Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another way to save money with a CSA

If I wasn't doing this research project to get farmer's market prices to compare to our CSA each week, I wouldn't go to the farmer's market every single week.

And thus, I might not have spent:

  • $5 on a very nice loaf of bread.

  • $5 on a lovely quart of purplish-red round plums.

  • and $3 on some yellow and purple string beans (you see, they don't come with the farmshare unless we drive out to pick them ourselves.)

So I guess the CSA *could* have saved me another $13 this week. The things I do for my readers.

Market Analysis: Week 7

This week's box is starting to look very summery - 3 tomatoes, lots of sweet corn, an eggplant... and still plenty of squash, carrots, and cucumbers. I'm glad the weekend looks cool enough to cook some!

Last week's 12 lbs of extra cucumbers may have been a bit too many for how my week turned out - I've still got some left, but I do have 7 quart jars of sour-and-salty vinegar pickles, 4 pint jars of sweet pickle chips, and plans to try a few more jars of kosher dills. (Those are trickier, because you put them straight into the right amount of salty water with seasonings, and hope they actually ferment and do not mold. This apparently does not always happen. How the heck do commercial pickle makers pull this off?)

7 ears Sweet Corn (0.50c/ear) : 3.50
1 lb 1 oz Red Cabbage: $2.10
1 lb 1 oz carrots Carrots ($2/lb) : $2.10
Yellow Squash and zucchini (1 lb 2 oz): $2.25
2 lbs 12 oz cucumbers (pickling and slicing) : $4.10
Bunch of Scallions: $2
1 lb Eggplant: $3
1 lb Tomatoes: $3.50
1 Head Lettuce: $2.50
1 bunch Kale: $2.50
1 bunch Cilantro: $2
total: $29.55

To date, the farmshare has filled our fridge (and our bellies) with $21 more in produce than we would have gotten if we'd set out to the farmers' market to buy this exact mix of items!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Market Analysis, week 6

This week's box contained:

Yellow Squash and zucchini: 1lb 4 oz, $2.50

Cucumbers (mix of slicing and pickling) 2 lb 3 oz, $4.40

bunch of scallions: $2.50

Carrots, bunched with greens: $2.00

Fennel: $3.00

Green Pepper: $0.75

1lb Tomatoes: $3

1 Head Romaine Lettuce: $2.50

1 bunch Kale: $2.50

1 bunch Basil: $2

Total : $25.15

I also used another money-saving feature of our CSA this week. I ordered 3 lbs of swiss chard for a total of $6. Looking at the amount of chard, I'd say that was about 5 bunches worth, which go for $2.50/bunch at the farmers' market, so that's about $6 spent and $6 saved. I've just finished steaming the chard, squeezing it out, and putting it in the freezer for winter or for any other time that we want to make swiss chard and potatoes, one of our favorite dishes and a must for grilled fish if you have Croatians in your family. I also ordered 12 lbs of pickling cukes for $1/lb, which is half the rate they go for at the farmers' market. Now I just have to make a lot of pickles!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reverse Shopping List

When the farmshare arrives each week, I take a quick inventory of what's still in the fridge from the last week, and what's just arrived, and make a sort of "reverse shopping list" of what produce needs using, and what's most urgent.

I like to cook on the fly, for the most part - I'm certainly not one to stick to a weekly meal plan made out in advance. But I am always checking up mentally with what's in the fridge, what the weather's looking like, whether we've got many dinners out coming up, what leftovers we should be eating soon, and so on. And I tend to have a queue, at least in my head, of some meals I plan to make in the next few days. This week, for example, the use-up list includes zucchini with many exclamation points. Some of it got grilled, some of it will go into zucchini bread (enough to freeze), some might go into an omelette or another batch of grilling, and some might get shredded and frozen on its own. The collards got steamed to make them less urgent, but I'm thinking of making a one-pot sautee meal I often make with collards, chicken/sausage/pork, onions, and BBQ sauce. The chinese cabbage went to a potluck, the cucumber will go into a test batch of kosher dill pickles. The tomato didn't even go on the use-up list but it did get devoured - twice with sandwiches and a 3rd meal over pasta with leftover grilled zucchini and grilled sausages. And if I don't have a plan, I recheck our reverse shopping list before deciding what to cook, with a goal of making sure we eat at least one leftover item or farmshare item that's on the list.

