Friday, August 30, 2013

Week Twelve: A New England Stir-Fry

What a great weekend. Dan and I were in Newport, RI for our annual trip with a bunch of friends for beaching, polo, and relaxing. We had perfectly sunny weather (as evidenced by my sunburn) for all of the above. I’d cut up half my watermelon from last week and tossed it with a chopped cucumber for a beach snack – unfortunately, though, it did not make it into the beach cooler. I was surprised to discover that it was a white watermelon – normal on the outside but bright yellow flesh inside. So pretty! Tastes just the same as a red watermelon, and the rest of it froze up nicely to put in my water.
Sunset over the polo grounds.
We didn't go for our usual Tuesday pickup this week, and we learned that Thursdays appear to be a lot busier than Tuesdays! With a lot more kids running around being cute. I picked up my usual carrots and potatoes, some Italian (I think) peppers, arugula, and another watermelon. Aly got more tomatoes, some eggplant, lettuce, bell peppers, and collards. We also got a half-pint of raspberries... time-consuming but worth the effort!
Peppers and arugula.
Now I know why they're so darn expensive at the store!
I also took a walk through the herb garden, which I haven’t done in ages. I made a conscious effort to pick stuff I thought I’d use, so ended up with chocolate mint, regular mint, lavender, dill, Thai basil, and purple basil. I had grand plans for a lavender or chocolate mint mojito, but my hopes were dashed upon discovering that we had no seltzer in the house. (I settled for some Newport Vineyards merlot instead. Way more local than Caribbean rum!)
Another yummy watermelon.

Clockwise from top left: Dill, chocolate mint, mint, purple basil, Thai basil, lavender.

New England Stir Fry
I made up this recipe name based on the ingredients and cooking method: a little New England boiled dinner, a little fun stir fry. We grilled some chicken sausage and the ear of corn, tossed the carrots with butter and sugar/cinnamon, and then plopped the potatoes into the peppers’ fry pan. Yum.

1 package chicken sausage (we used precooked Sweet Apple)
3 or 4 small bell peppers, cut into 1” pieces
6 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and then crosswise
2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed, and cut into chunks
Oil for frying, about 2 T
1 ear of corn per person (we only had one on hand, which we decided at the last minute to use)
2 T butter
1-2 tsp cinnamon (to taste)
1 T sugar (to taste)

Put the potatoes and carrots in a pot with plenty of salted water and bring to a boil. Test the carrots for done-ness first, as they cook faster. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl. Mix in the butter to melt, and then add cinnamon and sugar. Cover and keep warm. Check the potatoes – they shouldn’t be too mushy. Fry the peppers in the oil in a big frying pan until nice and crisp. Drain the potatoes and add to the pan with the peppers to finish.

Hot peppers!
Almost-candied carrots.

Meanwhile, grill the sausage and corn (keep most of the husk on but get as much silk off as you can). Alternately, you could probably cook the sausage in the pan with the peppers, adding them later to let the sausage cook through. And the corn could probably be broken up and added to the potatoes and carrots.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Recipe: Beef Stew for Steak & Ale Pie

Beef stew is one of my favorite things, especially in the winter. And so easy. I mean, browning the beef is technically optional, but I like the extra flavor, so once you get past that all you have to do is throw chopped veggies in a slow cooker, add liquid, and wait 4 to 8 hours. And then the house smells like comfort food goodness and I know what we're having for at least one meal a day for the next two to three days.
Cutting up the beef
I think the best part is that it's so flexible. The recipe I use make my estimates from is for a 3.5 - 4 quart cooker (mine is 6), so I just ramp up the amounts of stuff I like and reduce what I'm less fond of. I use beer instead of water, and no green beans, handfuls and eyeballed amounts instead of cups. And it turns out great every time.
So many little potatoes!
Potato peelings, thanks to my crank peeler.
I normally don't peel the potatoes, but they were really dirty, despite my best efforts!
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew (from Better Homes and Gardens' Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes, Volume 2)
These are the amounts given in the cookbook, but I've added my notes, because like I said, I increase and decrease due to my tastes and the volume of my cooker.

