Dreaming of Vegetables.

I don’t know about you, but this time of year my fridge is completely bare. At the moment, I’ve got a sad, lonely egg sitting in there with a container of leftover slaw salad, a bottle of white wine and a whole bunch of half-filled dipping sauces.

Maybe it was the state of the fridge that brought me to one of my favorite moments in the sloppy, early spring thaw out: purchasing the CSA share. Hooking up Midnight Sun Farm with a big fat check means we’ll have a fridge full of green (and red, and yellow, and purple…) all summer long, and a pantry of potatoes in the fall. I can barely contain my excitement – seriously. Continue reading

The Crock Pot (a.k.a. “Old Faithful”) makes tomato sauce

“Old Faithful”

I pseudo inherited my crock pot from my mother while foraging her basement on a Sunday trip to the suburbs.  This 1975 Sears “Crock Watcher” is older than me, but undoubtedly in better condition.

If the 70’s got anything right, it’s the slow cooker.  The idea that I can stick something in there at 6am before I leave for work, cover it  with liquid, and come home to a good smelling house AND dinner still boggles my mind, and I do it about every other week…. sometimes more, sometimes less.

Lately Old Faithful has been working overtime cranking out tomato sauce to stock up for the winter.  I bought 30 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun Farm over the course of three weeks and have made tomato processing an obsession.

After an epic fail on the stove of sauce that was way more juicy than saucy, I revamped my approach.  Ok, it wasn’t entirely a fail, just a misunderstanding between me and the tomatoes, really.  After consulting mom (my go-to for kitchen mishaps) and my friend and fellow canning-enthusiast Toni Camphouse, I opted to try the slow cooker approach, and I’m never turning back.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Tomatoes (duh)
  • Salt
  • Lemon Juice
  • Canning jars and lids

Core and quarter tomatoes and fill your slow cooker.  Prop the lid open with a spoon and cook all day on low.

The great tomato stock-up begins…

Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the tomatoes until smooth.  Pre-fill canning jars with salt and lemon juice.  For quart jars, use 2TB lemon juice and 1 tsp. salt*.  Half those if using pint jars.  Add sauce to jars and fill to 1/2″ from the top.  Cover with lid and band, twisting until hand tight.

Add jars to water bath (making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch). Once water is boiling, reduce heat to a rolling boil and set time for 30-40 minutes (30 for pint jars, 40 for quart).  Remove from water bath and set on a level surface to cool (don’t shake the jars).  Store for as long as you like, or about a year, whichever comes first.

* You can add seasoning to your sauce before you jar it, but I prefer to do it once I open the jar so the herbs and spices are fresher.

Summer draws to a close

Fall 2011 at Portage Park Farmer’s Market | Photo by Kelly Rose

We’re on the heels of my favorite season.  The mornings now have a bite in the air, fashion scarves and sweaters are becoming imperative, and everything around me is turning into orange-y and amber hues.  Though I’m a California girl at heart, I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost 25 years.  The one thing about living here that has kept me from continually accosting my parents for moving us across the country is the leaves.  Well, they have leaves in California, but they don’t turn orange and gold and burgundy.

Some people live life with rose-colored glasses; my glasses are burgundy.

Plus, the idea of not sweating profusely every time I go somewhere is highly appealing to me.

The farmer’s market is becoming particularly bountiful, and though it’s sad to see summer squash and tomatoes go out of my life, the beginning of fall means it’s “squirrel time”.  What I mean is, I’m trying to make time to take everything that still just barely at it’s peak of freshness and dry it, freeze it or can it for the winter.

I’ve always wanted to make an attempt to preserve enough produce to make it through the winter without buying a shriveled up zucchini that was grown in the middle of Mexico and shipped to my local store on a refrigerator truck.

