Monday, August 30, 2010

Would you like a salad with that?

Yesterday I steamed my arugula, since a 2nd bunch had arrived in the farmshare before we finished the first. I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but now it won't wilt and spoil before I get there. I'm thinking pureed into some kind of chilled soup, maybe with potato and a little fruit for sweetness.

That still left a rather full salad drawer. But today was my annual day of forgetting to wear sunblock while spending several hours in midday sun. It was probably even in the bag we brought to the pool, but somehow that didn't help my sun exposure much. So by dinner time I had that slightly sleepy feeling I get from sun exposure, and I did not require any convincing at all when the youngest family member voted for pizza.

But those greens in the drawer! Could I neglect them for yet another day? While waiting for the pizza I got a plentiful bunch of greens into the salad spinner and placed them in two of our bowl-shaped plates, chopped up a small orange tomato into half-wedges and sprinkled them on top of each plate, and sliced one of the plentiful cucumbers onto the salad plates as well. Last came slices of goat cheese from the farmers' market, and some vinaigrette dressing with basil. (Picky eater's version: some lettuce and some cucumber slices, undressed.) The salad, in a dinner-sized plate, wasn't really a side, but the meal felt more substantial accompanied by some pizza.

So remember to ask yourself, even if it's takeout - would you like a salad with that?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What's in a box of peaches?

I was worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew this year, with a giant box of peach seconds from Nicewicz Farm, found at the Arlington Center farmer's market.

Last year, when I bought the same delicious giant box of peach seconds, they were mostly "split pits" that tasted great, but if you didn't stay on top of them would rot very fast from the inside out - one morning they'd look fine, that afternoon only half could be saved. Which was fine when one had a bunch of free time coming up - as opposed to planning to disappear for a weekend of camping.

You may recall that the first thing I did with the peaches (aside from just devouring a few, of course) was a lovely peach upside down cake. I also shared about 5 lbs with a friend who couldn't get to the market as fast as me.

And then, the day before the camping trip, I frantically decided I'd better at least do some canning. So another portion of the peaches got peeled, sliced, then put into a very light sugar syrup and dropped into pint jars, then processed in boiling water and stuck in the pantry. I've never done this before and hope I like the results come winter - for now, I'll just be eating the fresh ones for a few more weeks!

The morning of the camping trip, I cut up a quart container's worth of peaches that looked most likely to spoil soon - I think I'm getting better at recognizing split pits. Then they went into the cooler we planned to bring on the trip. Another dozen or so went into a container, whole, to keep an eye on, eat whole, or perhaps even grill. The sliced peaches became a peach cobbler, cooked over a charcoal grill at the campsite in a cast iron dutch oven. The whole ones landed in our breakfast oatmeal, as well as in the bellies of a number of little girls. We managed to bring a few home, even - and successfully returned home to find that the remaining peaches in the bottom of the box were still fine as well. It turns out that this year's batch was not so many split pits, and more peaches with little blemishes on the skin or bruises acquired during picking, so far fewer of them were little ticking time-bombs.

So next up: peach cardamom jam, with a bit of grated ginger, an equal amount of sugar by weight to the fruit, and a generous amount of cardamom, freshly crushed from the pods. I used about 3.5 lbs of peaches, after chopping and peeling. Even the ginger was local - harvested last year by Old Friends Farm and saved in my freezer. I haven't had a problem with stone fruit jams without pectin, and I do use plenty of sugar, and in cool weather I don't even get impatient letting it cook long enough to set.

That left a few more peaches for eating, and just enough to try making some delicious-sounding spiced peach muffins - a huge muffin recipe from King Arthur Flour, with tons of flour, that supposedly freezes well. And a great snack for when friends were coming over for the afternoon - they could finish baking and be ready just in time for afternoon snack. Well, a fine theory, except that I seem to have invented a strange batch of sugar-free muffins, after being sure to hit the supermarket to replenish our brown sugar and everything. The doorbell rang as I'd just put in all the dry ingredients *but* the sugar, and somehow when I got back into the kitchen I was convinced I'd already added all the dry ingredients. For completely sugar free muffins, they were pretty tasty with all the peachy sweetness - but next time, I'll be a little more careful!

This entry is part of a blogathon in support of Mass Farmers Markets. If you appreciate the markets that help make such fabulous local produce available to us every week during the growing season, please consider donating what you can. The blogathon has been organized by Tinky of In Our Grandmother's Kitchens.

