Tag Archives: CSA

CSA #11 and the Pursuit of Purslane

Because I’m still getting settled into the new place and into a new routine (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to say that this past week was back to normal, but it was about as normal a week as I could ask for. There was some cooking, some cleaning, some errand-running. There was a pleasant and inclement-weather-free evening trip to Kennywood. Some bike riding, some strolling. A couple of notable restaurant trips which I will write about in coming entries.

Two not-so-mundane things this week: On Friday, there was a giant storm that flooded various regions of the area, sweeping away cars on the street and knocking out power in many neighborhoods. I know this is a food blog and I don’t pull too much focus on local news, but I would like to extend my sincerest sympathies to all those affected by storm, especially the families and friends of the four people who lost their lives in the flash flood that occurred near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Allegheny River Boulevard.

The lesser news was that this week was another pick up for our CSA through Garfield Community Farm. The bounties have been consistently solid throughout the past few weeks, and if volunteering on Thursday evening was any indication, there is still a lot in store for both the subscribers to the CSA and the many other people and organizations the farm benefits.

I’m not exactly known for my gardening skills. My one gardening claim to fame was when a giant pot of basil that I had been tending all the sudden disappeared from the front steps of my Dormont apartment building. I come home one day and it’s gone. Just vanished completely. I mean, I get that stuff that isn’t locked down is ripe for theft, but basil? A big planter full of it? Was someone just strolling through the neighborhood with a hankering for pesto and criminal activity?

The truth was both more complicated and far more plausible. Our across the street neighbor, Val, had come by to visit our neighbor in her first-floor apartment, noticed that the basil was looking a little beat, and took it back to her place to nurse it back to health. She had rectified my gardening negligence by adopting the plant as her own, for which I can only be thankful. I’m sure that the plant and planter live happily over at Val’s place to this day, booming and blooming for the adoptive parent that rescued them from their former desperate station.

Over the years, I have tried my hand at quite a few herbs, with mixed results. Seemingly unable to grow even my own chives, I have stayed away from larger gardening experiments, like growing actual vegetables, even though the process has not seemed that difficult when I have observed other gardeners at work. This hesitancy led me to believe that I might not be such a great volunteer for the Garfield Community Farm, but as is usually the case in these matters, I was wrong.

Let me say very simply that farming is hard work. Anyone involved in a moderate-scale agricultural project could tell you that there are infinite tasks to complete on any given day, much of the tasks being something that a trained monkey or diligent child could perform, let alone an adult with some capabilities toward rational and reasonable thinking. While there are many, many farming skills that must be honed over time, a lot of farm work is grunt labor. So my concerns were completely for naught, because though I feared accidentally destroying an entire crop of one thing or another, I was set to work on basic tasks that fairly insured my potential damage to the far would be slight. I watered crops, picked several containers worth of little orange tomatoes, and carefully weeded, trying to avoid any unpleasant surprises like unearthing a share’s worth of onions.

And I became better acquainted with that incredible edible weed, purslane. As noted in previous weeks, purslane is an edible weed that is both cultivated and wild-growing. Its little leafy greens offer substantial texture and flavor, a little sour, a little salty, and with the right amount of crunch to the lighter ends of the stem.

And it wouldn’t be my typical endorsement if I didn’t tell you how ridiculously nutritional purslane is. Namely, it contains a higher count of omega-3s than any other leafy vegetable, in addition to its high levels of potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamins. It can be cultivated but is also, as stated before, a weed, so look for it growing wild on the side of the road, in the cracks of sidewalks, and verdant vacant lots.


Purslane, peppers, salad mix.


Cauliflower, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes.


Kale and beets (!)

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CSA #10 and the Wonderful World of Tempeh

It was a hectic Thursday of CSA pick-up and more sad goodbyes. Everyone is leaving town and I’m swimming in beautiful farm-fresh vegetables, not a terribly opportune moment to have a kitchen so plentiful, but so be it. James and I have somehow managed to get the stuff eaten, even if a few items end up sacrificed.

And I’m getting better and better at using what we have on hand. Just a quick (and unfortunately photo-less) recap:
– The Swiss chard ended up in another vegan frittata
– The carrots and summer squash went into a salad of shredded red cabbage
– The beans and broccoli were steamed and eaten as a late-night snack
– One tomato was used in the production of TLTs. The others were diced up and served on pasta, along with fried zucchini and summer squash.
– The Chinese eggplant was sliced, sauteed, and eaten over rice.
– The array of small tomatoes made their way into various pastas and salads
– The onion and garlic were used throughout the week, portioned out over various dishes.