Wishful thinking…

I know that this isn’t the year for me to make this happen full stop, but nonetheless I’ve managed to buy and can or freeze 25 pounds of  tomatoes, pickle a bunch of beets, blanch and freeze broccoli, eggplant, and green beans, and there is a batch of crispy squash chips in the oven as I type.  I got a really big squash in my CSA box last week, was told it would be the last one, and, having eaten one squash too many, this is what I chose to do with it:

Squash Chips

Ingredients:

  • Zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced and dried on a paper towel
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (spraying it with cooking spray works fine too).  Arrange the squash slices in a single layer and coat with olive oil using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle with a modest amount of salt and bake at 275-F for a LONG time (several hours).  When they are firm and crispy, they’re done.

A great substitute for potato chips, use these chips up in about three days, stored in a plastic bag or wrapped in a tea towel

There’s a burning in my soul…. oh, it’s just the salsa.

Tomatoes are so delicious.  I can eat them whole. Like apples. For about two days.

When the tomatoes started arriving in my CSA box, I jumped for joy and literally squealed.  It’s a BIG deal for seasonal eaters when the tomatoes are ready.  I think I ate one with every meal for the first couple days, and then as swiftly as my excitement rose it passed.

A couple days ago, I just stopped being in the mood for tomatoes.  Without enough supply to justify a full-on canning session, I looked back to my box and thought, wow, this could be an opportunity to use up the onions, garlic, and jalapenos too!  So I threw together this beautiful and really, really spicy salsa.  My hope is that with a few days in the fridge will take the edge off, but if you like hot, THIS is the salsa for you:

Spicy Garden Salsa

Ingredients:

  • About five big tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 C. onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 jalapenos, seeded, de-veined, and chopped (or, keep a few seeds in if you dare) *
  • Splash of vinegar
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin

Mix up in a bowl and eat it.  Or, store in a mason jar in the fridge and eat it later.

* Tips:

If you’re smart, unlike me, you’ll wear gloves when dealing with hot peppers.  I didn’t and then scratched my forehead and it was still burning 30 minutes later…

There are plenty of great recipes for canning salsas to increase their shelf life.  I just chose to do a quick fridge-worthy salsa because I was short on time, it’s really hot in the kitchen, and I figure this will be in my stomach before long.

And,

Salsa is not just for chips!  Use this to add flavor to your tacos, eggs, or make a sassy and refreshing salad by adding it to cubed fresh watermelon

What happened to What’s in the Box? and, a recipe for tacos

I’ll tell you what happened.

I couldn’t keep up.

and then I went on vacation.

and then, I thought, those posts just didn’t seem that interesting to me anyway.

So I ditched the weekly updates on what arrived in my box of deliciousness and opted to spend the time eating said deliciousness instead.  What has resulted is perhaps one of the most culinarily creative summers I’ve had to date, and a REALLY conscious effort to not let anything go to waste.  Once you’ve weeded carrots with your own hands you’ll never let them turn flimsy and brown in the fridge again.

So now comes that point in the post where I share a recipe, and although I can’t take credit for the nifty taco shell because I saw it on The Garden Pantry‘s Facebook Page and had to try it.  The rest?  Leftovers.

Lauren’s Leftover Taco Night

Ingredients:

  • Corn tortillas (make sure they are good quality and extra soft)
  • 1/2 lb. Ground Turkey
  • 1/2 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 onion, diced
  • shredded cheese
  • sour cream
  • avocado
  • cilantro
  • lime
  • whatever veg is in your fridge: I used lettuce, scallions, cherry tomatoes

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 deg-F.  Using a muffin pan turned upside down, press tortillas into the notches and spray with cooking spray.  Bake 10 minutes for cute little crispy taco shells.

Brown the ground turkey in a skillet coated in non-stick cooking spray over medium high heat.  Add the taco seasoning and diced onion and cook until onion is soft and translucent.  Place turkey aside on a plate covered in paper towel to drain oil.

Prepare your tacos in the shells.  with the meat on the bottom.  Add your toppings, squeeze some fresh lime juice over the top, and pour yourself a margarita.