So that's a bit of my version of "planning" around a fridge full of food. What's yours?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 5

Unpacking this week's box:

1 lb 13 oz Green Cabbage: ($1/lb) : $1.80
5 lb Zucchini ($2/lb) : $10
Dill: $0.50
2 lb 3 oz Pickling Cucumbers: ($2/lb) : $4.40
1 bunch Scallions: $2
1 bunch carrots: $3
1 head radicchio: $3
13 oz tomatoes: ($3/lb) $2.40
giant head Lettuce: $2.50
Collard Greens: $2.50

Total: 32.10, a good $10 above the average box cost. That's quite a bumper crop of zucchini. I did go with a $2/lb price of zucchini - lots of stalls had it for different prices. There were a few vendors who sold it cheaper but they definitely use pesticides (in a limited way, but still, not quite comparable to our CSA) and one who sold it more expensively than the price I went with.

And the plot from this week:

Leftover from last week, we have half a bunch of scallions, a few of the zucchini, and a fair bit of Chinese cabbage, which I intend to turn into more salad or some spring rolls to bring to a BBQ this weekend. With 5 lbs of new zucchini, I think I'll be taking my own advice and making and freezing some zucchini bread very soon!

Warm Food

I'd be exaggerating if I called this an inspired seasonal recipe using vegetables that go wonderfully together and are likely to come in your farmshare box this month.

Actually, what happened is that I wanted to do something with the fennel other than cut it up and serve it over salad. Fennel is seasonal right now. It came in our box this week, and I like it, but I've never actually tried to cook it before.

So I browsed through some of my cookbooks and found a recipe that sounded great, for braised fennel and celeriac. Celeriac, or celery root, is not at all seasonal right now. It's a late fall root vegetable that stores well over the winter in a root cellar.

Well, my squirrel tendencies and our winter storage share came to the rescue - I was saving that last celeriac, the last item remaining item from our winter share, in the vegetable drawer. I kept telling myself that it was small and I'd work on using it up when we seemed like we might run of room to put away the share one of these weeks.

So I was able to combine celeriac and fennel in this recipe, adapted from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food. Sometimes, things that aren't in season together and seem to have very different styles make a surprisingly wonderful pairing!

Braised Celery and Fennel with Lemon

3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp light vegetable oil
1 small celeriac, about 1/2 lb, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 medium fennel head, cut in half, then in thick slices
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper

In a wide pan with a cover, fry the garlic in the oil till lightly colored. Add the celeriac and fennel, and add water to barely cover. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and a little salt and pepper, and simmer with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for 1/2 hour. Then take the lid off, increase the heat and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce.

You could serve this as a cold salad mixed with parsley, but since it was wet and rainy and we felt like warm food, we served it warm, over some quinoa that I cooked in the rice cooker with 3 parts water and 1 part pineapple juice. The slight sweetness that the juice added to the quinoa was just right with the celeriac and fennel over the top.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cold Food

Some of this food did require a bit of cooking, but after a week of avoiding any use of flame in the kitchen I was going crazy. Also, I think I may have acclamated to the heat a bit.

In the end we wound up with a meal we could stand to eat in the 88 degree dining room.

Last night's menu:
Bread (I do not recommend baking your own bread when it's hot out, but guess who did?)

Hummus (from a friend who had too much), doctored with lemon juice and chopped basil that came from our farm.

Garlic scape pesto, leftover in the fridge. I'm surprised I haven't tried this before this year! Recipe below.

Raw kale salad. I made a batch of this last night when it was also too hot to cook, but last night I couldn't come up with something else to accompany it so we had takeout chicken fingers.