Market Analysis: week 11

Today's farmshare came in a large box and was good and heavy. Here's a picture of the haul:

And the rundown of the contents and the farmer's market prices:

Sweet Corn: 6 ears, $3
Yellow-flesh Watermelon: 8 lbs? more? Call it $6.
Carrots: 14 oz : $1
Cucumbers: 3lbs 1 oz $4.50
Yellow Squash: 1 lb, $2
Onions: 1 medium onion, 0.50c
Tomatoes: mix of heirloom and regular, 1 lb 10oz : $4.87
red "Magenta" lettuce : 1 head, $2.50
arugula : 1 bunch, $2.50
Red Kale: 1 bunch, $2.50
Basil: 1 bunch, $2
Cilantro: 1 bunch, $2

Total: $33.37

And the savings vs buying this stuff individually at the farmer's market:

Not included on the list, several of our ears of corn had a fun bonus this week. (No, I don't meant the corn worms.) They'd grown with an extra "twin" ear of corn attached, which separated from the ear before peeling and was much tinier - and as I suspected, basically the same thing the baby corn you get in your takeout stirfied noodles. It would be quite a pain to harvest enough for an actual stirfry, but we cooked 3 in a bit of boiling water and then snacked on them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 10

This week's box (I know, it all looks like lettuce and chard, but there's actually plenty of other stuff in there...)

Sweet Corn: 7 ears, 50c/ear : $3.50
Canteloupe : 4 lb, 12 oz : $3.80
Carrots: 10oz, $1
Cucumbers: 1 lb, 15 oz : $3.87
Yellow Squash: 1 lb, 6 oz : $2
"Ailsa Craig" Onions (sweet): 2 tiny onions: $1
Tomatoes: 2 lb, $6
"Concept" Lettuce: 1 head, $2.50
Arugula: 1 bunch, $2.50
Swiss Chard: 1 bunch, $2.50
Basil: 1 bunch, $2

total: $30.67

Pretty graphs:

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See that picture of peaches behind the banner of this blog? That was last summer, and it was full of "peach seconds", and I found it one day at the Arlington Center Farmers' market when I went right as the market opened. I've been fantasizing about that giant box as peach season hit this year.

So, all this month, I've been going back to the Arlington Center farmers market, trying to get there when it opens, and heading straight over to my favorite fruit vendor's stall, looking behind the tables for a sign like last year's reading "peach seconds, $10/box". This week, I even parked right near the row of stalls with some kind of premonition about finding something to load into the trunk. And I hit the jackpot (although the sign said $15 this year, it was still parked in the exact same corner on top of a stack of boxes next to the truck). I joked with Mr. Nicewicz about the inflation and he said it was a bigger box. I'm not sure if he was joking or not, but in any case, using the bathroom scale and subtracting the weight of my cooperative spouse, it looks like I got 23 pounds of peaches for that $15. (The box is less full in the photo because I started sorting through it looking for ones that needed immediate treatment. Such as cutting up and eating.)

"Seconds" means that sometimes they've got a little nibble somewhere on the outside, or sometimes they have a hole at the stem or a split in the pit that means that moisture can get it and leave them a bit like a silent time bomb - one day a peach will look beautiful, the next you will discover that 1/4 of it is rotting from the inside out. But if you are vigilant about using them as soon as they show any signs of soft spots, it's mostly just a pile of peaches whose flavor is not "second", for a great discount!

So far, we've eaten peaches sliced fresh, redistributed 5 lbs of peaches to a friend who was jealous that I got to the market hours before she did, and I've baked a peach upside down cake for dessert last night. I'm still torn about whether to make more jam (we already have 6 jars of apricot jam, which is similar enough to get confused when you look at the jars), or try canning them in syrup, or just make a lot of desserts to enjoy right now. Stay tuned!

Good thing I didn't order an extra canteloupe from the CSA this week. I think we've got enough fruit now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

stir-fries and scrambles

By this point in the season, my fridge is full of an assortment of vegetables.

One thing I've learned over the years is that some vegetables lend themselves well to just using the whole thing up at once and making one side dish starring that vegetable. Also, this can be convenient and simple - plain sauteed greens with a little bit of seasoning, sauteed turnip, boiled zucchini dressed with olive oil, steamed green bean salad, sliced cucumbers with sour cream and yogurt - all take fairly little effort.

But no matter what, some vegetables will wind up being left in small quantities in the fridge, or will come in small quantities to begin with. Or you wouldn't want to eat them on their own - we've gotten one small jalapeno pepper, for instance! (The one small green pepper that arrived twice, on the ther hand, got eaten raw.)

One of my favorite things to do periodically to clean up the stragglers in the fridge drawer is to mix a small amount of a lot of vegetables up into a stir fry or a scrambled egg dish.

This morning's breakfast was a breakfast burrito - scrambled eggs with the last of some arugula, a scallion, a tomato, and some chopped jalapeno pepper, which I put into a tortilla with cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

Tonight for I will be making a stir fry with yellow squash, one tiny Asian eggplant, a few turnips that I hoarded a bit too long, the rest of the scallions, a few carrots, and the bok choy that came in this week's share. And whatever else I find in the drawer that makes sense.

