Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exploring Other Options

The other day I visited the Lincoln Square Farmer's Market. With no CSA box coming for a few weeks, I decided to stop by and see what was available.

It was a beautiful sight.

There was so much color and variety - corn, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, lettuce, beets, greenbeans, blueberries, raspberries, zucchini, bread, flowers, cheese, and more.

I didn't go into the market with a plan, which is usually my downfall when I go to the grocery store. I'll buy some produce without a specific recipe in mind and always find that I'm missing something when I decide to make a dish.

While I've gotten a lot better at knowing what foods go together and anticipating what I might need, I still follow recipes closely and rarely improvise.

I bought some zucchini at the farmer's market and found a recipe for zucchini pasta on the New York Times web site. I didn't have tomatoes though, and even though the recipe didn't include garlic, I think almost any recipe is enhanced by it. I also needed pasta.

My commute from Lake Forest is over an hour on a train, and I'm usually unmotivated to do much when I get home. So rather than wait until then to go to the store, I decided to buy the missing ingredients in Lake Forest. I normally opt against this because everything costs more there.

But I was getting hungry, so I went for convenience over price. There's a small produce market in a quaint brick alleyway called Amadei Mercatino, where I picked up some tomatoes and garlic ("Did you squeeze it?" the owner asked. "Always squeeze garlic. It should be hard. If it's soft, you don't want it.")

It is a charming little hidden nook that overflows with bright flowers and colorful, fresh produce, and I knew I would get quality food. But by the time I bought those items and the pasta at a specialty food store across from the train station, I was out almost $10, which seems ridiculous for a bag of noodles, two tomatoes, and garlic (especially considering I had bought zucchinis and a bunch of onions for maybe $2 at the farmer's market).

But I liked how the dish turned out and decided my investment was sound when I had enough for lunch the next day.

Zucchini Pasta (from the New York Times)

Salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 or 6 medium zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into ribbons or coins
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 sprigs thyme (I subbed garlic for thyme)
2 tomatoes, in wedges or roughly chopped, with their juice
1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne (I used 3/4 pound, which gave me plenty for leftovers)
Freshly grated Parmesan or freshly chopped parsley for garnish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and adjust heat so onion and zucchini release their liquid without browning. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Add tomatoes and their liquid to zucchini and raise heat a bit so mixture bubbles. Cook pasta until it is nearly but not quite tender. If sauce threatens to dry out, add a little pasta cooking water.

Drain pasta and finish cooking it in sauce. Serve, garnished with parsley or Parmesan.

4 servings.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Making Do

I received some potentially grim news from my CSA over the weekend. The weather over the past year - the recent floods, a later-than-usual winter, and last summer's drought - had taken its toll. Home Grown Wisconsin decided not to deliver food boxes for the next two weeks and will add two weeks on at the end of the season.

The farmers simply needed time to catch up and let their food grow. Too much had either rotted or washed away, and they had to replant a lot of crops.

I knew this was a risk going into the CSA, but I consider myself very lucky to have access and the means to buy fresh and healthy food until it starts up again. I feel terrible for the farmers though. For their sakes, I hope they can overcome this setback and recover their losses. I don't know how devastating the weather has been to their bottom lines, but this gives me all the more reason to buy from them whenever I can.

So with no CSA box coming for awhile, I'm going to do the next best thing - shop at farmer's markets and grocery stores that sell locally grown food in the meantime.

Tonight I went to the Green Grocer, a new store in Chicago that sells food from Midwestern farmers. I bought a bunch of chard, a yellow squash, and a jar of tomatillo salsa from a farm near Madison, Wisconsin. I was going to make quesadillas but when I stopped by my Mexican grocery store, several boxes filled with corn tortillas beckoned me (so did the price - only 36 cents for a dozen!).

I made chard and squash soft tacos instead.

To create this dish, I chopped the squash and sauteed in garlic and olive oil, added the cut pieces of chard and covered for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I heated up a few tortillas, then added the veggie mixture, and spooned a bit of the tomatilla salsa on top followed by a sprinkle of grated parmesan.

The cooking part took very little time, and the taste of the corn tortillas brought back some great memories from my trip to Mexico - it was the shopping part that took awhile, mostly because the Green Grocer is nowhere near where I live. But I'm glad I made the extra effort.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cool Down

It's steamy hot in Chicago, so I made a chilled cucumber yogurt soup the other night. This is another recipe from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (since the strawberry rhubarb crisp was so tasty).