2 T all-purpose flour (this has never been even close to enough for me)
12 oz beef stew meat, cut into 3/4" cubes (I usually end up using close to 2 lbs)
2 T cooking oil (again, never enough)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 c cubed potatoes (about 3 medium)
1 1/2 c frozen cut green beans (I skip these)
1 c frozen whole kernel corn (I use more)
2 medium carrots, sliced (more! more!)
2 c vegetable juice
1 c water (I use beer - something not too bitter - a 12-oz bottle/can)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 t beef bouillon (instant)
1 t dried oregano (I skip this)
1/2 t dried marjoram (and this)
1/2 t black pepper (more of this)
1 bay leaf

Dredge meat in flour. Shake off excess and brown meat in hot oil in a big saucepan (not nonstick) - work in batches so you have space to turn the pieces. Put the meat on the bottom of the slow cooker and layer the vegetables on top. If you'd like you can deglaze the saucepan with some of the beer. It will sizzle like crazy, but let it calm down and stir up all the yummy browned bits from the bottom. When the liquid has reduced a little, add it to the slow cooker with the rest of the beer. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 hours (our cooker is still pretty young, so I can usually get away with 8 to 8.5 hours).
Carrot peelings!
For the pie, I skipped the onions - since we had the jam - and poured everything from the slow cooker into a big Dutch oven. Dan rolled out the crust onto the top, and we baked the whole thing for about 30 minutes at 350* - just so the crust was done. If we do this again I'd like to see if we can make individual pies - we've done apple pies like that with pretty good success, so I imagine we could have good results with the stew.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Week Eleven: Halfway

Well, we crossed the halfway mark of the CSA this week… time certainly has been flying. The weather’s been weird, which seems to have led the farm crew to worry that the harvest would start shifting into autumn mode. Given this week’s harvest, though, I’m pretty sure the plants are still in summer production mode. The tomatoes, anyway.
We could pick a half-pint of raspberries from the fields. This one is about the size of the pad of my pinky finger.
And now I understand why these are so darn expensive at the grocery store!
We could pick ten (!) things this week… and we could double up on a few things. When Matt & Aly learned that they had the option to double the “five pounds of tomatoes” item… I think they actually jumped for joy. So we came home with ten pounds of tomatoes! They also got shallots to share, some potatoes, and lettuce. I got more purple peppers, carrots, beets, corn to share, and a watermelon.
There's nothing here to compare for scale, but this is what ten pounds of tomatoes looks like.
The size of my cookie jar!

After we sweated buckets at yoga, we came back to revel in the tomato glory and make some salsa, which Aly’s going to post about, yay! Matt and Aly grilled up some of the corn for dinner with chicken drumsticks, and I made some pickled peppers and carrots. I had a couple leftover white ones, so I chopped up two each of the purple and white peppers, then diced up about four large (for the farm) carrots about the same size. I poured my usual made-up-proportions pickling mix over everything, and it’s all sitting in the fridge getting yummy.

What's up, doc?
Peter Piper is jealous of my pickled purple peppers.
 I’m not sure what I want to do with the watermelon just yet… I mean, there are so many things I could do! I’ve used a melon baller to make watermelon ice cubes for my water (also did this with sliced cucumbers for Pimm’s cups!), but I feel like I should do something more exciting than that.

Speaking of Pimm’s cups, the English dinner with our parents went really well! Dan, my pie crust expert-in-residence, learned something about how we can apply the pie crust next time (what exactly, I already forget – crusts are not my thing!), the stew itself was great, and my Pimm’s cups were ratest “best ever”. I also exploded the Camembert container again, but I made sure to put it on a small foil-covered baking sheet before putting it in the oven!

Still not perfect... but not all over my oven!
We got the Pimm’s cups recipe/proportions straight off the Pimm’s web site: 1 part Pimm’s to 3 parts lemonade. As I was making the first batch, Dan realized that in the UK they might refer to Sprite as “lemonade”… but as we already had a gallon of Market Basket’s finest in the fridge, we stuck with that – to great success, I feel. The week prior I had washed, quartered, and frozen a container of strawberries, so those were ready to do double duty as ice cubes and a little flavor. I also froze cucumber slices (same deal), and lemonade in an ice cube tray. I garnished each glass with some mint from the yard (what little I could find after Dan had gotten to it with the weed whacker), and by Jove, they were delicious.