We’ve eaten pretty darn well thanks to the CSA subscription. I’ve been holding onto the beets, but I’m thinking a beet and spinach salad might be in order for later on today. With the fair amount of cooking done over the weekend, the simpler the better for this rainy Monday afternoon.

I didn’t get time to take pictures of the entire CSA bounty for this past week, but among the highlights:
– Another robust eggplant
– Kale
– A beautiful assortment of tomatoes
– Braising greens
– Carrots
– Potatoes (all were promptly eaten the next morning)
– Purple beans
– Zucchini
– Garlic
– Onion

Last week also marked a transition for me as I went from casual to utterly devoted fan of tempeh. While I eat tofu at least five out of seven days a week and have even tried my hand at making my own seitan more than a few times, I have only worked sparingly with tempeh. The earthy, slightly nutty, slightly mushroom-y flavor has always been something I was hesitant to work with, not so much in regards to my own palate as others. No matter what you do with tempeh, it’s always going to have those underlying flavors. The trick to working with it is to use it in dishes where its primary qualities play into the overall flavors of the dish. Tempeh doesn’t change, it changes you.

Tempeh has been a staple of Indonesia for thousands of years. Soy beans are plentiful, the production method is fairly simple, and the result is a versatile substance that is a protein powerhouse. Seriously, in a nutritional battle between tempeh and its Southeast Asian soybean brother, tofu, tempeh wins every round. The traditional starter for the fermentation process even boosted the B12 levels of the tempeh to ridiculously high proportions, although production stateside tends to be without this property.

While tofu is available in nearly every supermarket now, tempeh is still mostly relegated to specific larger groceries (Whole Foods) and specialty food stores. Its stunted availability is probably one of the reasons why many vegetarians and vegans don’t acquaint themselves with tempeh right away. Getting to know tempeh allows one to adjust to its unique flavor properties. Learning the intricacies of the food allows you to better utilize its strong points in the dishes where it is incorporated.

Unlike tofu, which is a veritable flavor sponge, tempeh has restrictions, but not as many as you might think. The nutty flavors play well against most basic sauces and its texture makes it easy to use for sandwiches, stir fry, pasta, etc. The best way to get to know tempeh early on is to grill it. Grilled tempeh toughens up the texture to a chewy, meaty consistency, and accentuates the smokey qualities. It also takes to a marinade really well, so there’s no excuse for lack of flavor.

Because most of my cookbooks are still packed, I’ve been steadily working my way through the indispensable Vegan Brunch. For months, I have been eyeing up “Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs,” thinking two things: 1) “What a great way to use tempeh!” and 2) “Holy shit, puff pastry!” When I had my family over for brunch to break in my new residence, I figured now was the time to shoot for something a bit more advanced than pancakes and scramble and potatoes.

Given all the skills I have developed over the past few years, surely I could make something as simple but sophisticated as these lovely little puffed squares. Surely something this manageable was within my purview. I could even make a decent vegan gravy to match. It was all going to be so simple.

Of course I screw it up. Not having ever worked with puff pastry, I didn’t exactly interpret the instructions correctly. Or maybe I did but became convinced that I hadn’t. Not really sure, but either way, I had to abruptly alter plans. That’s how square pastry puffs turned into pastry puff pinwheels. The rest is quickly devoured history.

Note on the recipe: The original called for at least an hour of marinading the tempeh, but I suggest overnight for full flavor. And don’t skip the fennel. It really brings together the sausage flavor of the filling mix.

Tempeh Sausage Puff Pinwheels

Ingredients
– 8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
– 1 package puff pastry (as recommended by Vegan Brunch, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan)

For the marinade:
– 1 cup vegetable broth
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp lemon juice

For the tempeh filling:
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 red  bell pepper, finely chopped
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and black pepper to taste
– Extra olive oil

– Combine the ingredients for the marinade in an airtight container. Toss in the crumbled tempeh and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight.

– Prepare the a large pan over medium heat. Saute pepper and onion until the onion is translucent, then add garlic and spices and saute until garlic is slightly browned. Add drained tempeh and turn the heat to medium high. Cook for up to 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

– Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Apply a fine layer of olive oil to a large baking sheet.