I also try to make sandwiches that use our vegetable bounty - roasted eggplant or pepper plus pesto, a slice of tomato, cheese, and plenty of lettuce, or even a little leftover meat if I have some handy. But this time of year, the vegetables can be the stars of the sandwich!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 9

This week's share:

6 ears Sweet Corn (50c/ear) : $3
6 lb Canteloupe ($1/lb): $6
bunch Head Lettuce: $2.50
bunch Bok Choy: $2.50
2lb Eggplant ($3.50/lb): $7
1lb 5oz Yellow Squash ($2/lb): $2.50
1/2 lb Carrots ($2/lb): $1
1 lb 6 oz Tomatoes ($2.50/lb): $3.40
bunch Green Kale: $2.50
bunch Basil: $2

total: $32.40

Of course, I'm not sure I would have gone for buying a 2 lb eggplant at $3.50/lb (I love eggplant, but I'd probably get a smaller amount of tiny Japanese ones or something, and some boxes probably contained those, but not mine.) And cost might have stopped me from choosig a 6 lb canteloupe at $1/lb, but we certainly won't have any problem eating it all!

We've already eaten half of the sweet corn and one of the ripest tomatoes as part of last night's dinner, and this morning I steamed the kale so it could get put away in a smaller plastic container instead of taking up half a produce drawer. We're also Getting quite a backlog of lettuce but this stuff is quite hardy and stays crisp in the vegetable drawer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

a fine pickle

I've been pickling cucumbers this month - this time, in 3 ways.

I usually do a batch using the recipe I like from my mother-in-law. Based entirely on past successes and the fact that she's done it that way for a generation, I treat the jars as something that are shelf-stable in a cool pantry or basement as long as I get a seal when the jars have cooled off. (I don't process them in a boiling water canner or anything, but I do start with sterile jars, add well-scrubbed cucumbers, and pour the brine over it all when it's still boiling. Then I let it cool gradually and it creates a seal.) They are vinegar pickles with enough salt and sugar in them that I'm happy enough with non-refrigerated storage, but I'm no expert.

This year I wanted to try two new kinds too:

Kosher dills, fermented on their own with no vinegar - you put them in a brine of the right strength, keep them somewhere cool for a few days, and, er... hope they don't get moldy. The first batch, I didn't weigh down properly, the cukes stuck up from the brine, and the whole top was too modly to believe I could salvage - but at least I could smell that the lactic acid fermentation was working too - so tempting, but not what I was willing to eat. The second one I way overfilled the jars with brine and used short cucumbers. I tried them this morning and they seem to taste like deli half-sours - hooray! These need to go in the fridge once their fermentation is over, so I only made two jars. I made them using cucumbers already cut up into spears, which is supposed to help them pickle faster and also helped me get rid of portions of some questionable cukes without throwing away the parts that looked good.

And last but not least, sliced sweet yellow pickle chips. This is not normally my favorite kind of pickle, thus it did not occur to me to make it myself. It did not occur to me how much more I would like it if I made it myself, either! I used a recipe from the chapter on condiments in my new favorite cookbook Charcuterie, and my conclusion is that Ruhlman knows his meats... and his pickles too. These are going on many more of my sandwiches this summer! They also have to stay in the fridge, but it's worth the real estate - I have 3 more pint jars in there right now. Also - an awesome thing to bring to a potluck BBQ, since they go so well on many of the things that will be coming off the grill!

Sauteed baby cabbage

Last night we pulled some sausages out of the freezer, and meanwhile in another pan I sliced up the baby cabbages, leaving the core on each slice to hold them together, and sauteed each slice in butter. It took a few batches, but that was how long it took the sausages to cook too.

I think there's a more artistic way to do this - the slices still came apart somewhat - but simple, really good cabbage, sauteed with butter and salt - who needs a complicated recipe on a summer night?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Market Analysis: Week 8

The farmers said that this box is a box between several seasons - some of the early crops are wrapping up, and some of the later crops are just getting started. So we're not quite inundated with tomatoes yet, the sweet corn was a pretty small amount, the squash is tapering off, etc. We had moved up to a larger size box last week, but this week was back to small.

3 ears sweet corn: (50c/ear) $1.50
2 tiny red cabbages (adorable!) 1 lb 10oz, $3.25
large bunch carrots: $3
6 oz yellow squash: $1.10
1 large green pepper: ($3/lb) $1
1 cucumber: ($2/lb) $1
1 tiny Asian eggplant : ($3/lb): $0.25
1 jalapeno pepper : $0.25
4 tomatoes (1 lb 9 oz) : $5.45
1 head "Nevada" lettuce: $2.50
1 bunch arugula: $2.50
1 bunch basil: $2.00

This week's total : $23.80

So far we've enjoyed the corn, the basil (I tend to have almost-weekly pesto in this season), and some of the tomatoes and carrots, but I haven't been cooking that much.

I think tonight's dinner will try doing something with whole slices of the baby red cabbages. They are so cute! And we should probably have some more green salad. Plenty of that in the drawer.