It's Pimm's o'clock somewhere!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Week Ten: Holy Tomatoes + Bonus Fruit

My friend recently tweeted a complaint that I’ve never been able to articulate very well myself, wondering if it was a “New England thing to only enjoy the beginning of summer and spend the rest dreading the coming of winter.” I’ve also wondered the same thing – we still have beautiful long evenings, after all, and oh right, six more weeks of summer, according to the calendar! Even the farm newsletter referenced the dreaded onset of autumn – so the weather’s been a little chilly (75º instead of 95º), fine, but jeez, people! It’s bad enough we’re putting out fall scents at the store... I'm even drinking a pumpkin beer as I write this.
Carrots, white peppers, and dill, cilantro, and jalapenos.
Anyway. Despite the farm’s concerns over tomato blight lately, we were allowed to take five pounds (!) of tomatoes this week – in addition to 2 pints of cherry tomatoes from the picking fields. Matt, Aly, and Dan are in heaven – me, I’m indifferent. I tried my first cherry tomato last night, after admitting that “I don’t like tomatoes” actually meant “I’ve never really eaten a tomato”… not sure I’m impressed. But now I know!
Tomato-y glory. I think there are only three pounds left.
In addition to tomatoes, Aly got some cucumbers (none for me – I've still got three in the fridge!), lettuce, onions, and corn (which was grilled to have with dinner). I got more carrots and potatoes for our rescheduled fancy dinner party, and some celery and white peppers. I’m excited to try the celery – the newsletter hinted that it’s really different from the grocery store stuff, so hopefully it’ll make a good stock addition! I’ve been saving vegetable peelings for a while (carrots, onion skins, etc.) with a master plan of making vegetable stock sometime in the future… yum.

Lettuce and onions

Skinny celery
We also got a “bonus melon”. Jury’s out on whether it’s a cantaloupe or honeydew.
Yeah bonus!
We had to reschedule dinner with our parents for this week, but since I’d prepped a bunch of the food earlier in the week, we had some friends over instead… and I’m glad I had a test run! Turns out that you need to keep an eye on cheeses while they’re baking in the oven, otherwise their containers might lose the ability to contain the melty goodness, and then you have melted Camembert all over the floor of your oven. It missed the electric heating coil… Barely.

I tried a recipe for an onion jam to have with the cheese, which turned out pretty well – although I wasn’t really thinking about the recipe’s intended purpose/volume versus mine when I was shopping… so I ended up with way more than we could eat on Friday. Noted for this week! I did have a chance to bake those beet cupcakes as well, which I brought to a party on Saturday night. They were a hit, happily, and it’s always fun to let people in on the secret ingredient!

Onion Jam (from Weber) (This week I will likely halve this recipe)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large sweet yellow onions, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup balsamic vinegar (not aged)
½ cup packed golden brown sugar
¼ cup dried currants or raisins

Warm the butter and oil over medium-high heat in a big (really big) skillet. I used my mandoline slicer with the "thin" blade option to slice the onions - add these and the salt to the skillet.
Lots of onions!
Cook about ten minutes until the onions are tender and they've reduced in volume by about half. I always have to guess at what that might look like, so I generally go by time here. Stir frequently so they don't burn. 
A half cup of sugar makes the vinegar and onions go down...
Add the vinegar, sugar, and raisins to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 35 minutes until the onions become "jam-like" (again, not positive what that means!) and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat; serve at room temperature. I reheated it for dinner on Friday:
Fairly certain I made gillyweed?
I'm going to change up with way I pre-cut the onions before I mandoline-d them; I found the slices of onion halves ended up being too big and stringy. I think I'll quarter along the stem next time.

Golden Beet Cupcakes (from The Ivory Pomegranate)
I doubled this recipe and got exactly 18 cupcakes, so I think a safe assumption is that the amounts in this list makes nine cupcakes.
1 medium-sized golden beet
2 eggs
1 cup and 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 

Wrap the beet in foil and roast at 350º for about an hour until tender. When it's cool enough to handle, peel and chop. (Mom and I steamed our beets.)
They're striped! How pretty?
Blend the beet pieces and eggs in a food process or blender until smooth. Whisk together dry ingredients, then use an electric (handheld or stand) mixer to incorporate the butter. Fold in the beet/eggs mixture until just combined - don't overdo this, otherwise the cupcakes will get tough. Line cupcake pans with papers and spoon batter in. Bake at 350º 18-22 minutes, rotating back to front and switching racks if needed halfway through. Let cool before frosting.

I have to admit, I was a little wary of these instructions while I was putting everything together, but they seem to have turned out ok. Next time I think I'll try the standard "cream butter and sugar, add eggs, then add dry stuff" method and see if that turns out any different.