– You should have two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each sheet into nine squares. You should have a total of eighteen rectangles.

– To assemble the pinwheel, take a rectangle and unfold it so that it is a single layer. Brush a little olive oil on the inside, then apply some of the tempeh filling. Gently roll up the dough around the filling. Whatever falls out can be stuffed back in once the edges are sealed. It does not have to look perfect, but the edge should be sealed with your fingers or a fork so that it does not fall apart while baking.

– Repeat steps until you have all eighteen filled or have run out of filling. Line the finished pastries on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

– Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pastries are puffed and golden. Serve warm.

(Recipe adapted from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

CSA #8: Summertime? Time for Summer Squash!

By this past week’s CSA, I had assembled quite a collection of summer squash, specifically the yellow summer squash variety. Why have I been carefully sealing the squash up and storing it in my crisper when I could have been cleaning it, chopping it, and cooking it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Well, the short answer is… I don’t really know. The longer answer, the answer that you know I’m going to expound upon because you read this blog and you know how long-winded I can get about trivial matters, is that I’ve become a bit of a hoarder when it comes to foods. Whether it’s a trip to the market or our weekly CSA, there are certain vegetables that I hold onto till the point of inspiration, and sometimes well past the point of inspiration. These are the foods that I can’t simply dump into just any old dish. These are the foods whose mere presence in my fridge makes me that much happier to be in the kitchen in the first place. These are the foods that are stored in the crisper until the brink of rot, just to be rescued at the last minute by whatever dish could use a little extra something. They were meant for so much more, but alas, time is a merciless force upon produce.

It’s a pseudo-fixation that is seemingly random as to the choice of its targets. For instance, though I use onions in almost every other dish I make, I have no intention of hoarding onions. It would make much more sense if I were hoarding onions, considering how often I use them, but instead, I hoard things like summer squash, for which I have limited (but delicious) uses. Is my hoarding inspired by my desire to keep close something that is not oft present in my fridge?

Or is it mere laziness and lack of knowledge? Perhaps I hold onto veggies that I don’t use on everyday basis because I simply don’t trust my ability to cook them effectively. Such was the case with the kohlrabi earlier in the CSA season. The bok choy. Even the radishes! (Although after finding that cold salad recipe, I haven’t had any issues using up my radishes.) Maybe my hoarding isn’t hoarding at all, but an insecure act of protection to keep the vegetables from being used incorrectly.

Anything in your crisper you’ve had trouble letting go of? If so, why?

Onto the bounty and bonus recipe!


Braising mix, sweet peppers, assorted tomatoes, summer squash.


Beets, purslane, eggplant, green beans.


Onions, Swiss chard, basil, carrots, potatoes.

Summertime Pasta with Eggplant and Summer Squash

Ingredients
– 1/2 lb to 1 lb of whole wheat pasta, prepared as directed
– 1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced into half-inch rounds
– 1 large summer squash, sliced into quarter-inch rounds
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1/2 cup of roasted red peppers, sliced
– 1/2 cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk
– 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 1 tsp smoked paprika
– Salt
– Ground black pepper
– Olive oil (for the summer squash saute)
– Vegetable oil (for frying the eggplant)

Prepare the squash saute
– In a medium-sized pot with a lid, saute the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the squash, roasted red peppers. Allow to simmer at low heat until everything is tender, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the eggplant
– Pour the non-dairy milk into a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, combine the flour with the rosemary, basil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.

– Coat your eggplant by first dipping the rounds in the milk, then by tossing them in the flour. Make sure to get a light, even coat around the whole piece, including the sides.

– Heat vegetable oil a large frying pan on the stove. Add the slices, frying until each side is golden brown. Set eggplant rounds on a paper-towel covered plate to cool and drain.

Plate your pasta
– A top of a generous helping of pasta place two eggplant rounds, then a scoop of the squash saute. For non-vegans, add a sprinkling of Parmesan or a few chunks of Gorgonzola.

CSA #7 -The heat makes for lazy bloggin’

I’m going to do what surely almost every other unproductive person is doing right now and blame the heat for my lack of productivity. The heat and a rejuvenating weekend trip to DC have led to a complete lack of momentum on matters both business and personal. No blogging, no article writing for the Patch, not even a box filled for my impending move.