This is a very simple recipe but as usual, a few mishaps occured. We didn't have any dill, giving the soup a strong yogurt taste (I think the dill would have added more balance to the flavor). Due to some major spillage during the food processing, my soup turned out a little chunkier than expected. But I think that added good texture. I also subbed microgreens from my box for the garnish.

Cucumber Yogurt Soup

8 small-medium cucumbers peeled and chopped
3 cups water
3 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons dill
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
1 cup nasturtium leaves and petals (optional garnish)

Combine ingredients in food processor until smooth, chill before serving. Garnish.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Take Two

I'd like to improve the photography on this blog, which is a challenge because my kitchen is dark and I do most of my cooking at night.

But I had some time this afternoon and thought what better recipe to experiment with than strawberry rhubarb crisp.

I know what you're thinking - didn't she already make a strawberry rhubarb dish? Good memory! I did, but it didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. The rhubarb was too crunchy, and frankly, I didn't even know how it was supposed to taste.

Early this week, Ryan and I went out for dinner, and the restaurant had a strawberry rhubarb dessert on the menu. Knowing that I might get more of these ingredients in my CSA box this week, we ordered it to see what we were missing.

It was completely different than the dish I had made - the strawberries had melted into a sweet fruity goo that was filled with tender but tart rhubarb. The ice cream quickly fell through a toasty crust and dissolved, becoming one with the sugary goodness.

I didn't try to recreate the dish I had made before. Instead I found a recipe that required baking the rhubarb rather than sauteing, as that's what seems to have tripped me up the first time.

I found a recipe for strawberry rhubarb crisp on the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle web site. For those who haven't heard of it, this is a book written by Barbara Kingsolver about her family's experience living off their land for a year. I'm only on the fourth chapter, but already I'd recommend it.

Anyways, here's my attempt at creating food porn.

I also tried to stage a shot of a piece on a plate with some ice cream. It must have looked so good that Karl wanted a taste.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp (from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle web site)

3 cups strawberries, halved
3 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup honey
Mix thoroughly into an 8X8 ungreased pan.

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/3 cup butter
Mix until crumbly, sprinkle over fruit mixture and bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes, until golden. (I took mine out at 40 minutes because I only had 2 cups of strawberries and rhubarb. I used 1/3 cup of flour, rolled oats, and brown sugar.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chinese Food

Week 3: cucumbers (including the longest cucumber I have ever seen!), rhubarb, sugar snap peas, onions, strawberries, lettuce, green top beets, bok choy, zucchini, and micro greens. We were also supposed to get either kohlrabi or turnips, but neither of those items came in my box. I'm looking into it.

On Wednesday night we made Baby Bok Choy with Cashews even though my bok choy looked more like a young adult. Bok choy is Chinese cabbage that resembles spinach with its big dark leafy greens.

When I was growing up, my family would go to one of two Chinese restaurants in town and I would always order the same thing - chicken mushroom. But I wouldn't eat any of the mushrooms. That's how picky of an eater I was.

As I got older and began to eat more vegetables, I would order chicken with snow peas. I don't even remember bok choy on the menu anywhere. I feel like I've come a long way.

This recipe turned out fairly well. It was easy to make, although I would try it with actual baby bok choy next time because the bigger stalks were difficult to cut. I think they should've been more tender, but we didn't want to cook them for much longer because the leaves had already wilted quite a bit.

I served with tofu and brown rice.

Baby Bok Choy with Cashews (from Simply Recipes)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped green onions, including green ends
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound baby bok choy, rinsed, larger leaves separated from base, base trimmed but still present, holding the smaller leaves together
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped, roasted, salted cashews

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add onions, then garlic, then bok choy. Sprinkle with sesame oil and salt. Cover, and let the baby bok choy cook down for approximately 3 minutes. (Like spinach, when cooked, the bok choy will wilt a bit.)
Remove cover. Lower heat to low. Stir and let cook for a minute or two longer, until the bok choy is just cooked.
Gently mix in cashews.
Serves 4.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Speaking of Cabbage...

The New York Times named it one of the 11 best foods you aren't eating in this article yesterday.

Maybe the Times should join a CSA!


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