Raw turnip and apple salad. I've been hoarding these because I love them so much despite having plenty of other food in the CSA box that needs cooking, and today I realized I'd better start using them even if it's not always for sauteed turnips. So today one large turnip went into this salad. Recipe below.

Beet Tzatziki. A creamy salad with cooked, grated beets, garlic, lemon, dill, and yogurt. This one involves boiling water for a while but it's so worth it. Recipe below.

Beet Tzatziki
Inspired by Sofra restaurant, adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun, based on this adaptation.

3 baby beets
3 tiny cloves pressed garlic
juice of about 1 lemon
1/4 cup sour cream plus 1/4 cup regular yogurt (take the thick part, if you can, instead of blending the liquid back in) This substituted for Greek yogurt, which is what I've used before.
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon schopped fresh dill
Black pepper
Mix, taste, and leave covered in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before eating.

Raw Turnip and Apple Salad
based on Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
1 peeled, grated granny smith apple
1 peeled, grated Hakurei turnip
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4c raisins
2 tsp chopped fennel fronds
salt and pepper to taste

Mix, taste, and leave covered in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before eating.

Garlic Scape Pesto

10-12 garlic scapes, chopped into 1" pieces
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine scapes, almonds, cheese and some of the olive oil. Blend until combined. Add remaining olive oil, scraping sides occasionally. Eat, or store in a jar in the fridge (or freezer, supposedly, but I haven't tried that yet.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 4

Here's this week's box!

3 lbs zucchini ($2/lb, $6)
1 bunch bok choy ($3)
1 head napa cabbage ($2)
1 head fennel ($3)
1 bunch scallions ($2)
1 giant head lettuce ($2)
1 bunch swiss chard ($2)
1 small bunch garlic scapes ($2)
1 bunch basil ($2)

Total value: $24

After the week 3 blip we're still catching up, and so far we're staying within a few dollars of what it would have cost to buy these boxes as the farmers market.

"Inventory control" this week wasn't so good. It's been too hot to cook all week, but that means we used up the most perishable greens and scallions that are best to eat raw, as well as inventing several ways to eat zucchini raw. We went through a lot of napa cabbage, but there's still plenty of it. (And look what arrived today! MORE napa cabbage!) So we are still working our way through many of the other items from last week. But I always feel like we're ahead of the game as long as it fits in the refrigerator drawers.

adventures with cabbage

We got a giant head of napa cabbage two weeks ago, and then before it was finished we got another one last week. So I've been on a quest to use up the cabbage creatively that ended up in a recipe I'm pretty happy with.

the basics:

for every 4 cups of sliced napa cabbage

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp plain vegetable oil (we use safflower, but you could use canola, sunflower, etc.)

I don't usually measure while I'm making salad dressings, so taste this and feel free adjust a little to taste - more sugar if it's too sweet, more soy sauce if it's not salty enough, more sesame oil if you can't taste it, etc.

the rest:

Add whatever else inspires you (or whatever else you've got too much of in the fridge!) to the salad. Last night's version had some sliced sugar snap peas, some shredded arugula, and some scallions. If you want to make it a main dish, you could add the protein of your choice and more vegetables with a little more density than cabbage and leafy greens.

Which brings me to another tip - in addition to finding simple recipes you like with a vegetable you have a lot of, sharing it with friends is a great way to use more of it before it gets a little repetitive on your table. Last night's cabbage salad went to a potluck dinner. We've got about 2 servings left, and it keeps well enough that they should work for tonight's dinner.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fresh Spring Rolls, or Anything But Salad

At our CSA farm, it's the season for Chinese cabbage. Apparently this crop does well in their soil and microclimate, because I seem to remember getting HUGE heads in the past and this year is no different.

Chinese cabbage is good in stir fries (too hot) or salads (getting a bit boring, working our way through the 2nd large head). I even managed to distribute some of it to my daughter's preschool class, doing a visiting "show and tell" where we guessed all the vegetables in the CSA box, and passed things around to touch, smell, and observe. It was a big hit at snacktime that morning! But we still have plenty left.