Buttercream Frosting (roughly adapted from

Head over to the site if you need lots of frosting - theirs makes enough to fill and frost a  9"x13" sheet cake or two 9" layers. I didn't need nearly that much, so I used roughly the following amounts:

12 ounces powdered sugar 
1/2 stick ish of room-temperature butter
1/4 cup milk, barely
1 capful vanilla extract (you could also use mint or almond flavoring, whatever floats your boat)
Food coloring if desired

Combine everything in a big mixing bowl and combine at low speed until well incorporated and no butter lumps remain. Add food coloring, if using, and frost away. If it's too runny, add more sugar/too thick, add milk a spoonful at a time. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Week Nine: Fancy Dinner Party

This weekend Dan and I are hosting our parents for a “favorite British foods” dinner party: baked cheese, steak and ale pie, and a yummy dessert. And Pimm’s, of course! We had a decent selection of root vegetables this week, so I was able to get most of the veggies locally. I’ll post the recipes (and pictures!) later this week.
I finally wised up and took a picture before I ventured into the picking fields!
The amount of produce I’ve been bringing home every week has started to get overwhelming. It doesn’t sound so intimidating when you check in and are told “nine items today!”… but then you realize that one “item” can be eight cucumbers, or three pounds of tomatoes, or six ears of corn. I picked up for Matt this week since Aly is on vacation, and wow, it was a lot of stuff. I have no idea what Dan and I would do if we weren’t splitting this with Matt and Aly! (Probably turn into leafy greens.) I also got some tomatillos (never mind that I have no idea what to do with them) from the picking fields, along with more dill, cilantro, and a couple jalapeños.
Most of a salad... just add dressing!
The haul this week was huge: eight cucumbers, four zucchini/squash, 3 lbs tomatoes, 1.5 lbs potatoes, 1.5 lbs carrots, chard, lettuce, onions, and some orangey-gold beets. I made (wait for it) fridge pickles with half the cukes and the dill (I know, big surprise), and plan to use the potatoes and carrots in our dinner this Friday. Matt took home the lettuce, some tomatoes, the onions, and squash. I'm not sure what I want to do with the chard yet – I’ve decided I’m not a huge fan – probably sauté it and toss with pasta or something.
Herbs, jalapenos, and tomatillos. Also, Google wants to autocorrect "tomatillos" to "automatism".

Ginormous zucchini and some normal size ones.
 I've never used golden beets before (I’m pretty sure that’s what these are), but since I had such success with the chocolate-beet cake I made a few weeks ago, I searched for a yellow cake recipe that used them. I found a cupcake recipe that looks promising, but I’m not sure how well it will translate to a regular cake pan since the author didn't give a “yield”. I’ll make sure to post about that adventure.
More new potatoes!
I had some squash left this weekend (and now I have more…), so I roasted some to have with a pre-marinated pork loin for dinner on Sunday night. I sliced 2 yellow squash into ¾” discs and laid them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with some Lawry’s. I had to cook the pork at 425º, so I put the squash in at the same time and roasted everything for about 30 minutes. I think next time I’ll flip the squash about halfway through to make sure they get nice and crispy all over.
More carrots - it's fun to see the natural shapes I get at the farm instead of the Bugs Bunny style from the grocery store.
Stay tuned for adventures in dinner parties and baking with beets!
Chard and beets

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Week Eight: Purple Pickled Peppers

I’ve become only a little obsessed with those pickled veggies. I like to think it’s a healthy addiction, though, since vegetables are good for you. And vinegar has literally zero nutritional value, so the only “additives” are some sugar and salt… I say it’s a win. I made them for Steak Friday last week, and again Tuesday night with this week’s harvest.

We got a lot of good stuff this week. Aly got a pound of tomatoes, lettuce, corn (we split the 6-ear allowance), squash, and cucumbers. I got new potatoes, bell peppers (green and purple), gold zucchini, and carrots. I also grabbed some dill and Thai basil from the field (my plant seems to still be doing ok). I had a cucumber from the grocery store that I didn’t have a chance to use last week, so I made more dill-pickled goodness to have with lunch this week. The purple peppers start leeching a little of their color into the vinegar, so by the time I eat my snack I have white and purple streaked peppers… very pretty.
Gold zucchini and a bell pepper
I’m trying to find some new recipes to try, but this week has been really crazy and I haven’t been home at a reasonable hour yet this week. Maybe I’ll make a carrot cake this weekend? Mmmm, baking. I do have a master plan for some of the veggies, so hopefully we get another good harvest next week. I will definitely post about that!
Fresh corn... the beer did not, unfortunately, come from the farm!
Unfortunately, I was in such a hurry to make pickled veg this week I didn’t think to take a picture of everything all together – so all you get are fridge pictures.
Mmmm veggie goodness.
And a picture of my favorite dog ever.
Rupert aka Captain Fuzzypants.