Easy and good!

Then there was Saturday night's dal. I tried to find a recipe using some of our remaining produce, along with items already in our pantry. Mark Bittman to the rescue! I located a recipe for "Mixed Whole-Bean Dal with Walnuts" in his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The original recipe calls for tomato paste, but there's a variation listed afterward that in which the tomato place is replaced with...2 cups of chopped cabbage. Seems like an odd substitution, but OK.
Dal with Cabbage

That wasn't the only variation I made. We had whole walnuts, but I didn't feel like breaking out the food processor, so I left them out. Of the beans he listed, we just had some dried navy beans (bulk from Roots market in Clarksville), so it wasn't so much a "mixed" dal. Our last attempt at cooking dried beans, some black beans, was a bit disastrous and ended up with us just opening a can of them instead. But the navy beans looked closer to the size of lentils, which I've cooked in about a half hour. So I figured the navy beans would be done in an hour. Please, the recipe said that soaking them was optional.

All I can say is, it's a good thing I started dinner early. Trying to get risotto rice to absorb water was nothing compared to these beans! I tried starting gently liked the recipe said. After a half hour, I could bite into them, but they were still too firm. I figured it might take another half hour. After 45 more minutes passed, I had to give up on the more gentle method. In a part of the book on cooking dried beans (which I clearly should have read first!) he says you should never hard boil them like pasta. Well, that's what I had to do.

A half hour later, they were close! Perhaps we wouldn't have to order a pizza after all... About 15 minutes later, it was ready to serve. The beans weren't creamy like they should have been, but it was still delicious. And the cabbage had melted into almost nothing--just absorbed the flavor of the garam masala such that it was almost unrecognizable.

So it tasted very good, but next time, I'm going to soak the beans first, or start much earlier! On the plus side, the house was filled with the wonderfully sweet scent of garam masala.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Week 4: The Goods!

Ventured out in the blistering heat this afternoon to get our CSA take. This week's items are all familiar to me:
The blackboard whee they list what we get.
  • Carrots
  • Garlic (they noted that these are uncured, so should be used quickly or refrigerated)
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce (red leaf)
  • Cabbage (just a standard head of cabbage, no Napa this time)
  • Onions (white)
  • Cucumbers (so many cucumbers!)
  • Squash (went with yellow--these were more round than long)
  • Chard (had choice of that, kale or "baby Hakurei salad turnips")

Guess I could have been adventurous and gone with the turnips, but we always manage to use the chard, so I opted to go with that.

On this hot evening, I think I'll use some carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce for a nice, light salad. I think it's supposed to be cooler tomorrow, so I'll try some actual cooking then.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Don't judge a veggie by its alien-like appearance

We were out much of the weekend, so the only CSA item I used was some lettuce in a wrap (I know, exciting!)

But last night, I knew it was try the kohlrabi! I forgot to take a picture of mine, but it was the pinkish-purple variety:

It really does not look like something you are supposed to eat, but I wanted to try it. Unfortunately, my cookbooks had little to say about it, so I had to look online. Many recipes called for it raw, but I wanted a cooked option for dinner.

Then I happened upon this recipe in The New York Times:

Kohlrabi Risotto

I was familiar with risotto--I'd made it multiple times with general success. Plus, we had all the ingredients listed. So I decided to take the plunge.

I'm glad the Times article included directions on prepping the kohlrabi. Otherwise, I would not have known that I had to peel off the outer, pink layer, then peel an additional layer, lest I risk getting strings stuck in my throat. Oh boy, this is sounding more tempting by the minute! I mistakenly thought peeling it would be like peeling an onion, but it was much more difficult, even after I cut off the ends. After struggling a bit to peel it like an orange, I gave up and just cut off the sides with the peel.

It broccoli. I chopped it up as indicated in the recipe. I also used one of the white onions from our CSA share, and used a bit of the parsley in the end.

Making the risotto involved the usual frequent stirring and the thought that it would never be ready. Come on, rice, ABSORB! But finally, it was.

Yeah, I need to work on my plating!
Then I tried it. The risotto part was great (I actually used wine in it for a change, so I think that helped). The kohlrabi part tasted like...slightly milder broccoli. It had the texture of maybe a lightly cooked carrot? Or a lightly cooked broccoli stem.

So this exotic-looking vegetable turned out to be a bit of a letdown. I'm not saying it wasn't good, just that I could get a similar flavor profile in a vegetable that's sold in every grocery store.

I think if we get them again, I'll go for an Indian or stir-fry preparation, as mentioned in a few places online. I could try it raw, but I'm not really a fan of raw broccoli, so I'm pretty sure of how that will taste.

Looking forward to finding out what's in tomorrow's box!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cucumber salad

Cucumber, radish, and parsley salad with Drew's Rosemary Balsamic Viniagrette (plus some salt & pepper).