So today I remembered another hot-weather meal that's great for cabbage and for a hot day - fresh spring rolls. These are the kind you might have tried at a Vietnamese restaurant, in a translucent wrapper with lots of fresh vegetables and perhaps some shrimp or chicken inside, a few mint or basil leaves, and a dipping sauce or two.

You'll probably need to go to an Asian supermarket to get the rice paper wrappers, but it's well worth it for a hot weather meal that can be adapted to anyone's tastes and requires little to no cooking. The wrappers look like this:

To cook them, you can just microwave some water until it's hot but not too hot to stick your hands in, and pour into a shallow bowl. You dip one wrapper in until it feels soft, then carefully pull it out and spread on a plate.

Then, for fillings, you'll want shredded cabbage, maybe some slices of leftover meat or some little sticks of tofu, shredded carrot or thinly sliced scallion, cucumber, anything that strikes your fancy! We used some leftover deli turkey, scallions, and quick sauteed matchtsticks of zucchini and hakurei turnip as well as the cabbage.

The dipping sauces are something else you might find at the Asian Market or you can mix up yourself: vinegar and sugar and fish sauce, black bean paste and vinegar, peanut butter thinned out with water and vinegar, etc.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Zucchini Season!

Who says I actually need to cook the thing before I suggest it to anyone else?
The forecast for this weekend is for weather close to 90, and we've got enough other stuff to do in the house that now is not the best time to heat up the kitchen. But I just read this idea in our CSA newsletter and thought "aha!" So I'm passing it on.

The brilliant insight: Instead of trying to freeze zucchini, freeze things you alredy cooked with the zucchini. Zucchini bread was at the top of their list.

No recipe, because I don't know that I'd use the one in the newsletter. Use your favorite, with nuts or chocolate or raisins to make the a bit sweet. Or ask a friend!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 4

giant head of Chinese Cabbage: $3
Hakurei Turnips: $2.50
2 lbs zucchini ($2/lb) : $4
bunch of baby beets & greens: $3
Scallions: $2
Arugula: $2.50
Head Lettuce: $2.50
Green Kale: $2.50
bonus: a few sprigs of dill

Total: $22.00, back above the weekly cost, by a hair.

To go along with my "market analysis", a quick note on "inventory management"...
We spent a few days out of town since picking up the last share, and didn't cook quite as much. In preparation for this one arriving I made stir fried noodles yesterday with some of last week's chinese cabbage, bok choy, leftover noodles, and turnips. I also steamed the kale and the turnip greens and froze them. So in addition to this week's sharem our fridge already contained a little bit of lettuce, half a Chinese Cabbage, a few turnips, half the bok choy, and a few garlic scapes.
Not enough to be a huge challenge to use up while it's good, I hope.

Market Analysis: Week 3

The week 4 box is on its way to Boston, but I never wrote about Week 3, so here you go.

My box contained:
1 GIANT head of napa cabbage - I've got to guess on this one, $3
1 head of lettuce - $2.50 at this week's market
1 head of kale - $2.50 at this week's market
2 zucchini, about 1 lb - $1 at this week's market
1 large bunch bok choy - $2.50 at this week's market
1 head hakurei turnips with greens - $2.50 at this week's market
1 small bunch garlic scapes - about $3 worth

This week's total: $17, less the $21.25/week cost of my share. I'm a bit surprised. Before I started adding up the total of what's in my box, I would have expected that the first month or so would be less than the cost of my share per week, but would quickly catch up. Instead, the first 2 weeks just about broke even and the third week was a little light on value at the farmers market (though as the farmers said, it's getting heavier on weight!) My guess is that at the beginning the farmers' markets are actually charging a bit more of a premium for what they've got for sale. Also, we got a pretty long list of greens and that's mellowed out as we're getting some more dense items like the bok choy and the Napa cabbage.

Will the trend go up, or down, in week 4? Stay tuned, the truck is already on its way here...