What’s worse, in the last week, I’ve spent a total of an hour cooking time in my own kitchen.

The real tragedy there, aside from missing the cooking time itself, is that every week we’re getting a big supply of fresh from the earth produce through our Garfield Farms CSA. And every week, we come this close to wasting something because we just didn’t move fast enough, we just didn’t make the time, we just didn’t have the time. Every time I have to throw away even half a cup of salad mix, I feel a little sick to my stomach.

Recently I interview a woman for the Patch who runs Victorian tea services from her house and she shared with me her general philosophy regarding the teas. The services are meant to be enjoyed slowly and savored for more than simply their culinary delights. Tea and snacks and the accompanying conversation are the medium to relationship building. When we savor the process as much as the relationship itself, we are truly engaging with one another.

I bring this up not as a great argument for the installation of tea time in the American workplace (although I am a firm supporter of that issue) but as an analogy to what my relationship with the CSA should be. I should be savoring the process of working with what I’ve got more than simply the stuff itself. It’s all well and good to have a beautiful summer squash fresh from the farm, but if I’m not cooking with it, it is simply a totem, a symbol, an idle trinket. I need to savor these weeks with my veggies. These weeks are fleeting and numbered, and besides, I need to learn to save a buck and stick to what I already have in my kitchen instead of going out to the grocery store in a moment of impulse.

Anyway, expect a bit more productivity from me in the coming days. Until then, here’s a look at the CSA goodies from this past week:


Radishes, sweet pepper, mint, and tomatoes (all three of them)


Summer squash, red onion, garlic, broccoli


Basil, salad greens

Russian kale, braising mix (kale, chard, radish greens, etc)

 

CSA #6, the Best 80’s Movie to Feature Nuns and Dance Competitions, and Putting Gravy on Your Veggies

I spend most of June not believing it’s finally summer, so July is when the feeling really sets in. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. While I love warm weather activities, I tend to get more lethargic as the season makes its steady stretch to the end of August. Maybe it’s the heat or the sunshine or the overall slower pace of things, but I just don’t get very much done this time of year. Summertime is just about the best time to make excuses for inactivity.

That’s my half-assed excuse for not being especially prolific with blogging these days. My other, more reasonable excuse is that I am moving, therefore any extra time that isn’t spent packing is time that I feel like I’m wasting. Which is never really true when that time is put toward something I love, like blogging, but is definitely true when that time is put toward something like watching Girls Just Want to Have Fun on Encore.

Wow, the Dog Days really have me so lazy and distracted that I’m filling out a post with a movie trailer when I’m supposed to be focusing on our nutritious and body-enriching weekly CSA. Which is a shame considering out great our yield was (again) this week.

Kale and carrots

Radishes, sweet peppers, garlic, onion

Summer squash and potatoes.

I’ve taken to including a recipe at the end of these posts, showcasing just how we’re incorporating the CSA into our meals. This weekend, however, we didn’t do anything particularly fancy with what we used. We just made our favorites that much better with the addition of farm-fresh produce.

Better tasting, that is. Not necessarily better for our health. Observe Saturday night’s feast:


Yes, that is gravy smothering the corn, the potatoes, and the Southern-fried tofu. You might remember the tofu and gravy from a prior post. The corn is, admittedly, canned corn, drained and seasoned with salt, pepper, and vegan margarine. The mashed potatoes are a mix of the yellow and purple potatoes that came to us in our CSA and two Russet potatoes I purchased at People’s down the street.

The only gravy-less item on the plate is the slow-cooked kale, which will serve as my humble half-assed recipe for today. This method works equally well for collard greens, as well as broccoli and cauliflower.

[On a side note, take a look sometime at the beneficial elements of kale. Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants, beta carotene, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and carotenoids, it’s a nutritional powerhouse and damn tasty to boot. It’s also fairly easy to grow, so if anyone is thinking of starting a garden or adding to their bounty, it’s a good crop to consider.]

Slow-Cooked Summer Kale

Ingredients
– 1 lb (or so) fresh kale, rinsed and dried
– 1 tbsp vegetable oil
– 1/2 cup vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp tabasco
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and pepper to taste

– In a large pot, heat the oil, stock, and tabasco. Add the kale (you can keep it on the stalk if you plan to cook it for a long time, or tear off the leaves if you’re only planning to cook it for an hour or so), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir until all the leaves are well coated, then cover and allow to simmer on low heat for up to four hours.