 

What’s in the box: Week 3/4

With being in San Francisco since Tuesday, most of my CSA box is still at home in the fridge.  But I managed to make some bang up meals before I left.

Ravinia date with myself:

An on-the-fly Spinach Artichoke Dip used up all the spinach I had left over, plus cream cheese in anything is delicious.  Simply sautee the spinach until wilty (add a little water to the pan so it doesn’t burn.  Mix with a jar of drained artichoke hearts and equal parts cream cheese and sour cream.  I took this beauty on my Ravinia picnic before attending the live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and paired with grapes, crusty bread, homemade pickles and a bottle of red.

Shrimp Something-Or-Other

In an attempt to throw as many of my box ingredients as possible in the same dish, this delight (not being facetious) started off with sauteed onion, kohlrabi, garlic scape and kale with a bit of soy sauce and a bit of adobo seasoning.  I added ramen noodles and shrimp that were sauteed separated in butter, and was pretty much the envy of my Facebook newsfeed for the evening.

I’m thinking that at some point it would be helpful to find actual recipes to complement the ingredients that I find in my box, but honestly, I’m short on time and seem to be doing just fine throwing a little of this and a little of that into a pan and seeing what comes out.  Maybe that’s the beauty of having fresh produce around all the time… it tastes amazing no matter what you do with it.

If only baking was that easy… but what with it’s chemical reactions and such measuring cups and recipes come in quite handy for that…

What’s in the box… week two

Each time I visit Midnight Sun Farm my back hurts less.

Although, I have to say those ladies who spend all day long bent over in rice paddies must have hamstrings of steel.  My typically workload on farm this time of year consists of weeding…. lots and lots of weeding… and after a few minutes of bending over my legs start to bark and I’ve now started in on the “crawl on your hands and knees” technique.  Very elegant.

What really excites me, though, is when I see the things that I’ve weeded (and a few things I’ve harvested and washed) showing up in my CSA box.

In my box this week were:

  • getting the rainbow chard ready

    salad mix

  • two heads lettuce
  • one bulb fennel
  • green onions
  • rainbow swiss chard
  • Hakuri sweet turnips, and
  • spinach

So, what became of this random box of green goodness?

I made several salads and another stirfry, but the true prize of the week was Frittata Night with my friend Kelly.

I totally made this recipe up based on something I’d seen Chef Giada do on the food network….. this is not really at all close to the recipe, so, it’s a Lauren original, and delicious.

Lauren’s spinach and chard Frittata

Ingredients:

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small onion, sliced or diced (depending how onion-y you like it)
  • 3 sweet turnips, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small bunch rainbow swiss chard
  • 1 small bunch spinach
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 C. half and half
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 – 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • bacon bits (the real stuff, not Bacos, people)
  • 2-3 green onions
  • 4-6 sprigs fennel leaves

Directions:

Add 2 TB vegetable oil to a high sided saute pan and heat over medium heat.  Add potatoes and cook until slightly softened and translucent (maybe about 5-7 minutes… just prep the other stuff while you do this and check on them occasionally, turning down the heat if they are starting to brown).

wilty greens ready for the eggs

Meanwhile, separate the leaves of the chard from the woody stem and chop the stems.  Add chard stems, onions, and turnips to the pan and cook another 2-4 minutes.  Add the spinach and chard leaves by the handful, and mix until the greens become dark and wilty.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl with half and half and and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and lower heat to low.  Cook about 5 minutes, covered, and add shredded cheese, bacon, fennel and green onions.  Return lid and cook until the cheese is melted and eggs are set.

I served this gorgeous thing with a side salad of spring mix, kidney and garbanzo beans, strawberries, sunflower seeds, leftover radishes and dried cranberries.  That, and about a bottle of red wine….

And it looked like this:

Lauren’s spinach and chard frittata with strawberry salad

This, friends, was a night to remember!

photos courtesy of Kelly Rose