Cucumbers and parsley were delicious! However, I have confirmed that I still do not care for radishes.

Napa Cabbage with Tofu

Sometimes cooking goes smoothly. Other times, you drop a big hunk of tofu on the floor, and the rice boils over. I miss having a gas stove, where turning down the heat means it turns down instantly, not 10 minutes later.

I tried to find a recipe that would bring together multiple CSA items (and didn't require the purchase of a bunch of other items), but besides a salad, came up short. So I went with a slightly modified version of "Tofu and Steamed Cabbage with Rice and Peanut Sauce" from Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I opted for the variation mentioned in the margin of the page, which uses her "Sesame Sauce or Marinade" in place of the peanut sauce. I also chose to marinade and bake the tofu rather than steaming it, to give it more flavor and make it a little crispy.

Here's the cabbage steaming:

It nearly filled the pot when I started, but it decreased considerably in volume after steaming.

And here it is plated with some white rice:

Verdict: Quite tasty! And I've determined that I prefer Napa cabbage to Bok choy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Week 3: The Goods

This week's produce:

Head of lettuce (appeared to be some type of green leaf lettuce)
Kohlrabi (will add a pic of these later)
Napa Cabbage
White onions

We never got around to using the kohlrabi last time we did the CSA. Its unique visage just stared back at us from the fridge. This time, we'll use it...somehow.

We never used the radishes last time either. Tomorrow, I envision a lunch salad of lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes. And later some salads of just radish and cucumbers. And then just cucumbers, because we got a lot of cucumbers!

Cabbage will likely go in a stir-fry, along with broccoli and onions

Beets: Roasting and then doing something with them

Collards: I think I cooked something involving polenta with them last time, so maybe that again?

Parsley goes in lots of things.

A Colorful Soup

Monday night, I was scrambling to find a way to use some remaining items. Did I want to try making veggie pancakes with the squash (from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)? Then I happened upon a recipe that would use three of the remaining items: beets, scallions, and spinach. And we actually had most of the other ingredients on hand!

Beet Soup with Three Legumes
from my old standby Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

I made it a little simpler by used canned kidney beans. We were out of chickpeas, so I skipped them, but upped the lentils a bit (wanted to use the last of a bag). We didn't have any parsley, so I skipped it. We also did not have any plain yogurt: also skipped. I did add some Penzey's Mural of Flavor because it seemed like it needed something.

It was my first time working with beets--my only memory of them was eating the jarred pickled kind as a child. So I wasn't sure how this would taste. It was certainly...colorful!

And it tasted good, too! Success! And it held up well for a couple of lunches. Next time we get beets, I'd like to try roasting them, as I've heard it's a good way to bring out their flavor and sweetness. They're on the crops list for this week, so we'll see...

Week 2

I'm playing a bit of catchup here since I didn't think to start the blog sooner. The Week 2 (6/18) bounty was:
  • Broccoli
  • Beets
  • Spinach 
  • Summer squash
  • Cucumber
  • Scallions
  • Arugula
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Salanova Baby Lettuce
  • Swiss Chard or Kale: I went with Swiss Chard
We took the easy route the first night and made pasta with Swiss chard, onions, and red bell pepper. During our previous summer with the CSA, we discovered that Swiss chard can basically sub for spinach in most anything.

So we used our basic pasta with veggies recipe, with olive oil and some Penzey's Italian Herb seasoning. Start by cooking onion and red pepper in a bit of oil. Parboil the chard for a few minutes in water to make it tender, then add it in with the peppers and onions. Cook the pasta separately, then toss it together. Add some fresh-squeezed lemon and parmesan at the end.

The next day, for lunch, I had leftovers and added some arugula on top. I just put raw, rinsed arugula on top of the leftovers, added a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, then heated it in the microwave.  The arugula wilted nicely!

We went easy on Thursday, too, making mac & cheese (Annie's) from a box and steaming some fresh broccoli to put on top.

The next day, for lunch, I cut the bottom off the Salanova baby lettuce, washed it, and drizzled it with some Drew's Rosemary Balsamic Viniagrette. (In retrospect, I should have added cucumbers!)

We ate out much of the weekend. Monday's experiment will go in a separate entry!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why I'm Starting CSA Creations

Hi! I created this blog to post the recipes I make with produce from the Gorman Farm Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Maryland. This program gives us a variety of local produce each week for about half the year, while helping to support small family farms.

We tried the CSA a couple years ago but ended up throwing out many of the items due to poor planning (we'll cook with this tomorrow!) or having no idea what to do with some of the items (I'm looking at you, kohlrabi). We decided to try again this year, pledging to actually use (or freeze) most of what we get.

I thought this blog would be a good way to keep myself honest and also hopefully promote CSAs and buying local. Your feedback is welcome. Enjoy!