CSA #5: Greens’n’Beans!

It’s been a rough week. Other than my brief trip to Jose & Tony’s on Monday, eating-wise it’s been a week of scraps, leftovers, and retreads. It hasn’t all been bad, of course – burnt out by Wednesday, I took my partner to Thai Cuisine, where yellow curry with mock duck soothed my weary soul – but until the weekend, I hadn’t really had a chance to relax, to spend time in my kitchen, to write.

It was another great week for our CSA, however. No homemade preserves in this bundle, but a few welcome surprises, such as fingerling potatoes, hot peppers, and a big stalk of fresh garlic. If I can convince my partner to plant it instead of eat it, we might be able to start that garden sooner rather than later.

On a side note, but related to produce: It seems like everyone’s personal gardens are starting to burst with product. In the upcoming weeks I’d like to feature recipes that are of use to my gardening friends, so if you’ve got more zucchinis or tomatoes or basil etc than you can handle, drop me a comment and let me know what kind of recipes you’re in need of. If you just feel like getting rid of your produce, you can make sacrificial offerings at my address. We take all forms of vegetables, fruit, and cookies.

Now for this week’s yield!


Fresh basil

Potatoes!


More Swiss chard (coupled with last week’s bunch, look for this in our featured CSA recipe this week – just at the bottom of this article)


Radishes (more white bean, radish, and pea pod salad?)


Onions (uncured, so we were warned that they would go faster than store-bought. Not a problem, we’ve already used two out of three.)

As stated above, this past week didn’t exactly afford me a lot of kitchen time, but the CSA has been a significant help in not going hungry. Thanks to two straight weeks of Swiss chard and well-timed purchase of navy beans, I made an easy dinner for our post-family July 4th evening.

Beans and Greens

Ingredients
– 1 lb Swiss chard, kale, or spinach, or green of choice (the amount can vary, but a pound is recommended)
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 1 15 oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed.
– 2 tsp garlic pepper
– 1 tsp dried basil
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

– Heat oil in medium-sized pot, then saute onions until tender. Throw in the greens (feel free to tear them into whatever size you desire), add the garlic pepper, and cook at low heat for five minutes.

– Once the greens are looking tender (but not completely soft), add the white beans and basil. Cover and cook at very low heat for up to twenty minutes.

CSA #4 & Asian Slaw!

The third week of our CSA was the most adventurous yet, what with cauliflower, green kohlrabi, and a big bunch of bok choy. I’ll get to the eventual fate of the kohlrabi and bok choy in a minute, but first: CSA #4!

From left: kale, salad greens, brown rice.

Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli

Green onions and radishes

There was a large patch of black raspberries growing, so one of the volunteers offered to make a batch of jarred preserves for the CSAs this week. We ate our way through it most of the weekend, smearing it on whatever neutral surface we could find. I tried to convince James to eat it with a spoon, but he had to draw the line somewhere.

Whatever.

Anyway, as to the fate of the green kohlrabi and bok choy, I was a little worried about spoiling if I held onto them past this week, so I made it one of my meal-planning objectives to figure out a good way to use them. A few of you had some really great suggestions. I especially loved the idea of making a nice vegetable stock with the bok choy, but with the summertime heat and the lack of open windows in my kitchen, it was a tad too warm for anything that needed to simmer for a long while on the stove top.

I was still riding on a cold salad high from last weekend, so I decided to take it a step further and experiment with a slaw based off of the bok choy, the kohlrabi, cabbage, and a big yellow bell pepper. Because I don’t have quite the right equipment to make a really shredded slaw, mine came out a bit chunky and extra crunchy. For a finer crunch, really shave down those veggies. A microplane works nicely – and I should get one, along with a knife-sharpening kit.

Summertime Asian Slaw

Ingredients
– 1/2 pound bok choy stalks, sliced down into thin strips
– 1/2 pound green kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced or shaved
– 1/2 pound green or purple cabbage, chopped and shredded
– 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
– 1 tbsp brown sugar
– 2 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
– 1 tbsp canola oil
– 2 tsp powdered ginger

– In a large bowl, combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil. Mix until well combined.

– Throw in veggies and toss in dressing. Add the ginger one teaspoon at a time. Mix until all ingredients are evenly coated. Allow to chill for an hour.